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My former secret past with cartoons was exposed on national TV last weekend.
In 1997, I was running a Internet entertainment network of websites that included a joint venture with Universal Studios. The JV with Universal was a website dedicated to entertaining boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 11. Universal Studios had movies, TV shows, record labels, and various other entertainment assets within its company. The "rights" to each property (movie, show, character, artist, song, product) were specifically and individually negotiated by the Studio and the property originator. We wanted to work "Babe -The Pig" (great movie -"that'll do pig") but quickly established that we would need to negotiate separately with the producers/directors of the film who owned "Babe" and the artist who provided Babe's voice. Getting both in the boat at the same time proved impossible at the time as people misunderstood and profoundly mistrusted this new medium -- the Internet. (In hindsight, I should gone after the duck in that movie -- he was a star...)
From there, I went after some famous cartoon assets for which Universal had some distribution rights. But those distribution rights, which mostly dated from the 1960's didn't quite include the Internet. So, I set out to contact and convince the then current owners of the rights to various cartoon properties including "Rocky and Bullwinkle", "Woody Woodpecker" and others, that they should license my company their characters for usage on an Internet website. First, however, I needed to explain what the Internet was and why it was important. "Well, the Department of Defense needed a network architecture that wasn't at all switching oriented...." Ok, I didn't say that but it was a trifle challenging to make the computer network as an entertainment medium point. In the process, I hope I educated them as to this emerging medium and its potential. In return, they thought me a great deal about intellectual property, branding and the power of licensing.
Given that rights were typically in the hands of the children or grandchildren of the creators rather than the creators themselves, it was interesting discussion about the intellectual property, its brand meaning and future. Those conversations about the cartoons, their creations, the creators and product distribution were some of the most interesting ones of my 30 years in business. And it was a life lesson in the power of branding and licensing. From meeting with these folks, I really considered that effective branding often relies on making something that is inanimate into something animate. I had always thought of life less brand attributes. I learned that has to be multi-dimensional and organic. That branding is about creating a genuine relationship between people and a product. People build relationships more readily with living things. That keeping the a brand and its character genuine in its usage over time was critical. When I work with a start up now, I frequently counsel brand the product because it will serve to brand the company. Which isn't necessarily true in the reverse, branding a company doesn't consistently brand its products.
And I learned that licensing is the ultimate game of control. They slice the licenses pretty thinly in Hollywood. And they are wise to do so, as they've seen the rise of new mediums and unexpected opportunities before with radio and TV. So, while I am not a branding expert, I became convinced that it better to brand a product than a company. And that every license is a very sharp, two edged sword. And if you brand well, it will only pay if you control and protect your brand along the way.
But I really didn't expect a cartoon oriented question of TV.