The Brand Radar: Royal Mail, Aardman and fresh thinking around licensing

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how Aardman’s recent partnerships with the likes of Royal Mail, P&O and Wild in Art showcase innovation around brand extensions.

One of the driving forces behind Brands Untapped is the desire to celebrate licensing deals and partnerships that use IP in new ways or with fresh thinking.

While the mainstream licensing market appears to be buoyant, it’s also crowded and it can difficult for IP owners to gain a foothold for their brands. For licensing to continue to thrive, the industry will need to explore new market sectors, new ways of working and embrace fresh thinking.

Looking at a sector like apparel, it is clear this sort of approach has been adopted as we see a plethora of fashion collabs rolled out. These kinds of partnerships help reset things design-wise and can also help recruit new consumers.

Likewise, there seems to be a lot of fresh energy in the live licensing category with immersive theatre, exhibitions and experiences coming to the fore. Against this backdrop, it has been interesting to see a plethora of new deals announced by my client Aardman over the last couple of weeks – they seem to be embracing this fresh thinking approach and embracing new opportunities to bring their IP alive.

Of course, Aardman are a creative company and are very proactive in thinking about ways of partnering with third parties with their content at the centre of things. But, nevertheless, it’s noteworthy to observe their latest announcements and it provides some insight into how the licensing market is shifting.

New technology is helping new licensing opportunities emerge and companies like Aardman have recognised this. Last year they launched an Augmented Reality tour featuring Wallace & Gromit. The Big Fix Up melded much loved IP with AR to create a new offering.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Royal Mail, Aardman

Recently, Aardman announced a partnership with the Royal Mail. Aardman has produced an exclusive animation featuring Shaun the Sheep for the Royal Mail’s first ever video stamp. The Royal Mail’s definitive stamps will now feature barcodes and recipients of the stamps will be able to watch a 30 second Shaun the Sheep video by scanning the stamp using the Royal Mail app.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Royal Mail, Aardman

This is, I am sure, part of a programme and initiative that will grow, but Aardman have recognised the value of being involved in such a programme early in its life. These sorts of opportunities emerge from good networking and nurturing partnerships, but also by being open to working in an integrated way.

As an animation studio, Aardman can link the use of their IP with bespoke animation production to create a compelling commercial offer. This sort of integrated approach to licensing is probably a model for the future as well.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Royal Mail, Aardman

It’s not an entirely new or unique approach; I remember in my Fox Kids days working with Bandai and Woolworths on a 3D TV commercial linked to Power Rangers toys – but there has to be a mindset to think ‘deal plus’.

Another recent example of Aardman integrating their creative skills with their licensing programme is their partnership with Flair GP which has seen Flair launch two plasticine kits featuring Shaun the Sheep and Morph. There is a natural link of course, as Aardman uses modelling clay in the majority of their productions so there is a strong brand fit.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Royal Mail, Aardman

The Morph product is a Plasticine Morph Animation Maker and makes use of Aardman’s custom built animation app. It will encourage and help consumers to make their own animated films, backed up with Aardman’s know-how.

From a licensing perspective this seems like a perfect partnership, with the licensee bringing a strong brand to the table which is then enhanced by a well-chosen brand partnership. Using new technology helps bring the product alive for younger consumers and keeps it relevant.

Products like this take more time to imagine and develop, but they ultimately have more long-term potential. Thinking long-term and developing evergreen products is a smart and efficient strategy at the moment.

It was also interesting to see Aardman announce two deals in the ‘live licensing’ space recently – a sign of the growing importance and potential of this sector.

Aardman has renewed their partnership with Wild In Art and are working with them to create public art trails featuring Morph and Shaun the Sheep. The first of these will be a Morph trail that is running in North Tyneside.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Royal Mail, Aardman

Morph’s Epic Adventure will feature 20 1.8-metre-tall Morph sculptures decorated by commissioned artists who have developed original designs inspired by the word ‘Morph’. Trails like these literally get characters out and about, creating new relationships with consumers.

By working with artists, there is a benefit to the creative community – but also an injection of fresh creative thinking for a classic IP. Indeed, one side benefit of these partnerships is that it can nurture new relationships with artists and illustrators that then feedback into the mainstream licensing programme.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Royal Mail, Aardman

The trails, which are generally co-hosted by local councils, are a force for good in town centres. They encourage people to visit and explore town centres, bringing economic and health benefits. Given the current challenges local retailers face, this kind of initiative could be a very attractive opportunity.

Another dimension of the trails can be a link to a charity. Again, this is a positive strand but also commercially it can open up new opportunities for IP owners, including ‘pop up’ retailing. A key point here is that this is a multi-layered multi-partner licensing deal. It’s more complex than the ‘average’ licensing deal, but it opens up a new way of working.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Royal Mail, Aardman

It’s likely that the licensing industry will have to get used to developing deals that need fresh commercial and legal thinking. Connected to this, Aardman also recently announced a partnership with P&O whereby a range of character-based activities featuring Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep will feature on the ship Iona. This will include screenings of Aardman films.

Ian Downes, The Brand Radar, Royal Mail, Aardman

Key to this partnership is content. It’s a good example of an IP owner recognising that embracing deals that include a content element can help create new partnerships. One would imagine holiday companies and leisure operators would be receptive to licensing opportunities at the moment; not least in regards to their marketing to family programmes.

Well known IP that delivers content is a compelling proposition, but it has to be delivered in a way that the end user can use easily – and in a commercially balanced way. Again, it would also help to be thinking long-term.

It will be interesting to see what other new deals emerge from Aardman and other IP owners over the coming months. My sense is that we will see licensing being used in new ways and in new markets, but that this will also be accompanied by new deal terms, more integration with new technology and developments with new creative talent.

It’s probably the year for fresh thinking.

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