It was with the arrival of a strong-willed and determined little frog upon the preschool scene around four years ago now, that the rules of convention were turned somewhat on their head.
Kes Gray and Jim Field’s creation, Oi Frog, and its protagonist, was tired of the accepted norm: cats sat on mats, frogs sat on logs, and dogs, they sat on frogs. 2014 marked time for a change - Frog was about to take the rules into his own hands.
No more would cats sit on mats. No, cats will now sit on gnats, goes the story’s narrative. Dogs will not sit on Frogs, but on the logs that once belonged to frogs, and frogs… well, it would seem that a frog can sit just about wherever it pleases.
The title was a resounding success and one that went on to inspire not just one, or two but an entire series of follow up titles centred on the three main characters, Frog, Cat and Dog as they met new animals and continued a mission to change up the order of convention.
With it, both Kes Gray and Jim Field - one the children’s author of the Oi book series, the other the illustrator bringing the world to life on page, in their own little way, did much the same: begin the process of switching up the order of things in the pre-school sector.
Earlier this year, Oi Goat, a mini book and the fifth in the Oi series from Gray and Field - one that will soon be joined by Oi Duckbilled Platypus - was released and chosen as a special World Book Day 2018 title.
In just four years, over one million Oi books have been sold, and with the encouragement and expertise of the book series’ publisher Hachette Livre and Maximum Licensing, it has embarked on a licensing programme that next year sees it enter the toy space with Fiesta Crafts.
This, by the way, is all without going anywhere near a television or digital, long or short-form content series; which, if you take just a quick look at the pattern for pre-school IP over the last five years, is a pretty unconventional move itself.
We did mention that Kes and Gray don’t like to stick to the norm, didn’t we?
“Oi Rob,” reads Kes Gray’s introductory email, as if to prove the afore made point in one fell swoop. There’s definite character in the author’s tone, and one that isn’t simply reserved to the pages of the multi-award winning book series he has penned.
“Make no mistake about it, Oi is here to bring noise to the toy space,” he tells Licensing.biz.
It starts with the ‘in your face Oi’ speech bubble which is now a successfully registered trademark, and will continue with Frog, Dog and Cat all ‘placed centre stage of a galaxy of Oi animal illustrations’ all of which will be “at the licensors’ disposal,” as the team continues its IP journey.
“There are many directions the brand can go,” says Gray. “It will become a loud and infectious invitation for the consumer to engage.”
But Oi very much isn’t just about being loud. It’s about being funny.
The books aim to “allow children to learn without them realising they are learning, with fun and silliness driving every story and rhymes peppering every page with phonics in spades,” Gray continues.
“We like to think that the Oi series works for many people in many directions. It’s a bedtime giggle, a read alone chuckle, and a classroom hoot.”
There’s a poetic rhythm to the way Gray talks. It’s perhaps the result of spending so much time with his head buried in the literature of the pre-school sector; alternatively perhaps, it’s a natural tool that has allowed him such success within it. Whichever it is, he certainly isn’t using artistic license on the truth. The Oi book series really is working for a great many people.
Oi Dog won the Laugh Out Loud Picture Book Award of 2017 and was shortlisted for the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award and British Book Awards in 2016. Oi Cat, meanwhile, was the Independent Booksellers Children’s Book of the Season and Oi Goat, as we know, is a World Book Day book of 2018.
“Consumer awareness of Oi is growing apace,” continues Gray. “In publishing terms, all of the retail stars have aligned for the Oi books and characters. In just four years, more than a million Oi books have been sold, and overnight the public have taken Oi to their hearts.”
“We decided to launch the Oi Licensing Company irrespective of a TV platform because a brand platform that is equally compelling has grown from its publishing roots. We have the enthusiasm and licensing expertise of Sarah Fletcher and Maximum Licensing on our side, as well as the full support and encouragement of our publisher Hachette Livre.
“Should TV happen - and we very much hope that it does - it will be a very welcome addition to the Oi licensing programme.”
For now, Oi Licensing, Gray and Field are happy to keep it ‘old school,’ and work from the vibrant and only growing publishing platform that they have together. It’s certainly served them well so far, it’s delivered them a toy partner in Fiesta Crafts for one - a company that knows the pedigree of an IP when it sees it.
To date, Fiesta Crafts has been very selective in the IP it works with. The world of children’s literature is its go to source of inspiration and in recent years has plucked from it a highly commendable partnership with the Roald Dahl Story Company on a series of Roald Dahl puppets and play sets. And that’s about it. It would seem, then, that Oi is in some extremely good company with a toy firm that knows exactly what it wants from a pre-school property.
“Fiesta Crafts and Oi share key strengths, particularly in schools where educational engagement is key,” says Gray.
“We will work hard with Fiesta Crafts to cement Oi’s position as an educational resource. The lessons that we learn will be harnessed to develop high quality, educational and creative play for the home environment too.”
That hard work has already begun. Fiesta Crafts has now detailed the full range of Oi products in the portfolio, spanning Oi Magnetic Rhymes, Magnetic Phonics and Magnetic Creative Writing Sets.
The tranche of activity toys will teach kids about rhyming sounds through sound, picture and word matching tasks, develop their understanding of phonics and sounds and encourage them to create their own stories using pictures and word pieces as well as their own literacy skills developed through play.
“We are so excited to be joining up with the Oi Frog, Dog and friends with these three brand new Oi magnetic charts: rhyming, Phonics and Writing,” Rob Trup, marketing manager at Fiesta Crafts, tells Licensing.biz.
"Each is stuffed with pieces of all the favourite Oi characters whose books have been delighting children (and their adults) and selling out fast. We already know children love to play with our existing range of interactive magnetic charts, helping them to learn and now, with the added joy of the cast of Oi characters, they will be even more engaged.”
Using the 25 reversible magnetic pieces in the Magnetic Rhymes set, children will be able to develop their literacy skills as they complete the suggested activities. Meanwhile, the Phonics set offers up 60 magnetic pieces with which to develop literacy skills, and completing the set is the 48 piece Magnetic Creative Writing set.
“By noisily championing learning in school and creative play in the home,” continues Gray, “we very much hope that Oi will become a call to action for generations to come.”
Of course, given the competition that Oi now finds itself among in a crowded pre-school space, Gray, Field and the team are aware the journey won’t be without its hurdles along the way.
“The hurdles for bringing a new brand into the toy space are at the very least, retail distribution and consumer awareness,” Gray states.
“For Oi, the two are growing hand in hand. Oi toys will have the potential to become a gender neutral, multifaceted brand that both children and parents take to their heart.
“The Oi brand is in its infancy and the opportunity for licensees to help it grow extends in many directions. Both Jim and I will be fastidious guardians of the brand, and if needed - when needed - Oi product ideas will never be in short supply.”