Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Berry Berry Effective PR Machine

I read quite a few stories and blog posts last week about Strawberry Shortcake's new look - the origin story appears to be this New York Times article describing the various children's characters of yesteryear that have recently been "made over", updated to better fit into today's kids' cultural landscape. Here's a copy of the "before and after" picture that was included in the bulk of the coverage:

The new look was unveiled last Tuesday (June 10th), along with an announcement of a new partnership with Hasbro, who is charged with manufacturing the accompanying line of tie-in toys (along with the toys for another American Greetings retro favourite, the Care Bears). There's an obvious promotional angle to all this, and reps from American Greetings are quoted at length in the article, describing the long and careful process that went into choosing Strawberry's new look, as well as their plans for Strawberry's return to the small screen. Here's an excerpt:
For American Greetings, updating Strawberry Shortcake was about leaving the troubles of the modern world behind and playing up a fantasy angle, said Jeffrey Conrad, the company’s head creative designer.

Artists produced nearly 400 drawings depicting new looks, then American Greetings asked licensing partners for feedback. With the drawings hanging in a single room, he told focus group members to put Post-it notes on the 20 that they liked. "We refined it from there," he said.

On top of her new toy line, Strawberry Shortcake is getting a new computer-animated movie and a new TV series, starting next year. This time, in keeping with contemporary nutritional concerns, the franchise will downplay the sugary dessert theme and move, as Mr. Conrad put it, "fruit-forward."

"It's also about creating a cohesive line," Mr. Conrad said. "We’re downplaying characters that were part of Strawberry’s world but who didn’t immediately shout out fruit."

Of course, it's no coincidence that all of this renewed interest in reviving characters and properties from the 80s/90s is happening right at the time when the kids who first grew up with these characters are becoming parents themselves. For a great discussion of this trend, check out Susan Gregory Thomas' article on the commercial mobilization of Gen-X nostalgia. But in the case of Strawberry Shortcake, I'm a bit confused by all of this talk of her new look and new "CG" approach. I mean, I am having major deja vu here....Remember this old "new look" from 2003?:

Or this DIC press release from 2004, about the massive success of Strawberry Shortcake's 2003 "relaunch", which included a new animated series, which was later rerun on CBS' Kewlopolis?

Or the announcement made in 2005 about Strawberry Shortcake's then new live-action series?

Or the widely-publicized computer-animated Strawberry renaissance from 2006, which included the "more health conscious" computer-animated Strawberry Shortcake: The Sweet Dreams Movie and tie-in videogames (for Gameboy and PS2, among others), as well as a
Strawberry Shortcake Dance Dance Revolution spin-off?

Is this a case of mediamnesia, or just another example of the effectiveness of good PR? Likely a little of both.

Update!!!!!: I just read some excellent posts by Amy Jussel over at Shaping Youth about the rebranding of kids' characters...lots of good, provocative analysis, which Amy has followed up on in today's post about the rebranding of Nancy Drew, girls' culture, sexualization, gender protrayal, etc. Great stuff, including a post by Shaping Youth correspondent Dr. Robyn Silverman...I definitely recommend checking it out.


Anonymous said...

I guess some of us just have a special connection with Strawberry Shortcake, perhaps caused by years going to sleep with linens and blankets covered with her and her pals.....remember good old Huckleberry Pie??? Blueberry Muffin??? Ah, the good old days....are you all old enough to be parents? Why, that makes your parents old enough to be..........

Shaping Youth said...

Well Sara, I'm glad you found the Shaping Youth posts enlightening, but I've gotta tell ya, YOURS right here really uncorked the whole 'resurrection' of a licensed property ad

I had no idea they'd been trying so 'berry' hard to churn this thing into a retro cashcow...Sheesh, the character's been blended so many times with so many different looks she coulda been a smoothie by now!

Thanks for the marketing backstory...I'm going to link back to THIS post now! Talk about wringing out the juice from a stalled marcom franchise...then again, with the 'fruit forward' fascination, it may be 'the time' for their big splash! ;-) --Amy