Martin Powderly talks working hard and greeting cards as the Happy Jackson brand turns 10

Pigment’s Creative Director, Martin Powderly, on what makes Happy Jackson worth writing home about.

Martin Powderly, you’re Creative Director at the publisher Pigment. First of all… What an interesting surname! Where’s it from?
It may not sound it, but Powderly is an Irish name!

Is that right? I’ve never heard it before… So thank you for being the first Powderly to join us!
You’re welcome!

We have a number of things we can talk about, but I know you’re celebrating ten years as the greetings card licensee for Happy Jackson… For those that don’t know it, what is it?
Happy Jackson is the result of a creative partnership between the designer Heather Flynn, and the writer Giles Andreae…

Those names ring bells… Where might I have heard them?
Heather owns the ever-popular lifestyle brand Alice Scott. Giles is a well-known author and creator of other brands, including Purple Ronnie and Edward Monkton.

Martin Powderly, Pigment
Oh yes! I read out one of his books at a wedding… About two dinosaurs in love! So how did this partnership come about? With Heather and Giles, I mean – not the dinosaurs.

I’d worked closely with Giles and Heather in a previous role as creative lead at Hallmark. In 2012, on joining pigment, we launched the Happy Jackson brand, with the intention of adding a shock of colour and a new voice to our established humour collections. It was a fortunate coincidence that the brand was available, and just what Pigment needed at the time.

How would you describe the brand in its earliest incarnation?
Vibrant, colourful and – editorially – immediately engaging. The range had a super-bright palette and a simple, distinctive aesthetic. It just shouted from the shelves. These huge hits of colour were really energising for customers and sales staff. On top of that, they also offered great retail theatre…

In what way?
A number of retailers put big Happy Jackson displays in their windows… Simply because it made them look so alive; so vibrant and exciting. The range advertised itself. At Pigment, we have our own dedicated independent sales team who eagerly introduced Happy Jackson to many hundreds of retailers across the UK.

With immediate success…
Right. Its meteoric success opened many doors for us. The brand brought a new breadth to our product offer and – in short – doubled the size of our business. Editorially, Giles and Heather used very casual, easy-going, language. It was playful; the kind of language you might use with your best friend. We more or less left them to their own devices, publishing the full range of captions without much interference.

Martin Powderly, Pigment
Great! Perhaps I could catch up with them in an interview as well! Sounds like you were very hands off, though? What was your biggest contribution?

On sales, we were very hands on… On design, yes – we left it to them almost exclusively. I’ve invariably found that too many opinions dilute great ideas. Their vision was clear and we knew we were working with an experienced duo with an established track record… Looking back, I guess our best contribution was making the decision to go big quickly, and not skimp on the quality of the publishing.

Can you give me an example of that?
We invested in specialist finishing… A new matt board that could hold intense colour; a deep emboss and multiple processes… We really believed in this product, and wanted to help create something incredibly attractive.

Were you surprised by the scale of the success?
We were surprised by how quickly Happy Jackson took off. We had to buy another warehouse! Happy Jackson’s product quality, voice and charm make the cards a very easy send… Both for male and female customers, and across a wide age range and variety of captions. It’s one of those rare cases; there is a kind of alchemy that gave the range enormous shelf appeal.

And it still sells well ten years on?
Absolutely! Sometimes a sudden hit can be very flash in the pan… A meteoric rise and an equally quick fall! That hasn’t happened. Ten years on, the brand’s performance remains really high. Inevitably – and understandably – there have been many valiant attempts to emulate its success… I think it’s fair to say, though, that Happy Jackson has managed to stand apart. It’s the original, and still the best in this genre.

Martin Powderly, Pigment
Were there any other elements to that early success that we’ve not spoken about?

Yes… The Happy Jackson aesthetic simply came from creative imperatives… But it quickly became clear that Giles and Heather had designed a brand that was far more commercial than even we’d hoped! We often describe the product as being kind of like your best friend. Also, the quality of a parallel gifting programme really added to the ubiquity of the Happy Jackson brand.

We broadened and updated the card collection every year. This kept it fresh. Then, after five years of growth, we reworked the entire collection with all new editorial, and super fluoro 6-colour print. That technique is more commonplace now, but it was relatively surprising back then. It really reinvigorated sales.

I know that – with every single product – Giles and Heather ask, “What would you really want to say here?” Then, “What’s the most playful, interesting and conversational way of saying it?” And if you can marry that tone with an individual, eye-catching aesthetic, you’ve got a really strong greetings proposition… That can then stay a go-to range for retailers for years to come! It becomes a super-easy buy for a wide range of customers; a range that’s nice to have around and always makes you smile.

And in terms of licensing other brands, Martin, how active are you?
Very! At Pigment, we look for original, expressive, generally non-media brands. Right now, we’re actively looking for original, new adult humour brands. And by adult, I mean they appeal to adults rather than salacious! We’re open to approaches.

Brilliant! Well, thank you for your time on this, Martin; interesting stuff! Final question: what’s the one thing I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
What’s your favourite-ever Happy Jackson product?

Great question! What’s the answer?
I think we’d all have to say it was a bright-yellow pencil case. On the side, it had the wording: PEN ORGY. IN HERE TONIGHT. PENCILS WELCOME TOO.

We thought so! It wasn’t for everyone – but for the retailers who took it, it absolutely flew!

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