So Goes Your Mind Goes the World Around You
He saw a Mickey Mouse animation drawing and founded a business. He walked by a window with vintage Cocoa-Cola machines and created an advertising empire. He laughed with a friend about the “what if’s” when you morphed a rubber ducks with a person and has created a sensation.
After college, one day while walking aimlessly around a store yet having no particular interest in anything, Craig Wolfe saw a picture of an original Mickey Mouse animation drawing. These are the drawings they actually used to create the animation color cels used in the final Disney cartoon that are viewed on the big screen.
“I was blown away and fell in love with the raw passion in the artwork itself! Something about that drawing got all my creative juices going. I sourced out the best places to buy these vintage original hand-done animation Disney animation drawings from the 1920s and 1930’s and a business was born. I began to buy and sell these drawings and started the company, Name That Toon, Inc.”
Name That Toon, Inc. was Craig’s first business. As it kept growing, he realized that there was the possibility to open galleries in Europe to market animation art since it really had not been done. He moved overseas and opened galleries in England, Germany, and Holland. He secured the rights to market the California Raisin artwork from Will Vinton Studios in Portland, Oregon, who created the Raisin characters.
Craig moved back to Portland and opened up “this really far out museum/gallery with all these displays from computer animation and clay animation studios.”
One day Craig put in a bid to market the Simpsons artwork, but he didn’t get the contract. Although disappointed, he had a major revelation while walking by a window display of vintage Coca-Cola machines.
“It was like an epiphany,” Craig said. “Why was there not a market for the brilliant artwork from television commercials.”
At that time the Coca-Cola Polar Bears were just hitting the airwaves so Craig contacted Coke to try and describe what he was thinking. Coke had never marketed their artwork from their commercials before. “There was also the added issue that the artwork was done on computer and how do you get it onto to acetate like a Disney animation cel? To make a long story short, we eventually worked out a deal and within two years we became the largest publisher of advertising/animation art in the world, creating the first ever animation art lines for Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Bush, M&M/Mars, Pillsbury, Kelloggs, Hershey, etc. , etc. We even did it for Nike. We had quite a run there.”
Craig credits the success of that business venture with just following his heart.
“When I finally figured out what moved me emotionally, I went right for it. It just took me a while to figure out what I was truly passionate about.”
“I swear [the celebrity rubber duck] looked more like Iverson than he did. I mean we matched his tattoos on those little duck arms exactly! The promotion was a huge hit and got lots of media attention…. The PR was fantastic. Suddenly I had a whole new company on my hands.”
Craig loved doing the animation art, but in reality wanted to create his own brand. During an evening with friends, one of the people there (a bit inebriated) had the thought of creating ducks that looked like famous people. They also recognized that anything is made funnier by adding a duck to it. Craig had the money from his previous business ventures to begin this, and so he called King Features who owned the rights to Betty Boop and got hold of the head of licensing.
“We told her our idea. It was clear she thought she was talking to a crazy person, but tried to be polite and told us to go make one and come back to her figuring she would never hear from us again. But we actually found someone to make one overseas and sent it to her months later. One day I came in and there was a message on the phone saying that she got it and they all thought it was very cute and wanted to talk. And the rest, as they say, is history. We did Betty as our first duck and to this day I still call this licensing person the patron saint of CelebriDucks and Betty is still in the line and always one of our top selling ducks.”
CelebriDucks big break came one day when the vice-president of the Philadelphia 76ers read about them in a small paper in Atlantic City. He got in touch with Craig and asked CelebriDucks to create an Allen Iverson Duck complete with cornrows, earring, tattoos, etc. When they finished that duck, “I swear it looked more like Iverson than he did. I mean we matched his tattoos on those little duck arms exactly! The promotion was a huge hit and got lots of media attention….and then we did them for so many major sports franchises and corporations. The PR was fantastic. Suddenly I had a whole new company on my hands. I decided I couldn’t really run them both so sold off the animation part…and thus we became all ducks.”
Today CelebriDucks markets itself as the original creator of the first ever celebrity rubber ducks of the greatest icons of film, music, athletics, and history. They have produced CelebriDucks for the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL, NASCAR, NCAA collegiate mascots and also famous people such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, The Wizard of Oz, Michael Jackson, James Dean, KISS, Barack Obama, James Brown, The Blues Brothers, Mr. T, Shakespeare, etc. To date they have created over 200 different CelebriDucks and have pioneered a whole new collectible.
ESPN ran a poll on their website for the fan’s favorite stadium give-a-way and CelebriDucks beat out Beanie Babies, Bobbleheads, Pez Dispensers, Lunch Boxes, and Match Box cars. Their ducks have been used by numerous teams in the NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball such as The Yankees, The Philadelphia 76ers, The Houston Rockets, The Chicago Cubs, and many many others which can be seen in the custom duck section on their website. Their promotional sporting events have been sponsored by companies such as Reebok, Dr. Pepper, Gatorade, AOL/TimeWarner, Southwest Airlines, Arby’s, Adidas, Mountain Dew, Chevrolet, Sprite, Dodge, Clarinex, Suburu, Pepsi, Office Depot, Sierra Mist, and many others.
Sometimes Craig runs up against celebrities who are not so willing to share their image. “You know it happens....but rarely. It's usually more a matter of us not wanting to pay the amount of money they are asking. And some licenses take a long time. It took us ten years, yes ten...to get Elvis! And then they approved us to do one edition and it immediately sold out. They had us do another one and the same thing, sold out. And recently they came back to us to see about adding another one and thus we just released our third edition, the Elvis gold lame! Michael (Jackson) will be here this October. We actually had already been negotiating with his licensing agency in Germany for years.”
Craig also has his personal favorites as far as celebrities to work with, “I think I would have to say Mr. T. I mean he and his agent were great...even had us draw up the contract. And you know he remains one of our best selling ducks worldwide! He's always been very playful with it...great guy!”
Craig draws his inspiration from other business success stories. Ben and Jerry’s, Disney, Mondovi, Starbucks, Hershey, Scharffenberger chocolates. What draws Craig to these success stories is the innocence of their beginnings before they become so large and thus more corporate. “The Starbuck’s story as told by Schultz is fascinating as are the stories of Ben and Jerry’s, M&M/Mars, Hershey, Coca-Cola, Disney, etc. However, in many ways they are different companies today from the innocent vision and heart that you felt back when the founders began to develop their passion and their brand. Oh sure they had their issues and were far from perfect…but in the beginning, it was remarkable how it all developed from one seed of inspiration….so I love reading about the conception of all these great brands; today perhaps the corporate structure has become more dominant…but the kernel of what created it all is still very, very inspiring.”
And now there will more ducks to add to Craig’s business pond. He is moving into the world of chocolate. “In the great depression, chocolate was a growth industry. But actually we were working on a Hershey Kiss duck for Hershey. The licensing department loved it...it was so cute...a little duck coming out of the foil. And the buyer for the Times Square and Hershey main company stores loved it and was all set to put it in. It was a slam-dunk. However, at the last minute the brand manager for Kisses didn't quite get the rubber duck concept, which surprised us all. But it also served to inspire me to create our own chocolate brand and our own chocolate themed duck to go with it and even build a whole program where people could send a duck and chocolate and a personalized note to anyone in the country. Canard is French for duck. The brand is Cocoa Canard. So people can now send...that's right...Canard grams!!”
Craig has advice for anyone interested in succeeding in life. “Never take anything too seriously…no matter what…so goes your mind goes the world around you. Nothing is forever, so enjoy what you do…..take risks…but take calculated risks. Get as much input as possible from as many people as possible for what you do. Your mind, attitude, disposition, greatly affect the way things tend to unfold around you and your business.”
Advice easily accepted from a man who has proven himself time and time again with his vision and success in the business world.
Check out your favorite celebrity ducks on the website including Elvis, Michael Jackson, and other Hall of Fame Ducktees! http://www.celebriducks.com
Thank you Craig, for sharing your Story with us.
Our Stories and pictures are the sole copyright of their Authors and may not be reprinted or used without their permission.
© 2009 by Julianne Barclay and Story of My Life