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Licensing Lookout: A Licensing Industry Christmas Wish

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes highlights that, unsurprisingly, the world of licensing currently has its eye firmly on the Christmas season.

“Licensing is a business sector that depends on retail success, with the Christmas season a vital part of licensing’s retail year. Most members of the UK licensing industry have probably made the same Christmas wish – good retail sell through for licensed products – with the industry better prepared these days to maximise the opportunity Christmas brings through more forward planning, coupled with the creation of bespoke design guides that are geared up for events such as Christmas.

Gifts and gifting are an important part of the licensing mix all year round, but more important than ever in the festive season. Indeed, certain categories of licensing are almost entirely focused on Quarter 4. A good example of this is composite food gifting. This is a category where there are specialist operators such as Beams, Whisper and Kimm & Miller operating in it. These companies develop products that combine items such as food or drink with other gift items including mugs, glassware or accessories.

Retailers such as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s support the category with dedicated space. Featured brands include the likes of Marmite, Pot Noodle, Guinness and Jack Daniel’s. For the brand owners who license their brands into the category, it is chance to see their brands distributed outside their core sectors and also an opportunity to engage with consumers in a new way.

Companies like Kimm & Miller and Beams are extending the reach of this category into new retail sectors beyond supermarkets. Examples include retailers such as Menkind, and the garden centre category. Connected to this it is interesting to see FMCG brands exploring new ways of bringing their brands alive via licensing deals. For example, McDonald’s currently has a Galaxy chocolate Caramel Hot Chocolate on sale, while food retailer Iceland has a range of frozen desserts featuring brands such as Mars and Snickers. Working with FMCG brands like these could be an opportunity that gift manufacturers might want to consider.

It has also been interesting to see how different parts of the retail market have engaged with licensing within their Christmas offering. Retailers seem to have recognised licensing has potential for them but have chosen to carefully blend licensing into their ranges. There seems to be a safety first approach.

Licensed brands coming to the fore at retail include Elf, The Grinch and The Snowman. No great surprises there thematically, but it also reinforces the fact that once licensed brands are established at retail and are performing wel,l it is difficult to displace them. It has also been interesting to see retailers such as WH Smith featuring different types of products such as selling Elf Lip Balm sets in their Christmas gifting range. This is a product category you wouldn’t readily associate with WH Smith but it points to the fact that retailers are more open to stocking new categories of product at this time of year.

Above: Buddy’s Lip Balm Duo is on sale at WH Smith.
Above: Buddy’s Lip Balm Duo is on sale at WH Smith.

Another noteworthy example of licensing being used in a new way was Pets At Home selling a range of Dog Toys featuring Hasbro-owned brands such as Mr Potato Head, Peppa Pig, Operation and My Little Pony. I suspect this range, which was flagged up as ‘New In’, has been brought in specifically to tap into the Christmas market.

Above: Pets At Home offer several Dog Toys brands.
Above: Pets At Home offer several Dog Toys brands.

It’s also a reminder that there are growing opportunities in gifting for pet products at the moment, and that licensing can play a role in this. Likewise, it was interesting to see WH Smith Travel featuring a range of V & A Museum designs on biscuit tins and tea caddies. These items were featured prominently in their Euston branch and show how heritage licensing is making an increasingly noteworthy impact at retail.

Finally, it is also interesting to reflect on how new types of products are being developed in the licensing market which open up new opportunities for gifting. Licensee Lights 4 Fun have just launched a light-up Gromit figurine. This follows on an earlier launch of a similar Shaun the Sheep product.

Above: Light up Gromit and Shaun the Sheep.
Above: Light up Gromit and Shaun the Sheep.

The Gromit light has been released in the run up to Christmas to capitalise on the demand for Christmas lights, but also to pick up sales from consumers looking for original gift ideas. In part, this is tapping into the growing demand for products that appeal to fans.

Interestingly, the Gromit product was featured on ITV’s This Morning recently. Arguably, the fact that the product was an ‘official’ Gromit product caught the programme maker’s attention, reinforcing the power of licensing to influence people and their purchases. Hopefully this influence helps the licensing industry get its wish for a strong and successful Christmas season.”

Ian Downes, Start Licensing:  07776 228454 /

Top: Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency.

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