Much like the metamorphosis of one very hungry caterpillar into a butterfly, the best-selling children’s book by Eric Carle has steadily evolved into an evergreen brand that continues to captivate audiences to this day.
The book is sold every 15 seconds around the world, with worldwide book sales seeing a 28 percent increase since 2013. This year, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (VHC) celebrates its 50th anniversary.
While many brands today rely heavily on social media to raise brand awareness, the Eric Carle classic has become a staple in homes and classrooms because it has so many timeless touchpoints to it—nature, healthy eating, exploration, as well as introducing basic colors, shapes, numbers, etc. It may not be a book intended to teach, but that’s exactly what Carle achieved through his use of simple and minimal words paired with vibrant art.
These are the characteristics that The World of Eric Carle’s brand management agency The Joester Loria Group (JLG) has thoughtfully applied to create a 360-degree approach for the brand, from promotions and live events to consumer products and beyond.
“In the book, the caterpillar goes on a journey, learning the importance of choices including the foods he elects to eat along the way,” says Debra Joester, president and CEO. “The simplicity and rhythm of the writing is enchanting, and the art is truly unique and beautiful. Eric’s work has a timeless, childlike quality that children have be drawn to for 50 years, as generation after generation picks up the book asking to have it read over and over again.”
The Teachings of a Young Caterpillar
Among the brand’s educational initiatives, its four-year partner Touch Press created an assortment of VHC apps, with one that even brings the caterpillar into the real world through AR. Thus far, these apps have garnered more than 6.5 million downloads and been heavily supported by Apple, including call-outs in Tim Cook’s keynote presentations. Likewise, Young Minds Inspired (YMI) executed a 50th birthday preschool curriculum program in the U.S. with multi-curriculum options and activities based on The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which has been distributed to roughly 75,000 teachers and reached more than 4 million children and families.
The brand’s subtle messages on healthy eating is another area of focus. Prior to Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, a three-year program there featured branded cereals and juices. Since then, its juice business transitioned to Smucker’s with additional juice programs run in the UK with Cawston Press. In Germany, the brand’s First 1,000 Days initiative with Milupa (a division of Dannon) is in its fourth year, focused on educating new moms to take care of themselves and what they eat, and do the same for their newborns.
The World of The Very Hungry Caterpillar
VHC is a story that transcends borders and continues to afford the brand new opportunities to engage with audiences worldwide. Japan, for example, has long been a top market for the brand, which holds the No. 1 children’s book spot by an international author. There, J.S. Pancake’s 14 locations featured a VHC-inspired children’s menu of healthy options that were also modeled visually after Carle’s art. Freshness Burger also kicked off a pop-up café with the brand last January that evolved into a featured kids’ menu across about 20 percent of its locations running through November. China is now moving along a similar trajectory for the brand, bolstered by large-scale VHC installations in malls first in Shanghai and now in Hong Kong (beginning in August).
A Natural Fit
Finding naturally fitting partners is never an easy process, and JLG is very careful of the partnerships it chooses. Of course, some areas are still easier than others. And tying the brand back to nature and exploration is one such global focus. In the UK, the Royal Horticultural Society kicks off a program next month, which will feature VHC installations in four of its gardens as well as in its flower shows through September. In Germany, a partnership with NABU’s insect conservation launched this spring that will run through 2020. And in the U.S., there are ongoing partnerships with butterfly conservancies as well as zoos and aquariums. JLG has also found many opportunities to tie these themes into the toy aisles as well. “Our toys partners have done a really good job recognizing that this property is unique and has certain underlying messages and opportunities that are appropriate for what Eric’s works are about,” says Joester.
Kids Preferred offers multiple early development products. Highlighted here is The Very Hungry Caterpillar gardening line, which has spawned additional gardening product distribution worldwide since its launch.
Jay Franco launched a new bedding and room décor collection exclusively at Target in May.
Long-time retail partner JOJO Maman Bébé launches its first VHC apparel DTR collection this year.