Most people think of band merchandise as primarily consisting of printed T-shirts, hoodies and posters. But if, like me, you grew up in the 1990s you’ll remember when the Spice Girls arrived on the scene and stretched the concept to its limit. In 1997 I had Spice Girls-themed everything: watch, pencil sharpener, sweets, diaries.
A legion of schoolgirls (and their accommodating parents) helped the Spice Girls to create a branding empire and to reshape the way that musicians could make big money in the process. Earlier acts – such as Nirvana, The Ramones, Kiss, AC/DC and Madonna – had also benefited from merchandise sales but for the Spice Girls they were more than just a side business. They represented millions of euros’ worth of deals that could supersede ticket sales. That’s why the recent news that the reunited girl band have struck a new deal with Universal’s merchandising arm Bravado is as big as that of their sellout comeback tour in 2019. It means that, in addition to a special-edition box set marking their 25th anniversary next year, more mugs, dolls and stationery might soon be on the way.
Is there still an appetite for all of this tat today? You need only look at the way in which contemporary US rappers are investing in limited-edition “drops” of clothing to understand that today’s music marketing tactics have grown from the seed that the Spice Girls planted decades ago. As physical sales dwindle, global tours are curtailed and streaming fees remain paltry, merchandise can become a musician’s only solid source of income. Spice World appears to be alive and well after all.