Dec 18 2012
With the announcement of a 4.5 billion dollar sale of the Star Wars brand we are reminded just how big brands can get. But let's get real: we all know that for every one lucrative branding deal there are a dozen stories of loss. In fact, Disney itself had lost a whopping 250 million on its attempt to establish its own sci-fi sage series: John Carter. It is assumed that Disney has given up on trying to build their own unique brands. Instead, they focus on buying legendary brands guaranteed to make billions such as Star wars and Marvel.
It can seem disconcerting when Disney spends millions on original brand creations and still fails. What hope is there for small and upcoming brands?
More than one would think. In fact, most of the brands Disney spent millions on started out small. Marvel’s first comic was a free give-away at a movie theater now several multi-million dollar marvel movies dominate the world of cinema every year. The Muppets and Winnie the Pooh were simply pet-projects before becoming household names.
Likewise, the Star Wars brand was never created to build the largest toy industry. Like many legendary brands it was built with modest, practical goals. Its massive success almost seems like an accident.
In David Vinjamuri’s book, Accidental Branding, the heroes of such small-blowups are described: “They were not listening to some focus group of consumers tell them what to do; they were the consumer…These entrepreneurs could trust their instinct because they had retained the ability to think like real consumers. In fact, several of them got into trouble when they turned their business over to people without the same instincts. ”
From Brand Infant to Brand Titan
“…the success of Baby Einstein hinged on Julie Clark’s ability to persuasively tell her own story-that of a stay-at-home mother who created a product that she wanted for her own baby. This “by us, for us ” mentality, along with a strong story, is what sets Accidental Brands apart from corporate brands. Nobody likes buying from nameless, faceless corporations. A brand gives a company a face. An accidental Brand has a clearer face and a stronger story”
Brand growth takes originality, innovation and a willingness to experiment. The most important part of Baby Einstein’s growth was acquired during its nascent state. The first products (films created for babies) had been filmed in Julie Clark’s basement and featured her daughters. The film was released in only a few nearby stores. The originality of the idea, the appeal and the word-of-mouth helped the product gain a foothold in the market. Two years later the product had a major distribution and was making over a million.
Now let’s explore where the branding came in.
The Baby Steps of Branding
This now-famous logo was used from the outset and was pivotal in facilitating brand identification while the company went through its first growth spurts. Today, Disney spends a sizable amount for the use of Einstein’s name and visage.
As the innovative videos became a hit and filled a large, empty space in the lucrative marketplace of toddler-toys the company quickly developed a strong brand loyalty amongst its customers. The extension to more traditional products such as books and lullaby albums became an easy move after the brand had been established and the new products competed impressively in the marketplace. New product ideas such as the “Discovery Cards” were released successfully under the brand and were able to secure a patent and open yet another new marketplace. Marketing a new patent can be a gamble- but the correct brand can make that risk become a success story. Today Disney still utilizes the patent in an extended format.
In only four years the brand became so successful that it had attracted the attention of mass-retailers and was winning rewards. Disney realized how big the brand was and acquired the rights.
Keeping the Brand Force
What made Skywalker fly? A brand will consider to thrive if it retains its core brand values. This is the challenge that Disney must confront as they plan to release a continual stream of future films. When the first prequel The Phantom Menace was released it broke the most box-office records for a star wars film. Yet disappointed fans were quick to point out gaping disparities of tone between the original and the new. The following films, while successful, were not able to retain the universal enthusiasm and brand trust that the original series grew. Their performance at the box-office steadily dropped as the brand continued to dilute.
The challenge Disney faces is to not only retain the spark that has been steadily burning since the Seventies, but to rebuild a brand trust that was perceived to be broken.
Disney’s plan for Star Wars can never be a direct replica of the seventies feel and tone. Their plan to create a brand that releases several films after the new trilogy and a multitude of side-stories is more comparable to their Marvel film franchise: a strong brand that can release dozens of blockbuster films.
To do this they have to balance the brand ideals between new demands and fan’s demand for familiarity. Like Baby Einstein they have realized that the brand has valuable staying power and must continue to deliver what the public desires.
At Drive Branding we believe that a brand can expand as along as it stays true to its ideals and original force. "Remains to be seen, whether the force is strong with Disney."