…Let’s Go Exploring

Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson

I watched a wonderful documentary called Dear Mr. Watterson about Bill Watterson, the genius cartoonist behind Calvin and Hobbes. His strips were both philosophical, wildly imaginative and filled with the most sacred awareness of special moments in life. The movie is like a love letter to Calvin, Hobbes & Bill. 

Watterson is the JD Salinger of our day, refusing any form of publicity. I don’t think anyone has ever interviewed him and he isn't seen in this documentary. His fellow comic strip artists celebrate him with accolades fitting of a hero. Berkley Breathed (Bloom County), Bill Amend (Foxtrot) and Jeane Shultz (widow of Charles "Sparky" Shultz) all make appearances singing his praise and discussing the comic strip business.

Growing up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, he occupies a rare place in American culture in that he didn’t “cash in” on his brand and merchandise or license his characters, Calvin or Hobbes. Besides his books, there aren’t any licensed lunchboxes, t-shirts or plush dolls. Watterson is a purist.

Bill Watterson
When my daughters were young, I would read to them books on all types of topics. But we often came back to reading Calvin and Hobbes. We loved the silly drawings and the crazy antics of Calvin and his imaginary friend. My younger daughter Fanny would take her books into the bathtub to read about Spaceman Spiff and Calvin’s club called G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid of Slimy GirlS). Today these books are some of her most prized possessions with their water stained pages and turned-up corners.

A Marketers View
From a marketing viewpoint, he was committed to having control over his work and didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of Charlie Schultz, the Peanuts creator. Shultz’ estate is estimated to generate more than $100 million dollars per year in income from licensing of merchandise although exact figures are impossible to know.

Watterson wanted Calvin, the six year old mischievous little boy to remain inside the world of the readers imagination. And Hobbes, the tiger who came to life as Calvin’s playmate, was the most natural of plush doll opportunities one could imagine. Yet what remains of his work is the work, not the crassly commercialized product stream that inhabits many children’s shelves.

It is so refreshing when a brand or properties choose not to do the obvious. You marvel at the purity of his purpose. His brand and characters will endure forever in book form and in newspapers as they evolve online without the printed version in the future. His work will stand the test of time  because of this mystery and the power of scarcity. With the world littered with merchandise/junk, Calvin and Hobbes would lose some of that treasure and discovery that is so valuable for an enduring brand. 

His work is all that he wanted to exist and, by stopping at an early age and not creating cheap plastic crap, he create a special aura around his words and pictures. There are over 3,000 strips and each one is precious. 

What could your brand benefit from NOT doing that everyone else does because its an easy and obvious path to make a few bucks. 
  1. How can you differentiate your company by refusing to take the beaten path and just allowing your products or services to have their own rules? 
  2. Could your personal brand also learn a lesson about staking out a list of things you won’t do to chase an extra buck because it conflicts with the “why” of your brand? 
  3. Can NOT doing something be a strong marketing benefit for you with a clear and easy to follow reason? 
  4. What if you didn't have a Facebook page like all your competitors? 
  5. What if you stopped making returns difficult and didn't require someone to jump through "hoops" to return a product?
  6. Imagine if you stop making a beloved product or an edition of that product, so that it only lives on in the memory of your customers? 
In his last comic strip from December 31st, 1995, the last words we see Calvin say are “let’s go exploring!” I wonder what fun those two are having this today?

Bill Watterson - All Rights Reserved 

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