American Greetings looks to reinvigorate franchise

With popular toys from the 1980s like Transformers, ThunderCats and the Smurfs getting reboots as entertainment projects, American Greetings is looking to relaunch its Care Bears.

The colorful characters with the belly badges that first bowed as a greeting card line in 1981 will be reintroduced to kids through a new animated TV show this sumline of merchandise, including plush bears that Hasbro will produce next year.

The gradual rollout comes as the Care Bears are celebrating their 30th anniversary.

American Greetings is looking to target 2- to 7-year-old girls with the refreshed characters, and connect with parents who were fans of the brand themselves while growing up.

“The Care Bears are not just a piece of the pop culture fabric, but their messages of caring and sharing are as relevant today as they were when the property was first introduced,” said Gabrielle Oliff, marketing director for American Greetings Properties, which is introducing its Care Bear plans at this week’s Toy Fair in New York City. Company is borrowing from the same relaunch strategy it put behind its Strawberry Shortcake brand, which received a similar reboot in 2009 and introduced toons before new toys.

“For us, TV is the anchor,” Oliff said. “We look at every consumer touchpoint we can create for the brand. From TV comes DVD, consumer products, publishing and a huge presence online. Entertainment really helps kids learn how to play with the toys.”

American Greetings already relaunched the Care Bears in 2002, through new toys and the straight-to-homevid films “Care Bears: Journey to Joke-a-lot,” “The Care Bears’ Big Wish Movie,” and “Care Bears: Oopsy Does It,” which helped sell 85 million plush bears worldwide in the first three years, and more than 8 million DVDs over the past 10 years, keeping the brand alive with kids. Lionsgate serves as American Greeting’s homevid partner. Since 2002, the Care Bears have generated more than $2.6 billion worldwide from licensed products.

But American Greetings has bigger plans for the latest reboot.

The company has a line of apparel for teens and tweens that feature classic art from the franchise. A line for infants has also launched. After the new animated series, American Greetings will market Care Bears to everyone from kids to adults, with a considerable plush line to hit stores in 2013. Company also plans to re-release the original “Care Bears” movie from 1985 on homevid.

While American Greetings has yet to disclose which channel will air the new Care Bears series, Hasbro’s kids cabler the Hub is the likely home. Hasbro is making plush product for the Care Bears brand, and the Hub already airs “Strawberry Shortcake’s Berry Bitty Adventures” as well as other shows around American Greetings-owned characters Twisted Whiskers, Maryoku Yummy and TinPo.

The new series will introduce a new Care Bear character to the classic line of six core bears that include Tenderheart Bear, Funshine Bear and Birthday Bear.

There are no current plans to produce a theatrical feature, although new direct-to-homevid titles are expected to continue.

“We want to get a couple seasons under our belt first,” Oliff said.

Given the bears’ appeal over the years, even without a heavy push at retail over the years, American Greetings believes there’s still strong demand for the Care Bears.

“Care Bears never really went away,” Oliff said. “They’ve always been in the consumer’s vision. There’s not a ton of buzz for the brand now, but in a declining kids market, the sales are still strong.”

There was certainly interest from other companies to try to relaunch the characters, with Canada’s Cookie Jar Group and France’s MoonScoop Group attempting to buy the bears from American Greetings in 2008 and 2009.

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