Since the birth of human civilisation, humans have been fascinated by glorious stories of fictional characters that push the realm of human capabilities to an extraordinary level: heroes. The term “hero” originates from the greek word “ἥρως”(hērōs) referring to a “defender” or “protector” who through his acts that defy normal human capabilities teaches values ranging from courage, strength to ingenuity (Scott LaBarge, 2000). Heroes have been playing this educational role for centuries and are still nowadays protagonists of fiction books and movies. Modern representations of heroes in the mainstream culture can be found in the Superhero Genre with famous heroes such as Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America, Superman, Iron Man or Wolverine. In the exception of Superman and Batman, these fictional characters share a common origin: they all belong to the Universe created by the entertainment giant Marvel Comics.
Created under the name “Timely Comics” in 1939 by an American publisher of pulp magazines, Martin Goodman, envisioned a magazine that would solely focus on superhero comics. This venture was surfing on the increasing popularity of comics in this 40s era now-known as the “golden age” of the genre (DeForest 2014). It was not until 1956, with the arrival of “DC Comics” (a rival comics company), that superheroes and comics saw the light again. The so-called “silver age” (Genter, 2007) allowed an important growth and innovation period for comics companies. In the early 1960s, Atlas Magazines became “Marvel Comics” and next to its main rival “DC Comics” dominates for many years the comics industry giving birth to some of the most notorious and important characters of the genre such as Spider-man, The Hulk, Stark, and many others. (Genter, 2007). In 1991, Marvel becomes a publicly held company, and just a few years later, important management issues and a general disinterest tendency in the comics industry lead the company into bankruptcy.
Not even two years later, however, the company comes back from the dead once again and launches a drastically different business plan, focusing on the diversity of products (toys, video games, etc.) (DeForest 2014), innovation in style and genre, expansion of audience and adaptation to digital information and technology. In 2009 the company becomes a subsidiary of the giant Walt Disney and continues up to the date to create innovative and viral content.
Since its creation, Marvel Comics has had to face important threats through its existence and it is extremely interesting and enriching to study why and how Marvel Comics survived every time. More than once the company has been faced with issues such as a bored audience, a stagnating innovation or important controversy, but every time the company rebuilt itself on its own and it is incredible to see how after various decades of the same superheroes, characters, stories and adventures, the company is still one of the giants in its industry. The comics industry is really fragile as the chore of the product; the superheroes and their stories may get very repetitive and uninteresting after a certain amount of time, however the strength of Marvel has been to be able to continuously recreate itself and adapt to new contexts (following a contingency approach); the main example being how in the early 2000s the company re-established its own empire after a complete bankruptcy thanks to innovation and adaptation. This company is a perfect example to show how organizational and process innovation are fundamental to the survival of a company, even by selling the same range of product after 70 years. Furthermore, Marvel Comics is the living proof that a healthy business and strategy planning allows companies not only to grow bigger in the market but to restart, even after a bankruptcy.
How did Marvel manage to survive bankruptcy and create the Marvel Cinematic Universe Idea/Plan?
Marvel Comics, the company that was widely regarded as one of the biggest publishers in the comic industry, created in 1939 by Martin Goodman, managed to survive bankruptcy in 1996 to eventually become one of the largest Hollywood brands. Similar to every comic book, at the darkest moment - when everything seems impossible and hopeless - the future of the company was very uncertain. By the early 90s, after a steady increase in growth throughout the years, Marvel's financial success had reached its peek, but questionable management deals and bursting financial bubbles followed and suddenly shares, once worth $35.75 each in 1993, had sunk to $2.38 three years later. At that time the writer Neil Gaiman He stated that the success of the Marvel Comics company was a bubble, the majority of collectors buy the comics relying on the idea that in the future those same comics will be worth a fortune. “You're selling bubbles and tulips, and one day the bubble will burst, and the tulips will rot in the warehouse." (Gaiman, 1993). The interest of businessman Ron Perelman was attracted, who invested 82,5 millions in Marvel Entertainment Group in late 1985. The investor bought shares in the company ToyBiz. In the ‘90s Marvel gained success by selling an enormous amount of Spider-Man, X-Men, and X-Force comics. Fans were buying more copies of the same comics, because they saw it as an investment as the prices of those comics kept rising the older they got. But just as Gaiman predicted, the expected bubble burst happened. Suddenly the revenues started to collapse and the company's situation was problematic to say the least, Scott Sassa, nowadays an American entertainment executive, said at the time “Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.”(1993).
Perelman stated that if he increases the prices, fans would invest a larger amount of money in buying the comics. The CEO of Mile High Comics wrote: "Once he had enough sales numbers in place to prove this hypothesis, he then took Marvel public, selling 40% of its stock for vastly more than he paid for the entire company. The flaw in his plan, however, was that he promised investors in Marvel even further brand extensions, and more price increases.” (Chuck Rozanski, 1993). This seemingly impossible plan and the declining quality of the comics were the reasons why many of Marvel's fans quit collecting. For Marvel this constituted a one of the main sources of income are the consumers, which means that if fans quit collecting comics, everything will go wrong.
The consequences for the whole company were painful. In 1996 Marvel went bankrupt. The company still owed money to Disney (the highest debt of the company: -$1.7 million). On top of that, more than one third of Marvel's employees were expelled. To go from rock bottom, where they were at the time, to where they wanted to be, the company had to risk everything. That is the reason why Perelman decided to obtain a new plan, this was the only way for the company to survive. The new venture, Marvel Studios, was set up, with the idea of getting all of the famous Marvel characters on screen. The plan included merging with ToyBiz as well, which means that the toy company obtains a license to produce toys on the basis of Marvel characters. In order to raise its capital, Marvel had to take a lot of chances. One of the main reasons for Marvel being this successful nowadays is because they took that risk. The company convinced Merrill Lynch to invest $525 million in the creation of Marvel's movies. If its plan didn't succeed, the company would have lost all of the movie rights, and would likely never been seen again. The idea was dubbed the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a plan which would see more than ten movies be produced, also including a bunch of solo-movies but mainly revolving around Blockbuster-crossovers which feature almost every Marvel hero there is, a grand plan indeed.
Marvel's business model consists of 4 parts: licensing, toys, studio and publishing. Marvel has all their assets licenced, so part of their revenue originates from selling those rights to movies, television production companies, video game publishers and merchandise manufacturers. They collect royalties and service fees from their toys manufacturing segment, the publishing segment produces, markets and sells comic books and the studio produces the movies. Licensing, toys, and publishing are all heavily dependent on the success and popularity of Marvel characters and movies, so if the popularity increases all those aspects increase and make
The Marvel Cinematic Universe idea is the business strategy Marvel Studios implemented after the bankruptcy. Before Iron Man (2008) there was already a plan in place to produce multiple movies, all with their own Marvel hero as a main character. The idea was to use B-list and C-list heroes and eventually put them together in one main movie, which became The Avengers (2012) (Hughes, 2018). Now, that particular time frame is called Phase 1 of the MCU. The current movies (Infinity War (2018), Black Panther (2018), Captain Marvel (2019), etc.) are all part of Phase 3. While Phase 3 is still underway, Phase 4 is already completely planned out, with the first movie of Phase 4 already in production, namely Spiderman: Far from Home (2019). People are even speculating over Phase 5, which goes to show the amount of future planning that goes into these productions. It also shows Marvel and Disney's trust in continued success, as it is by no means guaranteed that all the upcoming movies will be profitable.
There are many reasons why Marvel succeeded to survive after harsh bankruptcy. To begin with, Marvel's first intention wasn't to grow into a leading force, they focused on making the best product they could. The movie that has changed the game for Marvel after forming the Marvel Cinematic Universe, MCU for short, was Iron Man, Marvel's first self-financed project. After the bankruptcy Marvel desperately needed money, so they decided to form the MCU, mainly because they had sold off the film rights of their characters to other companies and it was visible that the companies were profiting from Marvel's characters. When Iron Man was released in 2008, it increased Marvel's revenue by 40%. Marvel's strategy for revenue consisted of releasing the Iron Man movie combined with selling toys. The primary target audience was children, which explains the initial reason why Marvel chose Iron Man as the main character for their first movie, because of an experiment they conducted among many groups of children, showing them different pictures of superheroes and their abilities, and asking which one they would choose to play with. The most common answer was Iron Man, that is what put the character first in line for a solo movie. By choosing this character, Marvel risked everything, but eventually this was their only chance to survive. Fortunately, Iron Man turned out to be the moneymaker for Marvel.
Another reason for the company's success is that they weren't scared to disregard projects and to restart completely. In one interview the president of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige said “If there's a better idea for a movie - if we were going to plant a seed in this movie that was going to be awesome and pay off three movies later, but that seed is not working and that seed is screwing up the movie, goodbye.”
A further reason for the Marvel Cinematic Universe being so successful and prominent in the movie industry today is timing. The timing of the start of the MCU was very beneficial. The idea of a cinematic universe existed before the MCU, but every cinematic universe before that, consisted of only two or three different characters, such as the first ever cinematic universe, the Universal Monsters, created in the 1930s with the characters of Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. Even without the hype for each individual comic book superhero arriving on the big screen, being the first to implement this idea on a scale of the MCU gave the movies a lot of attention. After several years of success, other franchises tried to follow suit, the main example being DC, with their DC Extended Universe (DCEU). It is safe to say that after 5 years, the DCEU, hasn't received the same success as their competitor. One of the reasons has to be because in their case there wasn't same attention as for the start of the MCU because they simply weren't the first. We will never know if things would be different if DC would've come up with the idea first instead of Marvel, or if they would've come up with the idea in the first place, but we do know that Marvel's timing has helped their success considerably.
Marketing- How does Marvel create and sustain its customer loyalty?
At first glance, Marvel's success story can simplistically be boiled down to a succession of well-thought products, its characters, and consistent innovation in the entertainment business with the implementation of cutting edge technology in their movies. However, assuming that Marvel as a business only owes its successfulness to their products is failing to understand the essence of their business identity. Indeed, Marvel has become through the years a brand name that has a dedicated community that is loyal to their brand, a fan base. This fanbase is essential to Marvel's business model since the foundation of the company in 1939. The fanbase of the comics represented, in its earlier stages, Marvel's main source of income by consistently buying the newest released comics. Creating and sustaining this dedicated fan base is the result of Marvel's effective marketing strategies that ensure customer loyalty hence guaranteeing constant demand for new products released by the brand, being comics, movies, TV shows or merchandise. Therefore, understanding Marvel's marketing strategy is key to the comprehension of the company's success.
Marvel, a global marketing approach
First of all, it is no secret that all big production studios invest substantial amounts in their movie marketing campaigns to promote their latest movies (Freeman, 2018). According to the Motion Picture Association of America's annual report of 2007 (the last detailed report published for the general public), marketing costs represented in average 50% of total production costs showing that the American movie industry attaches a vital importance to marketing. In this sense, Marvel Studios is no exception to the rule with an estimated marketing costs for their latest movie Avengers: Infinity War ….(). Put back in perspective this considerable spending seems to fall in the general trend of big blockbuster movies with a 50% ratio on marketing/ total productions costs (Freeman, 2018). It is interesting to add, that over a time span of less than 20 years the average marketing budgets have had a significant increase, from … to an estimated …. (Freeman, 2018). This increase shows the broader extent to which marketing strategies can influence customers by allocating more resources for advertisement campaigns that can reach bigger audiences internationally (Freeman, 2018).
A multi-platform advertising strategy.
Marvel's first marketing strategy consists of traditional advertising by using a multi-platform approach to reach bigger audiences (Razenberg, 2018). The Marvel brand consistently advertises their latest content through the means of teasers, trailers, posters and interviews Razenberg, 2018). This practice is the norm within the industry, however, it appears that Marvel's execution does present a few special characteristics. The first notable aspect would be their ability to advertise their products worldwide. An undisputable example of this is their historical record set this year with the last Avengers movie that has: “the #1 movie opening of all time”(Marvel Studios, 2018). This number clearly shows the successful reach of an worldwide audience through the means of local promotion campaigns by the company. Furthermore, Marvel's marketing strategy seems to outshine their competitors by their effective use of different new media platforms such as social media with accounts in namely Twitter, Instagram and most importantly Facebook with over 31 million followers (Facebook, 2018). This presence along with more traditional forms of advertising through TV-interviews, trailers and teasers seems to be Marvel's strategy used to reach the public by adapting to the rapidly changing media environment. Finally, their communication strategy in regards to their new products can be considered a form of entertainment in itself. Indeed, their promotional strategy clearly strays apart from the conventional methods used in advertising. An outstanding example of this can be illustrated by a short clip published on Youtube in 2017 with a supposedly involuntary leak of information by Tom Holland, the actor portraying the character of Spiderman in the Avengers: Infinity War regarding the release date of the movie. This served a double purpose for the studio by creating a “hype” over the release of the information and by further confirming Tom Holland's goofiness that some perceive as well-suited for the character he portrays. An intimate relationship with the fan-base ( insight asset)/ market segmentation
Teasing is something that really makes the MCU movies stand out from others. Ever since the first MCU movie, there were always post-credit scenes which gave a glimpse into the following movies and briefly showed some of the heroes come together. This showed to be a huge marketing success as the films were not only praised afterwards, but people also started talking and speculating over what those post-credit scenes meant for following movies. This kept fans and critics on their toes until the first crossover-movie was released: Marvel's The Avengers (2012). A superhero-crossover was also something never done before and therefore added to the hype around the movie. The movie was the most expensive so far, with a budget of over $200 million for the first time in the franchise, but also by far the most successful, making over $1,5 billion worldwide. To put it in perspective, this was the first time one of the MCU movies even grossed over a billion dollars, let alone an extra $500 million. The increase in popularity in the MCU grew noticeable, seeing as though the following movie, Iron Man 3 (2013), grossed $1,2 billion, which was more than Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010) combined. The sequels to Thor (2011) & Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) also both outgrossed their predecessors, showing what impact the first crossover had on the MCU's popularity.
Stuff that still needs to be discussed in this part: But sadly choices need to be made
The self promotion strategy: keeping the brand alive teasers within movies and teasers
Differentiation of products (direct sales) comic more dark logan…
CSR: diversity within its core values (relationship building)
The biggest sponsorship deal of that marketing campaign was with Coca Cola and was estimated to be around $40 million in itself, according to Deadline (D'Alessandro, 2018).
Add comparisons with DC universe in regards to their spendings in the
The Disney Takeover - How it impacted Marvel's corporate culture?
9 years ago a major takeover took place when giant The Walt Disney Company took over comics and film producer Marvel Entertainment for an amount of $4.3bn (Lamble 2015). After the Pixar takeover a couple years before, Disney was hungry for more and saw a golden opportunity in this American entertainment company. When the acquisition was approved on the 31th of December in 2009, Disney got full ownership of Marvel Entertainment and the rest is history (Goldman, 2009). In this part of our research we will take a more in-depth look at this remarkable takeover and especially how it affected both companies.
That there was a lot of faith in a good outcome of this merger, appeared from the morning trades of the day the news of the Disney merger came out; the shares of Marvel (MVL) rose 26% (Goldman 2009). An important incentive of this confidence was Disney's takeover of Pixar in 2006, which turned out to be a huge success. Moreover, Marvel has also had successes with selling (parts of) their company, when they sold the X-Men to Fox in 2000, which resulted in the hit movie X-Men that brought in $290 million worldwide (Abad-Santos, 2017).
On the other hand, there also was a lot of scepticism towards this merger, especially from the Marvel fans. There was a fear for ‘Disneyfication', that Marvel will lose its eccentricity and become part of Disney's huge marketing plan. However, Disney claimed that the merger would not have any effect on Marvel's product. (Gent, 2009)
Looking back now, the Disney takeover has been predominantly successful for both parties. Since the Disney merger, Marvel's track record has been impressive. The Avengers made billions, being ranked the third highest grossing film, Iron Man made over $1 billion and even less-known films like Guardians of the Galaxy made over $750 million (Lamble, 2015). Besides the high-earning movies there's also publishing, TV production and licensing which contribute to Marvel's high revenue (McLauchlin, 2015). And with 10 more Marvel Cinematic films planned in 2019, it will only get better (McLauchlin, 2015). It is no wonder that Disney's stock has risen to over 100 dollars, in comparison to $26 at the time Marvel was acquired (Ingram, 2015). And even though the ESPN and the Pixar takeovers played a part in it, Marvel has a huge share in Disney's increasing success (Ingram, 2015).
The reason that this takeover was a tremendous success mostly lies within the combination of Disney's network and facilities combined with Marvel's ability of content creation. Disney is the perfect home for Marvel to utilise its full potential due to Disney's global organization and infrastructure (Goldman, 2009). For instance, Disney turned Marvel superheroes into big earning merchandise products, just like they do with the famous Disney princesses (McLauchlin, 2015). Organizationally there were some changes as well; when Disney took over, the former Creative Committee of Marvel and former CEO Ike Perlmutter was cut from the team which gave Kevin Feige, the creative mind behind multiple Marvel movies, more freedom. This lead to a smoother chain of command which finally made it possible to reach Marvel's full potential (Cannata-Bowman, 2015).
The main positive to take from the takeover on Marvel's side is the seemingly endless funds Disney can and will provide. The success of the only MCU movie before the Disney takeover, Iron Man (2008), showed enough to Disney for them to make the move. They saw the prospect of inevitable huge success as they did with the Pixar takeover. The wealth of Disney has made sure no Marvel Studios production would ever have to slow down on costs, because they always seem to deliver huge success and even bigger profit. No matter how much money they've put into a MCU movie, every single one has shown a positive return. This 100% record makes us assume that Disney will continue investing more into the franchise than ever before, testing their luck until potentially one day people get tired of it as they did with the comics years earlier. That won't stop Marvel though as they have shown before how to overcome the insurmountable. For now, it doesn't seem like such a thing is going to happen anytime soon, and it does seem like both Disney and Marvel will be working together in harmony and prosperity for the foreseeable future, both enjoying their successful venture.
Operations - How is Marvel able to produce multiple Blockbuster-movies every year?
One of the reasons Marvel is up there with the most notorious brands in the movie industry, is because, over the last decade, their movies have become a regularity in cinema catalogues. From 2008 onwards, there have been 20 Marvel movies, in comparison to the total amount of Blockbuster movies in that time which is around 250, so on average 8% of all Blockbuster movies released in a year are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, showing you the sizeable share the brand has in the movie industry.
For the past decade, there has almost continuously been a Marvel movie in cinemas, so fans of the franchise don't have to wait long for another installment. Their main competitor, DC, who have copied Marvel's idea of creating an extended universe has released just 5 movies in the last 5 years, while Marvel has released 10 movies in the same time frame.
The main reason for there being so many movies, is because it is possible to produce multiple movies at the same time. There have been 4 movies in which a majority of the MCU cast all played together: The Avengers (2012), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). All the other 16 movies have featured 3 lead actors at best, because of that multiple movies can be shot at the same time. Not only does the cast differs, in the 20 movies there have been 15 different directors and even more screenwriters. This makes most movies very different from a cinematic standpoint. The person that makes sure all the movies can ultimately be seen as a collective is Kevin Feige, who has produced every MCU movie that has so far come out.
Ever since the first movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man (2008), there was huge financial success. According to BFI and Follows (2016), the rule of thumb to decide whether a movie is profitable is if it generated twice its budget at the global box office. Using this technique, the only movie that doesn't make profit would be The Incredible Hulk (2008), with its profit at the global box office being 193% of the budget. Iron Man (2008)'s profit was estimated to be 315% of the movie's production budget.
The budget for Marvel movies has always been high, in order to produce the epic feel the movies aspire to have. The lowest budget for a MCU film was for Ant-Man (2015) & Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018): $130,000,000. The highest budget was for Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): $330,600,000, which is still the 3rd highest budget for any film ever made but also became one of the highest grossing movies of all time with a worldwide box office of over $1,4 billion.
On top of the budget, many other costs need to be taken into consideration, primarily marketing, prints, residuals, financing costs and overhead. Marketing is something that is very important to Marvel, and something they make good use of. It is also the biggest expense aside from the production costs. For example: the estimated marketing costs of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) were $150 million, according to Deadline (D'Alessandro, 2018); with the production budget for that movie being $300 million, the marketing costs alone already put 50% on top.
From the first movie of the MCU onwards, all the steps that have been taken have gone successfully to say the least. It can't be understated how important the successes of Iron Man (2008) and Marvel's The Avengers (2012) were for the rest of the MCU's success. The graph shows that after the first crossover, all the movies have made huge profit, even if the critics review a movie as average at best. The example that shows that best is Thor: The Dark World (2013), having by far the worst reviews of all the movies after the first crossover (only a 6,3), but still making a return of over 4 times the budget. As discussed before the rule of thumb is, according to BFI and Follows (2016), that a movie should be profitable if the return is twice as much as the production budget. Even if this theory is far off from reality (as it's impossible to find the exact profits of the movies, because of Disney's secrecy) it is highly likely that all the movies still easily made profit. Not only was this good for Disney's bank account, it also undoubtedly gave the green light for all the following movies, and seeing as though no movie has disappointed since (financially speaking), it will make the way for many more movies to come.
To conclude, the main reasons for Marvel Studios being able to dispense so many movies each year are the successful start and the subsequent exponentially growing successes, the unique set-up of a never-before-seen cinematic universe which allows for independent and simultaneous productions and the immovable place of the Marvel brand in the movie industry today, which all together convinces Disney to put forward near-limitless funds for each upcoming project.
Marvel's history and road to success can be an example to any other company, because it is appropriate not only to the movie and comic book industry, but to every industry. They have faced various enormous uncertainties but have always found a way to reinstall itself in the market, by changing industries or taking enormous risks for instance.
The company's marketing and strategy techniques such as the creation of a loyal and intimate fan-base, global advertisement and teasers allowed the company not only to maintain its reputation and to re-create its empire through time, but also to produce content that creates record turnovers such as The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). The importance of creating a loyal audience and to advertise in the most effective ways is obviously of huge importance in an industry like comic books, and the company has exploited these resources in the best ways.
The Disney takeover in 2009 was one of the crucial points in the history of the industry. The initial skepticism and uncertainty of this huge market operation, was however quickly eliminated thanks to the enormous financial success of it. Marvel had the chance to create extremely professional and rich content thanks to a secure financial base, while keeping its relative independence; This can be seen as a very good example to other companies on the brink of a takeover of how takeovers or mergers can be beneficial for both parties. The lesson that all companies should take from this company is that even after a complete bankruptcy or a very unstable and unhealthy business situation, a company can always relaunch itself in various ways. By targeting new markets, new audiences, by adapting itself to new contexts (digitalization, mass production of Disney), by drastically increasing innovation (of process, products and organization), Marvel went from rock bottom, in 1996, to again being the leader of its industry less than 20 years later.
...(download the rest of the essay above)