Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Marvel and Chrysler

Brand Winner… And Loser…


Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Winner:  Marvel

Loser:  Chrysler




Thor thundered away at the box office this past weekend earning almost $66 million domestically.  It’s done $240 million worldwide, beating the first releases of high performing movie franchises like X-Men and The Fantastic Four.

Marvel’s success with yet another movie adaptation of a character from its deep bench is a vivid illustration of what brand equity means.

I’ve written a lot about the mistaken notion that a brand is somehow just a name.  When Gourmet magazine was shut down but remained a name, the folks who did the closing up shop (getting rid of editorial and all that stood behind the name) incorrectly believed that they were somehow still retaining value in the name.

But for a brand’s name to have value, there must be value behind the name.  That value is built over time; that value is consistently maintained; that value is expanded when it can be expanded.

The Marvel model brilliantly shows us how.  First, Marvel has for decades created new characters in its comic universe then had those characters appear month after month in new scenarios.  The whole process of having to appeal so regularly to a changing audience is like operating in a brand furnace where concepts can be perfected.  That’s why a Marvel character like Thor or Ironman has such power –they have been audience tested for years.

More than a decade ago, Marvel didn’t quite seem to understand the power of its brand and its many individual character “brands”.  That was before the long run of movies reminded the company and the world of this equity.

All of us can learn from Marvel.  A brand starts with a concept that a Target Market finds appealing.  Then that concept is field tested.  The field testing helps to refine the brand and also confirms that the concept is strong.   Then, as is the case with Marvel, the brand is consistently sold to the Target Market and that brand that survives by way of striking a balance between adaptation and staying true to its core becomes incredibly strong –so strong that no one can come along and simply create the same kind of success out of thin air.

That’s why, despite all the creative folks out there trying to get the next big thing in superheroes, a company like Marvel keeps delivering.  It’s not that Thor or Ironman are simply tried and true that gives them brand equity; it’s how they became tried and true that matters.

Marvel is reaping the dividends from the brand building it has been doing since the early 1960s.  End of story. 


Chrysler could do with a lesson on brands from General Motors.

Whereas, General Motors has re-committed itself to the idea that people buy brands not companies and has put itself firmly back on the path to global dominance by building each of its great brands; Chrysler looks like it’s doing the opposite.

I’m talking about Chrysler’s focus on itself as a company and not on its individual automobile brands.

Recently the company announced its first profitable quarter since its government rescue.  Chrysler made a big deal about it, but it wasn’t much.  Only one percent of its first quarter sales.

Arguably, unlike GM, the Chrysler “brand” has always carried more weight when it came to the individual car brands.  When Lee Iaccoca oversaw Chrysler’s turnaround decades ago giving the company brand a breath of life was part of the strategy and it worked.

But too much emphasis on the company brand over the individual  car brands is a mistake.  Unfortunately, here is was Olivier Francois, the new head of the combined Fiat-Chrysler company recently said:

In Europe, we always considered Chrysler the best American brand. But it became a brand that was discontented and it had low brand loyalty. It’s as if you looked at your kid and said he was a low achiever and then started cutting costs – you don’t pay for the best clothes or the most expensive school and so on. If you have low expectations, then that’s what you get.

Chrysler always had a very good image in Europe. It was considered very innovative and, actually less American. It was seen as exotic. It had stylistic cars. But you needed to put money and investment in the materials, and quality, and in its people. What matters most to buyers is not whether it’s a Dodge or Jeep or Ram Truck. The perceived quality of the cars was unsatisfactory.

I put that last part in bold: What matters most to buyers in not whether it’s a Dodge or Jeep or Ram Truck.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

That’s exactly what matters to buyers.  Sure the Chrysler name will help to ensure that there’s quality behind things, but ultimately a happy Ram truck owner will be talking up his Ram truck to other potential buyers and will become a repeat buyer himself.  That is what brand loyalty is about.  The only thing that matters to the Ram Truck owner is that the Chrysler quality is obvious in his truck.  Unless he’s a financier, the Ram Truck owner really won’t care what his truck says about the quality of Chrysler, the company, or its other vehicles.

Bottom line, Chrysler needs to remember that it has great individual car brands and then it is has to bring back the quality in each one.

And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind. 






For a brand’s name to have value, there must be value behind the name.





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