My Lessons from Bob Iger & Steve Jobs
What Web3 brands need to know
Today we bring you another special guest post from Jon Rogers, formerly the founding executive and global head of live-action franchise development for Walt Disney Studios.
Overpriced JPEGs has teamed up with Jon to create Blockbuster, a recurring series that looks at what is happening across Hollywood, the global media industry, and the blockchain.
Jon is a brand leader with 20+ years of experience in media/entertainment, consumer packaged goods, and most recently Web3. Prior to Disney, Jon was a member of the Star Wars brand marketing team at Lucasfilm where he managed theatrical campaigns, brand partnerships, and retail marketing. Earlier in his career Jon was a strategy consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton working with clients in media/entertainment, high tech, and oil & gas industries.
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Welcome to the fourth piece in our series on blockchain disruption of the value chain in traditional media and entertainment. In our three prior installments, we covered Development, Production, and Distribution. Today, we’re building on our distribution discussion with a look at franchise development and some lessons in brand building for Web3 projects.
What is a Franchise?
Two or three years after Bob Iger became the CEO of Disney, he was asked to settle an internal disagreement among executives over a seemingly simple question -– what is a franchise? This was an important question at the time because upon his ascension to CEO, Iger made it very clear that franchises were the priority and future direction of Disney. Non-franchise worthy projects and IP would lose funding and risk cancellation, resulting in a mad rush of creative execs self-proclaiming their projects as franchises. Internal systems buckled under the onslaught.
So what is a franchise? Well, it depends who you ask. Every Disney executive queried responded with their own definition, each willfully skewed in their favor. So Iger further clarified: The question to ask is not ‘What is a franchise,’ but ‘What is a Disney franchise?’
I’m unable to publish the precise details of Iger’s unique formula for defining Disney’s franchise framework, but the point here is that studios should have a framework in place to evaluate IP for its relevance to the studio. In Disney’s case - broadly speaking - the framework Iger created focused on an IP’s suitability to support Disney’s primary lines of business and relevance to Disney’s core family consumer.
Many outsiders and the media would probably disagree with Iger’s framework if they saw it. He could care less what anyone outside Disney thought - he only cared about internal consensus so we were all marching in the same direction. By answering one simple question, the outcome was a global standard for all creatives and executives to know what is and what is not a ‘Disney franchise.’ Iger’s framework was tremendously helpful in prioritizing one opportunity over another, but most importantly the framework equipped my team and others with the power to say “no.”
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Building Your Brand Bank
I raise this question about defining a franchise because every IP-backed brand, including those building in Web3, need to answer the same question for themselves. Creators and teams must define from the beginning what they are and what they are not. This is not an area where you can “fake it till you make it.” Look around and most of the projects in Web3, are trying to figure this out on the fly and it shows. This is especially true when I see projects declare themselves to be the Web3 Disney or the Web3 Marvel. Let’s be realistic here. Disney and Marvel will be the Web3 versions of themselves.
I had the very special privilege to meet Steve Jobs on three separate occasions. While meetings with Steve could be terrifying, I walked out of every encounter having learned some new wisdom. One time, at a leadership offsite, Steve explained how our franchises should be looked at as a bank account. Everything we did was either a deposit or a withdrawal into a bank account of brand equity. The only way to achieve long term success was to make many more deposits than withdrawals because deposits come in small increments and withdrawals come in big increments.
Each expression of a brand is either creating brand equity or destroying brand equity. If what seems like a good opportunity comes along, teams need to be able to evaluate them and have the courage to say “no” if they are off-strategy or off-brand. Saying “no” to an opportunity is among the hardest things a leader has to do. This is particularly true if that opportunity comes with revenue and you are trying to survive a bear market. The outcome of failing to say no is a brand withdrawal.
I believe these two concepts: defining what a brand or franchise is to you; and managing a brand bank account are among the two most fundamental for success with IP. I also believe this is more important for Web3 projects because of the added layers of engagement with community as well as Web3’s culture of building (mostly) in public with the participation of those communities. In other words, brand withdrawals are far more costly in Web3 than in traditional media because of the damage it can cause in the relationship a project has with its community.
What got me thinking about these analogies was the conversation I had with Carly on the most recent episode of the Blockbuster podcast. We discussed recent news from the Cool Cats, Doodles, and Pudgy Penguins projects. All three of these projects have had their challenges since founding and all three have now come out on the other side. I believe none of these projects had an answer to that franchise question when they first started. As a result, all three made some very significant brand withdrawals, and in the case of Pudgy Penguins were near “brand bankruptcy.”
So what happened?
They began making brand deposits with leadership changes, redirected priorities, and time spent answering that fundamental question of what IP means to their specific brands and communities. What’s exciting to me is that each project has come up with its own unique formula. There’s no strategy that’s more right or wrong (at least initially), the important thing is they’re doing what’s right for them. Let’s dissect how each of these teams are setting up their respective franchises:
There’s no hiding from the regrettable comms errors Doodles have made in the past. While Poopie’s ‘Floor it and GTFO’ has reached legendary meme status, we expect a whole lot more from founders. What I like here is that Doodles seems to have taken that moment to heart (to his credit, Poopie owned up to the faux pas) and have been working towards rebuilding their relationship with the community. In particular, Doodles are leaning into what they have done well in the past - aspirational IRL brand experiences.
The Doodles activation at SXSW last year is particularly noteworthy for the quality of the activation. I was pleased to see Doodles is building on this strength with the recent announcement of their partnership with CAMP stores. The CAMP partnership supports premium-tier brand building. The mockups of the co-branded store environments look awesome too. CAMP stores are relatively niche, so this will never be a mass market play and aligns nicely with what we assume to be Doodles’ desire to cater to a more metropolitan crowd.
We wouldn’t blame you for wondering what happened to Cool Cats. Hard times have fallen on the former blue-chip after a series of admitted missteps that included chasing the wrong trends and not focusing enough on the IP. Carly caught up with Cool Cats’ artist Clon and CEO Stephen Teglas last week in LA (keep your eyes peeled for that episode) and it sounds like the Cats may just be ready to roar again.
Following a pretty successful run at Comic-Con this year, they’ve got a lot on deck, including: A strategic partnership with Futureverse, multiple video games, and - wait for it - a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. With so many activations in so many diverse areas, it can be a little hard to decipher who exactly their target audience is. Teglas told Carly a part of the reason they did Comic-Con is audience discovery, and I’m inclined to believe that they’re playing in the middle tier of brands by going broad with their offerings. I’m looking forward to Cool Cats sharing more on future direction after they’ve had a chance to process lessons learned from these initiatives.
Pudgy Penguins are the best comeback story in Web3 by far, and what a ride it’s been. From the ultimate highs to sudden collapse and near death, The penguins have been on a rollercoaster. Hats off to Luca Netz, who has resurrected the Penguins and built one of the best projects in Web3. Whether it’s cereal boxes in grocery stores, toys for the masses on Amazon, or 3-second sellouts of high-end collectibles, Luca and the Penguins community are checking off many new firsts for Web3 projects.
He’s combined his social media marketing wizardry with web3 savvy to build a big following for the brand that extends far beyond his holders. And in doing so, he’s generating steady revenues that don’t rely on royalties and firmly answered the question of ‘What is the Pudgy Penguins franchise?’ The Pudgy Penguins are unapologetically commercial and will move fast to seize opportunities. Pudgy Penguins know what they are, now it is time to make brand deposits.
I have one last perspective to wrap this up. As I have said repeatedly on Blockbuster, blockchain technology is an architectural innovation in the context of the traditional media and entertainment industry. This means that big media firms will have to fundamentally reorganize their businesses to take advantage of the new opportunities or risk being steamrolled by their competitors and nimble startups. Among the megatrends that I see coming, supported by this architectural innovation, is a radical shift in how content is monetized. As discussed in our previous newsletter, distribution is important because that is where traditional media make their money → more cinemas = more screens = more box office. This will not be the case much longer. In the future, community is where content will be monetized. I like to synthesize this in a brief maxim I call “Roger’s Maxim”:
In traditional media the value of content is driven by distribution. In the future, the value of content will be driven by community.
Ok. Perhaps naming a maxim after myself is a bit much (t-shirts and stickers will be available soon). The point here is that community building and engagement in storytelling is only going to increase, while also becoming much more important. Storytelling brands, whether in traditional media or coming from emerging new media such as Web3, must have an answer to that simple question - what is a franchise to us? They must say “no” when the opportunity isn’t right. Failing to do so will result in brand withdrawals, and those withdrawals are more costly for IP built on community.
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