Why the Peanuts Gang Is Surging in Popularity After So Many Years

You're a good (65-year-old) brand, Charlie Brown

There's an ambitious gal running for president who was never satisfied with the idea of being first lady. She's sharp, decisive and, by her own admission, "a little bossy." She looks forward to bursting through the glass ceiling at the White House. Do you know her name?

It's Lucy van Pelt.

The advice-dispensing Peanuts character may not seem like such an outrageous choice for the nation's highest office right about now. Or there's her football-fumbling frenemy, Charlie Brown, or his streetwise dog, Snoopy, also known as Joe Cool. The point is: You have options, people.

For a partnership with Rock the Vote, the Peanuts characters are staging their own mock elections, complete with campaign platforms. (Lucy's promise: Crabbiness you can count on!) Several dozen celebrities, including Aisha Tyler, John Oliver and Whoopi Goldberg, have weighed in on the fictional race in public service announcements. Those tongue-in-cheek videos, which facilitate voter registration, have pulled in nearly 600,000 views on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

The timely, flag-waving content is part of a larger effort around Peanuts, a beloved 65-year-old entertainment property that's seeing its popularity surge in the wake of a $250 million blockbuster movie last year and a new hit TV series that launched this summer.

The current promotions include digital and real-world events. Its caretakers, dubbed Peanuts Worldwide, have linked with nearly 100 farms around the country for character-centric corn mazes this fall and winter. The activities, with costumed character appearances and screenings, tout the 50th anniversary of the classic Halloween-pegged TV special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and have been drawing sizeable crowds from California to Florida to Canada.

"We're always looking for new and innovative ways to stay relevant," said Melissa Menta, svp, marketing and communications, Peanuts Worldwide, co-owned by Iconix Brand Group and Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, the creator's family. "But everything we do has to be true to the brand."

         

        Nearly 100 farms have created Peanuts' character-centric corn mazes.

And that brand DNA is "soft and sweet," said Roz Nowicki, evp, Peanuts Worldwide, "but also terribly honest and not always what we would consider PC these days," referring to the frequent "blockhead" insults hurled at Charlie Brown. It's warm and fuzzy but not toothless, in other words.

That may be one reason the property has endured for decades and appeals to different demographic groups, attracting 14 million social media followers and winning an Emmy last month for the holiday special, It's Your 50th Christmas, Charlie Brown, that featured pop culture stars (and the Obamas) waxing nostalgic about the story of Charlie Brown's spindly Christmas tree.

The Peanuts Movie, while rendering the characters in computer-generated animation for the first time and using contemporary pop artists along with Vince Guaraldi music, retained an innocent, throwback feel. None of the kids had smartphones or Twitter accounts. The same is true of the new television series, with premiered in May on Cartoon Network and Boomerang and, after strong ratings, bumped up to two airings a day.

The property has the ultimate brand stewards in the Schulz family, according to Marty Brochstein, svp, industry relations, Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. "They're very particular about what they approve," he said, noting that the brand is an evergreen that hasn't been diluted by overexposure or haphazard deals. Nowicki said executives are "equally protective" because they want "a brand that delivers for years to come, financially and emotionally."

Brochstein thinks they're on the right track. "Everything they're doing with the property is pure Americana," he said.

And politics, nonpartisan though they may be, is part of that heritage. Cartoonist and brand mastermind Schulz embedded political themes into the newspaper strip as early as the 1960s. Snoopy ran on a "Paw Power" platform in 1968, in reference to the Flower Power and Black Power movements of the time.

Lucy, in 1960, considered first lady status but then asked, "Why shouldn't I be president myself?" That comic, along with other memorabilia, is on display now as part of an exhibit called Mr. Schulz Goes to Washington at the Schulz museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., north of San Francisco.

This story first appeared in the October 3, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
Click here to subscribe.