The power of brands
Andrew Mellor delves into the world of intellectual property.
Parks and attractions making use of intellectual property on rides or in fully themed areas put themselves under considerable scrutiny and create a heightened expectancy among guests.
Fans of a particular IP will expect a high quality replication of what they have seen in films, books and on TV, so no matter how far a park may take its use of a branded attraction or area, it must be done very well to succeed. The true benefits of why a particular IP was chosen and used will then come to the fore.
"Pre-sold brand recognition is the obvious advantage of licensing intellectual properties," says Bob Rogers at BRC Imagination Arts. "But as storytellers who create the attractions, BRC Imagination Arts also appreciates something else – to serve shorter attention spans, our stories need to be instantly understood. Licensed brands and characters achieve this.
"Attention spans are shrinking," he continues. "Today, our guests expect to walk up to any new product, even something as complex as an automobile or a toaster oven, and intuitively know how to work it. Computers and cell phones have taught us that we should never need to read the instructions.
"In the same way, our guests expect to understand our theme parks and attractions instantly and effortlessly. Guests have no patience for ‘exposition,’ the sometimes boring background information that the reader or audience needs in order to understand the characters, motivations or action. Today’s guest wants to skip ahead and immediately plunge into the good stuff.
"From a storytelling point of view great IPs represent a huge responsibility. Imagine getting the detail wrong on a Harry Potter or Star Wars based attraction. Aficionados would pick up on it immediately. The audience want to go to places they’ve seen on TV and in films. The imagination of the creator must take a back seat to do this and concentrate on the fine detail. It is a privilege and responsibility to build things based on famous IP."
To minimize the owner’s risk, storytellers and designers are often forced to recycle the tried and true rather than invent the new, says Rogers. Basing a themed attraction on established characters or familiar stories reduces risk, at least on paper, he adds. "Who can blame the owner for wanting to minimise the risks associated with developing multi-million dollar projects.
"For attraction creators, this means clients will be asking you to do more and more ‘derivative’ work. Characters and settings will mainly be imported into the themed entertainment business from movies and television.
"There will be more spin-ins than spin-offs. It will be harder to sell new intellectual property. And directly or indirectly, the wisest of planners will leverage the stories their audience already knows. All this, because the 21st century audience doesn’t have the patience to take on the completely new," adding: "In all fairness, a lot of original work is still done in the theme park industry, just not enough." Longevity is also a key element, he says, while also pointing out that "no matter what IP an attraction is based on "if it’s not done well it doesn’t matter what it’s based on – it won’t succeed."
From a supplier point of view too, IP based attractions have become increasingly significant. At Belgium-based 3DBA, Roger Houben reveals he is currently working with many well-known IPs, such as Cartoon Network, Marvel and Classic Media brands including Casper Scary School, George of the Jungle and Finley the Fire Engine. And he believes IPs aimed at the younger market are the best to make use of if a park is thinking about an IP based attraction.
"Many of the cartoon based IPs are the best, so an age demographic of five to 12 years old is the best to aim at. Some IPs target the four to eight and six to 12 year old groups, but five to 12 is the strongest group. If you go with Marvel, as another example, that covers all age groups, while if you use a film based IP, such as Men in Black, the age group would be 12 to 18. But they are not as loyal [as younger children] so you would see these combined with larger attractions.
And does he feel the use of a strong IP is a guarantee of success? "There are three kinds of IP," Houben notes. "There are evergreen classics like Thomas and Friends, Looney Tunes and Casper. Everyone knows these, including the adults from their own childhood, so you almost can’t go wrong with them. They have been given a new lease of life too as they’ve been relaunched in new formats over the years.
"Secondly, there is film IP where it is best to have one based on sequels so you have a guaranteed life span where the IP value is on-going. With some film based IP its value is only when the film comes out. "Finally, there’s TV based IPs which are always around and on-going."
Additional benefits elsewhere in a park also come with the introduction of a strong IP, with branded sales being two or three times higher than normal sales, for example, according to Houben. Working with IP from TV channels also opens up new promotional opportunities while the overall marketing opportunities can be huge, he adds.
Also heavily involved in IP based developments is US company ITEC Entertainment, which has worked extensively with well-known brands on over 36 attractions in major theme parks, such as Walt Disney Resorts and Universal Studios. According to the company, "ITEC’s role relative to the best use of IP is to magnify the impact of the branded items through specific design and development strategies, as well as ensure that the brand impressions exemplify the theme throughout each attraction."
"The IP used by theme park operators (either their own or other’s IP) comes to life in both tangible and intangible formats," comment President Bill Coan. "The tangible items consist of things like ride and show scenics, props, costume characters and so on. Intangible items are things like songs/recorded music, theming, and storylines."
And Coan continues: "Licensing and brand application by the nature of the two parties involved, establishes a certain tension. The licensor’s interest is to expand its brand visibility and generate revenue while protecting its precious IP. The park operator is most interested in generating attendance through the exploitation of well regarded and established IP. A tension exists even within an entertainment giant like Walt Disney where from the beginning, a healthy conflict existed between the parks and the studio creatives as to the proper use of the characters. ‘Where should Mickey be seen, how should he be dressed, with which characters will he be seen’ are part of a long list of questions which were generally solved in the best interest of the overall Disney brand and always with the best guest experience in mind.
"Licensing is therefore an art, which when successful, is a mutually beneficial experience for both the licensor and licensee. The conditions of a good deal leave both parties comfortable with revenue shares, durations, restrictions, application and cost of quality assurance reviews, as well as terms for extensions and termination."
Coan states that licensing deals are unique to the parties and the product. The cost and benefits are not easily translated into direct numbers and there is rarely a guarantee as to success. And he says ITEC’s experience suggests that the younger the age group target the more successful the venture, adding: "ITEC often recommends that before a potential theme park owner chooses licensed branding versus developing their own IP, they participate in a theme development workshop, often called a charette.
"Thoroughly exploring the options with a professional design and development firm will give owner/developers enough information and creative input to arrive at a decision to which they can feel committed."