Brand Licensing Europe 2011 shows good character

Gifts and Greetings Review went along to Brand Licensing Europe 2011 (BLE), which opened its doors on Tuesday October 18 and will run until tomorrow, Thursday October 20.

First impressions were of a buzzing and buoyant show, although we weren’t struck with the feeling that any new mega-brands are emerging to give retailers a much needed boost. (Excepting perhaps the phenomenally successful Moshi Monsters, which gains more and more fans by the minute around the globe and shows how vital the booming digital arena is for the licensing industry).

It is also worth keeping an eye on Hello Kitty Sub-brand Angel Cat Sugar, which has a range of licensees including Pyramid International for posters and stationery and is growing to match her big sister in terms of popularity.

All that said, Richard Hollis of BBC Worldwide made the very valid point for the high street that: “in difficult economic times creative use of a good license is a safer way of protecting your profits.”

According to research from NPD the UK licensing market was worth around £904 million in the first six months of 2011. This means that sales of licensed goods are actually down 11 per cent on a like-for-like basis, but it’s still pretty good going in a tough economic environment for embattled high street retailers. 20 per cent of the consumer spend on children’s merchandise is spent on licensed product.

Despite the fall, the UK market is still very much in love with licensing and generates more licensed product than any other European country.

As with other retail segments, promotions have been integral to stimulating consumer interest – more than ever before – and online sales of licensed products without discounts fell by 19 per cent compared with a 3 per cent rise for those that were offered with promotions. Thank the increasingly tech-savvy consumer for this, as they’re willing to hunt high and low for favourable price comparisons while surfing the web.

As ever there were a number of fun characters wandering around to brighten up the aisles, not least of all the HRH The Queen, complete with a couple of corgis, courtesy of maverick photographer Alison Jackson, whose hilarious celebrity spoofs are crying out for greetings card and poster licensees.

It was also  nice to see the presence of famous animal refuge Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, exhibiting for the first time at BLE with a wide portfolio of photographic imagery and some fantastic original illustrations of cats and dogs. Licenses are available in categories including greetings, stationery, gift, plus, apparel, home-wares and pet products and accessories.

Retro imagery is still big for the gift, home, stationery and greetings market sectors and we can’t help loving Smiley products – for obvious reasons in a doom and gloom ridden world. It’s not new but it is nice, and not just for old school ravers like us! It’s bold, bright and happy – good vibrations all round we think.

Catching our eye on the greetings front was the award-winning Marzipan brand from Paper Rose (left), which is going from strength to strength and making increasingly successful forays into the gifting world. Look out for a separate update on this great greetings brand.

Also on the greetings front, American Greetings is having a serious push into the European market with evergreen brands such as Strawberry Shortcake and Holly Hobbie and Care Bears. Rival publishing giant Hallmark is also on the case, having recently signed a deal to produce range of social expression products featuring Marvel properties.

Pepper and Friends owned by Helz Cuppleditch is a lovely hand-illustrated puppy and group of garden friends, already a big hit in the craft sector and looking for more licensees. Also from the same agency is the Bazoo collection of illustrated zoo animals suitable for many surfaces and products, and Neighbour Wood, featuring woodland animals, all created in Helz’s recognisable hand-drawn style.

Classic greetings publisher Peartree Heybridge was also exhibiting at the show with humorous illustrated properties including Camilla & Rose, Des Brophy, Sandie Blue and the hugely successful Spring Chicken (right), which has made greetings lovers giggle for years. Cartoonist Bev Williams is seeking to capitalise on the wide and growing popularity of her  hilarious cartoons around the UK and wider world.

Also look out for LMI’s images from celebrity artist Sid Maurer, featuring the like of Marilyn Monroe and other icons. We’re a great fan of Marilyn and it might be time for a serious revival of the most seriously sexy actress the world has ever seen.

Last but not least, I’m beholden to mention my beloved Alma Mater the University of Oxford, which is ramping up its licensing programme this year. Expect lots of luscious images of dreaming spires to inspire you into the realms of genius!