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Face of the Marvel brand Stan Lee passes at 95: Ensuring his brand vision lives on

Chairman emeritus of Marvel, Stanley Martin Lieber who is more famously known as Stan Lee (pictured), has passed away at the age of 95.

Known for co-creating popular Marvel superheroes such as Captain America, Spider Man, Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men and Black Panther, he often cameoed in Marvel films and TV series such as Thor, The Avengers, The Amazing Spiderman and Guardians of the Galaxy. Lee, with his distinct personality, was first an assistant at a comic book publishing company, Timely Comics, before it morphed into Atlas Comics. It eventually became Marvel Comics under Lee’s helm as editor-in-chief and in 1972, he took on the role of publisher at Marvel Comics and became chairman emeritus in his later years.

Over the years, and prior to The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of Marvel, Marvel had licensed the rights to third-party studios such as Fox and Sony to produce and distribute feature films based on certain Marvel properties including Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. Fast forward to modern times, in 2009 Marvel Entertainment caught the eye of The Walt Disney Company, leading to Marvel Entertainment’s acquisition of US$4 billion in cash. In June this year, Disney snapped up 21st Century Fox for a total equity value of approximately US$71.3 billion, bringing Marvel characters such as the Fantastic Four and the X-Men under one roof.

(Read also: The bidding wars: Comcast challenges Disney in a fight for FOX)

Bob Iger, chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company, described Stan Lee to be as “extraordinary” as the characters he created. “A super hero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain and to connect. The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart,” Iger added.

In a post, Marvel wrote “With a heavy heart, we share our deepest condolences with his daughter and brother, and we honor and remember the creator, voice and champion of Marvel. Always pushing for new ways of creating comics, Stan also inaugurated the ‘Marvel method of plotting and art, creating some of the most iconic stories in the industry to this day.”

It is without a doubt that Lee has grown to be synonymous with the Marvel brand and industry players weigh in on how his death will impact the company. President, SE Asia Pacific and Japan at Landor, Nick Foley, said Lee’s passing is likely to add “more gravitas” to Marvel and this will only propel him to legendary status and immortalise him with future devotees of Marvel Comics.

He added that Disney appears to be doing a “good job” of managing the Marvel brand, especially with the recent release of the Venom movie and the Avengers films.

“Great brands are about driving relevance and differentiation for the audience whilst remaining true to what the brand has always stood for. Disney is ticking all the boxes from where I sit,” Folely added.

On the other hand, while the loss of Lee has a great impact on the comics world, Andrew Crombie, founder of crombie.design, does not believe it plays a critical role in Marvel’s branding. Citing the example of Steve Jobs who was the face of Apple, Crombie said the company still grew from strength to strength even after his passing.

“In the case of Marvel, I believe the core audience do not see him as part of what they are buying, especially after his retirement. It’s just a nice brand backstory. As with any great founder, it is a sad day, but Marvel has built great brands and great brands can survive events such as this,” Crombie said.

Also agreeing with Crombie is Marcus Osborne, CEO of Fusionbrand, who said that Lee’s involvement appears to have been more ceremonial than anything else, with more focus on his cameos than his creativity. As such, Lee’s passing, however sad it might be, might not have a negative impact on the Marvel brand.

Lee’s brushes with the ad industry were also prominent with him fronting ads for Audi and Honda. In 2015, Lee promoted Audi’s sponsorship of the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie by playing a professor at a performance school, where he taught well known actors such as Tara Reid, Lou Ferrigno and Michael Rooker the nuances of regular acting compared to a great cameo. For Honda, he appeared in its 2017 Super Bowl commercial which brought to life high school yearbook pictures of Lee and other celebrities such as Tina Fey, Amy Adams and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

Lee, who began his work in 1939, had a difficult last few months embroiled in legal battles as he sued executives at the company he founded in 2001 known as POW! Entertainment for US$1 billion alleging fraud. While the suit was suddenly dropped in a few weeks time, he also sued his ex-business manager not long after.

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