The licensing division behind one of the world’s most beloved brands outlines how it keeps its property fresh and appealing. It’s highly unlikely you’ll find someone over the age of 20 who hears the word “soitenly” and doesn’t think of The Three Stooges. Such brand penetration is an obvious boon for C3 Entertainment, Inc., the company started by the Stooges in 1959 and the current owner of The Three Stooges brand.
But such brand recognition also brings some challenges, such as how to bring new light to something so familiar. This is an issue Ani Khachoian, vice president of licensing and merchandising, and Eric Lamond, director of marketing, face each day as they strive to elevate awareness of the beloved Stooges so they won’t be forgotten as newer generations come of age.
“There is a long history with the Stooges’ fan base, and many grew up watching them after school,” said Lamond. “Each day we strive to achieve a balance between appealing to those in the older demographics and exposing the brand to the younger generations without losing brand integrity.”
Comedic business savvy
Larry, Moe, and Curly (Joe) founded C3 Entertainment under the name Comedy III Productions more than 50 years ago. The Comedy III name still exists as the company’s production subsidiary, while C3 Entertainment acts as an umbrella over the licensing and retail divisions and handles the catalogue and online marketing.
The Three Stooges as a comedic property has been in the marketplace since the 1930s and has been used promotionally by major brands just as long. But maintaining a long-standing brand comes with tremendous responsibility. “There is a fiduciary responsibility to the family of the Stooges,” said Lamond. “And then there is the legacy issue, so we carefully guard the use of the brand and how it’s represented.”
As business savvy as they were funny, the Stooges began licensing their brand when they started the company. The result is consistent messaging, longstanding licensee relationships, and a reach that extends to practically every product category imaginable.
Currently, Arby’s, Time Warner Cable, Public Storage, and numerous state lotteries use the Stooges brand, and for years MasterCard and the Got Milk campaign used it as well. “Back in the day, The Three Stooges brand was used by Aqua Net, Dickies, and Simonize,” said Khachoian. “My focus today is to learn from and build on those platforms while pushing the brand into more categories.”
In having such a recognizable brand, Khachoian said licensees often approach her with ideas. The Three Stooges is an evergreen brand, so both licensees and retailers trust its success. The key, however, is to not over-saturate the market.
“For some categories, you can have one licensee, and for others you can have more than one,” she said. “We have to make sure our licensees aren’t competing with one another.”
Benefit of the doubt
Other than certain catch phrases and a database with thousands of pictures, C3 Entertainment gives its licensees free rein to be creative with the Stooges brand. From using them in spoofs to colorizing them or even changing their clothes, there is no limit to what is possible.
“One of the most famous, classic, and loved pieces of art is The Three Stooges golf pose,” said Lamond. “Several years ago, a licensee converted that to color and more traditional garb. They both work, and licensees use both.”
Although C3 Entertainment doesn’t work directly with manufacturers, it does work closely with its licensees to ensure only the highest quality products carry Stooges imagery. The company’s internal quality control process reviews all works and product samples before they’re released at retail.
“We give licensees the benefit of the doubt that they’ll only give us quality products,” said Lamond. “But we like to make sure the quality is there and that the products have the capability of wide distribution before we put our stamp of approval on it.”
Last year, C3 Entertainment went a step further to help its licensees by installing a robust software suite that coordinates retail operations with product purchasing from licensees for its Knuckleheads retail subsidiary. Shipping protocols, customer and opt-in e-mail databases, and fan bases are all centrally located and supplemented with an automated inventory management system.
“We attached some custom-built software components to improve our inventory control and the interface for our shipping department,” said Lamond. “Our software suite is now a mixture of an off-the-shelf solution and customized components that give us an advantage over others in our industry.”
Re-engage and expose
The economy impacted C3 Entertainment in an unusual way. Khachoian said the biggest change came in the way the company structures its licenses. “You have to be more creative now,” she said. “People are more cautious, and the process doesn’t happen as quickly anymore.”
On the retail side, consumers are spending cautiously as well. Lamond said The Three Stooges is a want brand, not a need brand, which means C3’s Knuckleheads retail subsidiary must work harder to maintain sales. In 2008, 2009, and so far in 2010, the company achieved consistent growth, so now the challenge is to continue to penetrate the entertainment world by elevating The Three Stooges brand.
C3 Entertainment hopes to find the answer in a movie that will begin filming in 2011. Directed by the Farrelly brothers and put out by Twentieth Century Fox, the movie will be rated PG-13; will involve an all-star cast, including Benicio DelToro and Sean Penn; and will grab the attention of those 15, 17, and 19 year olds that perhaps haven’t grasped the comedic genius of The Three Stooges.
“We will re-engage our current audience and expose the Stooges to a new audience,” said Lamond. “All the pieces are there to elevate the brand to the top level of the public’s entertainment conscience.”