A plethora of new sentiment brands hit the market each year, but only a handful survive the test of time, launch successful licensing programmes and become recognised properties.
“The success of any brand in any category is about the consumer trusting what it delivers and always managing to delight, but unlike your favourite fizzy drink brand, delivering this with a sentiment brand has a higher emotional importance,” says Richard Edmondson, commercial director, Carte Blanche Greetings.
“You create a long-standing and successful sentiment brand by ensuring your audience wants to return to it time after time as the sentiment the brand conveys is consistent and always hits the right note.
“The Me To You brand has built enormous consumer loyalty as Tatty Teddy has become part of peoples lives as the ‘voice’ that puts into very simple words the emotions and messages people want to share with each other.”
Most agree that it is also important to regularly refresh the brand in order to keep it pertinent, while maintaining the core values.
David Wootliff, licensing director, Hallmark says: “In order to keep Forever Friends relevant it has evolved over time, whether it has been a change to the tome of voice of appearance. This has been done whilst maintaining that feeling of nostalgia and heritage, which resonates across generations.”
The majority of sentiment brands start life as greetings cards and are chosen on the merits of their humour or sentiment.
Rob Corney, MD of Bulldog Licensing, comments: “Sentiment brands are less likely to fade as quickly as traditional entertainment brands, which are more at the mercy of television schedules, fashion, trends etc.”
Once established, traditionally the first categories for a sentiment brand to be licensed into, are gifting and stationery. But as licensing continues to grow as an industry, the scope for a licensing programme is becoming wider.
Carte Blanche, for example, has recently signed a deal for its new brand extension, Tiny Tatty Teddy, with Simple skincare.
Meanwhile, Forever Friends has moved into the music industry with a compilation Mothers' Day CD in conjunction with Sony and Born to Shop has covered categories as wide as gardening accessories, car products, ironing board covers, umbrellas and underwear.
Allison Myers, licensing manager at Paper Island explains: “As sentiment works on nearly everything these days from food to apparel, licensing programmes have no boundaries now and we have looked at areas where we can see a gap and have tried to fill that gap.”
Vanessa Champion, licensing director, Lavish Rights, agrees: “If the product is right for the brand, licensors can explore with retailers other options, from games to alarm clocks.”
The wider programmes may be due, in some part, to the digital age. Suzy Spafford, creator of Suzy’s Zoo comments: “There is not much at all being licensed into stationery products in the US that I can see. People young and old are using less and less of paper stationery products.
“In time, and this is either wishful thinking on my part or my own attempt at forecasting, younger American consumers will be hungry for the products of old, and paper products will have a resurgence of popularity. When that happens, the sentiment and nostalgic brands will be in much demand.”
The digital age may have taken away the demand for stationery, but it has also widened the retail base for greetings cards, gifts etc, with sites such as moonpig.com becoming increasingly popular and many gift sites enjoying strong sales. Its overall effect on sentiment brands is one that divides the industry, however.
Michael Gottlieb, head of licensing and music merchandising, DCD Publishing, is in favour of the rise of online retail: “Internet shopping should normally help especially with the popularity of, for instance, gift cards online sites. The internet provides more distribution channels.”
Also in the pro camp, is Kirstie Guthrie of KJG. She offers: “From Pip’s point of view, and specifically the greeting card side, [internet retailing is] certainly helping. Moonpig have the most amazing success with Pip and show him in just the right light.
“He is popular on their gift ranges of mugs and t shirts as well, being such a striking character, he comes across extremely well as the customer is given the opportunity to see the product exactly as it will look before they buy. Only internet shopping could give this incredible flexibility.”
Richardson also believes the world wide web is a good thing for sentiment brands: “With careful brand management, the rise of the digital age and internet shopping has generally been good for a strong sentiment brand like MTY as it has allowed MTY to reach both new audiences and further enhance its connection with long standing embracers of MTY.
“It also allows consumers the full selection of products which may not necessarily be available in the local store or territory.”
There are others, however, who believe the very essence of a sentiment brand can be lost online. Myers explains: “It’s difficult to read sentiment if a product is online and doesn’t have a particularly appealing photograph. Very often the consumer isn’t even considering a purchase until they pick up and read the sentiment and think ‘that’s perfect for my friend/husband/sister’.
“But it’s something we all have to embrace and for Fizzy Moon, Paper Island enlisted a specific online retailer who have pulled product from our company and Fizzy Moon licensees together and created a Fizzy Moon online store dedicated to our cute little bear, so hopefully, we have covered every type of shopper.”
Whether it’s online or on the High Street, the main buyers for sentiment brand products tend to be adult females, so this is who the product is targeted at. However, most licensors agree that the brands' audience is very wide.
Guthrie explains: “The great thing about Pip is his hugely broad appeal. Depending on the product itself and the particular campaign, he is popular with young children, tweens, teens and adults.
“Generally speaking though, everything is designed with adults in mind. They’re the ones doing the buying and so even for children’s products, there has to be an adult appeal there too.”
Corney adds: “One of the real strengths of a brand such as Little Ewe is the incredible diversity of the consumer market. On the face of it, the brand’s most natural home in categories such as apparel is for teen/tween girls and this is the line, which successfully launched recently in Tesco.
"But in categories such as greetings and gift, the brand appeals across all females and even proves a very strong seller for Fathers’ Day lines.”
Greetings cards in themselves present a good opportunity for maximising brand awareness, but a number of other methods are used to market sentiment brands to their wide audiences.
Edmondson explains: “For a brand to have multi level public awareness it has to step outside of operating within just the greeting card category.
"For MTY, the major step change was when the brand moved into plush and gifts and over the past 15 years, the brand has gone from being available in just one medium to a true lifestyle brand, achieved through a mix of propriety products and a carefully managed licensed programme.”
Besides extra licensed categories, digital media is also a key method of marketing. Wootliff comments: “As well as being promoted on the Hallmark website, Forever Friends has its own website and our animated friends can be found on Youtube.”
Paper Island also places importance on websites and experiential marketing. Myers offers: “To help market Fizzy Moon, we developed a website which now has a growing fan base. We also organise Fizzy Moon days, where a store can have Fizzy Moon for the day and have photo opportunities and prize giveaways, which is great for brand awareness.
“Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming more popular for us and one of our distributors has even branded their delivery fleet.”
Digital media forms the basis of Lavish Rights’ campaign as well, as Champion explains: “We launched The Pet Poets Club on digital platforms, which worked well for this brand starting with MySpace and then working across into mobiles and online greetings cards.
“Lavish Rights is part of Lavish Creative, which is a digital multimedia advertising and brand consultancy, as such we naturally use tools and technologies which maybe other brands might not consider in the first instance.”
Spafford sees animation as key to the Suzy’s Zoo brand awareness and says: “It’s the great frontier for Suzy’s Zoo, and where we are destined to come into full fruition with the brand.”
So with all these pieces in place, there is a chance a cute greeting card character can shine through and become well-known and successful as a brand in its own right.