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The Power of Brands in the Movies

January 28, 2016 the Bradford Group

Movie Theater2015 was a big year for movies. I write this as Star Wars: The Force Awakens is still shattering box office records. But Star Wars wasn’t the only big franchise film series to have an installment last year. Not only did many other powerhouse film franchises think 2015 would be a great year for their next installment, they all borrowed the same marketing strategy.

Jurassic World (Not Jurassic Park IV)

Jurassic World broke all kinds of records before Star Wars stole them away. I saw Jurassic World on opening night despite having not seen the previous three installments. For someone who values continuity as one of the most important aspects of storytelling, this should be surprising. But I, like many others apparently, fell for the name. Instead of calling the movie Jurassic Park IV, they gave it a new name. That simple marketing tactic made the movie that much more accessible to potential new viewers.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Not Mission: Impossible V)

The first three Mission: Impossible movies all used numbers to delineate their order. In 2011, they broke that with their fourth installment and kept that trend going with the latest film in the franchise. Like Jurassic World, I saw the fourth MI movie before seeing the first three. I’ve since gone back and watched the first three and the latest one. Numbers have been abandoned in favor of a James Bond film-naming style (he also had a new movie in 2015). The new audience feels like they are on a standalone adventure and don’t need to worry about the past, while those who have seen previous films are rewarded with subtle hints and references.

Terminator Genisys (Not Terminator 5)

Like the Mission: Impossible franchise, the Terminator franchise said “Hasta la vista, baby” to the number in the title of its fourth installment back in 2009. Still refraining from numbers, this new film was subtitled “Genisys.” Despite the misspelling, “genesis” does mean beginning. So this fifth film was marketed to viewers as a new beginning of sorts – that is if you can handle the time travel/alternate timeline shenanigans that get you to that new beginning.

Creed (not Rocky VII)

Like Star Wars, the Rocky franchise has had a film in every decade since the 1970s. (Yes, that means we have to count Rocky V.) Even though the series looked finished, storytellers found a way to shift the brand, keeping familiar themes, locations and a few characters around, while creating an easily accessible entry point for brand new viewers. It should be noted that while the sixth movie dropped its number, Creed starts a new naming trend for any future installments.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (They use their number…sometimes)

There was a time when EVERYONE was aligning their product advertising with Star Wars. For a while, almost one-fifth of commercials on TV seemed to end with “Star Wars, the Force Awakens, in theaters soon.” I never recall hearing “Episode Seven” mentioned in any advertisement. Anyone remotely interested in Star Wars knew it was the seventh installment. And if you didn’t know Star Wars, it was never advertised like you were coming in six movies behind. Fans everywhere rejoiced when the title scroll at the beginning of the movie still read “Episode VII.”

The Power of a Brand

On one side a brand comes with a built-in audience, on the other side it can seem polarizing to those not familiar with it.

So what does this all mean? The PR professional and story fanatic in me is very intrigued by this trend of capitalizing on a brand name, but simultaneously minimizing its long history. Brands are attractive. They are comforting. Instead of venturing to something new and scary, brands are an old friend that welcomes you home. Even now, you are probably thinking about a brand that you like. Is it a store, a restaurant, a beverage? My guess is you probably have a favorite brand for many different things, from the socks you wear to the type of toothpaste you buy.

But a brand can also be a double-edged sword, depending on how it’s wielded. On one side a brand comes with a built-in audience, on the other side it can seem polarizing to those not familiar with it. Some brands strive to be exclusive, and that’s okay. They pride themselves on their high-end status, like Rolls-Royce or Lamborghini, or their niche, like Comic-Con. However, companies that want a large market share — like Old Navy, Coca-Cola or McDonalds — want their brand to appeal to as many people as possible.

All the movies I mentioned shied away from brand exclusivity while still holding on to the core of what made the previous movies in the franchise successful. They wanted to keep their existing customer base and add to it. That’s one reason they ditched or hid their number. They didn’t want any new people to feel like they were showing up to the party late.

Pleasing an existing customer base while still attracting new ones is difficult. In 2015, the movie industry tried to have its cake and eat it too, and it looks like it worked. Almost all of these films have announced plans for sequels (Sorry Terminator. “I’ll be back” doesn’t seem so true now). Branding is all around, whether you realize it or not. It never goes away, and I’m ok with that.

 

Photo by hashi photo (hashi photo) GFDL or CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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