Melissa & Doug | “We’re hitting a sweet spot with consumers right now”

Last year, and in the weeks that followed its ‘biggest push into the licensing space to date’ through a partnership with ViacomCBS’ PAW Patrol and Blues Clues brands, the global toy maker Melissa & Doug expressed its plans to evaluate licensing “as an area to grow its reach.”

The move was billed by the toy maker as its latest steps towards international expansion, offering the firm a ‘larger platform to reach more parents and children’ with the messaging around the benefits of hands-on, open-ended play that has become synonymous with the Melissa & Doug portfolio.

Here, ToyNews catches up with Melissa & Doug’s chief commercial officer, David Henderson to learn more about the deal, the toy roll-out scheduled for autumn this year, and how this has positioned the traditional toy maker for a year of growth as it heads into 2021.

Hello Dave, thanks for talking with us. To jump right in with the big announcement from last year – you guys billed the partnership with ViacomCBS as the ‘biggest to date’ for Melissa & Doug. Why is now the right time to be making such a strong move in licensing?

As a company, we seek opportunities with brands that align with our core values, and like Melissa & Doug, PAW Patrol and Blue’s Clues & You! are grounded in fostering imaginative play, problem solving, and creative thinking.

The decision wasn’t so much about the timing, as it was about finding the right fit from a shared values perspective as well as properties that stand the test of time like our products do.

The partnership affords us a larger platform to reach more parents and children with our message about the benefits of hands-on, open-ended play. If a child’s love for Marshall or Blue is what introduces them to our brand and the joys of imaginative, tangible, unstructured play, I will consider that a win.

Will this move mark the beginning of a larger assault on the licensed toys space? Why is it an important sector to be in for you guys?

Licensing represents approximately 44 per cent of global toy category revenue and ViacomCBS – Nickelodeon’s parent company – is a Top 10 toy licensing company, so these numbers speak to the importance from a consumer perspective, but more importantly, it provides us with the platform to reach more parents and children with our message about the benefits of hands-on, open-ended play.

We will continue to evaluate licensing as an area to grow our reach where it makes sense and only if it supports our message about the benefits of hands-on, open-ended play. Right now, we’re focused on and excited about the roll out of the products with Nickelodeon in Fall 2021.

Are you able to talk us through the licensed toy lines for both PAW Patrol and Blue’s Clues & You!? How will the partnership enable you to tap into new audiences and bring them into the Melissa & Doug fold?

Both toy lines will showcase the same exceptional quality, attention to detail, and unexpected twists on classic play patterns that have made our brand a favorite of parents and children alike for more than 30 years.

By partnering with these established properties, we are able to reach 350 million families worldwide, connecting with new audiences and introducing them to the Melissa & Doug brand. Children who know and love these characters on-screen can now have a hands-on way to interact with them off-screen, whether it be solving clues with Blue or going on rescue missions with Chase.

What makes these properties the ideal licenses for Melissa & Doug, how do they uphold the Melissa & Doug ethos? M&D as a toy brand has a real gravitas, so conversely, what do you think bringing that to these pre-school properties can do for them and their audiences?

Melissa & Doug and Nickelodeon are both champions of children’s development and promote and offer products that not only entertain but engage and educate children. The similarities in mission and message really came through even more as the partnership developed. PAW Patrol is dedicated to problem solving and predictability focusing on resilience and child empowerment to overcome obstacles. Blue’s Clues & You! educates and empowers children through active engagement. These are areas that Melissa & Doug clearly supports and wants to continue to nourish.

Our brand is about igniting imagination and wonder in children so they can discover their passions and their purpose. The PAW Patrol and Blue’s Clues & You! products we will be launching will continue to support this.

How has business been for you guys over the course of 2020? How have you seen consumer mind-sets shift as a result of the pandemic?

There has never been such a significant spotlight on children and how much time they are spending on screens as there is during this challenging pandemic. Parents are looking for that much-needed break from screen-time as well as for themselves and are seeking out educational toys that can get their children off screens, but still keep them entertained in a healthier way.

We are fortunate to be hitting a sweet spot with consumers right now as there is a renewed appreciation for the kind of exploratory, hands-on, open-ended play that pediatricians say is best for kids and that Melissa & Doug has long supported.

What of the current consumer trends do you think will carry forward into 2021? How has the pandemic shaped the future of the pre-school toy sector?

Certainly very few consumer sectors will be unaffected by the changes to daily life that we all experienced in 2020. There has been a step change in the dependence on ecommerce to ensure we all have what we need at home and are still able to stay safe and I would expect this to continue.

The retail landscape will look different than it did prior to the pandemic and so we need to ensure we continue to be set up to embrace this shift. Many families have been reminded how important it is to be together and so we want to continue to be part of making that play experience as enjoyable as possible.

Parents have had to slow down and reflect on the quality of their children’s playtime and there is a real desire to give their children the healthiest play experiences they can.

What’s the next move for Melissa & Doug – both US and internationally?

There is so much opportunity for Melissa & Doug to continue to grow its reach and share its brand purpose globally, we are very excited for the future. We are also excited to expand our core and licensed brand presence online, and in stores around the world with all key channel partners.

Thanks Dave, is there anything you’d like to shout about?

We continue to be excited about continuing our Power of Play alliance with the American Academy of Pediatrics to champion the benefits of open-ended play and to give parents and caregivers the tools and resources to make it an essential, skill-building part of children’s lives.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of ToyNews and its sister title, Licensing.biz. He has worked his way from Staff Writer to Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@bizmedia.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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