Reversing the Taboo

Mental health has increasingly become a theme at the center of licensed product, content, and promotional initiatives. Some recent examples, mostly announced in late 2019 and early 2020, include:

  • A gift line from Half Moon Bay tied to May the Thoughts Be With You, a property based on a book by the same name. The book, which is being followed by a second title, is filled with cartoons about the experiences of author/illustrator Charlotte Reed, who has struggled with mental health issues. Half Moon Bay recently secured rights to the property for a range of giftware, through its Shruti brand, and journals, mini-books, and other products through its Ice House Books division. Danilo is already on board for greeting cards. Larkshead Licensing represents the property, with plans for expansion including apparel, health/beauty, and foods.
  • A Hot Topic apparel collection inspired by Depressed Monsters. The street-art-inspired lifestyle brand encompasses limited-edition apparel, art, and gifts and features a character called Yerman the Sad Yeti. The property is represented by Collaborations Licensing, which recently signed the deal with Hot Topic for an assortment of apparel and accessories in select stores and online, with a second collection planned for Mental Health Awareness Month in May. A percentage of proceeds go to the Hot Topic Foundation for its work with Mental Health America.
  • A licensing program for CupOfTherapy, a brand based on a book by illustrator and graphic designer Matti Pikkujämsä and therapist Antti Ervasti, both of Finland. The premise of the illustrated, comic panel-style book is that it is normal to face problems and that readers are fine just the way they are. It tackles heavy problems in an accessible way. The book is sold in Japan (including in Muji stores), Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Finland, and is represented by Ferly for publishing and licensing.
  • A new Sesame Street storyline, starring Karli, a Muppet whose mother struggles with addiction. The content launched in October, timed to World Mental Health Day, along with related resources to help young children talk about addiction, cope if they are experiencing similar challenges, and support their friends. The effort, part of the broader Sesame Street in Communities program, includes seven videos, a themed activity, a storybook, and articles for parents, educators, and health care professionals. The Communities program has previously tackled subjects such as coping with homelessness and foster care.
  • A special edition of the Nike Air Max 270 React, in partnership with Liz Beecroft, a psychotherapist, mental health advocate, artist, and designer known for her Instagram feed. The “In My Feels” shoe includes, among other design elements, a Swoosh logo with a wavy design meant to represent the non-linear nature of mental health issues, a bold green that is the official color of mental health awareness, and the phrase “Have a Nice Day,” on the tongue. Proceeds will go to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.
  • A line of “On Our Sleeves” products created through an alliance between the Harlem Globetrotters and Thirty-One Gifts. The On Our Sleeves movement, launched by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, is meant to raise awareness for children’s mental health and generate funds for research to improve treatment. The partnership includes a free-to-download mental health curriculum for children in third through fifth grades, as well as an array of “products with a purpose” include purses, wallets, totes, bags, décor, jewelry, and more.
  • Two necklaces featuring the words “Depression” and “Anxiety” in script, a collaboration involving gift company Ban.do, its designer and founder Jen Gotch, and jewelry marketer Iconery. Gotch has experienced mental health struggles since she was a child and has brought those to the public through her Instagram account. Iconery uses 3D printing to bring unique products to market quickly and has worked with celebrities including Rashida Jones and Michelle Branch.

Mental health remains somewhat of a taboo subject to many people. But the fact that celebrities and others are starting to talk about it and share their experiences helps to bring it out in the open, making collaborative efforts such as these possible. In turn, such licensed products and promotions can help bring the topic even more into the mainstream, as well as raising funds for the cause.

The emergence of mental health as a theme in licensed and collaborative products is related to the rise of several other trends that have been strengthening across the business, including self-expression, social-emotional learning, self-care, and mindfulness.

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