Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing by Andrew Levy, Judy Bartkowiak

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Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing by Andrew Levy, Judy Bartkowiak

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Category: Business and Finance
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Supported by a a lot of experience and carrying contributions from over 30 brand licensing professionals, this book includes a lot of interesting and useful material of interest to anybody considering brand licensing, either as a brand owner or a licensee. The content is marred by lack of editing resulting in sloppy formatting, appalling syntax and grammar, and seriously distracting punctuation. There is very little interpretation or own research and no overarching design. However, as a source of valuable data it might be still worth paying for.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 200 Date: October 2011
Publisher: MX Publishing
ISBN: 978-1908218957

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Brand licensing is a huge business, with the annual worth estimated at 150 billion USD. It's hard to avoid Hello Kitty, Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig or Dr Who. One sometimes wonders if it's even possible to buy non-character pyjamas for a six year old. It's not just kids' brands, either (though these dominate the lucrative licensing market). From socialites (Paris Hilton) to actors and pop stars (Hale Berry, Britney Spears), football clubs and individual footballers (Beckham, Pele), magazines (Playboy, National Geographic), TV series (Simpsons) and pure graphic design (Smiley, Hello Kitty), brand licensing and brand extensions surround us on a scale unprecedented in human history.

Brand licensing can increase brand awareness, maintain and built brand loyalty and generate profits for the brand owners and others involved in the process, but the economic crisis means consumers economise and the competition for shelf space increases. Getting the brand licensing process right is more important then ever.

There is a dearth of titles devoted to this specific subject and thus room on the market for a practical book on brand licensing, and especially one written by UK authors that combine a UK and international perspective. Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing is authored by two experienced practitioners of brand licensing but is a result of an acknowledged input from many other marketing professionals.

The book covers the role of brand licensing in the marketing mix, the key stages and roles in the process of brand licensing, the marketing tools of a brand licensing practitioner (market research, PR, sponsorship, sales promotions, advertising, social media) and last, but not least, a brief survey of the legal and financial issues involved in brand licensing (royalties, contracts, auditing). At the heart of the Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing are case studies of successfully licensed brands, from Hello Kittty and Thomas to Arsenal FC and Royal Navy.

Throughout the book, Levy and Bartkowiak use the 'insider voices' of the brand owners or agents to present campaigns and provide tips for success. Expert opinions are also used in other sections of the book. Although the list of references is very short, the list of co-contributors has over thirty names, many coming from the very core of the brand licensing business. The total weight of the expertise and length of experience behind the Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing is indeed formidable and the book contains a lot of interesting insights and valuable advice.

Sadly, this valuable material is excruciatingly difficult to draw out. In a direct contravention of a stereotype of a marketing man, Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing, while certainly having some substance, utterly fails on style.

By style, I don't just mean the marketing-speak that permeates the whole work with a due quota of focused leverage driving excellence in excitement over embracing change towards leading the market. This is normal – and expected – in a marketing book and as long as the text communicates well to its target readership, is not a reason for any major criticism.

Unfortunately, Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing reads like a first draft of a report from a b2b qualitative research study. It is just about spell-checked, if not perfectly, but that is about it.

There is no consistency in presentation. Some lists are numbered, some bulleted (with several different types of bullets), some underlined; some fully indented (by various amounts), some have the first line indentation only. Some chapter headings are in the upper and some in the lower case; some are in bold, some not. Italics, bold, upper case and colour are used for emphasis without any consistency.

Punctuation is also inconsistent. Double and single quotation marks are used randomly. Abbreviations carry full stops or not (e.g. vs. eg). Strokes (slashes) are separated by spaces or not. Capitalization in particular has gone completely awry, with many a common noun accorded a capital with no rhyme or reason. They usually (but not always) capitalise Licensors but not retailers (apart from a few cases), Market Research but not sponsorship – the list goes on and on.

The presentation problems go beyond formatting. The language is untidy and mixes various registers, with some parts resembling a textbook, some a business report and some informal email communiques or presenter's notes with PowerPoint slides.

The grammar would be suspect in a 10-year old's composition and is unacceptable in a professional text. Levy and Bratkowiak overuse pronouns, which leads to the readers losing all sight of who was speaking and to whom. There is no effort to keep the tense, the number or the person consistent within a chapter, a paragraph or even sometimes, a sentence. The voice jumps from second to third person and quite likely reflects the overall lack of design, planning and purpose in the whole project. It is often very difficult to figure out whom the authors are addressing – who is the you that frequently appears in the text.

Prepositions are misused all the time, with on taking over, but also other dubious usages ( product that has no design about it, on Thomas we look for, deliver customers products, reception to the project).

Although it is possible to see beyond this sloppy presentation, it makes the whole text appear untidy, unprofessional and, crucially, harder to use. If a researcher offered me a document similar to Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing to present to a client, I would without any doubt send it back for editing. Anybody who is parting with £25 (the cover price) for a book would – and should – expect a certain level of editorial quality.

I also feel that the editorial failures of Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing reflect a wider problem with the book. As I said earlier, it resembles a draft report from a qualitative project: not quite a raw transcription of depth interviews perhaps, but not yet a final product which summarises, interprets and adds value to the data gathered directly from respondents.

The status of the co-contributors (respondents?) is unclear. Some of the case studies seem to have been lifted wholesale from other sources, with scant effort to add any original research or interpretation. There is no indication of how the input from co-contributors was obtained. Were they interviewed in person? Were the contributions informal 'personal communiques' elicited by one or two emailed questions? The presentation standard and information value of sections varies enormously. Some are well written and comprehensive (Royal Navy case study, the chapters on price promotions, PR and legal issues), some are informative but only weakly tied to brand licensing, some present an embarrassingly sparse draft of points that surely should be elaborated on or tidied (social media).

Altogether I am rather torn here. On one hand, there is enough useful content there to justify a recommendation. Anybody who wants to understand brand licensing better will find it a source of a valuable material straight from the mouths of the brand licensing horses. On the other hand, the 'book' in question has appallingly low editorial standards and makes scant effort to add value to the gathered material, presenting what it has in a messy jumble.

If you can think of your purchase of Secrets of Success in Brand Licensing as buying data from a half-finished project combining desk and primary research, the cover price is a bargain. Make allowances for extra time that you (or somebody you delegate to) will have to spend extracting and summarising the valuable information. If you are expecting a decently produced book, you will be sorely disappointed.

Magda Healey worked as a market and opinion researcher for nine years, designing, analysing and reporting quantitative and qualitative studies on subjects ranging from beer consumption to childcare services, advertising effectiveness to sexual behaviour, substance abuse to customer satisfaction, brand image to ethnic stereotypes. Magda has a BSc/MSc in psychology and co-authored several articles on trait attribution and moral judgments. She taught social psychology and IT skills to undergraduates and supervised and trained junior researchers in the agency setting.

Those interested in branding in general should have a look at Branding Only Works On Cattle by Jonathan Salem Baskin while owners of big - and small - brands will find Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders by Adam Morgan interesting (and possibly unsettling).

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