Jose Castro

Jose Castro may have been the only speaker to talk about SpongeBob SquarePants at the forum, but it was all in the name of innovation.

He explained how Nickelodeon’s collaborations with Jeremy Scott have opened up a new tier of fans of the animated sea creature. Never mind that the designer’s knowledge of the kid-friendly series rivaled most Nickelodeon executives.

As senior vice president of fashion and lifestyle licensing and global fashion collaborations at Nickelodeon, Castro said, “Our goal is to make sure that we are everywhere families are, so all of our content is available on linear TV and all of our digital platforms — downloads, games, apps, etc. But retail is a really unique opportunity for us. We recognized that early on because it’s actually a moment where our characters can come to life.”

The Nickelodeon team approaches retail and the experience there as “the third screen,” he said. “Research drives everything that the company does — from which shows are picked up to what those characters look like and which categories we roll out and when.”

While big clients like Walmart, Target and Amazon are the foundation of the licensing business, midtier and specialty partnerships “are critical to reach scale, reach the Nickelodeon audience and also for them to stay relevant,” Castro said. “It also offers a halo effect allowing the company to test how far they can push things creatively, while reaching a different demographic.”

Nickoledeon always plans for the fact that all properties have a life cycle — “ultimately whatever goes up does come down and we have to be able to slot that in to whatever our other priorities are. Lastly, we have to have the ability to customize,” Castro said.

To that end, when Target, an early supporter of ‘”PAW Patrol” asked for merchandise “that wasn’t everywhere else, Nickelodeon developed an altered look based on an episode, approached 40-plus licensees with that artwork and had them design a full line just for Target. That led to a “months-long branded statement in all Target stores,” he said, adding that “Paw Patrol All-Stars” debuted via Target’s in-store TV network.

Castro also singled out retail opportunities built around JoJo Siwa, which resulted in sales of 25 million oversize bows — the wholesome star’s signature hair accessory. Another licensing winner has been “Sunny Day,” an animated show for preschoolers based on a hair salon entrepreneur. (Research indicated that children no longer aspire to have doctor-lawyer type jobs, but would rather own their own business, he said.)

Nickelodeon partnered with Walmart to spread the word, creating up a branded statement in store aisles, co-producing a TV spot tagged to Walmart and launching a massive digital campaign. The clincher was the retailer let Nickelodeon set up Sunny Day hair salons in its parking lots. “This is what we mean by being disruptive and using retail to drive that business,” he said.

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