Feb 20, 2020

By Tara Weiss
How six animated rescue pups have come to dominate the global licensing market.

There are lots of familiar franchises in preschool entertainment: Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine.

For today’s generation of toddlers, the most popular name is PAW Patrol™. It’s the leading brand for children up to six-years-old—topping Mickey Mouse, Frozen, and Elmo—according to a 2019 survey commissioned by the trade group License International. In the U.S., the Spin Master Entertainment series that airs on Nickelodeon has been the most-watched show for kids ages two to five since 2016. Globally, it airs in more than 170 countries, reaching 350 million households.

In the world of consumer products, PAW Patrol has been the top preschool franchise in the U.S. and UK since 2016, according to market research firm The NPD Group. In 2019, it also became the number one preschool toy franchise in Australia, Mexico, Canada, Spain, France, and Italy.

"PAW Patrol is a true pop culture juggernaut."

Pam Kaufman

President, Global Consumer Products, ViacomCBS

The six animated pups who protect Adventure Bay have been a boon to Nickelodeon’s consumer products and live events business. Last year, Nickelodeon and Spin Master delivered $2 billion at retail globally from the sales of toys, apparel, home goods, publishing, and more.

PAW Patrol is a true pop culture juggernaut,” says Pam Kaufman, president, global consumer products, ViacomCBS. “It has been a force in the kids’ licensing business since we launched the series in 2013, and these beloved pups continue to drive excitement for new products in every aisle.”

‘Creating IP From the Ground Up’

PAW Patrol was conceived as both a TV show and toy line by the Canadian global children’s entertainment company Spin Master in 2010. At the time, Spin Master was known for its boys' action toys, particularly figurines for the anime series Bakugan®. Though it owned intellectual property (IP), or the rights to original fictional works, it was relying on other companies to produce content. “Our leadership wanted to launch an entertainment business to take control of our own destiny by creating IP from the ground up,” says Jennifer Dodge, Spin Master’s executive vice president of entertainment.

The company saw an opportunity in the preschool age range of two to five, which hadn’t seen a hit in years. “Many of the mainstays for preschool audiences were at the end of their life cycles and the new launches at the time didn’t hit the zeitgeist in a major way,” says Dodge.

Spin Master asked a handful of creators for preschool show concepts that were rooted in action, adventure, and transformation. Six disparate ideas came back. The artist behind Bob the Builder, Keith Chapman, returned a one-pager about puppies performing rescue missions that stood out, a concept that would be relatable for young audiences learning about their communities. It featured a German shepherd as the police dog and a dalmation as a fire dog. The inclusion of a doghouse that transformed into a vehicle put Chapman’s idea over the top for Spin Master.

"The response to the series was unprecedented—kids couldn’t get enough 'PAW Patrol.'"

Jamie Drew

Senior Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Business Development, ViacomCBS Consumer Products

In August 2013, PAW Patrol started airing on Nickelodeon in North America, followed by other markets in that fall. Traditionally, preschool toys and merchandise hit shelves a year to 18 months after content first airs. But, within a few months of PAW Patrol's premiere, parents posted on Nickelodeon social platforms looking for toys and gear.

Consumer brands were eager to license the pups’ likenesses for their kid-friendly products. “The response to the series was unprecedented—kids couldn’t get enough PAW Patrol,” says Jamie Drew, senior vice president, strategic partnerships and business development for ViacomCBS consumer products. Demand from retailers, manufacturers, and consumers was so strong that the Nickelodeon team sped up its planned consumer products launch by several months. Toys and merchandise hit shelves in June 2014.

The partnership between Nickelodeon and Spin Master led retailers to feel confident putting merchandise on their shelves, says Amanda Cioletti, editor of License Global magazine. “Certain licensees won't take on a newer property because they don't know how it's going to track at market,” says Cioletti. “Since PAW Patrol was developed with merchandise in mind it became a much easier proposition for them to take on. From a licensee's perspective, it feels like less of a risk because a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done and it's a safer bet.”

“At Spin Master Entertainment, we really focus on creating endearing characters and compelling storylines for kids first,” says Dodge. “If we are successful, kids fall in love with our characters, as they have with PAW Patrol, and ultimately want to live out those adventures in their own play experience.”

Outfitting a PAW Patrol Lifestyle

Since 2014, PAW Patrol has earned $8 billion in global retail sales. Kids in Russia can drink PAW Patrol-branded Danone yogurt; in Australia, they can sleep in PAW Patrol-branded pajamas from Caprice; and in New Zealand, they can read PAW Patrol books published by Lake Press.

In fact, there’s PAW Patrol-branded merchandise for every hour of a preschooler’s day: From the sheets, blankets, and pillows on their beds, to their toothpaste and toothbrush on their sinks, to the clothes in their closets. There are branded car seats, backpacks, books, toys, and figurines. They can eat cereal, chicken nuggets, soup, popsicles, and string cheese from pup-adorned packages on PAW Patrol plates and drink from PAW Patrol-branded juice boxes or sippy cups. When it’s toilet training time, there are character potties and training pants.

"'PAW Patrol' was one of the first series built in collaboration with a toy company."

Jamie Drew

Senior Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Business Development, ViacomCBS Consumer Products

It’s more than products. There are two live touring shows—Race to the Rescue, which debuted in 2016, and The Great Pirate Adventure in 2017. There are dedicated PAW Patrol sections in seven theme parks internationally and mall tours in Asia, where it gets so hot that people seek air conditioned-relief by visiting retail centers that double as entertainment venues that have characters walking around, shows, and indoor theme parks. The PAW villa at the Nick Resort in Punta Cana opens this summer. 

PAW Patrol was one of the first series built in collaboration with a toy company. More than a series, it was designed from the ground up to be a rich, immersive experience—brought to life across multiple touchpoints,” says Drew. “Take Spin Master’s expertise in toys, Nickelodeon’s deep connection with kids and add puppies—PAW Patrol was a win-win-win.”

‘Everybody Loves a Puppy’

The allure of puppies cannot be overstated. “It's all about the puppies,” says Spin Master’s Dodge. “What is the appeal of the show? Puppies. What makes it so universally popular? Puppies. Everybody loves a puppy.”

The ensemble cast of six pups, each with a distinct personality, make it easy for kids to relate to at least one of them. Another big draw is Skye, a female puppy who has been instrumental in attracting girls to the show.

“It's very unusual to have a property, especially among preschoolers, that sells down both the girl and boy aisles,” says Drew. “This dual-gender appeal is increasingly important in the kids’ business and has been a key factor in PAW’s continued success.”

"Big, promotable content events help to keep audiences engaged across platforms."

Eryk Casemiro

Senior Vice President of Nickelodeon Preschool

Additional pups and secondary characters have been rotated in to keep storylines fresh. There have also been new themes introduced each season and the direct-to-video movies offer opportunities to create new product lines.

“Big, promotable content events help to keep audiences engaged across platforms,” says Senior Vice President of Nickelodeon Preschool Eryk Casemiro, who oversees production and development of content for that age group across all formats and platforms.

And then there are the themes that run through each episode and special: teamwork, community service, and rescue. Those are natural “play patterns” this age group engages in. “The thing that sets PAW Patrol apart from other shows is how playable it is,” says Pete Robinson, chief operating officer of KidsKnowBest, a U.K.-based kids marketing and research firm.

It also gets a celebrity boost thanks to celebrity parents who love to talk PAW Patrol. Mila Kunis and Tyler Perry lamented to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show how difficult it is to get the theme song out of their heads. Keira Knightly told him it’s “toddler crack.” James McAvoy posted an image of himself watching a movie wrapped in a PAW Patrol sleeping bag. Mario Lopez, Kim Kardashian and Ciara have all posted pictures posing with their kids and some of the pups.

‘Strong, Growing, and Fresh’

Now entering its seventh 26-episode season, PAW Patrol continues to thrive with “long-term plans in place to keep it strong, growing, and fresh,” according to Nickelodeon’s Drew.

Says Dodge, “in 2020, the pups will go on new missions in new locations combining classic themes, which resonate with the preschool audience.”

Another future mission will bring the pups to movie theaters. Slated for release in August 2021, the animated feature film is a Spin Master Entertainment production in association with Nickelodeon Movies, distributed by Paramount Pictures.

“PAW’s big-screen debut solidifies its position among preschool’s all-time biggest franchises, and there is so much more to come,” says Drew. “As they say, PAW Patrol is definitely on a roll.”

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