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‘Shark Week’ Returns. And It’s Going to Be an Even Bigger Marketing Event This Year

Female diver dares to Swim with Tiger Sharks near Fuvahmulah, Indian OceanFemale diver dares to Swim with Tiger Sharks near Fuvahmulah, Indian Ocean
Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) swim over coral reef on February 2018 in Fuvahmulah, Maldives. Andrey Nekrasov—Barcroft Media via Getty Images

This weekend will mark the 30th year of an annual television phenomenon that has Americans bonding over sharks—and it’s expected to be the biggest-ever marketing extravaganza tied to our fascination with those infamous predators.

The Discovery Channel’s 2018 “Shark Week,” the longest-running cable TV programming event in history, features a school of shark-related shows that will run July 22-29. The broadcaster said it could generate $18 million in related retail sales. In the past two years, the annual event sold a combined $3 million in Shark Week products, Discovery said. But this year the tie-ins have multiplied.

In 2017, the channel was ranked as cable’s No. 1 network in prime time during the airing of the show, with the opening night its highest-rated Shark Week telecast in the program’s history. The network anticipates that this year will be no different.

Former Shark Week executive producer Brooke Runnette, now chief program officer at the philanthropic enterpise Emerson Collective’s Elemental division, told the Atlantic in 2012 that the idea for the program stemmed from what was “definitely scribbled down on the back of a cocktail napkin.” Runnette and a group of colleagues brainstormed about what would be “fun to do on Discovery,” when one of them exclaimed: “You know what would awesome? Shark Week!” Boom.

To celebrate 30 summers of sharks, Silver Spring, Maryland-based Discovery said it’s “taking things to a whole new level” by partnering with the most licensees—26 across nine different product categories—since its premiere back in 1988. It also added a diverse roster of retailers for this year’s event, including Build-A-Bear Workshop, Walmart Inc., Vineyard Vines—and even Swedish Fish.

“We expect this to be the biggest year for Shark Week merchandising to date,” said Leigh Anne Brodsky, executive vice president of Discovery Global Enterprises.

Build-A-Bear, in case you haven’t heard, is a retail store that allows you to make your own stuffed animal. It will offer two plush Shark Week-themed killers, a great white and a hammerhead, each with coordinated clothing options. “Our guests have always had an affinity for our shark furry friends,” said the chain’s chief product officer, Jennifer Kretchmar.

For brothers Shep and Ian Murray, co-founders of preppy clothing company Vineyard Vines, partnering with Shark Week was a “no brainer.”

“Saltwater is in the DNA of our brand,” Ian Murray said. (The company logo is a pink whale, after all.) “We launched the assortment a few weeks ago, and our customers are really responding to it.”

The Vineyard Vines line includes more than 40 exclusive Shark Week products, including neckties, headgear, and summer-themed items such as swimsuits, towels, beach totes and drinkware.

In addition to product partnerships, Discovery is also leveraging its social media platforms to engage shark fans. The network’s Instagram account will feature a mix of researchers, filmmakers and conservationists who will connect with users through photo and video messages. It’s also taking the opportunity to introduce 100 new shark GIFs and stickers in a partnership with animated graphics company Giphy.

“Sharks are fascinating,” said Nancy Daniels, chief brand officer at Discovery & Factual. “They can be scary, but they are also beautiful creatures that the majority of us will not have the opportunity to ever get up close and personal with.”