PRE-SCHOOL MONTH: The good old days

We look at how pre-school brand owners are creating new streams of revenue.
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Favourite childhood TV shows, characters and the like, are subjects of conversation likely to crop up more than once in adult life. This love of reminiscing and looking back at childhood memories has fuelled a new stream of licensing for pre-school brands.

The trend for pre-school brands moving into adult sectors started mainly in fashion with much-loved, evergreen brands like Mr Men, Sesame Street and Disney seemingly leading the way and appearing throughout adult fashion.

Chorion currently works with 11 licensees for Mr Men adult apparel and accessories, with more for gifts, toiletries and stationery. Paddington Bear and classic Noddy (images from c. 1960s) are also moving into the apparel markets and while Beatriz Potter doesn’t itself to clothes, the firm works with a number of licensees to create premium giftwares.

Melanie Humberstone-Garley, UK territory manager for Chorion explains: “It’s part of fashion at the moment and to be honest, I thought the trend would tail off, but a number of years later, it still seems to be going strong and if anything, it’s gaining momentum.”

CPLG is another major player in this area, with Sesame Street, Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake programmes, mainly led by fashion apparel over a period of three to four years.

Tim Juckes, category director at CPLG explains: “We have experienced fantastic results across the brands and continue to do so. Highlights include Famous Forever’s award-winning Sesame Street apparel, BCI with Strawberry Shortcake and Fashion UK with Care Bears.”

Disney’s plethora of characters lend themselves to licensing in a wide variety of outlets, so it’s no surprise that the firm is also working to extend the life of the pre-school brands in adult markets and again, established characters like Mickey and Minnie are strong players.

Dominic Worsley, franchise marketing director at Disney Consumer Products comments: “Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh are very popular characters that have delighted generations. Their appeal is timeless and we find that those who were fans in their childhood still have an emotional connection with the characters in their adulthood. We see that especially with Mickey Mouse, who has become a fashion icon throughout the years.”

Disney has gone strongly down the high-end fashion route with its Disney Couture range, a fashion forward and aspirational collection with Mickey at the centre of its latest designs.

But why are these brands finding their feet with adults when they were clearly designed to appeal to children?

Hello Kitty came to the UK around 30 years ago and Libby Grant, brand director at Fluid World offers one explanation for the phenomenon: “I believe in the current economic climate, people tend to turn to things that are ‘familiar’ to them and that may evoke some sort of emotion particularly brands that may take them back to their childhood.

“Therefore brands which have a nostalgia value can have a big appeal to adults that have grown up with them.”

A point which Maxine Lister, merchandising manager at HMV agrees with: “Pre-school brands’ appeal in the adult market is partly due to their iromic appeal, which makes them cool in a slightly counter-culture kind of way, but also because we grew up with some of these brands, so they were also part of our youth and reassuringly familiar.”

Richard Hollis, head of UK licensing for BBC Worldwide concludes: “None of us want to grow up. Pre-school characters become real friends when you are very young and you never forget them. And the simple visual appeal that works well on a TV screen can be equally strong on clothing and accessories.”

BBC Worldwide is a firm that has shown it isn’t just the brands established many years ago that are working their way into grown-up consciousness. Those that entered the market with a bang as little as ten years ago are already finding success with this audience.

Teletubbies were revolutionary when they hit screens a decade ago and BBCW has been working on a tween and teen approach for Teletubbies, which has been running for about eighteen months now.

The campaign started in New York when the characters toured to promote their tenth anniversary, and the UK followed soon after. The brand now has a successful clothing range for New Look, produced by BCI.

Hollis continues: “The originality and design strengths of Teletubbies has always attracted older fans, and as the series hit its tenth birthday, it seemed natural to offerproducts to the original audience who had grown up with the characters and who were now in their teens.”

A look into most High Street retailers now, will include at least one such pre-school licensed T-shirt or underwear range. But perhaps one of the pioneers of this type of offering was HMV. Lister explains: “It goes back a few years now – you think of such TV programmes as ‘Rainbow’ kick-starting the whole thing, though as much by accident than design. It’s an area that HMV has typically performed well in for a while now given the huge student footfall we get through our stores.”

So what may have started as a bit of a cult following with students, has now become more mainstream and all would agree that it has been hugely successful at retail. Juckes says: “We have experience fantastic results across the brands and continue to do so.”

Humberstone-Garley concurs: “Every single High Street retailer we work with would say that Mr Men is in its top five brands and often it’s number one or two. It’s a phenomenal brand. Since we took it on, we have seen a massive growth in this area, especially over the last year, when it has just flown. I have been in the industry for over 20 years and I have never seen anything like it.”

So thinking outside the usual streams of revenue for these brands has clearly worked and a number of firms are now working with high-profile licensees to move outside just a fashion offering.

Fluid World is a perfect example with Hello Kitty. Grant says: “Hello Kitty is a brand with appeals to girls as well as women of all ages hence the opportunity and focus on taking this into an older girls and women’s retail environment.”

The firm is currently working on a large number of deals including bedding, electrical haircare, both for personal and professional markets, customized ipods, stationery, car accessories and other giftable products including toasters, mini fridges and lamps, alongside apparel and accessory deals, all launching throughout the rest of 2009 and 2010.

Grant continues: “We looked for partners who worked retailers where the older, more fashion driven female consumer would shop. It was also important for our partners to have a history of working with adult brands, so the product range and destination retailer matched the target consumer.”

The first of the company’s Hello Kitty collections to hit the market was a make-up range with cosmetics giant, Mac. The products saw a 60 per cent sell-through in the first week and enjoyed coverage in, amongst others, Vogue, Marie Claire, Grazia, Look, Closer and Heat magazine, proving once again, the success of pre-school brands in the adult market.

So the brands that evoke nostalgia and childhood memories are the ones that will sit best when selling to adults and if the brand is strong, there is plenty of extra revenue to be had if companies can take a side-step into a new market.

And it would seem, with an ever-changing retail horizon, there is possibly more space for such products on shelf. Lister explains: “We’re now investing more trading space to T-shirts and other licensed products. It’s a market that’s growing and one that we’re increasingly diversifying into.

“Unlike music and films, you can’t download a t-shirt, so it’s a good market to be in, and of course, there are a growing number of franchises to feed this growth.”

Peter Robinson, head of press at New Look added: "We are always looking at new ranges and will of course extend the offer when relevant merchandise is available and the trend is there for new characters etc."

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