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The power of social media "influencers" to sell a product that appeared well past its prime will soon be tested in an unusual way.
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The "Sway Boys''
‒ a group of teens and 20-somethings who created a lucrative niche on the short-video app TikTok ‒ have entered into an arrangement with the founder of Sillybandz, a once popular bracelet for children.
People involved in the deal said the Sway Boys will own a minority stake of the Sillybandz franchise — their first such deal since gaining fame in the short-video app world. These people also said their hope is that the arrangement will leverage the power of social media and the ability of the Sway Boys to “sway” purchases of the product.
“This is just our first stake in a company Gen Zers love,” said 22-year-old Sway Boys co-founder Michael Gruen. “We’re building and we’re trailblazing and through our proven investment process we’re creating the first social media billionaires.”
The Sway Boys will own 30% of Sillybandz, the company's owner Robert Croak told FOX Business. They will take the lead in marketing the product much the same way they've been marketing themselves through dance videos on TikTok and its rival, Triller.
Josh Richards, Jaden Hossler, Griffin Johnson, Kio Cyr at the Young Hollywood Studio on Feb. 21, 2020 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Mary Clavering/Young Hollywood/Getty Images)
Croak declined to comment on the terms of the deal. In a 2011 interview with The Wall Street Journal, he said Sillybandz has profits of "millions per year." He also declined to say how much money he earns today from the sale of the brightly colored, oddly shaped wristbands, or whether the influencers received their equity stake in exchange for promoting the product.
He didn't deny, however, that the Sillybandz craze is over
— at least for now. In its heyday about a decade ago, Sillybandz was a sensation among pre-teens and could be found in major retailers, where a pack of 24 bands would sell for around $5. These days, they're much harder to find in stores and are mostly sold online.
But several of the Sway Boys interviewed by FOX Business expressed optimism that, with their support, Sillybandz is about to make a comeback. Gruen, his business partner Marshall Sandman and their fellow Sway Boys said they approached Croak late last year with the proposal for a deal mainly out of nostalgia since they wore the brackets as kids.
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Croak said he wasn't looking to sell a piece of the brand but saw the value of having the Sway Boys promote Sillybandz to their millions of followers.
After some discussions, both sides came to the conclusion that the arrangement made business sense, given the growing popularity of the Sway Boys with young people who spend so much time on platforms like TikTok.
“When I was in 2nd grade, I used to go to the playground during recess and open up 'Blake’s Sillybandz shop’ where I would barter for other Sillybandz,” said fellow Sway Boy Blake Gray, age 20. “Never in a million years did I think I would eventually own a part of the company and be tasked with reviving the brand.”
The deal will certainly test the ability of social influencers to actually influence. The Sillybandz product has often been compared to other fads like Beanie Babies in the 1990s and Mood rings during the 1970s. After a spurt of popularity that could last several years, they dropped out of popular existence even if they remained a cultural touchstone for some people.
But in recent years, so-called influencers or celebrities and near-celebrities with large social media followings have begun to play an outsized role in the marketing and sale of various products. The Sway Boys became a TikTok sensation over the past two years, with each boy garnering 5 million to 25 million followers for the short-dance videos produced in a Los Angeles mansion known as the Sway House — and they are now cashing in on their fame.
‒ Noah Beck, Bryce Hall, Griffin Johnson, Blake Gray and Josh Richards ‒ are all in their late teens and early 20s. They have moved away from purely producing content to focusing on creating business opportunities. Josh Richards co-founded TalentX, which helps creators monetize their social channels, invested in fintech startup Lendtable, and popular faux fur product UnHide.
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Richards also joined TikTok’s social media rival Triller as chief strategy officer last year; Beck and Johnson joined Triller as advisers for an undisclosed sum. Additionally, Richards also founded sports energy drink Ani Energy with fellow sway boy Hall and a business partner Evan Burns.
Croak spun off Sillybandz from former parent company Circa Products LLC, to create a new holding company, GCG Enterprises, that each member of the deal will own a stake in. Its financials are not disclosed. Croak said while the Sway Boys will only own a piece of the Sillybandz part of his business they will take an active role in the business focusing on marketing and distribution and will be compensated quarterly.
The group is finalizing a plan to relaunch the brand, which will include new content on TikTok and Triller featuring the Sway Boys in videos while wearing the Sillybandz. They will also be discussing new product launches as well as talking with retailers about redistributing the product at brick-and-mortar stores.
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FOX Business interviewed several venture capital executives who expressed some skepticism that the deal will amount to anything more than some fleeting social media buzz. They also expressed skepticism over the Sway Boys financial acumen; most people in the VC space take years to work their way up to a level where they understand how to make investment decisions that can turn a profit.
But the Sway Boys told FOX Business they have the ability to make the Sillybandz fad a fad once again.
“We voraciously want to
‒ and will ‒ bring back Sillybandz to where it once was," Gruen told FOX Business in an email. "The king of all viral toys will become viral once more and return to its rightful place on everyone’s ‒ no matter the age ‒ arms."
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