Even if you’re not the parent of a small child, chances are you’ve heard of Baby Shark. And while you’ve been “doo-doo-doo” -ing along to the simple yet memorable tune from Korean children’s educational brand Pinkfong, so has nearly everyone else. With almost nine billion views on YouTube, Baby Shark has become one of the most recognizable animated characters on the planet, even for those who don’t have kids.

The song’s catchiness has undoubtedly contributed to the popularity of Baby Shark (and his entire sea-dwelling family). Still, there’s more to the Shark story than its easy-to-remember lyrics and K-Pop accompaniment. 

Millennials and Gen X-ers will likely recall singing some version of the song at summer camp twenty years ago. Indeed, the original Baby Shark is a traditional “folk” song that’s been sung in some form for decades. In 2011, children’s entertainer Johnny Only recorded and uploaded his own version onto YouTube. Ten years later, it has less than 200,000 views – despite featuring a nearly identical melody and lyrics. Sure, it lacks the fun animation, professional filmography, and chevron-clad child actors of the Korean version, but it’s essentially the same song. So what’s the difference?

The short answer: licensing.

By taking the catchy song and turning it into a character-based hit (thanks to those animations), Pinkfong has managed to nab all rights to the song. The marketing manager for SmartStudy, Pinkfong’s parent company, says, “Produced by SmartStudy, we are the producer and publisher, we own and control 100 percent of the song.” Of course, this is somewhat up for debate since the song is still considered a traditional one (and ineligible for licensing), but the yellow cartoon shark and his family are up for grabs because their design came from Pinkfong’s creative team. 

In 2019, Pinkfong continued to maximize its licensing potential by negotiating with Nickelodeon, the international children’s brand from Viacom International, Inc. This new global partnership will lead to an original animated series featuring the titular fish to be distributed worldwide on all of Nickelodeon’s channels. 

To get a sense of just how Pinkfong has landed such a massive success, you have to look at how they approached the three Ps of licensing: Protect, Promote, Profit.

When it became clear that there may not have been copyright allowances for the song itself, thanks to it being a folk song, Pinkfong was quick to protect their licensing rights by turning the character of Baby Shark – and not the tune itself – into the main draw. And by joining forces with Nickelodeon with a licensing partnership, they further assured that their biggest hit was protected from competitors. And with the Baby Shark movie released in January 2021 (Pinkfong and Baby Shark’s Space Adventure, if you’re out of the loop), the company’s ownership is all but set in stone. 

As far as promoting goes, well, Baby Shark has taken on a life of its own. In fact, Pinkfong has likely had to do little promoting of their own since its initial popularity inspired the surprise #BabySharkChallenge on social media. Since then, most promotion of the character and song has been organic, led by fans and celebrities. The song has been distributed in over twenty languages to encourage worldwide publicity and has seen Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and techno remixes to keep things fresh. 

All that’s left for Pinkfong to do is profit. Their global partnership with Nickelodeon is a great start to increasing profits outside of YouTube and South Korea, but there are even more Baby Shark projects in the works. As of 2020, Pinkfong is working closely with major producers of toys, books, personal care, home décor – Baby Shark merch that’s sure to hook kids around the world – and their parents’ hard-earned cash. 

Overall, Baby Shark has been a boon for Pinkfong and will likely continue to maximize its licensing power with more media and merchandise. As they strengthen their brand through licensing their most famous character, we’ll probably be seeing more of Pinkfong – and Baby Shark –  in the future. 

So what’s the lesson from Baby Shark? Staying on top of licensing and rights management is key to success for any product. 

Easier said than done, right? 

Finding a management tool is a good place to start. A great product will help to make catalog, contract, inventory, and royalty management simple and accurate, so you never lose out on your licensing potential. Click here to find out more.