For anyone considering SpongeBob SquarePants merchandise and MTV sweatshirts as a holiday gift idea, Viacom is now giving consumers an option to buy exclusive products directly from the company.
Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products (VNCP), which oversees retail and merchandising for Viacom, has launched its first branded online shops as part of the entertainment company’s new direct-to-consumer efforts. Andrea Fasulo, svp of retail marketing for VNCP, said the company launched the websites to provide an alternative channel to reach its diverse fanbase, and highlight Viacom’s portfolio.
“The idea was to create homes where fans can find curated collections of products that are different from what you might find in traditional retail,” said Fasulo. “We want to create sites that serve these fans and provide us with [further] insight on types of products they want to see.”
The websites sell items that include personalized and print-on-demand apparel, home goods and accessories. The SpongeBob site, which launched this past summer, includes products tied to the show’s 20th anniversary and the holidays. The MTV shop, which launched earlier this month, offers clothes and accessories themed around the network and shows such like Wild ‘N Out. There are also plans to include apparel themed around The Challenge, Catfish and Daria.
Limited-edition design collaborations are another feature of the ecommerce venture. For example, the SpongeBob shop currently sells products with a design from visual artist Louis De Guzman and musician J Balvin. Fasulo said selling these collaborations exclusively on the sites is a new strategy for Viacom to introduce fresh takes on older franchises and expose them to new audiences.
The initiative also includes a brick-and-mortar pop-up shop. Viacom opened the first Nickelodeon Holiday Shop earlier this month at Westfield Century City in Los Angeles. Open through Dec. 31, the shop sells SpongeBob items, as well as products from franchises like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Nickelodeon Slime—including a slime-making kit.
With the shortest holiday shopping season since 2013, Fasulo explained that opening a physical store provides an opportunity for the company to drive as much business during the holidays as it can. “This was the right time to launch the Nickelodeon pop-up so we could test new products and create buzz. We can tell our brand story to consumers as they shop,” she said.
To oversee the DTC program, Viacom has also appointed Aaron Cunningham as vice president of direct-to-consumer. Cunningham—who has 13-year background helming ecommerce for retailers such as Walmart and Goodbaby International—will lead product sourcing and merchandising for each website, along with marketing, user acquisition and developing VNCP’s future slate of sites and pop-up shops.
SpongeBobshop.com and MTVshop.com are the first of a group of online shops to sell products tied to Viacom brands and characters. Fasulo couldn’t divulge which shows, characters or networks will get their own site next—there could be more options as Viacom and CBS are set to finalize a merger—but noted the company is monitoring which fan bases are creating asks on social for insight.
And with the number of Americans buying DTC is expected to grow nearly 20 percent in the next five years, Fasulo also stressed that the program is a growing distribution channel for fans.
“The DTC model allows greater adaptability for us when it comes to fulfilling the needs of our fans,” said Fasulo. “It’s incredibly valuable to have this direct line of communication with fans.”