From a programming point of view, Nickelodeon series Blue’s Clues is geared to a two- to five-year-old, but big kids have also clued into Blue.
When cyber requests from tween consumers looking for Blue’s Clues product began flooding Nick.com, Nick executives considered the possibility that from a merchandising point of view, Blue’s Clues had up-aging potential. And when it was discovered that tween girls were squeezing themselves into large-size kid tees sporting the series’ main character, Blue, execs sat down in their thinking chairs to think, think, think.
‘With the success of our apparel at retail in our core age segment, we decided to partner with a company called Changes to do a test Blue’s Clues T-shirt in its Brat Catalog [an on-line and print catalog of the manufacturer's tween/teen product offering],’ says Harald Snik, director of soft goods at Nickelodeon Consumer Products. In August 1999, the Blue’s Clues tee debuted in the Brat Catalog, and was the top seller out of 435 items. ‘We’re not just talking number one out of all character tees, we’re talking out of every item in the catalog,’ says Snik. ‘With that, we recognized that there was a great demand for Blue’s Clues product among this older consumer, and so we expanded our product offering.’
Since Changes and Holiday Fair signed in 1999, the junior line has expanded to offer stationery, cosmetics, watches and sunglasses. Three additional licensees were signed between January and July 2000 to round out the Blue’s Clues tween portfolio-Handcraft, MZ Berger and Pyramid Accessories. At press time, a contract had been signed with IMT Accessories for a line of junior/adult sandals and decorative items. The four were chosen for their respective knowledge of the tween market, their relationships with tween retailers and for their ability to ‘design product that appeals to the sometimes-very-fickle tween consumer.’
But why the tween demand for a character whose main proponent is a TV series that shouts preschool? Snik suspects that some tweens may actually be watching the series, a clue being the fan mail received by the show’s host Steve Burns. Beyond brand recognition, and akin to the Japanese tween fascination with younger-skewing properties like Hello Kitty, there’s the image of Blue herself. ‘Blue has a simple, graphic look, and that style is something that is resonating from a fashion world perspective,’ says Leigh Anne Brodsky, senior VP of Nickelodeon Consumer Products.
Will Thompson, licensing manager at Changes, concurs. ‘It’s cute and cuddly, and that’s what teenage girls are into right now.’ Snik points to a trend among tween consumers to hearken back to more innocent nostalgic reminiscences of their youth. And while today’s tween consumer didn’t grow up with Blue-the series first aired in September 1996-Snik believes that tweens recognize an innocence in Blue that they want to embrace. ‘There’s a very simple representation of Blue on our product,’ says Snik. ‘And our success with tween product categories at retail has been in fashion-right and market-right product.’
Changes’ Blue’s Clues T-shirt, which remained the number-one seller in the Brat catalog through back to school 2000, has now expanded into a 25-SKU line that the company plans to take to mid-tier this year. At press time, Changes was in talks with Nick about a mass market strategy. As further evidence that the junior Blue’s Clues line will continue to expand, look for a selection of collectible tins, locker accessories, diaries and picture frames from licensee Pyramid Accessories to appear at retail in the fall.
According to Snik, the secret behind Nick’s up-aging success with Blue is that it wasn’t forced. ‘It’s very difficult to up-age a market, particularly with a preschool property, but this was not an initiative we undertook to extend the brand; it was driven by consumer and market demand.’
Where does Nick expect demand to fall next? Periwinkle, a cat who lives next door to Blue, is a character Snik expects will be extremely popular. Periwinkle made his Blue’s Clues debut in September 2000 and had a feature role in Blue’s Big Musical Movie, a DTV released last October. Periwinkle is slated to become a regular member of the series’ ensemble cast this spring. ‘We think Periwinkle is going to resonate very strongly with tweens, as well as our core market,’ says Snik. ‘The really great opportunity with Periwinkle is that he speaks [unlike Blue], and he has a very, very strong personality.’
Nickelodeon will also be looking to down-age the property’s merchandising with a baby Blue’s Clues line set to hit most major U.S. retailers in spring 2001. When Nick launched Blue’s Clues children’s apparel exclusively at Sears in spring 1999, consumers began asking Sears and Nick-notably through Nick.com-why Blue’s Clues wasn’t available for babies. Nick conducted focus group research with moms, who officially greenlit the idea, and signed on Crown Crafts and Baby Boom as initial licensees. Crown Crafts is developing a line of infant bedding, and Baby Boom will be offering a selection of diaper bags, room décor and bath accessories.