BrandFocus’ Michele Pearce on Scalextric opportunities, Street Fighter rubber ducks and licensing evolutions

Last month it was announced that Hornby Hobbies has enlisted the help of Michele Pearce – Director at licensing consultancy BrandFocus – to help expand the Scalextric brand into other industries.

We caught up with Michele to find out more about her plans for the iconic toy brand – and why she believes great design is the key to creating magic when it comes to licensing.

Michele Pearce, BrandFocus
Hi Michele – thanks for making time for a chat. Now, lots of people we interview tell us they ‘fell’ into licensing… Is that how you got into this space?

Yes! In that respect my story is similar. I think so many people don’t really understand what licensing is about – it’s not a career choice exactly, but more of a discovery!

I worked in TV production, mostly documentary, post-university. When work was getting tough to find, I started doing some freelance writing and event organising to fill in the gaps. During that time, I was contacted about a job at Fox Kids.

It started as a freelance role to organise their stand and event presence at the New York Licensing Show with completely new branding. It led to me being roped into licensing work, and from Fox Kids I stepped up to the International Manager role for the newly formed Jetix TV and didn’t look back.

“If you want to create magic for a brand, then design is central to taking an everyday product category into a ‘stand out’ line that enhances the brand name it carries.”

Some fall into licensing, you were roped into it! Now you run BrandFocus, a licensing consultancy with clients including Capcom and Hornby Hobbies. As we’re all about design at Brands Untapped, what are your thoughts on the role great design plays in making a successful licensing programme?
If you want to create magic for a brand, then design – as it is for any product ever created – is central to taking an everyday product category into a ‘stand out’ product line that tells its own story and enhances the brand name it carries. There are great examples of designer-led apparel collections, which really show how a brand can look interesting and chic.

Are there any collections that jump as being good examples?
Yes, look at My Little Pony adult womenswear that has been designer-led to see a brand transformed! Toys in particular can extend brands very naturally – I’m thinking of car brand that translate into really well-designed toy ranges that bring into play a different age group and can capture a young audience early on. Look at Golden Bear’s MINI electric car range.

As well as extending brands, licensing can create drama and excite interest. There’s been Scalextric crossovers with brands such as Batman and James Bond that have gone on to become unique collectibles in themselves.

Michele Pearce, BrandFocus
That’s a nice segue into all things Scalextric. You are taking charge of the licensing push for the IP. What direction are you looking to take the brand in?

Scalextric is such a wonderful brand and one I have had my eye on for some time! There is a lot of history and yet it is so current with the electric-powered cars and multiple co-licensing ranges that ensure the brand remains relevant to consumers all the time. A good example is the last Batmobile Scalextric model – it has sold over 2 million globally!

This brand has all of that – the global reach, the cross-age appeal, nostalgia, great brand awareness… I could go on… But where to start! We are not looking to the mass-market at this stage. Instead, I’m focusing on key global categories like higher end, luxury, collectibles and publishing.

Are there any design elements synonymous with Scalextric that you think can be creatively extended into other categories through licensing?
There are definitely opportunities if we can find the right partners. Cycles, electric bikes and scooters would be a great way to extend the brand and bring the technical aspects together. Also, since Scalextric has gone fully digital, I would really like to find a mobile game partner to create a fast and dynamic casual game.

Michele Pearce, BrandFocus
Let’s put it out there and I’m sure the studios will come knocking! Looking at your wider approach to finding partners for your brands, do you have to balance the commercial heavy hitters with the more specialist partners?

The simple answer is a full-fledged licensing programme needs both. Design-led, original product may not sell many skus – usually due to price – but they can create excitement and interest for the brand.

On the flip-side, the more mass market and affordable lines focus more eyes on the product and can create the bigger revenue streams. If you have both, they create a positive balance and a successful licensing programme.

Great stuff. Now let’s dive into one of your other clients: Capcom. What makes Capcom’s portfolio of brands exciting to work on?
Capcom has a fantastic range of totally classic, but also totally relevant, gaming franchises that have a committed and solid fan base. This means that you have a whole customer base who are keen to buy branded product. The challenge is making sure that it’s relevant and on brand, so that you don’t annoy or disillusion the customer – and they will tell you if they are not happy!

I can imagine! Is there a launch that you think sums up how creative you can be with Capcom’s IP?
A couple of good examples come to mind…

A very on-trend and technically exciting product is high-end board games. I have been working for some time with Steamforged Games on the Resident Evil 2 board game. It sold out for its first run and we are now finalising the Resident Evil 3 board game for launch. We are also working at Capcom on the Monster Hunter: World board game which is about to go onto Kickstarter in April.

Michele Pearce, BrandFocus
These technical products incorporate a lot of design work in the figurines, board layout and content and are rewarding when you see the engagement of fans when they launch.

In total contrast, there are fun product ranges, such as one my colleagues worked on with Numbskull… Rubber duck ranges for Resident Evil and Street Fighter! They are funny to look at and yet at the same time totally original and have been picked up in multiple territories.

Michele Pearce, BrandFocus
There are also great collectibles produced by Fanattik and design-led apparel ranges from the Capcom licensees.

Tabletop games and rubber ducks – never a dull moment! When you take on a brand, how do you first get to grips with it? Are you sat there playing through Resident Evil or taking on the family at Scalextric?!
It’s all about research, definitely. I don’t necessarily play the whole game, but I will watch a lot of YouTube videos, read blogs, Facebook pages and websites. You need to familiarise yourself with the brands and their history.

Then it’s a deep dive into the assets and back stories. Only when you really start to dig into the brands and work with the other stakeholders do you get the nuances of the IP and what is considered to be central to the brand or franchise’s story.

Looking at the wider licensing space, what would you say is one of the biggest evolutions the industry has been through since you started out?
Wow! There’s been quite a few!

The number one game-changer has been the digital and online experience. There is so much more information available to consumers and platforms for individuals to express their preferences. It’s totally different to the way in which you’d have interacted with customers before. This has led to a lot more immersive experiences being offered, and this path is still branching out into new directions and developing.

It could be transforming a game brand like Resident Evil into an escape room experience using VR headsets or AR elements – theatre and gameplay in one! Or the Pokémon Go AR experience where people were running around town and collecting their next Pokémon character!

“Only when you really start to dig into the brands and work with the other stakeholders do you get the nuances of the IP.”

This is a totally different way to experience a brand and not confined just to gaming. Brands such as Scalextric are incorporating digital into the way in which you can play the game, share your scores online, interact and socially share the experience as it happens digitally – as well as physically play the game. The melding is what it is all about.

I imagine as well as offering new product opportunities, the digital world now also has the power to dictate which brands soar and which ones flop.
Absolutely. Online influencers have the power to explode a brand or trend, either positively or negatively – and at speed.

Keeping up with all of these online developments is a challenge. You need not just a marketing brand team, but also a social media team… And the licensing team needs to be on board with all the exposure.

And have you seen the pandemic change the licensing industry at all?
Generally, in the last year, there is a transformative change in how business is conducted with meetings shifting online with Zoom and Teams, and trade fairs adapting to a digital delivery.

Moving forwards, business will work more online and trade fairs are already building the mix into their future events. The online world is here to stay.

Before I let you, one last quick question: how do you fuel your own creativity?
I try to find a mix of activities. Work, exercise, yoga, research… then back to work!

I’m not sure which of those I’ve kept you from, but I really appreciate you taking time out for the chat Michele. Was great to catch up and I look forward to seeing some of the exciting plans for Scalextric come to fruition! Let’s do it again soon!

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