Curious George has delighted children for over 55 years, but it’s only recently that his fans could enjoy owning licensed products featuring the mischievous monkey.
Although the books by H.A. and Margret Rey have been around since 1941, it wasn’t until publisher Houghton Mifflin acquired the rights to the character in 1994 that a full-fledged licensing program was developed with the help of Massachusetts-based Bliss House.
At that time, only three Curious George consumer products were available in the market. By last Christmas, over 50 licensees and several upscale retailers, like FAO Schwarz and Barnes & Noble, had signed on.
Curious George had been exclusively a book property, supported more by librarians than by exposure in other media. In order to reintroduce the property to consumers, Bliss House president Jerry Houle developed a non-conventional strategy.
Houle’s research showed that Curious George had equal appeal to adults and children. ‘The retro, innocent-childhood, first-reader type things are at the heart of the appeal for Curious George,’ says Houle.
Another component of his strategy is to partner with entrepreneurial companies dedicated to the character and devoted to making products that capture the imagination, innovation and whimsy of George. He can often identify these companies just by gauging their reaction when he asks whether they’ve heard of Curious George.
‘Part of the mantra here is that everything must reflect the essence of the character,’ says Houle. ‘If you do that, the program will be successful, and successful for a long time.’
Since many of the licensees are smaller manufacturers with limited advertising budgets, Curious George licensees meet every six weeks to discuss a cooperative marketing strategy. One product of this partnership is a brochure that informs retail buyers about the entire portfolio of Curious George products.
New Curious George products appeared in the marketplace in September 1995. The first areas Houle targeted were stationery and gift items. That was followed by specialty toys and, most recently, apparel. In 1997, he plans to target party goods and bed linens.
Bliss House developed a merchandising strategy that involved partnering with upscale retailers. Houle scored a coup early on when FAO Schwarz agreed to create in-store Curious George boutiques and to place the character on the cover of its 1995 Christmas catalogue. In 1996, Barnes & Noble and Nordstroms also prominently featured George in both stores and catalogues. Curious George serves as the design theme for WordsWorth in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which won Playthings magazine’s award as the top licensed-product store nationwide.
Long-range plans include an animated entertainment presence currently under negotiation. ‘The strategy is to maintain the strong book-themed component of Curious George, but just make it available to a larger audience, as Disney has done with Winnie the Pooh,’ says Houle.
Houle believes that what makes Curious George special is that people care about him. ‘He affected their lives. My job is to create products that will move both adults and children and touch them emotionally.’