9 September 2022

MIP Interview : The power of Peanuts

 Interview with Tim Erickson, brand executive vice-president at Peanuts Worldwide, and Josh Scherba, president, WildBrain

By Andy Fry

On the left: Josh Scherba, president, WildBrain, on the right: Tim Erickson, brand executive vice-president, Peanuts Worldwide

Peanuts started out as a newspaper cartoon strip. Today the internationally adored characters can be seen on TV, at theme parks, in the movies… and they are even in a partnership with the US space organisation NASA.

Created by Charles M. Schulz, the much-loved world of Peanuts was first introduced in 1950, as a comic strip featured in seven US newspapers. Over the following decades, Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang proceeded to make an indelible mark on popular culture via animated TV specials, movies and compilation volumes. In recent years, the brand has been taken to the next level. In addition to shows and specials on Apple TV+, fans of all ages can engage with Peanuts through consumer products, amusement park attractions, cultural events, social media, and comic strips available in all formats, from traditional to digital. In 2018, Peanuts partnered with NASA on a multi-year Space Act Agreement designed to inspire a passion for space exploration and STEM among the next generation of students.

Today, the characters of Peanuts and related IP belong to Peanuts Worldwide, which is 41% owned by WildBrain, 39% owned by Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) and 20% owned by the family of Charles M. Schulz. Ahead of MIPCOM Cannes, the OneMIP team talked to Tim Erickson, brand executive vice-president at Peanuts Worldwide, and Josh Scherba, president, WildBrain, about the enduring appeal of Schulz’s legacy and how they have managed to make the brand relevant to contemporary audiences.

 

The strength of Penuts is in the richness of characters as an ensemble, with Snoopy as part of that group

People of all ages love and identify with Snoopy and the gang. What do you put the longevity of this iconic brand down to?

TIM ERICKSON: It’s 100% down to timeless storytelling. What we have with these incredible comic strips are stories that connect emotionally with people of all ages, in many varied ways throughout their lives. From my own experience, I think back to when I was a ten-year-old boy and what I loved and resonated for me in the Peanuts comic strip. It’s the same for me now, but with deeper meaning. It’s an incredible legacy that around 18,000 comic strips were created and reprinted around the world, telling stories that are just as relevant today as they were when they debuted.

Is the power of Peanuts in the ensemble – or is Snoopy the real star?

TE: The strength is in the richness of characters as an ensemble, with Snoopy as part of that group. Fans identify with different characters, often at different times in their lives. Some days we might feel more Peppermint Patty, others more Charlie Brown. It’s an evolving emotional connection, with the varied characters and their interactions. Snoopy, however, is special because he has universal appeal from kids to adults. He’s the one everyone aspires to be because of his imagination and adventures.

Some days we might feel more Peppermint Patty, others more Charlie Brown

How would you define the positioning of the brand?

TE: Peanuts is, and has always been, a brand loved by all the family. We’re getting a new generation of fans via the new Apple TV+ content, and we also have parents and grandparents introducing their kids and grandkids to it. The popularity of the specials, which are ideal for co-viewing, underscores this universal appeal. 

How would you say Peanuts rates as a global brand?

TE: It is a global brand and what’s interesting is how the markets respond – everywhere is different. Some markets are more mature and will gravitate for different reasons and ways to the brand than newer ones. Some fans grew up on holiday specials, some on the comic strips and so on – it’s personal for everyone.

Can you provide some insight into the TV strategy?

JOSH SCHERBA: Peanuts has a phenomenal pedigree. The brand, particularly Snoopy but also the whole of the Peanuts gang, has extraordinary awareness on a global level. However, when thinking about how we would approach new content, our number one priority was to engage kids with the characters first and foremost, and we felt that the ideal entry point for a kid audience is Snoopy. So, in our deal with Apple TV+, we started out with two strands of content focused around Snoopy.

Can you tell us more about them?

JS: Snoopy in Space combined the fun and comedy Snoopy is known for, with some educational elements; it featured one story told over 12 parts. Then our next series, The Snoopy Show, focused on the Snoopy character and the familiar physical comedy elements, but also the heart of what Charles M. Schulz captured in his cartoon strip. It was also the vehicle by which we could introduce kids who may only be familiar with Snoopy to other characters in the Peanuts gang, Woodstock for example. So that was kind of our starting point, while at the same time ensuring we were true to the brand legacy.

Snoopy is back around the moon with Artemis 1 as a zero-gravity indicator

Have you complemented those shows in any way?

JS: While we were primarily targeting kids with those two shows – although they are also enjoyed by the whole family – we prioritised family viewing with our brand specials and we've launched four so far on Apple TV+. These are based around key seasonal dates, such as New Years, Mother’s Day, Earth Day and with the newest, Lucy’s School, a back-to-school special. These half-hour stories have an additional level of sophistication in their production values, including a new approach to 2D animation, that's closer to a feature film experience than episodic TV. We worked with some tremendous talent to pull those off and we're excited to be making more of those. So, we feel that holistically this content strategy really does cover the entire family.

Lucy’s School

There have been five Peanuts movies, the most recent in 2015. Do you want to make another?

JS: We would, of course, love to make another Peanuts movie at some point…

The deal with Apple TV+ was very eye-catching. Is it an exclusive global arrangement or does it also leave scope for distribution deals with other platforms and broadcasters?

JS: We have an exclusive arrangement with Apple TV+ and in the future there may be some windowing opportunities, but it's fundamentally a long-term exclusive arrangement with many more projects in the pipeline. 

What is the appeal of working with Apple? Is the L&M potential affected?

JS: The appeal of working with Apple TV+ for us was really to be the crown jewel in their kids and family strategy and, of course, Apple is the best marketing company in the world. So, it was a fantastic opportunity to partner our beloved brand with one of the most powerful brands in the world. We also had the opportunity to be partners in how the content is released and marketed. Our Peanuts consumer products business has grown consistently over the past few years since the new content dropped on Apple TV+, so we think that it certainly benefits from that exposure.

What’s the social strategy for Peanuts?

TE: If you think about it, the origins of comic strips are quick story beats and the modern version of this is social media. So, our original material is an incredible library of story beats we can dive into, which are fit for how social media is consumed. We have a very active strategy with content across multiple platforms, and Peanuts performs very well with a high level of engagement. For example, the Peanuts Gang leads by example in our Take Care with Peanuts campaign, which draws on themes in the comic strips, promoting three vital messages: Care for yourself. Care for each other. Care for the Earth. We lean into social engagement to motivate action through online messages, animated videos, charitable opportunities, experiences and more.

What happens with the various productions that have been made over the years? Do they still have a role to play as part of the overall brand ecosystem?

JS: From a content perspective, our deal with Apple TV+ makes them effectively the home of all things Peanuts. There’s very little Peanuts content that isn’t part of this deal, from the classic specials to the new shows and specials that we’re making at WildBrain. And while we do have the opportunity to have short-form and continue to promote content on other platforms, we really believe there was significant value in partnering with Apple TV+. Not only in terms of their commitment to new content but also their ability to continue to make classic Peanuts available, particularly the specials that are really the core of how fans have known Peanuts in animation before now.

How does all of the above transform into broad licensing potential?

TE: The brand is on a significant upswing and has been on that trajectory for a long time. We’ve also seen considerable increases in business around the world despite lockdowns. We believe the reassurance of nostalgia plays a part but more than that, we have an authentic brand and that’s why it continues to resonate across age groups. What’s interesting is, this translates into merchandising. Peanuts consumer products, particularly in apparel, are popular with all demographics and in some categories, such as sleepwear, all family capsule collections work very well. Different markets may skew more towards kids, but others may see more adult sales, but the overall picture is cross-demographic. In fact, the adult-targeted ranges are thriving, and you can especially see this in recent high-end fashion collaborations, such as Lacoste, or the Swatch installation. Decor is another of the best performing categories. We want to look at consumer products opportunities that really excite the fans, whatever their age.

In addition to this, we’re excited to be building on the new content and targeting new licensees and collaborations, particularly in the kids’ space in toys, and gaming is a focus. Location-based entertainment is a growing area for us. We have relationships with Cedar Fair and Universal Japan in this area, which are very successful. 

How about your social activism/CSR related activities?

TE: In Take Care With Peanuts, we’re finding that fans respond to brands that live up to those values. Snoopy’s relationship with NASA, meanwhile, is wonderful and meaningful. It’s not a brand partnership, it’s a bond that goes back to the 1960s with Snoopy being the face of NASA’s safety campaign and eventually naming the Apollo 10 modules. Peanuts continues to be part of that programme – in fact Snoopy is back around the moon with Artemis 1 as a zero-gravity indicator. We’re very proud that The Silver Snoopy award is a special honour awarded to NASA employees and contractors for outstanding achievements related to human flight safety or mission success. 

Snoopy’s relationship with NASA is wonderful and meaningful

Do markets like MIPCOM Cannes have a role to play for brands like Peanuts?

JS: Well, we're limited right now in terms of what we can do outside of the Apple TV+ deal, but as I mentioned, there’ll likely be a second window opportunity. Perhaps more importantly for the MIPCOM Cannes audience, Peanuts content serves as kind of a flagship for us in terms of our 360-degree capabilities across WildBrain and the quality of work that we're now producing out of our animation studio. We can share this with partners, as well as looking for new projects to work on that can achieve a similar quality level.

How significant is it the upcoming 75th anniversary of the brand in 2025?

TE: We’ll certainly be doing lots of special celebrations with all fans in honour of this incredible legacy. It’s also an opportunity and in some ways a responsibility, to live up to this anniversary and give everyone who knows and loves Peanuts a way to connect with the milestone. We also have the 50th anniversary of the Beagle Scouts coming up in 2024, so we’re building out those plans. One of the beauties of the Peanuts ensemble is there are many birthdays, which opens a multitude of opportunities to celebrate and dive into the characters and storylines in a special way.

About the author

ANDY FRY

Andy Fry is a freelance journalist who contributes regularly to leading TV and marketing trade magazines - MIP Daily News, Lions Magazine, Location International, Broadcast International, Worldscreen, Sport Business, C21, TBI, DTVE and many more.

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