How "Mickey Mouse" Is Re-Branding?

While branding oneself takes time and effort to spin out a new product, re-branding can take several washes to redefine that same brand. Take for example the work United Airlines had to accomplish after breaking someone's guitar. Let alone the number of Twitter apologies issued forth by Chris Brown and Kanye West. But when others do it in reverse and run their good-guy image through a darkside wash cycle, the task might be a little easier. Such is the case with the re-engineering of  one Mickey Mouse.

Stewie GriffinStewie GriffinWith 'Mickey sales' declining markedly, (less than 20 percent of 2009's sales will actually come from the US this year), Disney execs see this as a red flag. Younger generations that grew up with Adult Swim and Manga comics are favoring edgier cartoon characters like Stewie Griffin from "Family Guy," and more scatological humor about  bodily functions and sexual preferences.

With the launch of "Epic Mickey," the iconic mouse of yesteryear will step over to the darkside. Darkside MickeyDarkside MickeyDesigned for Nintendo's Wii console, the game will replace Mickey's squeaky clean persona with one that is devious, mischievous and cunning.

The game is set in a "Disney wasteland" locale where forgotten and retired Disney cartoon characters reside. Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit is a cartoon character Walt Disney created in 1927 who everyone thought would have eclipsed the popularity of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Over the years, Oswald has become bitter and envious of Mickey's popularity as evidenced in this short 19 second vid.

Warren SpectorWarren SpectorPosted to YouTube on October 29, Warren Spector, the creative director of Junction Point, a Disney-owned game developer talks about what it took to re-brand Mickey by spearheading Epic Mickey.

So what are the take-aways here? I personally think anyone can re-brand oneself to become more relevant in today's Web 2.0 world, no matter how much baggage they bring with them. Some companies like Disney might be a little slow at the uptake. Waiting 80 years for a make-over is a lot of time to address a re-branding issue. In today's social media environment, its important to react quickly. If you're prompted by controversy, like Brown and West, you need to move even faster. If you're a major airline like United, you might want to be more methodical and strategic in how you overcome negative publicity (see 'United Breaks Guitars' Viral Videos Get Counterpunched.")

In any event, while re-branding oneself or one's brand have some inherent risks involved, the upshot of re-inventing oneself can be very "Mickey Mouse" if you put your best creative efforts forward. Otherwise, if you wait too long, you might end up in a cartoon wasteland, alongside, one unlucky "Lucky Rabbit!"

P.S. "Epic Mickey" will get to market Fall, 2010, just in time for Christmas!

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