Boasting the distinction of being the first toy to offer a scent feature, Strawberry Shortcake dolls tickled the olfactory senses of young girls everywhere, selling 25 million units between 1981 and 1986. Originally conceived as a greeting card and stationery line by American Greetings brand development team Those Characters From Cleveland (which also created Care Bears and Popples), Strawberry Shortcake wasn’t just a toy sensation. Over its five-year run, the redheaded rag doll generated US$1.2 billion in sales of books, videos, records and other licensed items. Amazingly, it accomplished all of this without the aid of a TV show, although six Strawberry Shortcake TV specials were produced in the early ’80s.
Though the property has lain dormant for the past 15 years, the strong whiff of a Strawberry comeback is now wafting through the industry, thanks largely to L.A.-based prodco DIC Entertainment, which has partnered with American Greetings to develop new entertainment and handle licensing for the property. The centerpiece of DIC’s relaunch strategy will be four new holiday-themed animated specials that it will release quarterly on video beginning next January. The studio will support each release with a large promotional program, including a QSR tie-in. DIC has also secured a deal in principal with a U.S. broadcaster to air the quarterly specials starting this fall.
This time out, DIC has significantly changed the look of the property. Instead of resembling rag dolls, Strawberry and her friends have been rendered to look like real girls, a change that will let DIC’s target audience of girls ages three to eight relate more easily to the characters, says executive VP of licensing Melissa Bomes. Content has also undergone a bit of a makeover in order to tap into girls’ behavioral patterns–Strawberry and her friends will now grapple with life lessons like the importance of friendship, rather than villains such as The Purple Pieman or Sour Grapes.
The original specials’ strong fantasy element should remain intact, though. Characters will still live in a Willy Wonka-like world where their homes are shaped like the food or fruit for which they’re named. Orange Blossom, for instance, lives in an orange-shaped house filled with tables and chairs made of orange wedges. ‘It’s a merchandiser’s dream,’ says Bomes, because the property naturally lends itself to a variety of categories from toys, to bath & beauty products and cosmetics.
DIC has mapped out a two-phase merchandising strategy for Strawberry Shortcake. Phase one comprises a modest merch program that highlights the classic property’s kitsch appeal. Aimed at tweens and teens, products such as bedding and stationery kits will be distributed at retail outlets like Spencer Gifts and Hot Topic.
Targeted at the three to eight set, phase two includes a larger product line based on the brand’s new look. DIC plans to launch the program exclusively at mass retailers in January to coincide with the first video release, and Bandai (master toy) and The Children’s Apparel Network (apparel) have signed on as licensees. Bomes expects to have the program’s full lineup finalized by April, but at press time, she was still sizing up licensees for categories including publishing, video games and accessories.
Though the bulk of older-skewing classic product won’t reach retail until this spring, American Greetings has been quietly granting licenses since 1998. Early revival product had retailers calling American Greetings VP of licensing Michael Brown for more–and even suggesting other suppliers that could create merchandise. Today, the Strawberry revival continues unabated. There are hundreds of fan-run Strawberry Shortcake websites, and some unopened Kenner dolls fetch upwards of US$100 on eBay.
The groundswell for Strawberry Shortcake surprised AG because it had done virtually nothing to build buzz since the early ’90s. In fact, its attempt to revive the property in ’91 fizzled. ‘It was too soon to bring it back,’ says Brown. ‘The original audience didn’t have enough distance from it. They were just entering their teens, and weren’t interested in properties from their childhood.’ Ten years later, many of those girls are now moms who are prone to pangs of nostalgia when toy shopping. This feeling is what DIC and American Greetings are banking on.
American Greetings will introduce special Shortcake Boutiques featuring the classic merch in its 700 stores this July. AG also plans to follow up with its own Strawberry product, including greeting cards, gift wrap and party goods, which it will begin selling after the videos are released next January.