Home to Bond, Rocky and The Pink Panther, MGM is a powerhouse of a studio. We asked Robert Marick, Executive Vice President Global Consumer Products & Experiences, to tell us about developing licensing strategies for some of the most iconic properties in entertainment, and how his stints at Disney, Mattel, Twentieth Century Fox and Discovery have shaped his approach to global brand management.
A lot has been said about how people returned to familiar, “comforting” brands during the Pandemic. Do you think the landscape is now almost back to its pre-Pandemic state, or will nostalgia brands keep on having a moment?
The Pandemic affected companies and people in so many different ways, but I think one of the things that was ultimately a positive for consumers is that they were able to connect with brands, and foods, and time with family – let’s call these things “comfort opportunities” – like never before. And that definitely had an impact in terms of how consumers reacted to our properties. Whether it was the Pink Panther or, in particular, Rocky or Creed, there was a real connection there.
Particularly with Rocky, fans connected with some of the core themes of the DNA of that property: the underdog, the perseverance, how you can find something within yourself that enables you to push boundaries… Those things became more important than ever during that time period, and we saw in the news how consumers would look at properties like Rocky and say, “That is my inspiration.” What we noticed over the past 18 months was a definite resurgence of engagement with our catalogue titles.
Can you give us an outline of your role and responsibilities at MGM?
In essence I’m a global brand manager; my job is to build and grow our properties. We look at them more as franchises now, and less as a catalogue, title or a new release. If you take the example of The Addams Family, which has been around for 75 years, we recently supported it with a new CGI film, and now we’re going to be releasing Wednesday on Netflix. Or in the case of Rocky, which I mentioned earlier, we released Creed I and II, and Creed III is out next year. Vikings is now being supported with a new Netflix series, Vikings: Valhalla. All these franchises have a foundation that fans around the world appreciate in one form or another, and we’re fortunate now to be able to build off that base, and release new content across the board.
There’s also Pink Panther, which will be celebrating its 60th anniversary shortly; we have a new film in development. What you see there is our company really investing in new ways to build out these global franchises.
With some of your IPs having such a long history, how do you market them to the entire fanbase? Presumably younger audiences require a different approach to Boomers?
Without a doubt, Gen Zs and millennials require a different approach to older consumers when it comes to promotional activities. So, how do we do that? If you look at what’s on my radar at the moment – The Addams Family, Vikings, Rocky/Creed, and also Legally Blonde, which is celebrating its anniversary, plus there’s a new film in the works – we have new content coming out that is really supporting the core property. But we can also look at supporting the core properties by genre; so, this year, there was a focus on horror [with the release of Candyman], 2022 is all about sci-fi, and 2023 will be about laughter.
We’re also going to be looking at upcoming anniversaries. Legally Blonde, for example, is turning 21, so that’s going to be a big initiative for us. We also market by decade, so fans of, say, the 80s, or 90s or 2000s, can really buy in to our brands and properties. When you have 4,000 movies in your library, you need to find the common connections that consumers have to your IP.
By taking different approaches we’re able to find connections with our audience, whether they’re genre fans, anniversary fans, or a fan of a particular IP. Research shows that Gen Zs and Millennials tend to get their first source of content from a video game, while Gen Xs and Baby Boomers still get their content from new films or television in development. Our video game business is growing exponentially and that is an opportunity for us to be able to drive awareness in new areas. One example is that we’re developing a Robocop game on console. Bond is another case in point; we’re driving interest in the IP through video games.
MGM has an amazing library of IPs to draw upon – but entertainment is a crowded market. What do you think MGM’s particular strengths are when it comes to licensing?
I think it really comes down to four things – what I call “the DNA” of MGM. First off, it’s about the lion logo. It’s such an iconic trademark. It represents the Hollywood of yesteryear, but it’s also about today. Another thing that makes MGM different is that when launched, it was all about the latest technology and different ways of working, and artists and directors would come to MGM to be able to try new things. And that still continues today.
The third aspect is quality; we’re immensely proud of the quality of the work that we do, it’s evident in all our shows. And I think the fourth point is storytelling. Everything that we do is about the story that’s being told. In particular, I think that’s what helps us not only in traditional licencing, but in terms of video games, and in location-based entertainment.
I am very selective about where I spend my time and energy; it’s not just a case of pushing the latest release. What’s almost more important is creating a programme during “bridge” years”. For instance, with The Addams Family, we had a CGI film in 2019, we had The Addams Family 2 in 2021, now we’ve got the Wednesday TV series coming in 22. I’ll ask myself, in the “gaps”, what does the programme look like? And that’s where video games come in, that’s where experiential comes in…
You’ve worked for some of the biggest companies in the entertainment sector. How has that wide experience coalesced to influence your licensing strategy at MGM?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some very significant companies. Each one has provided me with a different lens or perspective that allows me to do the job that I do. Having worked at Mattel for many years, I really understand the idea of product development, and marketing a product. That led into my time at Disney, which was all about how you manage a brand, looking at its different elements to see how they might apply to music, or toys, or film or apparel.
With anything that I look at from a brand franchise perspective, I always ask myself, what’s the DNA of the property? Once I’ve established that, it’s “What can merchandise help amplify? What can video games help amplify? What can location-based entertainment help amplify?” The recent campaign we ran for Rocky’s 45th anniversary is a good example of how we look to create an experience around a property, where you have multiple disciplines [including athletic runs, gaming collaborations, concerts and apparel collections] that come together to create a consumer experience.
Ultimately, I’m hoping that once you’ve done the Rocky Run, or you’ve experienced some new merchandise, you’re going to come back and want to watch the film, or the next film or the third film within the franchise. My job is really about expanding the media experience, and that’s three-fold: first, you watch it. Then you buy it – whether it’s a pencil, a t shirt or a video game. And then you’re going to want to live it, which is where experiential comes in. And by living it, you’re going to want to go back to the original media and watch it again. So the whole thing is cyclical.
Vikings: Valhalla and Wednesday are expected to air in 2022. Creed III is scheduled to premiere in cinemas in November next year.