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In recent years, M&S’ Percy Pig brand has expanded from sweets into other categories like own-brand greeting cards, bedding and even fizzy pop… So is it about time Percy dipped his trotters into the licensing space?
Talking Brands is a new monthly series that sees figures in the licensing industry tackle a question centred on brand extensions and creativity in licensing.
This month, we’re talking about the iconic M&S sweets brand, Percy Pig.
The character has been a staple of the retailer since 1992. Having started life as a humble bag of grape and raspberry gummy sweets, the Percy Pig brand has expanded in-house to encompass products like greeting cards, bedding, pyjamas, plush toys, piggy banks and face masks.
Perhaps naturally, the area that has seen Percy’s presence expand the most has been the M&S Food Court. Spin-offs include easter eggs, ice cream, muffins, biscuits, sponge rolls, ‘Phizzy Pop’ and a dessert sauce.
Elsewhere, a recipe list on the M&S site allows fans to create their own Percy Pig-inspired culinary delights, including trifles, fudge, milkshakes and even nachos – complete with a sweet pink dipping sauce.
With the brand soaring, we asked Sweet Connextion’s Carl Richardson, Interim Licensing Management’s David Berry and Finsbury Foods Group’s Daryl Newlands whether M&S should look to expand Percy Pig’s consumer products presence further with licensing.
Here’s what they had to say…
Carl Richardson, Director, Sweet Connextion
Whenever I’m in an M&S Food Hall, I come into contact with good old Percy Pig. My first thought is always about an ex-work colleague who created him… My second being: I bet she wishes she was on a commission deal!
Let’s be honest, M&S are doing an amazing job in building Percy’s brand equity internally themselves and they undoubtedly see Percy as a jewel in the crown. I imagine the fear of brand dilution outside of Percy’s home, in their eyes, currently outweighs the licensing benefits.
Successful extensions to other products within the business have proven Percy is versatile and can work cross-category. That said, I still can’t see M&S looking to license Percy on products – and certainly not food. They may consider licensing for media, perhaps… A Percy Pig TV show for kids? Some other well-known pig did alright from this strategy, which over time moved to world domination! Who knows, one day it could be the Percy and Peppa show!
Times are tough, particularly on the High Street, so never say never. A carefully managed and controlled licensing programme would create a welcome additional revenue stream. Percy is appealing to generations new and old, however, I think he’s staying firmly in his ‘posh pen’ for the foreseeable.
David Berry, Principal Consultant, Interim Licensing Management
Marks & Spencer is currently the Lockdown 3.0 retailer of choice for food inspiration and culinary treats in this household. From the expanding ‘Our Best Ever’ and ‘Gastropub’ ranges to its ‘Biscake’ and Yumnut bakery hybrids… And all the Marmite cheese slices, pastry twists, butter and cream cheese – all must-try and exclusive-to-M&S – you can eat!
The current innovation level emanating from M&S Foodhall is impressive and reflective of the broader five-year transformation plan that the retailer is undertaking to deliver a faster, more streamlined digital multichannel business – and “making M&S special again” under Archie Norman’s stewardship.
If the ever-expanding Percy Pig merchandise range – both in-store and online through M&S at Ocado and M&S’ dedicated Percy Pig Gifts section – is anything to go by, the retailer is intent, despite the apparent oxymoron, on ‘sweating’ this particular asset.
Who doesn’t like Percy Pigs? His broad appeal with both children and adults is a testament to the original product development team, who spotted a gap in the market for foamy-gummy textured confectionery and positioned their innovative creation somewhere between the younger appealing Rowntree’s Jelly Tots and the more adult-targeted Maynards Wine Gums.
It’s almost 30 years since Percy Pig first exposed his soft underbelly to the Great British public; 2020 witnessed the biggest innovation year to date, with 20 product launches in the three months to December.
The range now stretches beyond confectionery to apparel, bedding, gifting, stationery, toys and adult face coverings – naturally! – and boasts a growing social media following on TikTok and Facebook, where a Percy Pig appreciation society has been set up on Facebook and currently has 250,000 members!
The brand would appear to have all the accoutrements to extend successfully beyond M&S through a proprietary commercial licensing programme. Licensing out the brand would undoubtedly help the retailer reach a wider audience, build deeper relationships with its customers and generate incremental revenue.
But you sense M&S have other, more significant priorities right now… They appear laser-focused on delivering innovation and a product formula that differentiates the retailer from the competition – and research suggests consumers perceive M&S to offer higher quality than their competitors.
In turn, increased marketing spend has heightened awareness of the latest brand innovations and driven consumers either back in-store or online in increasing numbers. That exclusive destination, as far as Percy Pig is concerned outside of the digital reselling community, remains firmly M&S.
And if the pre-Easter in-store space dedicated to Percy Pig merchandise is anything to go by, I don’t see that position changing in the foreseeable future.
Daryl Newlands, Marketing Manager, Finsbury Food Group
When looking at whether M&S should license Percy Pig outside of M&S, my head started racing around how big could this be for the retailer. Looking at every category associated with consumer products and how the brand could access these would be a very interesting journey to begin!
However, when thinking deeper into what this would mean, I started to back-track and my thoughts began to change – and this is why…
The Percy Pig brand has been in the making at M&S for well over 10 years and has become a stand-out brand in its own right. This is M&S’ IP and a real consumer hook. If M&S were to license this to companies outside of the M&S estate, I believe this would massively dilute the unique position and destination journey of the Percy-hungry shopper.
That said, M&S can catapult this opportunity within their own stores through a wide range of non-food related licensed products which would help drive incremental sales for the business. Could it move broader into publishing or even into animation?
The Percy Pig brand has a loyal and growing ubiquitous shopper base… M&S should hold this dear and set their sights high on evolving it within their stores and online.
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