Wanna Buy A Jay Ward Blanket?

wardrugs.jpg

If you think the animation business is tough, try selling blankets.

Michael Marrer of Brackney Hills Knitting obtained a licensing agreement with Classic Media for Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends and Dudley Do-Right knitted products. He knew this would be a niche market, but he’s been surprised to see just how difficult it would be to sell them. He wrote me me for some advice:

We are very frustrated in finding ways to get the word out. To date we have not had any inquiries about them. So … how to reach the Rocky & Bullwinkle fans out there? We are working on some
sweaters to be released this fall, plus we have a Wossamotta U design coming for blankets too. More character designs will come out once we see some sort of action in the marketplace.

Not to be a shill, but these look pretty cool to me. I’ll probably pick up a Peabody and Sherman wrap for those cold winter nights. But I have no idea how one sells blankets.

However, I recommend to anyone with products like this to try advertising right here on Cartoon Brew. Everyone interested in obtaining blankets like these is probably reading this blog.


  • http://www.myspace.com/internetshow David McHank

    I will SO be down for one of the sweaters.

  • Halliwell

    I hate to write this, but there’s a disconnect for me between the muted colors of the knitted blankets and the garish, dated designs of the characters(to be fair, it’d look just as ugly with Bart Simpson). If they want to appeal to kids, go for all-out garish color. But frankly, the market for these particular characters is pretty limited. People old enough to knowm them well don’t generally want a throw with these guys emblazoned on it.

    The only retail higher-end use of these and other cartoon characters that worked imo was back when the then-owner of American Rag had that shop “Too Cute” on Melrose, which sold all kinds of cartoon characters on very expensive clothing. It worked because the embroidery was perfectly done, and also the designs tended to be subtle–an embroidered pocket on an otherwise plain shirt; and the poses chosen were really good ones.
    Here the characters look like they’re just pulled from a model sheet and floating on the wool/polyester background.

  • David

    Also, I think if these blankets are supposed to appeal to the “hip” set, they oughta lose the nametags–exactly who is the “MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN” label for? If you bought this blanket, you know who they are. And you’d love your friends to ask you.
    And not to be a wet throw, but I think they should be moved to a more interesting position (not so centered).

  • Chuck R.

    Their mistake was in assuming cartoon geeks don’t know a well-designed product from a poor one. The comments above are valid criticisms. The type is not only unnecessary, the fonts are weird. Russian spies from an atomic age cartoon with western-style letters?

    Say what you want about the Disney markeing machine —they always knew how to put characters on a product. Also check out the Land of Nod for examples of well-designed kids stuff.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com Robert

    “I hate to write this…” and yet you couldn’t resist :D

    ” there’s a disconnect for me between the muted colors of the knitted blankets and the garish, dated designs of the characters”

    Of course a background’s job is to not distract from the characters. But since you regard the characters as garish and outdated at the outset, it’s safe to say that NO treatment of them will find favor.

    “People old enough to knowm them well don’t generally want a throw with these guys emblazoned on it.”

    That’s a gratuitous generalization that doesn’t inform the economics of the situation. They don’t need to sell one to everyone in that population, just the sizable niche that likes such things. I find them engaging. To pricey for me, but I’d love to have one.
    .

  • http://trevour.blogspot.com Trevour Meyer

    I agree with David – I believe these would be a lot cooler without the labeled names on them.

  • captain murphy

    I tend to agree with the other comments, but, to perhaps spin a bit positive.

    I think there could be some parents that would actually buy these for kids, and the kids would like them. If the kids need blankets.

    The problem is, the produt itself. it is like getting kids interested in quilting. Cool if it is actually used, a bit of a aesthetic clash if it were to be hung like a tapestry.

    I prized my Alvin and the Chipmunks weird stuff, years after the TV show was on (Sixties version). Of course, the albums maintained a level of popularity, thats why the chipmunk images were popular with me

    I have seen Boris and Natasha in that western font– those typefaces were all over the place in the Ward stuff. But you see, that is where the all important TRADEMARK symbol is resting….

    Where is a Bullwinkle Hot Water Bottle when you need one?

  • Bill Field

    Look, I know a bit about this, I’ve directed commercials with Jay Ward’s characters(Yeah, yeah, yeah, me ‘n the Cap’n made it happen), for other country markets, and the US L/A networks and markets. You need to first think like Jay Ward and Bill Scott– their brains were different than ours, so for the normal brain to become like theirs, here are 3 ways to achieve “Ward-ness”
    1. 137 pings to the noggin from a ballpeen hammer
    2. Falling down the stairs —……………..at Sear’s Tower
    3. Drinking a fifth or sixth of Jack Daniels or Jim Beam- any alcohol named after a deadman will do. Samuel Adams is beer, but he is dead, so OK—but no Jax, and no Falstaff-he was fictional

  • precode

    Well, they could also double as beach towels!

  • http://www.autodaddy.blogspot.com tom

    I think if I were to encounter these in a brick and mortar store I’d buy my share. Quibbling about the type designs and such ignores the fact that these are likely to be the only Sherman and Peabody throw blankets you’ll ever encounter. Sure, they could be designed a little more in keeping with the Disney lines, but they’re not and they won’t likely be redone. All things considered, these are desirable items.

  • Bill Field

    The Odder Characters will definitely be their bigger sellers, like Super Chicken, Hoppity Hooper, Tom Slick, Gidney and Cloyd, Snidley, Horse, Stokie the Bear… Because collectors are fickle, and yes, leave out the names-entirely! Collectors tend to like the graphics to be in context of the show, like scenes and layouts taken from actual episodes.

  • http://www.BrackneyHills.com Michael Marrer (Brackney Hills Knitting)

    First, my very grateful thanks to Jerry. When I wrote to him for advice, I never expected for our products to have such a prominent place on his web site. Nice to see that the people who stop by are still interested in Moose & Squirrel & Friends!

    A little background about us might be in order to better understand where we are coming from. I’ve always had an interest in marketing and doing something different, and over the years was planning what I would do when I retired – or got laid off. I dabbled in several things – writing, PR, MLM, etc. I finally came to the conclusion that with the web, it would be best if I could offer something unique. So the first question I asked myself was – who do I know that has a factory? Well, it turns out I did know someone, and they were involved in the knitting business. I started out selling some of their excess inventory, then gravitated to custom orders for fund raisers and corporate gifts.

    Well, after ducking layoffs since 1994, they finally caught up with me in 2005 (I was laid off on the day of my 28th service anniversary). I put the knitting aside for a bit because I was admittedly scared, and figured it was best to try to get a “real” job. Guess what? No one wants a 50-year old programmer, no matter what the education and experience you bring to the table. So back to the knitting business, trying to work it full-time (and taking early withdrawals from my 401K to pay the bills).

    But in that time off I rethought our direction, and realized that fundraising was not the way to go (too little profit and hard to compete with the 100% markup mentality of candy bars). So we went the licensing route to offer something unique directly to the public. Because we are a small, just-in-time manufacturer, we can focus on niche markets and subjects normally ignored by most companies that only want to see Target and Wal-Mart levels of volumes. Plus the products are made here in the USA, which is also a major selling point. Being an aging Baby Boomer myself I’ve been looking at other things that Boomers would remember – especially since many of them are at the age when their kids have left the nest and college and are now married, and they now have the time and money to indulge in old fantasies before the reality of Social Security and fixed income kicks in. Classic Media have been great to deal with, and they understand and respect small companies like ours.

    Blankets may not seem to be a big interest item, but again we wanted something different. Considering about the only thing available for most any cartoon character is a t-shirt or bobblehead, offering something that is 25 square feet definitely stands out! Once we get people’s attention we’d be adding pillows and sweaters to the line (although unfortunately they couldn’t have the colors or amount of detail as a blanket – just the nature of the product).

    To address a few of the questions or concerns already posted here, all artwork is provided by Classic Media. So the images and fonts are what are in their database, and what they want their licensees to use. So what may appear to be an Old West font for Boris & Natasha is actually an official Classic Media logo. They also specify the colors in the characters as well, and allow a little leeway as it is often hard to have an exact match. The background colors we chose for the blankets were ones that we thought would complement the characters and not detract from them.

    We are also somewhat limited by the nature of the knitting machines. These are very large (like over 10′ long) commercial machines, but there are only 415 needles on the bed to make individual stitches. Think of a needle like a pixel. So we can only have artwork that is around 400 x 400. We’re also limited to at most seven colors in the blanket, so you can see that this style of blanket cannot get too fancy. Due to the low resolution we have to be careful about lines that run diagonally, so that stair stepping is not pronounced. We take this into consideration when choosing what pictures and text make up a design.

    Initially both the designs you see had just the characters. But the people at Classic Media felt that the blankets looked kind of empty, and suggested that the characters’ names be added. Thanks for your comments about not needing the logos – we’ll keep that under consideration in future designs.

    Also keep in mind that several people have to review and sign off on each completed physical blanket style before we can sell them. This includes the Classic Media offices in New York City, their offices in Los Angeles and …. drum roll please … Tiffany Ward! Yes, the daughter of Jay Ward! She’s the one who suggested that Wossamotta U should be the next design, to possibly interest the collegiate market.

    Getting back to publicity, we already did the initial steps one would expect from an online business: set up our own web site and store and made sure all major search engines find it; pay-per-click ads on Google, Yahoo and MSN (skipping affiliate distribution due to click fraud); getting the products listed on our commercial store on Amazon; getting the products listed on our commercial store on eBay; etc. Next was to try to find any web sites or discussion boards geared to the Jay Ward characters. Unfortunately everything we found is pretty much inactive.

    Next is print advertising, which brings me to why I contacted Jerry. There doesn’t seem to be anything in print related to pop culture, especially to the ’60s. While a lot of things were started in the past decade, none of them seemed to last more than a few issues or a year or two at the most. I already know from the auto racing designs we advertised last year that print ads are a very expensive proposition, so you better be advertising directly to the majority of people that you are certain are interested in your product. So where can one find Rocky & Bullwinkle and Dudley-Do-Right fans these days, and what print publications do they read?

    We do feel that we are on the right track with the designs you see here and there must be a market out there. Otherwise, why else would Dreamworks be working on a big screen movie of Mr. Peabody & Sherman for release in 2008? Maybe we just have to wait patiently for the publicity for the movie to roll out and get the public’s attention.

    My apologies for rambling a bit, and I hope this didn’t come across as an ad. I just felt the background info would let the readers better understand the nature of our business and why things have been done the way they are up until now.

  • Chuck

    The explanation of how these came to be is appreciated, but inconsequential.

    Your customers will be buying these at face value and they don’t care about the licensing agreements, manufacturing issues, etc. etc. No one here is trying to be mean, but you should listen carefully to these comments. You may need to hire a designer and make better-looking products if you are going to sell blankets at $65 a pop.

    Maybe your problem is a bad pairing of product and license.
    If your consumer is a cartoon geek who wants to raise his feak-flag, he’d probably rather have a $12 shirt that he can wear in public. If he’s just interested in something comfortable to sleep in, the quality of the blanket is more important (at night, the cartoon character is never seen.) If the blanket is a throw that goes over a sofa, it’s gotta be hipper or more attractive than gray.

    These strike me as charming bachelor-pad items that get tossed when a guy gets married. Jerry, would your wife allow these on your living-room sofa?

    Also, I’m aware of style guides and all that nonsense, but if you came up with something really clever and original and pitched it to the gatekeepers at CM, and convinced them it would sell, you might find them bending a rule or two. I once worked for a company that had a Looney Tunes license. I designed a catalog that took a few liberties with the style guide Bugs Bunny and got approval.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com jerry

    Chuck – “Jerry, would your wife allow these on your living-room sofa?”

    Actually we were about to buy some blankets for the bed, and the Mrs. doesn’t have a problem with these for that purpose. But you are right, she wouldn’t be too pleased with these on the sofa.

  • Bob

    Damn…we’re a hard bunch to please. I know I can be too critical; just an unfortunate side effect of the animation industry I guess.

    As for these blankets, I think they’re great. A little pricey, yes, but they look fun and seem high in quality.

    I grew up on R & B re-runs, and these character designs look just fine to me. I didn’t over analyze them and tear them apart. They appealed to me and I left it at that.

    As for the muted colors, they definitely fit. Just watch the show.

    Lighten up a bit guys. This isn’t exactly a 3D remake of a tootsie-pop commercial, or any other “crisis in our very serious animation world.” Heheh.

  • http://www.BrackneyHills.com Michael Marrer (Brackney Hills Knitting)

    “You may need to hire a designer and make better-looking products if you are going to sell blankets at $65 a pop.”

    Chuck: Thanks for your input. Could you clarify a bit of what you are looking for? Do you want a more vivid background color? If so, keep in mind that what turns some people on might turn a whole lot more off. That’s why we tried to use something neutral for the background, so as to not “offend” plus also not detract from the characters themselves.

    Or are you looking for more interesting character poses and images on the blankets themselves? That’s why I mentioned the seven color limit and 400×400 pixel image limitation, as the image then cannot be too complex. By the nature of this product we cannot offer what can be put on a t-shirt via screen printing.

    Yes, we are listening to all comments and appreciate them – our manufacturing description was to make sure people better understood the process so that they wouldn’t have the same expectation with these as with other types of products.

    Jerry – thanks for having this turn into a focus group, and I’ll be willing to take this elsewhere if you feel it detracts from the intent of the board and your web site.

  • Chuck Rekow

    Jerry: Sorry to get Mrs. Beck involved, although I admire your candor! :-)

    Bob: Yes, this is a tough forum! And yes, there are more important issues in the world (like Geena Davis and Disney foods), but I felt this was important to Michael.

    Michael: Bob hit the nail on the head with watching the show. If you haven’t seen the show lately, certainly begin with an 8-hour Jay Ward marathon as part of research. Try to pick up on little details, catch phrases, or obscure quotes. Draw up a dozen ideas and throw them past as many fans as you can find. I’m not a huge Jay Ward fan, so I can’t give you specifics, but as a collector of other types of licensed junk, here’s what I gravitate to:

    Inexpensive stuff: I love Looney Tunes, but I wouldn’t buy the Looney Tunes van with Tweety on the upholstery. There’s a difference between a geek and a freak.

    Stuff that fits well in my personal spaces: dashboard, computer work-area, etc.

    Character art that doesn’t look like style guide art, ie: poses that look like they were made for something else, or nothing in particular.

    Character art that’s based on a really nostalgic or weird prototype of the character eg: a 1930′s Mickey Mouse or a very early version of Fred Flintstone. (I’m not sure if Boris and Natasha changed much over the course of the series, but maybe you can do something with props or background elements that give it a certain nostalgic appeal.)

    Insider appeal: Again, the detail or quality that not every muggle would get. Example: I have a great bobblehead of Betty Boop with a hula skirt and ukelele. It’s cool because it’s not only executed very well, it’s a nod to the kitschy 50′s-era dashboard hula. Best of all, the grass skirt resembles the outfit Betty wore in her cameo in the very first Popeye cartoon. It seemed like the designer knew something about Fleischer cartoons.

    I really don’t want to be the only one with suggestions. Hopefully, others can tell you what they like or don’t like in licensed tchotchke.
    Again, talk to as many Jay Ward fans as possible.

  • april

    To Michael, I commend you for graciously accepting comments here, as it seems everyone is being very hard on your products!

    I had one thought to add here. I find it very difficult to buy clothes and textiles on the internet sight unseen. I would rather see, and more importantly, touch them first. Clothes and blankets are very tactile.

    I think you could help people like me by:
    1. Adding a super-close-up of the stitching of the characters to your product page. In a small picture, on the internet, you could mistake them for a decal.
    2. Offering some sort of fabric swatch or sample on request. This is a rather expensive product, and I always appreciate it when clothing companies offer free or low-cost swatches.

    Best of luck with your endeavor. By the way, I am a woman, and I’d have no problem if my husband wanted these in our home – much easier on the eyes than his Simpsons stuff!

  • Jennie

    I’ve been trying to track down a Bullwinkle wossamatta u sweatshirt for ages, I saw a picture of one from Universal studios and then forgot what webpage it was on. Any advise where to search?

  • Robin

    Just got a Wossamatta U blanket from Brackney Hills Knitting. It is not only high quality and well done, but it is fantastic in design and color integrity. I certainly got my money’s worth. I bought it as a gift, and I know it will be given great care. If you like Bullwinkle and Wossmatta U products, this is a good one. Fer shure…