Where’s Spot? Everywhere it seems, these days. The popular puppy, created in 1980 by Eric Hill, has grown into one of the most successful preschool properties in the United Kingdom and around the world.
The diversity of the Spot licensing program mirrors the maturity of the character as a classic children’s brand, which now claims over 80 worldwide licensees. EVA Entertainment, which distributes the series for King Rollo Films, Frederick Warne, which owns the character, and The Copyrights Group, which has licensed the property since it first appeared on the BBC in 1985, expect continued expansion.
Spot books have sold over 30 million copies in 100 countries. The 26-episode Spot animated series has run in over 80 countries on such networks as the BBC in the U.K. and Disney Channel in the U.S. More than 3.5 million Spot videos have been sold worldwide. A 1994 study by U.K.-based market research company Millward Brown International reports that Spot has 99 percent awareness among U.K. parents and 83 percent awareness among kids.
A new line of Spot publishing products was recently introduced in conjunction with the fall 1997 video release Spot and His Grandparents Go To the Carnival. The line includes new lift-the-flaps books from Frederick Warne, a touch-and-feel book, also from Frederick Warne, in which young readers can touch and feel objects that relate to the story, and new activity books by Ladybird.
Spot’s presence is growing internationally at both high-end and mass-market retailers. Spot product was originally positioned in high-end stores to establish the property as a classic brand. Having achieved that success, Spot is making its move to the mass market via U.K. supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Safeway and Asda, and in the U.S., in such stores as Target and Kmart.
Capitalizing on the popularity of Spot’s presence on its sister company, Disney Channel, Buena Vista Home Video has released eight Spot home videos over the past four years that have sold over a million units in the U.S. Among the new products to be introduced for 1998 are a new plush line from Eden Toys (U.S.), nursery items and bedding from Nojo (U.S.), a new line of clothes from U.K. retailer Adams, and stationery from Holland Enterprises (U.K.). New licensing agreements have also been made with companies in Europe, Australia and Japan.
Spot is considered a vital part of any U.K. preschool child’s learning experience. ‘Parents feel very comfortable having their kids watch Spot because it exists in very high-quality books, has always had high-end licensed product and, as a TV series, has played on high-end broadcasters,’ says Lucy Ellson, head of co-productions for EVA Entertainment. Ellson reports that Disney market research indicates that over 80 percent of Spot videos sold in the U.S. are being purchased for children 18 months and younger.
Interactive storytelling was the basis for the creation of Spot. Eric Hill had been working in advertising when he came up with a novel idea for an ad that involved pull-up flaps. His two-year-old son loved playing with the flaps, so Hill designed a bedtime story about a dog named Spot that incorporated these flaps. Several publishers thought that producing a book with flaps would be too costly, but when book packager Ventura Publishing saw the property’s potential, the Spot success story began.
Interactivity was an important element when King Rollo Films and the BBC originally co-produced a 13-episode animated Spot series in 1984. It was the core component demanded by book publisher Frederick Warne, which bought the rights to the character in 1991, to new videos, activity books and other licensed product produced today.
‘Spot has been developed to grow with the child, from 18 months to four or five years old, and that development is reflected across every single aspect of the licensing program,’ says Ellson.
Spot will be part of an Easter promotion with Hershey and Cadbury in the U.S in the spring. It is the first candy promotion for the character, as creator Eric Hill does not believe in children eating candy, except during the holidays.
Like any other preschool property, Spot has a niche audience, but it is an audience that is always renewing and one that can always be approached with fresh innovations.
‘Spot has sustained because visually it is very simple, but it’s deceptively simple,’ says Ellson. ‘It has always been positioned as the very first introduction that kids have to entertainment. It’s the youngest multimedia entertainment concept around.’