Parp-Parp! Noddy drives towards global domination

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The Independent Online

Noddy, the popular children's character created by Enid Blyton, lives, of course, in the fantasy world of Toyland, with friends such as Big Ears, a gnome and Mr Plod, the policeman. But despite being wooden and driving a car that goes "Parp-Parp!", he is achieving global domination.

In a branding and marketing operation that is anything but Toyland in nature, Noddy, who first appeared in print in 1949, is now available to children in 130 countries and is worth £65m. That represents a pretty good return for Chorion, the branding rights organisation which bought the Noddy name for £13m in 1996.

Chorion announced a deal this week to sell Noddy's latest series of 100-computer animated films to Germany through the Nickelodeon channel; it broadcasts to 86 per cent of homes in Germany and has 32 million customers there, in Austria and in the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland. Noddy was launched, not successfully, in Germany in the 1960s when he was known as Purzelknirps. In future, he will revert to his English name.

Germany is the last of the five major consumer areas targeted by Chorion for relaunching Noddy through the lucrative television series, which acts as a springboard for tie-in sales of books and toys. His shows were broadcast for the first time in Japan and China last year, while new deals were signed for the US and France, where he has long been a favourite. Known there as Oui-Oui, he is considered French by children. Noddy has been translated into 40 languages and three million books are sold each year.

In Britain, Noddy is shown five days a week on channel Five, which recently signed a deal to show it until 2012; there are about 50 licensed Noddy products in the UK, from toys to pyjamas, and the brand's value rose by 50 per cent in 2004 compared with the previous year.

"Noddy is such a success because he is an engaging, fun character who clearly crosses all boundaries and appeals to children and adults," said Donna Price, the chairwoman of the Kids Superbrands Council, an offshoot of the Superbrands organisation, the independent arbiter of branding. "And he has been carefully updated without losing any of his essential qualities."

The success of Noddy underlines the power of such leading children's brands. HIT Entertainment, the owner of the Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine brands, is worth almost £150m; it also owns part of the Sprout television channel which shows Noddy in the US. Elsewhere, the Tweenies television series has generated millions of pounds for the BBC.

Ms Price said: "I think these companies show that if you get it right with a children's brand, it is extremely powerful, particularly among under-fives. Once the passion of a two- or three-year-old has been roused, it is all- consuming and can spread across a number of platforms - from books and films to clothes. But you have to engage parents as well."

The Noddy brand has helped turn Chorioninto a success story, its profits have risen 35 per cent in 2004 and its share price increased from 250p to 325p over the past year. It also owns the Mr Men brand and recently bought the rights to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. All of the other Enid Blyton books, such as the Famous Five and Secret Seven series, come under its wing, as does the literary estate of Agatha Christie.

Not everyone is convinced of the virtues of the little man from Toyland. "I really don't think he has any relevance any more," said Mary Hoffman, an author and critic who runs an online review magazine for children's books. "There are so many better books for children today. Just because Noddy is a global brand doesn't mean he's any good."

Success story

* Noddy's first book, Noddy Goes to Toyland, was published in 1949. In 1954, ITV screened the UK's first Noddy series.

* Noddy is broadcast in 115 countries and the books have been translated into 40 languages.

* France was the first overseas country to take to Noddy. He attracts an average audience share of 36 per cent on his daily show on channel France 5. Sixty Noddy books are on sale in France and sales have risen 40 per cent in the past year.

* He is Nonty in Greece and Zvonko in Croatia.