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The blockbuster box office receipts of recent years confirms Michael J. Wolf’s contention in The Entertainment Economy: How Mega-Media Forces Are Transforming Our Lives: Every business must now have some entertainment element if it intends to survive in today’s and tomorrow’s marketplace.
Selling widgets on a website? You’re not exempt from the need to captivate before you get the chance to take an order. Want more business for your bank? If you’re Citibank, you don’t stop at using an Elton John song in your commercials. You get into the entertainment
Your starting point is people_____You explore their
lives, their problems, and the brand will find its place, its role. The starting point is not the brand. You have to start by speaking about people’s passions.
—Mercedes Erra, BETC Euro RSCG, Paris
The Entertainment Factor
business by creating an exciting, content-rich online service that both engages and entertains your customers. You don’t just tell them that banking can be fun. You make them feel it.2
Think Big ... Really, Really Big
With the demise of advertising as we know it, our revolution— our future—must be connected with that kind of thinking. Entertainment is the Esperanto of our age, a universal language that draws people in almost hypnotically, a powerful magnetic force that, in many cases, serves as a bigger draw than the products themselves. This is going to have a huge impact on advertising and marketing in general. It will influence how we meld wisdom and wonder and magic; how we create and craft the brand experience. In the future, I can’t imagine that any creative idea will be executed until the entertainment value has been explored—and embedded into the brand experience. We are now in the entertainment business. Full tilt. And our imperative is to connect entertainment with ideas.
The Lion King
For the past few years, I’ve been using a wonderful example of what I mean by “brand experience” and how vital entertainment is to that experience and to the future of brands and creative business ideas. That example is The Lion King.
Let me show you why. . . .
Disney didn’t break the rules of branding when it created The Lion King; instead, it pushed them to their very limits. At every step in the brand-development process, the company pushed a little—or a lot—further than it had for any other product. Remember how it started: Disney released an animated film that became one of the 10 highest-grossing films of all time. Bravo! But it didn’t end there. . . . That film then became the best-selling video of all time. Also fabulous, but not wholly unexpected in the film-to-video era. But the
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company kept pushing. The soundtrack, written in part by none other than pop icon Elton John, won a Grammy Award. Then came the Broadway musical. You know . . . the one that dominated the theater world and picked up all those Tony Awards. Not a bad run for a kids’ cartoon.3
The Lion King’s unprecedented success stems directly from the fact that Disney was savvy enough to start its mega-merchandising from the start. Released as part of the Disney Classic Series, The Lion King was named the number one best-selling children’s book of 1994 by USA Today and was a contender on the Publishers Weekly and New York Times best-seller lists. Before the release of the film, product tie-ins with such brands as Burger King, Eastman Kodak, General Mills, Nestle, Mattel, and Payless ShoeSource amounted to a marketing blitz of $100 million. It was the largest set of promotional tie-ins in Disney’s history. And that’s saying something!
Then Disney launched the Broadway musical, not as an opportunistic add-on, but as a full-scale, box-office-stomping event. It won six Tony Awards, a Grammy for “best musical show album,” and accolades from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle, among numerous others.
When the show roared into London, it enjoyed a similar success, cementing its power as a truly global brand.
When I saw the show in London, there were just as many adults in the audience as there were young children. Very few shows have that kind of broad, ageless appeal—you have to suspect
Lion King marquee
The Entertainment Factor
that The Lion King was designed to be translated into multiple languages for a global audience right from the start.
What Disney did here was to elevate its brand, in the process appealing to those who felt themselves too sophisticated for anything “Disney.” As Disney CEO Michael Eisner said, “The Lion King . . . enhanced our brand. We’ve been O.K. around the world, but the intellectual community in New York, we surprised them with Lion King.”4
If you add up all of the products, many of which have income streams that will continue for years to come, what’s the lifetime value of The Lion King? As a business idea, it has to be in the billions. It’s a great example of an enormously powerful Creative Business Idea that transcended industries and mediums. And it continues into markets around the world, from film to CDs to cereal boxes to Broadway to backpacks and, naturally, to theme parks. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the Walt Disney World Resort, the Circle of Life has given way to the Tree of Life—and the Festival of the Lion King stage show.