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Licensing Diary: Babar It’s good to be the king

Kind-hearted elephant king Babar has entertained children for over 60 years in books, television and film. For the past decade, the Babar merchandising program has sought to extend that feeling of wonder, warmth and adventure to high-end retail products....
October 1, 1997

Kind-hearted elephant king Babar has entertained children for over 60 years in books, television and film. For the past decade, the Babar merchandising program has sought to extend that feeling of wonder, warmth and adventure to high-end retail products.

Nelvana and The Clifford Ross Company, the joint licensors of Babar, began a licensing program after acquiring the rights in 1988 and presently boast over 100 licensees in 20 countries. Ellipse International serves as the licensing agent for France and much of Europe.

Babar was created in 1931 by French artist Jean de Brunhoff, based on a tale that his wife told their two young sons. In 1946, 10 years after his death, de Brunhoff’s son, Laurent, continued the legacy in publishing. Most recently, in 1988, Nelvana and The Clifford Ross Company have brought the character to television and film.

Although Babar books have been translated into 17 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide, a comprehensive licensing program had never been implemented until Nelvana and Clifford Ross gained the rights. Previously, only very high-end licensing, conducted on a small scale, was done in France. Items included hand-made toys, hand-carved music boxes and posters. Today, Babar licensees cover all key young children’s categories, including plush (Gund), publishing (Random House) and apparel (Friemanit InternationalÑNorth America, DauphitexÑFrance).

Babar merchandise is targeted toward parents of children ranging from infants to age seven. Products have been sold at upscale retailers, such as FAO Schwarz, but Nelvana creative director Kim Cleary says that the products will soon be available in mid-market retailers such as Macy’s.

‘Babar is a classic property, and mid-market stores make the property more acceptable while maintaining a high-quality image,’ she says. She does not anticipate Babar products at mass-market retailers.

The 65 animated half-hours created by Nelvana and Clifford Ross in 1988 continue to air around the world on such networks as HBO, BBC and ABC in Australia. A new Babar film is slated for 1998. Cleary doesn’t anticipate any separate licensing programs created specifically for the theatrical film.

In addition to the property’s licensing success, the Babar character has also been used in conjunction with several charity programs, such as the French Red Cross’ annual fundraising day in 1997 and the ‘Read Me a Story’ literacy program that toured the U.S. in 1996.

‘We want the Babar brand to represent quality and a very good image for children to follow,’ says Cleary.

An elephant never forgets, and here are some memorable moments in Babar’s history:

* 1931: French artist Jean de Brunhoff writes and illustrates The Story of Babar.

* 1946: Ten years after his father’s death, Laurent de Brunhoff continues the legacy by writing a series of Babar books that go on to sell millions worldwide.

* 1988: Nelvana and The Clifford Ross Company become joint licensing partners of Babar. In conjunction, they begin production on an animated Babar series.

* The partners sign Ellipse International as their French licensing agent.

* Dauphitex, a major French apparel maker, signs on as one of the first licensees.

* 1989: Babar the Movie debuts.

* Mid-1990s: Japanese manufacturer/retailer Takara launches a successful retail program including jewelry, stationery and a high-end line of men’s clothing.

* 1996: Friemanit International becomes the primary apparel licensee in North America.

* 1997: Colgate-Palmolive features the Babar character on baby bath and baby lotion.

* Gund becomes the plush licensee.

* Production begins on a new Babar movie, slated for 1998 release.

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