With the exception of Diet Coke and its siblings, most brand extensions don’t arrive 80 years after the original. And few are as polarizing as the new collection of Winnie the Pooh stories, which introduces Lottie, a sassy otter, to the furry folks at the Hundred Acre Wood.
Authorized book sequels, commissioned after the original authors have died, are uncommon, and noteworthy; examples include a pair of Gone With the Wind sequels by separate authors as well as two updates to The Godfather by Mark Winegardner. What the original sources have in common is that they were adapted into films, where they enjoyed a much wider audience than the print material, and the announcement of new content delivered the same kind of publicity and backlash that greeted New Coke.
Like the return of Scarlett O’Hara and Vito Corleone, the new Pooh has forced fans to choose sides. Majorie Miller, an editorial writer at the Los Angeles Times, complains, “Literature belongs to its era and can't simply be added to decades later, especially after the author has died. Call me cranky, but I don’t think we need another Pooh book.” On the other hand, Rebekah Denn in the Christian Science Monitor admits, “It doesn’t seem so bad to add one lovingly researched, long-considered work to the authorized canon – otter and all.”
Will the latest chapter of Winnie the Pooh stories dilute the Pooh brand? Probably not, considering the Walt Dinsey Company already took Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and the rest in directions unimagined by A.A. Milne, who died five years before Disney paid for licensing rights to the stories. The stories are, after all, approved by the Pooh Properties Trust, so it’s not a situation like reclusive nonagenarian J.D. Salinger thwarting the publication of yet another unauthorized Catcher in the Rye sequel.
In fact, 21st century marketing techniques, including bookstore “Pooh-tiques” and a branded minisite, will only increase the appeal and shelf life of the beloved characters to new generations of fans.
And that would make even Eeyore smile.