Content and commerce don't have to suck
A few weeks ago...
I scrolled past an article link to the official website for Apple TV’s Ted Lasso merch. I was intrigued, so I clicked. And for what has turned out to be one of 2021’s hottest shows, there’s something you must know.
The merch was terrible. Deflating.
Fast forward a few weeks and this time I get an email in my inbox. It reads:
"Did someone say honeycomb challenge?"
And so I clicked again. Of course, it was about Netflix’s wildly popular new show, Squid Game, and they were announcing their merch in collaboration with a (what felt like) random brand called Emotionally Unavailable.
At first, I thought, great! It seemed like the perfect moment for Netflix to capitalize on their most-viewed show this year. Leveraging an organic moment to sell merch for your show? Jackpot. And yet, if I'm honest, the merch wasn't convincing. It felt phoned in. Something was left wanting within me. It’s like they were checking it off the bucket list. No teaser, no build-up. Nothing. Just an email out of the blue.
Over the years, we've witnessed media companies evolve into brands. It's become an essential evolution to the modern media business, and a unique avenue to market your product organically. It's happened with Goop (newsletter to brand). Glossier (vlog to brand). Barstool Sports (blog to merch store). Food52 (recipe blog to brand). And Monocle (magazine to a brand that does curated collabs). Meanwhile, streaming content companies like Apple TV and Netflix (who’ve been around the longest) are the last ones to make this jump.
At a glance, it felt like Apple TV and Netflix should have nailed the merchandising drops for their shows, right? I mean, they do dominate market share in their own ways. They have more resources than the Persian army. They have creative talent that most companies (let alone startups) dream of having. And both companies care deeply about brand positioning and how it makes their customers feel. But, they didn't nail these drops. Both were mediocre at best.
So, how could their merch just, well, suck?
How to execute merch drops creatively
To understand the gap between mediocrity and greatness, consider this example of how another brand success(ion)fully executed a different kind of merch drop last month.
The case study? Drop Party.
If you haven't heard of Drop Party, we wrote about them earlier this year when they teamed up with internationally-acclaimed graphic designer Tobias van Schneider, who design the Mars Rover logo for NASA.
Drop Party has a fascinating business model. They’re equal-parts merchandiser, fulfillment, commerce, and creative strategy for brands who want to drop merch. They effectively make drops happen for loyal communities and fandoms. And amidst all the chatter about Squid Game and Ted Lasso these last few months, the Season 3 premiere of Succession—which I've never watched but witnessed the hype from people online—took over the spotlight like a reight train.
Marco Marandiz, the founder of Drop Party, is one of those stans. He loves Succession with a passion; so, you know what he did? He decided to drop merch for the Season 3 premiere by signing a licensing contract with HBO, right?
In the most unorthodox of ways, he reached out to a bunch of Succession fandom accounts on Instagram and strategized with them to design merch inspired by the season premiere. The merch was made with fans, by fans, and for fans.
Things get weirder. They even got one of the lead characters Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox, to post a Cameo video announcing the “Drop Party drop”, which created more hype.
The reason I like DP’s approach with HBO is that they did something Netflix and Apple TV failed to leverage: fandom as a way of creating scarcity and hype around their product.
Within a few weeks, fans all over the world were registering their phone numbers for this merch drop, posting about it online. Eventually, the drop sold out.
And it wasn’t even an official partnership with HBO. You know what I haven’t seen Squid Game and Ted Lasso fans do on social? Post about their TV show merch that they love so much. Meanwhile, fans of Succession were posting about Drop Party’s merch they designed around the show.
I know we’re in the early(ish) stages of media entities dipping their toes in commerce, but I don’t think it requires much to put the extra effort in, especially for companies that own their respective lanes the way that Netflix and Apple TV do. So, Netflix, Apple TV… here are 4 things I would’ve done if I were you.
One — Leverage the fans
Drop Party did this with Succession and it’s genius. Who better to leverage for a drop that builds on hype than… your own fans? It goes a long way when you’re acknowledging the people who care about your content the most. Plus, free distribution. Like what? No brainer.
Two — Halloween. Hello?
Either of these shows could’ve dropped merch in conjunction with Halloween this year Drop a campaign that targets people to buy costumes before Halloween. Ted Lasso hit its stride with more than enough time to get merch into their fans’ hands. There really is no excuse for fumbling the bag.
Three — Gamification
Can you imagine if Netflix announced their merch by creating a Scavenger Hunt around different cities related to the honeycomb challenge? Post on Twitter or Instagram about a treasure hunt that leads to some reward like free merch. This would’ve been sensational (and easy to pull off). Gamifying the experience for your fans. It makes them feel like they’re part of something bigger, together.
Four — UGC that sh*t
Would’ve loved to see Apple TV create a cultural moment and giveaway around their show by having people post photos or videos of their mustaches (in honor of Ted Lasso) for No Shave November and say that proceeds go toward helping spread awareness and fundraising for cancer throughout the month of November. Would’ve been a brilliant touch that involves working together to help each other.