In uncertain economic times, so the axiom goes, consumers tend to stick with the tried and true. So it won’t surprise many that Disney Consumer Products is bringing its second-largest property behind Mickey Mouse back to his comforting book-based roots and classic animation style.
Generating US$6.4 billion in global retail sales in 2008, Winnie the Pooh has inspired feature films, TV series and products across every conceivable licensing category since his first appearance in A.A. Milne’s short story Winnie the Pooh, written in 1925. And after his last refresh in 2006 that saw the creation of CGI series My Friends Tigger & Pooh – which introduced new girl character Darby into the mix and spawned a bright, energetic style guide to complement Classic Pooh – Disney’s decided to zero-in on the bear’s timeless appeal to reach infants and toddlers and their moms.
‘The bottom line is that we are really returning Winnie the Pooh to the core of its storytelling heritage,’ says Simon Waters, VP at Disney Consumer Products, who is spearheading what he dubs the ‘re-Pooh-vination’ of the property. ‘I don’t feel like we are changing,’ he adds. ‘I feel like we are enhancing what already exists. I call it the DNA of Pooh that everybody knows and loves, and bringing it forward.’
Waters explains that there will be a full-on effort to re-focus the franchise on the core infant/preschool demo and young mothers and families who, DCP’s research shows, have a strong attachment to the character. ‘The timing is absolutely perfect,’ notes Waters. ‘In our current time and economic situation, the Hundred Acre Wood represents a relief.’
The self-conscious return to Pooh’s roots will culminate with the spring 2011 release of a new feature film that, contrary to the 3-D/CGI trend, is being rendered in classic 2-D animation. Notably, some of the original animators of 1977 big-screen outing The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh are involved with the new film. ‘We are working out promotions and partnerships now for the film,’ adds Waters.
The new emphasis on what Waters calls ‘one voice’ branding will become apparent at mass and specialty retail globally in the next 18 to 24 months, with some products hitting the market before that. Described as a closer adherence to the aesthetics of the original property, the style guide will have a more nostalgic bent with a softer, gentler palette and art style.
Waters says the consumer products output for Pooh will continue to be broad-based, driven by plush, toys, home furnishing, apparel and other lifestyle categories like stationery and home décor. While Pooh’s dance card is pretty full, Disney is looking to its current licensees to get on-board with its holistic and focused approach to the brand.