Fun with food

The rules on food licensing to children may have changed, but one major reason why licensing is effective has not. Whether it?s fast food or fresh fruit, it has to be fun.
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Licensing and promotions linked with food products received a rather backhanded complement in 2007. The scheduling restrictions on advertising high fats, salts and sugar (HFSS) foods to children were in part a result of its perceived effectiveness in encouraging dietary choices seen by government as unfavourable to children’s development. And not only did advertising suffer from this decision but the promotional links between food and numerous popular character-based properties were also targeted.

Why is licensing deemed to be so effective in this context? There are usually two reasons. Firstly, integration of the characteristics of a given property into a product, through, say, toys or character-shaped elements, really makes one manufacturer’s Easter egg or birthday cake stand out from many similar competing products.

An obvious example of this is the link between the Pink Panther and Rivington Foods on Rivington’s pink wafer. The popular Pink Panther brand provides a strong visual identity for the product on shelf against the wafer’s competitors – an identity made even stronger because the property and the product share a colour characteristic.

However, there isn’t always going to be the opportunity for such obvious synergy between character and product. Which bring us to the second reason for the effectiveness of licensing in the food category. When children, and even older consumers, are involved, the keyword in bringing food together with a property is fun. Not just in food marketing but across the board, characters are used in licensing – because they are familiar, of course, but also because they bring fun and entertainment to a product that otherwise might be a little mundane and generic.

Thanks to marketing restrictions, however, that effectiveness has been significantly undermined – at least in the case of many snacks, cereals and other HFSS foods. But that is not the end of the story. The challenge now is to prove that licensing can be used to promote healthier food options that will contribute to a balanced diet. An example of this how this might work comes from the US where the educational aspect of Sesame Street has been used to promote the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables across a wide range of products under the banner of Healthy Habits for Life.

However, if everyone promoting healthier options used characters or licences directly linked to education or good diet we would run the risk of boring customers with a repetitive message and turning them off a given product. The food category may have slightly changed but what makes licensing effective has not. Fun is still one of the main reasons why licensing works.

Ask Kelloggs and Nestle. They were marketing their products to kids for 30 years using licensing. It clearly worked for them. Surely there are many food companies that can learn from this while also capitalising on the fact that their product is something we should be encouraging kids to have as part of a healthy diet.

This will happen – but not overnight. Brands that are not traditionally used to spending their marketing money on licensing will not be quickly swayed. However, as soon as one decides that licensing might work for them, it won’t be alone for long. And when it works for them – as licensing has for many years on many food products – their competitors or similar companies in similar fields will start using it as well.

By contrast the licensing industry is ready now. CPLG offers a range of properties that suit any demographic, and, in most cases, any healthy food. We know that because we have been in the business for a long time and we know that licensing and promotions linked with food products are a powerful marketing tool.

And we are not alone in this belief. Even the government has tacitly acknowledged this. So isn’t it time to turn a challenge into an opportunity?

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When gaging interest in her business idea at a LIMA Spring Fling seminar, Angela Salt was told by one delegate ?Don?t even bother. There are far too many characters out there already.?

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