“There’s opportunity in the chaos” – FanGirl Consulting’s Anita Castellar talks pop culture licensing

While the world’s lockdown over the past few months will go down in history as a period of inertia for businesses worldwide, the pop culture merchandising space could be about to experience a further boom, as the industry ‘begins to spy opportunities within the chaos,’ to maximise on a newly engaged audience of fans created via the pandemic standstill.

While it’s true that the scene has found itself hitting the pause button along with the rest of the world over the course of the spring, with the temporary closure of retailers in the space hampering sales, a rising demand in pop culture merchandise could now be expected as a knock-on effect of audiences finding new properties to engage with via SVOD platforms during the season of staying home to stave off the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s according to Anita Castellar, founder and the face of FanGirl Consulting, a specialist in brand development and licensing within the pop culture space, that ‘opportunities are now starting to present themselves from within the chaos’ of the world’s reaction to the pandemic.

Streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ have played a major role in facilitating new engagement in content and fuelling the pop culture scene, while the demand for retro properties and the popularity of pockets of the pop culture space such as anime – both areas that were experience growth before the appearance of Covid-19 – has only gained momentum over recent months.

“A lot of the retro properties are coming back, there were a lot of these reunions that were happening during the lockdown with virtual reunions for Friends, The Office and so on, but then there’s also – in the vein that anime is becoming more and more mainstream in general – a ton of anime that is being watched and rediscovered nowadays,” Castellar told Licensing.biz.

“As far as pop culture and content, whether it’s older or newer – and Disney+ has helped a lot with Mandalorian which is on fire for them – there’s a lot of content being delivered which is really helping the cause. The Trolls movie debut on VOD was a great idea and I think it shows that people are willing to experiment now a little bit, they’ve seen that if you’re willing to toss something in to the fire, it might actually work.”

Couple the forced evolution of the licensing and entertainment industry at the hands of the pandemic and its restrictions with the light that has been shone on the topic of diversity, it’s been anything but a quiet period for the business.

“The Black Lives Matter movement is one that has been in movement for the last ten years, but people are finally waking up to it, and it is really good that people are now becoming conscientious,” said Castellar. “People are becoming conscientious of who their licensees are, who their vendor base is if they’re a retailer, and there’s more awareness of the companies that are out there.

“There’s a black-owned company called Saturday AM which published Manga – diverse Manga – which is finally getting recognition, so it’s really good that the world is opening up to companies that before this, many people didn’t know existed. We just have to make sure that this doesn’t die off. You have to make sure you are conscientiously pushing that forward.”

With a background in product development for toys with Disney Theme Parks, followed by her role with Hasbro as the global brand manager for the Star Wars master toy line, Castellar has a deep affinity with the pop culture toy space. Her latest client signing – Panda Mony Toys – falls well within that region, presenting its retro-style Alter Nation action figure toy line.

Under the new partnership, Castellar and the FanGirl Consulting team will work to promote and market the Alter Nation name as it looks to take on the toy industry.

“They want to have their own voice, so we are trying to curate that in the framework of a very traditional toy industry,” said Castellar. “We have to balance off being the rebels. We can’t piss everybody off then expect them to be our friends and buy our products, so we’re trying to balance that off.”

Alter Nation comes with its own series of webisodes, animated in a retro style that will speak to an audience of nostalgia-chasers, while presenting a wholly unique, new IP within the toy space. Already the team has been in conversation with broadcasters to develop the webisodes into an animated series for TV or SVOD.

What’s clear is that Castellar and the FanGirl Consulting unit is now looking at how to start bringing new approaches and ideas to the branding, merchandising, and licensing business, a message that she often likes to promote through her FanGirl Friday social media platform, that, over the course of lockdown, has evolved into a live streaming event each Friday via Instagram.

“I wanted to keep in touch in a way that wasn’t sales-y but showcased the knowledge that we have in the company. And just have some fun,” she said. “Fangirl Friday was something I posted 10 to 15 years ago on social media, it became part of my personal brand. It’s fun, and there’s a business piece behind it as well, and I wanted a platform that showcased talent, information, networking and it’s an easy way to stream all of that.

“I think a lot of us will have to shift that way; it won’t go away. The community piece and connection, we all know and feel that very keenly – a virtual event won’t replace a sense of community when you’re face to face with people you work with.”