Feb 6, 2009

Brand-building lessons from Batman

Frank Miller is the man responsible for the Batman we know today - dark, morally ambiguous, ultra-violent and not too much more saner than the villains he's fighting. His 1986 comic 'The Dark Knight Returns' is credited with single-handedly reinventing the caped crusader and rescuing him from a campy oblivion.

In the latest issue of GQ, Frank Miller has this to say about his time working on the Batman franchise:

"I was once asked by somebody if writing Batman was like holding a Ming Vase or something. And I said 'No, it's like holding a big-ass diamond that you can't break. You can throw him against the ceiling, against the floor, anywhere, and you just can't break Batman.' There are ten ways to do him and they all work."

While it's now common to sneer at the prelapsarian (and pre-Miller) Batman and laugh at his comic capers, what Frank here is saying that he inherited a character that was in effect unbreakable. He could do anything with Batman - turn him into a blood-thirsty monster for eg. (which is exactly what Miller did) - and the public would still relate to their favourite masked hero. 'The Dark Knight Returns' ensured much more than that - the comic is still in print 20 years after it was first published, making Frank Miller a larger than life hero in the bargain.

Likewise, it's not inoften that one hears talk of treating a brand like it's a Ming vase - so fragile that, one slight bump and it will certainly become scarred and second-rate forever. Of treating it with utmost care, padding its every single action with expert attention and holding its little finger every step of the way.

But shouldn't brands be built to be like the Batman Frank Miller inherited? Virtually breakable and totally impervious to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to the machinations of its well-wishers. String together every wrong move one can think of and set the detonator off - and what should step out when the smoke clears is a brand with tattered tights and a slightly bruised body but with a never-say-die soul.

After all, a brand that cannot risk - or survive - a few collisions with adversity isn't too much of a brand. Isn't it?
About the author:
Iqbal Mohammed is Head of Innovation & Strategy at a digital innovation agency serving the DACH and wider European markets. He is the winner of the WPP Atticus Award for Best Original Published Writing in Marketing & Communication.
You can reach him via email or Twitter.


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