The Mr Men and Little Miss series is getting a new addition as its owner, Sanrio, introduces Little Miss Inventor to coincide with International Woman’s Day.
The new character is the 36th Little Miss to join the iconic children’s franchise and the new book, which launches tomorrow (8 March), is aimed at encouraging young girls to pursue science. Simon Gresswell, Sanrio’s chief operating officer, says the latest addition to the series is part of attempts to give the series a more modern outlook and a realisation that its characters can be used in a positive way, in this case by encouraging girls to consider a career in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM).
“Little Miss Inventor is a way to communicate what young girls can be, especially in the STEM area,” he tells Marketing Week.
“We’re always striving to find new areas to reach out to kids on and the whole area of STEM in education is very important so we created the concept of Little Miss inventor.
“To think about both sexes, to think about gender neutrality, [to think about] how the characters can be used in a positive way rather than purely commercial way has become really important.”
The new book is just one way Sanrio is looking to reach children in new and different ways. It has also run a month-long competition asking children to design a new tool to protect Mr Bump.
It received approximately 850 entries, Gresswell says, and Sanrio will be announcing the winner at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry on 24 March. The child who wins will have their invention immortalised in a book drawn by Adam Hargraves, son of the original writer and illustrator Roger Hargreaves.
Sanrio is also looking at ways to expand the Mr Men and Little Miss universe. Gresswell says it is exploring digital options for the brand, while a film is also under consideration.
“Mr Men historically has had an animation series but they were quite a while ago so we’re now considering a new TV animation series and had some discussions about a movie,” Gresswell says, although he adds that it will take a number of years before either project is green-lighted.
And what does the latest character, Little Miss Inventor, say about the brand as a whole?
“It says endless possibilities,” Gresswell says.
Importance of commercial partners
Another way of expanding the brand is through work with commercial partners. It has previously worked with TfL on posters about etiquette on the tube and with Heathrow on an exclusive character, Mr Adventure.
Gresswell says it is aware of the “unique commercial power” of the brand due to the wide range of characters and is on the lookout for more opportunities. Sanrio also owns franchises including Hello Kitty.
Gresswell says: “Mr Men and Little Miss stand alone within our portfolio we’re lucky to have something like that to try to reach different types of business.“
He cites a current deal with McDonald’s France where the fast food chain is giving away Mr Men and Little Miss toys with Happy Meals as an example of how it can help brands take an ungendered approach. “That’s how our unique aspect of having 90 characters helps promotion.“
Sanrio has also invested in a Mr Men and Little Miss e-commerce store, MrMen.com, which offers merchandise such as mugs as well as options to create customised gifts. Gresswell says: “A lot of people offer customisation where you simply print your name or print your words but we offer shop where you can create a family portrait and pick the different characters out and name them.”