There's Big Money in Media Merchandising
When I think of strong examples of merchandising from the entertainment industry, I initially think of KISS, a band that has licensed more than 3,000 different items since its inception in 1973 - selling more than half a billion dollars of merchandise in the last 15 years alone, through Live Nation Merchandise.
I also think of blockbuster movie franchises, like Star Wars, Toy Story, Cars, Harry Potter, and The Avengers, which all have something in common - great toy merchandising. In some cases, toy licensing generates more revenue than the original films. For example, Box Office Mojo estimates that the Star Wars movie franchise (including reissues) has brought in over $4.5 billion in ticket sales, while its toy licensing alone is worth almost triple that at $12 billion.
If your primary audience is kids, or at least kids at heart, licensing your characters and ideas for toys is a natural choice for adding to your revenue stream. According to Bloomberg, if a movie reaches one billion dollars in sales, it’s a safe estimate that toy sales will average $250 to $300 million. With metrics like these in mind, TV producers have amped up production on promotional items tied to popular shows and characters like never before.
Merchandising for TV Shows
As cable TV became a widespread cultural phenomenon, and more so now with the advent of "Peak TV," television producers have sought out innovative new ways to capitalize on the merchandising models the film industry pioneered years earlier. While isolated examples of TV merchandising date back decades (you know you, or someone you knew, had a lunchbox with an image of your favorite TV characters on it), the push to capitalize on merchandise inspired by popular television shows is truly in full swing now.
Not surprisingly, many shows with top merchandise sales are targeted towards children, such as Power Rangers (breaking records in the '90s and still selling $80m in toys in 2012 alone) and Pokemon (originally created by Nintendo for a Game Boy game in 1995, providing a steady source of merchandise sales ever since with about $600 million last year worldwide - before Pokemon GO launched in the US this year.) Still other merchandising success stories have come from cartoons geared for more mature audiences, like The Simpsons or South Park. Largely, merchandise related to shows like these has been predictable - lunchboxes, action figures, etc.
Sadly, my memories of some of my favorite childhood cartoons have become a little tainted over the years thanks to my newfound adult knowledge that many were, in fact, merchandise-driven, essentially designed for the purpose of selling me toys. He-Man and She-Ra, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Hot Wheels, and even Power Rangers! And the list goes on and on...
But what if your (grownup) audience isn't really into toys?
There are always traditional merchandising options like t-shirts, posters, and DVD sets. And you can go all-in (the KISS route) and license anything and everything you can think of. After all, if your show is a big hit and you don't license an official version of something, someone will make a "fan" version and sell it on Etsy or Cafe Press without compensating you at all (just sayin').
As a marketer and a consumer, I really appreciate when TV shows have merchandising that's a little more unique and inspired - as well as targeted and relevant to the context of the show. These days, with TV more popular than ever, great examples abound.
To demonstrate what I mean, here are my top three examples of seriously on-point merchandising ideas from some of my favorite television shows (no cartoons or action figures included).
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Pinot Noir by Tituss
In March of 2016, just in time for the release of Season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix in April, I began seeing promotions for a new line of Pinot Noir wine inspired by the show and being promoted by spokesperson Titus Burgess.
"YAAAS!", I thought to myself. I was excited because I'm a fan of the show and I adore Burgess's character (also named Titus). In particular, I enjoyed the Peeno Noir episode and I found myself singing the Peeno Noir song for days and weeks after seeing it. And I wasn't the only one. The silly song went viral (2.1M+ views on YouTube and counting).
For those of you unfamiliar with the show, here's the YouTube video of the song posted by Netflix on YouTube as a promotion for the first season of the show back in 2015:
As a marketer, I remember watching the Peeno Noir episode and thinking, "They should really sell that wine, I'd buy it!" And then they did, and so I did. And you can too! Buy some Titus Burgess Pino Noir here!
This may be a better example of merchandising as personal branding than merchandising for a TV show, thowever, because it doesn't appear that Titus Burgess actually has to share the profits from his wine company with the show's creators. He's not using the song or other copyrighted materials from the show; he's simply using his name to promote a line of alcohol like many other celebrities. I doubt that Tina Fey minds, anyway - she actually wrote the role of Titus Andromedon with Titus Burgess in mind for the part after working with him on the set of 30 Rock.
Mad Men - Banana Republic Clothing Line
In August 2011, Banana Republic announced it was launching a limited-edition 65-piece line of Mad Men inspired clothing for men and women. Initially, the launch of the clothing line was supposed to coincide with the fifth season premiere of Mad Men on AMC, but the season was delayed. Though the season premiere was pushed back until March 2012, the clothing line still launched.
Mad Men ran for seven seasons and a total of 92 episodes, and the show won many awards including 16 Emmys and five Golden Globes. Critics and fans alike praised the attention to detail paid to the authentic '60s-era set and costume design. The show's producers would have to have been mad to not license a clothing line inspired by the retro styles of the show that everyone admired!
How I Met Your Mother - Not a Father's Day
In November 2008, during season four of the hit CBS show How I Met Your Mother, an episode titled "Not a Father's Day" aired. In this episode, the notoriously promiscuous character Barney Stinson (expertly portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris) experiences a pregnancy scare with one of his conquests, only to later discover that he is "not a father". To celebrate, Barney announces that he is going to create a holiday for people like him called 'Not a Father's Day'. Barney begins to produce some Not a Father's Day merchandise, including T-shirts, mugs, and cards - selling them online and building a large following.
The best part? The producers of HIMYM created a real website at the domain mentioned in the show, NotAFathersDay.com, available as of the episode's original air date to the delight of its viewers. The site featured merchandise tavailable for purchase like mugs and shirts. The site is still live, but there is no longer any merchandise to purchase - although you can still access the postcards as ecards or for printing on your own. (Cafe Press "fan" merch, anyone?)
What are some of your favorite examples of creative TV merchandising? Let me know in the comments below!