Pink Key Licensing’s Richard Pink and Nancy Jones on design, creativity and taking food brands into new areas

We caught up with Richard Pink, MD at Pink Key, and Nancy Jones, Pink Key’s Head of Business Development, to talk food brands, the power of archives and their route into licensing.

Pink Key Licensing is an award-winning licensing agency, responsible for looking after brands like Vintage Kellogg’s, Pringles and Slush Puppie.

We caught up with Richard Pink, MD at Pink Key, and Nancy Jones, Pink Key’s Head of Business Development, to talk food brands, the power of archives and their route into licensing.

Richard Pink, Nancy Jones, Pink Key Licensing

Richard, Nancy, thank you for making time! To kick us off, how did you find yourself working was brands? Was it all part of the plan or did you fall into it?
Richard Pink, MD, Pink Key Licensing: No! I fell into it like everyone else. I worked at Kellogg’s for 15 years as the Promotions Controller, so I was sort of in licensing but as a licensee. While I was there, someone whispered in my ear and said there might be a way to turn this around and license the Kellogg’s brand out. They were already doing in the States and wanted to see if it could work in Europe, so I took it on as a side project. Four months later I knew it was possible and I knew I quite fancied doing it myself

I was the Kellogg’s Licensing Manager and did that there for a few years. We tried to run it as a kids’ programme, getting characters like Tony the Tiger and Snap, Crackle and Pop into toys and homewares.

I left and then was Head of Licensing at Entertainment Rights for a year, where I worked on a lot of pre-school entertainment. I left that and set up on my own. I started off in promotions licensing consulting and that then morphed – over the last 15 years – into a fully formed licensing agency.

“In Kellogg’s terms, the industry competition is Weetabix and Nestle. In licensing, their competition is everyone from Ferrari to AC Milan.”

What helped kickstart that change?
RP: It really changed when took on Kellogg’s licensing, focusing on adult vintage. We started with that and then started getting approached by companies wanting us to do that with their brands. That’s how we ended up with this niche of taking food brands into non-food areas. It’s a strategy that wrote itself!

And Nancy, how did you get involved in the world of brands?
Nancy Jones, Business Development, Pink Key Licensing: Richard is a friend of mine and we’ve known each other for a really long time. I had a completely different career in HR. I had my daughter and didn’t want to go back to the grind of going into the city every day. Richard was looking for some admin help, so I started with a couple of spreadsheets and 10 years later here I am in licensing! I love it!

You mentioned about wanting to bring Kellogg’s to life in adult categories with a vintage look. What steered that decision? Why did you feel confident the brand would work in this way?
RP: Kellogg’s has such a rich heritage and one guy decided at the very start of that company, that he was going to keep everything. The archive grew and grew and grew and it now takes up the entire basement at the Kellogg’s head office in Battle Creek, Michigan. I went over there to have a look and it was jaw-dropping. It was a gold mine. Because of the wealth of material in the archive, I saw Kellogg’s as art or heritage licence. I mean people like Norman Rockwell designed ads for them, so it wasn’t difficult to make that leap.

The US had also already translated the brand into about 13 different themed style guides. It gave them a leg up to be able to license the brand, and that’s something that some corporate brands miss. It’s no good just having the assets or an archive, you’ve got to have assets that are available to use. That’s what Kellogg’s had from the get-go.

Richard Pink, Nancy Jones, Pink Key Licensing
How powerful are archives when it comes to building out a brand? Are some IP owners missing a trick by not diving into them?

NJ: I think companies that are new to licensing might be surprised by what might be good art to license. They obviously love their brands so they want licensees to love what they love – and that doesn’t always align. They have to let go a little bit and trust licensees.

RP: Absolutely, some people don’t recognise what they have and some look at what they have and think they can do a licensing programme without doing the hard work to make those assets attractive to a licensee. If you license your brands, you’re taking it into entirely different industries, and you shouldn’t underestimate the gravity of that. In Kellogg’s terms, the industry competition is Weetabix and Nestle. In licensing, their competition is everyone from Ferrari to AC Milan.

What is it about the artwork around the Kellogg’s brand that has enabled the licensing programme to thrive?
NJ: There’s a real nostalgia around it. Everyone has a memory of having Frosties for breakfast. Everyone knows Tony the Tiger. The brand means something to people. It sounds cheesy but it makes people smile. When licensees see the artwork, they know they are able to do something that will appeal to a whole range of people.

Richard Pink, Nancy Jones, Pink Key Licensing
It works on many levels. It works as a logo, and we’ve had a lot of successful products out that’s based around the logo. Once you get beyond that, you have a range of characters and past that, you also have a huge amount of great art. Licensees often start in one place – maybe doing a t-shirt with the Kellogg’s logo – and that’s a gateway for them to embrace all the art that they had no idea existed. That’s why I feel there’s more to it that many vintage licences.

Richard Pink, Nancy Jones, Pink Key Licensing
It’s a great point. It keeps reinventing itself. There’s never any new artwork. That’s the beauty of having a huge archive. The artwork becomes contemporary due to the contemporary designs that they’re being adapted into. It’s funny when we say no new artwork, because Kellogg’s don’t really want to consider the Nineties as retro.

Neither do I as a Nineties kid!
RP: You’re vintage now mate!

NJ: Ha! But that’s testament to the brand and its licensees. Licensees are ensuring it feels fresh without having anything new to work with.

Is there a deal or a range that sums up why it’s a really creative brand to work on?
NJ: Two come to mind! At the very high end, we did an Anya Hindmarsh Tony the Tiger collaboration. It was incredible and she researched vintage cereal boxes and chose the one she wanted to work with. The day that launched on Madison Avenue in New York, we also launched a Tony the Tiger onesie in Primark!

Richard Pink, Nancy Jones, Pink Key Licensing
There aren’t many brands that can stretch like that, with a £1500 clutch bag in one store and a £19.99 onesie in another. And that’s with one character as well! One I’d add is Mad Beauty’s range. When we first started out, we never would’ve thought we’d take Kellogg’s into toiletries. Mad are highly successful when it comes to working with brands, and Kellogg’s was their first licence.

Richard Pink, Nancy Jones, Pink Key Licensing
Yes, and the Norman Rockwell Kellogg’s Santa was on a range of Mad’s Christmas beauty gifting. On paper, it sounds like it might not work, but it was wonderful.

Richard Pink, Nancy Jones, Pink Key Licensing
Do you have to approach food brands in a different way than you might tackle brand extensions for TV characters or film licences?

RP: Having worked in pre-school and entertainment licensing, there is definitely a ‘route one’. Generally speaking, you know what you’re going to get if you’re licensing a pre-school show. You know the product categories you’ll target, and you’ll probably know who you’re going to talk to about them as well.

With our brands, you have to work a little bit harder on that. The closer you can align the products you’re doing with the values of the brand in question, the better it’s going to be, but there’s no ‘route one’ approach with brands like Slush Puppie. You have to try and get to the core of what a brand means to be people.

You have to find the core product – that one product you’ve got to have. With Kellogg’s, it’s about who’s doing the bowl. With Slush Puppie, it turned out to be a Slush Puppie machine. Both are so close to what the core of the brand is about, and the Slush Puppie machine has been massively successful.

Richard Pink, Nancy Jones, Pink Key Licensing
It’s a high price point item that has literally gone everywhere because it makes sense. It sounds obvious, but it took Fizz Creations to do it. I was talking to them about doing flavoured straws and they said, “Forget that, we want to do a Slush Puppie maker!”

Then there’s the opposite approach where you take the brand and do something totally unexpected with it. Look at Pringles lip balms! It resembles little cans and it’s a neutral flavour. It’s the same with Kellogg’s toiletries. Both work because of the creativity behind them.

NJ: Sometimes, you have to convince the brand that a left-field product can work. They are really protective, and they need convincing to think outside of the box sometimes.

“Everyone has a memory of having Frosties for breakfast. Everyone knows Tony the Tiger. The brand means something to people.”

Do retailers need convincing sometimes too? If a brand is alien to their industry, is there often some resistance there?
NJ: Absolutely. It’s very true. The buyers at BLE get younger every year and they can’t, like all of us, know every brand. That’s where we rely on our licensees and their design teams to really show retailers what can be done. We rely on the brilliance of great designers.

RP: A great example of that is one of Nancy’s ideas: Pringles socks. The socks went inside a little plastic Pringles pop box. Once you took your socks out of it, you’d also have a pop box to keep your Pringles in! That was Nancy’s idea that was executed by Roy Lowe & Sons and then taken to Primark. There is a number of leaps you have to make to get to that point, but it was one of our most successful products.

NJ: And you can’t buy the Pop Boxes. You can find old promotional ones from the Nineties on eBay, but they aren’t on the market anymore and that’s where that idea came from.

Richard Pink, Nancy Jones, Pink Key Licensing
That line does look brill! And I remember the Pop Box as a staple of school lunch boxes! We’ve discussed apparel, toiletries and Slush Puppie machines, where else are there opportunities?

NJ: Well, Pan Am has the Pan Am Experience in Miami. It’s an experience where you relive the glamour of flying on a Pan Am 747 in the Fifties. We would love to bring that sort of live experience to the UK, and the opportunities in live events are incredible.

RP: There’s a whole area that’s untapped. Born Licensing are taking areas like insurance and financing and using licensing to advertise them. He-Man being used to push – it’s not something you’d expect, and I think there’s more that brands could do in those areas.

“You have to find the core product – that one product you’ve got to have. With Kellogg’s, it’s about who’s doing the bowl. With Slush Puppie, it turned out to be a Slush Puppie machine.”

Guys, this has been fun. My last question is what do you do to help fuel your creativity?
NJ: With our brands, we’ve been really lucky. Kathleen Pavlack, who was Head of Licensing at Kellogg’s, and Carol Janet, the US agent for Slush Puppie, are both former designers. It means whenever we’ve been in a stalemate design-wise, they can come up with great ideas. We like to talk about ideas outside of the style guide. We talk all the time about what we could do and that really helps bring ideas out. I’m also always looking at social media and that often inspires ideas.

RP: We don’t come from a creative background. I’m ex-sales and Nancy was in HR. As Nancy said, social media is now a huge source of creativity. We run our Instagram account as a trade marketing tool, but there’s an awful lot of consumers follow it. It gives us insights into how people react to what we do and that informs our approach moving forward.

NJ: We’ve even done deals off the back of it. I see stuff all the time and I love seeing what other brands are doing.

Great stuff. Thanks again guys. Looking forward to catching up again soon.

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Brands Untapped updates & news.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.