Get ready America. Miffy is on her way and taking no prisoners in her quest to become a dominant bunny in the U.S. kids marketplace. With five-minute Miffy episodes regularly appearing on Cartoon Network’s preschool programming block Small World since last May, and with a recently inked promotional deal with an American kids retailer in tow, Miffy is already beginning to make her presence known this side of the Atlantic. For those readers who don’t know her, Miffy is a little white rabbit from Holland that spreads simple life messages for children.
Miffy was introduced to the world in 1953 via a book series written by 71-year-old Dick Bruna. Bruna’s simply drawn and written Miffy books have sold more than 80 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 33 different languages. Now, having penned close to 100 Miffy titles, Bruna has seen his bunny develop a huge following of children and parents in Australia, the Netherlands and Japan, where sales of Miffy merchandise have increased 45% over the last 10 years. Bruna’s books have dealt with everything from Miffy’s first day of school to Miffy’s adventures sleeping in a tent, and everything else children are likely to experience for the first time.
The property is owned by Mercis, out of Amsterdam, and while it is still somewhat foreign to North American audiences, through a new exclusive deal with American specialty retailer Zany Brainy, Miffy will now be exposed to a whole new side of the globe.
Bruna and Miffy will celebrate their 45th anniversary together in the year 2000 and Zany Brainy’s 61-store American chain will be Miffy’s only U.S. distribution outlet, for now anyway. Miffy and Zany Brainy have signed an exclusive deal, which will see Zany Brainy import existing products from Europe and Japan to its stores. United Media, Miffy’s licensing agent for North and South America, is hoping the influx of product will inspire American companies to participate by developing their own ideas for Miffy products.
‘What we are doing now is meeting with licensees and talking to potential ones, and we’re using [the Zany Brainy deal] to showcase the potential for Miffy products,’ said Kathie Fording, VP of new business at United Media. ‘I think the way Miffy products look best is when they’re all merchandised together. We’re hoping that this helps present Miffy in a nice unified way so that potential licensees can get a better sense of what they can make with Miffy.’
While Fording acknowledges Cartoon Network’s support of Miffy bodes well for the property stateside, she says it was not a major factor in United Media’s decision to assemble a major merchandising program. The backbone of the Miffy property are Bruna’s books, and according to Fording, Zany Brainy’s commitment to reading and education is one of the key factors that made them such a desirable partner.
Miffy will be the only property in Zany Brainy stores to get dedicated signage and a special section just for her products. The exclusive deal is one United Media would like to see extended.
‘What we hope to do is extend the program through 1999 with Zany Brainy and expand it into a broader retail market after that,’ said Fording. ‘We hope to expand the retail reach with licensees to develop a more traditional licensing program.’ Promotion of the rabbit will involve over 80 skus of imported Miffy products at Zany Brainy. Dick Bruna himself is touring the States, visiting the stores and giving his stamp of approval on the promotion.
The Miffy invasion naturally begins with her books, all of which are available through Zany Brainy, and distributed in the U.S. by Kodansha America, the American branch of publishing conglomerate Kodansha Japan. Also being imported to Zany Brainy’s outlets are an assortment of plush toys by Jemini in France and Sekiguchi in Japan. Not to be outdone, the U.K.-based Golden Bear will be providing beanbag plush toys. Miffy dinnerware is available from Mepal, along with different types of stationary from Holland-based Interstat. Miffy is also present in toys, videos, CD-ROMs, board games, puzzles, photo albums, teasers, rattles, backpacks, blocks, activity sets and more. And according to United Media, there will be even more Miffy in 1999.
‘One of our big focuses for [next year] will be apparel, so we’re talking to apparel retailers and licensees right now,’ said Fording.