In the past few years, we’ve experienced the avalanche of superhero movies pouring into theaters. The Avengers, Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, and so muchmore have grossed billions at the box office, a feat for any film let alone a film in the dying era of movie-goers. The comic book industry, who’s seemed to be struggling in the past, has had a massive spike in readers since the release of these blockbusters.
Marvel – and comics in general – hit the skids when they tried to oversell their product and lost sight of their fan base. But it was their creativity that saved them in the end. The company that eventually became Marvel was originally created in 1939 by Martin Goodman – and was originally called “Timeless Comics.” In 1961 the company was rebranded as Marvel – and launched the first titles that Marvel would eventually become known for, including The Fantastic Four and other titles by the legendary names behind Marvel – Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
In the 1960s through 1980s, Marvel Comics consistently grew, mostly due to their amazing art and storytelling. Marvel was among the most respected comic book franchises. Through the late 80s and into the early 1990s, Marvel’s success hit a peak, attracting the attention of people in the “mainstream.” It was during this time that millionaire Ron Perelman (who’d had huge success at Revlon) bought Marvel Entertainment Group for $82.5MM – he took Marvel public.
Writer Neil Gaiman gave a speech to 3000 comics industry leaders at the 1993 Diamond Comic Distributors 10th Annual Retailers Seminar where he prophesied doom to come. Gaiman said the success of comics couldn’t last, and that the practices of continually driving prices up were not only hurting the quality of comic writing and production… that it would eventually come back to bite the industry economically. The year wasn’t even out before Gaiman’s prophecy started to come true. Higher prices and more and more issues to collect couldn’t last forever. Collectors started to get fatigued…realizing that not every release could be worth investing in…and the flood of collectables started to de-value the entire market.
Desperate for a way to pull Marvel out of the dumps of debt, Perelman launched Marvel Studios. He wanted to get their signature characters on screen, but there were licensing deals in the way. He planned to grow the company by further acquisitions so he could buy back the licensing for key characters, but the board – Marvel’s shareholders – weren’t so sure. So Perelman tried to go around them. He filed bankruptcy – which gave him the power to reorganize without their consent. But they didn’t go down easy.
They hired turnaround expert Peter Cuneo – verteran of successful turnarounds. Cuneo believed cutting corners on talent had led to Marvel’s troubles in the 90s and he refused to repeat the mistake. Listen to Cuneo talk about business turnarounds here.
In 2005 Marvel took a huge risk, they approached Merrill Lynch for funding.
And as collateral for the loan they offered up: The core of their business…and essentially they’ve never looked back.
One thing that can be learned from this incredible comeback is that “great companies don’t only make products, they build ecosystems”. At the end of the day every company that is successful, is successful because of its people.
For more information on this topic, head over to The Marketing Rescue Podcast.