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November 2009

Don't Mess With Mickey: Disney To Give Iconic Brand A Makeover

Today is the 81th birthday of Mickey Mouse. Brand icon to generations of children, Mickey captures the essence of youthful playfulness and imagination. Loved the world over, Mickey Mouse has been a goldmine for Disney and enterprising retailers eager to profit from the brand's success.

But Mickey Mouse is about to get a makeover. Concerned about the relevance and meaning to a new generation of kids raised on video games, films and Nickelodeon, Disney is about to change the way Mickey talks, walks - and lives. Not an easy task, and a risky move when annual merchandise sales are in the $5 billion range.

This "re-imagining" of Mickey will be introduced next year with the launch of a new video game called Epic Mickey. The game will showcase Mickey's darker side, and give him a cunning edge unseen in his former character.


So, a brand icon who had meaning to generations of children will now be re-engineered to appeal to today's more demanding and tech-saavy kids. Yet Disney is treading carefully, fully aware of the possibility of having another New Coke as part of its global arsenal.

Some say that the new Mickey is a return to his roots as the Steamboat Willie character originally introduced in 1928. Back then, he was a trickster of sorts, with an eye for adventure and good times.

The success of the new Mickey remains to be seen, but the question still remains: Is it OK to mess with a global brand icon - or is change necessary to make the character relevent to a new generation of children?

What do you think? 

New Story of PR Lacks Showmanship

Somewhere along the line, we forgot to put the "public" back into PR.  I'm reading a book called the Fame Formula by Mark Borkowski, one of the UK's leading public relations practitioners. His stellar list of clients (past and present) includes Van Morrison, Joan Rivers, Cirque du Soleil and Michael Jackson.  The book discusses the history of the fame making machinery behind some of Hollywood's greatest celebrities - beginning with the roots of modern day PR which had its beginnings in the early days of vaudeville and the motion picture industry.

Borkowski yearns for the days when public relations meant more than the masking of corporate messages behind well-trained and well-groomed spokespeople. To achieve fame in the old days, you had to use a combination of creativity and wit to build and maintain your place in the public eye. Agents representing vaudeville acts were known for their wild stunts that drew in audiences to see their prize acts. Mavericks such as P.T. Barnum made spectacular use of the media of the day by creating stories about his upcoming acts then bombarded the newspapers with letters to create sufficient buzz. Were the stories always truthful? Not necessarily. But at least they weren't boring.

The truly successful PR practitioners aren't afraid to use a little showmanship to sell their story. Look at Richard Branson's tactics as he flies into cities doing wild promos to sell his latest product or service. Some would say his methods are tacky. I say they're brilliant because any true practitioner knows that there's no such thing as bad PR.

To make our mark in this world we have to be more creative in getting our message out. There are so many new forms of media, that it takes a skillful practitioner to determine the best strategy for our content. As we move forward in time, let's not forget the lessons to be learned from the old. And let's make an effort to be less boring.

BarnumBarnum said that "I don't believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them." A lesson learned for any PR practitioner looking to make a mark on the world.