Discovery Channel debuted its 30th annual Shark Week this week. It is currently the longest-running cable-TV programming event in history. The event is so popular that it rivals shows such as Orange is the New Black and could generate an estimated $18 million in sales of themed retail products with additional partner tie-ins—according to Discovery.
Shark Week 2018 boasts the highest number of licensed partnerships in the event’s history, with 26 partners spread across nine product categories. Some of the most prominent partners are Walmart, the Build-A-Bear Workshop and apparel company Vineyard Vines—all of which launched themed collections to coincide with the event. Shaquille O’Neal is the official spokesperson for this year’s Shark Week (get it: Shaq Week) and starred in the week’s premiere show.
Southwest Airlines launched a shark week fleet with five aircraft featuring exterior artwork of different species of shark. This marks the fifth consecutive year the airline has partnered with Discovery. Southwest is also hosting the “Dare to Dive” contest, which offers a five-day all-inclusive Great White Shark cage diving trip as its grand prize. The winner will be flown to San Diego, then transported to Guadalupe Island, Mexico to swim among great white sharks. Swedish Fish is also hosting sweepstakes where it will fly one family to Oahu for a real-life shark encounter. The candy brand is giving away prize packs that contain themed Shark Week swag as well.
Discovery Channel is incorporating other partners through an extensive social media campaign where researchers, filmmakers, conservationists and others engage with audiences by sharing stories, photos and videos in addition to having sponsored factoids. Discovery also released 100 shark-themed GIFs and stickers for fans to use via the GIPHY platform.
“Shark Week is all family viewing; it’s fun, educational and entertaining,” Leigh Ann Brodsky, executive vice president at Discovery Global Enterprises, said in an interview. “What better way to bring families closer together than by buying great gear and tuning into the event each night.”
Discovery’s 30-year blockbuster event has grown into a cultural phenomenon, driven largely by audiences’ fascination with these sea creatures, but also by both aquariums and pop culture icons alike. With popular children’s brands such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Pokémon and the Schultz Museum giving Shark Week shout-outs on social media, along with immensely popular video games like Fortnite getting into the action, it will likely remain a marketing boon for Discover, Inc. for years to come.