Can you hear him now?

Gromit is expanding his role beyond his regular gigs as our favorite stop-motion movie pup and taking up residence as a cultural icon.

According to the Times Online, Gromit is stepping up his visibility by listening for his master’s voice:

Nipper the terrier is being replaced this week by Gromit, the Plasticine dog from the Wallace and Gromit animated series.

The original image is based on a 19th century painting by Francis Barraud. Nipper was supposed to be listening to a recording of his dead owner. Hence the name given to the picture: His Master’s Voice.

Over the past century it has been adopted as a logo by different record companies in Britain, the United States and Japan, and by HMV, the world’s biggest chain of record stores.

This week the HMV group is switching to Gromit.

While this might not be terribly surprising marketing news—in and of itself—the details of the deal are:

It is a unique marketing deal in which no money has changed hands.

HMV is to use the Gromit image in the windows of its 220 stores and in advertisements in the press and on the London Underground for the next three months as part of a collaboration with Oscar-winning Aardman Animations, the maker of Wallace and Gromit and films such as Chicken Run and Flushed Away.

The chain decided on the change to refresh its image and to attract younger customers.

Aardman’s Nick Park, the film maker behind Wallace and Gromit, agreed to spend three weeks overseeing the sculpture of a new 4in-high model of the dog listening to a gramophone. Aardman believes the association will boost sales of DVDs of Gromit’s films and its other titles.

“It’s a great honour to be stepping in the same pawprints as an icon as big as Nipper,” said Park last week. “Gromit will look after the seat for as long as Nipper allows.”

While a few months ago industry critics might have seen such a move as desperate (no one was sure of Aardman Animation’s fate after the much-publicized split from DreamWorks), on the heels of the announcement that Aardman has signed a 3-year deal with Sony Pictures, this news feels more like a stroke of marketing genius. Could Aardman have reaped financial benefits in charging for the use of Gromit’s image? Certainly. In offering him up for free, however, Nick Park looks like a cross between a saint and a sure thing. It’s sheer brilliance, not to mention that now fans will get to see that adorable clay face in a lot more places.

Congrats on a great deal all around to both Aardman and HMV. Now, when can we expect the next Wallace and Gromit masterpiece, Mr. Park?

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