With the debut of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie this weekend, you’ve likely seen dozens of products by savvy businesses hoping to get in on the, um… action.
From plush toys to adult toys, the Fifty Shades moniker is — officially or unofficially — appearing on products online, and in stores.
If you sell a product that can be molded around the release of a film or another huge cultural event, it’s worth studying companies who’ve successfully harnessed this phenomenon. Learning what works — and what doesn’t — can help you boost your chances of earning big bucks in the future.
Here are a few businesses that are capitalizing on the Fifty Shades craze, as well as ideas to keep in mind for your own products and promotions.
Plan Ahead for the Biggest Earnings
Vermont Teddy Bear, which makes stuffed bears for every occasion and theme, is heavily advertising the Fifty Shades of Grey Bear, a suited gray bear that comes with tiny handcuffs and a tiny blindfold. (Yes, really.)
Vermont Teddy Bear released this limited-edition bear on January 15, but getting status as an exclusive, licensed product took a lot of planning. The company submitted its application in the spring of 2014.
The advance planning is paying off. “We are planning to make 10,000 bears,” explained Janine Savarese, spokesperson for Vermont Teddy Bear, who says they’re on schedule to ship every one of them.
“This is on track to be one of our most popular themed bears, possibly the biggest seller yet,” she said.
Not every product tie-in is as obvious as the appropriately dressed teddy bear. OPI, the nail polish empire that frequently pays tribute to programs and personalities with shades of varnish, worked with author to develop its collection.
Even though it’s not a licensed product, “E L James was very involved with each shade selection,” said Rebecca Brown at OPI. “She was particular about the different glitter and micas [pigments] the shades had.” The author also wanted input toward the names of the shades — the five grey shades are “My Silk Tie,” “Cement the Deal,” “Embrace the Grey,” “Shine for Me” and “Dark Side of the Mood;” the lone red polish is called “Romantically Involved.”
The polishes will be available while supplies last, which will likely cover the release of the DVD later this year. While they won’t release sales numbers, the OPI team commented that it’s been one of their better-selling collaborations. And with colors like the bold-but-classic red alongside a bevy of on-trend grey shades, it’s safe to say that even manicure-goers who aren’t fans of the trilogy will gravitate toward this collection.
Try a Home-Grown Tribute
Don’t be intimidated; small businesses are getting in on the action as well.
Didi Romero of Etsy shop For the Love of Cookies bakes and decorates cookies for baby showers, weddings and other special occasions. She created her first batch of Fifty Shades-themed cookies about a year ago.
“There was a lot of talk about the book being made into a movie, so I thought these cookies would be an awesome addition,” she said.
Romero was already a fan of the trilogy, so she didn’t need to do a ton of research to decide which quotes and images she wanted to use to decorate her cookies. But her designs have evolved over time.
“As I get better at decorating cookies, the designs get more detailed,” Romero explains. She’s been working on her cookie recipe and decorating techniques for five years, and has most recently added an airbrush to her arsenal of decor tools.
She’d done a few dozen of the Fifty Shades of Grey cookies here and there — until the movie release approached.
“This week sales have skyrocketed,” Romero said a few days before the film’s premiere. “This weekend I broke my own record, baking, decorating, and packaging over 400 Fifty Shades cookies.”
Beyond the movie tie-in, she’s also busy shipping out Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras and baby shower-themed cookies. She noted that many of her Fifty Shades cookie customers are planning a girl’s night out with their friends, and a few guys have ordered cookies by the dozen for their wives or girlfriends.
Can You Bank on the Next Big Thing?
Hoping to make it big with a timely product launch connected to a movie, TV show or concert tour? Here are a few things to remember:
Plan Well in Advance
You want your product launch ready before the release date or tour start date. If you start to brainstorm tie-ins a month before a movie’s release, you’ll likely have missed the boat. Instead, you could offer a promotion at your retail space or themed pop-up event to drive sales.
Licensing Isn’t Ideal for Small Businesses
Licensed products generally work best for companies with a lot of capital behind them. The process of applying for licensing rights, which provides a stamp of approval by the movie or sports team you want work with, is long and expensive. If you’re approved to sell a licensed product, you’ll have to pay a licensing fee up front and royalties on each product you sell.
For a company like Vermont Teddy Bear, it’s worth having a Fifty Shades-approved product ready for its busy season. (Fun fact: E L James’ licensing company, Fifty Shades Ltd., stipulated that it would retain all licensing rights and revenue based around the release of the film. Now that’s smart business.)
Unlicensed Products (Usually) Aren’t Going to Get You Sent to Jail
Romero’s cookies are a great example: they’re designed with quotes and themes from the Fifty Shades trilogy, but the only place you see “Fifty Shades of Grey” clearly stated is in the title and description of her Etsy listing.
If Romero duplicated the book covers or images of the movie posters onto her cookies, she’d likely have a legal battle on her hands. But unlicensed products that are designed in tribute and sold to a relatively small market are unlikely to receive a cease-and-desist letter.
Your Turn: Have you ever tied a business promotion or product to the release of a movie, book or TV show?
Please do your own homework before creating and selling any products on the internet. Before creating a listing, do a search on Uspto.gov to ensure that your creation doesn’t run afoul of any trademark laws and if necessary, consult an attorney.