You knew 'em and loved 'em. From Looney Tunes to Strawberry
Shortcake, to Care Bears, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Thomas the Tank Engine,
almost every adult remembers the popular brands from their childhood. Now
marketers are reviving yesterday's beloved characters to rekindle fond
memories from adults—and win the hearts of a new bunch of kids.
Characters are getting dramatic makeovers. After roaming the grounds of
Disneyland and Disney World for decades, Mickey and friends will appear in CGI
animation in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, set to
debut on The Disney Channel in 2006. Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes crew will
receive a futuristic overhaul for Kids' WB!.
Besides building a booming business based on a practically defunct area
of syndication—kids TV—DIC Entertainment has managed to resurrect
Strawberry Shortcake—and a $1 billion annual retail business. Last year, DIC
also licensed Trollz, based on those crazy-eyed rubber dolls with hair gone
wild, and the brand is booming all over the world.
A Trollz TV series will air internationally. In the U.S., the brand is
succeeding on its retail efforts alone. “Trollz has been out twice in the
past—once in the '60s and once in the '80s. There's something very
archetypal about the hair and the hairplay,” says Andy Heyward, chairman/CEO
of DIC Entertainment. “It's one of those things that has great resonance
Some brands, like Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony, fell dormant
after attracting huge audiences—and huge toy store sales—in the 1980s.
Others, such as the haphazardly coiffed Trollz and Clifford the Big Red Dog,
evolved slowly for decades before generating major buzz in their new
Of course, a few old favorites have retained a stubborn appeal. Tom and
Jerry continue to chase each other in perpetuity on the Cartoon Network. And
for the past 35 years, Sesame Workshop has helped kids learn to read through
“You never get these classic brands to a place that is truly
nostalgic,” says Eleo Hensleigh, chief marketing officer, Disney ABC
Television Group. “They never rest.”
“Part of being able to make a brand work is to keep it relevant,”
says Deborah Forte, president of Scholastic Entertainment, which produces
Clifford and Maya
and Miguel for PBS, among other properties. “We thought that kids
could really identify with Clifford because he's like them. He's going out
into a world that isn't homogenous.”
Today, Clifford is a top-rated show
on PBS, 40 years after the big red dog first appeared in storybooks. A spinoff,
Clifford's Puppy Days, airs on PBS
Sesame Street is enjoying new-found
trendiness among tweens and teens, with favorite characters Ernie, Bert, Big
Bird and Oscar the Grouch appearing on all sorts of apparel.
“There are so many competitive pressures today that everybody is
looking for possible funding sources,” says Liz Kalodner, EVP/general manager
of Sesame Workshop's global consumer products division. “Licensing is one
important source of revenue.”
Sesame Workshop is a non-profit, and licensing makes up 60% of the
“All of the money that we make goes right back into helping children.
It allows us to do programming in areas of the world—South Africa, Egypt,
Bangladesh—where there may not otherwise be programming,” Kalodner
While Sesame Street and its companion
products have remained a constant in the market, the Care Bears—soft, fuzzy
teddy bears with messages on their bellies—faded away during the 1980s. Two
decades later, American Greetings decided it was time to resuscitate the
“There isn't any reason for someone not to like a colorful bear with
a colorful symbol on its tummy,” says Jeffrey Conrad, American Greetings VP
of entertainment and creative licensing. Science might be unable to prove his
point, but Conrad seems right on track: Today, Care Bears is one of American
Greetings' biggest brands, bringing in some $1.5 billion annually.
The company built the revival without the support of a TV show. However,
screen time is just around the corner. A direct-to-home video starring the Care
Bear bunch scored with kids, and an animated TV show is in the works.
In fact, American Greetings has had so much success with Care Bears, it
hopes to repeat with Holly Hobbie, a figure, aimed at girls, with the homespun
sensibilities of Little House on the
Prairie. American Greetings has signed a new licensing deal with
Viacom Consumer Products—the geniuses that market lucrative brands like Dora
the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants to the tune of $3 billion a year. And
this time, Holly won't be wearing a bonnet.
“She's totally reinvented,” Conrad says, “and she looks really
Futuristic Looney Tunes
Warner Bros. works hard to keep its many popular characters on the
radar, constantly reinventing them for new shows, primarily on Time
Loonatics Unleashed—the 70-year-old
Looney Tunes set 700 years in the
future—is being prepped for Kids' WB! in fall 2005. “This show is not
intended to replace the Looney Tunes, which
I'm sure will continue to air on television or on whatever television evolves
into for the next 70 years as well,” says Sander Schwartz, president of
Warner Bros. Animation.
Schwartz and his team also produced Kids' WB!'s
The Batman, which portrays the caped
crusader in his early 20s.
Cartoon Network and new digital sister network Boomerang also get solid
ratings with such familiar shows as What's New Scooby
Doo?, The Flintstones and
In the end, reviving a brand is both a creative and business decision,
executives say. “Everybody is always looking for properties that carry the
smallest amount of risk,” says Kalodner. And if Mickey Mouse isn't a safe
bet, who is?