Images of cute cats and dogs are always welcomed distractions; entire blogs are dedicated to that well-known fact. But when it comes to selling products based on the adorableness and wonder of the animal world, those products have to resonate a little deeper to win over consumers’ dollars. A balance of emotional connection and useful and/or on-trend products can be difficult to master, but once done, it can be wildly successful. The effectiveness of that strategy is probably no better displayed than in a recent April Fools’ joke turned actual opportunity.
“Just before April Fools’ Day, American Eagle Outfitters created a line called American Beagle, and it was supposed to be an April Fools’ promotion,” says Helene Gordon, senior director of licensing and retail development for the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®). “For every transaction made during that week up to April 1, we got $1.”
The charitable cause-shopping event was promoted as a pre-celebration for a line of pet clothes that American Eagle would “launch.” Once April 1 rolled around and the light prank was revealed, American Eagle had not only raised $100,000 for ASPCA, but also raised considerable interest in the faux fashion line.
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Not many people say they have fun at work, but Robert Berman, the president and CEO of Rasta Imposta, does. “I think every day is fun, even if faced with challenges – I love coming to work and my job,” he says.
That is not surprising, considering Rasta Imposta’s business. Based in Runnemede, N.J., the company manufactures costumes for adults and children. “We put the happy in Halloween,” Berman says.
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With the profusion of videos and photos of cats, dogs and exotic pets on the Internet, one would think the market for cute animal photos would be saturated. But photos in which the animal is clearly happy and the product designed around that image is innovative – combined with the latest technology such as virtual reality and 3-D designs – are more rare.
Photographer Myrna Huijing, owner of Studio Pets by Myrna – a five-person photo, design and licensing firm in Aalsmeer, The Netherlands – sensed she was onto something five years ago when reaction to her first project, a line of pet greeting cards, was very positive.
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There is no denying the power of the brands in the Mars Retail Group (MRG) portfolio. Having gone through a major transformation several years ago and becoming responsible for managing the licensing division of Mars Inc., MRG has continued to break new ground as it strives to build on already existing consumer demand for its products.
“We’ve been fortunate to have such highly recognizable brands and characters that consumers of all ages connect with,” says John Capizzi, general manager of licensing for MRG.
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Born in April 2012, Grumpy Cat’s real name is Tardar Sauce. She is a female cat that appears permanently grumpy because she has feline dwarfism. Her celebrity status has grown ever since her owner’s brother posted a picture of Grumpy Cat on Reddit in September 2012.
In January 2013, Grumpy Cat Inc. Corp. Ohio applied to trademark the “Grumpy Cat” phrase, as well as an image of the cat. Managing Grumpy Cat is Ben Lashes, an experienced Internet meme talent manager who specializes in cats and also represents Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat. In response to the explosion in Grumpy Cat’s popularity, her owner, Tabatha Bundesen, has taken a leave of absence from work to manage the cat’s schedule. Her brother Bryan – the man who posted the first Grumpy Cat photo on Reddit - manages Grumpy Cat’s website, as well as her Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages.
Building a Following
Ever since the first Grumpy Cat photo found its way onto the web, the Grumpy Cat phenomenon has grown. The original photo became an image macro featuring different captions, and Grumpy Cat’s online presence has grown by leaps and bounds over time.
"The Official Grumpy Cat" Facebook page has grown to more then 2 million likes, while the @RealGrumpyCat Twitter page has more than 120,000 followers. “The Official Grumpy Cat” YouTube channel has nearly 145,000 subscribers, and the original Grumpy Cat video has more than 13 million views. Grumpy Cat also appeared in episodes of the Friskies YouTube game show "Will Kitty Play With It?"
Licensed merchandise and books have taken off as Grumpy Cat’s popularity has expanded. Chronicle Books published the official Grumpy Cat book in July 2013, titled Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book. Available in print and digital formats from retailers worldwide, it debuted as No. 8 on Hardcover Nonfiction on Publishers Weekly's bestseller list and as No. 7 on the New York Times Best Seller List. Chronicle Books also published The Grumpy Cat 2014 Wall Calendar in July 2013.
As for merchandise such as t-shirts and mugs, they are advertised on the Grumpy Cat website and sold at Hot Topic. Other items, like plush toys, are in development. Grumpy Cat has even reached into the food and beverage space, as Grenade Beverage LLC makes Grumpy Cat "Grumpuccino" iced coffee beverages.
Out and About
Grumpy Cat has also found her image and presence expanding through traditional media. In fact, various news outlets have picked up on the story of Grumpy Cat. In print media, she has been featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and the cover of New York Magazine. She has also been featured in Time and Forbes. On television, Grumpy Cat has appeared on Today, Good Morning America, CBS Evening News, Anderson Live, VH1's Big Morning Buzz Live and The Soup.
Additionally, Grumpy Cat was in the Lil Bub & Friendz documentary, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2013. The film won the Tribeca Online Festival Best Feature Film.
Personal appearances have also been a large part of continuing to build on Grumpy Cat’s viral success story. In March 2013, Grumpy Cat attended SXSW Interactive. CNN, CBS and CNET all called Grumpy Cat the biggest star of SXSW Interactive 2013.
Grumpy Cat has also appeared on the "Garage Logic" radio broadcast during the second annual Internet Cat Video Film Festival at the Minnesota State Fair in August 2013. Grumpy Cat also met up with Lil Bub at the festival.
Recently, Grumpy Cat headed to Disneyland Park in November 2013. She hung out with Grumpy, the dwarf from Snow White, near Sleeping Beauty Castle before heading over to Mickey’s Toontown and Pluto’s house. Her appearance at Disneyland came about as part of the Show Your Disney Side campaign, which invited dozens of Internet celebrities to tour the park.
Appearances have also helped to drive attention to her retail products. For example, Grumpy Cate has promoted Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book at BookExpo America, and she attended the book's launch at Kitson and The Grove's Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles.
Grumpy Cat has already accomplished more in her short life than most cats will accomplish in all nine. MSNBC named Grumpy Cat 2012's most influential cat. She won BuzzFeed's Meme of the Year Award at the 2013 Webby Awards. Grumpy Cat also won first prize Golden Kitty at the second annual Internet Cat Video Film Festival, and she won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Friskies Awards. There may even be a movie in her future, as Broken Road Productions optioned Grumpy Cat for a film adaptation in May 2013.
The shelf life of Internet viral sensations can be short, but Grumpy Cat’s handlers believe they have found something special. By getting the Grumpy Cat likeness onto the right items and getting Grumpy Cat out in front of the right audiences, they feel that the Grumpy Cat phenomenon is here to stay.
When you think about the Warner Bros.-created Looney Tunes gang, constantly outrunning and outwitting one another, it’s a wonder where they get all of that vigor. Bugs Bunny has his carrots, of course, accounting for the 100 percent perfect vision that rabbits enjoy, but what about all of that energy? And then there’s Wile E. Coyote and his calculated attempts to catch the Road Runner – neither anvils nor fatigue can stop his endless hunt. WBCP, too, is on the prowl and chasing new business entrees offering food strategies inspired by one of the most beloved brands in their arsenal.
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Although the first SeaWorld theme park was established more than 50 years ago and the company has always branded itself on merchandise sold within the parks, the consumer licensing efforts of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment have begun to swell only in the past three years. Now with approximately 300 products from 30 licensees, the wave of the company’s future licensing efforts is likely to become a tsunami of branding.
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In the burgeoning weight-loss industry, diet and exercise fads frequently disappear before the pounds they were supposed to remove do. But among the leading diet and exercise brands, NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” is in it for the long haul. The series, which is a production of Shine America, 25/7 Productions and 3 Ball Productions, begins its 15th season on Oct. 8.
“Suffice it to say, we’re not a fad,” declares Kim Niemi, senior vice president of NBCUniversal Television’s consumer products group. “We’re not going to jump onto the next bandwagon that’s coming in. Our philosophy hasn’t changed in 15 seasons, almost nine years. It’s consistent, and it’s tried and true. It takes dedication and commitment for people to stick to it, like anything in life. We have stayed very true to what we believe is the philosophy of this show with every partnership we’ve had. We’ve turned down licensees who didn’t meet our standards.”
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