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Tie Me Up, Tie Me In: Merchandising Fan Faves

October 24, 2011

The more web-based series try to conquer new territory, the more they walk along the paths established by their network counterparts.  But that’s what happens when you realize you have to balance your creative genius with actually earning enough money to keep your program going.  There’s no shame in making a monetary move in support of your project as long as it’s a righteous one.  For example, there was a bit of hoopla when cult darling The Guild “sold out” last Christmas.  But it’s a beautifully orchestrated campaign that ties in well with Season 5.  And their licensing deals have helped the long running series stay, well, long running.

With the cost of even simple production going up and advertising dollars harder to find, the fees and royalties paid for using trademarked characters and logos can really punch up a show’s income stream.  According to the MediaGuardian, the television merchandising industry took in over $191 billion globally last year.  The Simpsons, a show with appeal to a wide age group and therefore suitable for a range of products, was at the top of the heap making over $8bn.  That’ll buy a lot of Krusty Burgers (which as far as I know have never actually shown up on a franchise menu).

You can’t just make any old deal, sit back and wait for the bucks to flow.  While wall calendars somehow continue to flourish in this time of Smart Phones, most shows are recognizing that they need to go beyond the typical threadbare Ts and aluminum lunch-boxes and think creatively about merchandising to be completely successful.  You want to expand the universe of your series and select items that are in tune with your audience.  If the conception is inappropriate, you risk the danger of having your latest collectable wind up in a remainder bin between the “Go Diego Go” lead painted boats and the bags of GeoCentral “Sticky Stones” sited for causing intestinal infections.

It’s been a while since I worked in commercials, but I regularly collaborate with my clients on brand integrity.  I admire deals obviously constructed by people who understand their brand image and their target market.  An Adrianna Papell evening gown promoting E! Live From the Red Carpet?  Can’t wait to wear one to my next Oscar bash! The Food Network’s line of kitchenware products available at Kohl’s?  What else would I use for my holiday spiral ham!  Rick Castle’s latest Nikki Heat novel?  At the top of the best seller list where we Castle fans like to see it!  Gunsmoke loungewear, Mighty Mouse wallets and Elly May Clampett Barbies?  Apologies to those who treasure them, but not every combinations of “beloved TV property” + consumer product strikes the right note.

Children’s television is a particularly delicate area when it comes to merchandising.  Almost all of the programming for the younger set is developed with a licensing income stream factored into the mix.  There’s simply insufficient funding coming in from other sources.  But parents get itchy when they sense they are being sold to through their offspring.  Some of today’s Saturday morning favorites are all-too-obviously geared more towards pushing dolls or cereal than entertaining or educating.  In some cases, the product came first, followed by a series of what amount to 30 minute weekly commercials.  You just have to be grateful when the tie-ins include a book, learning game, or toothpaste.  On the plus side, production values are considerably higher than when I was a kid and there are a number of networks completely devoted to little ones.  So at least some of the money is going back into the development pipeline where it belongs.

As for the folks over at The Guild, thanks to a healthier budget they were able to leave the house and shoot on location.  A thrill indeed.  How Felicity Day will feel next Monday when Trick or Treaters deck out in her image is harder to guess.

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