The Friday Five: Michael Riley, Chief Brands Officer, WildBrain

Michael Riley is the chief brands officer at WildBrain. In this edition of The Friday Five, Michael shares the media company’s plans for the Strawberry Shortcake brand and explains WildBrain’s approach to reinterpreting classic characters for new audiences.

Why is now a good time to revisit Strawberry Shortcake and her friends?

The question of whether to refresh is important and often asked around classic brands. For us, there were a number of key factors, not least the success we’ve had with the relaunched Teletubbies and evolution of Peanuts. It Strawberry’s time to shine and the relaunch represents the culmination of deep planning across multiple areas of the WildBrain business, which spans expertise and resources in brand management, content production, distribution and digital strategies, and consumer products licensing.

We also have key talent relationships at WildBrain, and showrunner Mike Vogel was the ideal person to help shape the new content. He is one of the creative forces behind the success of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the theatrical feature My Little Pony: The Movie.

The main ingredient, however, and the foundation for any new iteration, is the proven timeless appeal of the Strawberry Shortcake brand and the cherished memories and nostalgia from original fans, who are now parents and grandparents. We have the opportunity to leverage the brand across multiple touchpoints for today’s fans and that’s very exciting when reimaging the Strawberry world.

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What are some of the challenges of reinterpreting a character with such a rich legacy? 

First, you have to be 100-percent respectful of the emotional connection that fans have with the brand they grew up with. It’s important to establish the brand DNA from the start and build from there.

With Strawberry Shortcake, we looked to reinterpret and grow the essence of the brand through a fresh modern lens — for example, homing in on the character’s love of baking.

With her new “berry besties” — Orange Blossom, Lime Chiffon, Lemon Meringue and Blueberry Muffin — and their lovable pets, a lucky mixing spoon and her fabulous new food truck, Strawberry Shortcake has all the ingredients to “bake the magic happen”. That message can, by extension, be understood as making the world a better place and plays into the important idea of following your dreams. These timeless and universal themes are also very contemporary so you can modernise the character and the stories while maintaining a clear bond with the legacy property.

This also helps to create a new multi-generational Strawberry Shortcake that parents, grandparents, and caregivers have trust in while being exciting and up-to-the-minute in terms of how new fans engage with the brand. Creating a new 360-degree brand strategy can be a blank page in lots of ways but it has to sit in a classic frame.

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In what ways will today’s consumers be able to engage with Strawberry Shortcake? 

One of the best things about refreshing a legacy brand in 2021 is the multiple ways you can reach fans, offering them a huge array of ways to engage with the property via tailored content.

We have debuted a new animated series, Berry in the Big City, featuring Strawberry and her friends on the popular WildBrain Spark AVOD network on YouTube. This is a key component of our digital-first strategy and will give us extensive reach, localised in key markets, as well as data and insights into our audience and fanbase. We also launched a Roblox game, Bake with Strawberry Shortcake, on October 2; and, we have toys, music, books, events, and more in the pipeline from leading partners, including Moose Toys, Penguin Random House, Sunkist, and others.

For those who grew up with Strawberry Shortcake, we are happy to confirm that the signature scent is set to return in a line of collectible dolls their daughters are sure to love. Our master toy partner, Moose Toys, is a key part of our new consumer products program and we have lots more exciting plans in the works.

The Friday Five

WildBrain also holds the license for other classic properties, such as Peanuts and Teletubbies. What elements does the WildBrain team consider when adapting classic characters for a new audience?

There are a number of factors involved in deciding to refresh classic properties, requiring rigorous planning and development plus a strategic brand plan. However, at WildBrain, because we have requisite capabilities in-house, we’re able to leverage brand insights across content, distribution, and licensing and merchandising, as well as up-to-the-minute data science from our AVOD network, WildBrain Spark, which reveals the appetite for specific classic shows and how global and local audiences engage with them.

One appeal of working with classic brands is the opportunity to create shared moments with kids and their families. Successful timeless brands are the ones that parents and grandparents still adore from their own childhoods and want to introduce to their little ones, but kids today have different expectations. We can help make that connection by offering a fresh, modern adaptation that shares the heart of the original in all the places that kids go to find their favourite brands.

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Can consumers look forward to the reintroduction of more classic characters by the WildBrain team?

We’re always looking at ways to bring more of our classic brands to consumers in meaningful and carefully curated ways. Currently, our focus is on Strawberry Shortcake, the Teletubbies, and Yo Gabba Gabba! — but we’re always considering other gems in our library.

Teletubbies remains one of the most globally recognizable brands that engages fans across generations. The characters have been busy recently, delighting original audiences — Gen Z and their kids — with a satirical OK! Magazine break-up exposé, Pride Month charity fashion collection, a “TubbyCoin” cryptocurrency April Fools prank, and New York Fashion Week appearance by Tinky Winky. They’ve also had time to debut their new album, Ready, Steady, Go!. What’s next for the colourful, huggable quartet? I must remain tight-lipped for now, but I will say we’re very excited about the plans we have heading into the 25th anniversary next year. Watch this space!

The Friday Five

 Visit the WildBrain website to discover more about the company’s brands and initiatives.