So after two and a half days in Silicon Valley, the Interactive Mission decamped down to LA. A 45 minute flight to very different, but increasingly converging worlds. World’s being transformed by technology. But – and here is the kicker – worlds that understand that the true IP starts with ‘the idea’ and not the technology.
First stop Disney. A meeting with two Brits just to make us feel at home. Andy Bird, Chairman of Disney International, who told us proudly how he started out at Piccadilly Radio in Manchester, and MT Carney, a Glaswegian, ex-Naked and now CMO of Disney Studios.
And boy these guys are magic. There to greet our mini bus with a smile as we rolled up ten minutes late. There to wave us off 90 captivating minutes later, memories safely made. Pure class.
So you want the text book on managing a global brand? Go to Disney. And if the Missionaries were not scribbling furiously, it was only because they were manically tapping out notes on our iPads. So what did we learn?
They key thing, in fact the very first words on the corporate video are: “it starts with the idea”. If there’s no idea, there’s no thing. So that means there is a primacy placed on creativity, on the understanding and integrity of the idea. Not that they would, but there’s no mention of ‘exploitation’, or ‘properties’ or ‘franchises’. You really get the sense that they do not need to be this cynical; once you have an idea the rest is easy. Andy Bird said that there was a fundamental belief in the philosophy that “if you do the right thing, the money will follow”. This was an interesting echo of some of the Valley businesses concentrating on making the product great first and worrying about the monetization later. MT Carney reminded us of what we all know to be true but often forget, “it is always harder to market products that are not good”.
It was instructive how often the idea word kept coming up. We were told that Disney is 32 businesses but one idea. We were told that the company rallies around the idea. Told how Disney people rip the idea apart, examine it from every angle and put it back together in a kind of “open source storytelling way”. This means the key to success is the idea and the quality of transmedia storytelling of the idea across movies, retail and theme parks.
So if the idea is king then the role of marketing is what they called “relevancy”. They gave some great examples of this. First, some on line mash ups created by a VJ called Pogo. When Disney first heard about this the first instinct was slapping a ‘cease and desist’ on him. Then they saw the opportunity. Rather than Pogo ripping off third generation footage, Disney gave him first generation material to help him improve the quality of his work. (Quality is a big thing at Disney.) Check him out on Youtube - they’re great and they’re popular. Just the 7.6m views and counting.
Facebook has been another user generated initiative that has been curated by Disney. Disney now has 29,497,367 likes. You can debate the value of a like all you want but you can’t argue with 29 and a half million of the things. Dory the minor if lovably forgetful fish from Finding Nemo has just a fin short of 14 million likes.
Finally perhaps the most interesting example. Disney English language classes in China. Again the idea came from observation of what was happening in the real world. Chinese youngsters were picking up the English language through viewing Disney movies. So Disney decided to do it properly. Cleverly, they resisted the notion of ‘Mickey does English lessons’, using the lessons to get the children on the crack cocaine of a merchandising programme. Rather, they decided to build a world class English as a Foreign Language course enlivened by the Disney magic of storytelling, fun and immersive entertainment. They figured that the kids would be able to make the connection pretty easily and quickly to other ‘ideas’ in the Disney portfolio.
Andy explained that three principals helped them land this opportunity, set to become a massive business in itself.
1. Acting as the Chinese Walt Disney Company and not the Walt Disney Company China. (A smart expression of the Glocal verbiage.)
2. Being very clear about what the brand is and what the brand is not. (It is not Mickey, it is what Mickey stands for.)
3. Doing things that people remember. (Which is truly noble mission.)
Call me an old softie but they got me. I left Disney completely spellbound.