The Brand Radar: Radley, Royal Ascot and tapping into opportunities around unique events

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes shines a spotlight on the licensing programme around Royal Ascot, which boasts partners including L.K.Bennett, Radley and Charbonnel et Walker.

Last week saw the arrival of one of the major events in the horse racing calendar – and one which is also a major event in a lot of people’s social calendars – namely Royal Ascot.

Royal Ascot is a festival of top-class flat racing featuring some of the world’s best horses, and also a social event that attracts the great and good. The clue is in the name – it is Royal Ascot, and the event has enjoyed royal patronage over the years. Unfortunately, this year the Queen couldn’t attend in person, but it is an odds-on bet that she was watching the excellent coverage from ITV.

Royal Ascot, and horse racing generally, have been fortunate to have such a high-profile supporter as the Queen. The Queen owns horses, breeds horses and is a genuine fan of the sport. This is very helpful when marketing and promoting a sporting event in an ever increasingly competitive marketplace.

Ascot have done a great job in promoting Royal Ascot to the wider racing world, attracting runners and visitors from overseas. Widening the awareness of Royal Ascot helps from a broader commercial basis, as well making the event more attractive for sponsors, partners and licensees. Racing is a sport that relies heavily on commercial partnerships – races are sponsored, there are official suppliers at events and, in the case of Royal Ascot, a licensing programme.

Royal Ascot have a number of licensees on board already. I am on Ascot’s mailing list and get regular updates on their partnerships. Current Ascot licensees include L.K.Bennett, Radley London, Christy’s of London, Favourbrook and Oliver Brown.

Seemingly a key strand of the Ascot licensing programme is focused on the heritage, tradition and sense of occasion associated with Royal Ascot. For example, Oliver Brown are a licensee for top hats, while Radley have developed a stylish collection of handbags featuring themes, colourways and details associated with Royal Ascot.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Radley, Royal Ascot

With products like the Radley collection, it’s easy to imagine racegoers buying them to accessorise their raceday outfits, but also having appeal at retail as a lifestyle purchase. The association of Radley and Royal Ascot is also a design combination that travels well internationally. Royal Ascot is definitely a brand that can trade well on the fact it has a unique place in the British social calendar and has a long history.

Royal Ascot is an event that is broadcast internationally – I remember watching it on the big screens in a Las Vegas casino one year – and there is definitely potential for Royal Ascot to build partnerships with retailers and others internationally.

Licensee L.K.Bennett is the official Ladies Fashion licensee of Royal Ascot. They have created a capsule collection of clothing, shoes and accessories designed with Ascot in mind. The range complies with the Royal Ascot dress code, giving it an authentic feel.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Radley, Royal Ascot

Design-wise, the range picks up on vintage-inspired themes and have been put together with a day at the races in mind, with an emphasis on strong and bold use of colour. That said, a collection of this kind needs to be able to survive and thrive beyond a specific event and occasion. With this in mind, Royal Ascot presents L.K. Bennett with a lifestyle licensing opportunity that they can build a design and marketing story around.

Licensees are increasingly looking to work with brands that help them create brand stories, particularly in regard to social and digital media. Ascot are doing a good job of supporting their licensees through digital marketing and on the course with product displays.

Interestingly, Royal Ascot have a myriad of relationships with official partners and suppliers. Some of these are directly related to horse racing and as such, are specific to that sporting universe. Others – such as suppliers Moet & Chandon and ice cream brand Magnum – have wider appeal.

This creates an interesting opportunity for Royal Ascot as there is scope for them to build their licensing programme by working with partners from other aspects of their commercial activities. They could look at limited or special edition products, or maybe bring some of these relationships alive outside the course with promotions. In the case of promotions, these can create retail theatre but also segue into creating standalone products.

Interestingly one of Royal Ascot’s licensing partners is premium confectionery brand Charbonnel et Walker. They have created a truffle chocolate gift set housed in a miniature version of a Royal Ascot top hat. This is a clever use of some of the design motifs that Royal Ascot conjures up and it has also been linked to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, giving it another layer of appeal.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Radley, Royal Ascot

I believe a version of this product was used in corporate hospitality at Royal Ascot this year as gifts for attendees. I am sure this is good business for Charbonnel et Walker and a nice way of building brand awareness. Their approach to packaging and product development is probably a good example for Royal Ascot to use to inspire other NPD, particularly in the food and gifting categories.

It will be interesting to see how the Royal Ascot licensing programme progresses. My instinct is that it has scope to grow domestically and internationally, particularly if they are able to build up a retail and design story that licensees and retailers can tap into.

Royal Ascot is a unique experience and not one anyone else can replicate. This is a good starting point for a licensing programme.

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