CHICAGO — Walking down the path to the Huntington Bank Pavilion overlooking Lake Michigan, two things are clear: There are a lot of JoJo Siwa fans attending Nickelodeon’s SlimeFest and they are eager to get slimed.
The JoJo Siwa fans are easy to spot, with their signature, oversized hair bows and colorful tutus. If you listen carefully, you hear kids asking parents to find the closest place to play with slime.
They didn’t have to look too far. It’s everywhere at SlimeFest, Nickelodeon’s two-day music and entertainment festival that drew more than 20,000 attendees. Shooting out unexpectedly from the main stage. Dripping down a sign that says Slime near the entrance. At a Slime Lab slime-making station toward the back of the park.
This is the inaugural stateside SlimeFest. Sharon Cohen, executive vice president of the recently created Nick Experience, brought it to Chicago after successful runs in Australia, South Africa, Australia, Italy, UK and Spain.
It’s part of Viacom’s push to attach a live event to each brand, giving fans the chance to interact with the IP they know and love, while adding an alternative revenue stream to the company’s books. Revenue from experiential efforts is expected to double year-over-year in 2018.
“If we can extend the brands’ content and IP in real- life, it helps us compete better against the Hulus and Amazons.”
This summer’s event lineup includes VidCon, The BET Experience and Clusterfest, which wrapped up June 3 in San Francisco.
“It’s a diversification play,” says Jason Jordan, Viacom’s executive vice president of multi-platform strategy and operations. “It’s hard to compete with Netflix spending $8 to $9 million purely on video. If we can extend the brands’ content and IP in real- life, it helps us compete better against the Hulus and Amazons. It’s an opportunity to strengthen IP, talent and brands by letting people to touch, interact and feel them.”
Live Events as a Portal to Celebrities
A few minutes before noon — when Siwa is scheduled to perform — there’s activity on stage and the audience goes wild. Kids propped on parents’ shoulders scream and phones are aimed at the stage. DJ Maxwell of Nick Radio tells the crowd that he needs help getting Siwa onto the stage. He leads the chant, “JoJo, JoJo, JoJo.” The audience is rewarded with slime that’s shot from the stage into the crowd.
There are lots of familiar faces at SlimeFest in addition to Nick star Siwa. Zedd, Liam Payne and Flo Rida played the main stage throughout both days. Chase from Paw Patrol, Patrick Star from SpongeBob SquarePants and all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles take pictures with poncho-clad fans. Show talent including cast members from Game Shakers, Knight Squad, School of Rock and Henry Danger are on hand to meet fans and take pictures. The line snakes through the crowds. A limited number of VIP passes were available to purchase each day, allowing those fans a special viewing area and a chance to meet with Nick talent away from the crowds.
“Millennials and younger have grown up feeling like they have direct access to the celebrities they like on social media.”
Social influencers the Eh Bee and Ballinger families are there partaking in the festival’s activities. Also milling about is singer-songwriter and YouTube star, Carson Lueders.
A group of girls waiting in line for event sponsor ZURU Bunch O Balloons’ activation squeal and take pictures when they see him approaching the booth. And that’s exactly what organizers want.
“Millennials and younger have grown up feeling like they have direct access to the celebrities they like on social media,” says Chris Cavanaugh, chief marketing officer at the brand experience agency, FreemanXP. “There is no intermediary getting in the way of their direct connection. So when they come to an event they expect to have an interaction. It doesn’t have to be direct, one-on-one. Sharing that experience with others who have a passion for those people… when they are part of an audience interacting with people they follow, that’s exactly what they crave. These live experiences deliver that.”
Cavanaugh adds, “Online is great but it’s a one-dimensional cold medium. A live experiences is three-dimensional.”
Not Your Everyday Slime
Chicagoans Violet Hoeger, 8, and her friend Zaydee Jafari, 9, had remnants of green slime on them as they waited for JoJo Siwa to take the stage on this rainy Sunday. They just came from Slime Central, where 20 participants line up under buckets filled with the green stuff. After staffers give a countdown, the buckets open and cover participants in the goo.
“It doesn’t feel like the slime you play with at home,” says Hoeger, who is trying to wipe the slime off with towels the staff handed out. Adds Jafari, “It’s cold and sticky.”
Both girls are JoJo Siwa fans. Jafari first heard of her after watching Dance Moms and then discovered her music on YouTube. “She’s inspiring,” says Hoeger, who is wearing the signature oversized bow in her hair. “Girls look up to her. If you get bullied you know how to stand up for yourself. She teaches people how to do that.”
Hoeger’s mom, Tiffany, heard about SlimeFest through a friend and took the day off from her job as a police officer to bring the girls. “I watched Nickelodeon when I was a kid too,” she says.
Nick executives were counting on that nostalgia factor with parents. The parents who grew up watching Double Dare, which is being rebooted on June 25, recognized elements of the obstacle course–the iconic nose, the giant mouth and the wringer–at the festival.
“I used to watch everything on Nickelodeon, especially SpongeBob,” says George Mora, of Chicago, who is making slime in a tent with his nine-year-old stepdaughter, Taly Acosta.
Organizers were pleasantly surprised by how eager parents were to get slimed alongside their kids. “The biggest takeaway for me was that entire families were experiencing it together,” says Cohen. “I was surprised that the parents were getting slimed right there with the kids. We figured parents would be on the sidelines, but that wasn’t the case.”