Protecting The Brand: Marvel Displays Goodwill and Badwill Over Its New Avengers Trailer

Avengers-Age-Of-Ultron-2015-HD-Images

A few weeks ago, Marvel had a strategy to punch up ratings on its much-improved, but declining-in-popularity Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. To drive up viewership, it would unveil the new trailer for Joss Whedon's The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the colossal sequel to the already colossal Avengers. But a week before the trailer was to air, someone leaked it online. By the time Marvel could react, the trailer had already circumnavigated the web. It was out there. So what could Marvel do except play along? It tweeted this:

marvel hydra_1414063677871_9302152_ver1.0_640_480

...then officially released the trailer in stunning Hi-Def to the masses. Its plan didn't work out the way it wanted bt instead of throwing a hissy fit, Marvel seized the moment. And in that moment, Marvel demonstrated that it understands the value of goodwill.

In business parlance, goodwill is "an intangible but saleable asset, almost indestructible except by indiscretion. It is built painstakingly over the years generally with (1) heavy and continuous expenditure in promotion, (2) creation and maintenance of durable customer and supplier relationships, (3) high quality of goods and services, and (4) high quality and conduct of management and employees. Goodwill includes the worth of corporate identity, and is enhanced by corporate image and a proper location."

Which is all just a fancy way of saying that goodwill is the reputation of the company, not just amongst its peers, competition, and partners, but the public at large too. When you're a big company, your reputation is a crucial asset and can add significant value over all your other tangible assets (i.e. buildings, equipment, profit, etc).. When things go wrong, the damage to your reputation could result in lower revenues and, if you're not careful, your demise. People can and do vote with their dollars. See what's going on with McDonald's to get a sense of how bad will can affect the bottom line.

But this isn't just a story about how Marvel successfully turned a bad situation into a good one. Plenty of companies can figure out how to do that. No, what Marvel understands is that reputation isn't made with a one-time act of goodwill. Goodwill is a living asset that needs to be cultivated and cared for at all times. Marvel knows this and demonstrates it repeatedly. It starts by making damn good movies; it appears at all the big comic-cons and bring all its stars with them; it interacts with the fans by sharing production art (sometimes well in advance of the films), costumes, trailers, you name it.  In other words, Marvel makes the fans feel included, that they're part of the filmmaking process.

Which makes some of its gaffes appear incredibly tone-deaf by comparison. There was that time not too long ago when Kevin Feige, the President of Marvel Studios - the filmmaking wing of the company - hemmed and hawed about when Marvel would announce a female superhero film, ultimately hiding behind the lame excuse of bad timing and being too busy with other projects (they've since announced a Captain Marvel film featuring fan favorite, Carol Danvers).

And as it turns out, Marvel isn't just letting the leak lie either. It's legally pursuing the party that leaked the trailer, which takes some of the air out of their goodwill, don't you think? Look guys, I get it. You can't just do nothing when someone takes away your ability to leverage your intellectual property. But you can't control every leak, (just look at the Jurassic World leak and how the studio had to put the leaked information right in the new trailer) and your plans, as grand as they are, are always subject to change. By suing some snot-nosed punk into oblivion, the message you're sending isn't "don't mess with us because we'll come after you," it's "we have a big target on our back." Don't lose sight of the fact that goodwill is constant and fluid. Take a lesson from your own playbook and let this one go. The people already love you. Don't mess with that.

*For those who don't know, Hydra is a subversive organization allied against S.H.I.E.L.D. and bent on world domination. It was founded by Captain America's nemesis The Red Skull and is featured prominently in many of Marvel's films and TV series.

Greg Kanaan

The [Legal] Artist, Boston, MA, USA