Susan Brandt, president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, took some time out to speak to LTW.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 discussed some of the company’s best partnerships and collaborations, and she shared with us some key details about how the team approaches licensing. She also gave us a glimpse of what we can expect from Dr. Seuss both in the 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.
Are there any categories in particular that have worked especially well with the Dr. Seuss properties?
We resonate so well in apparel. And we have some beautiful programmes. One of our most successful licensees is Hybrid Apparel, who we work with in the States for our Hats Off to Reading programme, which we run in Q1. In particular, they work very closely with Target and they put together a beautiful toddler and infant programme that has gown every year.
We also work with partners like MJC in the States. They do our adult pyjamas. They have built an amazing Grinch programme. And that has continued to grow with the likes of Walmart, where we have expanded the programme beyond pyjamas and the loungewear bottoms to do famjams – matching pyjamas for the whole family. We’ve even introduced SG Companies to produce slippers. We’re building an amazing Grinch programme around these products.
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.
Can you tell us about what we can expect to see from The Grinch in the UK this year?
Primark is going to support us again this year – they did a really beautiful job last year. We’ve heard that they’re going to lean into us a little more than they did last year for the upcoming festive season.
And then we’re expanding this year beyond Primark and into Asda, Morrisons, New Look, with an extended programme.
Image: The Grinch collection from Primark
And beyond apparel, are there any other categories where we can see Dr. Seuss in the UK?
In the UK, there is a wide Dr. Seuss apparel offering. We also have a selection of Christmas baubles, tote bags, and we’re moving into health and beauty in Primark, too. You’ll see some lip balm, some face masks, and more. This year, you’ll also see us in gift wrap and gift tags.
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.
So, for example, in terms of market trends right now, masks are unsurprisingly popular right now. Initially we said that we weren’t going to do masks, because when the outbreak first hit, masks were really medically driven. So, unless we were going to be partnering with a company that we knew could produce medical grade masks, we weren’t going to produce them. But now market trends have shifted, while you still want masks with the right number of layers, they are now more of a fashion statement than they were initially. And so we have decided to move into this category. In the States, Hybrid Apparel is creating masks and Bioworld is also developing masks that we are selling in Walmart. In addition, we have partnered with Geddies at Target. And in Canada we’ve partnered with Charismatic Brands for products being sold in Medical Shops and Walmart. We’re also selling through Zazzle. I saw some masks with Grinch designs from Zazzle, which are great because you can be so cheeky with The Grinch. And Haven down in Australia is now also looking at branded hand sanitiser.
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.
Looking at one of your longest partnerships, are you able to talk a little bit about how your partnership with Hallmark has developed and what we can expect this year?
We work with Hallmark in a lot of different ways. We work with Hallmark both as a licensee and we also work with Hallmark as a DTR (direct to retail licensing) in the States. With Hallmark we are always looking for new opportunities. It’s really big on ornaments and baubles, so they’re always looking to introduce new SKUs, new messaging, and we’ll work with them on developing new creative.
We have a Grinch character that has been around since 1957 and yet almost every year, we look for new ways to present him, whether that be through creative presentation or attitude. For example, we created a character who we call Snarky Grinch, with the whole sense of him being slightly mean, slightly nasty, but not in a cruel way – he’s just a little cheeky. We have a whole guide that’s got all of these cheeky, fun sayings. And this is a global guide that varies, because how we would poke fun in the US is very different from how you would poke fun of someone in the UK! So we went out to our partners across the globe, including in different languages, to ask them how The Grinch would make fun of their holiday season and their traditions. It’s very funny; we’ve had a lot of good fun with that.
Image: The Grinch decoration from Hallmark
Can you tell us about some of your favourite new and existing Dr. Seuss partnerships?
A new partnership that has launched is our partnership with Sketchers. It’s a footwear licence that we have signed for the US, Canada and Europe. We’re starting with a Cat in the Hat collection and then we’ll move into other characters. The designs are so cool and cute.
In the past, we have been particularly successful with our collaborations. To go back to how we continue to resonate 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?
Image: The Lorax collection from Billabong
For example, with Billabong right now we’re doing a surfer line, a summer collection with our Lorax. And we’ve partnered with their surfers. Originally this was going to be linked to a beach clean-up, but because of Covid-19, we’ve shifted to more of a digital social campaign with them. But the products are selling; the designs are so beautiful. The messaging is perfect, which is why they’re proving so successful. You’ve got this beautiful character, The Lorax, who is speaking about things like cleaning the ocean, and you’ve got a brand that resonates with those that are in and devoted to the ocean.
We also have a partnership with Stance, which started a couple of years ago. It was at Christmas time, they came to us and said we’re going to do one pair of Grinch socks! I was sceptical and didn’t know if we would be noticed on one design. But they called it the sock that saved Christmas! It was hugely successful for them, so we’ve built a great partnership from there. Not only do we have more than one pair of socks with them now, they came back to us in spring to create these cool and funky tie-dye characters, which they’re having great success with.
We also have a really strong partnership with Champion. We release a whole line of hoodies and tracksuit bottoms with them in May 2019, which completely sold out.
And we collaborated with Almost for a line of skateboards. We actually had a line of skateboards that were designed by famous skateboarders.
Going back a bit further, in 2018, we partnered with Supreme, an apparel brand, as well as Tyler, the Creator, an American rapper, for our Grinch film.
And these have all been great successes, because we make sure that the DNA of the underlying partnership and our characters, which are very much left of centre, really match.
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
Would you be looking to complement that offering with new content from Dr. Seuss?
We’re always looking for these kinds of opportunities. We don’t have anything that we’re quite ready to announce – but this would certainly be a natural next step for us, yes.
We understand that the team has some exciting plans for the merchandising programme. Can you tell us about some of the new partnerships that have been established to expand the Dr. Seuss offering?
We’re looking to expand in a lot of different areas. Firstly, we’re looking to expand our distribution. For example, in the past we’ve only had a small presence in the dollar stores. We’ve noticed that teachers are shifting their purchasing patterns. We’re working with appropriate licensees to expand our presence in dollar store to service those teachers, offering them some products to help them celebrate our Hats Off to Reading programme in the first quarter.
We’re also taking a look at what we offer in grocery stores. We’ve recognised that consumers aren’t shopping so much; they’re tending to go to one place that meets all of their needs, so groceries is expanding and we’re expanding in grocery to reflect this change. This year, we’re also re-evaluating and expanding our presence in drug stores.
At the same time, we’re also expanding our direct relationships. We work directly with Party City, the owners of Amscan. And we just started working directly with Oriental Trading; they’re doing a completely new Oh the Places You’ll Go baby programme for us, which is darling! We work with Party Barn, Peter Alexander, Hallmark, Amazon Merch, Spirit Halloween, Zazzle, and more, and we’re looking for more direct relationships
And are you able to expand on any other newness that we can expect from your current licensees who are growing their Dr. Seuss offering?
I asked my team and they gave me a few examples.
Gemmy, a company that creates inflatable outdoor decorations, is one of our licensees in the US who are successful with Dr. Seuss. They continue to come up with new products for our characters. When they come in we have giant blow-up Grinches all over the office – it’s so much fun! This year, they have a new giant animated Grinch. He’s more like a plush, which is fun!
And we’re working with Enesco. They have a Jim Shore collection which comprises figurines and collectables and they’re expanding with us for that range.
And then, as we mentioned, Funko has asked us to play with us for their new Funkoverse boardgames!
Bioworld has also just started to move into the travel accessory business, with sleeping pillows. So once we’re able to all start travelling freely, we’ll be ready to travel with Dr. Seuss travel pillows.
We’ve also expanded in the digital arena with Dapper Labs; we are creating Blockchain decals that you buy and collect.
And we’re expanding in apps. We’re exploring new technologies like AR. So we worked from Sugar Creative in the UK to create the first educational AR app called Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing AR Alphabet – it’s like an ABC alphabet book. It has been really well received and well reviewed.
Image: Sugar Creative's Dr. Seuss's ABC: An Amazing AR Alphabet
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!