The Business of Building a 'Honey Badger' Empire
For a moment, forget the Honey Badger video’s 37 million views on YouTube. Those were just the tip of the weasel's tail.
The Honey Badger became a broader force in pop culture: Danica Patrick claimed she would be a Honey Badger in NASCAR. Sue from "Glee" weighed in. Teammates nicknamed LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu the “honey badger” and sportscaster Brent Musberger referenced it 14 times in one game (a bravura performance that ranks very high on the unintentional comedy scale.) The Honey Badger also showed up in Madden NFL 12 commercials and on shows like "Top Gear," "MythBusters," and "American Pickers." Microsoft's Bing search engine called a new set of webmaster tools the Honey Badger update.
Within a few months a three-minute video with irreverent commentary and catchy phrases attained a level of publicity and mainstream consciousness any business would kill for.
Too bad there wasn’t a business.
The origin of the Honey Badger
“I was born and raised in New York City,” Randall, the narrator of the Honey Badger video says. “My father was a cameraman for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and my mom was a nighttime janitor. When I was growing up I spent a lot of time alone watching animal videos and pretending to be the narrator. When my dad came home from trips he would set up a projector and encourage me to describe what I saw.”
He says his assistant showed him the original National Geographic footage. “As vivacious and nasty as the animal was,” he says, “the original narration did it no justice at all. So I narrated my own version. My assistant put it on YouTube and it just went crazy.”
Within weeks the video had been featured on blogs like Funny Or Die, BuzzFeed, and the Huffington Post. Howard Stern mentioned it on his Sirius show. YouTube views skyrocketed.
To capitalize on the phenomenon, merchandise began to appear.
Unfortunately very little of that merchandise was Randall’s.
“Oh, they’re so nasty.”
“My assistant’s girlfriend’s mother-in-law owns a t-shirt company and she took a chance on me,” Randall says. “We created a few cool t-shirts but before we knew it other people were selling their own versions.”
Then Olivia Wilde was spotted by TMZ wearing a “Honey Badger Don’t Care” shirt. “After Olivia Wilde, that's when the knockoffs really started to appear,” Randall says. “A lot of nasty people figured they could just take what they wanted.
"How was I supposed to stop them?”
“Ooh look, it’s chasing things!”
His first step was to try to protect his interests. (While National Geographic owns the footage—and was happy for Randall to use it—the performance is his.)
Unfortunately the copyright and trademark process is lengthy and once complete still places the burden of enforcement on the owner. And those rights are relatively easy to circumvent: A trademarked phrase like “Honey Badger Don’t Care” can be changed to “Honey Badger, He Don’t Care.”
“From a legal aspect,” Randall says, “it’s been mind numbing.”
Randall soon decided that what he could protect and leverage was his voice and style of delivery, especially since that voice had become an entity in itself.
“It took me a while to realize that the performance really drives everything, and that my voice and my sense of humor is something I can protect and capitalize on,” he says.
“We sold all 3,000 crazy fast,” Randall says. “That’s when we realized the Honey Badger was much bigger than just t-shirts.”
After that came a free soundboard app and the Honey Badger Don’t Care game app. He starred in a commercial for Wonderful Pistachios. Then he published a book with the original filmmakers, Colleen and Keith Begg, writing the foreword. He’s created a number of other wildlife videos, all in his signature narrative style, for a YouTube channel that has racked up over 55 million total views.
And now an animated TV series is in development and he's pitching studios on the idea of a wildlife comedy. “Imagine a film like March of the Penguins but with me as the narrator,” he says. “How crazy would that be?”
“Whattya say, stupid?”
Within weeks he had started fielding offers and requests, some to support wildlife organizations but most for commercial enterprises.
“I got so many offers,” Randall says. “What started as ten emails a day has turned into hundreds, most of them wanting me to do something just for 'the exposure.' Some people definitely try to take advantage of me. It took putting a management team in place to really understand the value of what I created.”
In hindsight Randall wishes he had acted more quickly to capitalize on the business possibilities of the Honey Badger phenomenon.
“I’m a babe in the woods where all that is concerned,” he says. “I definitely would have taken steps like setting up an LLC a lot sooner. Here it is 2012 and I’m just now finalizing the legalities. But when I made the video how could I have ever predicted I would need to?"
“You think the Honey Badger cares?”
“The Honey Badger trip has been amazing,” Randall says, “but I do think about when the 15-minute clock will stop. I do worry about over-exposure. Still, a lot of the media mentions I can't control, and I don't want to. When Betty White says, 'Honey Badger don't give a (crap),' that's incredible. Spread the word, honey!
"On the commercial side, I get so many offers... so I try to strike a balance. The last thing I want is to go from Honey Badger to Honey Badger whore.”
For example, at one point Sarah Palin’s people reached out.
“That was crazy," he says. "They asked and I said sure, I can do a video but I can’t promise it will be a pro-Sarah Palin video. For some reason they never called me back. Hmm… I wonder why?”
Actually, Honey Badger does care
According to Randall the Honey Badger isn’t the typical Internet meme. “It’s not the standard 'million views today, over tomorrow' kind of thing," he says. "People are still finding it and watching it. That’s really cool because it promotes the fact that here is this totally badass animal that is endangered in some countries. I’m trying to build a business that exposes people to wildlife by educating and entertaining them... and that also gives back to organizations that will help animals in need.
"So far it’s working. Without the video, think of all the people who would have seen a honey badger and just thought, 'Eww, what's that? Is that a skunk on steroids?”