Traditionally, the twin concepts of Disney and high-fashion being mentioned in the same sentence would have been laughed at. Low-grade, mass-produced, and with mass-appeal are what defined Disney merchandise for decades. Things appear to be changing though, as the company makes a concerted push into luxury fashion in a move that is bewildering yet not entirely surprising.
Every fan loves to express their devotion to their favourite show, film, or comic. Now more than ever, they have a plethora of ways of doing so too, which wasn’t always the case. Not only is a wide variety of merchandise available, but it isn’t limited to what’s in the toy aisle either. There is however, one area where current merchandise seems to fail, and that’s when it comes to being appropriate for the workplace.
Merchandise has become an ever more important part of the making-money-from-animation pie. Services such as Redbubble, Society6 and Etsy have exploded the number of options available to creators and producers alike looking to profit from their wares. That being said, a good old fashioned auction is still a powerful draw for fans.
Baiting title aside, Mickey Mouse really is more popular than Bugs Bunny. He sells a lot more merchandise, appears in far more places around the world and is lauded as a mascot for the company that operates ‘The Happiest Place on Earth.’ Bugs never even got such opportunities and yet as a character, he is far superior to Mickey. Why is that?
Sprung upon the (non-Japanese) world last week was a series of lingerie based on the Disney Princess brand. Yet here in the west, a bit of a burhaha unfolded as people discussed the merits and demerits of such merchandise. In the midst of it all, people forgot that they might not be so weird, or so bad after all.
You’re already familiar with what I’m talking about. You know, the generic animation merchandise offered by just about every independent creator and small studio out there. The T-shirts, hoodies, mousepads (do people even buy those any more?), mugs, etc. etc. with a logo/character/catchphrase emblazoned across the front in glorious, exalted fashion. They’re a dime a dozen, and are worth about just as much. So why do so many creators continue to flog them ? How can they move ahead to things that will sell better?
There has been on-demand merchandising available on the internet for quite a while now. CafePress was once the most common, but in recent times, they’ve seen a bunch of competitors emerge offering either specialised products like T-shirts (such as WeLoveFine) or simply better quality products (like Redbubble, etc.) What all have in common is the DIY approach. Essentially there are standardised items and then your name/logo/graphic is printed on according to the customer’s preference. It’s been used by independents and smaller studios with success, but larger players seem to have held off, until now.
DC Comics Gets Involved
The news recently emerged that DC Comics (erstwhile appendage of the Time Warner conglomerate) had established a presence on the merchandise site Zazzle featuring characters from the Super Best Friends Forever series of shorts by Lauren Faust.
The list of products is quite long and includes much more than your standard fare like T-shirts and mouse pads. There is stretched canvas art (a respectable upgrade from a poster), a pet sleeve and even stamps!
Why Now Though?
It’s perhaps surprising that a large entity like DC hasn’t gotten involved in something like this before. It’s natural given large companies preference for dealing with established merchandise players for reasons of connections and profit.
The reason that DC is doing so now is down to how on-demand merch retailers like Zazzle represent a way of extracting the dynamo effect of merchandise from shows/shorts that couldn’t necessarily sustain regular merchandise that would be sold in stores.
The short duration of the shows is certainly one factor, but so is risk. DC/Warners/CN had no idea how they would be received and rather than tie up capital for months with a high probability of failure, it makes much more sense to simply make it as customers demand, even at the expense of higher per unit cost.
Where They Stumbled (Slightly)
The only place where DC missed the mark was timing. They should have had this set up even before the first short aired. It’s great that stuff is available now, but they’ve missed the swell of interest that accompanied the shorts’ broadcast on TV.
Frederator have this down pat having had Bravest Warriors merchandise available on welovefine well in advance of that series debut on YouTube last year. They’ve since significantly expanded the range to include characters and quotes that have resonated with fans.
A Merchandise Model For the Future?
We should certainly hope so. If anything, it would be nice just to see other DC shorts merchandise too [coughAmethystcough]. With a little fine tuning, it would be possible to get on-demand merchandise up and running for any animated property and use it as a way to not only drive sales, but also to sustain interest for longer periods than current merchandise models permit.
Merchandise is one of the recurring themes here on the Animation Anomaly for the simple reason that it plays such a large role in making the technique profitable for so many people. (You can get away without it, but that’s a topic for another day.) The Walt Disney Company has a long and fruitful history of merchandise stretching all the way back to the early days of Mickey Mouse. Things have changed over the years though, and while the youth remains an ever important part of the Disney merchandise empire, the company has become ever more adroit at exploiting market segments that you’d never thought possible. Here’s a look at two competing lines of Disney merchandise that illustrate just how disparate the company can be.
The Wrong Way – Walt Disney Signature Pens
Let’s be honest, these aren’t quite as tacky as the ‘vintage’ office furniture that was bandied about a few years ago or even the line of wedding dresses the company offers, but it isn’t far off. Yes, that’s right, you can be the proud owner of a Disney pen! These however, are no ordinary pens that you can buy at any Wal-Mart. Nope, these are something else entirely. These, are the Walt Disney Signature [geddit?] collection. Behold!
The Sleeping Beauty
And The Executive
The collection is being offered by noted manufacturer Monteverde. They’re a respected company and they make many fine products, but why, for the sake of all that is sane, would they offer products like these?
Who are these targeted at? What purpose do they serve? And what do they do for the Disney brand and the animation on which they are based? Well, the simple answers are that they are aimed at people with more money than sense (we’ll get to the details in a bit), they serve no purpose other than to endow the Disney brand with a sense of false caché, of vintage style that it never really had in the first place and that they don’t do anything for the films on which they are based.
The proof? The pen’s average cost is in and around the $300 mark, topping out at almost $2,300 for a three-piece limited-edition collection. That’s not to say they aren’t good pens, they are, but the price premium over the regular pens on which they are best makes them a laughable purchase.
These are pens that are designed to appeal to folks who think that they are buying into a genuine image (of Walt or otherwise) that doesn’t really exist. It’s deceptive and of course, the films (and Walt Disney himself) don’t benefit in any way at all. One could argue that such merchandise actually debases all three because pens have next to nothing to do with any of them. A tenuous connection could be made to Walt himself if you could prove that he actually used the same pen.
That is not the case, however, and these lines come off as Disney simply looking for the easy buck. They are exploiting fans rather than engaging in genuine business with them.
So now that you’ve seen the crappy Disney merchandise, let’s look at a much better effort.
The Right Way – Mickey Mouse Moleskine Notebooks
Although only a special edition, the Mickey Mouse Moleskine notebook represents a much better Disney merchandise strategy. Setting aside the fact the cost factor (they’re certainly a lot less than the pens that could be used to write in them), there are far more concrete reasons for Disney to market these.
First of all, the product they are based on is a perfect match. Moleskine notebooks are something that no budding artist, writer or erstwhile creative would be seen without. The company has made a tidy business out of its products’ artistic history and even ensures that every notebook comes with a history of the same. Plenty of artists’ blogs are replete with scans from their journal and notebook pages.
Right, so the base product has merit, what about the Disney side of things? Well, it’s Mickey Mouse (everyone loves Mickey), but perhaps most importantly, it isn’t just his face slapped on the cover, instead it’s what Disney includes on the inside: instructions on how to draw Mickey.
Now they aren’t very comprehensive instructions but that’s not up for debate here. The point is that unlike the pens, these Moleskine books are aimed at people who might actually have an interest in something relevant to Disney; namely drawing/sketching/illustration, you name it. It might even be possible that such notebooks might draw people in who might not otherwise have thought of themselves as artists. That is a far-fetched notion, but it’s not entirely impossible either. Can you really see the pens encouraging people to start writing?
In other words, these notebooks are much more relevant to Disney fans. They are appealing, and although they are a premium product, that is something that most fans will be willing to pay for. Unlike the premium of the pens, which is massive, the premium for the notebooks is minimal, but the extra value that fans see is enormous.
So if you’re in any doubt (and I hope that you are not), ask yourself the question: Which product would you buy if cost was irrelevant? Would you really want a pen that has little connections to what its based on, or would you rather have something that at least makes a serious attempt to be true to its origins?
I know which one I would choose. Submit your answer with a comment below!
No doubt you’ve seen them in almost every grocery store in the country. They’ve been around for years, and they are relentlessly targeted at everyone younger than their teens. Yes, they are the fruit snacks emblazoned with many a popular animated character. Here’s a photo I took at the local shop, your’s is no doubt similar:
Marvelous looking aren’t they? /sarcasm
The Problem With Fruit Snacks Packets
The packets, as can clearly be seen, are designed to maximise the amount of space that is devoted to animated characters. Barely 10% is given over to describing what is actually in them. Personally, this blogger had no idea what they contained until he picked up a packet and carefully read it. It’s possible that that’s simply because I didn’t grow up in the States, and thus wasn’t subject to such marketing when I was in the target demographic, but how may parents would be in the same boat?
The presence of animated characters on products is not new by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still a bit concerning that they occupy so much space. In essence, they are not so much selling the product as selling themselves.
You’ll notice that all the boxes contain the exact same products; there’s no difference between a Perry the Platypus and a Spiderman packet. So who’s that designed to trick?
Why They’re Bad
They’re Not Made Of Nice Things
It’s easy to nitpick such merchandise. They’re sugary, not particularly natural (read the ingredients) and are often passed of as being healthy because they contain ‘fruit juice’. That doesn’t stop people defending them, but on a wholly nutritional level, these snacks are far from ideal
They Prey On The Least Informed Consumers
OK, yes, kids have been targeted for decades, but in comparison, the EU and other countries place strict limits on all merchandise aimed at kids, and they still manage to sell. These fruit snacks do next to nothing to inform the kids what’s actually inside beyond pictures of the shapes of the snacks!
That’s not to argue that they should feature a laundry list of what they do contain, but rather that they attempt to inform kids about what they’re buying. Kids are stupid; that’s not being rude, but it is the truth when it comes to these kinds of things. They don’t read the ingredients, they don’t even realise they are having the wool pulled over their eyes in such a ham-fisted manner. All they know is that their favourite character is on the cover and there’s a tasty treat inside.
They Do Next To Nothing For Animation Itself
Thinking about this on a higher plane for a minute; shouldn’t merchandise for animated properties actually do something to feed back to the source material? I mean in a way besides just revenue or viewership. Sales of these packets above surely keep their respective shows in the minds of parents and kids, but do they actually improve the quality of the shows?
I’m thinking here in terms of how merchandise can provide feedback to studios and help them improve their output. Adventure Time is a good example; plenty of their merchandise features obscure characters that earned a repeat performance on the show. To consider a contrasting example; it’s doubtful this Legend of Korra dog bowl made for a bigger role for Naga.
Food and drink merchandise is difficult to manufacture and sell, but it is hard to believe that in the 21st century, studios rely on the same kinds of techniques that were first pioneered in the 1950s! Surely they can come up with a better (and healthier) alternative to fruit snacks. The grapes were a start, but they were marketed in the wrong way. Smarter thinking in this area is needed. The results will justify the effort involved.
Putting Things In Perspective
Finally, just to put things into perspective, here’s a shot of the entire shelf where the fruit snacks are placed:
Notice that they higher up products appeal more to adults while the lower ones appeal to children. Both kinds of products are at the appropriate eye height for their targeted customer. That’s what grocery store psychology in action.
Seriously? Why is there no Adventure Time Swatch watch out there? Why can’t I buy them? Why can’t anyone buy them? Why hasn’t anyone thought of doing it yet?
Well, here’s a few reasons for someone to get on it.
Swatch Is Cool
Alright, yes, that statement is coming from a child of the 80s when Swatch was the watch to have. Cheap, cheerful and created solely as a tool to ward off the crushing Japanese digital threat that almost sunk the entire Swiss watchmaking industry, Swatch watches become the epitome of haute couture for those wishing keep up with fashionable 80s taste.
Fast forward to 2013, and Swatch watches are nowhere near as ubiquitous as they used to be, but, they’re still being made in just about every colour/pattern imaginable and they still exhibit they same classic design that made them a worldwide icon.
Adventure Time Is Cool
This is already a given, right? The show has done wonders for Cartoon Network and continually manages to outdo itself. Besides that, we’ve noted here on this blog that the show has not only been superb at embracing its fans, but also embracing novel merchandising ideas such as T-shirt competitions and limited edition wallets.
On top of that, the show has a near-perfect cast of characters. This eclectic bunch appeals to a wide range of fans in all sorts of demographics and ages. Merchandise released so far has done well to either include most of the cast, or utilise them individually to great effect.
Why Bring Adventure Time and Swatch Together Though?
Ah, the real question. Why bring a style icon of the past together with a cultural icon of today? The answer is pretty simple actually; both things complement each other. Don’t believe me?
Adventure Time is known as a fun show with fun characters engaging in all sorts of fun adventures in the Land of Ooo. Swatch staked their brand on being the fun watch, the watch that was cheap and cheerful, the watch that stood out amongst a sea of boring digital timepieces. What’s wrong with bringing two fun things together?
They Suit Each Other
Swatch watches are famous for being brightly coloured, simple watches. Sure there are more sophisticated models, but your basic Swatch watch is about as plain as they come:
This plain style is just crying out to be adorned with Pen Ward’s creations. Tragically, I cannot create the mockups necessary to visually explain what’s in my head (please, any Photoshop wizzes out there who’d like to help out, be my guest), but imagine an orange swatch watch with an elongated Jake along the entire length of the band. His bellybutton could be the centre of the dial!
Also being of benefit is that fact that Swatch watches are practically indestructible thanks to their simplicity and are inexpensive enough to be suitable for kids to have. Not that we’re focusing solely on kids, but being inexpensive means that people are likely to buy more than one.
Yes, they would be desirable. Don’t pay attention to those old bitter folks who claim that Swatch watches were a fad. Ignore the notion that nobody wears watches any more because they can just look at their phones. Gloss over the fact that a Beemo Swatch watch may not be entirely accurate.
Watches have long been surpassed as the primary method by which people tell the time. Yeah we have phones, computers, clocks and so on, but such a mindset completely ignores the reason people still wear watches: their fashionable. Yes, that’s right, I said fashionable. They’re objects of fashion for men and women, young and old. Watches are a mainstay of the fashion accessory industries and that situation is highly unlikely to change any time soon.
If anything, an Adventure Time Swatch watch may help younger kids become interested in watches. After all, they’re cool looking and have their favourite characters on them, right? Even among older fans, ones who do remember Swatch’s earlier heyday, they would be a nostalgic item.
They would also play into the current trend of personalisation. IPhone covers, clothing, jewellery and plenty of other pieces of merchandise play on the idea of making a personal statement. Swatch has been advocating that marketing line for years; a range of Adventure Time watches would only be the latest incarnation of their corporate mission.
Just Make Them Already!
Cartoon Network is missing out on an opportunity to create a range of merchandise that it truly memorable, appeals to fans, and promotes the proliferation of Adventure Time even further into the public realm beyond its fans. Why they haven’t considered this already is beyond me. But hey, if they decide to take it up, and Ice Queen one is all I ask for.
What do you think? Would you wear an Adventure Time Swatch Watch?
If you’re not familiar with Winx Club, just imagine My Little Pony x Barbie x 10 or just look at the picture above to start tripping. It’s an Italian animated TV show that centres around a group of female faeries and their magical adventures that’s been shown on Nickelodeon here in the States. The animation is average and the plots leave a bit to be desired, but on the whole, it’s a fun show in the same vein as DiC’s finest output.
Anyway, what brought the show a bit further to the top of my attention is a post over on the Escher Girls tumblelog that discusses a series of miniature figurines of the stars of the show that are being rolled out by Kinder, the brand of chocolate owned by Italian company Ferraro. The figurines themselves are below (you can click to get the full size):
Via: Escher Girls
The Escher Girls’ post discusses their poses in the context of supposed sexyness. However, there is something else that bothers me, and that is the fact that for the first time, the Kinder eggs are being genderised. That is to say, they are being classified through the oh-so-original use of pink on the packaging.
Well that’s subtle, isn’t it? Anway, the real insult is in the reason found at this site [in German]. It says:
Der Grund für diese Maßnahme? Erkenntnisse der Markforschung inspirierten kinder Überraschung dazu. Die besagen, dass sich Mädchen heutzutage nicht mehr in nur eine Schublade stecken lassen. Pink und Ponyhof ist ihnen genau so wichtig, wie Fußball und Frauenpower. Eigene Erhebungen haben diesen Trend bestätigt.
Or as a poor Google translation:
The reason for this action? Knowledge of market research inspired kids to surprise. Which state that girls today can no longer be stuck in only one drawer. Pink and ponies [for] them [are] just as important as football and girl power. [Our] own surveys have confirmed this trend.
Hmm, so basically the survey says girls like this stuff so it must be true, right? Well, things get even more blatant in the following paragraph:
Ob Blumen-Ringe oder bunte Armbänder mit Tiermotiven – das Basissortiment des Mädchen-Eies hält genauso klassische „Mädchensachen“ bereit, wie auch aktivierende Spielzeuge zum Werfen, Spielen und Malen, Puzzeln und Basteln. Genau die Vielfalt also, die sich die Mädchen von heute wünschen. Und genau die Bandbreite, die Mädchen mädchengerecht anspricht und deren Individualität fördert.
And an even poorer Gooogle translation:
Whether flower rings or bracelets with colorful animal designs – keeps the basic range of the girl-egg just classic “girl stuff”, as were activated for throwing toys, games and painting, puzzles and crafts. Exactly the variety that the girls of today want. And just the range, [the] responsive girl needs [to] promote their individuality.
Riiiiiight, so giving them girly things that will encourage them to promote their individuality. Hmmm.
So what’s the real issue here? Is it the fact that Kinder have decided to split their audience? Is it the likely decision to accept a co-pro deal in order to do so? Or is it the fact that toys from saccharine shows like Winx Club couldn’t possibly be seen as as desirable to anyone except little girls?
The answer is really a combination of all of them. Kinder, as long established as it is, should know better, especially given the backlash against Lego and their attempt to market a line of girl-oriented sets. And animation studios, like Winx’s producer, Rainbow, should be less inclined to create shows that are so restricted in their possible appeal.
The Hub was all too lucky with My Little Pony and it would be sad if that was a fluke. There are plenty of common themes that can be explored in kids shows and there is little reason for a show like Winx to be so heavily biased. Kinder has no excuses whatsoever though.