You've heard of food miles, now consider design miles

Why supermarkets should be embracing homegrown design-led brands.
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The Great British industries of bygone times may have been eclipsed, but our nation's designs still lead the world. Historically our list of design classics contain such wonderfully eclectic icons as The Hovercraft, The Red Telephone Box, Deck Chairs, Milk Bottles (zero packaging fully recyclable and delivered in electric powered vehicles with no emissions) and Route master buses. British design has always been the best and this is never truer than today in characters created in the UK for the licensing industry.

If only product development teams and buyers in the UK grocery channel would recognise it more.

In 1994, myself and Phil Renshaw created a range of bubble headed characters that put British licensed character design onto a world stage. Bubblegum went on to be the licensing phenomena of the Nineties: a decade in which its characters and quirky editorial voice resonated worldwide creating massive revenues for retailers and licensees alike. Key to its success was the vision of Debbie Lewin, the product development director at Clinton Cards, a company which today still champions British design-led brands and is very much at the forefront of dictating the tastes of the nation.

The benefits of British design-led properties are many; a key one being longevity. This sadly cannot be said for the majority of film-led merchandise, as the bargain bins of many a supermarket lay testament to, as no matter how popular the film the lifespan of the merchandise is rarely more than six months.

So how do we get the consumer to purchase a brand with no TV series or major film back up behind it to create an awareness and a desire for the product?

It’s agreed that awareness for the brand may be limited and, indeed, the first thing a consumer may see of the brand is when it is on the shelf.

Displaying a quality product with appealing design that meets the consumers need isn’t all we have to persuade the consumer to buy ‘our brand’.

In our case, we give our design-led characters an extra weapon: they all have an editorial voice that is very ‘British’ in its sense of fun, there’s a warmth and personality about home produced characters and designs as they tie into the British consumer on a level that a film or TV series marketed to satisfy a worldwide audience cannot.

Our Grumpy Old Gits brand says things like ‘Where’s My Bloody Keys’ and “You treat this house like a Hotel’. Our Goochicoo brand shouts ‘Give Peas A Chance', 'Bottle Of House White’ and has characters like The Piddler and Pooperman. It’s a remarkable fact that our ‘Give Peas A Chance’ feeding sets outperform Disney brands head to head on shelf and I think this fact illustrates my point succinctly.

It’s not just burgeoning self-interest coming into play here, but surely there should be more contact, cooperation and teamwork between buyers and creators?

Licensees do their best, but are very much led by demands from the buyers and product development teams. Of course there is some presence from a number of top UK brands - Goochicoo, Brit Chicks, Little Ewe and Bang On The Door all have a presence in the grocery channels, but I feel there is room for much more. Perhaps there is a need for a forum or an association that promotes the interests of British character design like they have for greetings cards with the excellent GCA (Greetings Card Association).

So I’m throwing out an invitation here to product development bods and buyers from the grocery channel to look on their doorstep for the next big thing and to give a little more space to some of the unique and wonderful characters produced here in the UK. As well as considering food miles, why not consider design miles?

And, of course, to remind them to keep top of mind that homegrown characters can and do provide a welcome addition to the supermarket offer of the big film and television licences. If they can embrace the wealth of homegrown talent on their doorstep the UK character creators and the grocery channels can all reap the rewards.

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