In the textbook definition of a fan lies an ideal customer for marketers. An always-on customer who will go to any lengths to get her hands on items related to her fandom. Not only is it a ready consumer base but it is a community, organically formed, with little marketing cost to brands. Encouragement for maintaining the fan community for movie/comics merchandise and proactive efforts to satisfy fandoms are relatively new phenomena in the Indian market. These grew out of a need base that was recognised by some fans and solutions that were devised by these fans as well. This led to retailing comics, cartoons, pop culture items, movie-related apparel, bags, shoes and badges, among other paraphernalia. We now see the emergence of players that cater to a fan’s geeky-nerdy merchandise needs. Take Red Wolf, a firm that started off in 2011 as a graphic t-shirt company. This was when people used to order from the US, inviting high shipping charges. Back in India, Red Wolf has licensed merchandise in addition to working with independent national and international designers, retailing everything from t-shirts to badges, boxers and phone covers among other items. Vivek Malhotra, co-founder, Red Wolf shares that sales from the website currently range from 200 to 250 t-shirts per day.
Additionally, a small portion, say 15 to 20 orders per day comes from marketplaces. The brand got into licensing over two years ago. For promotion and marketing, it depends on organic searches. It also engages influencers and leverages their social media presence to keep the conversation going. This is apart from having a stall at Comic Con. Looking ahead, the company is looking to sign more licensees apart from increasing its social media spends. Those who may have tuned in to Cartoon Network recently may have come across shows popular in the ‘90s, such as The Flintstones, Johnny Bravo and The Powerpuff Girls. To support the comeback of these shows among new watchers and those who watch it for the sake of nostalgia, the channel has associations to retail its retro merchandise in marketplaces and online portals such as The Souled Store.
It caters to consumers aged between 15 to 25 years with concentrated consumption happening within the 18-23 year-old bracket, extending to 35 year-olds as well. The top seven cities accounts for 65-70% of its sales with conversion rates being at par across all cities. Within apparel, t-shirts contribute 77-78% of revenue; boxers — having been recently added to its offerings — account for 5-8% and are expected to rise to 15-20%. Phone covers bring in 10% with badges and coasters accounting for the rest. Vedang Patel, co-founder and director, The Souled Store, says that the aim is to be a one-stop destination for all fandom needs. “We contacted Indian musicians such as Nucleya and comedians such as AIB and Kenny Sebastian — when these personalities use and speak about our products, it builds credibility for us which is very important for anybody operating in the online space,” he says. The portal does not believe in playing the discount game. This year at Comic Con, the portal is looking to give customers an experience and having contests where customers can win goodies.
Besides online marketing, The Souled Store has two strategies to spread the word: facilitating its customers to spread word-of-mouth and letting other celebrities endorse its products. For instance, the brand provided an experience where if a customer ordered some merchandise related to Harry Potter, along with the products came a Hogwarts invitation letter. Happy customers could then take to social media to talk about the experience. Patel added, “We have done something like this for every fandom we have. We sent across Sheldon Cooper’s rent agreement from The Big Bang Theory to fans; for The Lord of the Rings fans we have had the ring sent across.” For these players, having a booth at Comic Con India is a must-do. The sales at the event though might not be something to rely on. For Comic Con India however, booth rentals bring in a large share of revenue. Having said that, the licensed merchandise players are still only a handful and their investment is limited as they participate as exhibitors and not as partners or sponsors.
Jatin Varma, founder, Comic Con India shares that in 2011-12, the number of booths were about 20-25, occupied mostly by publishers while a few players sold imported merchandise. Another player in the space is Planet Superheroes. Launched in 2013, it began as a consumer internet company and now has a presence in modern retail, general trade and franchisee stores. Jaineel Aga, CEO, Planet Superheroes, registers that its products are being consumed by two- to 40 year-olds with a portfolio that includes categories such as apparel, toys, footwear, home decor, back to school products, gifts and novelties, comics, DVDs, stationery, etc. With iconic shows making a comeback, growing anime and manga craze, DC and Marvel movies (properties with the most push behind them) all set with their release schedules till 2020, it is a good time to fan your fandom.