Fragmented Marketing: Making Mickey a Transmedia Epic

Epic Mickey

Now, however, concerned that Mickey has become more of a corporate symbol than a beloved character for recent generations of young people, Disney is taking the risky step of re-imagining him for the future.

After Mickey’s Makeover, Less Mr. Nice Guy, NY Times

With the exception of Phineas & Ferb and The Wizards of Waverly Place, we’re not much of a Disney family, and my kids have almost no connection at all to the Disney characters I grew up with. (“K-E-Y. Why? Because we like you!”)

But when Epic Mickey for Wii was first announced, my now 10-year-old son and I were intrigued, and when we played the demo at NY Comic-Con this past October, we were immediately sucked in. Plus, Disney also announced at NYCC that they would be publishing original digital comics for the iPad, set in Wasteland, the game’s setting. Similar, and similarly exciting, plans were announced for Tron: Legacy and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Did I smell a series of transmedia initiatives in the works, from one of the most innovative brand marketers in the business?

Well, I thought I did!

The jury’s still out on Tron (on a number of levels), but Jeff Gomez, the godfather of Transmedia, noted that it will be “true transmedia: ARG, new vidgames, new animated series and our graphic novel are all in canon.” I saw the videogame demoed at NYCC, but I hadn’t heard about the animated series and had completely forgotten about the graphic novel until Jeff mentioned it. While I’m not the avid comics reader I used to be, I still stay on top of the industry, and Tron: Betrayal was apparently published last month to little fanfare, despite the impressive three-year marketing blitz the movie has received.

While the Epic Mickey Digicomics are also “in canon,” and the whole initiative can certainly be used as an example of solid transmedia development — the organic extension of a story across multiple platforms — I’d argue that the process only got it half right since there doesn’t appear to be an integrated marketing plan in effect.

If a #transmedia story falls on a platform, and nobody is around to read it, does it make a noise? It’s a hurdle for sure.

–Simon Pulman

I’ve yet to see any real promotion for the Digicomics or for the Wasteland setting itself, which inexplicably doesn’t have a dedicated website, despite all of the basic elements already existing in the free app, including a map of Wasteland, a great character database, several videos related to the game, and the first issue of the digicomic.

The app itself is buried on both the game’s website like just another piece of merchandise, and it’s just another app in the Disney Digital Books catalog. Also, for some reason, it’s listed in the Entertainment category of the App Store instead of in Books, where the other Disney Digital Book apps appear and tend to be among the bestsellers.

All of the pieces of the puzzle are there for Epic Mickey to be a new transmedia case study, except apparently for the execution. An integrated marketing plan is absolutely critical to producing an effective transmedia initiative, especially one like Epic Mickey that’s also burdened with the huge responsibility of repositioning one of the most well-known, if rather bloodless, icons in the world for a generation that has grown up with Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Pixar, not to mention Mario, Zelda and Pikachu.

Based on these two examples and the announcement this week that Jon Favreau will not be returning to direct Iron Man 3 despite his significant role in the upcoming Thor, Captain America and The Avengers films having any shot at all of being successful, it’s all a bit disconcerting. And disappointing.

“This whole world…,” said Favreau, “I have no idea what it is. I don’t think they do either, from conversations I’ve had with those guys.”

Developing the storyworld is only half the transmedia battle. Knowing what to do with it, and how to execute it so it’s more than an elaborate marketing campaign for the core product is the other, far more difficult half.

It’s not too late to turn things around for Epic Mickey or Tron, but if the less-than-stellar reviews the game and movie are getting, respectively, end up negatively affecting their driving platforms’ revenues, will Disney have the stomach to continue on?

And should they?

Published by

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

As in guillotine. Old/new media pragmatist. Sometimes loud, formerly poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, books, games, running, soccer.

6 thoughts on “Fragmented Marketing: Making Mickey a Transmedia Epic”

  1. This occurred to me the other day but I forgot to mention it —

    The Favreau thing worries me less because, ultimately, he was never really the creator. If we’re to assume that transmedia philosophically should be creator-driven, then I don’t think that was ever him. (Some directors are and can be, as can some screenwriters. In this case, I think the creator was Marvel.)

    The failing there to make it a fully-integrated universe was… well, that they’re failing to make it a fully-integrated universe. What they’re doing with the films is no different than what they’ve always done with comics: they’re just bridging them together. At which point it’s not really transmedia because they’re keeping those worlds — comics and film — separate, but connected in their own spheres only.

    — c.

    1. Yeah, the Favreau thing was a side point that maybe didn’t quite fit, except his noting the apparent lack of a solid plan on Marvel/Disney’s part. I’ve always envisioned Marvel as the ideal place for transmedia to really flourish, but I guess they don’t share my vision! 🙂

      I’m really surprised they haven’t launched an Ultimates-type line related to the movies that would be accessible for the non-hardcore fans who don’t want to jump into the convoluted continuity of the regular comics. Or that the new cartoon didn’t connect to the movies. Missed opportunities, much like DC never capitalizing on the popularity of the Justice League cartoon series a while back to move those kids into the comics.

      Le sigh.

  2. I don’t know the specifics of the Disney marketing but I’d have to imagine that when no marketing dollars are put behind something then it’s because they feel the dollars are better spent somewhere else… on another property I mean.

    It’s not just the direct cost of the marketing it’s the opportunity cost of not marketing something else more.

    I haven’t seen the game or movie but these past years games that didn’t get 95% rating and above didn’t sell. So you could still have a pretty good game but if it’s not in that top percentile then it’s doomed. Hence why throw good money after bad?

    1. “why throw good money after bad?”

      I’d agree with that if this was all just a marketing initiative for the game, but Epic Mickey has been positioned as being much bigger than one game, so I’d expect an aggressive integrated marketing plan built around the rebranding of Mickey Mouse, not just the game itself. And the way they’re publicly responding to critiques of the game suggests to me that they do see it as part of something bigger.

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