Damian Treece on why the Vintage Ladybird brand is blossoming

Billy Langsworthy

By Billy Langsworthy

July 28th 2015 at 9:59AM
UPDATED July 28th 2015 at 11:25AM
Damian Treece on why the Vintage Ladybird brand is blossoming

Damian Treece, brand manager, licensing and IP at Penguin Ventures, explains why this nostalgic property is looking to enter the worlds of adult-led publishing, soft furnishing, fabrics and gardening products.

Firstly, can you tell me the history behind the brand?

In 1915, the Ladybird trademark was registered in relation to picture books by Loughborough printer Wills & Hepworth.

During the First World War, Wills & Hepworth began to experiment with publishing ‘pure and healthy’ literature for children. The vintage Ladybird books look back to the golden days of childhood - learning to read, discovering the magic of books, and growing up.

Ladybird books were also unique in the fact that they were illustrated, not by children’s illustrators, but by high calibre commercial artists who specialised in their respective fields. This attention to detail and differentiation has led to the artwork being revered and cherished across generations.

How did the brand perform over the past 12 months?

Honestly, the last twelve months has been a period of planning and laying foundations for the growth of the programme. We’ve undertaken the task of re-imaging the style guide and optimising the vast database of images.

We’ve been lucky to have a stalwart licensee such as kissmekwik (Greeting Cards) who has been consistently developing new ranges for over ten years, but we’re now adding other partners to grow the brand.

How many licensees does it have to date, and in which categories?

Currently we’ve got eight partners working with us on the Vintage Collection. We’ve made a conscious effort to keep the programme quite focused, and are striving to work with partners who share our vision to reimagine the nostalgic heritage of Ladybird Books as a long term, design orientated proposition for the adult market.

Currently we’re working with King &  McGaw (prints and canvases), Portico Designs (stationery and gifting), kissmekwik (Greeting cards and wrap), The Lagoon Group (Adult retro games and jigsaws), Whitbread Wilkinson (Ceramic mugs and tea towels) and The Wooden Postcard Company (Wooden postcards and magnets).

The Ladybird Vintage publishing programme is being spearheaded this year by the launch of Ladybird by Design by Lawrence Zeegen, alongside reprints of selected facsimiles including King John and the Magna Carta, Rapunzel and The Elves and the Shoemaker.

What are some of the best performing products?

Kissmekwik’s greeting cards perennially sell well; they embody a cheeky humour which resonates with the artwork.

It’s not really a product as such, but our exhibition programme for the Vintage Collection is very strong and continually evolving. We’ve launched the Ladybird by Design exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill (over 270 pieces of original material on display) which attracted over 3,000 people across the opening weekend.

Although it was a very short turn around, we worked with our some of our licensees to deliver a fantastic range of bespoke product for the gallery shop which has performed incredibly well.

Are you looking to expand the consumer products programme further this year?

Absolutely. We’re actively in conversation regarding developing more adult-led publishing, soft furnishing, fabrics and gardening product as our main target categories.

In terms of international, we’ll look to work with our key licensees to see if there is export opportunity. Because there is such a strong design element to the property, highlighted by very positive response from Scandinavia, we do think there is an international opportunity, but that will in all likelihood be part of the next phase of development.

Do you have any special marketing initiatives or promotional activity planned for 2015?

Our collaboration with LCC (London College of Communication) has been a tremendously interesting project. Through the brief, we tasked the students with re-imagining the world of Ladybird books in today’s society. The level of creativity and innovation we’ve seen has been genuinely inspiring and we can’t wait to share the results and allow people to experience the project during the London Design Festival in September.

As a separate piece of activity, an exhibition of original Ladybird artwork 'Ladybird by Design' opened to fantastic critical acclaim at the De La Warr Pavillion in January this year.  The exhibition has now moved to House of Illustration in London where it opened to the public on Friday, July 10th.  We anticipate it will attract an even bigger audience who can engage with the art from the archives of Ladybird Books and enjoy a series of accompanying talks and events.

What has the retail reaction been like to the brand?

Let’s just say we have to build a ten minute buffer during meetings to allow people to thumb through the books we bring! In all seriousness, the reaction has been positive, particularly in the art, illustration and museums community.

We’re very lucky to be working on a brand that has such heritage and engages with people on an emotional level. Everyone has their favourite Ladybird book.

What are some of the main challenges you've come up against? And how are you overcoming them?

Ironically, having too much content. There are over 11,800 images in the Ladybird Books database and this can be quite daunting at first glance.

We’ve looked to counterbalance this with the new style guide and capsules we’ve developed. Because we’re building an adult focussed and design led brand, the lack of media drivers isn’t as much of a concern as it could potentially be. We just have to cut our cloth accordingly with the partners we work with, and then also the retailers we target.

What would you most like to achieve with the brand in 2015?

It will sound like a horrible cliché, but to lay the foundations for the long term development of the brand.

We’re half-way there with the partners that we have on board and the quality of the products that they are developing, but there is scope for growth and development both creatively and commercially.

Although 2015 is the centenary year, we’re using this primarily as a talking point and leveraging this with specific opportunities to build the visibility of this nostalgic property that tracked a golden era.

Ladybird by Design is showing at the House of Illustration until September 27th 2015:  http://www.houseofillustration.org.uk/whats-on/whats-on/ladybird-by-design/