Brand renovation lessons from Shakespeare and Disney

I recently enjoyed two great bits of entertainment with Mrs Taylor and two of my teenage daughters, with both shows having some great inspiration on brand renovation, that I discuss below. The first was a new production of Shakespeare’s Twelth Night at The National Theatre (watch the trailer below) that I strongly recommend if you live in London or are visiting; but hurry as it ends in a month or so. The second show was slightly more popular with Elodie and Chloé than three hours watching Shakespeare: Disney’s new blockbuster movie, Beauty & The Beast!

1. The enduring power of great stories

Both shows illustrate the enduring power of great stories. Twelth Night was first performed over 400 years ago, and yet the tale of a love triangle and mistaken identity is still relevant today. “Godwin’s revival is very much a production for our times,” comments the FT here in their review. The theme of ‘gender fluidity’ and same-sex relationships is absolutely current. And there are also some classic lines that have stood the test of time: “Some are born great. Some achieve greatness. And some have greatness thrust upon them,” is a phrase still used today, for example.

Disney’s animated movie version of Beauty & The Beast was released in 1991, but the original fairy tale was written way back in 1740. And yet the story still has broad appeal across both ages and regions of the world, as Disney’s European CMO Tricia Wilber explains in this interview. Indeed, the story of a young girl who is strong, independent and fighting against sexual discrimination is bang up to date. And distinctive ‘properties’ have also been retained, including Belle’s yellow dress and the red rose.

So, the next time people start discussing the need to change your brand positioning or communication campaign, take a moment to check if that is really necessary. If Twelth Night is still going strong after four centuries, can you not find a way to stick with the same brand ‘narrative’ and plot, but update the execution?

2. Refresh your brand to stay relevant

Disney and The National have each done a masterful job at updating their productions to be relevant for today’s audience. The story, characters and plot lines might be the same. But the execution in both cases has been totally refreshed. Beauty & The Beast has been transformed from an cute animated film into a live-action spectacular. The theme tune, ‘Tale as Old as Time’, is performed by Ariana Grande and John Legend. Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame plays Belle and portrays her as an up-to-date, feisty female lead character who is more than a match for both Beast and the arrogant, sexist Gaston.

The updating of Twelth Night is even more radical. A thoroughly modern interpretation features a sport scar riding playboy Duke, a jazz trio and even a drag queen performing in a transvestite nightclub! And when Olivia asks her maids to “put on their veils” as part of the mourning of her father’s death, the ensemble whip out dark sunglasses as if being photographed by paparazzi.

Thinking about your brand, are in touch with trends and culture to highlight ways in which you need to refresh your brand positioning and properties to stay relevant? This will help you retain your existing, older consumers whilst also recruiting a new wave of younger users.

3. Invest in execution

Both producers have invested serious time, talent and money in amazing production values. The staging of Twelth Night by Soutra Gilmour is truly breathtaking, with a pyramid-shaped set revolving to reveal multiple different scenes. At different points stage props pop out of the floor, including a jacuzzi and a stage on which the drag queen performs. And rain falls from the sky at the end.

And boy,  have Disney bet big on Beauty & The Beast, with a mind boggling production budget of $160 million and another $140 million for marketing, according to reports here. The stellar cast includes Emma Thompson, Stanly Tucci and Ewan McGregor, in addition to Emma Watson. There are huge, set-piece song and dance extravaganzas with a huge cast, reminiscent of La La Land. And the combination of live action and CGI animation is stunning.

The lesson here? In a digital age where ‘content’ is increasingly important, whether in a TV ad or in online films, excellence in execution in vital to be distinctive, to get noticed and get shared.

In conclusion, The National Theatre and Disney have shown how to remember what made you famous, both in terms of brand story and brand properties, and refresh these to stay more relevant than ever for today’s world. It has certainly paid off for both producers. The National has enjoyed a sell-out run. And on a slight bigger scale, Beauty & The Beast’s box office has already topped $700 million globally, according this source!