Childhood is a time of wonder and exploration, when every day is full of new discoveries. The colors, sounds, shapes and experiences of childhood shape us as adults. For three generations, childhood’s favorite memories have included the works of the world-renowned artist and author, Eric Carle.
The World of Eric Carle, which encompasses 75 books including bestsellers “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?,” engages and inspires children around the world, promoting exploration and imagination. The reach of the brand got even wider when The World of Eric Carle teamed up with New York-based licensing firm The Joester Loria Group (JLG).
Founded in 1999 by industry veterans Debra Joester and Joanne Loria, JLG is a premier full-service licensing agency, offering clients an integrated brand-building approach including strategic brand extensions. The two founders have garnered an impressive portfolio of innovative licensing successes, including their work with Jeep, Pepsi and Animal Planet, introducing the world to South Park and successfully reintroducing Care Bears to a new generation. Their innovative achievements and contribution to the licensing industry are being recognized with the induction of both Joester and Loria into the Licensing Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in June 2014. The two began their collaboration at Hamilton Projects, a unit of Viacom.
“Joanne and I had the opportunity to start our own agency in 1999 when Hamilton Project was being shut down by its parent company,” Joester explains. “We had a roster of loyal clients that wished to continue working with us, and we were eager to establish an independent agency that was strategic, creative and free to represent properties we truly believed in.”
Those early-year clients included well-known names such as Jeep, Chrysler and American Greetings. Early success gave JLG added leverage to establish partnerships with other leading brands such as Kellogg’s, Entenmann’s, Pepsi, Discovery and Animal Planet. In January 2012, the Eric Carle Studio retained JLG as its global licensing agency for The World of Eric Carle. The centerpiece of the property, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, was just two years away from its 45th anniversary.
“We started preparing in January 2012, recognizing that the 45th anniversary was actually just around the corner,” Joester explains. “Our goal was to develop high-impact promotional partnerships that would be executed in 2014, whether with retailers such as BRU, Target, Pottery Barn Kids and Barnes & Noble, or more traditional programs like the year-long Wendy’s promotion that is currently in place.”
JLG has formed a number of partnerships to help the world celebrate this milestone. In addition to the Wendy’s program, which will distribute up to 4 million mini-board book premiums at 6,500 North American locations, and special events hosted by Pottery Barn Kids and Barnes & Noble, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has teamed up with a number of quality brands. Langer’s Juice launched a six-week on-pack promotion featuring The Very Hungry Caterpillar on one million juice containers in nearly 11,000 stores and two more national campaigns will be announced in June.
JLG is also working with a new partner, StoryToys, to introduce three apps in 2014, the first of which will debut March 20 on The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day.
International promotions include the co-branded product collaboration with Hello Kitty in Japan as well as the Giant Wiggle, a five-year partnership with Action for Children, in the UK. The program encourages children’s centers, nurseries and groups catering to toddlers and preschoolers to host Giant Wiggle walks on The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day, which is recognized on the first day of spring worldwide. In Australia, The Very Hungry Caterpillar managed to attract 250,000 people to the Storyland Sand Sculpture Exhibit at the Frankston Waterfront in Victoria to view the giant sand-sculpted caterpillar made from 250 tons of sand. Also in Australia, JLG is working with theatrical production company Joey Creative on a new live children’s show based on The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other works by Eric Carle. Also, Canada-based Mermaid Theatre, which has been producing shows based on Eric Carle’s books for the past 15 years, continues to tour North America and Asia with its popular live shows.
The 45-year anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is shaping up to be an international success with events, promotions, retail programs and social media campaigns underway. Joester attributes the success to the strategic work that began two years ago.
“Communicating the evergreen appeal and reach of the brand to retailers and marketing partners has been an ongoing priority,” Joester explains. “To ensure key decision-makers understand the power of the brand, we have developed a global presentation that conveys its enormous appeal, consumer awareness and intent to purchase, and how beautifully Eric Carle’s distinctive artwork translates to product.”
JLG knew that the breadth of the brand – 75 titles, 125 million books sold, a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar being is sold every 30 seconds somewhere in the world, coupled with presence in more than 90 percent of American homes – would resonate with retailers. Another brand asset is its unique relationship with moms and educators of young children as well as librarians. The World of Eric Carle’s books are typically introduced to children during the infant years and remain a part of home and school life until sixth grade. First published in 1969, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been an important part of childhood for three generations and today’s moms, grandparents and caregivers are eager to introduce these titles to the next generation of children.
“This is truly an evergreen brand,” Joester says. “Eric Carle struck a particular chord with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and 45 years later, his work is an essential part of early childhood. The beauty and appeal of his books is timeless. ”
JLG’s next step was to ensure the spirit of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other Eric Carle books is captured in the product developed for the property. The firm tapped into a new market with a collection of infant products supported with new creative assets featuring softer colors and refreshed characters from Carle’s most popular books. Now the fastest-growing segment of the program, infant categories have extended the brand beyond the existing preschool products.
“Research showed that moms were receptive to the brand and intent to purchase was very high,” Joester says. “The new infant creative direction was particularly well received, providing a prime opportunity to extend the product offering beyond toddlers.”
With new retail partnerships and fresh product in place, JLG pursued its third priority – engaging target consumers. The firm has developed a comprehensive social media program creating a community of moms via Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. It has also partnered with leading mommy bloggers and, in partnership with Penguin, is activating a virtual tour with 45 mommy bloggers to celebrate The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s 45-year anniversary.
In addition to in-person contact with consumers with costume characters, events and in-store activities, Joester is confident the social media strategy adds an important layer of consumer engagement that enhances the emotional connection millions of people have with The World of Eric Carle.
“We have an active and engaged community of moms that love to share with other moms and provide us with great feedback,” Joester says. “It’s incredible to see the creative ideas fans are posting. They truly inspire us! Five years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible to communicate with our consumers in this way, yet we are just scratching the surface.”