Want to Make Your Brand Superhuman?

April 18, 2019 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

When “Avengers: End Game” hits theaters at midnight on Thursday, it will bring with it the beginning of the end for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Clearly, there will be other stand-alone films including “Spider-Man: Far From Home” this summer, as well as “Black Panther 2,” “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” and the inevitable sequel to the monster hit “Captain Marvel,” but “Avengers: End Game” concludes the most extraordinary, interconnected run in the history of the movies.

Think of any cinematic touchstone in your lifetime.

This is right there with it. From a financial standpoint, from a technological standpoint, from a branding standpoint, there’s never been anything quite like the 21-film tapestry that is the MCU.

Ironically, the only things even close in their breadth, quality of production, and number of rabid fans are “Game of Thrones” and “Star Wars” which also conclude their runs at the end of May and in December.

It’s A tough year to be a nerd.

Joking aside, there’s no better way to describe the MCU, “Game of Thrones,” and “Star Wars” than by calling them phenomenons. And while it would be easy to characterize them as geeky, fantasy fare, the truth is they didn’t get where they are just because of the Comic-Con crowd. They flourished because they captured the rest of us — making those who ordinarily wouldn’t pay attention sit up and take notice. Just consider the numbers, and remember, these are BEFORE the final installments of each franchise:

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

21 films
$3.91 billion spent on production
$7.26 billion in domestic box office
$18.57 billion in worldwide box office

HBO’s Game of Thrones

73 episodes
Broadcast in 207 countries and territories
Season One average viewers – 9.3 million
Season Seven average viewers – 32.8 million
132 Emmy nominations with 47 wins

Star Wars

12 films
$1.49 billion spent on production
$4.56 billion in domestic box office
$9.31 billion in worldwide box office

The numbers are astounding and there’s not a brand on the planet that wouldn’t love to have the success and fan loyalty these franchises command. That may seem like an impossible task, but consider this: in 1975, George Lucas’s claim to fame was a love letter to the ‘50s called “American Graffiti.” In 2007, the MCU only existed in comic books. In 2010, “A Game of Thrones” was a single tome in the fantasy section of the bookstore. Once upon a time, these behemoths were challengers, too. But they leaned hard into five tenets of challenger branding that ultimately set them far apart from everything else that looked or felt like them.

These five tenets would serve any brand well. The question is whether we have the forethought, courage, and discipline to see them through.

Start with great storytelling.

Over a century of filmmaking, there have been thousands of movies and television shows in the fantasy/sci-fi genre, but none have connected like Marvel, “Game of Thrones” and “Star Wars,” and that begins and ends with their extraordinary storytelling, not their production value. With the media that brands have at their fingertips – both old and new – there’s never been a better time to tell broad, fantastic, integrated stories. And yet, for most brands, story is an afterthought. Or worse, a never thought. If you want to truly connect with your customers, tell great stories in smart, touching, funny, dramatic, engaging ways and people will notice.

Think ahead and plan accordingly.

A 22-film story arc didn’t happen by accident. The MCU is an inspired, perfectly-planned universe of character and crossover that becomes even more brilliant when you go back and watch it from the beginning. Same goes for “GOT” and the “Star Wars” saga. Whether due to timing, budget, or lack of imagination, most brands shy away from this kind of broad thinking, opting instead to produce single spots or, at best, limited campaigns that rarely build on each other. Like compound interest in financing, great ideas that advance an intriguing narrative are far more lucrative than ones that are simply one and done. Think in interactive campaigns rather than spots and your impact could be exponential.

Remember, love makes the brand go ‘round.

There are literally millions of people who know about Marvel, “Game of Thrones,” and “Star Wars” who have never seen them. Why? Because those brands have intersected all of our lives in numerous and unexpected places. In part, that’s due to smart licensing and brand crossover (have you had the “Game of Thrones” Oreos?) But the bigger reason is that early on, fans connected with these franchises because of story and character and production and humor. Lovers of these brands felt a sense of community, took ownership and became a PR machine 100 million strong. Theirs was not a passive affection. It was the kind of rabid, all-consuming love that drove millions of people to buy tickets for the opening night of “Infinity War,” “End Game,” and “The Last Jedi” months in advance. It’s a love that drove dozens of friends I know to rewatch the entire “Game of Thrones” series for the third time, just to prepare for Season 8. Brand lovers become loyalists, and loyalists become evangelists. Give your customers authentic reasons to love you and they will. Then they’ll tell everybody how much.

Make an emotional connection.

Is it harder to evoke emotion in a :30 TV commercial, or a magazine print ad than a two-hour movie? Sure. But for too many brands, that’s become an excuse to stop trying. Tapping into genuine emotion is what binds us together as human beings. In truth, it might be the only thing. When we experience the world in a way that makes us feel – happy, sad, amused, heartbroken – that experience chemically implants the experience in our brain. That’s why we can all remember exactly where we were the morning of 9/11, or how we felt the moment our children were born. Brands that evoke emotion have the same power. If you’re a fan, think how you felt when Thanos snapped his fingers at the end of “Infinity War”… at the end of the Red Wedding… when the words, “Luke, I am your father” poured off the screen for the first time. Find genuine emotional touchpoints for your brand and then use them. Their impact is exponential.

Anchor the brand in real life experiences.

By definition, fantasy is anything but real. As much as we might want, none of us can fly, or ride a dragon, or wield a light saber with nothing but our thoughts. But that’s why we watch. We love seeing those things on screen. They’re fun and amazing and all part of our temporary departure from the real world. But they’re also only half of the equation. Marvel, “Game of Thrones,” and “Star Wars” are what they are because at their core they are grounded in humanity. They’re steeped in real life experience and because of that we see ourselves in them.

Smart branding works the same way. Great creative grounded in real life experience — love, hate, life, death, argument, resolution, thoughtfulness, care, loneliness, redemption — helps people connect the dots. It grounds your brand in something familiar and it holds up a mirror that allows people to see themselves. Like running into a good friend, people pay attention to what they recognize. They stop, focus, and trade their most precious commodity – time – for a moment of connection. That’s the beginning of genuine brand loyalty.

And, as we all know, that’s the first step toward ruling the universe.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.