Practically everybody remembers his or her first box of Crayola crayons. The classic green and gold box has been a school supply staple for generations. In many cases, people can recall the name of their favorite color – purple mountains’ majesty, tickle me pink or macaroni and cheese, for example.
“We’re an iconic brand,” explains Warren Schorr, Crayola’s vice president, licensing and business development and a fan of cornflower.
The first box of eight Crayola crayons rolled off the assembly line in 1903. The packaging was different, but all of the colors are the same as those found in today’s eight pack. In 1949, the box was expanded to hold 48 colors placed in a box with “stadium seating.” A decade later, the classic 64-color box was introduced with a built-in sharpener. Ninety-six colors were packaged into what Crayola calls the “Big Box” in 1993.
Over the years, the Crayola brand has expanded well beyond crayons to include a significant portfolio of art tools, crafting activities and innovative toys. More recently, the company has grown into a variety of other markets, relying on partnerships and licenses to develop a host of innovative products.
“We’ve been strategically building our base for the past five years,” Schorr says. Crayola currently has relationships with about 60 active domestic licensees across multiple categories, including: apparel and accessories, health and beauty, domestics, toy and activity, publishing and social expressions. The company also counts several technology companies among its partners, including Daqri, 3D Systems, HP, Google and Microsoft. But regardless of the product or the demographic, one constant remains: Crayola sparks the creative spirit that lives inside every child, Schorr says.
“The brand has historically provided products that help parents and teachers raise creatively alive children,” says Schorr, who adds that Crayola has a huge demographic reach. “Now we are finding new ways to provide benefits that speak directly to a variety of different consumer needs.”
Creative expression is critically important for young children. Art is the first written language and gives parents a window into what they are thinking and feeling, Schorr says. “Our My First Crayola art supplies and creative experiences are designed especially for little hands to foster those bonding moments between mom and child,” he says. “Our licensees have extended the colorful, playful opportunities for young children in other important bonding experiences such as bath time play products from MZB, oral care products from Sunstar America, Grow ’n Up easels and construction blocks from Amloid.”
A key Crayola mantra is that when something is created something bigger happens. One example that brings this to life is the company’s partnership with Lulu Jr., the children’s book-making company.
The partnership, announced in November 2014, features three book-making kits: Story By Me, Comic By Me and Story By Me Hardcover. Each kit includes everything a child needs to write and illustrate their own story, including Crayola markers or colored pencils.
Once completed, children mail in the kit, and a few weeks later receive a professionally printed and bound hardcover or paperback book. “Every child has a story to tell, and this partnership allows every child to author their story,” Schorr says.
The book-making kits are designed to strengthen literacy skills and build creative self-esteem. They also make for great vacation (summer break) activities for parents that are seeking positive ways to keep their children engaged, Schorr says.
Schorr credits Crayola’s recent success to the uniqueness of its partnerships, which often involve joint product development and go-to-market strategies. “We help one another innovate,” he says. “We have such a deep relationship with our licensees. They have such unique and valuable capabilities, resources and often their own consumer relationships that, when combined with ours, build a bigger opportunity.”
Because Crayola is both a manufacturer as well as a licensor, the company can bring a deeper level of support to sales and business development, R&D/innovation, marketing and product development including consumer insights, Schorr says.
Schorr says Crayola surrounds itself with partners “that bring real expertise to the table.” An example of this is Crayola’s partnership with the Madame Alexander Doll Company, announced in early 2015. “The company brings a deep understanding of what girls need from dolls and doll play,” Schorr says. “Their commitment to quality and their connection with their consumer is as strong as Crayola.”
“Together, the companies created a design-your-own doll line that embodied two play patterns and a storyline that rooted the characters in the creative play represented by both brands,” Schorr says. “Each doll represents a creative activity such as song, dance, art or poetry and has wings and outfits that can be customized with Crayola products.”
Crayola further extends into the tween marketplace with a variety of products and licensees, including a partnership with Fashion Angels, a leading tween girl lifestyle company. Under the agreement, the two companies will collaborate and co-create new innovative craft and activity lifestyle products targeted to tweens.
Schorr describes the agreement as a partnership at a deeper level. “We each bring innovation, trends and insights to co-create a best-in-class joint assortment,” he explains. “Crayola will continue to innovate, design and manufacture the drivers, and Fashion Angels will design and manufacture the related accessories and complimentary craft activities. The co-developed portfolio of products will be jointly presented and sold into a unified retail display.”
Crayola also has a licensing agreement with bedding manufacturer SIScovers to design and manufacturer Crayola-branded bedding collections. The line includes quilted comforter sets, duvet covers, decorative pillows, draperies and sheet sets in patterns and solids utilizing hues from the Crayola palette.
The partnership meshes well with the licensing agreement Crayola has with Magnussen Home Furnishings to develop a youth bedroom line that launches with Raymour & Flanigan furniture store in June. “Like many other Crayola offerings, the furniture line was designed to reflect our brand positioning through products that foster children’s creativity,” Schorr says.
Pieces offer functional elements that allow children to create and display artwork. They also have storage for art supplies. Examples of Crayola colors are found in the beds and accent pieces. The furniture includes twin and full-sized beds, dressers, mirrors, nightstands and chests. A media chest, student desk, chair and hutch also are available.
“The furniture line gives children a role in the design of their bedrooms, Schorr says. “The line is flexible enough to grow up with them.”
‘I Am Color’
Crayola’s brand extensions are not limited to the development of products for children. The company recently teamed with Bloomingdale’s for an iconic spring promotion “I Am Color,” inspired by artist Herb Williams. The campaign included fashion collaborations with 12 fashion designers, such as Rebecca Minkoff, Trina Turk and Cynthia Rowley.
It was highlighted by a publicity campaign, advertising, in-store shops, events and the run of Lexington Avenue windows at the flagship New York City store, featuring sculptures of the dresses and displays constructed from 18,000 crayons.
Schorr says the campaign was a major success. “We express ourselves when we dress and how we accessorize,” he says. “Five generations have grown up with our colors and have relationships with specific colors or palettes that help define them. So we are providing consumer solutions that help them express this with our ‘I Am Color’ campaign.”
Crayola also has partnered with Zalemark to create a jewelry line featuring Crayola colors in several uniquely designed pieces. The Crayola Fine Jewelry collection will debut in June and feature both fashion and high-end fine jewelry.
As the technology landscape evolves, Crayola is focused on providing innovative ways to spark children’s creativity and help them seamlessly transition from the offline world to blended physical to digital experiences, Schorr says.
Crayola’s digital offering, Color Alive, is the first augmented reality product in the company’s growing digital portfolio, Schorr says. “Our blended-experience products are a big piece of our interactive strategy but also an extension of our overall creative products strategy. We now live in a world where technology affects almost every aspect of our lives,” he says.
“We want our children to be more than passive observers,” Schorr continues. “We want them to be active creators, and because creativity is an essential skill for their future, we need to build products that help teach, nurture and experience this skill. We continue to focus on the interactive space and also our partnerships with the biggest and best companies in the technology industry to ensure we are always on the cutting edge of creativity.”
Partnering with 4-D company Daqri, Color Alive features offline and online play experiences through color and 4-D technology, allowing children to bring their coloring to life. An additional partnership with 3D Systems will allow children to turn their Color Alive coloring pages into 3-D collectible statues.
Color Alive is available in five coloring books: Mythical Creatures, Enchanted Garden, Skylanders, Monster High and Barbie. Children activate the 4-D experience through the Color Alive application by aiming their device’s camera at the colored page to bring their unique drawing to life. The application is available on iOS, Android and Windows smartphones and tablets, as well as iPod Touch.
Color Alive follows the launch of other digital offerings, including the Virtual Design Pro line, which also merges offline creativity with a virtual experience and digital-only applications, such as the successful line of apps from Budge and Legacy Games.
While relationships with Crayola and its partners have played a big role in the company’s success, cultivating those relationships takes time, Schorr says. “We always seek a long-term commitment to the brand,” he says. “As a brand, we are a slow-build proposition because we aren’t built on the back of a tent-pole movie set or a celebrity’s fame.”
“The brand has been around since 1903,” he adds. “Sometimes it takes the commitment to several rounds of attempts and perseverance to see the rewards. However, those licensees who have been with us for many years can attest to the benefits of sticking with it. We may not always be our partners’ biggest partner, but we can strive to be their best.”