It was a very good summer for comic book superhero movies: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight all garnered solid, if not spectacular, reviews and made a collective $980 million (and counting) at the box office. The Dark Knight will be the #1 grossing movie of 2008, and last year’s leader was Spider Man 3.
This wasn’t always the case with movies sourced from popular comic book series. The long line of recent failures includes The Punisher, Ghost Rider, Catwoman and Daredevil. Even Batman & Robin, starring George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman and Chris O'Donnell was derided by both fans and critics alike.
So why did movies like the Spiderman series or The Dark Knight succeed where others had failed? One way to look at it is that they stayed true to their source material – or brand essence. Moviegoers who grew up reading and collecting comic books are these movies’ core audience. This group had certain expectations about the characters, narrative, tone and even visuals of the movie – all set by what they knew from the comic book versions. All of these aspects add up the brand essence of the hero franchise.
In the comic books, Batman was indeed “dark” – he walked the moral line between doing what was necessary and doing what was right or fair. This walking – or blurring – of that line was what made The Dark Knight tense and a great moviegoing experience. The movie delivered on true Batman brand essence, something that the star-laden Batman & Robin failed to do, and spectacularly so.
The Spiderman series has won both critical and box office success – as well as fanboy adoration – because it, too, stayed true to its brand essence: the burdens of being a superhero while also trying to live life as a normal human being. The Spiderman movies work as films because they spend a significant amount of time on Peter Parker’s issues, not just the heroic exploits of Spiderman. This was also the essence of the comic book version of Spiderman, and the thing that is at the center of the Spiderman brand.
There are lessons here for the business world. What is it about your products or services that endear themselves to customers? Is that being reflected in your corporate culture? In new products or services under development? What is the brand essence that you should be working to deliver on?
Mark Shevitz, Sr. Brand Manager