Start Licensing's Ian Downes on why 2014 could be the year of Minnie the Minx

We talk Doc Martens, retail plans and original 'girl power'.
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Firstly, can you tell us the story behind the brand?

George Mooney, the first Beano editor, asked Leo Baxendale to draw a female version of Dennis the Menace. Baxendale obliged and Minnie the Minx was born. From the start Leo Baxendale saw Minnie as a female warrior keen to be seen as an equal to the boys around her. She fought them on their own terms - and won. There have been three Minnie the Minx artists - Leo Baxendale, Jim Petrie and Nigel Parkinson. Between 1962 and 2001, Jim Petrie drew exactly 2,000 Minnie the Minx strips for The Beano. The first strip was only six frames long ... Minnie quickly persuaded the editor to give her a full page.

Minnie made her debut in The Beano on December 19th 1953. She has been an integral part of The Beano since then and is one of the comic's most popular characters. She is instantly recognised and wears the signature red and black colourways of The Beano.

Minnie the Minx is a comic icon. She was practising 'girl power' 40 years before the Spice Girls came along. She is impish, mischievous and as wild as wild can be. She uses catapults and water pistols - she gets into a lot of scraps and scrapes. As a licensed character, Minnie the Minx offers licensees the chance to develop products with an iconic character that has a slight edge to it and a character that from a design perspective allows licensees to create products that can be differentiated in the market. The red and black styling of Minnie along with her attitude mean she is on trend fashion wise and there is great scope to develop this in licensing.

How did the brand perform in 2013?

We have started to focus more attention on Minnie the Minx because of the enduring popularity of the character - she has been in The Beano for over 60 years - clearly this shows there is a deep affection for the character but she also works from a storyline point of view and is popular with readers. Minnie the Minx was used prominently in the Beanotown Exhibition that ran on London's South Bank in 2013. We could see that she was popular with parents and children at the Exhibition.

Licensees such as Robert Harrop, Beswick and Comic Art have used Minnie for mid to high-end resins, collectables and screenprints. These have always proved popular and this has encouraged us to believe Minnie the Minx is a character with a solid foundation and heritage. However this was further confirmed in 2013 by Dr Martens featuring Minnie prominently on their successful Beano range and the reaction from consumers to the range generally and the Minnie the Minx product specifically was fantastic.

Given this success with a fashion orientated brand we were encouraged to develop our thinking on Minnie the Minx towards apparel and pushing the character more towards on trend fashion. Minnie the Minx also featured on The Beano Christmas issue cover in 2013 - a rare honour for a character and a fitting way to mark her 60 years of loyal service to The Beano.

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How many licensees does it have to date, and in which categories?

At the moment there are five licensees using Minnie the Minx as a standalone character: Beswick for figurines, Robert Harrop for collectable resins, Comic Art for screenprints, Dr Martens for footwear and Foska for cycle wear. Furthermore Minnie the Minx appears in a number of Beano-branded products such as Flair's Comic Maker Kit, Wizard's Shrinkles product and Gibsons' jigsaw puzzles. Minnie the Minx also appears in The Beano Annual, Beano exhibitions and activities with galleries and museums.

What are some of the best performing products?

I think the Dr Martens range is the stand out item - the range received tremendous feedback from the public including some great Facebook attention - one of the best if not the best that Dr Martens have received. The collection was also well received in the press. Consumers seem to really like the marriage of Dr Martens and The Beano - Minnie the Minx was one of the stand out pairs. Sales were strong and another range is launching in the summer. This success is a good benchmark for the popularity of the character and her suitability for apparel, fashion and accessories. In terms of other products, Robert Harrop have used Minnie the Minx over a number of years and she is a very popular part of their Beano collection. Comic Art feature Minnie the Minx in their Beano screenprint collection and the character is a good seller.

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Are you looking to sign more licensees this year – if so which categories are you targeting?

Yes - this year we have prioritised developing Minnie the Minx for the fashion and apparel market. DC Thomson's design team in Dundee have undertaken quite a lot of research into apparel trends with Minnie the Minx in mind. This has helped shape a really strong style guide and a set of fantastic mood boards for Minnie the Minx. DC Thomson also took advice from licensees in developing the guide and also talked to their colleagues on titles such as Shout Magazine to get an overview of the market. We feel the resulting guide is strong, commercial and has great potential for licensees and retailers. It allows licensees to develop products that are on trend, have a point of difference, but also have a strong well defined character as a reference point. We think this will help build on the momentum that the Dr Martens range has created and is a strong stepping off point for Minnie the Minx.

Do you have any special marketing initiatives or promotional activity planned for 2014?

Minnie the Minx will appear regularly in The Beano and will feature in The Beano Annual. Dr Martens will be running a similar campaign to their 2013 campaign with shop displays, window displays, social media and marketing. Minnie the Minx will be part of this. We will also look at other ways we can work with our existing licensees and promotional partners.

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What has the reaction from retail been like to the brand?

We are about to start talking to retailers, but the licensees we have talked to and consulted on the development have given us good encouragement and have lead us to believe we are moving in the right direction. The styling for Minnie the Minx is on trend but importantly provides an alternative to other current ranges - I think having something different to use appeals to licensees and retailers. We are looking forward to having conversations with retailers.

What would you most like to achieve with the brand by the end of 2014?

Our key ambition is to find and develop a proactive partnership with a retailer, licensee or apparel brand to bring the vision we have for Minnie the Minx alive in apparel, accessories and footwear. Once this is established I think we can engage with other categories and build a wider programme. Hopefully 2014 will be the year of Minnie the Minx.

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