Has Disney finally figured out how to deal with the Muppets?
Yesterday, medicineBeg to Differ introduced you to the brilliant new Bohemian Rhapsody parody from the Muppets – but with no brand focused commentary at all. Since then, try we’ve realized that the big story here isn’t the video itself (or the others we’ve included below). The big branding story is the Muppet brand itself and its current caretaker: Disney.
Keeping your Beakers and Bunsens apart
When I showed the Bohemian Rhapsody video to my kids – aged 3 and almost 5 – they laughed and laughed and laughed, just as my wife and I had done. Of course, they totally missed the parody, but it was heartening to me that they seemed to love the characters and hooted along with that trademark goofy, over-the-top vaudeville campiness.
But when I asked my 3-year old what he’d liked about it, he said: “Those Wild Things were funny.”
Anaheim, we have a problem.
It’s not like we haven;t done our parental duty by exposing him to the Muppets. This is a kid who has an Animal doll, 50 Sesame Street books, and has sat and watched the Muppets on YouTube, as well as the season 1&2 DVDs with the family. But even he couldn’t identify the “Muppet” brand, and couldn’t recall any names except Kermit and Miss Piggy.
Turns out my son is the market in microcosm (I’m so proud). Kids don’t get the Muppets. And I blame Disney.
But in brief, I think this verbiage from the February 2004 press release captures the problem in humourless, corporatese:
The transaction includes all Muppet assets, including the Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal characters, the Muppet film and television library, and all associated copyrights and trademarks…
Now read that again in your best Rizzo the Rat voice to hear how ugly, inhuman and unintentionally funny it becomes. These are cartoon puppet critters people!
Roadkill? Kermit wondering what the heck he’s doing in front of an SUV.
It’s not easy being green (but it’s worth a try).
And it went downhill from there. Disney efforts have included an aborted attempt to make Kermit more “edgy” for his 5oth birthday in 2005, and a tone-deaf attempt to exploit the lead characters as commercial shills. The Ford Explorer ad shown here is a great example.
Demographic fact: Muppets are loved by nostalgic 30-40 somethings. Frog-leap of logic: Hey! Kermit can sell SUVs!
But through it all, the big problems that were festering under the surface were 1) a failure to generate any significant new Muppets content (or that the new content was bad), 2) erosion of the brand equity of secondary characters, and 3) lack of respect for the real brand qualities that made the Muppets so charming and relevant, and sustain them to this day in the hearts of 4) the brand’s real owners: who are you, me, and hopefully, our kids.
The Muppets of the mind
So that’s why it was so nice to see yesterday’s Bohemian Rhapsody video get hundreds of thousands of hits and quickly become a trending topic on Twitter. It’s also nice to learn that more videos are coming (watch for “Dust in the Wind”, “American Woman”, “Popcorn”, “Carol of the Bells” and “Stand By Me”) and that a new Muppet movie is in the works – among other interesting projects.
But most heartening of all, there’s the tone of the new content – which finally shows signs that Disney actually gets the Muppets. The new stuff is funny, and the characters seem like themselves again. And that’s why I felt like I had to share that video immediately.
To us, the real owners of the brand, the Muppets are about creating a warm space where comedy, pop-culture, kid-culture, and pure unadulterated silliness can come together. The real Muppets in our heads never take themselves too seriously (see the “assets” quote above), and they are also never mean-spirited or even “edgy” (they’re refreshingly nerdy actually – kind of like Queen music).
Oh, and take note: the Muppets in our heads would never sell an SUV, so they won’t help us buy one either.
Welcome back Muppets
But lest we be accused of getting too serious ourselves (we beg to differ!), below are a few more recent YouTube videos featuring some great second-string Muppets.
Part 3 of our series on our favourite posts of 2009″
October and November held a few more pleasant surprises for us here at Beg to Differ – from our Chicken Sandwich series to our first Slideshare cross-over hit, cure to a Seussian Twitter phenomena, viagra we continue to be surprised by the enthuisiastic response of our readers – but almosrt never in ways we expect.
The branding business: we haven’t have a lot of posts about this topic area… yet. But we felt we needed to respond to a viral video which lampooned clients for not “getting” the value of the work creative agencies do. After all, it takes two to tango – or quibble over a giant invoice.
Brand naming: When KFC launched a new chicken sandwich with a name developed by Brandvelope, we took the opportunity to toot our own horn a bit and talk about the process of naming a brand. And the results: our biggest single day tally of visitors as branders came by for a taste of what we do.
“Whole brand” thinking: This short post on the failure of a giant corporation to understand effective customer engagement in the social media era marked the first time a SlideShare deck of ours reached 2000 hits – and climbing (in response to a tip from Alison Gresik).
Social media: Funny to talk about this one as a greatest hit – because we wrote it in the middle of the current “faves” series – and it’s really still going with more than 100 RTs to date. Basically, we wondered a) what @SamEyeEm would be like on Twitter, and b) what Dr. Seuss might think about the new “ReTweet” feature on Twitter.
Guy Laliberté has always had his head among the stars. But all this week, information pills the French-Canadian founder of Cirque du Soleil – and #562 on the Forbes list of wealthiest people – is actually circling the earth as a paid tourist aboard the International Space Station. And true to form, he’s using the opportunity to do a bit of “over-the-top” showmanship. Unfortunately, Laliberté didn’t match his lofty ambitions with the same sophistication, taste, and branding savvy he’s usually shown on Earth. Maybe it’s the lack of oxygen…
The event: stars will align tomorrow night
On Friday, October 9th at 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) Laliberté will be hosting a Webcast from space in support of his ONE DROP Foundation.
But in brief, the Webcast will pull together material from 14 cities around the world, and feature contributions from such luminaries as Al Gore, David Suzuki, and Salma Hayek, as well as performances by U2, Shakira, and, wait for it… Guy Laliberté himself performing from the International Space Station.
However, much to the disappointment of Cirque fans around the planet, he won’t be stiltwalking, eating fire, or even playing accordion (which, unlike terrestrial billionaires, he can actually do).
He’ll be reading poetry.
And you thought there was no gravity in space!
Before we get too critical, let it be known we think the cause he’s supporting is a great one.
This is what the event Web site says about the purpose of his mission (and we’ll ignore the clunky copy writing for the moment):
Laliberté’s mission in space is dedicated to making an impact on how water, our most precious resource, is protected and shared. And he will be applying tools he has used so well for most of his life to bring about change: arts and culture.
Information about our world’s water-related issues will be conveyed using a singular poetic approach. The messages he will transmit from the ISS will build awareness for ONE DROP Foundation initiatives, its objectives and dream of “Water for all, all for water.”
Good on you Guy, for using your media exposure for a good cause. We at Beg to Differ envy and admire your incredible chutzpah for reaching so high in pulling all this together.
But sad to say, there’s a “leak in the capsule” on this one.
See if you can find the problem in the image below:
Hint: the problem here ain't the smiling bald guy - or maybe it is...
Houston (Montreal, Moscow, etc.), we have a problem:
One of the dumbest, most pretentious names ever.
And the event’s subtitle doesn’t help: “Moving Stars and Earth for Water”.
Sorry Guy. It’s awkward in English. It’s pointless in French. It’s self-defeating as a brand strategy. And it’s totally counter to the taste and sophistication you’ve always applied to Cirque.
And worst of all, it focuses away from the parts of your mission that are really cool and worthy of attention:
Clean Water for earth! The wonder of space travel! A circus guy in space!
Instead it focuses on the lame (and painfully self-indulgent) parts of the picture:
Poetry reading! That mushy word “social”! Our sneaking suspicion that this may have more to do with your ego than water!
So Guy, next time you go to space, call me okay?
A branding expert could help you figure this stuff out before you blow millions of dollars making it all look like one big vanity project … or maybe at least help you make it look less like one.
One easy approach I would have suggested would be to call this whole project the “ONE DROP Clean Water for Earth Mission” and focused all your energies on building that one brand.
But that’s just one way we could have approached this. So seriously Guy. Call me next time. You can reach me here.
My family and I walk by this tiny church on our way to the grocery store all the time. And while I’d always noticed the odd architecture of the place, advice it was only recently that I took a second look and was struck by the name.
Big promise + tiny package = big let-down
Now I know that a “cathedral” is technically where the bishop has his headquarters, viagra so in the case of a little splinter denomination like this, this really is their cathedral. But for the neighbours, calling this a “cathedral” stretches the bounds of credibility. As a matter of fact, in referring to this building, I’d never use the term “cathedral” unless I wanted to make someone laugh. Cathedrals are massive, ornate, and architecturally significant features in a cityscape; this is just a little local church on a quiet side street.
But that’s just an example where the descriptive name doesn’t fit…
Why would you choose a descriptive name?
On the plus side, when such a name really does describe your product, you can expend less effort explaining it. So if your company is called “International Ball Bearings” and your competitors are “MMT Inc.” and “ACME Inc.” and your target happens to be in the market for ball bearings, you have a quick leg up on the others, even if they make the same product.
A descriptive name can also convey corporate seriousness and solidity. A company named “American Apparel” will have to go a long way to damage that respectable first impression: although give them credit for trying.
The problem is: what if all three companies mentioned above also made carriage bolts, and that’s what a customer was looking for? They’d probably assume International Ball Bearings wasn’t for them, right? So while a descriptive name communicates more information faster, it’s also much less flexible. You can’t sell toothpaste if your name is Canada Shipping Lines.
“Purely descriptive” is also a bad word in Trademark law, as it essentially means “cannot be protected”.
But there’s a time and a place for descriptiveness
In my naming work, I have often recommended descriptive names: Canada Business for example as a name for a government service for business. Descriptive product names are also appropriate for companies using a corporate “master brand” model. Recently, Bell very wisely dumped its Sympatico and ExpressVU names in favour of “Bell Internet” and “Bell TV”. And the world breathed a sigh of relief.
The trick as always, is balance. So how do you achieve this? The easy answer is hire Brandvelope Consulting. But whatever you do, look at the brand in its complete context, and particularly how it fits into the bigger “brandscape” that your customers are facing.
But I’ll warn you, it’s a lot of information, and you’ll have to wade through some sections knee-deep in self-congratulatory hype. So as a public service, I’ve distilled 10 aspects of the list that jump out for me (below).
(But first, a slightly bitchy side note to Interbrand: guys, if you’re going to release these three days early, please 1) skip the giant countdown clock , and 2) actually send notices to people that signed up. Okay, my chest is clear, on to…)
10 Highlights of the 2009 Best Global Brands
1) Coke is still it: Top five brands are unchanged
The top five brands on the list are exactly the same brands in the same order as last year, and although Microsoft and GE lost more value than most brands ever have, with the spread in value between the top four, those mega-brands don’t look likely to change anytime soon.
Nokia’s brand is losing steam however, while gaining ground behind it is Google (in a big way) and McDonald’s (growing, but more modestly).
2) Google is the big disruptor
The Google brand shouldered ahead of Toyota, Intel, and Disney, and now is very close to overtaking McDonalds. As a matter of fact, its brand value has almost doubled since 2007, when it was 20th in the rankings.
Think about that for a moment: “Google” has grown from geek-niche-buzzword to #7 brand in the world in just 10 years – growth rates we haven’t seen since, well, Microsoft pulled the same trick for the ten-odd years before that.
But now that Google is starting to look more and more like a big, aggressive company (because they are), can their brand sustain its quirky garage-band appeal? Already their “don’t be evil” internal mantra is attracting more cynicism than praise. And while Googlers are still innovating, and making a lot of feel-good noise with their open source projects, one wonders when critical mass and inertia kick in (see Microsoft?).
3) Other big winners this year
By dollar value gained, H&M, Ikea, and Amazon gained a solid amount of value this year.
But apart from the indominatable Google, Apple grew the most, adding an incredible $1.7 Billion in brand value. Apple is the darling of the branding industry of course and a favourite of mine (see my Steve Jobs tribute), with its creative energy and focus on human-friendly products and messaging, so it’s heartening to see that doing it right by your customers still pays off during a recession.
4) Surprise! Financial institutions are the biggest losers
Have you heard about this recession thing? Well, if you have, then it should come as no surprise that the industry hardest hit in the brand value bottom line was the same industry that imploded and begged for (and received) massive government bailouts.
American Express, Morgan Stanley, and HSBC all lost billions of dollars of brand value, while Citi and embattled Swiss giant UBS both lost half of their brand value in one year. Several others dropped right off the list, including Merryl Lynch, AIG, and ING. Could it be a coincidence that many of these losers also have meaningless nomonyms for names (see my definition here)? Probably just a coincidence, but their names certainly didn’t help them.
5) Automobile brands: losing value
Also not surprising, every automotive or motorized equipment manufacturer on the list except Ferrari lost a significant amount of brand value this year. Harley Davidson and Lexus lost the largest percentages.
But despite losses, a few brands managed to hold their own or gain ground. Apart from Ferrari, Audi managed to gain, while Ford kept its ranking – the only one of the “Big Three” American manufacturers to have a substantial corporate brand seems to have benefited from its perceived stability as well. Another star: Hyundai:
Hyundai boosted ad spending and aggressively promoted its Assurance program, which allows buyers who lose their jobs to return cars. Hyundai’s brand value slipped 5%, but it moved up three places to No. 69. – Business Week.
6) Food and clothing: the basics still sell when times are bad
The same pattern held true for clothing brands – although it must be said that the list is incredibly top-heavy with luxury brands – so Gucci, not GAP; Rolex over Timex. I suspect that this is because of a) the weighting given to “brand premium”, that is, the amount consumers are willing to spend over and above competitors, and b) the fact that lower-priced clothing brands for us mere mortals tend to be less global.
7) Adobe: New kids on the branding block
Abode finally made the list after it “recorded record revenue and double-digit growth for the sixth consecutive year. They weren’t immune to the downturn (they lost money overall), but importantly from a brand perspective, they grew strongly in the consumer preference category. And their brand awareness continues to grow through the ubiquity of their consumer-facing products Flash, and the Acrobat / PDF line.
8 ) Brand USA – still the biggest brand builder
We were watching to see if the recession would dent the US dominance in global brands. With 52 brands on the 2o08 global 100, the Yanks are the uncontested branding champs, but those of us who were hoping for a moment of guilty schadenfreude were mostly disappointed that the US claims 51 – still a majority – of the 100.
Note to the rest of the planet: keep working.
9) No new countries
The names of countries in the Global branding club stayed exactly the same this year with only 9 brands coming from outside Europe and North America (Japan 7, Korea 2). Russia, China, India, Brazil, and the rest of the world have yet to break in. But of course, it’s only a matter of time.
10) Brand Canada: maintaining numbers, but losing ground
Both of our two Canadian contender brands Thomson Reuters and Blackberry grew this year, and both made gains in the rankings with Blackberry jumping 10 spots to number 63. But they weren’t joined by any other brands, and what’s worse, we slipped a rank in number of brands-per-capita when the UK added a brand and vaulted ahead of us. On that list, we were 10th; now we’re llth.