Comic Hits: Start Licensing talks the Beano brand

Jack Ridsdale

By Jack Ridsdale

September 20th 2017 at 2:35PM
UPDATED September 21st 2017 at 9:40AM
Comic Hits: Start Licensing talks the Beano brand

With a heritage that stretches back to the '30s, few comic brands can boast the heritage of the Beano. We sat down with Start Licensing's Ian Downes to learn more about their plans for this classic brand.

When you think of British comics, the first title that spings to mind is naturally the Beano. This classic comic has a unique heritage that reaches back as far as 1938, when the iconic publication first hit newsagents shelves and still remains a powerful and relevant brand to this day. Here, we sat down with Ian Downes of Start Licensing to find out more about their plans for the Beano brand in 2017 and beyond.

Can you talk us through the strength of the Beano brand, what are some of the key partnerships for the property this year and moving into the 80th anniversary celebrations next year?
Ian Downes: Beano is part of the fabric of British pop culture. Since it's launch in 1938 it has been entertaining children and families with a mix of comic strip stories, jokes and pranks. The standard of editorial, design and presentation has always been high and this commitment to high quality has been a big contributory factor to the brand's longevity. I think consumers like the fact that Beano has been a constant and it is a shard passion they can share across generations. I remember when Beano celebrated it's 75th Anniversary and had an exhibition on the South Bank that there were so many visitors that were family groups typically of grandparents, children and grandchildren - all laughing at the same things. Beano has helped keep a smile on Britain's face for nearly 80 years no small accomplishment.

One of the ongoing highlights in licensing terms is the partnership with Brewer's Fayre. Another development this year has been the launch of a new style guide - this features classic artwork, icons and characters coupled with bright contemporary colourways. Licensees such as Lagoon, Danilo, Hype, Moonpig, John Hornby Skewes, Park Agencies and Signature Gifts have launched products using it. Others like Cooneen and Misirli have developed some fantastic new designs which they are now presenting to retail.

Beano has also developed a few own brand products like a Beano Monopoly edition that they sell directly to consumers. Signature Gifts have launched a new range of personalised products with a particular highlight being a personalised edition of this year's Beano Annual - the first time that this has been done. A really great alternative to the standard Beano Annual for the fan or gifter looking to add an original twist to a classic annual.

Plans are being developed for the 80th Anniversary. There is a dedicated 80th Anniversary style guide which existing and new licensees will have access to. There will also be a number of partnerships and activations with galleries, museums and selected partners. I mentioned the 75th Anniversary exhibition on London's South Bank - the 80th will see more of the same type of activity with new twists, new locations and new partners. We have also some new partnerships in the art and print category including a work in progress original art collection from a very noteworthy contemporary artist that will be announced soon.  Art and Beano go well together.

Beano is part of the fabric of British pop culture. Since it's launch in 1938 it has been entertaining children and families with a mix of comic strip stories, jokes and pranks.

Ian Downes, Start Licensing 

BEANO has a very rich heritage in the kids’ entertainment space, how integral has the licensing strategy been to its success over the past 80 years? 
Downes: Beano's licensing programme has been in place for around 25 to 30 years - to paraphrase a popular Hot Chocolate song... it started with a mug!  At the time licensing launched mainstream licensing was still in its infancy in the UK and all concerned wanted to test the waters - it was decided that a mug was a 'safe bet' and was the first bit of licensing undertaken. It worked well and other products were added. Over a long span of licensing Beano has worked with a diverse range of brands and companies but a common thread has been the fact that licensee's tap into character art, design and icons which reflect the core activity of Beano.

Broadly speaking Beano the brand and Beano the licensing programme have sat side by side with lots of crossover between the two areas - often licensed products feature in Beano and often ideas come from discussions with the editorial team or by looking at what readers are asking for. This includes design development.
Licensing has been part of the communication mix for Beano and also has fulfilled a demand from readers - with a brand with so many passionate fans a good quality range of merchandise is essential. There have been some fabulous collaborations and partners - one great example was the award-winning partnership with Dr Marten's. This collaboration featured exclusive designs, a strong PR campaign and window displays. There was also a story in Beano to tie in with the partnership which is a great example of how licensing and brand can work together.

I mentioned earlier that Brewer's Fayre has developed bespoke editions of Beano - these have been developed in-house by the Beano team - a really strong crossover between the comic team and licensees. With the arrival of Beano.com there are now further opportunities for licensees to work directly with the brand teams - Brewer's Fayre feature content at their venues. We also had great success with INTU shopping centres a couple of years ago - this 'live event' license included a Beano artist visiting shopping centres and holding comic masterclasses showing children how to draw Beano comic characters. This sort of thing whether in comics, online or at live events is a real point of difference for Beano. Beano can be brought alive in a number of ways including online these days.

Beano benefits from cross-generational appeal, how has the approach to licensing evolved to maintain relevance and strength of position in a busy kids’ entertainment space?
Downes: Licensing feeds off the core brand and as such as the brand has developed the licensing focus has been adjusted to reflect the direction of travel of the brand. Beano.com was launched relatively recently and is a digital hub for the brand - the design style for the site has influenced the new look for licensing including a new Beano logo and associated colourways.

Like all people in licensing we have to be mindful of changes in consumer behaviour and lifestyle - there have been adjustments in types of products developed and retail channels worked with. Products such as Moonpig's and Signature Gift's which are centred on personalisation are very much on trend and reflect what consumers are looking for.

Given the links between licensing and the core brand Beano is a brand and brand owner that is open to new ideas and new products. I would recommend any licensee with a new product or a start up business to get in touch. Beano has a great track record of working with new companies as do Start Licensing. We recognise that innovation is an important part of the licensing mix and we welcome the opportunity to engage with companies - old or new - who can see innovative ways of using this unique IP.

BEANO has had plenty of standout in the experiential sector, with the growing demand for consumer tech, can we expect to see this make a move into further digital experiences, I.e. Augmented reality apps, VR experiences etc? Would Beano fit into these areas?
Downes: The short answer is yes with Beano.com as the hub and at the heart of things. There are a lot of innovative and creative things going on via Beano.com and this is a great link to new technology. I expect this to lead to some interesting new products and opportunities - given the strength of Beano's characters, character universes and storylines there is a rich vein of source material for toy companies, consumer tech and associated products. I think Beano would definitely fit into these categories and types of products. Conversely I think Beano also fits into traditional products as well - that is one of it's strengths a classic brand with a contemporary outlook. 

What have been some of the most successful partnerships for the Beano and what are your plans to build on these?
Downes: I think we have a good set of licensees on board at the moment - as mentioned they are using the new style guide which has helped refresh things and given some products new impetus. A company like Lagoon Games is a good example of a Beano success story. Beano was the first license Lagoon took and over the years they have enjoyed a lot of success with the brand whilst extending their activities in the licensing field with other partnerships. Rather than stand still we have investigated ways of developing new products with Lagoon and this year they launched a Beano range in partnership with modelling compound Plasticine.

John Hornby Skewes' range of 'real' musical instruments is a current highlight as well. They have a great range that blends traditional instruments such as ukuleles with electric guitars coupled with original products such as the pBuzz - a starter instrument for wind instruments. It is great to be a player in this category - one of Dennis' highlight was his band the Dinmakers so it makes perfect sense to have a musical instrument range!

Other highlights have included 'live' partnerships with the Southbank Centre, St Pancras and Intu all of which blended Beano's heritage with contemporary appeal. Personally I loved the art partnership with Sir Peter Blake - it was lovely to meet him and to see his take on Beano.

What’s the next big thing for Beano in the licensing space, are there new categories you’d like to take the property into?

Downes: I think the 80th will bring some interesting new opportunities. We have actually signed a few new deals in the last week specifically for the 80th Anniversary including a deal with Truffleshuffle which will allow them to produce Limited Edition T-Shirts and designs for their site. This is a really nice dal for me as Truffleshuffle's first ever license was for Bananaman - so it is nice to be working with Pat and his team on Beano's 80th. I think wall art, original art and artworks are a great area for Beano to explore and I think there is more that can be done in this area both by working directly with artists but also exploring ways of upcycling real Beanos into other uses.

I also think there is good scope for Beano to link with other 'classic' British brands - around the 75th there was the partnership with Dr Martens and also one with Raleigh for a Limited Edition Beano chopper bike - a key part of these partnerships was British brands working in partnership. I think Beano could also work well in categories such as 'vintage' style radios and record players. Of course there is scope to develop more of the experience based licensing area as well. I can see another 80 years of licensing ahead of us -- although I might have retired for the 100th Anniversary!