It's been 60 years since artist Dick Bruna first created Miffy and her group of friends. Mercis Publishing's MD, Marja Kerkhof talks through the global success of this classic children's brand.
Can you give me a history of the Miffy and Friends brand and its successes?
This year marks a special anniversary for one of the world’s most famous children's characters; Miffy, the little white bunny, is celebrating her 60th birthday.
Miffy was “born” on 21 June 1955 – when Dutch artist Dick Bruna (now retired) first drew the character to entertain his young son whilst on a rainy seaside holiday in Holland. The series of picture books that followed used illustrations and rhyming text to explore the universal experiences of childhood, and immediately earned Bruna international critical acclaim.
60 years later, with the Miffy stories currently published in more than 50 languages, merchandise sold across five continents, plus several musicals, TV series and a movie all successfully entertaining 21st century pre-schoolers worldwide, the popularity of this iconic character endures.
Some of the more specific highlights for this year include Miffy’s promotional roll during the Tour de France Grand Depart, the exhibition “60 years of Miffy!”, a public art parade with 180 meter high status decorated by 60 artists (www.miffyartparade.com) and a retrospective of Bruna’s work in an international art-historic context at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam “Dick Bruna. Artist” (www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/bruna).
Bruna’s attic studio will be given a permanent home within the Central Museum in Utrecht to show how his work extends beyond the Miffy series and other children’s books. Continuously changing exhibits will showcase his early book jackets designs (over 2,000), plus his numerous poster commissions for international organisations.
To round up this anniversary year, and usher in 2016, the “Dick Bruna House’ will reopen in December after extensive refurbishments under its new name “Miffy Museum”. Through play children can experience and discover the world around them at this interactive and permanent venue.
With her own Theme Parks in Asia, a tulip named after her, limited edition Steiff Miffy’s and as patron of the prize for the world’s best children’s museum Bruna’s creation clearly still inspires many and has proven to stand the test of time.
What is the demographic for the property and who are you targeting with the licensing programme?
It is true to say that Bruna created Miffy to communicate directly with the youngest of children and at their level so the primary target group is pre-school.
The property has always spurred interest among people of all ages and with a refocus on the graphic designer, artist and illustrator Dick Bruna seems to have reignited the imagination of many.
Depending on the territory and length of time that Miffy & Friends has been available in the various countries around the world it has always managed to capture not only the attention of the very young and their caretakers but also the fashion oriented young adults and more niche graphic design aficionados.
Miffy communicates with the child in every one of us and Bruna’s ‘less is more’ way of thinking and illustrating is still very relevant today so we feel confident to see more partnerships focussing on demographics beyond pre-school to further extend the brand and highlight the cultural richness of Bruna’s design philosophy.
How many licensees do you have on board for Miffy and Friends and in what categories?
We have over 250 active licensees globally in most of the segments categorized by LIMA.
What are some of the most popular licensing categories and what would you like to see the Miffy and Friends brand move in to? What do you look for in a licensing partner and how do you pick your licensees?
Needless to say that books, plush, back-to-school and apparel are traditionally all very important categories for the property but accessories, gifts, homeware and speciality items are certainly strong extensions for the brand. We have a good representation in most of the categories but are always looking for partners that do not only make beautiful and original products but with whom we can also create a strong longstanding relationship.
We most certainly focus on the quality and long-term of our relationships opposed to expansion per se. We are aware though that in many countries there are still a lot of Miffy fans who do not have easy access to her which is obviously something we are keen to address.
What is the secret to maintaining the success of Miffy and Friends and its 60 year heritage?
Having the courage of our conviction, keeping it simple, leaving room for the imagination and without a doubt keep listening to and inspiring the fans around the world who can relate to the genuinely pure, artistic and joyful characteristics of Miffy and her friends.
How different is your approach to the Miffy and Friends property compared to other brands in your portfolio?
Mercis represents primarily Dick Bruna’s work who over the years has created a vast database of (art)work which is until now hardly used or known. In some territories we run successful limited edition programs with his more exclusive artwork, but this is not done on the same scale as with Miffy & Friends.
What has changed the most about the licensing industry over Miffy’s history and how has this impacted the brand?
We all had to deal with increased competition and more comprehensive IP rights protection and more recently with a serious shift in consumer behaviour due to the opening up of the digital channel and apparent shift from tangible- to intangible experiences. Digital reading challenged the position of traditional publishing, publishers and physical books which obviously is a core element of our heritage. At times, and maybe still, especially the pace in which these changes come can make it challenging to keep an eye on the things which will endure.
We are always evaluating our own position in this ever changing landscape to ensure that we keep adding value to people’s lives through the work of Bruna. This is not about an identity struggle because that is very deeply rooted in our DNA but rather assuring we see through short lived hypes and do not damage the timeless core values this classic brand possesses.
A resurgence and better understanding of core values is evident now that people are trying to deal with the myriad of information coming their way. Less is more, tangible experiences, focus on creativity, reading and touching books from the earliest possible age and keeping it simple are key markers and have always been part of Bruna’s design philosophy and way of thinking. It is probably safe to surmise that the best thing to do is stay true to our own conviction and keep working with partners on ways to add this value for the benefit of all Miffy & Friends fans around the world.
What’s next for the Miffy and Friends property?
Our focus will obvious be on the global launch of the new CGI television in 2016-2017 and programs which are being developed around the new thoroughly modern stories and stills.
The Miffy Art Parade and some other initiatives were very well received and we will work with this given to engage more with this older demographic and infuse the brand with some inherent new fresh elements.
Identifying new exciting opportunities with existing and new partners will be an ongoing process without forgetting to have fun in the process and create new unique befitting products and experiences.