What a Brand Can Learn From Spider-Man

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When we last left Spider-Man in 2007, he was a happily-dormant, arachnid-bitten superhero who had box office gold under his belt. The superhero had overcome bad 1970’s cinematic and television juju and once again become a viable brand for Marvel Comics and Universal. Yet as any comic book fan can tell you, happy endings for guys like Spidey don’t last long. Flash forward to 2011: The once beloved hero has become a punch line to a national joke. So what the heck happened and what can small businesses and brands learn from the once-amazing Spider-Man?

First off, there’s the little issue of that musical. You know, the one that every publication and website on the planet has lined up to take a swing at? “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has become the most expensive and most maligned musical in Broadway history. While we haven’t seen the show, we’d like to argue that the very notion of Spider-Man as a musical was a horrible idea from the very get-go.

Naturally, Spider-man is not the first brand that should have never became a musical – nor will he be the last. But in general it’s a bad idea. This is the biggest thing Spider-Man can teach us: It’s okay to say no. Look, we’ve seen celebrities, food companies and clothing designers veer into terrible branding territory and Spider-Man as a musical is one of the worst. By reaching out to theater goers and musical lovers, Spider-Man has forsaken its core male demographic of comic book dudes.

Secondly, darker, more serious adaptations of comic books are the current trend, and Spider-Man as a Broadway show ignores what’s hot. It would be like if Batman had decided not to make films with Christopher Nolan and became an ice show instead. It’s crucial for us as marketers and brands to know how to pass on opportunities that go against the very grain of who we are.

That said, we believe that Spider-Man’s problems reach beyond the musical. In general, Spider-Man’s vision as a brand has become scattered. While the comic book continues to be a bestseller, Marvel unexplainably has recently given him a white costume and had him join the revamped Fantastic Four. The film franchise has experienced some downright bipolar decisions as well. Marvel canned the idea of Spider-Man IV with Tobey Maguire in favor of a younger Spider-Man franchise whose vision is also different from that of the musical and two comic book appearances. These days, any brand manager at any company can ask himself “What would Spider-Man do?” and quickly do the opposite – to great success. A clean, concise image and marketing plan can reach different groups without having to be schizophrenic and sloppy.

But in the end, none of this affects a resilient brand like Spider-Man whose following is so loyal they stick with him through bad costumes and bad reviews. The musical is currently raking up big bucks and the yet-to-be released movie makes headlines everyday on fan boy sites. Yet this is but another lesson Spidey can teach us: Just because it has your well-loved name on it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be amazing.

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