Characters Help Kids Relax for the Vax

Demand for most of the COVID-specific licensed products that came on the market early in the pandemic—masks, hand sanitizer, distancing signage, and the like—has declined, even as the crisis continues to drag on. And there have been few new COVID-driven licensing deals forged of late.

That said, new developments in the ever-changing COVID landscape offer opportunities for licensors and licensees to launch initiatives to spur sales of existing products, and occasionally even sign new agreements. Licensed characters are always a good tool to raise children’s comfort level with scary things, for example, and the vaccines that have recently become available to young patients in the U.S. and other countries qualify as anxiety-producing. The current omicron variant, which has produced a need for more protective masks, may offer potential opportunities as well.

A few recent vax-related ventures involving licensed properties, both official and non-official, illustrate some of the possibilities:

  • Infinite BNI, a division of Brampton Nameplate, sells products such as social-distancing signage and masks—with plans for additional items such as scrubs and activity books—into the medical and educational markets, creating custom programs and selling direct to consumers and the trade on its website and Amazon. It holds licensing rights to One Animation’s Oddbods, which it acquired in 2020, and Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob, Dora, Blue’s Clues, and Paw Patrol (the latter licensed on behalf of IP owner Spin Master), which it added in 2021. It is currently working with The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto, the largest children’s hospital in Canada, on a custom effort to help allay the fears of kids waiting for their vaccines. The program includes a “Got My Shot” sticker featuring a new character from the upcoming season of Paw Patrol, with a more muted, calming color palette than is typical for merchandise based on the show, as well as floor stickers to occupy the kids while they are waiting in line, six feet apart, for the shot. Each decal prompts activities such as counting to 10, standing on one foot, or reciting the alphabet. BNI is working with BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver on a similar program and is pitching to three other hospitals across Canada.
  • Shortly after vaccinations became available in the U.S. for kids as young as age 5, Sesame Workshop created social posts and other content showing the Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Rosita, both of whom are vaccine age, getting their shots. Big Bird explained that his wing was a little sore, but that getting the vax would protect him, and help protect others, from the virus. (Big Bird also got vaccinated against the measles in 1972.) In addition, the two characters, along with Granny Bird, appeared on a CNN town hall to ask questions about the vaccine and talk about their experiences getting the jab. The campaign attracted a lot of attention, thanks to the pushback it generated from Republican politicians and like-minded consumers, on both social and traditional media, who accused the character of disseminating government propaganda, brainwashing kids, and being “evil.” The effort got a lot of support online as well.
  • Camden County, New Jersey, hosted a pediatric COVID-19 clinic for children at Camden County Community College. The organizers used a Wizard of Oz theme to create a fun atmosphere, help calm fears, and take kids’ minds off the shot while they were waiting. According to local news coverage, the site, which was created by the staff of the event, featured a display of life-size Dorothy, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow characters, while the staff all wore face masks made of Wizard of Oz fabric. The origin of the masks is unknown, but a variety of designs are available from sources including official licensee Trevco, print-on-demand website Redbubble (including fan-designed versions using sanctioned assets), and Etsy, which features many unofficial handmade versions using licensed fabrics.

Another potential COVID-driven licensing opportunity consists of the more protective respirator masks recommended for protection from omicron. These include N95 masks sanctioned by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) in the U.S., as well as masks from other countries with similar protection, including KN95s and KF94s, authorized by China and Korea, respectively. Some masks of the latter two types are NIOSH-approved as well.

Licensed versions could make wearing the higher-protection masks more appealing for kids, as well as offering some peace of mind to adults who are having a hard time deciding which masks are most protective and are worried about the many counterfeit options that often do not protect. On the other hand, a number of barriers face licensors and licensees considering entering this sector. Unlike with cloth face masks, there are regulatory requirements to overcome with N95s, and they are more expensive to make as well. Even more importantly, a lot of uncertainty exists about how long omicron will last, and about what comes next and whether the same masks will protect against any future variants. The potentially short life span of the product makes many in the licensing community think twice about investing their time and money to develop their own versions.

Licensed properties have been associated with the more protective masks on occasion, especially in Asia. In that region, mask-wearing was common before COVID to protect the wearer and others against specific diseases such as bird flu and more general maladies like colds and seasonal flu, and is likely to continue post-COVID. In Korea, the members of the K-Pop group BTS have lent their names and images to KF94 masks from the Tiny Tan brand, while Sanrio offers KF94s featuring Hello Kitty and My Melody. Early in the pandemic, Smiley partnered with Shivatext Industries on masks that were billed as equivalent in protection to an N95.

A reminder that Raugust Communications’ monthly e-newsletter will be sent out tomorrow, Tuesday, January 18, 2022. The Licensing Topic of the Month examines recent developments in social shopping, while the Datapoint research spotlight delves into an aspect of experiential licensing. If you have not yet signed up for this free publication, you can do so here.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.