Happy Anniversary! Now what?
It seems to many (or at least to us) that this year has brought a larger number than usual of entertainment-based “birthday commemorations, with others waiting in the wings for 2020. It’s difficult to determine whether there indeed are more anniversaries than usual being marketed, or whether ubiquitous social media campaigns that highlight marketing activations are just bringing them to a wider audience.
In some cases, the campaigns bring with them a range of specially developed merchandise, often collectibles that will appeal to the nostalgic fans of yesteryear. In other cases, the anniversaries serve more as marketing hooks to more broadly focus attention on the property as a whole.
Some numbers are seen as more meaningful milestones than others. This year, for example, we’re seeing Sesame Street and the Woodstock Music Festival both reaching the half-century mark. But there are lots of others, too. The list includes Popeye (90), Batman (80), Barbie (60), Scooby-Doo (50), Hello Kitty (45), Ghostbusters, Tetris, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sixteen Candles (all 35), Little Mermaid (30), SpongeBob SquarePants (20) and Peppa Pig (15). And Peanuts (70) and Rubik’s Cube (45) are priming the pump for 2020.
Much of the buzz is being built on social media, where targeted efforts can reach specific segments of a property’s dedicated fan base. For its anniversary, Sesame Workshop uses Instagram and Snapchat to alert younger fans of upcoming product releases and events, and Facebook to reach an older consumer. And Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products’ licensee Alpha Group will have specially developed product, some aimed at collectors (with the “Best Year Ever SpongeBob 20” tagline) and others targeting younger, current fans.
“Social media in general has made anniversaries more of a business, because there are themes every day and with that comes brands trying to have a conversation with their fans,” says Trevco CEO Trevor George, whose company is developing anniversary apparel for Woodstock, Sixteen Candles, Scooby-Doo, Popeye and Creature from the Black Lagoon. “Anniversaries are part of the rise of social media in that they give brands a means for speaking with their fans every day. It wasn’t like that 5-10 years ago, when we typically only reached them when a new season came out on TV.”
It’s a great accelerant, especially when used in conjunction with events and activations whose effect can be multiplied through exposure on multiple platforms. For example, Dutch fashion designer Marlou Breals recently launched the “Icon Collection” with Viacom Nickeolodeon during Amsterdam Fashion Week to mark SpongeBob’s 20th with 30 designs featuring eight characters. And Sesame Workshop is increasing the number of fashion collaborations during its anniversary year to 20 from 4-5 last year, with Zara and H&M DTRs and a tour that starts June 1 and will feature community events in 10 U.S. cities.
“It is a brand requirement that you need to be on all the platforms” around an anniversary. “That is what is expected for a consumer to engage with a brand,” says Sesame Workshop VP Gabriela Arenas. “The touchpoints for the brands have evolved and you have to evolve with it because otherwise you will lose the customers.”
Indeed, social media has provided licensors not only with a less expensive means for reaching their fans, but for priming the marketing pump that typically accompanies an anniversary.
For example, was Sony Pictures Consumer Products was “surprised” by the response it received when it posted plans for a 35thanniversary of the original release of Ghostbusters, says Sony VP Stacey Kerr. The anniversary plans also
include consumer products – Hasbro and Sony collaborated on a Transformers/Ghostbusters Ecto-1 vehicle that transforms into a robot and marks the 35th anniversary of both brands. A Ghostbusters fan fest is scheduled for June on its
film lot in Culver City, CA. The anniversary also is being used to prime fans for a new film being released in 2020.
As part of its celebration, Sesame Workshop introduced #ThisIsMyStreet on Twitter in February as a means for celebrities who have appeared on the show and fans to share their memories of it. And Mattel launched a “Finding Your Voice” video blog on YouTube earlier this month as part of Barbie’s 60thanniversary, featuring videos designed to inspire and empower young girls.
In some cases, these birthday bashes include specially developed product; in others, it’s a just a marketing hook that may be denoted on its platforms and packaging.
In most cases, anniversary licensing programs remain most popular with collectors, unless it’s a really meaningful number attached to an tentpole brand, says Beanstalk Chairman Michael Stone, Chairman of Beanstalk, which developed the 100thanniversary campaign for Harley-Davidson.
“Anniversaries are promotional tool. In terms of licensing, they are a non-starter, unless it is an iconic property with a serious collector base,” says Stone. “Collectors care, but do kids care? I don’t think so. If you have some good products they will care, but they are not going to care about it just because it is an anniversary.”
For a licensing program to carry some meaning other than marking the passage of time, brands need to have product and events both for collectors and fans that remember the anniversary and for those that do not. In the case of SpongeBob, there will be a one-hour special on Nickelodeon on July 12 and a series of pop-up stores/events that will run into 2020, when Paramount Pictures’ The SpongeBob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge is scheduled to be released on May 22. Nickelodeon also launched a dedicated SpongeBob YouTube channel in February – a first for one its properties – to reach young children.
“We are not going to use anniversary messaging for children because they don’t care,” says Viacom Nickelodeon SVP Charlotte Castillo. “But they do care that the show they like is being seen everywhere.”
And some brands prefer to wait for what they consider to be a more meaningful number. Peanuts Worldwide next year will mark the 70th anniversary of the first publication of Charles Schulz’s comic strip with a relatively small program focused on apparel, but is gearing up for a larger effort around the 75th anniversary in 2025.
Peanuts will be “very select” in developing a program for next year’s 70th anniversary. “We definitely will be celebrating [the 70th], but we will be taking a select approach; it won’t be 20 partners, but maybe six or seven,” says EVP Roz Nowicki.
And the company is keeping busy with another big birthday this year; it has a collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that will mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 10 and 11 missions with new consumer products and STEM-based learning materials.