Nov 08, 2018
By Tara Weiss
From big bows to a big business—with the help of Nickelodeon—in five years.
JoJo Siwa launched an empire with an oversized hair bow.
Since signing an exclusive licensing deal with Nickelodeon in 2016, the teen talent who rose to fame after a turn on Lifetime’s Dance Moms has sold 35 million bows worldwide. That’s two bows for each of her 16 million social media followers. Her army of Siwanators—what her fans call themselves—eagerly buy up her sequined high-top sneakers at Payless, sparkly bomber jackets at Target, and any new JoJo-branded item that hits the shelves until they’re depleted.
Her consumer products touch nearly every imaginable corner of retail. There are toys, electronics, arts and crafts, apparel, accessories, home goods cosmetics (perfume) and beverages.
With her 16th birthday on May 19, that empire is growing. The milestone will be marked with a slew of new consumer products and her first tour, "JoJo Siwa D.R.E.A.M. The Tour," which starts Thursday in Phoenix, AZ.
Yes, JoJo Siwa is an entertainer. She’s also a cottage industry.
"We figured out how to take an influencer and turn her into a brand."
President, Viacom/Nickelodeon global consumer products
“JoJo Siwa’s rise to consumer product success is remarkable, and it’s only the beginning of what we expect to see from influencers and Gen Z talent,” says Amanda Cioletti, content director for the trade magazine License Global. “It’s influencers who have the power to break through the clutter right now, and JoJo is the perfect combo of talent and influence that’s hitting at the ideal moment in time to help bridge audiences to this new way of marketing.”
Licensing deals with young celebrities aren’t new; Disney made an industry of Miley Cyrus and the gang of Musketeers that are among today’s (and yesterday’s) biggest pop stars. What is new is the immediacy and directness in which today’s celebrities communicate with fans. Social channels have broken the barriers between Hollywood and fans, enabling them to promote their products and publish links to purchasing sites. It’s an industry trend that’s changing the nature of celebrity. Now more than ever, celebrities are social influencers and social influencers are celebrities. And instead of using their cache to sell magazines or movies, they’re leveraging their influence to sell directly to their fans.
Last October, Walmart launched a Ryan’s World toy collection, a partnership between the retailer and the seven-year-old who reviews toys on his YouTube channel. Hearts by Tiana is another influencer-started merchandise brand. Grown-up models include Reese Witherspoon’s lifestyle brand Draper James, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics
JoJo Siwa dominates the tween girls’ market.
“We figured out how to take an influencer and turn her into a brand,” says Pam Kaufman, president of Viacom/Nickelodeon global consumer products.
While YouTube enabled Siwa to build a fan base, Nickelodeon leveraged it to build a consumer products empire.
"“What kids do and how they look reflects more powerfully on today’s parents than previous generations of parents.”"
"We knew there was white space in the tween market. [Siwa] had a built-in audience but we amplified it."
President, Viacom/Nickelodeon global consumer products
Siwa, who says she’s wanted to be on TV since she was a little girl, became known for her wholesome personality, anti-bullying message, and, of course, oversized hair bows. She got a manager and together with her mom, they pitched the idea to merchandise bows to the accessories store Claire’s. “The bows had wild success,” says Siwa. “They sold out in the first day. It was crazy how fast they went.”
That’s when Nickelodeon called. “We knew there was white space in the tween market,” says Nickelodeon’s Kaufman. “She had a built-in audience but we amplified it.”
Once she signed on with Nickelodeon, she started performing at events like the Kids Choice Awards, SlimeFest and she starred in a docu-special about her life, JoJo Siwa: My World. She keeps her followers in the loop on her Nickelodeon activity by posting from the “orange carpet” (Nickelodeon’s version of the red carpet) at events.
The animated series The JoJo and BowBow Show Show, which airs on Nickelodeon’s YouTube channel on Saturdays, was renewed for a second season. She released a music video for her song, “Only Getting Better,” last September. JoJo's Dream Birthday airs at 8:30 p.m. Saturday on Nickelodeon.
Products celebrating her 16th include birthday looks for the JoJo’s Closet collection at Target; birthday-themed bows at JC Penney; birthday-themed doll clothes at Target and JoJo Siwa birthday cake decorating kits at Walmart. Limited-edition JoJo Hairdorables dolls will be available at Walmart and Amazon in June and Target in the fall.
“We are not letting up with JoJo,” says Kaufman. “This is the peak year. We want to make sure we’re leaving no stone unturned.”
"I want my fans to know about the product but I don’t want them to feel like I’m overselling."
Don’t let the Siwa’s affinity for unicorns and sparkles fool you; She’s a shrewd businesswoman. She recognizes that her instinct for knowing what kids respond to is where she has the most impact on her business. So while she approves everything that’s marketed under her name, she knows that being the face of the brand is where she’s needed.
“Creating the fanbase is my job,” she says. When Nickelodeon comes to her with new partnerships, “I ask, ‘How are we going to promote this? How are we going to get the word out?’ That’s where my creative expertise comes in.”
So where does Siwa go from here? Siwa admits that’s the question she’s asked the most. “I think there’s always somewhere to go and a future. Yea, we’ve made JoJo bedding, now let’s make a JoJo bed. Now we’ve done a collaboration with a drink lets do a collaboration with…” Here, she pauses, before continuing. “Oops, I dug myself into a hole. I can’t say the competitor.”
You get her point: This is uncharted territory, but she has a plan.