The Bugg Report had the chance to speak to David Born, Founder and Director at Born Licensing prior to Brand Licensing Europe. David provided some insight into his time in the Australian Licensing Industry, the launch of Born Licensing, his experience throughout the global licensing industry and the power of licensing IP in advertising.
We hear that Born Licensing is celebrating their 5th anniversary this year. Take us back to how it all began and how the Australian licensing industry prepared you to start your own agency?
The idea to open a licensing firm with a focus on the use of intellectual property (IP) in advertising and marketing was years in the making. I started my licensing career at the ripe old age of 21, working as FMCG & Promotions Coordinator at Haven Licensing. It was a great introduction to the licensing world and being part of the FMCG & Promotions team allowed me to understand the opportunities outside of traditional product licensing. During four years at Warner Bros. Australia I had the opportunity to work with advertising agencies that licensed properties such as The Mentalist, Dallas and The Wizard of Oz in their campaigns. Warner Bros. was probably the leader at the time in the business of licensing their IP for advertising, and I remember thinking that other Licensors could create an additional revenue stream by doing the same. That thought stayed with me throughout my time at Cartoon Network while Head of FMCG & Promotions across EMEA. I managed the licensing of Powerpuff Girls in a Volkswagen campaign and working with the advertising community during that time once again allowed me to see how big of an appetite there was for licensing IP. Finally, in 2014 my entrepreneurial spirit got the better of me and I decided to move back to Melbourne from London to start the company. The Australian licensing industry played a really important role in preparing me for the rollercoaster ride involved with starting a company. It’s an industry that has ups and downs, with a persevering nature and hardworking attitude. It’s bursting with incredibly talented professionals in all corners of the industry, from Licensors and agents to Licensees and retailers. One of the things Haven and Warner Bros. had in common while I was working for each was their innovative approach to the licensing business. Both had created an environment that celebrated out of the box thinking and encouraged fresh ways to approach licensing opportunities. The time I spent in my roles gave me the tools and the confidence to start Born Licensing. Now based in London again, I look back on all of my previous roles as great learning experiences that allowed me to start a successful company, and I remain super appreciative of the opportunities I was given.
How have you grown since launching in 2014?
For the first four years we were solely focused on licensing in the advertising space, and that continues to be our main focus. However, in 2019 we announced that we would introduce 2 other areas to our business; Consumer Products and Innovation. The consumer products business is dedicated to our role as master global licensing agent for emoji brand JoyPixels. We formed a relationship with them in 2018 when we started representing them in the advertising space. We signed a raft of deals for them and we’ve since seen JoyPixels emojis appear in campaigns across telco, retail, financial services, FMCG, QSR, government and other advertising categories. Based on this success, we expanded our relationship with JoyPixels to include consumer products and we’ve since signed on with 6 licensing agents to cover over 20 markets, with more to be announced soon. Our innovations business reflects another passion of mine that I’ve been wanting to pursue. We’ve set up a business model where we can help facilitate deals for innovative companies who have never experienced licensing before. This is a new area for us and we think this part of our business will grow slowly on a mostly reactive basis as we continue to focus on driving our advertising and consumer products businesses.
What have been the most defining moments for Born Licensing over the last five years?
I’ll never forget our first deal. I started the company in August 2014 and after a lot of pitching and presenting we finally signed our first deal in October 2015. Australian home builder Simonds Homes had decided to license Hasbro’s Transformers in their biggest campaign in the 65-year history of their company. The campaign launched on AFL Grand Final Day and looked great! This was a very exciting time because it legitimised Born Licensing as a real business and gave me the confidence to continue down the path I was on. Another defining moment was in September 2017 when we launched the MoneySuperMarket campaign across the UK starring Master of the Universe’s He-Man and Skeletor dancing to Dirty Dancing. We had worked on quite a few advertising campaigns at that point, but this campaign really put us on the map. The 2 minute ad went viral and was seen by over 27 million people in a matter of days. At one point it was generating over 35,000 tweets an hour and was voted one of the best ads across the UK that year. It really was one of the best nostalgic mash ups ever seen and was a brilliant example of how powerful the use of IP can be in advertising when given to great creative talent. We’re currently working on a campaign which I think will be another defining moment for us. We can’t share too much at this point, other than to encourage everyone to keep an eye out for our next big campaign!
What do you think Born Licensing has contributed to the global licensing industry?
At a time when retail is more challenging than ever, I think Born Licensing has highlighted the revenue opportunities that exist when the licensing community looks outside of the traditional categories. When starting Born Licensing the goal was to open up opportunities for Licensors in the advertising category and deliver to them incremental revenue. We’re proud to have done just that, creating millions of dollars in licensing fees which we’re certain the Licensors would not have otherwise booked. In addition, the campaigns we’ve worked on have collectively generated a marketing spend of over $100 million. This no doubt boosted properties licensed in the campaigns, supporting brand efforts and creating additional revenue opportunities for Licensors. We’ve signed deals for Licensors with major brands such as British Airways, Barclays, Just Eat, Subaru, MoneySuperMarket, booking.com, MINI, Tesco, T-Mobile, Virgin, Sky Mobile, Kellogg’s and many more.
What do you think the future holds for Born Licensing and licensing in general?
Looking into the future, we hope to continue doing what we’re doing now but on an increasingly bigger scale. Our focus will always be fixed on creating new revenue opportunities for the Licensors we work with. The way we do that will evolve as we discover new areas to play in. On the advertising part of our business, we’re certain that advertisers continue to embrace characters and clips more and more. We want to see characters used in advertising as much as celebrities and music – which is a lot! As for the industry as a whole, I think everyone will agree that we’re at an interesting time, with a lot of consolidation going on (Disney, Fox, CBS, Viacom, AT&T, Garfield etc. and almost certainly more to come by the time this is printed). There is a question of how the big Licensors that continue to acquire properties will be able to dedicate the attention needed to get the best out of all in their portfolio. At the same time, it opens the door for new IP to come into the picture. IP has evolved a lot over the last decade or so as we see toys, emojis and influencers competing with traditional character licenses. As the way consumers live their lives changes we expect to see IP continue to evolve too.
Finally, who has helped you to get to where you are today?
I’ve been incredibly privileged to work with some enormously talented people who have been generous with both their time and wisdom. Starting my licensing career at Haven allowed me to really understand how the industry works and observe some brilliant licensing professionals in action led by Tom and Yvonne. Working at Warner Bros. played a big part in giving me the confidence to start Born Licensing. Our MD Preston Kevin Lewis was an inspirational person to be around every day without fail. He created an environment that encouraged personal growth and demonstrated leadership that I really admired. Cartoon Network in London gave me the opportunity to engage with licensing professionals from all over the world, including colleagues, agents and Licensees throughout EMEA. Maria Rosaria Milone was my direct report and she gave me the support needed to understand the landscape of new markets. When I launched Born Licensing I was really quite overwhelmed by how supportive the industry was. Those that believed in our vision early on include teams from Nickelodeon, Sony Pictures, Hasbro, FremantleMedia, 20th Century Fox and many others. We’re super grateful to all of those that helped us get to where we are today, and see our success as very much a team effort with everyone in the licensing community that has supported us.