Merlin Entertainments to bring Jumanji brand to life

Merlin Entertainments, a global leader in location-based entertainment with brands including LEGOLAND, Madame Tussauds and SEA LIFE, has entered into a formal multi-territory exclusivity agreement with Sony Pictures Entertainment to develop and operate attractions, rides, lands, retail outlets and themed hotel rooms based on the studio’s box office hit Jumanji film franchise across Merlin’s Resort Theme Parks and Waterparks in Europe (including the UK) and North America.

The first Jumanji experience to be launched as part of the agreement will be the world’s first Jumanji ride, which will open in April this year at Merlin’s Gardaland Resort in Italy, with a second activation already in development at a different theme park for a 2023 launch.

Merlin is teaming up with Oceaneering and Framestore for the development of the Jumanji ride at Gardaland. The attraction will be called “Jumanji – the Adventure” and will transport guests to the fantastic world of Jumanji, where an exhilarating adventure awaits them: a journey full of pitfalls, surprises and dangers through the wild jungle. The new “Jumanji – the Adventure” attraction will be a dark ride for adventure lovers of all ages, designed to appeal to a wide audience of families, teenagers and young adults. “Jumanji – the Adventure” will open in April 2022, and will be complemented by the simultaneous launch of fully themed Jumanji hotel bedrooms.

The deal supports Merlin’s broader global strategy to engage and work with leading IP and brands across its global estate, with existing successful partnerships including LEGO, Marvel, Peppa Pig and CBeebies. The agreement is also a pivotal step in Sony Pictures’ larger global strategy to grow and expand location-based entertainment by utilising its strong global film and TV brands to create opportunities for audiences around the world to immerse themselves deeper into the studio’s stories.

The collaboration further builds on Merlin’s successful relationship with Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has already seen the previous roll out of two “in-attraction” themed experiences including the Ghostbusters 5D ride at Heide Park in Germany and the Ghostbusters experience at Madame Tussauds New York.

Chief Development Officer for Merlin Entertainments, Mark Fisher, says: “We are excited to be taking our relationship with Sony Pictures Entertainment to the next level with this strategic partnership. Sony are one of the top movie companies on the planet and Jumanji is a multi-billion-dollar brand which has appealed to guests of all ages for over two decades. Our Merlin team are already hard at work developing brilliant creative concepts, which will bring to life the blockbuster-famous Jumanji film across our Theme Parks and Waterparks. We can’t wait to deliver thrilling rides and experiences for guests and film fans alike. The game is certainly on!”

Jeffrey Godsick, EVP of Global Partnerships and Brand Management and Head of Location Based Entertainment at Sony Pictures Entertainment, adds: “Merlin is the ideal company to bring the world of Jumanji to life.  Their commitment to strong storytelling, quality of craftsmanship and fantastic guest experiences ensure that fans of Jumanji will be fully immersed into the worlds of our films and have an unforgettable experience. I am very pleased to expand our relationship with the great team at Merlin.”

Ranked Europe’s top and the world’s second-largest tourist attraction operator, Merlin runs more than 135 tourist attractions in 24 countries across Europe, America, Asia and Oceania.

Following on from the original Robin Williams film in 1995, the adventure continues in the brand-new film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) and Jumanji: The Next Level (2019), starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan. The film franchise’s continued success has made it Sony’s biggest wholly owned film franchise of all time. Taking over $2.1bn at the global box office, the Jumanji film franchises are popular with both family and teenage audiences globally.

LEGO launches its first experiential pop-up retail and activity tour of the UK

The LEGO Group is hitting the road with the launch of its first experiential pop-up tour of the UK this summer, hitting major cities including Southampton, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Bristol.

Called the LEGO Pop & Play Tour, the out of store experiential activation with set up ‘shop’ within major shopping centres around the UK, each hosted by LEGO Retail stores and their store associates. The free family event will encourage kids and families to unleash their creativity through a range of play experiences.

Visitors will be able to take part in a number of activity stations, including cupcake decoration with LEGO DOTS, vehicle building with LEGO City, embarking on a scavenger hunt to spot balloons and horses with LEGO Friends, and creating their own beat with the LEGO VIDIYO studio.

After completing each station, families will receive a rosette and by simply collecting two, can head to a local LEGO store in the area to collect a free gift.

Alison Wood, retail director of UK LEGO Stores, said: “We’re looking forward to taking our first ever LEGO Pop & Play Tour around the UK. Summer 2020 was disappointing for many families, so we hope this free, family event helps make up for it and gives them the chance to unleash their creativity.

“With LEGO City, Friends, DOTS and VIDIYO, we’ve ensured there’s something for all interests, whether that be arts and crafts, vehicles or music. With a free gift up for grabs for every family, taking part is a no-brainer.”

The LEGO Pop & Play Tour includes the following locations and tickets are available at here:

Southampton 7th & 8th August, Bargate

Liverpool 14th & 15th August, Liverpool Onn

Edinburgh 28th & 29th August, St James Quarter

Birmingham 4th & 5th September, Bullring

Bristol 11th & 12th September, Cabot Circus

TikTok launches real life experience with Westfield shopping centre pop up

TikTok stars and influencers are offering coaching sessions on how to create social media content as the UK’s first TikTok pop-up venue opens its doors to fans as Westfield shopping centre in West London.

The venue allows fans to interact with social media stars who have found success via the TikTok app as they try to create their own mini-films with coaching sessions from influencers charged at £5 a session.

The pop-up venue will be open until August 8th and takes inspiration from TikTok’s homepage which highlights trending clips. 

Influencers on the roster include British teenager Kyle Thomas, comedian Ehiz Ufuah, chef Poppy O’Toole, and freestyle footballers Jeremy Lynch and Ben Black. Their sessions will explain how to make content for TikTok, while parents will be able to learn how to keep teenagers safe on the platform.

The venue will also feature several rooms to provide different backdrops for visitors to film their own content, including a kitchen which will showcase viral recipes and cook-offs. A dressing room will host beauty, fashion, and transformation challenges.

Attendees of the event will be given exclusive TikTok merchandise.

Harita Shah, marketing director for UK events at Westfield’s parent company Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said: “TikTok has become a cultural phenomenon. It’s where many of our visitors are getting their inspiration from, whether that’s fashion trends, the newest home styling, influencer or foodie fads.

“Having a physical space at Westfield London gives TikTok the chance to immerse shoppers and new creators in full 360 experience where the best of the online platform merges with a real life experience.”

Rocket Licensing | “There’s real opportunity to make retail an experience and destination again”

For those of the industry who tuned into the special licensing panel discussion at this year’s London Book Fair, albeit in its digital format, you’d have caught Rocket Licensing’s join managing director, Rob Wijeratna waxing lyrical on the virtues of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a phenomenon of the children’s publishing space and extended licensing market, despite the book itself being only 22 pages long.

At the crux of Wijeratna’s point was that building a brand is ‘about telling a story’ no matter the size (or page length) of the source material. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is today a globally loved franchise that is not only a staple of book shelves and schools across the country – or the planet – but of the preschool and nursery space as a whole.

Central to the storytelling that Rocket Licensing weaves through the wider activity around the title is the experiential licensing, a pocket of licensing that so often acts as ‘an anchor point around which the many facets of a licensing programme can centre. A sector that faced some rather ominous hurdles over the last year, experiential licensing has been forced to adapt and change shape over the course of the past 18 months, working to uncover new spaces within the home via virtual and digital means.

But it’s a space now beginning to open up once again. And as such, thought it wise to catch up with Rocket Licensing brand manager, Melissa Satterly, to discover what the licensing agency has planned for the return of live experiences for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Beano, and a few others among its core portfolio.

Hello Melissa, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions this week. The most obvious point to address first and foremost is the pandemic and the impact this has had on the experiential licensing space. As we begin to ‘unlock’ and remove social distancing measures, what sort of excitement is there around the return of experiential licensing?

With things opening up again and families increasingly looking for, and getting excited about, staycations and days out nearer to home, now feels like the perfect time to be engaging with experiential licensing and family-focused activities. We’ve seen real enthusiasm and high visitor numbers for the branded events that we have put on so far in 2021 and are excited for the roll out of several more initiatives over the summer.

How do you think experiential licensing has evolved over the course of the pandemic and what lasting impression has it left on the market and consumers? How do you begin to reintroduce experiential licensing to a post-pandemic world?

The pandemic saw Rocket and our partners take a very different approach to experiences, with the transition to online and at-home events. For example, our annual The Very Hungry Caterpillar Giant Wiggle partnership with Action for Children took place online in 2020 as an at-home activity pack for families. In addition to this, Action for Children really responded to how families were spending lockdown by launching a Growing Challenge subscription pack for little gardeners, an experiential product that we are excited to see continue to do well post-pandemic as well.

We also worked closely with License to PR to deliver lockdown-suitable content, creating a social media campaign for The Very Hungry Caterpillar that targeted parenting/foodie influencers who provided fun caterpillar-inspired recipes for people to try at home, while also promoting the Feed the Hungry Caterpillar game from University Games, responding to the rising popularity of games and puzzles while families were at home. This was one of our most successful campaigns to date.

With lockdowns easing, we have been careful and strategic in the experiences that we have put on, for example focusing on fun outdoor activities while restrictions have remained in place indoors. The first major experiential partnership that we have seen in 2021 was the Big Beano Bonanza at Kew Gardens, which adhered to all guidance on social distancing, with Beano-themed Covid safety signs along the trail, hand gel stations, marshalls and pre-booked visitor slots.

The sale of our branded and co-branded Beano product was initially focused online for the earlier stages of the event while the visitor shops remained closed, and advertising took on an online and local focus.

Can you talk us through some of the key partnerships you’ve secured across the experiential licensing space recently?

We are really excited to have a current partnership for The Very Hungry Caterpillar taking place at London Zoo (running until 16th July). Families can enjoy a fun range of activities, including crawling through a giant fruit story trail, crafting and story-telling sessions throughout the day, as well as the opportunity to visit Butterfly Paradise and Bug House.

For 2021, we have also partnered with Gulliver’s Valley (Rotherham) and Gulliver’s Dinosaur and Farm Park (Milton Keynes) for a range of branded activities for both The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Beano. The Very Hungry Caterpillar presence launched on Saturday, May 1st and includes Meet & Greets, birthday parties, crafting activities and even themed accommodation, so that families can spend the night in their very own cocoons.

The Beano characters will be getting up to all sorts of mischief, including a Beano Blasters! laser tag attraction. We are also very excited to have just finalised a partnership with Escape Live for a Horrible Histories Escape Room, opening later this year and giving families the opportunity to be immersed in a mission that transports them through multiple different time periods.

How important will experiential licensing be for retail in enticing consumers away from the online space? What opportunities are there now available to reboot the retail sector through experiential licensing? Are there any examples of this you can give from your own portfolio?

With the shift to ecommerce and online over lockdown, there is a real opportunity now to make retail more of an experience and destination again, as people get excited to get out and about and enjoy a physical browse in store. Another of our The Very Hungry Caterpillar partners is Bluewater shopping centre who has used experiential licensing to enhance the family shopping experience with the addition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar nature trail and in-mall storytelling telling events.

Bluewater is surrounded by 50 acres of landscaped parkland, which was a popular location for local visitors during the lockdown. They opened a new The Very Hungry Caterpillar storytelling trail this May half term to further build on the existing branded nature trail. The new story trail consists of seven signposts, which are designed using imagery from the book and feature cut outs for photos opportunity and QR codes that tell the story through narration by local school children. It’s a lovely way for families to enjoy time together whilst shopping at Bluewater.

From a Rocket Licensing perspective, what makes a successful partnership in the experiential licensing space?

It’s always so important to be able to match up the brand values of the location with the licensed property. For example, with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, we have really focused on nature-driven partnerships with the likes of the Royal Horticultural Society, the Eden Project and the nature reserve at Bluewater. In terms of execution, we aim to create multi-dimensional experiences, with not only a variety of activities, but opportunities for co-branded merchandise in location-based retail outlets.

Indeed, experiential licensing offers great opportunities to showcase product for our brands in fantastic cross-category displays and really get our licensees working together in collaboration. It is also important for venues to use digital engagement to drive families to the events through comprehensive marketing, advertising and social media promotion.

What do you enjoy the most about the experiential licensing sector, what level of innovation and creativity does it offer you guys and the brands you work with?

It’s always so wonderful to see children and families engaging and having fun with the brand activities; we get so much traction for the partnerships on social media and absolutely love looking at all of the photos! And yes, the creativity of the activities is always fantastic to work on. For example, our recent Beano trail saw a mile long trail including 3D bespoke comic strip, whoopie cushion stepping stones and water pistols over the lake! It’s always really satisfying to see the collaborative effort that goes into these experiences, bringing together marketing, creative and events team with product offerings from our licensees to create brand-immersive events.

What do you think the future looks like for experiential licensing and what are the key points of change in this sector?

We are confident that this sector will continue to grow, generating strong awareness and revenue for brands. Venues like Escape Rooms are only just beginning to engage with licensed IP so this is surely an area that will continue to expand. It’s also likely that experience and retail will draw increasingly close together, exploring more in-store experiences at retail as well as increasing the focus on co-branded product and retail promotion, in association with events and activity venues.

What’s the next big step for you guys in this space?

We are continuing to look for new appropriate experiential partners for our brands and have already started early conversations for next year. We have had great success with experiential licensing in particular for The Very Hungry Caterpillar over recent years and are now increasingly expanding our focus to some of our other fantastic brands, such as Beano and Horrible Histories, to find the perfect location-based fit.

We also have some fantastic adult brands in our portfolio which we would also like to develop in the experiential area. It’s always exciting sharing brand ideas with new partners to create collaborative, engaging and fun experiences for visitors whilst supporting licensed product, and this is what we will continue to do.