Anyone who has read this column for a while knows that I'm a sucker for a classic, beloved brand. If it's a brand I loved as a child, even better: I'm in your corner, rooting for you to succeed as you adapt for new generations and new technologies. I've probably watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” every single Christmas since the special first aired in 1964; every time I watch it, I fall in love again with Burl Ives' voice as the folksy narrator, with its timeless story of difference and determination and acceptance, and with its low-tech, stop-motion animation. I don't want that to change -- but I want Rudolph to continue to stay relevant forever!
That’s harder than it sounds, yet Character Arts, the brand’s longtime licensing agency, has been successfully doing it for years. How does a licensor keep a hold on a brand’s classic, old-fashioned charm while appealing to 21st-century kids who have grown up expecting the most cutting-edge effects and interactive opportunities?
“It’s all about celebrating the original story while making way for new interpretations of it,” says Jonathan Flom, founder of Character Arts.
And that’s why I’m excited for Rudolph as Character Arts prepares for Rudolph’s 50th in 2014 — I know I can count on Character Arts to maintain the brand’s integrity and keep the tradition alive and well in all they do.
As licensors, Character Arts has three audiences in mind. First, of course, are consumers like me who love Rudolph in any way, shape or form. Second is the new generation that will be discovering him for the first time and may be more receptive to Rudolph on a newer platform. And third is the like-minded consumer brands that hope to collaborate with Rudolph because they want to become as much of a holiday tradition to their customer base as Rudolph is to all of his worldwide fans. I have to say, I'm impressed by the ideas the team's elves have been building in their workshop.
What if you could immerse yourself -- or your brand's customers -- in Rudolph’s fantastic world? What if visitors could feel the wind at their backs and snowflakes on their faces as they literally ride (thanks to the latest in “flight with seat motion” technology) with Rudolph and Santa in their magical sleigh? And what if they could smell the peppermint and cookies baking in Mrs. Claus’ kitchen and experience the tickle of pine branches on the backs of their legs when the Abominable Snow Monster puts the star on the top of the Christmas tree? Basically, what if they could enjoy all their favorite characters in a 4D animated world that faithfully replicates the feel and the charm of the special?
These are just a few of the sensations awaiting audiences in the spectacular Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 4D Experience, in development by Character Arts and Pure Imagination Studios. Flom and his team also have a number of other major “live” attraction initiatives in the works for Rudolph’s 50th, including an already-announced major theme park partnership with Herschend Family Entertainment and stage shows that are already running in Atlanta, Dallas and Orlando in 2013.
Character Arts will be unveiling all of these plans and meeting with potential sponsors at its booth at the Licensing Show, June 18-20, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
“We've been fortunate to have very successful sponsors and licensees over the years like Microsoft, Hallmark, Verizon, and Build-a-Bear, and these relationships have become an integral part of Rudolph's holiday tradition," says Flom. “Now the 50th anniversary gives us the chance to 'take off' in thrilling new ways, such as this 4D multi-sensory experience that allow fans to connect with Rudolph on an experiential level. These new technologies will actually put our fans in touch with the emotions at the heart of Rudolph's story.”
Character Arts also hopes to tap into Rudolph's celebrity fans.
In particular, Flom said, the team hopes to recruit celebrities to participate in their hometown productions of the Rudolph stage show and to share personal stories about times in their lives when they have felt like a “misfit.”
“The TV special, of course, is at the heart of this anniversary celebration," says Flom. "So many people like you have grown up watching it, and want to share it with their children and, eventually, their grandchildren. We're now adding new dimensions that enhance that experience.”
I'll be watching!