"Tech is bringing new era to experiential licensing and Winter Wonderland's The Snowman will blow you away"

Penguin Ventures' creative director, Thomas Merrington believes that new technology is fuelling today's experiential culture. He also believes it will deliver something 'nobody is expecting' at this year's Hyde Park Winter Wonderland The Snowman initiative.
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Advances in technology and the way consumers engage with it is one of the biggest factors driving experiential licensing among today’s audiences, is the key takeaway from Licensing.biz’s talk with Penguin Ventures this week.

Thomas Merrington, Penguin Ventures

Thomas Merrington, Penguin Ventures

It certainly seems to be, according to the publishing house’s licensing arm, capturing the zeitgeist of society. Millennials and younger parents are more willing to spend money on meaningful experiences than they are necessarily spending on products. And the reason for it, is that technology is allowing brands to tell better stories through those experiences.

If you’re still unaware, this month the London-based Backyard Cinema will present an immersive The Snowman experience to visitors to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. On Thursday, November 22nd, the thousands that descend upon the festive-themed attraction each year will be able to immerse themselves in what has become a staple part of the Christmas tradition - the story of The Snowman - in ways they never thought possible.

A screening of the film, one that first made its way to audiences via Channel 4 back in 1982, will take place over three different rooms. Within each room, 'different things will happen'; secrets that Penguin Ventures is not yet ready to reveal until the concept’s launch later this month.

But rest assured, Thomas Merrington, creative director at Penguin Ventures tells Licensing.biz, “people will go in expecting one thing and come out having had an even better experience than what they thought they were going to get…”

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Over the past two years, Merrington has been working with the Backyard Cinema team to bring the Winter Wonderland experience all together. In just a matter of weeks he - they - will see the project go live, and the excitement is now palpable.

“From the initial conversations about what the experience would look like, it has surpassed my expectations and I think theirs [Backyard Cinema] - they have really pushed what it is they can do.”

At the heart of it, it is what advancements in technology are now allowing brands like Penguin Ventures to do.

“We are at a time where people are wanting more experiences from the brands they love, and the technology is there, making these experiences more immersive, more interactive, more engaging - it’s not just your traditional meet and greet any more, there are capabilities to do a lot more,” continues Merrington.

“And I think it’s important for brands in general to be engaging in those aspects, because it is really exciting and with classic brands, it allows you to bring something new and evolve it to keep it relevant, all without losing the heritage of your brand.”

But experiences don’t always have to be ‘the big show.’ There are a number of subtle ways to weave that brand narrative into an experience that isn’t all bells and whistles, and the manner in which Penguin Ventures has done this at retail is a prime example.

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Since September this year, the company has made new announcements about retail activations pretty much every other week. Among them, it has detailed exclusive partnerships with the likes of Harrods and Fenwicks, taken its partnership with Barbour to the next level by featuring The Snowman on actual Barbour product and expanded its partnership with the Royal Mint to commemorate the 40th anniversary of this classic IP.

Similarly, Penguin has received “massive support” from the likes of The Range and Poundland. It’s allowed the company to deliver the narrative of The Snowman across the entire spectrum.

“We are really lucky with The Snowman,” says Merrington. “We have seen a breadth of retail activation and it is important or us with this brand, as everyone has memories of it. It is a Christmas tradition owned by everyone - so we are not trying to be exclusive in terms of our retail landscape.

‘We have a bespoke partnership with Harrods with a bespoke image created for them across their product range and we are doing exclusive product with Fenwicks to tie in with their themed window this year, but alongside that The Range is really supporting The Snowman, as well as Poundland.

‘For us, going into the high end partnerships with exclusive product is as important as going to the wider trade and the discounters, because they are growing as marketplaces with our core consumers.”

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Things have certainly changed over the past 40 years and it is certainly interesting to note that while The Snowman has - over the course of its four decades in the hearts of its audiences - gained a reputation for the tradition of nostalgia that forms the hearth of so many people’s Christmases, it’s actually always been a property that has pushed boundaries and perceptions.

Even in its original format of a picture book created by Raymond Briggs in 1978, the title has captured the imagination of its audience by being something new.

“Raymond Briggs was an extraordinary illustrator,” continues Merrington. “The way he created The Snowman is spectacular. The book is just pictures. As a reader, you start with all these little, fast-moving images and suddenly you turn the page and it’s a double page spread, burst of colour of The Snowman flying. That hadn’t been done before in children’s publishing.”

Four years later, it was on TVs, and while never originally written as a Christmas character, it quickly settled itself as part of the annual Yuletide package.

“The film breaks your heart,” says Merrington to a chorus of agreement from Licensing.biz. “And it has become a really important part of everyone’s Christmas tradition.”

Coins in Snow

So, what will Penguin Ventures be doing to ensure the brand stays in the heart of its audiences for another 40 years? It’s all about keeping it relevant to contemporary audiences, is Merrington’s answer.

In 2012, The Snowman sequel, The Snowman and the Snowdog brought the concept to life for a new generation, and while Merrington has only teasers for now, he assures us that “we are looking at different ways we take the brand forward with different initiatives….

“There will definitely be some things coming up in the pipeline, but just nothing we can talk about at the moment.

“It’s about building the experience, how to engage in different ways all while guarding the brand and making sure The Snowman remains The Snowman and stays precious and relevant to everyone that loves it as much as we do.”

Just where technology will allow that to go in the near future is all to be explored, but we can all rest easy knowing that storytelling will be at the heart of everything The Snowman does. It couldn’t be in safer hands than those of the master story tellers at Penguin. 

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