It's The Great Kahuna-Charlie Brown!

by , Nov 15, 2012, 6:53 AM
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When it comes to brands, do you have a first love? I do—Snoopy, the world’s most beloved beagle. From a very early age, I’ve had a crush on Joe Cool and it’s never gone away. Actually, I identify with the entire Peanuts brand, most notably that blockhead Charlie Brown; although I did carry a blanket like Linus until the age of 10 when I accidentally left it in a hotel during a family vacation. 

I was heartbroken, so my parents encouraged me to write to the hotel—and to Linus to see if he could help. (Secretly, I think they thought the letters might be good therapy and would help put an end to my misery.) Much to our surprise, Linus, a.k.a. Mr. Charles M. Schulz, wrote back to commiserate with my dilemma! Even more surprisingly, the hotel sent back my blanket. To this day, my parents swear that Schulz must have had something to do with the return of that blanket, as if he called the hotel and had Linus put in a good word for me.

That’s the kind of personal response that builds a lifetime of brand love and loyalty. The Hill family, and now the DeNuccio family (my married name), will always be devoted Peanuts fans. In fact, it goes beyond fandom. The Peanuts characters are like members of our family now. 

For seven years, the Peanuts characters were also my clients. Talk about kismet! After growing up reading all the Peanuts books, performing in Peanuts plays, visiting Camp Snoopy, and dressing as Snoopy for Halloween, I had the privilege to work on the Peanuts PR team as its agency of record. 

During those years, we handled all kinds of highly creative campaigns, which were usually designed by the internal Peanuts brand management team, led at the time by Helene Gordon, April Heeren and Melissa Menta. Sometimes the campaigns were targeted at a specific audience—as with the “Snoopy in Fashion Show,” through which we wanted to reach fashionistas around the country, and the “Peanuts Rocks the Vote Program,” where we aimed at reaching younger people to get out and vote. Sometimes the campaigns were more mainstream—as with our holiday programs, where we made sure there was a gift for everyone on Santa Snoopy’s list. 

Snoopy also has many celebrity friends, and they worked with us on everything from photo ops and fashion shows to PSAs and music video productions. After a lifetime of trying to wrangle stars for PR campaigns, it was a joy to see the genuine enthusiasm for the Peanuts brand expressed by celebrities like Mariah Carey, Kristin Chenoweth, Whoopi Goldberg, Seth Green, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Simon Pegg and Kelly Rutherford, among many others.

I’ve learned so much from my personal and professional experiences with the Peanuts gang that I thought I’d share some of the key lessons these campaigns taught me: 

  • Explore all possible themes and references: Granted, we were lucky with Peanuts because Schulz touched on just about every subject conceivable in his six decades of comic strips. But no matter what lifestyle brand you represent, try to look at it from all possible angles. One way to do this is to take out a Sunday newspaper and go through every single section. Try to imagine a story about your client in that section: Does your brand touch upon health, wellness and fitness? Food? Entertainment? Books? Film and TV? People? Politics? Personal finance? The weather?  

  • Use the personal touch: The Peanuts team always provided the perfect, customized Peanuts-themed thank-you gifts to celebrities and others who participated in our campaigns (no cookie-cutter swag baskets!). Finally, we always sent personal notes from one of the Schulz family members; you see, I had learned the value of this special touch back when Charles Schulz sent me that note from Linus!
     
  • Embrace social media with Twitter celebrity stars: Snoopy has already co-hosted two holiday Twitter parties, one with Kyle Richards for Christmas last year, and another with teen sensation Ariana Grande for Valentine’s Day. In both instances, we picked celebrities with huge Twitter followings of their own, so there was tremendous mutual benefit. Remember, just because a celebrity might be big in the traditional media sense doesn’t mean they have a large Twitter following. You need to find a celebrity who is big in both traditional and digital worlds as in the case of Kyle and Ariana.

  • Don’t forget to play to your strengths: In addition to the unique campaigns that successfully linked Snoopy with new arenas like fashion or politics, we also always reinforced what Peanuts was so beloved for. Each year we celebrated the “Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Great Pumpkin,” and “Easter Beagle” television specials that we’ve all grown up with (and can quote by heart). And during a worldwide yearlong 60th anniversary celebration in 2010, we reintroduced fans everywhere to Charles Schulz, to the strip’s humble beginnings (in just seven newspapers! Now Peanuts runs in more than 2,200 papers in 75 countries and 21 languages) and to each of the lovable, witty and wise characters.

I know, it’s not every day you get to work for a brand that has actually added language to our national phrasebook—like “Good grief!” and “security blanket.” But this experience taught me, or brought home to me once again, the incalculable value of being able to find not only a link between a brand and people’s pocketbooks, but between the brand and people’s hearts.

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