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How Rick and Morty cast a spell on retail

Cartoon Network’s Graham Saltmarsh on how the show struck the right note with licensees, retailers and fans.

“We always knew that there was something special about Rick and Morty, but weren’t quite expecting it to become the phenomenon that it has so quickly,” muses Graham Saltmarsh, director of licensing UK and Nordics at Cartoon Network Enterprises EMEA.

“I think it’s because the show is really like nothing else and oozes brilliance; the writing is super-smart, but cleverly blended with comedy and this mix is clearly resonating with millennial audiences.”

The animated sci-fi comedy from Turner’s Adult Swim has certainly struck a chord with TV viewers, licensees and retailers alike. The US has a diverse licensing programme and Graham says the UK is looking to mirror that.

Current UK licensees include Funko, GB eye, Winning Moves, CID, Poetic Brands, Wow Stuff, Pyramid, Absolute Cult, Roy Lowe and Sons, Danilo, Dreamtex, Paladone, Lazerbuilt, Bioworld Europe, Spreadshirt, EMP Online, Just Funky, BWI, Whitehouse Leisure and Titan Publishing.

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Graham explains: “The nature of the show has given our licensees a new lease of life to create slightly more unusual and humorous products that appeal to Rick and Morty fans – including apparel, accessories, gifting, novelty and collectables.”

Reaction, says Graham, has been fantastic across the board. For example, Forbidden Planet’s ‘Riggity Wrecked’ t-shirt is fast on its way to becoming one of the retailer’s bestselling products of all time and it had a staggering sell-through rate for an exclusive Rick and Morty Christmas jumper last year. Meanwhile, HMV has sold over 120,000 t-shirts since July 2017.

As the show’s popularity continues to grow, Graham says that Cartoon Network is seeing Rick and Morty fans seeking out content wherever they can, creating their own content, sharing and discussing it with their peers. All of which means the company is confident that there will continue to be a high level of demand for merchandise.

The more adult nature of the programme also broadens the portfolio of licensees that Cartoon Network can work with and Graham is keen to explore collaborative relationships, ‘out of the box’ ideas and retail events for the brand.

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In terms of new product categories, Graham adds: “We are working on some terrific dress-up at the moment. The Pickle Rick sleeping bag is a joy to behold and I literally can’t wait for the Wow Stuff Testicle Finder to be launched… I think that says it all!”

Marketing activity and fan events are also being planned, following on from Rick and Morty’s success at San Diego and London Comic-Con last year. Cartoon Network is also constantly working with retailers and licensees to create in-store theatre, as well as running competitions. “Keep your eyes peeled for the ‘Taiwan Toilet’ restaurant competition – it will be unforgettable,” promises Graham.

Hopes are understandably high for the future of Rick and Morty, with Graham and his team aiming to have deepened the retail presence by the end of the year, taking it into new retail channels.

Graham concludes: “The show’s undeniable social currency has enabled us to form the fantastic partnerships that we have to date and we also plan to expand the licensee line-up by identifying cool products. We have huge confidence that the property will continue to grow and flourish in the long-term.”

Rick and Morty: Need to know

“The show really is like nothing else,” says Cartoon Network’s Graham Saltmarsh. If you’ve never seen Rick and Morty, it follows a sociopathic genius scientist who drags his inherently timid grandson on insanely dangerous adventures across the universe.

The show’s first season premiered in the US in December 2013, with the third season beginning last summer and 2017 seeing it become the year’s number one TV comedy among adults aged 18-24 and 18-34 in the US.

Rick and Morty is also rapidly gaining a strong fanbase this side of the Atlantic, too. Season three has launched exclusively on Netflix in some key EMEA markets including the UK, making the show easily accessible and viewable on demand for the first time.

It also currently ranks as one of IMDB’s top rated shows of the last 25 years, with an impressive 9.3/10 rating and already in 2018, the show has scooped highly-coveted awards including an Annie for Best General Audience Animated TV/Broadcast Production, alongside a Critics’ Choice Television Award Best Animated Series.

The licensees’ view

“Rick and Morty has been insanely successful for us,” says Emily Aldridge, licensing manager at GB eye. The company’s range is currently made up of 212 different lines from posters to glassware, 3D mugs and gift boxes among others and is still growing.

Emily continues: “The support for this brand at retail has grown and grown, with key accounts such as HMV, GameStop, MenKind and Forbidden Planet being the forerunners and surprise successes in the likes of Smyths and Asda, with some exciting 2018 plans in the pipeline with many other retailers on-board. We have also seen amazing sales across Europe.”

Meanwhile, Funko Europe has also received a very positive reaction from retailers to its range. Particular notable mentions include the Portal Gun, the Pint Size Heroes and two Pickle Rick Pop Vinyl figures.

Eva Dawes, head of marketing EMEA, tells LSB: “The Rick and Morty range has been hugely successful for Funko; the combination of witty humour and relatable nihilism has proven to be a massive hit with audiences across EMEA, and the wide range of weird and wonderful characters that feature make it a natural fit for the Funko brand.”

This feature originally appeared in the summer 2018 edition of Licensing Source Book. Click here to read the full publication.

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