Susan Brandt, president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, took some time out to speak to TNP.MEDIA’s Georgie Dobie. We asked her about Dr. Seuss’s longstanding popularity and Susan told us why she thinks the portfolio lends itself so well to licensing. She shared with us her team’s plans to establish new partnerships with companies in the toy sector and she also gave us a glimpse of what we can expect from Dr. Seuss both short-term and further into the future.
Dr. Seuss has a long, rich history. What factors do you think have contributed to the properties’ longstanding popularity?
This property has reached more than seven generations. Our first book was written in 1937 and it continued to grow year-on-year.
I think the longstanding popularity of Dr. Seuss comes from the universal themes that underpin these books. They are themes that each generation can relate to: what it means to be a good friend and what is kindness – something you find in the Horton books; the importance of inclusivity and not judging a person by how they look, which is in our Sneetches book; or the importance of environmentalism, which is in The Lorax.
And all of these themes are so beautifully wrapped up in these engaging stories, with these amazing and fantastical characters that we meet. I think that’s the secret of Dr. Seuss’s longstanding popularity – I think that’s the magic.
Why do the Dr. Seuss properties lend themselves so well to the world of licensing?
I think Dr. Seuss has everything we’re looking for in licensing. We’ve got these delightful characters. We’ve got a unique and distinctive art style. We’ve got very relevant messaging. We’ve got these beautiful phrases; there’s rhyming. And this is all wrapped up in this beautiful and trend-froward colour pallet. If you look at some of these books that were written fifty/sixty years ago and you look at the use of colour and the respective white space in the books, it’s pretty amazing that Ted Geisel had that foresight.
Given the age of the Dr. Seuss properties, how do you ensure that they continue to resonate with audiences old and young?
We have some general principles when it comes to licensing products. We want to produce high-quality products. We look to fill category gaps to reach our target audience. And we deliver integrated retail programmes when we approach retailers, we’re not wanting to just give them a one-off. We want to build a broad programme, and then we also want to capitalise on market trends.
In the past, we have been particularly successful with our collaborations and these partnerships have enabled us to continue resonating with audiences young and old. For young kids, Dr. Seuss is a natural fit. Adult fans and teens are a little more complex. We want them to continue to embrace Dr. Seuss as a property, so that when they become parents, they share that with their kids. And we have found great success here with our collaborations. It allows us to deliver a bit of coolness with the property. After all, you’re judged by the company that you keep, so why not hang with the cool kids?
Do you notice any differences between the US and UK markets when it comes to licensing?
I think it’s a matter of how well developed the property is in the US and in the UK.
Dr. Seuss is a very well-developed property in the US; we have a number of tent-pole programmes that we build every year. This kicks off with our Hats Off to Reading programme in the first quarter, which launches on 2 March. We also have The Lorax programme for Earth Day. We have a graduation celebration with Oh, the Places You’ll Go. We are developing beautiful summer programmes – we have a programme next year around Thing One and Thing Two – Summer Things. And then we roll into the holiday season with The Grinch.
In the United Kingdom, what we find, is that we’re still at the beginning of that journey. So we don’t yet have all of those different tent-pole programmes. But what we do have is a very successful Grinch programme. That really is our stake in the ground in the United Kingdom. And what we’re looking to do is not only develop that Grinch programme, but also develop some of these other programmes that we have in the US. We have our eye on the Hats Off to Reading programme and we really see that as a great opportunity to grow our presence within the UK market. We are also beginning to see momentum around Oh, the Places You’ll Go in the UK. In fact, we had some celebrities reach out to us from the UK on social media, who specifically wanted to read Oh, the Places You’ll Go.
As a licensor, how do you establish good working relationships with your licensees?
We offer our licensees an opportunity to grow with us. The way that we build our property is not as a house of cards. We don’t grow by just adding new products or partners. We partner with our licensees to build their business through Dr. Seuss, allowing them to explore different market trends, different channels for distribution, and more. By doing this, we have very long partnerships. For example, MJC has been with us for more than 25 years. And Hallmark has been with us for even longer – more than 30 years. And the only way that you can do that is by working collaboratively, allowing licensees to come through with new ideas and new products. We build trust with our licensees.
Dr. Seuss’s characters would undoubtedly translate well to toys. Can you tell us about any toy partnerships that you have established in this arena and what can we can expect in this arena in the coming years?
We’re really big in plush; it’s an area that we really resonate well in. We have a long-standing partnership with Manhattan Toy Company, which produces beautiful plush. We’ve also recently launched a new partnership with Aurora. These companies serve different markets, offering products at different price points. We also work with Aurora in the UK and Europe. And then we also have a partnership with Spirit Marketing for plush. So when we partner with Kohl’s Cares Kids programme, we’ve got a book for $5 and a plush, which are beautiful. I’m always surprised at how amazing their plush is given how low the price is.
Image: Aurora World The Grinch plush
We also have a partnership with Funko for Pop! Vinyl and we’re expanding with them. They’re moving into boardgames with Funkoverse and they’ve expressed an interest in producing games with us.
We’re also currently seeking a broader partnership in toys. We’ve got a couple of new team members that stated with us just before the outbreak, who are really exploring that opportunity to expand our presence in toys. They have already had some conversations with some of the major players in toys and they’re looking to have more discussions with suppliers in the near future.
One of the key areas that I have told her to look at is the pre-school toy area. There is a real opportunity to introduce our characters to young children in the pre-school and baby category, as the types of play patterns really lend themselves well to Dr. Seuss. I see this as a better fit perhaps than a figural playset, for example; I don’t know how that would necessarily work with our characters. I’ve also encouraged the team to explore licensing partnerships with electronic toy companies, as I think this would work really well for Dr. Seuss. We would really actively encourage these kinds of toy companies to approach us, too!
And in terms of dress-up, we already work with Amscan, but we’re also currently looking at another partner, who can’t yet be named, to expand our offering in the dress-up arena. So watch this space!
Image: The Grinch Costume from Amscan International
What can you tell us about your wider plans for the Dr. Seuss licensing programme heading into the end of 2020 and beyond?
We’re always looking for ways to expand those tent-pole programmes that I spoke about earlier. And as we move towards Christmas, we’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary for the first Grinch film that we released – our live action film with Jim Carey. So we’re working very hard with Universal to celebrate that anniversary.
We’re also in the midst of celebrating our 60th anniversary of the release of Green Eggs and Ham with our successful Netflix campaign, which celebrates Sam and 60 years of eating green eggs and ham!
Once we wrap up this year, we’re already planning to have a really amazing first quarter celebration with our Hats Off to Reading programme. We’re hoping that kids will be able to have graduate ceremonies again and celebrate with our Oh, the Places You’ll Go programme. Next year, we’ll also celebrate Earth Day with The Lorax. And then we have something very fun planned, which I already alluded to – we’re going to have a Summer Thing programme with Thing One and Thing Two. And then, back to Grinch!