Today’s guest, Brock McLaughlin hails from Toronto, Canada. In his spare time, Brock is a social media influencer, but for full-time, he’s a digital marketing manager at Spin Master, one of the leading toy manufacturers. So excited to have you on our show, Brock.

Before we get into the corporate conversation, you must tell everyone about Brockstar Gaming because I had no clue.

Brock: Sure. For, I guess five years now, I’ve ran a gaming blog just to keep me busy and a side hobby where I could talk about my love of games. And then that kind of blew up and I have a few writers. It’s not as busy as it used to be only because I’m much more busy in my actual nine to five job to actually work on it. But it’s definitely has a fun and I still like writing from time to time. So when a game really strikes me, I love to jump on it and give my thoughts.

It had a podcast at one point and then it lead into a job hosting for X-Box videos, which I think was a big highlight of my life and really fun. So I got to go all over North America and shoot videos with them that were all very fun and very cool, very unique experiences that not many people would get.

That’s awesome. And now you’re in the toy world, which is even more fun.

What lured you into social media?

Brock: I’ve been on it a long time. Like most people, I’m fascinated by it. Some days I love it, some days I can’t stand it, it really depends on what’s going on. It’s ever evolving, which makes it ever challenging and I love that about it. Not any day is the same and there’s always something new to learn and something new to jump on.

Can you tell me a little bit about your role? Because I know you have a lot of things that you do at Spin Master, or lot of brands that fall under your umbrella. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Brock: Yeah, for sure. So at Spin Master I encompass a ton of brands including DC. So the Batman movie next year, which is like, woo, is a very exciting opportunity for me. I’ve got to see a lot of behind the scenes stuff from Batman and I’m very excited for it.

I work on a brand called Bakugan, which is a show on Cartoon Network. It’s turning into, it’s a massive, massive franchise entertainment property. It’s had a resurgence in the last two years and that’s been really fun to work on. I get to handle things like Fugglers, which are these funny, ugly monsters, a whole slew of board games for Marvel. So I get to do DC and Marvel, so I don’t have to pick sides.

Sherri: That’s awesome.

Brock: It’s really cool. The only thing I’m missing here is Star Wars really, it’s my only other love. And now some of our brands are branching into video games, so I’m working on video games in my nine to five. We just had Reggie from Nintendo, join us. So I get to meet with him and that’s a dream come true and it’s very inspiring. It’s just really exciting. And our brands change, but I’m really on our legacy brands and brands that we’ll have for the near future and they’re all really fun. And I grew up with Spin Master toys. So it’s really fun to work on them now, 20, 25 years later.

Sherri: It’s funny that you bring up, is it Bakugan?

Brock: Bakugan, yeah.

Sherri: My son’s obsessed, I think I told you that at Toy Fair. So I could see all the kids are now playing with it. And like three years ago, I never heard about it.

Brock: Right? It broke out, I want to say, I hope I’m right, I think nine years ago. And it was this global phenomenon. It was mentioned in the hit movie, 21 Jump Street and the Simpsons and then the popularity died down and we brought it back, we rebooted it and yeah, it’s doing great now.

Sherri: I know, I can tell you about my son’s bedroom, it’s all over the place. So you clearly have a love of your job because I understand Fuggler which I’ve never heard of before, but you seem to have a tattoo of this character on yourself.

Brock: Yeah, I do. I used to host, we bought the brand last year. We’ve now put the brand on hiatus, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them. My apartment is literally just covered in them. I have like demo ones and broken ones and all kinds of one people have never seen and celebrity versions that didn’t work out. I love Fugglers,

I thought they were hilarious and it was kind of my first adult brand. It was really the first adult brand for the company. I worked with Post Malone and Lizzo. And we were trying to get a deal with Ariana Grande, but there was no money there for her, unfortunately, but now I have an Ariana Grande Fuggler.

I just learned so much from it, and I met some wonderful people in the community, working on that brand. So I ended up getting a tattoo of a Fuggler on my arm, because I thought it was funny and I liked the designs of them. I thought our design team knocked it out of the park. So yeah, I’m super happy with my decision, even though most people at work think I’m just crazy.

Sherri: You’re going to get a Zo Zo Zombie one next.

Brock: Maybe if Zo Zo takes off. For those that don’t know, Zo Zo’s a new entertainment property we just launched. Wow. I’m forgetting where we launched it, we launched it on YouTube and on Crunchyroll. And it’s very, very weird. If you remember Happy Tree Friends from wow, like 15 years ago, it’s very similar to that.

Sherri: It’s very cute too.

Brock: Yeah. Yeah. I really like it. I am really hoping it takes off. The toys we have lined up for it, if they hit market, are so, so funny and so cool and unique. So I really hope people get to see those.

Sherri: So that brings up an interesting point. So the last time I saw, or met you for the first time in person was at Toy Fair, which was February, I’m going to say 27th, and right before everything really got closed down.

How has your marketing shifted since that time given the health crisis?

Brock: I’ve never been more busy in my life, I don’t think. It’s been crazy. We’ve really been focused on creating content for people at home and upping our influencer videos, upping our places you can find our product and then just having fun for the first time, I think. I guess not first time, but finding ways to really just do different things and experiment more.

I see that with a lot of brands is people are just taking more chances right now and giving people things to do, and just simple things like coloring pages and crossword puzzles and image searches and stuff, just any kind of content we can provide.

Three weeks ago, I worked on a Paw Patrol yoga video. So I found a yoga teacher and we put together some Paw Patrol inspired moves for kids.

it’s not about selling product, and we’re finding that anything that’s really salesy just does not do well right now. People have lost their job, people don’t want to spend money, so now more than ever, we want to stay top of mind and give things people to do with brands they love as like, here you go, here’s a free thing. You supported us, we’ll help you, so here’s some things to do.

The Paw Patrol yoga was funny. We did art classes. So we got animators from our shows to teach kids how to draw characters from things like Abby Hatcher and Hatchimals and Zo Zo, which was really fun. And just doing fun things like that, which is something new and it worked really well and I hope we adapt and do that for the future.

Sherri: Yeah. It’s interesting. I feel like I keep saying, and we see the shift too, but now’s the time not to be aspirational or salesy, but more like comforting, educational and entertaining in a friendly way.

How do you see the children and the parents interacting with your brands? Has that shifted?

Brock:’ You’re taking a lot more user generated content that’s for sure. Board games has been huge for us. Bakugan was doing really well, but board games has been extremely, extremely good which is really cool. I love playing board games. Unfortunately it’s just myself and my girlfriend in quarantine, so we can only play so many games and we’ve exhausted all the games we can play.

Board games with two people is a little, even if they’re made for two players, I always find it a little difficult unless it’s a straight card game. But families are really coming together to play games, which is cool. Get them off the screen, get them doing something else that’s not digital. And just playing an actual board game or building a puzzle. We have a vast puzzle line with Cardinal and people just building puzzles like crazy.

I know Heinz, I love what Heinz did. Heinz did almost an unbeatable puzzle, it was this 500 piece, just red ketchup looking puzzle with no lines or anything. It looks so hard and I want to do it because what else am I going to do on my Friday nights now?

Sherri: Yeah. I’ve seen a lot of very complex puzzles and it’s not even the kids doing it. My sister loves doing it. My friends are doing it.

Brock: I sent my mom a bunch and she is not having a good time with them. She hates them.

Sherri: Yeah. We’ve done a bunch at our house, but it’s the same thing. It’s like, okay, now what’s next?

Brock: What are the ones that are really popular? I think they’re like the two tone color ones. They’re like really beautiful to look at, but putting them together just looks so painful.

Sherri: Impossible. Yeah. We did one with popsicles and macarons and they were both a thousand pieces, so it was pretty challenging.

Brock: Oh wow. That’s a lot of puzzle pieces.

Sherri: Yeah. For an eight year old, yeah. Okay. So getting onto the topic of influencers now or in the past or the future

What are some of the most impactful ways that you have or are, or will leverage influencers?

Brock: I am very hands off with the influencers. I give them ideas, I talk to them. We talk everything through, either with them directly or through their agents, but they know their channels best. And I work with very top line influencers and celebrities and let them really do what they know they’re good at.

When we do videos, when we put too much of our brand into it, let’s do this, let’s get these key messages, we build a commercial or anything. The videos just don’t perform as well as they would if we just go, okay, here’s our product, here’s a sense of what we’re doing. Take it and run with it. We see just absolutely mad views and mad success.

Ninja Kidz are just our absolute favorites to work with, but they generate millions and millions of hits for us. They did a Batman video for me a month ago, it’s now at 15 million views and that was great for getting kids excited. And they did this whole thing where they dressed, they hired a guy to look like Batman. And they went on an adventure with them using our toys. And it was really cool and they dressed the figures and they went above and beyond.

And then we did another thing with Kevin Smith and Kevin Smith I’ve looked up to since I was a little kid and wanting to be a filmmaker. Kevin Smith made Clerks and Mallrats and Dogma. And he used to write Batman comics. So I was like, “Oh, we’ve got to get Kevin Smith some Batman toys.” And we had scoped him out to just do a few posts and some pictures on his Instagram. And that’s what we thought we could get out of him and he loved what we sent him.

So he did a free video for us doing an unboxing. And he got his buddy Jay from Jay and Silent Bob to come in and open a bunch of toys. And they did that for an hour on Twitch, which was an extra added bonus. And then instead of just taking photos, he did a commercial for us in the style of an eighties commercial, you would have seen for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was absolutely hilarious. It was bananas and not what I’d expect. And it’s just something I’ve never, there’s not many places I don’t think I’d get away with doing something like that. So that was really fun for me. I think that answers your question. I just rambled.

Sherri: You got to send me those links, because we can put them in the context of the transcript for this podcast.

Brock: For sure. I’d love to, I’d love people to see them. I’m really proud of that work, it’s fun.

And when I talk to agents now, it sounds like a lot of brands have cut their influencer spends for the year, which I get, I mean, money’s obviously tight everywhere, and you really have to reapproach your marketing efforts. We’re still going pretty gung ho with it, which thankfully keeps me busy, but I’m interested to see for the future and the fall.

I mean, kids are still eating up, watching YouTube as much as humanly possible it seems. Numbers have died down a little in the last few weeks. We’re seeing a small decline every week in YouTube views, probably because the sun’s coming out and kids are getting outside more and places are loosening up. But I mean, YouTube is still king for content and people are always hungry to watch more.

Sherri: Yeah. It’s interesting. Who’s freezing up influencers and who’s putting more toward it. I think it’s different in different industries, certainly retail for sure. Across the board, it’s different for every kind of company.

Brock: It’s really going to depend. If you have a D2C store, people can find your stuff online. If you’re only in brick and mortar or you’re sold out, it’s going to be very tough for you to do anything unless you’re just okay with brand recognition and some brands are not, they can’t afford just brand recognition. They also need to sell, right?

Sherri: Yeah, no, for sure.

Brock: There’s been some good campaigns and I’m really glad a lot of the, “High we’re a brand and we stand with you,” campaigns have all died out already. That’s good, those are gone. It’s more fun. And people are just having a little more fun with it. And we’re seeing really cool things come out of it.

Like the Parks and Rec episode they did over Zoom was really cool. And The Office cast got back together, people have been asking for that forever. And just all these like live reads with celebrities doing weird things. Houseparty has become this phenomenon app. Jackbox has taken over as well and they’ve done amazing celebrity series every Friday night, which were really fun to watch. There’s just so much cool content out there. It’s now very overwhelming.

Sherri: Yeah. It’s interesting also what the TV shows are doing as well. All of a sudden there’s all these different ways in which the TV stations are coming up with different programming.

Brock: I don’t know if you watch The Blacklist. I’ve stopped long ago, but their season finale, they had to animate.

Sherri: Oh my God.

Brock: But they only had, I think it was like five weeks to animate it and it does not. It doesn’t look good. It’s worth seeking out only because I feel bad for the animators that had to be stuck in that situation. I don’t know if it was worth it to do. I feel like they should have just ended where they ended and held off till next fall when they could actually film that episode.

Sherri: I don’t know what’s going to happen with all the fall TV shows. It’s crazy.

Brock: Yeah. We’re not going to get very much fall TV, I don’t think. We’re going to see a lot of old properties brought back and just recycled.

Sherri: Yeah. Or they did a Gary Marshall special, which I actually loved because that’s my era and it was just clips and footage. So I think you’re going to see a lot of that, specials with formatting. So when you talk about Bakugan, it makes me think about all these influencers. But there’s also niches of influencers, not the Twitch people, but

Do you ever work with collectors or other types of rare categories of influencers?

Brock: Yeah, for Bakugan I have two types of influencers. I have our kids and then I have what we call our Baku Masters. And they’re an older crowd. They are the collectors. Some of them grew up with the brand. So they’re now it’s their second time around. They’re huge hobbyists. They play they play the tournament. They’re not so much in the toys, they just like playing the card game. They’re a whole other subset. And then Batman has been trying to find this right balance of hitting up kid, hitting up dad, but also hitting up the collectors. And thankfully our figures are really nice and the collectors are picking them up, which is really cool to see.

And we always have, collectibles are so big in the kid space, but you always have, I think for all the brands I’ve ever worked on from even things like Flush Force, that was only around for a little while. Collectors always took notice of them and picked them up, which is cool. And it’s funny. I don’t feel like you have to really spend that much time pushing to collectors because they’re ahead of the curve. They go to the store and they pick up the product themselves.

Sherri: Yeah. They’re the ones who want it. So it’s just interesting that a lot of brands don’t think that way. They’re just like, “Oh, let’s go for the kids or for the parents.” But it’s like, what are the different nuances and niches behind where you can make an impact?

Brock: Yeah. And I love rewarding, and we’re in a lucky opportunity where I can reward a lot of our collectors and just our big fans too. You don’t have to have, you could have 50 people on Instagram, but if you’re an avid fan of said brand, I love sending them stuff. My favorites with Paw Patrol, we send letters to kids from like, “Oh, we just met your dad here in Adventure Bay. He is such a great guy. Do your dishes or something.” And then we have autographs from all the pups, and there all the paw prints on the paper, which is a really cool just fun, little gift to send out.

Sherri: That’s awesome. So I have another question, we get this all the time. So is this going to make us go viral? And I guess I want to, I mean, I’ve been doing influencer marketing for 10 years and it’s still the question. If we do this, will we go viral? What do you think of that?

Is “going viral” a realistic KPI for an influencer marketing campaign?

Brock: No, it’s not. Every meeting someone says, “Oh, we’ll make this go viral.” And if we’re ever with an agency and they’re like, “Oh, this will definitely go viral.” I go, “No, it won’t, you don’t know it will.” You just can’t predict the viral nature of said video. Yes, if I was getting The Office cast back together, I could guess that’s going to go viral, that’s because it’s a huge built in audience. But it’s so, so rare that you would know that it’s going to go viral and I don’t think you can plan it. I don’t think you should plan for that. Just make good stuff.

And I think there’s some brands in a category that seek out to make things that might go viral. Wendy’s and Burger King are big examples. They have a lot of those campaigns, but they also have so much money and they shoot so many of them out that, I would say a sports reference here if I knew sports better, but I guess it’s their batting average. They make so many attempts that one of them is going to be a home run every once in a while.

Sherri: They do a lot of quirky stuff with each other, too.

Brock: A lot of quirky stuff and they pay so much to get that everywhere too. They’re paying it to go viral essentially, it’s not just being organically placed on YouTube with no, they let Ad Age know, they let Marketing Weekly know, they let everyone know that that’s out there.

Sherri: Yeah, no for sure. So the other thing that we want to talk about is, everyone’s now categorizing, there’s nanos, there’s micros, there’s macros there’s megas.

How do you categorize influencers and which is your favorite segment to work with?

Brock: Yeah, I mean, I give presentations on social a lot. So these words are always coming up. I work usually with the megas or the macros. It’s tough. I think it really depends on your product. I definitely encourage most brands that have low spend to go for your nanos and micros.

Everyone wants the people with the most followers and the most engagement, but it doesn’t always make sense for the brand and people forget that. They want the bigger numbers versus the numbers that’ll actually mean something. It’s great that 10 million people saw your brand. Does anyone care? No. If you work with someone that doesn’t really have a lot of brand deals, they only have 10 to 50,000 followers. So yes, they’re micro.

It might be just the right audience you need. Do you ever build up a social page that just has one goal in mind? It’s only miniature painting and that’s all you do, you’re going to see your numbers rise really quickly. It’s only people in that community and that’s who I would want to target, someone who just deals with miniature painting.

If I was a paint company, I’m like, “Here you go. I know that out of the 49,000 followers, you have, 48,000 of them like painting and that’s perfect.” That’s exactly where you need to be. And they’re so much cheaper than going with someone in the mega. When you’re looking at over a million followers, you’re probably looking at a six figure deal depending on what it is.

Sherri: Yeah. And I always also tell brands, I mean look, again, if you have that big budget shore, but with the micros and the nanos, it’s not just the reach, it’s that you get multiple pieces of content and different messaging and all that.

Brock: Oh yeah. They’ll go above and beyond for you and give you so much more. Because usually at the end of the day, they actually really like the product I find with macro or anyone that’s getting paid, then it starts to diminish if they actually care about said brand. And their audience are very there just to see them. And I don’t know if they really care about the advertising all that much. It’s always a big question.

Sherri: Yeah, definitely. Well, this has been so fun. I definitely think I want to switch jobs and move back to Canada and work at Spin Master, but I’m going to end with my final question, which is, I always ask,

name an influencer you love to follow, but hate to admit that you do.

Brock: Oh my God. That is a good question. Wow. Who do I hate?
Sherri: It could be not hate.
Brock: My guilty pleasure.
Sherri: Yeah.
Brock: Does Justin Bieber count? Can I say Justin Bieber?
Sherri: Of course. I love it.

Brock: I’m such a sucker for celebrity culture, even though I don’t like it. Most of them I find so fake and cringey, but I’m so into that drama. I’m like, “Oh, what did you do? Who’s beeping who?”

Sherri: That’s awesome.

Brock: I will just want to add for brands that want to get into that influencer space, I think now is just the absolute best time. Influencers are looking for brand deals like crazy right now, because so much of their spending has been cut. So if you have that money, they will probably be down to work with you for a much reduced rate than they ever would have been before.

Sherri: Great shout out. Yeah. That’s a great point. Well, thank you so much. Love this conversation and hope to see you soon in person.

Brock: Thank you. Yeah, hopefully. I hope in 2020.

Sherri: Yeah, I hope so too. Thanks so much, Brock.
Brock: Thank you. Take care.

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