The People’s Choice

Licensees, and some licensors, turn to crowdfunding as a way to raise awareness for new products among their most loyal fans, test new products and features, and/or generate funding for new initiatives. Most recent campaigns have taken one of the following directions:

• Using crowdfunding as an ongoing strategy for launching new products under an existing license. This is a common tactic for makers of board, card, and tabletop games, such as Cryptozoic’s The Walking Dead: No Sanctuary or IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures: City Fall, and for marketers of collectibles such as Shire Post Mint’s Game of Thrones-licensed pre-conquest coins of Westeros. The goal here is more about product development and marketing than fundraising, although such campaigns can generate significant revenue.

• Extending existing licensed product lines into new categories, either through the original licensee or a new licensee. Crowdfunding allows these new products to reach and generate excitement among core fans while testing proof of concept before going to retail. RRParksCARDS launched a series of Three Stooges trading cards featuring artwork from American Mythology’s licensed comic books; the authors of the Unicorn Rescue Society children’s book series introduced a trading card game extension; and Fabric Flavours, a U.K.-based childrenswear marketer, debuted its first adult product in the form of a limited edition of 300 premium Mickey Mouse sweatshirts.

• Relaunching a nostalgic property, such as by creating a new iteration, securing distribution for the original, or launching a retro product tied to the classic. Cross Symphonic is an orchestral reimagining of the soundtrack of a late 1990s Japanese video game called Chrono Cross. Last Resort Toys launched a series of vinyl art figures based on Galoob’s classic Trash Bag Bunch collectibles of the early 1990s. One of the top revenue-generating Kickstarter campaigns of all time supported a new version of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV series back in 2015.

• Debuting brand-new franchises from well-known creators or production companies. Doug TenNapel, creator of the Earthworm Jim video game, introduced a new property, Bigfoot Bill, in the form of a graphic novel. Meanwhile, Starburns Industries, the creative studio co-founded by Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon, launched The Crawling King, an illustrated fantasy novel by animator Einar Baldvin.

• Testing new products through innovation contests. This is where big companies tend to play in the crowdfunding space, soliciting and testing new ideas and bringing the winning concept to retail. Lego recently introduced its Lego Forma brand in this manner, for example. Other companies from Coca-Cola to Hasbro have integrated crowdfunding into their research and development processes.

• Raising awareness and funds for a charitable mission. Sesame Workshop launched its first crowdfunding campaign last year, focused on expanding its autism initiative to encompass bullying prevention through the launch of an enhanced digital storybook featuring Julia, Sesame Street’s new character on the autism spectrum. Moonlite, the storybook projector launched initially through crowdfunding, more recently offered a limited edition of 500 rose-gold versions of the device; each person making a pledge received a projector and spurred a gift of 10 books to Baby2Baby, a charity that donated the materials to children in poverty.

• Introducing brand new products with inbound or outbound licensing potential but no current licensing rights or activity. This is the purely entrepreneurial side of the equation, representing a larger number of campaigns than the other segments mentioned here, but also having a lower chance of full funding. Examples of successful campaigns include Rebel Girls, the girl-power publishing franchise that launched through crowdfunding and has continued to bring new brand extensions to the platform; Bag Bug, a fashion accessory being exhibited at Licensing Expo this year that looks good while keeping a handbag securely on the wearer’s shoulder; Lupita, an Elf on the Shelf-like book-and-toy product geared to the Hispanic market; and PopSockets, the electronic device accessory that launched on crowdfunding in 2012 before ultimately becoming a key licensed product.

Almost all of these licensed or would-be licensed campaigns were fully funded—all told, 37% of Kickstarter campaigns are successful—with some still in progress at press time.

Crowdfunding remains focused primarily on young male consumers, with properties in the video game, comic book, sci-fi/fantasy, and anime/manga genres reigning supreme on platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, along with categories such as board games, comic books, and collectibles. But the examples cited here show that other properties and products can flourish if they have well-thought-out and well-produced campaigns and are based on concepts that are unique or innovative, fill a need or appeal to an underserved consumer niche, or have social or cultural resonance.

Join us next week at our Licensing University panel, “Using Crowdfunding for Products and Properties,” scheduled for June 4 at 4 p.m. in conjunction with Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. In addition to Karen Raugust of Raugust Communications, speakers include Jerry Bennington, VP new product development at IDW Publishing, and Isabel Baudrey, founder and CEO of Bag Bug.

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