Bridging the gap from pre-school to on-shelf

Sommerville talks about Marshmallow?s experience in style guide production and product development.
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The work carried out by Marshmallow enables properties to extend across all core retail categories in the pre-school market.

Following a five year creative directorship at Disney, Marshmallow was born out of the need for a creative resource to work across all Disney’s properties and product groups ensuring continuity at a retail level. Four years on Marshmallow now undertakes projects from all aspects of the licensing arena with a specialism in pre-school. 

The style guide is the all-important essential when taking a brand from character image to salable product. It has a big job to do, and built well with the right content, will be worth it’s weight in gold. Our experience at Marshmallow is that although each property should be approached in a unique way the below considerations are paramount.

We all know about being aware of the right direction in terms of fashion, graphics and colour, but the secret is pitching at the right level, sympathetic to the property.

Shoehorning a character into a fashion trend for the sake of it is a risky business as it could easily compromise the authenticity of the brand.

Cultural trends in pre-school play patterns are great reference and the current buzz is all about learning through play. If your brand involves letters, numbers, colours, surprise or discovery, great news. At every opportunity work this into the graphics in a playful manner, but don’t stop there, continue this onto the product. A natural fit for toys and games - but it can often be more challenging for apparel and home product. However, consider the difference between a basic printed bedding set over one which doubles as a huge game board. All of a sudden the product takes on an additional dimension - far more interesting.

Tell the Story

With pre-school properties in particular there’s a wonderful story to tell, especially as there is always a happy ending. So don’t just transfer the characters onto products, transfer the story too. Finding innovative ways to do this results in far more inspiring products which separate and elevate themselves from a retailers own brand occupying the same shelf space.

In its purest form, take a look at the recent plethora of literary properties enjoying so much current interest. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to The Gruffalo - reading is so aspirational. Carry this onto the product and they become desirable too.


Remaining authentic to a brand is key. No matter how established a character, they must always be referenced in context whether through the film, series or book. Recent projects refreshing evergreens such as Disney Princess and Winnie the Pooh have resulted in countless archive visits, the results are worth it.

Also newly completed is the first style guide for the much-loved children’s classic, Dear Zoo. The author Rod Campbell and Marshmallow worked closely to ensure the essence of the book’s story telling through humour, discovery and togetherness was maintained. Considered design and application of the style guide to the right product lines has preserved its authenticity.


If a brand is set for great things it’s likely because it is offering something new, so aim to design products in your range, which can only exist because your brand does. You need a property to stand out and create uniqueness on shelf, we all know it’s competitive out there. If the previous steps of trend, storytelling and authenticity have been considered the products should be there already.

So to reiterate, each brand will always present a unique creative challenge and approach, an exciting opportunity to embrace in itself. The above aims to offer interesting food for thought.

As for what’s next, look out for innovative ways brands are being developed for kids. The recent publishing tie up between Bright Group International and London Zoo is a great example. A brand which is socially responsible, educational and experience driven – very exciting.



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