Since the coronavirus pandemic started, licensors, licensees, and retailers have been hosting virtual versions of normally live annual events that are important to students and families and cannot occur face to face. After going digital with prom and graduation, they are now addressing the next big virtual adventure: summer camp.
Among the companies with ties to licensing that are pitching their tents in this sector:
- Candlewick Press. The publisher’s Camp Candlewick is a free, 12-week online education program for grades 1 to 12, focused on reading, which starts on June 11. Campers are divided into virtual cabins, by age, and participate in workshops, read-alouds, appearances by Candlewick authors, and other activities. They and their families also have access to e-newsletters, website materials, and Pinterest content. The company has been providing remote-learning resources to families through its Stay Home with Candlewick Press site (which houses the camp) since shortly after the lockdown began in mid-March.
- Geek Squad Academy—At Home. Best Buy is bringing its normally live summer tech camp online this summer. Content, for tweens and teens aged 9-18, includes classes on taking better photographs on a mobile phone, creating videogames and websites using free software, and coding. The online lesson plans can be done individually or in a group.
- Little Tikes Camp Play @ Home. MGA Entertainment’s Little Tikes division is hosting a virtual summer camp starting June 15, featuring games, activities, and ideas for creative new ways to play. All are aimed at the younger kids that would be Little Tikes users and are billed as easy for families to do, inexpensive, and self-paced. The venture also provides information and inspiration geared to parents. Content is shared via email and social media.
- Camp Care Bears. This camp from Cloudco varies from the others in that it began in April, early in the pandemic, as a means of keeping families occupied in isolation. (Many other companies in the children’s business offered similar packages.) This venture features camp-themed downloadable activities, posted weekly, such as arts and crafts, games, cooking, virtual nature walks, reading, and journaling, as well as livestreams and group sharing events. Content is available on Instagram Live, IGTV, and YouTube.
- Camp PBS Kids. PBS is offering downloadable, printable, and web-based materials for parents to use with their children aged 2-8, many tied to shows on the network. Content includes checklists of activities to complete and books to read during the summer, to which families are encouraged to add, and educational projects themed to the arts, dinosaurs, upcycling, animals, kindness, and space exploration. Resources for parents and tips to keep their kids engaged in learning are also included.
These are just a few representative examples. Some of the initiatives are set up more like a traditional camp than others, with a variety of camp-like activities and ways for kids to virtually connect, while others focus on self-paced, downloadable projects or how-to videos. Some are virtual versions of live events that the companies have hosted during previous summers or during the school year, while others are completely new initiatives. From a corporate-objective point of view, all are about burnishing brand image and not about revenue generation.
Numerous live activities involving licensed properties have gone digital during COVID-19, from watching a new theatrical movie release to attending a fan festival. In some cases—such as movie streaming—the virtual edition meets consumers’ needs very well and is likely to continue at a higher level than pre-COVID, even after people can finally get together again.
But camp is all about meeting new friends and having new experiences outdoors or in another out-of-the-ordinary setting, away from the rest of the family. It seems to be one of those experiential activities that will go back to its in-real-life form when that becomes possible to do safely. At the moment, however, virtual camps are certainly a way to meet the immediate needs of families by helping keep kids occupied, engaged, and learning during a summer of self-distancing.