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Melissa & Doug: Licensing, Piece by Piece

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The purpose-driven global toy brand Melissa & Doug has been in the toy industry for decades, but signed their biggest licensing deal only months ago. So, how does a toy brand go from making videos to leaving an indelible mark in the toy business? They played the long game.

Melissa & Doug is a brand that has endeared itself to kids and parents for 30 years. Influenced by their parents, who were educators, to create products that would enrich children’s lives, Melissa & Doug Bernstein left their corporate jobs to launch a home video venture in 1988. A couple of years later, the Bernsteins made the pivot from video to toy manufacturers by creating the Fuzzy Farm Puzzle, a textured wooden puzzle. The puzzle was a success and inspired several more wooden puzzle lines, and in the late ’90s, Melissa & Doug would extend its toy line to include plush toys, wooden toys, arts and crafts, pretend play and much more.

In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, most children’s screen time has drastically increased. From virtually attending school via Google Classroom to watching kid influencers on YouTube during their downtime, the dependency on-screen time is a concern for parents. The New York Times reported that Qustodio, a parental control app, saw that children in the U.S. from ages 4 to 15 spent an average of 97 minutes per day on YouTube in March and April 2020, up from 57 minutes in February 2020, and nearly double the use compared to 2019. The app called this “The Covid Effect,” and parents sought out different ways to keep their children occupied as the pandemic progressed.

For Melissa & Doug, the rise in time spent at home in 2020 meant many parents were looking for ways to engage their kids. Melissa & Doug’s toy line, with its mission to ignite imagination and wonder, invites children to power down and experience hands-on play. In 2020, the company teamed up with the American Academy of Pediatrics to champion the benefits of open-ended play.

“By being home with their kids, parents discovered they needed quality products to help slow down and find those moments when everyone gets off the screen to be able to enjoy time with family,” says Dave Henderson, chief commercial officer, Melissa & Doug. “Whether it’s two of you, four or six of you, you enjoy that time, and you allow the kids to play and engage with quality toys. The company may have benefited during the pandemic, but I think it stays true to our mission.”

To learn more about Melissa & Doug, check out the March Issue of License Global, the Kids' Issue, here. 

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