The strength of a company’s brand will often make or break its licensing operation. The licensing sector of the retail industry is a market that relies heavily on the emotional connection that exists between a consumer and his or her favorite brands. This connection can stem from any number of places—a movie, a TV show, or even a candy bar—and, generally speaking, the more popular a brand is, the more success it will see in licensing.
The team at La Jolla, Calif.-based Dr. Seuss Enterprises is aware of this fact, and, fortunately for its licensing division, its founder’s reputation has continued to grow stronger and more widespread throughout recent decades.
What’s in a name?
Theodor Seuss Geisel was a one-of-a-kind author who dedicated many years of his life to penning children’s stories. As a result of his hard work and talent, the world has been blessed with a great number of timeless classics, such as The Cat In The Hat and How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
The late author, best known as Dr. Seuss, had an uncanny ability to create memorable characters, write catchy dialogue, and develop heartfelt storylines. As a result, he has become one of the world’s most beloved children’s authors. His stories have been passed down from generation to generation, and most are as popular today as they were in decades past.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises began to take advantage of its brand early on and has been licensing products for several years. One might assume that the stories’ characters would eventually lose momentum, but Susan Brandt, president of licensing and marketing, said this is not the case. Despite the decades that have passed, the brand’s characters continue to thrive.
“Dr. Seuss’s first book was written in 1937, and many others have celebrated 50- or 75-year anniversaries, yet the content remains relevant,” Brandt said. “The challenges related to keep our brand fresh and our products relevant to each new generation are mitigated by the excitement of discovery. Parents treasured these books when they were young, and most are eager to share that experience with their children.”
As new generations of young people begin to embrace the Dr. Seuss characters, the company’s licensing division is faced with the challenge of providing adequate support for the relationships. According to Brandt, she and her team are focused on delivering quality products and relevant messages to consumers, which, together, help get the job done.
Both near and far
Brandt and her team are focused in the US market, but Dr. Seuss Enterprises has established a strong reputation across all far-reaching corners of the world. In an effort to take advantage of that popularity, the company has developed a significant international presence.
The company’s books are available in 17 languages, and it licenses products in 95 countries across the globe. It’s built an especially strong presence in Europe and Australia, primarily through partnerships with local licensing agencies (Beanstock Group in Europe and The Newman Group in Australia).
Brandt said the agencies work under the direction of the US team but are encouraged to share ideas. “These agencies essentially take what we do in the US and apply it in their markets. We give our agents the freedom to do what they do best. We recognize that every market is different, and we realize they know the ins and outs of their markets better than anyone,” she explained, adding that continuous communication ensures all of the operations are aligned; regular meetings and biweekly phone calls allow the teams to share strategies, ideas, and feedback.
A new website is scheduled to launch this summer, which will make it easier than ever for the team at Dr Seuss Enterprises to reach out directly to its fans across the world. Designed to mirror traditional Seuss fashion, the interactive site is the definitive place for all things Seuss: it’s loaded with games and activities that target children, and there are several sections for adults, whether they be parents, educators, or simply fans.
It all comes together in the end
The rhyming prose Dr. Seuss is known for is often as cute as the characters that light up his stories, but life lessons on topics like morality, integrity, and equality are at the heart of each story. Horton Hears a Who!, for instance, might seem silly on the surface, but a message on equality lies underneath: “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” the book reads. And in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss writes, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.”
According to Brandt, these heartfelt messages are an essential part of the stories’ success, and she and her team often use them to bridge the gap between the books and licensed products. “One of the unique elements of our company involves the underlying themes that run through the books. The Lorax delivers a strong environmental message, for example, so we tied that to our Earth Day celebrations,” she explained.
Another factor the licensing team always takes into consideration is its target audience. The company’s licensing efforts are widespread; in addition to its two primary target populations (children and parents), it serves a third group: collectors.
“Identifying our target audience is the first step, and from there, we narrow down the product categories. Another thing that sets us apart is that we don’t license products in every possible category. Instead, we channel our efforts into our primary focus areas, which are apparel, toys, room décor, and collectibles,” Brandt said.
“We focus our efforts there, and we look to partner with the best of the best in those arenas,” she added. “We keep our eyes directed toward the marketplace and look at the products on the floor at any given time. If we come across a company that’s producing quality items, we try to align ourselves with them, and it really doesn’t matter whether or not they have any prior experience licensing.”
A film version of The Lorax is in development and will be released in March 2012, and an animated TV show starring the characters from The Cat In The Hat is set to debut on PBS this fall.