The Brand Radar: How exhibitions can power licensing activity

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how exhibitions like Bob Marley: One Love, Amy: Beyond the Stage and Pissarro: Father of Impressionism have the power to fuel exciting brand extensions.

One area of licensing that has seen increased activity in recent years is that of exhibitions.

Museums and galleries have been active in this area for years, with many of them using temporary exhibitions as a source of fresh income and a way of reaching new visitors. In recent years, these more traditional exhibitions have been joined by specially crafted themed exhibitions.

Many of these are developed in a way that means they can be toured nationally or internationally, and they tend to be high impact and at large scale. Often they are licensed, but deals will vary and they can involve multiple partners – including a museum or gallery – which helps get the concept off the ground. There are also frequent examples of smaller scale exhibitions that run at a more regional level often curated by a single museum.

Exhibitions are developed for many reasons but are often inspired by significant anniversaries. However, in a licensing context, they are increasingly developed to become cornerstone activities of brand licensing programmes and in many cases, they are a catalyst for licensing activity.

In an age where film and television markets are more crowded and less predictable, a major exhibition can become a very welcome alternative media event. Given exhibitions of this type are generally paid entry events, they have to offer a fresh perspective on the featured subject and need to be content rich. This might include featuring never or seldom seen items, memorabilia from archives and increasingly clever use of new technology to enhance the visitor experience.

It’s a competitive space. Venues are keen to secure the best content, which converts into commercial success for them. Plans are made in advance and it can be a logistically challenging exercise booking dates, arranging transport and securing exhibits.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that a successful exhibition can bring good financial returns for the underlying owner and operator – who are not always the same entity. Revenues flow from hire fees and, of course, merchandise sales. Most exhibitions will have well stocked gift shops with bespoke merchandise created to tie in with the exhibition. This can be overlaid with pre-existing merchandise.

For some categories, such as publishing, exhibition shops can become very valuable retail outlets helping to revitalise blacklist titles. Another benefit of an exhibition programme is that it can bolster licensing sales in the general market – and indeed galvanise new developments from licensees. It can also help inspire new design work and themes, with exhibition content sparking design developments.

Of course this sector has been faced with unexpected challenges over recent months. Live events, venues, museums and galleries have been closed. In terms of special exhibitions, this has caused significant logistical issues in regards to scheduling, with touring schedules severely disrupted.

This interruption of normal service has also had adverse consequences in financial terms. For many museums and galleries, their temporary exhibitions are a major financial contributor to their funds. Fortunately, in the UK it seems things are changing, and normal service is being resumed. Indeed, given the challenges and financial shortfalls experienced, it seems there is more demand for themed exhibitions. Host venues see bought in content as a way of encouraging visitors back into venues and as a way of generating revenue quickly.

There are some great examples of these kind of exhibitions in the market at the moment. Here are a few examples:

The Cartoon Museum is currently hosting an exhibition celebrating cult comic 2000AD’s 45th Anniversary with a focus on Judge Dredd. The exhibition Dredd at 45 includes original comic art, comics and memorabilia. It charts the progress of the iconic character and includes insights into techniques used to create the comics. The Cartoon Museum have also created some exclusive merchandise to tie into the exhibition.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

The Design Museum is hosting Amy: Beyond the Stage, an exhibition that provides an insight into musical star Amy Winehouse’s life and career. Brand licensing agency MDR Brand Management are working with the Winehouse family and the Amy Winehouse Foundation to create a licensing programme influenced by Amy’s life, music and fashion. The exhibition is part of this development. The exhibition features items and artefacts from Amy’s life, giving visitors the chance to gain a unique insight into Amy’s life and influences.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

Somerset House and DC Thomson have collaborated to create an exhibition which celebrates The Beano. Beano: The Art of Breaking Rules features a range of artefacts, artwork and merchandise, coupled with a selection of original artwork developed by contemporary artists that are inspired by The Beano. There is a well-stocked gift shop which blends exhibition specific merchandise, including a bespoke edition of the Beano and licensed products. It’s also a showcase for The Beano’s collaboration with accessories brand Radley.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum is hosting Pissarro: Father of Impressionism. This is a major exhibition of works drawn from the Ashmolean’s collection and international loans which will span Pissarro ‘s entire career. The exhibition has inspired a range of products that will be sold through both a specially designed exhibition shop and the Museum’s permanent shop. The focused exhibition and celebration of Pissarro’s work will in turn become a design theme for the Museum’s licensing programme.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

The Bob Marley: One Love Experience recently opened in London’s Saatchi Gallery. Described as an immersive experience, the exhibition showcases unseen Marley photographs and memorabilia. It features a number of themed areas, including the Soul Shakedown Studio. It has been developed to be an exhibition that can be toured internationally. Seemingly, it will be the cornerstone of a growing Bob Marley licensing programme and will no doubt be part of coordinated effort to grow the programme. It will help influence design themes and act as a great showcase for the Marley brand and values.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

The British Library are hosting a free exhibition in their Entrance Hall exhibition space. Paul McCartney: The Lyrics showcases the lyrics behind some of the most famous songs of all time. It features lyrics and photographs that span McCartney ‘s career. It ties in with the book Paul McCartney – The Lyrics 1956 to the Present. This is a good example of a focused exhibition developed to support a specific activity – in this case the publication of a book. It has generated significant consumer PR and created renewed interest in McCartney.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

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