Top Gear is one of those programmes you either get or you don’t. Luckily for the BBC, a lot of people seem to get it. And, even luckier, a lot also seem willing to buy into the licensing programme.
Top Gear itself began back in 1977, although the current format has only been on air since 2002. The choice to develop it as a brand, explains BBC Worldwide’s head of UK licensing Richard Hollis, came down to the increasing popularity of the show.
“It’s not only watched by the core make car enthusiasts, but also men with only some passing interest in cars, as well as women, families and our younger fans; boys aged seven to 11,” he tells Licensing.biz. “The demands from the audience suggested fans were seeking new ways to interact and extend their enjoyment of Top Gear outside of the TV programme.
“In addition, Top Gear Magazine had proved that it was possible to capture the essence of what made the TV programme so unique, and brought it to life in another format to connect and engage the audience. It showed us that Top Gear had unique and transferable values. For us, this was a clear sign that Top Gear was more than a TV programme.”
There are 25 licensees on board, with some of the key categories including toys, gifts, clothing and stationery. Hollis and his team are now looking to extend the existing lines for adults and younger fans, focusing on both the gifting and collector’s markets.
“We’re also looking to extend the enjoyment of our new book, Where’s Stig, through a range of products based on the illustrations from it. As it stands, we’re thinking puzzles, posters, cards and gift wrap and, much later in the product’s lifecycle, calendars.”
In terms of TV audiences, the Top Gear brand is hugely successful in numerous territories including Russia, Scandinavia and Australia.
“Australia is our key international territory for merchandising and we’ve developed a wide range of licensed products there,” Hollis continues. “Things are moving really well; the Top Gear Magazine, for example, is the most widely read men’s title in Australia. The Top Gear t-shirt was the top performing t-shirt in Target stores and has now been selected for the OTC promotion this Christmas.
“Our confectionery line has been doing well too, becoming the number one selling line this September. We’ve got an extended range coming out over Christmas that we’re really excited about.”
In other territories, BBCW is looking to have the licensing programmes for Top Gear developed later towards the end of this year and the beginning of 2010.
The majority of the product available to date is fronted by The Stig. This, explains Hollis, is because he has really come to represent the Top Gear brand: “He’s an instantly recognisable symbol and as popular with adults as he is with the children. So it makes sense, both for consumers and the brand, to feature The Stig on our licensed products.”
However, the presenters – Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond – won’t be overlooked. “They’re essential in building the core brand values and establishing the tone and style of the brand,” Hollis adds. “They feature significantly across our publishing programme, including books and magazines, and they will also have a significant presence in our new kids’ magazine Top Gear Turbo launching early next year.
“The main point is that The Stig is an iconic character and, as such, becomes an appropriate icon for a t-shirt. On the other hand, audiences identify with the presenters because they see them as three ordinary guys – albeit three guys with the best job in the world. Ordinary guys don’t feature on t-shirts.”
The trick with the licensed products, says Hollis, is to try and make sure they come from a lifestyle brand perspective. “What we’ve really seen since the new format developed is the importance of humour, attitude and editorial. They’re crucial, making sure that what we deliver isn’t just a car show but rather a whole lifestyle entertainment show.”
Further extending the brand is the live theatre show. The 2009/2010 World Tour is due to kick off in London on November 5th before heading to Birmingham, Dublin and then overseas, visiting a further five countries (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Amsterdam and Hong Kong). There is also The World of Top Gear at Beaulieu Motoring Museum in the New Forest – this is a permanent exhibition displaying cars from some of Top Gear’s most memorable stunts and challenges and aims to recreate the feel of the TV studio in the Top Gear Enormodome.
BBCW certainly seems to be driving (excuse the pun) the brand on, and Hollis is confident of where it will be in five years time: “With an even more impressive international presence, continuing to surprise fans with new, exciting and innovative ways to enjoy Top Gear.”