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Inspired by a trip to Spring Fair, Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how the legacy of music icons like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Amy Winehouse are being preserved through smart brand extensions.
One feature that I noted at the Spring Fair last week was the growing prominence of gifting ranges that feature well known music bands or artists.
Spring Fair is a major tradeshow for the gift industry and sees manufacturers presenting their ranges to retail buyers. It’s a great barometer for the gift trade and is a good way of spotting developing trends.
There has been a long history of the licensing and music industries working together. Nearly 30 years ago, I was involved in developing a licensing programme for Elvis Presley Enterprises. One highlight of this was a lavish illustrated book that provided a unique insight into Elvis’ home, Graceland. We also worked on licensing programmes for acts like Guns ’n’ Roses.
These programmes had success, but weren’t as successful or as prominent as character licensing programmes at the time. Fast forward 30 years and band brands are firmly established on the licensing stage.
Bands such as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones have well established and very successful retail licensing programmes. Organisations such as the Royal Mail and the Royal Mint feature as licensing partners, while it’s not uncommon to see bands celebrated with activities such as exhibitions. As noted recently, there are currently exhibitions in London featuring Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley and Paul McCartney.
Gifting companies have recognised the commercial potential that music brings them and have developed ranges accordingly. A great example of this working for companies is the success of jigsaw company Zee Productions. Zee has developed a powerful roster of music licences, including Iron Maiden, Metallica, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Hawkwind and Oasis.
The bulk of their products are 500-piece jigsaws featuring album cover artwork, and they have 1000-piece jigsaws as well. They have recently developed a new format of jigsaw presented in a box that’s sized and shaped like an album cover. This range – sold under the Rock Saws brand name – was a prominent part of their Spring Fair stand. Zee’s portfolio has grown rapidly, with sales being achieved across a range of independent gift retailers alongside significant success with e-commerce partners.
Sites like Truffleshuffle have integrated music merchandising into their product offering and are very efficient at making sure fans are aware of products as they become available. There are also some great outlets on the high street for this kind of product, including HMV.
HMV’s new pop culture stores – such as the one in Oxford – are becoming a hub for music merchandise and, of course, are selling other lines like vinyl records, making them destination stores for music fans.
Leading licensees such as Pyramid, Half Moon Bay and Abysse all featured music related licences in their ranges, including items such as posters, mugs, glassware and coasters. It’s a core part of their offering and a category that retailers seem keen to buy into.
Apparel specialist Spike Leisurewear – who focus on selling t-shirts to gift shops, visitor attractions and e-commerce companies – has been a long-term Beatles licensee, boasting an extensive Beatles collection. It was a key feature of their Spring Fair presentation, with a range featuring logo t-shirts as well as iconic designs such as Abbey Road and Sergeant Pepper.
Greetings cards companies are also tapping into the trend. Hype Cards feature a large range of Beatles greetings cards, including photographic cards. In their case, they are selling these widely across the card trade but see significant sales in Liverpool, the ‘home of the Beatles’. There is a network of Beatles-related retail outlets across Liverpool which open up sales opportunities for suppliers like Hype.
Arguably The Beatles is the band brand that most people point to as a successful case study. The licensing programme has been well managed and is populated by long term partners such as Spike Leisurewear. Having long term partners in licensing makes a licensing programme more secure; licensees feel more comfortable in investing in new product formats and designs. A brand like The Beatles has longevity and runs along a well mapped road.
Another licensee in The Beatles licensing programme who has been involved in the programme for a long time is House of Disaster. The Beatles is a core part of their overall range and their Beatles product featured prominently on their stand. They have created a very stylish and contemporary giftware collection and are a great example of a licensee that has moved beyond a band logo. House of Disaster has truly embraced the opportunity to create a design-led collection that celebrates a band’s heritage.
They have invested in creative NPD with nice details and features, such as a cup with The Beatle’s apple inside it as a 3D detail. They have made great use of assets such as the iconic photograph of The Beatles on the Abbey Road zebra crossing. The range also includes lighting, bags and drinks bottles. It’s a carefully curated collection that has a quality feel to it and one that works across a broad spectrum of retail.
It was also interesting to note this week’s announcement by brand licensing agency MDR Brand Management that they had brokered a deal for the Amy Winehouse Foundation. The deal will see audio company Roberts develop a collection of Amy Winehouse products, starting with an Amy branded turntable. This seems to be the perfect marriage of brand and product.
In this case, Amy’s Foundation will benefit from sales of the product but it’s also an example of licensing helping to preserve an artist’s legacy. With the turntable retailing at around £450, this is a considered purchase, but by working with a proven brand like Roberts, MDR are assured this will be a good quality product developed by a brand that consumers know and trust.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that when licensing bands and artists like Amy Winehouse and The Beatles, there is also a duty of care to protect and preserve their legacy. This comes from careful selection of partners, a curated approach to design and by recognising what their fans are looking for. It would be easy to take shortcuts and act in a short-term way.
My visit to the Spring Fair has given me the sense that those involved in music licensing are hitting the right notes at the moment and I expect the category to grow even more.
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