The story of Strawberry Shortcake begins in the late 1970s, explains Gabrielle Oliff, marketing director at American Greetings Properties – a bit like the author’s then. Oh yes, I was the core target market for the brand’s very first incarnation.
“A little girl with a mop of red yarn curls caught the eye of an art director at American Greetings,” says Oliff. “He was flipping through a stack of cards and thought about creating a fantasy character who lives in a magical world hidden deep within a strawberry patch.”
It’s a cute story, certainly, and 30 years on, Strawberry Shortcake is still going strong – and set for a massive boost as a new series begins airing on new US TV network, The Hub, this month, backed up by a full licensed product range in 2011.
It was spring 1980 when AG, General Mills and Random House launched a line of social expressions products, toys, games, crafts and books featuring the character. A TV special – The World of Strawberry Shortcake – aired in March 1980 and by the end of the year almost 50 licensees had launched product.
The brand was redesigned in 2003 to appeal to a new generation of girls. The pinafore, striped stockings and bonnet were replaced with jeans, a striped shirt and an oversized strawberry-themed hat, although the red hair, freckles and personality remained. The latest look, unveiled in autumn 2009, is inspired by Strawberry’s classic 1980s appearance.
Now, Strawberry Shortcake airs in over 50 markets internationally and has generated over $3.2 billion in retail sales since 2003 alone.
“There is already a strong fan base with moms who grew up with the Strawberry Shortcake brand in the 1980s and we simply modernised her to appeal to the next generation of girls,” Oliff continues. “She has the same wholesome values and spirit of adventure as the classic version with a more modern visual twist. Humour, fun and friendship were cornerstones of the brand and those elements still appeal to little girls today. Plus, her berry sweet smell makes for a very unique play experience.”
Those initial 50 licensees are now closer to 500 worldwide. Key categories include toys, DVD, books, apparel, footwear, bags, stationery and social expression – with Hasbro’s toy line, Fox’s DVDs and Penguin’s books leading the programme. Key territories are the US, Canada, Brazil and France. AG is currently seeking additional licensees in ancillary toy categories, consumables, live entertainment, electronics, interactive and mobile.
There is a strong classic programme, says Oliff, which is popular with tweens and teens and focuses on accessories and apparel, while the new-look Strawberry is aimed at two to seven year olds, with toys being the most popular category.
TV is obviously a key driver for the merchandise programme. As well as The Hub, the new series – Berry Bitty Adventures – airs in English-speaking Canada on Playhouse Disney, French-speaking Canada on TVA, Brazil on Disney and in France on Disney and M6/SND Groupe. The official website also offers another way for fans to engage with the character.
Other activity in October includes a McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion, a partnership with Alex’s Lemonade Stand and the brand’s first iPhone app. New Hasbro toys and DVDs will hit retail in 2011, along with various other products from key licensees.
“Strawberry Shortcake will continue to thrive in the entertainment and consumer products arenas,” Oliff confidently states. “We are working to ensure that the brand is dynamic and continues to engage the core fans, as well as the new ones.”