Licensing Diary: Clifford the Big Red Dog

Thirty-five years is a long life span for any animal, but Clifford the Big Red Dog shows no signs of losing his bite....
August 1, 1997

Thirty-five years is a long life span for any animal, but Clifford the Big Red Dog shows no signs of losing his bite.

Scholastic Productions has been finalizing a licensing strategy to reintroduce the popular puppy character created by Norman Bridwell across a variety of merchandising categories that will target preschoolers and parents.

Since 1962, Clifford books have sold over 56 million copies. Even though Clifford products have been available since 1988, licensing activity had been more reactive to demand as opposed to being the result of a defined and organized licensing strategy. The resurgence of interest in classic properties, combined with Clifford’s 35th anniversary, has provided the impetus for Scholastic to relaunch a licensing program.

Over the past year, Scholastic has let all previous Clifford licenses expire. It is currently cleaning out the marketplace and evaluating product categories. Concurrently, it has given the puppy a poochlift a fresh, edgy look without sacrificing any of his charm.

Scholastic’s only licensee to date is Sidekicks, the company’s new internal plush division. Scholastic created Sidekicks because it wanted to maintain control of the look, distribution and availability of products and to provide merchandise to its book clubs and book fairs at more advantageous prices.

‘By managing this type of program internally, we can ensure that the product is going to be available on an ongoing basis,’ says Leslye Schaefer, senior vice president of marketing and consumer products at Scholastic Entertainment. ‘Sometimes, when you’re a small license and not the priority, you get lost in the shuffle.’

The Sidekicks merchandise will be available in the fall at such specialty stores as FAO Schwarz, Learning Smith, Zany Brainy and Noodle Kidoodle, and department stores including Kohls.

Future Clifford products will be available initially at upscale stores before being brought to mass-market retailers. Schaefer believes that a targeted, limited reintroduction will build up consumer demand. The projected date for new Clifford products is fall 1998.

One of the areas Scholastic will emphasize is seasonal products. Many Clifford titles center on holidays, and Scholastic plans to build programs in conjunction with the seasonality of those books. Schaefer expects a fairly broad range of Clifford products, especially in the gift and stationery categories. The company may also pursue a CD-ROM or another interactive platform in the future.

Scholastic has been offering the Clifford property as an animated television series, and Schaefer is optimistic that a deal will be made before the end of 1997. The introduction of Clifford as a TV series would provide an additional catalyst to expand the licensing program and would create demand for Clifford-related products.

Not having a broadcasting deal would not be a mortal blow to the Clifford licensing program. With 56 million books in print, Clifford has enough equity on its own to stand out in the marketplace. ‘Parents trust that book-based characters are good. If kids have read something and walk into a store and see something related to it, they will want it. So there’s a natural consumer demand,’ she says.

Schaefer reports that potential licensees are excited about relaunching Clifford. ‘Even though it’s a work in progress, people are incredibly receptive because they know Clifford and grew up with Clifford. He’s such a great icon, and that red color is wonderful it makes a statement.’

Here’s a look at Clifford’s life in licensing:

- 1962: First Clifford book is published. Over 50 titles have been released in total and approximately two new titles are now released annually.

- 1988: Eden Toys becomes Clifford’s first plush licensee.

- 1989: LIVE Home Video distributes six Clifford titles.

- 1991: Clifford balloon debuts at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

- 1992: Dakin (now Applause) takes over the plush license. Other Clifford products include puzzles.

- 1996: Scholastic begins to structure a licensing program strategy for Clifford and lets current licenses expire.

- Fall 1997: Sidekicks, a division of Scholastic, debuts a series of plush Clifford products.

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