Sep 26 2019
From Harry Potter’s Potterheads to BTS’s Army, Gen Z & Millennials are creating avid communities around TV shows, movies, music groups, and even brands that are connected and empowered by the internet. These Next Level Fandoms are inclusive communities, an escape from reality, and even more for their members. One Comic Con Trekker explains to The New Yorker that Star Trek even “replaced religion for a lot of people.” And like religion, fandoms have become integral parts of people’s identities. YPulse’s research on fandoms found that 58% of young consumers in a fandom say it’s a part of how they define who they are, and 77% say it’s an important part of their lives.
Fans who define themselves by their fandoms want to show off to the world where their allegiances lie—and their craving for identity-defining merch goes way beyond band shirts. The majority of Millennials in a fandom have purchased something only because it was related to their fandom, and they estimate spending an average of $400 on fandom-related products in a year. Enter: Funko, the toy company whose biggest buyers are Millennials, not kids. Funko caters to fandoms, no matter how niche, by turning an ever-growing archive of 1,100 licenses into coveted bobbleheads called Pops, known for their big eyes and missing mouths. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Funko’s sales have surged from $516 million in 2017 to $686 million in 2018, and they’re predicting sales of up to $850 million this year. The company is opening up a massive Los Angeles retail space, just launched a Disney villains makeup line, and has a Brandom of their own Pop-collecting devotees called Funatics. We spoke to Funko’s Senior Manager of Social, Cameron Deuel, to find out how Funko fosters this community, what’s next for Pops, how the brand is expanding beyond their signature product, and more:
Cameron Deuel: I think because we have so many different licenses in the Pop format, it really feeds into a variety of interests and different groups and demographics. But primarily [the majority of] folks are in their twenties and thirties. It’s split evenly between male and female.
CD: I think there’s a couple of components to it. One of the big ones is that, as physical media is starting to go away (DVDs, VHS, cassettes, CDs), people still want a physical representation of the things that they love, the things that represent them and their interests. Since Pop figures are at a reasonable price point and there’s enough variety that you could specify characters are even moments from your favorite movies, TV shows, and sports, they’re a great way to build out your collection while also telling folks a little bit about yourself.
I also think that when you’re talking about Millennials buying some of these products, they’re living out the childhood dream of what they missed out on when they were a kid. Maybe they were a Power Rangers Fan. Maybe they were a Care Bears fan. We have a whole collection that they can collect and track in our app and follow along on social to see what’s coming out next. There’s a whole community around collecting.
One of the big reasons is because we can apply a number of licenses and characters to the same format. So, you can have your Doctor Who Pop next to your The Walking Dead Pop next to your Deadpool Pop, and all those things can be in the same format. I think it comes down to how it all looks on the shelf or how it all works in the boxes stacked next to each other.
I also think it’s because [Pops are] a pretty unassuming format. It’s a three-inch vinyl figure. It’s got big eyes and no mouth and those are the only requirements and I think it adds a layer of cuteness that you wouldn’t have expected—particularly when you get to the horror lines.
We take a fast-fashion approach to pop culture. [We ask] what are the things that are trending right now? What are ways that we can start to engage with those things? One success from earlier this year is when we were at the New York Toy Fair and announced our BTS figures, which taps into not only music figures but Kpop in particular because we were interested in what that license could look like from a Pop perspective. We’re not afraid to get outside of our comfort zone and try new things, see what happens, measure [performance], and report back. But to your point, we’re always working with our audience on social media because we have a very naturally curious following that is willing to tell us what they think. One example [is] we were starting to build out our Marvel Studios assortment to celebrate 10 years of Marvel Studios films and we polled our audience as to who should be included, and we were able to actually announce that at New York Comic Con last year. It was so close between two [characters] that we decided to make both of them. We’ve also polled for different licenses in the past, such as Stranger Things.
CD: As we started to add more and more licenses, we became a little bit too random [in our marketing efforts] over the last year or so. We’ve been tightening up to make it more about general themes that we can tie in all of our key licensing partners and additional focuses. So, I would say we’re looking at it more systematically in terms of marketing our content, and in terms of making sure that we’re not sticking to one particular note.
We have a variety of ways that we interact with our audience through promotional giveaways. We actually do a lot to highlight the fan relationships within the Funko community. So, we do Funatic of the week, which is a highlight of a collector each week that talks about what they collect, why they started, and their favorite Funko memories. We also do a “photo a day” challenge every quarter that’s a two-week challenge to get people to take some Funko photography based on themes that we can tie into. It’s a great way to put the spotlight on the people that are helping us not only grow out the business but decide what to make. We are not afraid to really tap into our community and highlight them because that’s the thinking that made all this possible.
We look at that in a number of ways through social, but then also at events. Funko Fun Days is our annual event that we hold every Friday of SBCC and it’s a great way to celebrate the Funatic community and highlight that it is at the end of the day about finding like-minded people with interests similar to yours and finding that community within that. So, I think it’s really about the Funko family.
CD: That came about because we’re always looking for ways to play with the Pop format. But then also, [we were] looking at the fast fashion approach to pop culture and saying, “Okay what is going to be disruptive? What is going to be a little bit different? What are other ways that we can engage with Pop as a brand? What’s a really fun thing we can do and try and if we test that in it, we see the results are positive?” We’re not afraid to try new things and it might seem like [this collab is] out of left field but it’s also just to see what our fans respond to. It might seem kind of random, but we’re always interested in trying something new.
We’re finding more ways for people to represent their fandoms. So, how are you representing your fandom in your everyday life? In the whole Funko ecosystem, there’s a lot of, “How are you representing what you love?” And really, the makeup collaboration is just another form of that.
I think when it comes to Game of Thrones and even The Last Jedi and things that people really feel passionately about, it’s important that we have internal conversations about it. [For instance,] whenever there is an obvious character omission from a wave of products, we talk about it internally to find ways to potentially leverage fan feedback into something [positive], so that we’re not just letting them vent their frustration on social and have it end there. We see [their comment] and we talk about it and raise that up as something that we want to happen, too.
Sometimes, [what they say is] completely warranted but it might be beyond our control. A good example is when we announced a wave of Pops for New Girl last year and people were frustrated that Cece was not involved in the line. But internally, we knew that she would not only be part of that wave but that she was our New York Comic Con exclusive that we couldn’t announce until a later date.
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