Sub-cultures are very interesting to me, and when Comic Con comes around it’s fascinating to follow the fan / franchise relationship. How far will people go to signal their fandom? What new hybrids will people create (Google Mad Max + Star Wars)? What will brands do to recognize and celebrate the fans? Yes, anything undertaken by blockbuster movie franchises are carefully orchestrated PR stunts, but what fine lessons in consumer engagement they are. The impromptu Star Wars concert complete with lightsabers?! I don’t see anyone selling laundry powder, cars or smartphones doing that kind of thing. But I digress.
What I really want to talk about is how film franchises like Star Wars and Jurassic Park have continued to generate hype and break the box-office, while enthusiasm for consumer brands of a similar age are waning. An article in Quartz about how Archie comics is trying to revitalize its brand suggests the magic could be done through the handiwork of a new type of maestro – the professional rebooter à la J.J. Abrams (director of Star Wars Episode 7) and Colin Trevorrow (director of Jurassic World).
In my job I’ve observed three types of companies: those new in the market, big conglomerates that own and dominate most of the market, and companies that have been incredibly lucky with being at the right place at the right time and are riding that diminishing wave to the end. Save the start-ups, which are trying to get a break, the rest are slowly losing market share. And it’s due to a range of reasons. Their business models are no longer profitable in the new economy, their services and products are less relevant, the quality of their offering is being exposed by the increased number of competitors, etc.
Which brings me to the idea that any company or brand over the age of 15 years should consider hiring a professional rebooter. Get a Trevorrow. Get an Abrams. Get an equivalent into your boardroom to ask some questions and re-imagine the story. At the rate that things are going, a company that follows the same well-worn path paved in the 90’s is going to look like 80 cat years old to the next generation of consumers, and if not now, then pretty soon.
It’s hard to get a fresh perspective, to create excitement, to be excited about something that technically doesn’t offer anything new. The Jurassic Park franchise doesn’t need a fourth movie, but Universal Pictures does want to make some money, and if we’re honest, so does any other business.
So where do you find yourself a professional rebooter? I don’t know. Business is not like the arts where you can spot talent because that person is usually out there making their own stuff. But taking note from the film industry, here are some qualities that may help you identify that special someone:
They are masters of their craft regardless of genre
Trevorrow’s previous movie was an indie romantic comedy. Abram’s discography includes Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Lost and a mish-mash of action, romantic comedy and drama.
They are passionate about the things fundamental to your business
If they aren’t a fan of your brand, at least they are connoisseurs of the product category or immersed in the market. This enables them to draw out the things that are wonderful and strengthen where there are weaknesses.
They have the right balance of respect for the past and creative independence
It’s a sensitive interplay, particularly when people want a sense of nostalgia, yet are critical of regurgitation. It takes the work of an artist who is sure in his or her own ego to balance the two.
They have an understanding of who the real stakeholders are, and what they are really looking to experience. Marketing a blockbuster is an intensive process from the initial line-up announcement (which could be 2 years from launch) to the premiere. Today, you need to carry fan interest throughout the product cycle, deliver the goods with your kick-ass release, and hope that will sustain their loyalty until the next installment. I’d be keen to see a consumer brand attempt to do that.