The Brand Radar: Isle of Man Post Office, David Bowie and how music IP thrives in specialist areas

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how the Isle of Man Post Office’s recent range of David Bowie stamps cements the notion that authenticity is key when it comes to brand extension success.

An area of brand licensing that seems to be going from strength to strength is that associated with music. Bands have become brands. Groups and artists like The Beatles, Queen and The Rolling Stones have inspired a myriad of licensed products and partnerships ranging from apparel through to jigsaw puzzles. There are also mid to up market collaborations with fashion brands, designers and retailers.

Licensed products associated with music has moved a long way from a t-shirt, cap and a poster. Rights owners have helped establish it as a category that’s on the licensing radar and rights that are keenly sought out by licensees. Against this backdrop, it’s always interesting to see how these rights are being used.

A great recent example of music rights being used in a novel way is the Isle of Man Post Office’s David Bowie stamp collection.

The Isle of Man Post Office have a track record of engaging with licensing and brand owners. They have worked with the likes of Aardman and the Ashmolean in recent times. They traditionally develop collections with a strong link to the Isle of Man that resonate with Isle of Man residents – 2022 saw collections such as Isle of Man Shipwrecks, Underwater Photography of the Isle of Man and a Manx Winter.

That said from a commercial and growth point of view, they are keen to develop collections that will appeal to consumers beyond their domestic market. Like most stamp issuing authorities, they have a database of stamp collectors around the world to market collections to. A key motivation for licensing partnerships is to open up new channels of communication, distribution and collecting.

The Isle of Man’s David Bowie Collection was launched in September 2022 and focused on Bowie’s acting career. This focus was important as it opened up the opportunity of developing a collection with a direct connection to the Isle of Man. Bowie appeared as the character Bernie in the 1998 film Everybody Loves Sunshine, which was filmed on the Isle of Man.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

The collection consists of eight postage stamps featuring five films Bowie starred in, the BBC television adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s play Baal, his stage performance in The Elephant Man and a special stamp – The Final Portrait – which shows Bowie in his last photoshoot.

Given that a collection of this kind will be of interest to Bowie fans, it’s noteworthy that the Isle of Man Post Office have taken a very authentic approach to the design of the stamps. The stamp set, and additional products, have been designed by Jonathan Barnbrook. Barnbrook collaborated closely with Bowie, specifically designing all his album covers since the 2002 album Heathen. He was also heavily involved in the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition, David Bowie Is.

As one of the ambitions with collections of this kind is to engage with and appeal to a wider fan base, it’s good to see the Isle of Man engaging David Barnbrook to design their products. This will appeal to fans and reassure them about the design vision behind the collection.

The stamps themselves are of course important, but increasingly ancillary products featuring the stamps are of equal importance – not least as these products tap into new markets such as gifting and home interiors. One aspect of the collection is a range of wall art featuring the stamps – this opens up stamp art to new purchasers and uses.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

Speaking about the collection, Jonathan Barnbrook said: “I started working on the David Bowie: Actor stamp collection several years ago, and in that time an incredible amount of work has been done to get this collection to where it is now and to be something that the fans will be happy with. I worked with Bowie for over thirteen years on his record covers and the team at the Isle of Man Post Office saw the level of detail that I go to, the kind of knowledge I have, and the efforts I would make to ensure these stamps were right.”

He went on to share more detail about the creative process behind the collection, adding: “I didn’t want to create just another series of nice pictures of David Bowie from record covers. The stamps had to have a connection to the Isle of Man, which is where Everybody Loves Sunshine comes in, but they also needed to show something about Bowie’s career that hadn’t been fully explored, which is why we concentrated on his achievements as an actor.

“There are the films that everyone knows about, but there have been some incredible acting milestones which are less discussed, particularly his performance on stage in The Elephant Man, and Baal, where Bowie managed to bring together both the avant-garde and the mainstream in one character performance.”

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar

Maxine Cannon from the Isle of Man Post Office offered some insight into their decision making behind this collection. She said: “For five decades David Bowie was at the forefront of contemporary culture and has influenced successive generations of musicians, artists, designers and writers. The Isle of Man Post Office’s stamp issue celebrates this unique figure and some of his many celebrated personas. We are incredibly proud to present David Bowie as an actor in this set of eight stamps spanning 50 years of his remarkably varied career. The set also celebrates his performance in Everybody Loves Sunshine, filmed on the Isle of Man.”

The David Bowie: Actor series is a great example of how music IP can be used effectively in a relatively specialist product area. It’s also a good reminder that when dealing with IP that has such a rich legacy associated with it – and a fully engaged fan base – that authenticity is vital in terms of design, development and product mix. The Isle of Man seem to have got the balance right between being commercial but also respecting Bowie’s legacy.

This collection also helps shine a light on an aspect of Bowie’s career that is maybe less well known and has value in regards to extending Bowie’s legacy. It will be interesting to see what other licensed ranges and partnerships we will see featuring Bowie – he is certainly an artist that continues to inspire and entertain consumers.

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