The power of brand: BatKid versus Calvin

BatKid and Make-a-Wish

Last Friday (the same day as Rock Your Mocs), I spent my lunch hour crammed in the crowd at San Francisco’s Union Square looking for BatKid. Like any marketer on his lunch hour, I wondered about branding.

The Make-a-Wish Foundation successfully took over San Francisco for the day to help a five-year-old leukemia patient named Miles become BatKid. With Batman at his side, Miles/Batkid dashed about the city saving a damsel tied to cable car tracks, stopping a bank heist, and rescuing Lou Seal, the kidnapped mascot of the San Francisco Giants. It was a public relations and event marketing coup that I’m sure will be studied in case studies for years.

Thousands of us stood in Union Square enjoying the blessed November California sunshine and waiting to cheer on Batkid as he emerged from lunch. Folks around meĀ  wore homemade Batman and Robin costumes and waved signs that said, “SF loves Batkid.” Someone entrepreneur somewhere was selling Batkid t-shirts, because I saw several people wearing the same silk screened design. I wanted one of those shirts.

Bob Kane and team could have never envisioned this use of the Batman image and brand when they created their comic book hero back in 1939. And yet here was promotion of their brand that they would have spent millions of dollars for, if it were even possible. I doubt that the city of San Francisco normally closes streets and dedicates police on this scale to product promotions. It was also a great association for Batman, helping a young child with a tough struggle enjoy a magical day.

Last Friday also happened to mark the release of Dear Mr. Watterson, a documentary about Bill Watterson, the creator of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. (Two disclaimers–I love Calvin and Hobbes, but haven’t yet seen this documentary.) One part of Watterson’s fame and the Calvin brand is that, unlike Kane and Batman, Calvin’s creator never licensed his creations for additional uses. No TV shoes, no stuffed animals, no video games, nothing.

Part of me admires Watterson for sticking to his art and vision despite the sacrifice of would have been substantial additional revenue and exposure. I think many friends of Calvin feel the same way.

But after watching BatKid, part of me wonders if holding so tightly to Calvin might also deny the opportunity to do real good in the public sphere such as promoting childhood health, increasing charitable giving, and building morale and camaraderie across an entire city and beyond. If given a broader life, Calvin and Hobbes might explore adventures that Watterson never imagined.

(Just one more disclaimer, for what it’s worth–in the past my family has personally benefited from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The hope of one wish, not matter how large or small, has a powerfully positive effect on children and their families.)


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