This article was written by Ian Downes, Director at Start Licensing Limited, for The Bugg Report.
Christmas seems to come around more quickly these days. It may be an age thing on my part but it is also due to anxious retailers and suppliers launching their Christmas activity earlier and earlier. I guess this is to grab those Festive fivers first. To a degree this is understandable but it is also somewhat unseemly spotting Christmas goods on sale as early as August. It can also cause consumer confusion. One big retailer I visited recently was featuring retail promotions for Halloween, Bonfire Night, Diwali and Christmas at the same time. The shop floor staff really need to be good at navigating around those store plans.
Licensing does well at Christmas and core categories like toys really come into their own. Various retailers and the British Toy & Hobby Association leverage the Christmas opportunity well creating Top Ten toy lists which are seized on by the media. The end result is a good one for licensing with plenty of licensed toys making the lists. Highlights this year include Hamleys including Harry Potter, Paddington and Peppa Pig products in their list. Licensed ranges feature in the majority of the published lists.
Licensors and rights owners recognise that Christmas can make or break the year for them. Design-wise, they develop specific seasonal guides and dial up Christmas concepts. In my own work with Aardman we have focussed more attention on easy to use Christmas designs for the classic property Wallace & Gromit. This has resulted in uptake from companies like Danilo for greetings cards, Woodmansterne for an Advent calendar, Wentworth for wooden puzzles and Beams for composite gifting. Licensing has matured design wise and there is a wider recognition that bespoke design is a core part of the licensing toolkit. Retailers think seasonally and around specific themes so it makes sense to follow this movement.
Christmas allows other licensing categories and sectors to shine. Calendar companies like Danilo and Carousel do a great job in maximising the distribution of calendars. The Calendar Club retail concept is a great example of pop up retailing whilst department stores like Bentalls have embraced the category with dedicated space and easy to shop displays. Licensing categories like art, heritage and illustration play a big part in the calendar market with brands like Beryl Cook and the Royal Horticultural Society working well alongside entertainment properties.
Food and drink composite gifting come into their own as well at this time of year. With boxed gifts ranging in price between around £5 to £15 retailers can tap into the gift appeal of big brands such as Baileys and Guinness. We have licensed soft drinks brand Tango via Scoop Designs into this category. The licensees in the category are good at bringing different elements together to make a compelling gift. In Scoop’s case they have worked with Tango confectionery licensee Rose to source popping candy to accompany an ice cream sundae glass. More specialist retailers like Boots use Christmas as an opportunity to tap into lifestyle brands such as Joules, Jack Wills and Laura Ashley creating toiletry gift sets whilst they also use brands such as music group Little Mix to reach younger consumers.
We are also seeing seasonal properties like The Snowman and the Portable North Pole getting stronger and timing their retail runs better to ensure their products are on shelf at the right time with the right level of visibility.
Christmas is licensing’s friend and it is an exciting time for the industry. However I for one firmly hope that Christmas in July remains firmly a PR event rather than an invitation for retailers to get the Christmas decor out even earlier. Is it too early to say Happy Christmas?