It all started with a mouse…and a bunny. Two men started with nothing and ended up with palaces – one as a castle, the other as a mansion. How did these men make millions in media? Brilliant branding.
Walt Disney started with a dream and an animation featuring a mouse by the name of Mickey. He went from one hit, Steamboat Willie (1928), to being the star of a theme park just a couple of decades later. Disney knew he was on to something and started aggressively branding the likeable mouse. Mickey had his own cartoons, merchandise, and even a club featuring promising actors and musical talent (cue Justin Timberlake). Throughout the entire growth of Mickey Mouse, Disney always reinforced the brand with his classic phrase, “It all started with a mouse.” Mickey went from a cartoon character to an iconic symbol of childhood across the globe.
Likewise, a man by the name of Hugh Hefner had a dream, but in this case, it appealed to an adult audience. Hefner started by creating his own racy publication that he wanted to be better than anything that currently existed. Playboy hit the stands in 1953 featuring a color photograph of actress Marilyn Monroe in the centerfold…nude. The first issue sold 50,000 copies – and gained instant fame among young men across nation.
What do the two have in common? They are both considered “relationship brands.” Playboy and Disney provide products that people can build a connection with – and a strong connection at that. Loyal brand followers provide one of the best forms of marketing. They tell their friends, their family, their coworkers, the person they just met at the theater, or at the newsstand. They build bonds with other loyalists, follow the brand, and purchase the merchandise.
How have these companies remained on the forefront of branding for all these years? By keeping their brands fresh and relevant. Mickey has gone through countless makeovers in the past 86 years of his existence to keep his look fresh and talked about. Playboy is always ahead on the “best looking women” of the year and making appearances at the most swanky events. The two brands are pervasive and have become part of our culture. They have conquered the media, utilized word-of-mouth marketing, and built loyalists across multiple demographics.
So as strange as it may be to place Disney and Playboy in the same sentence, there are key branding lessons to be learned from each company. Both companies have brand advocates in the form of fans, who are passionate about the brand and want to spread that passion to others. Each brand has reached a certain level of prestige in each of their respective fields and are established as being the thought leaders in their industries. Both brands are willing to push the boundaries of their brand and are ever-venturing to keep their fans interested and involved.