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Will lightning strike twice for Baby Shark?

Pinkfong's viral song was a happy accident. But its sustained success strategy has been meticulously planned.
April 23, 2019

The beat goes on for music-based content in the kids entertainment space, with simple tunes and accompanying visuals playing a major role in capturing kids’ attention. A great deal can be derived from the strategic approaches driving the transformation of catchy little ditties into the sweet refrains of a booming bottom line. In our four-part series, Kidscreen is looking at newcomers like Little Baby Bum and Baby Shark, as well as industry giants like Disney, which are all trying to figure out just exactly how they can get the dough out of the Do Re Mi.

It was simply impossible to escape the ubiquitous “doo doo doo doo doo doo” of the “Baby Shark” hit last summer. The deceptively simple combination of K-Pop rhythms, an old Korean camp song and a snippet of “Dvorák Symphony No. 9″ synthesized with carefully choreographed movements spawned a viral sensation. It has racked up billions of views on YouTube and catapulted IP owner Pinkfong into the kids entertainment big league.

A former app company, Seoul, South Korea-based Pinkfong was all of sudden sitting on a hit with unfathomable global recognition.

“It was a happy accident,” says Kevin Yoon, marketing communications manager for Pinkfong’s parent company SmartStudy. “We didn’t put much marketing effort behind it at first, but after it became big, we have been working on ways to connect it to our overall company.”

The platform that initially propelled “Baby Shark” was YouTube, and the first wave of popularity that Pinkfong noted came from American actress and social media influencer Amanda Cerny (who currently has more than 26 million followers on Instagram and YouTube). Cerny created her own video for the song, which spawned a dance craze built on the simple choreography in the original version. Soon Cerny’s take on the song became a challenge similar to Drake’s In My Feelings Challenge, and social media users posted their own versions of the dance with exponentially more elaborate attempts.

The sheer pervasiveness of the song caught many in the industry off guard, but Adam Woodgate, SVP of media insights for Dubit, warns would-be earworm creators that it is fruitless to chase the overwhelming success of a viral hit of that magnitude.

“It’s never just one thing that comes together,” Woodgate says. “It has to be a few things that reach critical mass together. We see it once or twice a year.”

For “Baby Shark,” the clip combines catchy lyrics and dance moves together, and that means it appeals to both children and adults. Once it reaches a enough people on YouTube, it becomes “eminently shareable to other platforms,” including streaming services and social media, according to Woodgate.

“Then ['Baby Shark'] got talked about in mainstream media, opening up the IP to new viewers, who also check it out and then talk about it in their peer groups,” he says.

“Baby Shark” also capitalized on the K-Pop craze and the rise of popular Korean bands like Red Velvet, Girls’ Generation and Blackpink, Woodgate adds. In the end, the video becomes a circle, with the spinoffs going viral, driving back to the original, and starting the cycle all over again.

Seizing upon what Pinkfong recognized as a lightning-in-a-bottle moment, the company worked to create opportunities to expand the IP. A deep dive into the analytics helped solidify its next step of expanding the hit song into a full-fledged brand.

Early insight led the company to create as many iterations as possible. Since users from all over the world were viewing the content, it made sense that versions in different languages would be popular, Yoon says.

Pinkfong developed more than 100 videos in 11 different languages, spanning from 90 seconds to two minutes. Each one had the upbeat rhythms and the sing-along component the team knew was key to gaining online traction. With a 20-person creative team, the company is now storyboarding and planning additional content with the same basic approach to create more IPs that may emulate the success of “Baby Shark.”

While the video will live online eternally and always draw occasional views, the dwindling revenues derived from that long tail cannot sustain a global entertainment company. That is precisely why the team is in the process of taking Baby Shark out of the digital waters and putting products on the shelf.

In fact, 2019 will be critical in finding out whether or not the IP can be extended to create sustainable revenue beyond YouTube’s remuneration. Yoon is aware that in order for Baby Shark to resonate, a deeper, richer narrative is needed.

“We are planning on making a Baby Shark movie in the long run,” he says.

In the meantime, the company is exploring deals for an animated TV series in Korea, and possibly in North America, as well as a live show brand extension with Malaysian partner Astro for signature events in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

At this year’s New York Toy Fair, Pinkfong’s licensing partner WowWee introduced a singing Baby Shark plush toy and launched a considerable marketing push behind the product with a TV ad spend. Pinkfong also inked agreements with puzzle maker Cardinal and toyco Hasbro, with additional consumer products set to start hitting shelves by the end of the summer.

“We are hesitant and really careful about seeking partners,” says Yoon, acknowledging the dangers of over-exposure in the marketplace. “It has to be a good fit.”

Tune in tomorrow for part three of our series on musical moneymakers

About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at garyrusak@gmail.com

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