What is the secret to growing a franchise from niche beginnings to global goliath status? I asked my good friend (and marketing mastermind) Vincent Bruzzese this question—and found myself tumbling down the rabbit hole as he shared his findings on the makings of the biggest IPs dominating the entertainment landscape.
Billion Dollar Franchises
Original content that attracts an avid fanbase, whether as:
Book – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Movie – Star Wars, The Fast and the Furious
TV Show – Star Trek
Comic & Graphic Novels – Marvel/DC/The Walking Dead
A “stalling point,” at which time the franchise reboots with expansive new content to attract new generations of devotees.
THREE STAGES OF A SUCCESSFUL FRANCHISE
Stage One - Original content continues to expand and commercially excel (Fast and the Furious, The Walking Dead).
Stage Two – The big “stall,” due either to declining viewership/box-office/sales (Pirates of theCaribbean) or because a natural narrative stopping point has been reached (Game of Thrones).
Stage Three – Revitalization of stalled franchise through reboot, reimagination, additional world-creation, or origin stories (Star Trek, Jurassic World, and Batman Begins).
Stage-two franchises are like dormant volcanos waiting for a reigniting spark. Often, a revitalized franchise proves more formidable than ever.
All “sparks” capitalize on the appeal and brand identity of a franchise’s original content, offering it in a fresh context that excites longtime fans while attracting diehard new audiences.
Historically proven sparks:
A retelling from a different character’s POV:
Wicked, the most successful Broadway musical of all time; Maleficent; Wolverine.
Expanding a small part contained in the original content:
Fantastic Beasts andWhere to Find Them, based on an obscure textbook in Harry Potter; Rogue One.
Delving into untold character histories, origin stories:
Star Trek, whose recent films have out-grossed the originals; The Hobbit.
A reimagining with a different tone or narrative:
Snow White and the Huntsman, 21 Jump Street.
WONDERLAND’S SPARK: THE LOOKING GLASS WARS
This New York Times best-selling trilogyis a “dual-sparker,” delving into the real story behind the Alice character (origin tale), and wholly reimagining Wonderland and its cast in a never-seen-before epic that won acclaim from both critics and lifelong Alicefans.
With over 150 million books sold and $1.5 billion in worldwide theatrical revenue, Alice in Wonderlandis one of the most successful franchises of all time. Now LGW, with its expansion and re-envisioning of the original IP, proves that public-domain Alice is ready to erupt anew into the mainstream with potential franchising agreements.
GOING DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
To best understand the value of The Looking Glass Wars, it’s necessary to look at the power of Alice In Wonderland's original IP.
ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND
Since its publication in 1865, the fantastical world of Wonderland and its heroine have captured the imagination of children and adults worldwide.
Available in more than 192 languages, the book has never been out of print and is one of the most quoted pieces of literature in history.
It has inspired numerous film and TV adaptations, expanding into video games, stage musicals and fashion, profoundly impacting pop culture around the globe.
Each year, new merchandise/content is released to an audience insatiable for all things Alice.
ALICE IN THE MODERN AGE
The IP’s strength was never more evident than when Disney released its live-action adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Well-received by fans and general moviegoers, the film grossed $1.1 billion worldwide and produced merch opportunities in everything from games to clothing. The "White Rabbit" was even included in the Matrix Franchise as a reference most people would understand.
But the sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, performed dismally, amassing only $300 million worldwide because it failed to continue the first film’s tropes in a manner appealing to fans.
The sequel’s poor reception is not a gauge of the franchise’s overall health. It shows that Alice IP is in Stage Two—stalled, in need of a spark to reignite its artistic and commercial success.
IS THERE A DISNEY EFFECT?
How much of Alice’s ongoing success is attributable to the original IP? How much to the Disney brand?
Both Alice in Wonderlandand The Lone Ranger starred Johnny Depp, had similar production budgets, and were released by Disney under their franchise system.
TheLone Ranger grossed $90 million in the domestic box office and $260 million total worldwide.
Alice in Wonderland grossed $334 million domestically and totaled over a billion dollars worldwide.
This side-by-side comparison shows that—controlling for Disney’s influence, the film star, and the production budget—the strength of the Alice IP propelled one film to success over the other.
THE LOOKING GLASS WARS THE STORY
One of the most popular genres over the past five years:
Contains the three most successful narrative tropes of the past twenty-five years:
Down the rabbit hole
The chosen one
The heart of the story: There is an ORIGIN STORY of Alice behind Lewis Carroll’s telling of Alice’s adventures — one that he believed too dark to write:
LGW tells the untold story behind the 150-year-old tale, filling in the long-lost details, (re)introducing audiences to familiar elements of the story in an unfamiliar way—darker, edgier, more resonant with our times.
THE LOOKING GLASS WARS THE UNIVERSE
A YA trilogy—not only best-sellers but found in every school library in the country—that reveals the true history of Alice and Wonderland, a secret kept from the public for over 150 years.
Written to sate fans of the popular trilogy, a series of graphic novels centered on Alice’s bodyguard, Hatter Madigan (the archetype built on Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter).
A prequel YA series exploring the origins of Hatter Madigan, who proved compelling enough to fans to warrant an origin narrative.
Soundtracks, games, a musical, and prequels to the original trilogy—the LGW universe continues to expand with a vast array of characters, stories, and new worlds to explore.
WHY THE LOOKING GLASS WARS? WHY NOW?
The heroine, Alice, is the archetypal “chosen one” who must first accept her destiny and then fulfill it—a strong female lead whose journey is both familiar to audiences (down the rabbit hole) and new (she must leave her old life behind). Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars feature this archetype.
The anti-hero Hatter Madigan serves as an archetype that, until now, has been missing from Wonderland. While reminiscent of other great anti-heroes—Han Solo, Jack Sparrow and Wolverine, he remains very much “his own man.”
Overarching every character and every plotline: the possible death of imagination and the importance of fighting against subversions of the truth, and injustices committed in the name of deception.
LGW rectifies a major historical mistake (the untold story of Alice) in a way that weaves some of the great narrative archetypal themes in movie history into a new and exciting universe of content.
As a strong, teen female lead, Alice’s edginess and drive reflect modern-day young women.
No matter one’s political bent, there is widespread agreement that our world has entered a perilous time, when truth and fiction seem indistinguishable and imagination has begun to fade away. At the heart of LGW is the concept of having a sense of wonder while at the same time cherishing—and fighting for—what one knows to be true.
This should hit a cultural nerve and offer a sense of hope to audiences worldwide.
Time and again audiences have gravitated toward familiar stories told in unfamiliar ways (i.e. Wicked).
LGW preserves the traditional Alice in Wonderland audience (four quadrants) while concentrating on the consistently popular YA audience.
The diversity of the LGW universe allows for various content/platform options depending on the desired audience.
The original trilogy focuses on the YA market, with many references to the original story, making the plot both recognizable and new at the same.
The Hatter Madigan books bring in a younger male audience and infuse the IP with a superhero element, presenting a new character in line with many of today’s iconic superheroes.
The strength of the Alice IP gives LGW worldwide appeal, whether the content is in direct distribution or presold.
THE LOOKING GLASS WARS PROOF OF CONCEPT
Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars has introduced a new generation of fans to Wonderland through a unique lens.
With a best-selling trilogy, graphic novels, games and merchandise, LGW has already built a strong fanbase, with followers of the franchise engaging in fanart and cosplay.
This success has been achieved through the singular efforts of one person’s passion and imagination. Despite little to no marketing or distribution, LGW has established itself within the YA and sci-fi/fantasy genre, and each new installment is met with high levels of anticipation.
LGW proves two distinct but important points:
Given the difficulty that original content has reaching the heights achieved by LGW, Beddor has obviously capitalized on the power of the original Alice IP.
The fanbase and reception to the new material serve as proof of concept that LGW is the right content to spark the Alice franchise.
ARCHETYPES IN ALICE AND WONDERLAND
Every successful franchise incorporates time-tested archetypal themes that keep the audience engrossed in its universe. The more pronounced the archetypes, the more profitable and long-lasting the franchise tends to be.
Expansion of the franchise needs to capitalize on these archetypes to power the IP forward.
LGW’s artful use of archetypes makes it the perfect “spark” for Alice and provides a strong foundation for future world-building.
The following archetypes have played significant roles in the success of powerful franchises.
Down the rabbit hole: The protagonist stumbles across a portal to a fantastical world. Once there, he/she is tasked with freeing this world from evil before being allowed to return home.
The chosen one: The protagonist is prophesied to be the one to defeat a great evil.
Anti-hero: The protagonist is a charming rogue/anti-hero motivated by self-interest, but who is soon drawn into a larger battle of good vs. evil.
Palace intrigue: Characters scheme and conspire with and against each other in a battle for power and prestige.
LGW brings these archetypes to life in a way that is certain to intrigue the imaginations of Alice fans worldwide:
LGW expands on the archetype of palace intrigue by introducing fans to various factions within Wonderland, all vying for power.
Hatter Madigan brings a new (and yet classic) anti-hero to life, his story so intriguing that he is now featured in his own series of books and graphic novels.
While Alice maintains her role as the chosen one who falls down the rabbit hole, LGW brings her more in line with current tastes (reluctant and relatable).
THE ADVANTAGE OF BUILT IN AWARENESS
One of the many advantages of building off the Alice IP is the marketing head start its brand equity provides.
The average level of initial awareness for franchises designated as “known IP” is 72% compared to a norm 38%
The average level of initial unaided awareness for franchises designated as “known IP” is 12% compared to a norm 3%
It takes roughly three weeks of marketing efforts to increase levels of awareness from 38% to 72% and slightly longer to go from 3% unaided to 12%.
With the average P&A spend for wide-release theatrical films at $35 million, and with 70% of the spend typically used in the first three weeks, the built-in awareness equates to roughly $24.5 million.
Alice in Wonderland is one of the most recognizable and successful IPs in history.
The Looking Glass Wars not only reimagines the franchise, it does so with a story resonant for a new generation of fans. LGW features timeless themes and cultural hallmarks that make the content relevant for today.
With a proven concept and strong fanbase, The Looking Glass Wars is the perfect spark to reignite the Wonderland universe in ways both familiar and fresh.
Having capitalized on the YA audience and fans of the traditional Alice, The Looking Glass Wars promises a wide demographic television base of co-viewing.
A strong marketing advantage is already built-in; with the incoming equity of the Alice IP, the LGW franchise draws its strength from 150 years of branding.
About the Author:
Vincent Bruzzese is a leading expert in Hollywood on production and marketing strategy (having worked on more than 1,500 films). Being a former professor of statistics and a senior executive of two top entertainment research firms, MarketCast and OTX, Vincent was head of the strategy and analytics team for STX. Most Recently, he is Head of Marketing and Strategy at Solstice Studios.
"This is a unique opportunity...
To reimagine one of the biggest franchises in content history.
You’re not just buying into a property.
You’re tapping into a touchstone of our culture. That can be very powerful.
Yet no one owns Wonderland, because it has not been centralized—say in the way
Michael Crichton owns dinosaurs. You need Jurassic Park.
But you need a story, a way in.
One that would connect the dots for a new generation. For decades to come . . .