The 6 Best Ways to Merchandise An Animated Creation

Animation’s been around for a long time, and its related merchandise has been around for almost the same amount of time (Windsor McCay wasn’t very market-savvy). Arguably Walt Disney was the finest marketer that animation could have hoped for in that he didn’t just market anything and everything (except at the start), he knew his target audience but also who held the purse-strings for them.

Animation is a funny kind of a medium when it comes to merchandising because, unlike live-action, there’s only so much you can do. Oh sure, you have the usual things, which we’ll get to in a minute, but unfortunately, any physical replica can never match the animated version directly. Yes, even CGI falls into this trap, but they do have a leg up on traditional animation in that regard.

So, unlike a live-action TV show where you simply duplicate a prop or costume from the show and flog them to one and all, what are the best ways to create a merchandising empire built on an animated offering? Here’s a few of the best ones (that work for just about anything from a TV show to an independent film to an animated feature).

1. Toys

As much as I hate to be painfully obvious, toys are incredibly important for the simple reason that any animated TV show or film aimed at kids is slap bang-in-the-middle suitable for this. Why? Because toys are tried and tested and the reason for that is that they build upon the rampant imaginations of the little ones.

Toys are enormously lucrative but they do carry a lot of risks in that they’re costly to produce and can induce horrendous losses if they don’t sell. Perhaps best left to the big boys, toys can nonetheless be for adults too, (think novelties and high-quality figurines).

2. Clothing

It’s funny to think that these days its perfectly acceptable for grown adults to wear clothes with cartoon characters on them. Hot Topic seems to be doing quite well catering to the slightly older crowd with T-shirts and other items with recent shows such as Adventure Time but also older ones like Doug and Rugrats.

Clothing (for adults more so than kids) is a way for the wearer to publicly state that they identify with a character and who that character is.

Again, this is probably more suited to the big boys, but with the likes of Cafe Press, its possible for anyone to create something and plaster it on a T-shirt (or any other kind of merchandise for that matter). Personally, I’d like to see more clothing with animated characters on them (I’d wear more too but the office has a dress code). PS see my post with some of the T-shirts I found in Ireland featuring animated characters.

3. Books

Books! Who doesn’t like a book? Animation-related books are everywhere these days, from Art of, to storybooks to colouring books to you name it! Books do fall a lot closer to toys and animation in terms of cost and risk, but the great news is that you don’t even need to print books anymore, just make a PDF and put it online as an ebook!

You can, of course, still go the traditional route, but a lot of folks these days are taking the hybrid option, that is, offer an electronic version for download and a hard copy version to sell at shows or to those out there with more shelf space than myself.

Books are an important element in helping the audience connect with a project. “Art of” books are all the rage because they offer the consumer a glimpse into the processes that went into making their favourite film (or TV show). Storybooks, comics and the like allow the consumer to engage in additional stoytelling beyond the animated story, and who doesn’t like that?

All in all, books are an important element in selling your film or TV show that have been tried and tested for decades.

4. Signed Stuff

Why do people value singed stuff? Well, if they’re anything like me, they just like the feeling they get from knowing they have something unique (or close to it). Signed stuff is relatively rare in the grand scheme of things, and while they generally cost more than a non-signed item, they can provide the owner with a great sense of self-satisfaction.

Sadly, animators tend to hide behind the cel, but thankfully those that are known can create a valuable source of income and add a little extra to every sale by personalising things for their fans.

 5. Drawings

For years (back in the early days) it was assumed that the reams of paper produced at an animated studio were next to worthless. Heck, even Disney sold the cels from their classics at Disneyland in the 1950s.

That all changed pretty quick as studios and consumers realised that what could be better than owning a copy of something than owning a piece of it.

Bill Plympton utilizes this procedure very well. He’s a drawing kind of guy and relies heavily on merchandise to fund his animated adventures. So its only natural that he should sell the various drawings that he’s used to create is films (cels too). Why? Well for one, it costs money to store things, and secondly, why not? They help him engage with his fans and make him money doing it!

This can work for anyone, large or small. Even CGI films still produce tons of paper drawings (and concept art, etc) that one could sell.

Don’t think of it as selling a piece of yourself (it’s not), think of it as selling a piece of your creation to someone who will value it a lot. That’s the kind of person you want because they’re willing to pay for the privilege.

6. Access

Lastly, access can be an avenue to merchandising success because what’re rarer than an actual piece of the film? Why some time with the animator(s) themselves! Now of course, this will depend heavily on how well you are known and how willing you are to travel.

Nina Paley engages in this a lot. She travels all over the world giving talks and classes and so forth, but she was never busier than when she was promoting her feature film, Sita Sings the Blues. Why? Because a screening of a film is more lucrative when the person responsible shows up for a meet and greet.

Obviously this isn’t just as simple as showing up and signing a few pieces of paper. Oh no. You have to engage with the audience so that they form a connection with you and your film. That kind of thing helps build relationships and help someone become more amenable to buying something if they fell they know you personally.


Need some examples? Check out these sites below!

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