You’re a Good Brand, Charlie Brown.
And starting today, thanks to major news from Peanuts Worldwide, you’re a globally growing digital brand, as well.
Charles Schulz’s entire cartoon gang is expanding into mobile gaming, e-books, Facebook and digital apps, Peanuts Worldwide and its owner, the Iconix Brand Group, have just announced Wednesday.
The growth into new platforms and formats is all part of a massive push to “make ‘Peanuts’ relevant to younger fans,” Iconix chairman and CEO Neil Cole told Comic Riffs on Tuesday.
“We want to keep ‘Peanuts’ accessible to the next generation,” said Cole, 54, who notes that his youngest daughter, who is 6, experiences comics entirely differently from how he and his wife — lifelong “Peanuts” fans — do.
From games to social media, Cole says he wants the comic to become “an immersive experience.” In this commercial marketplace, he says, “we’ve got to keep moving.”
As the business of newspaper comic strip syndication tries to adjust to changing formats and modes of delivery, “Peanuts” is better poised than most features to exploit as many as digital platforms as possible.
“I’m excited by what the Peanuts Worldwide team is doing with these digital initiatives,” Jean Schulz, wife of the late cartoonist, tells Comic Riffs. “I think we’ve maintained the integrity and soul of Sparky’s work.”
Charles “Sparky” Schulz died in February 2000.
The announcement comes one month after United Media — which launched “Peanuts” in 1950 — shuttered its Manhattan doors after more than a century in the syndication business. Universal Uclick now distributes “Peanuts.”
In the spring of 2010, United’s parent, E.W. Scripps Co., reached an all-cash deal to sell its United Media Licensing business to Iconix for $175-million. UML was then valued as a $2-billion-a-year merchandising business, thanks largely to the marketability of “Peanuts.”
At that time, Jean Schulz told Comic Riffs: “We saw that we could work with Iconix to create a new company. ... That means we’ll have more control and we’ll have a partner who’s very aligned to the ‘consumer’ market.” (Iconix owns 80-percent of Peanuts Worldwide; the rest is owned by the Schulz family.)
For “Peanuts,” that consumer market will include “a new freemium game for smartphones and tablets” based on the characters, Iconix says. The mobile game, from the Capcom subsidiary Beeline Interactive, should be available in the fall.
The digital initiatives also include a deal with Barnes and Noble that makes the books “Happiness Is a Warm Puppy” and “Happiness Is a Warm Blanket” available through Nook apps. And starting next month, two collections of “Peanuts” strips — “It’s a Dog’s Life, Snoopy” and “It’s a Big World, Charlie Brown” — will become available on iTunes in a deal with iVerse.
Earlier this year, KaBOOM! issued the first “Peanuts” “graphic novel, ”Happiness Is a Warm Blanket.” The two companies are planning to create more original graphic novels in both print and digital formats.
Peanuts Worldwide — whose Facebook page has more than 800,000 fans — also has launched a Facebook gaming app called Amazement Park.
Iconix’s Cole acknowledges that expanding “Peanuts” — which he says is his company’s only media/entertainment property — is, in significant ways, very different from his other consumer brands, which include Badgley Mischka, Bongo and Jay-Z’s Roca Wear.
Snoopy’s Joe Cool, in other words, is quite unlike Joe Boxer. And the past year has been its own learning curve.
Yet, Cole says, it’s still all about brand recognition and the need to change with the digital times — whether you’re working with a 41-year-old iconic rapper or a beloved 61-year-old iconic comic strip. “You’re still creating virtual worlds,” he says.
And then there’s the undiminished power of “Peanuts” itself, which nearly a half-century ago was gaining new fans — and brand recognition — by airing its first network TV animation.
“It’s just timeless,” says Cole, who personally most identifies with Charlie Brown. “ ‘Peanuts’ is as relevant today as ever. You read them and they just mean something.”