Developing merchandise for popular kids’ properties – just part of the focus at Nickelodeon
Any child of the heavily marketing-driven 80s knows that engaging with your favourite TV show was never complete without the T-shirt, PJs, or action figures to go with it. As the merchandising of kids’ properties has matured, the focus for media companies today isn’t just to churn out merchandise-friendly properties. But it does play a key role in the property development.
Nickelodeon’s Mark Kingston manages consumer products at Viacom and is insistent that not every property they develop at Viacom is designed to push sales in toy stores. Instead, Nickelodeon’s approach is far more measured.
“We don’t look at every single show and say ‘how can we make a toy? How can we make a T-shirt out of this?’ Sometimes there’s a natural fit. Obviously we do work with some of our production partners in ensuring that some properties we do bring to the screens have a tangible play pass on it that will provide the opportunity for kids to experience the property off air as well by playing, wearing, eating, and sleeping. We don’t have a key metric that says we must have 50% of our content that is consumer product relevant.
“It comes back to content and storytelling and the relevance of the show and how it could resonate into products,” he explained.
Once a show does make it to air on Nickelodeon, the consumer products team isn’t moving to make sure merchandise is available immediately in stores. Instead, there is at least a year before there is any store availability. Kingston looks to the recent success they have had with Paw Patrol, a property that has just started to receive attention from retailers.
“We were airing Paw Patrol for a year before we started to put products on the shelf. What we’re finding is that we’re getting consumer demand, we’re getting retailers calling us, we’re getting licensees calling us to say ‘What’s Paw Patrol? We’re hearing a lot of demand.’ Retailers now have failed searches functionality on most of their websites. So they can call you and ask, ‘What’s this Paw Patrol property? We keep getting people searching Paw Patrol into our search bar and we can see it on our top 10 failed searches.’ Paw Patrol has come up quickly,” he said.
The recent relaunch of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has yielded a successful animated series and, a few years later, a new movie franchise. The films not only sold their own merchandise, but also lifted sales for the animated series.
Following the recent revival of Star Wars with The Force Awakens, a backlash followed when it became apparent how little merchandise there was featuring the film’s female protagonist, Rey. Kingston insists that the Ninja Turtles franchise is safe from the backlash with the popular April O’Neal character in the mix where branded clothing has performed well.
“We’ve created style guides that are appropriate for young girls, teenagers, and female adults as well. Turtle power is definitely there. We’ve done some great artwork in terms of ‘I date a ninja’ and things like that,” Kingston said.
Image: Jihee Na, Claire O’Connor, Tom Punch, Charlotte Castillo, Mark Kingston