It's a Great Franchise, Charlie Brown

In Wake of Iconix Puchase, Ad Age Looks at the Global Brand Value of the 'Peanuts' Gang

By Published on .

YORK, Pa. ( -- One could argue that the most famous Charlie in history is a silent-film actor, a chocolate factory apprentice or even a YouTube kid who can't stop biting his brother. But no one would argue that lovable loser Charlie Brown doesn't deserve to be in the running.

Last week, the licensing rights to Charlie Brown and the "Peanuts" gang were sold to Iconix Brand Group and the family of the strip's creator Charles Schulz family for $175 million in a cash deal. "Peanuts" joins a brand family at Iconix that includes Joe Boxer, Candie's and London Fog. Iconix will own 80%, while the Schulz family will take 20% in its first ownership role. (The strip was created by Mr. Schulz as an employee of Scripps and therefore it was owned by the media company though the family has, and will continue to have, a revenue-sharing agreement.)

And while it all began in newsprint, Charlie, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy quickly leapt from the printed page to TV specials and programs, feature films, commercials and the packages of innumerable products from T-shirts and lunch boxes to Macy's parade balloons and giant blimps.

Which got us wondering: What's the worth of the 60-year-old Charlie Brown brand and his worldly-wise pack of never-aging adolescents? We found hundreds of "Peanuts" products and replications around the world from the familiar TV shows, books and tchotchkes to theme parks, postage stamps, and concept cafes. As Charlie himself might say, "Good grief!" (And with the new licensing owner in the underwear business, will it be long before it's "Good brief"?)

The comic strip began syndication in just seven newspapers in 1950. The name "Peanuts" was not chosen by Mr. Schulz, who often said he hated the name, but by a United Features Syndicate executive who suggested it as a nod to the children in the "peanut gallery" of the then-popular "The Howdy Doody Show." He preferred his Li'l Folks name, which he had begun as a two-tier strip at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Mr. Schulz wrote and illustrated the strip with no help and almost no vacations. (He took just one month off in 50 years.)

He was paid $90 for the first month's work, although it is estimated he earned more than $1 billion from "Peanuts" in his lifetime and continues to even now. Mr. Schulz is a staple on the annual Forbes' "Top Earning Dead Celebrities," coming in at No. 6 last year ($35 million); No. 2 in 2008 ($33 million) and No. 3 in 2007 ($35 million).

Kodak was the first marketer to use "Peanuts," putting the characters into one of its camera's handbooks in 1955, but Ford Motor Co. was among the first to use Charlie Brown and friends in a TV ad. The early '60s ads had the animated gang extolling the virtues of the Ford Falcon. Another early advertiser was the Dolly Madison bakery, part of Interstate Bakeries Corp., in the late '70s and early '80s, when different "Peanuts" characters appeared on the labels of its snack cakes.

STILL GOING STRONG: The Peanuts Met Life campaign began in the mid-'80s.
STILL GOING STRONG: The Peanuts Met Life campaign began in the mid-'80s.
General Mills featured the "Peanuts" gang in a healthy push for Cheerios in TV ads in the '80s, but another cereal maker, Ralston, got more notice with its "Peanuts" gang "Chex Party Mix" spots in the late '80s and early '90s. The most notable recent push using the characters is the long-running Metropolitan Life campaign, which began in the mid '80s with the entire gang discussing their problems and Met Life giving reassurances. Snoopy is now the most-often featured character.

There are more than 1,200 licensing deals with companies such as Hallmark, CVS, H&M and Old Navy in 40 countries with annual retail sales of more than $2 billion, according to Iconix. The new owner expects to earn $75 million in annual royalty revenue, and said "Peanuts" "provides a large global platform from which we hope to leverage our existing and future brands." According to United Media's, there are 150 licensees in the U.S., 250 in Europe, 200 in Japan, 200 in the rest of Asia, 70 in Latin America and 20 in Australia.

Longtime licensee Hallmark has sold more than 1 billion "Peanuts"-themed greeted cards since 1960, and in fact, one in five cards sold in those stores is a "Peanuts"-licensed card, according to United Features.

There are 17,897 "Peanuts" comic strips. Why such an exact count? They were all drawn by Mr. Schulz, who along with his family, requested that no one else draw or publish the strips. His last comic strip was a short and fond retirement letter with an illustration of Snoopy typing atop his doghouse that he penned on Jan. 3, 2000. Mr. Schulz, who had colon cancer, died on Feb. 12, 2000, at age 77, just hours before the final strip appeared in 2,600 newspapers around the world. The "Peanuts" syndicated strip of the day is still run in 2,200 daily and Sunday papers including USA Today, The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. It can also be viewed online at United Media syndication (which will still be owned by Scripps) at its website,

What started with the "Charlie Brown Christmas" TV special in December 1965 eventually spawned more than 50 animated specials including classics such as "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

TV STARS: The 'Peanuts' gang often appeared in holiday-themed specials.
TV STARS: The 'Peanuts' gang often appeared in holiday-themed specials.
The original Christmas classic -- with an overtly religious theme that almost got it spiked before its first CBS airing -- is still the "Peanuts" gang's biggest hit. It garnered a 50% audience share on the first night it was shown, later won an Emmy and a Peabody award, and is the longest-running animated cartoon special.

ABC owns the rights to air the shows on its network, while Warner Home Video handles worldwide distribution of the DVDs and videos, as well as "short-form content for mobile, web and video on-demand platforms," according to United Features.

"Peanuts'" influence on artists and content creators is apparent in the many references to it in other cartoons, music, TV and even internet videos. The gang has been satirized on "Saturday Night Live," Mad magazine and MadTV, of course, but also referenced in sitcoms and dramas from "West Wing" to "Malcolm in the Middle." An organized Charles Schulz tribute on May 27, 2000, garnered dozens of daily comic strips with "Peanuts" themes and mentions in newspapers that day. More than 400 art pieces by strip and editorial cartoonists from around the world paid tribute to Mr. Schulz and the characters, according to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., which maintains a permanent display of the works.

While the "Peanuts" characters are known globally, the gang is especially popular in Asia. In Japan, there are Snoopy Town Shops, Snoopy-themed cafes, and a popular Snoopy Studios attraction at Universal Studios Japan. Important licensees in Japan include Honda, Baskin Robbins and Sanrio (the licensee of Hello Kitty.) In China and Taiwan, there are more than 2,000 branded-retail outlets for "Peanuts," including Charlie Brown Caf├ęs, Snoopy Bakeries and Snoopy fashion stores. Key licensees in Asia include 7-11, Pepsi and Wellcome stores. In Latin America, the gang has major deals with Sears and Walmart, and in Australia, with Hungry Jacks and Kmart.

Can you think of "Peanuts" TV shows without recalling the catchy jazz riffs and upbeat infectious melodies? Jazz pianist and composer Vince Guaraldi scored the music for the original Charlie Brown Christmas special, and for 15 of the specials that followed. He died at 47, a few weeks before his last Charlie Brown-scored show, "It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown," debuted on TV. Mr. Guaraldi's most well-known "Peanuts" songs include "Linus and Lucy," (often referred to as the main theme song of the "Peanuts") "Christmastime Is Here," and "A Boy Named Charlie Brown." Mr. Guaraldi, who won a Grammy two years before he started working for "Peanuts," would go on to sell millions of Charlie Brown discs ("A Charlie Brown Christmas" went double platinum), get nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score, and continue to sell millions of songs in re-release and previously unreleased material even today.

A "Peanuts" musical, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," opened off- Broadway in 1967, with Gary Burghoff playing Charlie Brown. It was written by Clark Gessner and ran for four years. Since then, according to the Schulz museum, it has become the most-produced musical in America.

Charles Schulz began the "Peanuts" book explosion himself with "Happiness Is a Warm Puppy" in 1962. The book became a New York Times bestseller, spending 45 weeks on the list, and was followed by similar titles from Mr. Schulz with a similar format of original artwork and simple sayings. Those included "Love Is Walking Hand in Hand," "Security Is a Thumb and a Blanket," and "Home Is on Top of a Dog House."

Many of the strips themselves have been reprinted in book anthologies; however, only one publisher, Fantagraphics Books, is attempting to publish all 17,897 of them. The publisher will put out "The Complete 'Peanuts'" in a series of 25 books chronicling all 50 years of Mr. Schulz's work at the rate of two each year. The project began in 2004 and will finish in 2016.

In this article:
Most Popular