Licensing: Alan Titchmarsh ... Your brand goes here

Alan Titchmarsh: developing a range of branded products
Alan Titchmarsh: developing a range of branded products

From MasterChef cookware to X Factor perfume, brands are jumping on the TV licensing bandwagon, but brand equity needs to be protected at all costs, writes Andy Fry.

Jean-Philippe Randisi, executive vice-president and director of consumer products at ITV Studios Global Entertainment (ITVSGE), has a big job title and an even bigger challenge. He needs to persuade consumers and brands that green-fingered TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh is a brand that can be extended into multiple product categories.

Titchmarsh is the latest in a long line of celebrities to be shopped around as brands. Marketers and agencies spend an increasing proportion of their time devising ways to turn their brands into content, while broadcasters and producers are just as keen to turn their content into 360 degs brands.

It's not hard to see why. With ad revenue and production budgets under threat, one obvious area for expansion is the exploitation of intellectual property (IP) rights. Whether that comes in the form of programme format sales, spin-off channels, digital downloads or the dissemination of licensed products is not important. What matters is the contribution hit shows or famous faces can make to the bottom line.

Children's and movie content have long been the most lucrative licensing vehicles, with Disney and Warner Bros among the most prolific exponents. As the fascination with lifestyle, celebrity and reality TV has grown, however, this has changed.

Today, with ratings hits such as The X Factor, Top Gear, MasterChef and Who Do You Think You Are? come substantial licensing schemes. There is also growing interest in the potential of drama and comedy.

Steve Manners, executive vice-president and director of entertainment at pan-European licensing agency CPLG, has been working with brands including The Simpsons, Hello Kitty, Peanuts and Strawberry Shortcake for more than a decade.

'There are various reasons behind the expansion in TV-based brand licensing,' he says. 'From the content-owner side, it's about diversifying out of competitive sectors like children. From the audience side, it's because they are used to it. There's a generation that has grown up with licensing and endorsement in their lives.'

This can, of course, be a double-edged sword. 'They are familiar with brand licensing, but also critical of companies that get it wrong,' warns Manners. 'Just because a show rates well on TV, that doesn't mean consumer permission will extend to some of the more obvious retail categories.'

Sympathetic extensions

Shine International, the sales and distribution division of TV production company Shine Group, has built a licensing programme for MasterChef that covers everything from cookware to live events.

'Cooking is an obvious opportunity in terms of extensions, but when you have such a loyal and passionate audience, you can't label-slap,' says global brand manager Lori Heiss. 'Brand extensions have to fit the values of the show, which is about bringing chef-standard food into the home. So it's about the ergonomics of utensils, the freshness of the ingredients and so on.'

Licensing horror stories abound, admits Heiss. 'But start from the view that licensing extends an experience people enjoy. In the US, our weight-loss show The Biggest Loser spawned a $150m (£92m) licensing programme across areas like ready meals and exercise equipment, because viewers are inspired by the human-interest stories.'

This approach echoes that taken by Fremantle Media Enterprises (FME), which has a monster brand in ITV's The X Factor. 'It has done very well on both the sponsorship and licensing side,' says Dominic Burns, FME's senior vice-president, licensing UK and entertainment EMEA.

It could be argued, though, that it can reach a point where consumers are turned off by the amount of clutter. 'In theory it can,' says Burns. 'But with The X Factor we've focused on a tightly-defined range of products incredibly relevant to the show.'

Aside from the need to avoid the expense and logistics of having to dispose of unsold merchandise, there are several solid reasons for this focus. 'The first is that you can't jeopardise the show itself,' says Burns. 'We are extremely conscious of the need to maintain a strong relationship between audience and show. Second, brands need to build scale at retail, and the best way to do that is to focus your energies on fewer relevant lines. Too many consumer product categories can also create problems for licensing partners whose rights overlap.'

Reference to retail is crucial, says Charlie Donaldson, joint managing director of Rocket Licensing. 'The real story in licensing has been retail consolidation and risk aversion. Add in regulatory changes regarding marketing to children and the message for IP owners is fewer outlets licensing fewer properties.'

Clutter risk

At first sight, this analysis does not seem to square with the activity outlined above. However, as Donaldson points out: 'It's important to distinguish between what IP owners say they are doing and what is actually happening on the shelves in retailers such as Tesco and Argos. Now, the emphasis is on classic or major movie properties that launch on the back of marketing budgets. Some of our busiest properties are Shrek spin-off Puss in Boots and Hornby Group brands, which include Scalextric and Airfix. One of the reasons MasterChef and Top Gear appeal to retailers is because they have been around so long.'

Restrictions on the use of children's characters in relation to foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar could create an opportunity for factual and sports brands in food licensing. For the most part, however, pressure on retail space encourages IP owners to develop brand extensions in the online, mobile, gaming and events sectors. One area in which accusations of clutter ring true is in-home cooking experiences. Pampered Chef established the market, but it now faces competition from MasterChef, Jamie Oliver, Come Dine With Me and Channel 4 show Cookery School.

Most IP owners focus on brands that work across territories, says Manners, 'because it's expensive to develop licensing programmes and harder to make a decent return on investment in just one territory'.

This is why reality TV formats work well, since the shows themselves are tailored to specific markets. MasterChef, for example, is a hit in Australia, where it has spawned spin-off shows and ancillary extensions. Top-tier US properties are also prominent, says Manners: 'They have an energy and aspirational quality that appeals to most territories. We're working on Glee, which has been a hit in the UK and is about to air in Europe. When it does, we'll support it in categories like apparel, stationery and gifts.'

This doesn't mean it's impossible to run a UK-only programme, says Manners, but he adds: 'You have to strike a balance between staying true to the brand and hitting a broad enough audience. For example, we are working with ITV's Downton Abbey. One option would be to focus narrowly on Georgian memorabilia in niche outlets. Instead, we're going down the "inspired by" route, which is less restrictive.'

Territorial encroachment

This does, however, raise issues about the effects on the relationship between producers, broadcasters, advertisers and retailers. As an IP-owning broadcaster, for example, does ITV risk upsetting its advertisers by developing properties that encroach on their core business? If Jamie Oliver becomes too active around his own IP, is he less attractive as an ambassador for Sainsbury's? 'It's possible,' says Donaldson, 'but the reverse is the reality. ITV has signed a licensing deal with Alan Titchmarsh that will create opportunities for brand owners. It's about how you manage relationships.'

Advertiser/licensing fusion seems to be the intention at ITVSGE, which will develop the Titchmarsh brand, and that of his programmes, across product lines.

'Alan Titchmarsh's brand has a unique resonance with consumers,' explains Randisi. 'His partnership with B&Q to provide gardening advice to customers is an excellent example and the potential to develop his IP across a range of platforms. We look forward to building on existing activities to work with licensees to create products for the gardening sector and beyond.'

'And beyond' are key words here, though ITVSGE has thus far avoided taking on its advertisers, instead delivering brand-additive products such as Dancing On Ice and I'm A Celebrity video games.

Building activity around on-screen talent is more developed in the US than the UK, prime examples being Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart. Also more prominent in the US is the tendency for channel brands, such as Discovery, to compete in the licensing space. What are the prospects for retail brands to do the same? 'There is quite a sophisticated business developing there,' says Donaldson. 'Agencies like Omnicom's Beanstalk are active in this area.'

What about the licensing potential of characters that emerge unexpectedly from ad campaigns? 'There's no question that Compare The Market's meerkat and the girls from Shelias' Wheels are interesting,' says Manners. 'But I think if you set out to create that kind of activity, you'd miss it by a mile. You just have to be ready to take advantage if it happens.'

ANATOMY OF A DEAL - GW by Gok Wan for Specsavers

Budding brand Alan Titchmarsh could learn a lot from How To Look Good Naked presenter Gok Wan.

Last month Wan launched a range of glasses with Specsavers under the GW by Gok Wan brand. This followed the debut of Gok Wan-branded beauty products, created in partnership with Boots; he also has his own range of underwear and style guides.

Sarah McInnis, head of national marketing at Specsavers, says that its deal with Wan is unusual: he will receive a royalty from each pair of glasses sold. 'We do straightforward licensing deals with brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, but this arrangement [gives us] more flexibility about how the products develop, and exclusivity,' she adds.

According to Specsavers, the deal came about 'organically'. Wan has been an ambassador for the brand since 2007.

Wan insists there is no specific target audience for his range. 'I have tried to design a collection that can be worn by teenagers through to people in their 60s,' he says. 'Whittling it down to fewer than 30 styles was tough.'

The glasses are priced at £99.

A campaign to promote the range includes press, online and social-media activity.

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