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‘Winnie the Pooh has an enchanting heritage’

We chat to Disney’s svp and gm, Mike Stagg, about the 90th anniversary of the world’s favourite bear.

He may be a bear of very little brain, but Winnie the Pooh has been captivating children – and adults – for 90 years – and, if anything, the brand’s popularity is stronger than ever.

The character is a classic for all age ranges – from being a favourite for newborns, with both parents and gift givers, through to appearing on apparel and accessories for teens and adults who grew up with the brand and aren’t ready to leave it behind.

Created back in 1926 with the release of A.A Milne’s first book, Disney picked up the film rights in 1961, developing a series of short featurettes and a feature length animation in 1977. Since then, Winnie has gone on to become arguably the world’s most famous bear.

Understandably for such a classic and much-loved character, Disney and its partners are going all out to mark the 90th milestone.

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Kickstarting the celebrations in May – and coinciding with the Queen’s 90th birthday – a free illustrated ebook and audio story called Winnie the Pooh and the Royal Birthday from Egmont was released on YouTube and DisneyInspired.co.uk. The tale – which saw Winnie travel to Buckingham Palace with Piglet, Eeyore and Christopher Robin – received an incredibly strong reaction, resulting in Winnie the Pooh trending on Twitter and blanket national media coverage.

Tying in with this was an interactive Hundred Acre Wood experience, launched in partnership with Google Maps, while DisneyInspired.co.uk shared a number of craft ideas for children.

There are no shortage of partners who are also backing the 90th anniversary. In the UK, Disney is working with a number of licensees across its hardlines, softlines, FMCG and publishing businesses. These include Posh Paws, Tomy, Hallmark, Paul Dennicci, Rubie’s and Egmont, while there are DTRs with George at Asda, Tesco, Primark and Mothercare.

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New licensees have come on board too, with one of the most high profile being the collaboration with Cath Kidston, which spans across fashion, homeware, accessories and nursery. In addition, Aden + Anais has launched a collection of cotton muslins featuring prints of Winnie and his friends.

“With 90 years of history, there is certainly a rich and enchanting heritage for the Winnie the Pooh brand,” Mike Stagg, svp and general manager, retail UK & Ireland and digital commerce EMEA at The Walt Disney Company, comments.

“The original stories are such a strong asset to have within our creative toolbox. They continue to inspire children and adults alike with valuable life lessons that have stood the test of time, such as enjoyment for the simple things in life and the great outdoors.

“However, the heritage of the brand doesn’t stop us from exploring new ways for families to interact with the iconic characters. It’s important that we strike the right balance of staying true to its heritage while keeping the brand fresh and relevant to today’s audience.

“This is what we are working hard to do as we explore new licensees, new spaces and product categories through to using new technology,” Mike continues.

The anniversary itself fell on October 14, with the announcement of a new character – a penguin – adding further to the celebrations.

Marks & Spencer is launching a collection of special edition baby toys to mark the occasion, while Egmont released a new official anthology of four stories, called The Best Bear in All the World, on October 6. Mark Burgess has illustrated the text in the style of the original illustrator, E.H Shepard, and four authors – Paul Bright, Jeanne Willis, Kate Saunders and Brian Sibley – have written the stories.

Little brain or not, to paraphrase one of his quotes, it seems we are destined to be friends until forever with Winnie the Pooh.

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The Harrods link

Winnie the Pooh has a long-standing history with Harrods – A.A Milne created Winnie based on a real 18-inch high Alpha Farnell teddy bear, which was purchased for his son, Christopher Robin, from the luxury department store in 1921.

The toys that inspired the characters of Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Tigger were also purchased from Harrods and received as gifts by Christopher Robin between 1920 and 1928.

Disney is working with Harrods in a number of ways for the anniversary year. Initiatives include bespoke events for Mini Harrods customers and themed areas in-store, while Harrods was also featured in the special book, Winnie the Pooh and the Royal Birthday.

In addition, Aden + Anais launched a dedicated pop-up in Harrods for its Disney collection, while a 20-inch Winnie the Pooh 90th anniversary plush launched in September.

“We’re really pleased to be working with Harrods for this special anniversary to build on the long-standing history between the store and Winnie the Pooh,” says Mike.

This feature originally appeared in the autumn edition of Licensing Source Book. Click here to read the full publication.

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