From Funko Fusion to Chaplin Pop: Lucy Salisbury, Director of Licensing, Funko EMEA, on what’s new

Lucy Salisbury, Funko

Lucy, let’s jump right in with talk of a prophecy! In 2020, you did an interview for our sister site, Mojo Nation. People can see that here. In it, you said you thought anime was an untapped gem of a brand; “…a big growth area with potential to expand.” Were you right?
Well, it’s great to start with a strong point – thank you, Deej! But yes, it turned out to be really huge for Funko. In particular, Funko EMEA has seen massive growth there over the last two to three years. We’ve seen strong performance across the G5.

It’s that dramatic?
It really is. Alongside movies, TV sports and music, anime’s now right in there as one of our main genres. We’ve got dozens of licenses; it’s a core strategic pillar. We’ve got One Piece, Dragon Ball, My Hero Academia, Naruto, Demon Slayer, Hunter x Hunter… Lots more!

And who’s the audience for that, Lucy? Who’s driving that?
It’s really being driven by Gen Z and millennials; it feels like they kind of really own anime. And it isn’t just Funko Pop: we’ve seen them grow across category! It’s in other formats of collectibles, it’s advent calendars, Loungefly, it’s apparel… It’s a real success story.

Why do you think that is? What’s the appeal of it, do you think?
The thing is, anime’s such a diverse genre. A lot of people might start with the Manga. Often, that’s then made into an anime… But there’s anime for kids, anime for adults – very much so! But I think it all feels really fresh. I think the younger generations feel like it belongs to them because it’s brand-new content, or it’s much newer content a lot of the time. I think that’s a big factor in its success.

Lucy Salisbury, Funko

As opposed to some of the traditional superhero brands, I suppose… Batman and Superman: nearly 90 years old; Spider-Man and The Hulk – what? 60? 65?
Right. There’s some fantastic IP there, absolute classics – but we grew up with those properties; even our parents grew up with them. anime might simply feel fresher to that Gen Z audience.

Alright, good answer, thank you. So… You were right about anime. What else has changed since 2020? What else is big for you?
Well, there are a couple of areas that’ve driven Funko’s IP acquisitions and then onto sales in store. I’d say the growth and development of the kidult market is really key.

And just before we get too far into that, how do you define kidult, Lucy?
Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard this a bunch of times! Any content that can appeal to cross-generational audiences. A recent example would be Stranger Things. That’s something that parents and kids all want to sit down and watch; they all enjoy it just as much. And now that I mention it, it’s worth saying that Stranger Things is a pop-culture phenomenon; that’s been huge for Funko….

I’m curious, then: when your team’s discussing IP opportunities, how do you know that one cult brand or one nostalgia brand is ripe for development but not another?
There are a couple of answers to that. The obvious one is the business answer… The numbers have got to make sense. So we’ll first check a vast array of data. That might come from agencies and Google trend evaluations; it can include amazon search terms… Another obvious and easy one to look at is social-media buzz and follower numbers. Then there are other questions: in which countries is the IP big? Where do the IP owners say their fans are located?

Lucy Salisbury, Funko

Which must be an important question because something that’s a cult hit in New Zealand, let’s say, isn’t necessarily going to become a huge hit all over the world…
No, exactly. Often, if the buyers we’re approaching don’t know about the IP, it’s no good. So we look at all these metrics, and also the style guides for the IP. We have to ask if those align with Funko because we have such a distinctive look for our products across categories. We can’t completely change the style guide of an IP. It has to feel organic.

Oh wow. That would be really key!
We might also ask, “When was the last time the IP had content out?” Finally, though, it all has to come down to whether or not people feel an emotional connection with that brand. Because people have to love the character; they have to love the item enough that they want to add it to their collection.

Yes. There are plenty of things I like to watch but wouldn’t want to have a figurine of sitting on a shelf! The timeframe is interesting too. Some IP must seem too old, but others haven’t yet had long enough to brew!
Exactly. Quite often we’ll hear about IP that has a classic movie, say, but now has a new version coming out. There, we’ll usually base our product around the classic style guide because that’s the one that already has an emotional connection. But the new content it great marketing for the IP in general! It reinvigorates the fans.

And now that you’ve said it, I wonder if that reinvigoration sometimes contributes to the kidult effect we touched on… Absolutely EVERYONE loved the new Wonka film, for example. That almost certainly awakened nostalgia for the original. And all that is alongside Funko figures that never lose their appeal…
Yes! And on that, we’ve done things like Abraham Lincoln in Pop form, and Albert Einstein. And we’ve got Charlie Chaplin coming out. So it doesn’t get much more heritage than that! We do some of these things despite there not being a lot of awareness in the last few decades even.

Lucy Salisbury, Funko

That’s a great point because Marilyn Monroe, Einstein, Chaplin… They’re all SO iconic, and so instantly recognisable that they remain evergreen. But how long do iconic people stay iconic? How many generations on will it be before Elvis Presley loses his cool?

And when I say, “loses his cool”, I don’t mean he gets angry! “I’m all shook up!” I mean…
Ha! Nice! Good impression!

Well… Be better if this wasn’t in print! How’s that going to read?!
Ha! ‘Deej breaks out to do some impressions’…

Ha! I’ll do them all, and we’ll stay all night! Give me an excuse to do Brian Blessed, Lucy; we’ll see who comes running in to find out what the noise is!
Ha! “Gor-don’s ALIVE?”

Ha! Alright… Ha! So… You mentioned Stranger Things. I did want to ask about the impact of Netflix on Funko.
Oh, they’ve just been so great! I think there’s a really nice alignment of Netflix viewers and Funko fans. I love that because it lets us do things that are hugely popular in Europe and Asia. We’ve seen things like Squid Game, for example, do really well. La casa de papel, or Money Heist, is another one that sells really well in southern Europe, particularly Spain. The Witcher… Bridgerton! All great content that Funko does really nice products for. So yes, we absolutely love Netflix. A really great IP partner.

Lucy Salisbury, Funko

What’s next for Funko, Lucy?
What’s next for Funko? Oh, wow… So, so much! One thing I’m really excited about is Funko Fusion. Funko Fusion is our first ever AAA video game, which means strong marketing and publishing budgets. It launches later this year… We’ve done it in collaboration with a studio called 10:10 Games which is co-founded by the BAFTA-award winner Jon Burton. Jon Burton was the main developer behind TT Games which made all the LEGO games.

Oh, okay – so heck of a pedigree there!
Oh, yes; a great development team. And this is also in conjunction with NBC Universal… So you can play with all these different characters. A character from Jurassic Park can go and fight He-Man, for example. And only in the Funko world would that make any sort of sense because people have got their favourite characters alongside each other in their Funko collections.

Online multiplayer adds even more chaos to the mix, allowing up to 4 players to team up and battle enemies, explore vast environments and solve intriguing puzzles. I don’t want to say too much, but it looks amazing. Will have to look at the trailer – I’m not just saying that; you really have to check it out.

I will. In fact, we’ll probably put a link to it in here. Let me ask you this… To what do you attribute Funko’s ongoing popularity?
There are a couple of things. One factor is the sheer breadth of those licenses – which we’ve discussed. Another factor is, I think, that many of those licenses have really great product executions all through the value chain…

And for the uninitiated, your value chain includes what?
That includes the core collectible, of course… Then we’ve had a phenomenal launch for Bitty Pop. There, you’re paying £3 for an almost perfectly rendered one-inch-high version of a Pop. We’ve got our other collectible formats: Pop Moments, Pop Deluxe. We’ve got Loungefly, which I think is probably the best licensed accessories collection in the world… You can see the level of detail we put into these amazing bags. And then there’s Mondo; these extraordinary high-end collectibles which reproduce iconic characters and amazing qualit .

Fantastic answer! Thank you. You know, I often start out by asking people what their background is! We kind of hit the road running so I didn’t ask. How did you come to be doing this, though?
I started off training as an accountant, actually. I was analysing derivatives for British Leyland PLC, quite a serious job…

Oh my god, I’m already bored!
Ha! I know! Sorry. I’m really sorry!

No, it’s my fault… I shouldn’t have asked! How soon do you get to the bit where Funko saves you?!
Well, I got an accounting job at Ministry of Sound because I was really into clubbing and music. Then I transitioned from that role into heading up their licensing team. We did things like licensed DJ equipment and MP three players preloaded with content. That was brilliant fun and a good job for me in my mid-twenties. I stuck in music licensing for a bit, then entertainment licensing. I worked at ITV Studios for three years. After that I got the role at Funko.

How did you make the leap from accounts to licensing, though? I mean… Are any of the accountancy skills transferable?
Yes, they really are! I think a big chunk of licensing is numbers, forecasts, reporting, balancing liabilities… What sales do we need to make to recoup our minimum guarantees? So it does help to have strong financial skills. Alongside that, you get to have some experience of sales, marketing, product development. After that, it’s all about the relationships, isn’t it? And actually, that’s the bit I love about it.

Alright! Well, you’ve turned me around on the accounts. I take it back; it was interesting! So – last question; a very obvious one… What’s your favourite Funko item launching this year?
I’d have to say something from London Toy Fair… The greatest reaction we got was to – and I personally really like them – the Death Star and Hogwarts displays; the Bitty Pop displays. Really cute! I just love both of those IPs; I’m a massive Star Wars fan, and a massive Harry Potter fan… So – well – just look at them! They’re super cute!

Fantastic! Thank you, Lucy.

Lucy Salisbury, Funko

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