Q&A: What is a Brand that Died Out (or Nearly Died Out) Only to be Revived Later?
It’s hard to believe now, with every year ushering out a new crop of Spandex-clad super-humans to the big screen, but just a couple decades ago, Marvel was seriously floundering.
The comic industry was, essentially, a bubble. Collectors bought up titles, thinking that they could be sold for a profit later on. Companies then courted these collectors by investing in vibrant and eye-catching printing techniques—such as fancy foil embossing— for their covers. By the 1980s, comic collecting caught the interest of mainstream consumers who started collecting to cash in on the trend.
To capitalize on public interest, Marvel raised its prices and its production, ultimately sacrificing quality for quantity. As a result, Marvel’s audience lost interest in its overwrought and overpriced writings, and collectors abandoned ship.
The bubble burst. Many comic stores had to close up shop, and Marvel spiraled into debt.
In the mid-90s, Marvel resorted to selling the movie rights for many of its characters to different studios in an attempt to free up cash.
This caused complications when Marvel eventually moved into the film business and needed to buy back the rights to its own characters. To this day, Marvel still doesn’t own the film rights to all its characters, and this is the reason why some Marvel heroes have yet to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
However, it was a necessary move to save the company from bankruptcy, and 21st Century Fox’s success with the Blade, X-Men, and Spiderman movies ultimately spurred Marvel to go into the movie business for itself.
Marvel bet on its own success in 2005 when it reached a deal with banking giant, Merill Lynch. The arrangement was risky, to say the least. Merill Lynch promised Marvel $525 million over seven years, a total budget which could be spread across 10 movies. In case the movies flopped, and Marvel couldn’t pay back its debt, Merill Lynch would be able to seize the rights to Marvel’s biggest heroes, such as Thor and Captain America.
Nevertheless, Marvel pushed forward and bought back the film rights to some of its classic characters, including Black Widow, the Hulk, and the character who kicked off the Avengers franchise, Iron Man.
The first Iron Man movie grossed $585 million worldwide, and set Marvel studios on its path to success.
They focused on building up their brand to appeal to a wide audience, starting off with individual heroes and teasing future appearances and plotlines. This move showed remarkable foresight and helped to ensure that Marvel would have an enduring brand that would last beyond a single movie.
Not bad for the studio that, in 1986, gave us the infamously horrible Howard the Duck.
Talk about humble beginnings.
So, What Can We Learn from Marvel’s Success?
On a more personal note, Marvel’s strategy for reviving their brand resonate with ideas that I preach to our clients every day. Re-purposing content to new media is a great strategy that I use all the time in marketing different brands (including our own).
Marvel successfully adapted their comics to the big screen by gauging which heroes and stories attracted the largest comic audience and transforming the content to produce wider appeal for mainstream movie-goers.
The same works on a smaller scale for any business that wants to grow its content strategy. Write a blog post, and pull some key quotes for Twitter. Create an infographic to display your post’s main points on Instagram.
So, if you’re working on improving your content strategy, take a page from Marvel’s playbook. Start working smarter, not harder.