Recently, I taught a workshop called Your Brand @ Work in Orlando, FL just a stones thrown away from the home of Mickey Mouse. I started thinking about the kind of lessons we can learn about personal branding from the phenomenally successful Mickey Mouse brand.
Have you ever heard of the Garfield & Scratchy Show or Felix the Cat? Both cartoons were created in the 1920’s and enjoyed a brief resurgence—but neither could withstand the test of time that Mickey has for more than 60 years. When Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse in 1928, he looked and acted much differently from the lovable character that we now recognize. Mickey did not wear gloves. His body was shaped like a pear and he had spindly arms and legs. At times, people complained that Mickey wasn’t very personable, so Disney changed the Mickey's physical characteristics to fit the "lovable" brand for which he was known. When Mickey turned 50 in 1978, Mickey became the first cartoon character to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Mickey was first marketed as an animated cartoon. After appearing in 15 commercially successful, animated short films that ran in theaters before the main attraction, he was easily recognized by the public. Walt Disney licensed Mickey along with other characters for use in a comic strip in 1930. In 1955, children and adults were able to visit with the larger than life iconic mouse at his new home in Disney World. The brand Mickey Mouse became synonymous with Disney.
The Mickey Mouse Club was also born in 1955 and Mouseketeers entertained youngsters on small black and white televisions who chanted, "M-I-C (See you next week) K-E-Y (Why? Because we love you!) M-O-U-S-E." Bring back any memories? Now, wearing mouse ears, youngsters everywhere sang songs of allegiance to Mickey, who had somehow become the most famous mouse in history.
So, how did Mickey earn and retain the affection of so many for so long? In his book, Walt Disney, An American Original, author Bob Thomas said, "Walt was the devoted guardian of Mickey's integrity. Many times in story conferences he said, 'Mickey wouldn't do that.' He had an unerring sense of when the gag men were going too far, or when they were reaching for comedy business which might have drawn belly laughs but would have been at variance with Mickey's character. That is why Mickey Mouse not only captured, but retained the world's affection as no other cartoon character before him. He remained himself, an enormously likeable figure." Walt Disney developed and protected the Walt Disney brand.
Here are three questions that will help you benefit from Mickey's brand lesson?