It’s been credited with having the most loathsome fan base in modern culture, and that, by the way, was delivered straight from the mouth of the very man that created the show itself.
Dan Harmon, the man behind the popular American sitcom Community, has even gone on record to besmirch fans of the animated series Rick and Morty, particularly in the wake of the now infamous Szechuan Sauce incident.
But despite the public damning and the evident love-hate relationship fostered between Harmon and Rick and Morty fans, this community of zealots also just happens to be bringing a boon to the UK, nay, the global licensing space.
It’s with a reasoned approach that Omar Khan, licensing and special projects manager at Forbidden Planet describes the show as owning a ‘very engaged fandom.’ Give the term ‘Rick and Morty fan Szechuan Sauce’ a quick search on YouTube and you will witness the level of ‘engaged fanbase’ with which we are dealing.
Nevertheless, it is this very kind of human that has helped the pop culture specialist and high street retailer, Forbidden Planet to an incredible 400 per cent growth in sales figures of Rick and Morty products over Q4 2017 vs Q4 of 2016.
“We saw a huge increase in demand for Rick and Morty product over 2017 – from toys to clothing,” Khan tells Licensing.biz.
“Our Riggity Wrecked t-shirt – produced under a direct-to-retail agreement with Cartoon Network and Adult Swim – is fast on its way to becoming one of our all-time bestsellers, fans can’t get enough.”
Add to this the staggering sell-through rate of Forbidden Planet’s exclusive Rick and Morty Christmas jumper, and it’s clear to see that the retailer is well positioned in bringing the show to the fans across a multitude of platforms.
Having delivered three complete series of animated carnage to fans across the globe to date, the breakthrough moment for the show – a creation of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim – has been widely pin pointed as its move to the streaming service, Netflix.
“The real spike came over the summer, when season three of the show started airing,” continues Khan. “In fact, while the show was airing, five out of our top ten tees were Rick and Morty-centric.
“The show had cult appeal prior to that, but now that it’s easily viewable on Netflix, sales of consumer products have exploded.”
For those left confused about the famed Szechuan Sauce-gate, allow us to attempt to illuminate the scenario for you. In the episode titled The Rickshank Redemption, the show’s writers deliver a throw-away joke referencing Szechuan Chicken McNugget Sauce, a sauce that was brought out by McDonald’s for a limited time in 1998 in celebration of the release of Disney’s Mulan at cinemas.
For reasons still unknown to the show’s creators today, the sauce – one described as “f***ing amazing” within the animated series (and make no mistake that this is not an animated series aimed at children) – became a focal point for the show’s most devout fans. One mass campaign later and McDonald’s made the decision to re-release the Szechuan Sauce for a very limited time.
Video’s such as this one depict the level of crazed fandom that ensued.
The show’s level of self-referential material is not one to have gone unnoticed by those in the business of creating its accompanying consumer products.
“We have seen fans go crazy for even the tiniest tidbit of Rick and Morty product (and we base a lot of our creative designs on fan-focused show references, like Rick’s Szechuan Sauce and Pickle Rick) so I am hopeful that we will see even more growth in demand for product,” continues Khan.
“It is great to see more licensees working on the brand and we would love to collaborate further on exciting, fan-friendly product, because as long as there is more Rick and Morty content, there will be growth.”
At a time when swathes of UK retailers are reporting disappointing Christmas sales – Toys R Us, Mothercare and Debenhams among them – Forbidden Planet paints a very different picture, reporting “great” Christmas sales and strong increases across licensed clothing and apparel.
Could it be that Rick and Morty is the remedy for ailing UK high street and its current gloomy narrative? Perhaps, but not single-handedly, as it is the ongoing strength of the pop culture scene in general that has helped propel the retailer to success in recent years.
“I am a big believer that pop culture is in a golden age,” explains Khan. “There’s a wealth of content available on an exponential amount of platforms for consumers of every stripe.”
For Forbidden Planet, it was the superhero boom that kicked off with Marvel’s 2008 Iron Man that has brought about its years of high street success. For what started as a comic book store, the pop culture phenomenon has helped position the retailer as the go-to destination for merchandise tied to almost any property found to have that pop cult following.
“Annual releases of Star Wars films have driven new fans to the franchise, while invigorating the old, while animated series like Adventure Time and Steven Universe have found ways to target both adults and kids, leading to some great cross-demographic products,” says Khan.
As for the year ahead, Khan is spurred by the plethora of Disney brands set for release in Q2, circling both Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War and Star Wars: Han Solo, each of which will be supported by full-points programmes across merchandise, apparel and publishing.
“After a few soft years, Harry Potter has seen a huge revival since the launch of The Cursed Child play and the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and looks set to grow even more with Fantastic Beasts 2 in Q4,” concludes the licensing manager.
“Along with that, we saw a concentrated upwards trend in video game licensing and merchandise at retail through 2017, which I hope will continue. It’s a superb time to be a fan of video game brands, and pop culture brands in general.”