Report – Birthday Brands

Posted on: Friday 06 July 2018 10:13pm by Gabrielle Smith


  • Enjoyable and recognisable brands are usually those that are also trusted by parents.
  • It is important to constantly strive for new ways to make audiences laugh and do appropriate market research to find out what children today want.
  • Brands that stand the test of time are ones that can keep using their characters but are willing to be contemporary.


Today’s panel invited conversation and of course, a celebration of three British brands that are famous for their longevity on and off screen. For decades, iconic characters like Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, the Beano Studios and Sooty and Co have entertained the nation’s children, our parents and us, thereby producing a truly intergenerational audience. But today’s big questions around some of the birthday celebrations of these incredible and wondrous brands were how do you keep it going? And, of course, how do you look so good after all these years?

Adapted from the Reverend Awdry’s bedtime stories for his little boy, in 1984 Britt Alcroft launched Thomas and Friends to television audiences, allowing children to enjoy the world of trains which they loved so much. Now, for the contemporary audience, Thomas is a truly global brand that is broadcast in over 100 countries and in over 40 different languages. With approximately 1 toy engine sold every second and 200+ million books sold worldwide, Ian McCue and Micaela Winter and the team at Mattel are working hard to ensure that the brand stays relatable for children today. As they mentioned today, at the heart of it all is storytelling and the railway – there are new communities to see and new characters to meet, and it’s the perfect way of creating stories that entertain their growing audiences, as well as imparting strong social emotional life lessons like the values of team work and being kind.

Another much loved and recognisable brand on the panel was Dennis the Menace from the Beano Studios. With over 80 years of entertaining the nation, the Beano is still celebrated in print publication (with the UK’s most successful annual) as it is with contemporary content from IP studios. Key to the brand’s longevity? Going direct to the source.  Chris Rose discusses how The Beano aims to be in constant conversation with kids and find out what they’re doing, their major influences, and then reflect their lives in long form narrative and of course, in the short term via their digital platforms too.

Izzy whizzy – let’s get busy?! Sooty & Co. is now in the care of Richard Caddell who is producer, writer, performer and brand owner after purchasing the rights from iconic father and son duo, Harry and Matthew Corbett. Whilst Sooty has been in the entertainment industry for well over 65 years, it is perhaps advantageous to the brand that Sooty is and has always been a silent bear – meaning that not only can his mischief and fun be translated to any situation, but there has always been a seamless jump from presenter to presenter across the years. Caddell comments that whilst the main revenue for the brand is the theatre show, it’s great as he gets to ‘work on gags on a daily basis… if they don’t work, you can tweak them, build knowledge and put it directly on television’.

It’s clear that with the big brands that celebrate birthdays year on year, there is definite heritage of brand connection that crosses over the generations. It’s tough to know what will stand the test of time, but with children watching content so differently now, there are certain shows that will always still have the magic of keeping kids laughing out loud.

CMC 2018 Blog Event Reports Anniversary Beano Birthday brand Dennis the Menace Heritage IP Sooty and Co Thomas and Friends

Gabrielle Smith

About the author

Gabrielle Smith

Northumbria University, PhD Candidate

Gabrielle Smith is a final-year Ph.D candidate at Northumbria University, Newcastle and is a film and television studies graduate from the universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow. Her current research explores the role of the British children’s television presenter. As well as children’s television presenters, she loves TV puppets and, of… Read more