Feb 15, 2019
Collaborations that fuel the cool factor.
It was a big week for fans of SpongeBob SquarePants with the announcement of a live-action special and the possibility of spin-off series. The character also made an appearance at Fashion Week, adorning the sleeves of a Cynthia Rowley outfit for the latest in a long line of SpongeBob fashion collaborations. Many of these partnerships produce limited edition items—also known as micromerch—that showcase Viacom’s iconic IP.
“[Micromerch] is a collaboration, pop-up, limited edition, it’s really one of those moments where two things come together, or an opportunity comes together, unexpectedly, and has some sort of collectability, because it's not going to be around forever,” explains Jose Castro, SVP of global collaborations and softlines at Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products. “Now, it applies to so many different product categories, we try to keep it as general as possible. It used to be mainly about shoes.”
"It's not just about being cool, it's 'how can we create cool?'"
In 2018, Viacom launched limited edition Vans featuring SpongeBob, as well as a highly-coveted MTV x Marc Jacobs sweatshirt, which now sits under lock and key in the Viacom New York office. In 2016, the company unveiled a collab with streetwear brand Kith and the Rugrats — some of those sweatshirts can be found on eBay right now for $200 to $250. The technique isn’t necessarily about making money on these few, hard-to-get products, but about generating hype and interest.
“It's a longtail money-making endeavor,” says Castro. “I think what it brings is that constant cool factor, collectability, and popularity to maintain that longtail business. It's not just about being cool, it's 'how can we create cool?' So that later down the road, we can offer this product, and keep it in the marketplace, and keep it selling.”
Over the past few months, the trend has been on the rise as influencers create their own merch without the support of a corporation. For instance, The Bachelor contestant, Ashley Iaconetti, who was known for always crying on the series, created her own box of tissues. The hipster sparkling water brand La Croix also got into micromerch in 2018 by creating one-piece swimsuits and trunks.
“That never intended to make money. I can assure you,” says Castro of the swimwear. “What it did intend, was to sell more La Croix water down the road.”
"This generation has a really big focus on discovery."
He explains that part of the trend is millennials and Gen Z’ers “rebelling” against the old way of shopping, such as scouring department store racks for something everyone else already has.
Mel Peralta, who runs Stadium Status Group, an agency that partners with Viacom on some of its micromerch, has worked with the company on collaborations such as the Rugrats x Kith and Jeremy Scott x Ren and Stimpy, both in 2016, and Pharrell Williams x SpongeBob.
He described the trend as rooted “community.” He recalled how many people around the world were bummed after missing out on the launch of the Off-Whites in 2017 on Nike’s SNKRS app.
“It’s all about, ‘Hey look, you have these cool SpongeBob and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles collab sneakers. Well, I have the hat from that same collaboration. Or, I have the T-shirt from a SpongeBob collaboration three years ago. So now, you’re speaking the same language,” Peralta says.