25 Nov 2023.
In this age of entertainment overload, the audience recall power has weakened drastically. Most of the audience are not able to recollect the stories, or the characters from the movies they watch. They are bombarded with different formats of entertainment like movies, web series, short series, and so on. Barriers to entry have been minimized with dubbed versions of different regional shows across the world.
One of my recent cinematic outings was an action-packed movie “Vikram” which is a part of director Lokesh Kangaraj’s movie universe. There are multiple spin-offs like “Kaithi” and the upcoming “Rolex”. This piqued my interest in the cinematic universe. The “Tiger Zinda hain” trailer shows it as a part of Yash Raj’s spy universe. Indian audience is used to sequels and prequels. The “Cinematic Universe” format is not relatively new to the Indian audience. We have the great Mahabharata and Ramayana which are a whole universe in itself, with each character having a strong backstory interlinked with multiple other characters. However, they were never developed and showcased as a cinematic universe, they were shot as individual movies or TV serials.
What is a multiverse or cinematic universe?
According to IMDB the criteria to qualify as a cinematic universe are the films must exist within the cinematic universe, films must be viewable as jigsaw pieces that form a larger narrative, and there must be some amount of foresight for franchise crossovers. Anthologies and sequels are not a part of the cinematic universe.
The cinematic giant Marvel movies was in trouble in the year 1999. One of the biggest decisions to sell the rights of Spiderman and X-men added to their troubles. Realizing its huge mistake Marvel movies chartered a wonderful strategy to build the profile of its heroes till 2028. This was their long-term strategy. At a tactical level, they used multiple marketing channels to create the buzz. The DC multiverse is considered to be the original inception of the multiverse in comics. Both Marvel & DC create a buzz using tactics like the sale of Merchandise.
Can we call the execution of Marvel Multiverse an effective marketing strategy? One could relate the following marketing concepts while considering the multiverse.
- Brand Awareness: How does a multiverse achieve the objective of brand awareness? A standalone movie can be lost in the clutter, audience might not even get a chance to view the trailer. However, when a movie is a part of a bigger franchise, the chances of the movie/characters being mentioned increase, thereby increasing the chance of exposure to the audience.
- Brand Recall: As movies of the cinematic universe fit in like a jigsaw puzzle, the audience will have to rack their brains to remember the multiple parallel threads to better understand the movie. As the cinematic universe provides a consistent brand identity across various media platforms, it makes it easier for the audience to identify and connect with it. For example in the Indian context, the Yashraj films Spy Universe wherein there is a mention or presence of each of the spy in all of its movies.
- Brand Image: The cinematic universe will give a chance to build a strong image. For example, MCU increased its inclusivity by including characters like Valkyrie who was MCU’s first LGBTQ+ character.
- Cross-Promotion: A cinematic universe allows for cross-promotion across different media channels. Films can promote upcoming TV shows, and vice versa. This cross-promotion helps maintain a continuous presence in the public eye and maximizes the impact of marketing efforts.
- Event Marketing: Major film releases within a cinematic universe become cultural events. This event-driven marketing approach generates buzz, excitement, and media coverage, further solidifying the brand’s position in popular culture. Many of the cinematic universe/multiverse ensure they showcase it at Comic Con
- Franchise Sustainability: A well-managed cinematic universe provides a framework for sustained success. By continuously introducing new characters and story arcs, the franchise can adapt to changing trends and maintain relevance over time.
- Merchandising Opportunities: The success of a cinematic universe translates into increased opportunities for merchandising. Popular characters, symbols, and themes from the films can be used to create a wide range of merchandise, generating additional revenue and reinforcing the brand in the minds of consumers.
- Brand extension: If one were to closely look at many of the Marvel OR DC comics, it is evident that only few of the characters are in the limelight for example, Thor, Batman, Superman and so on. With “Loki” from Thor getting a huge weightage from the spin off series is an example of Brand extension. A brand extension uses an established brand to create new products or enter a new brand category. Brand extensions are used to build brand equity.
Is it all good though?
Well, things seem to be getting more complicated as fans are struggling to keep up with the timelines. Many of these cinematic universes do not travel in a chronological timeline, they can move in any direction leading to endless sequels, prequels, reboots, and connected cross-overs. For an audience segment like me who is not very much involved in the cinematic universe of either DC or Marvel will require humongous effort to understand the nitty-gritty or may be a refresher course. This in turn means a huge investment of time. For an audience looking at quick, easy entertainment that does not require too much thought, a movie from a cinematic universe may be a big No No. If the production houses are looking at increasing market share and acquiring new audience, this may not be the go to strategy.
The cinematic universe may also limit the creative freedom of writers involved in it as all the stories have to eventually fit into the universe there can be instances of force-fitting the characters.
Overuse of cinematic universe can lead to a mental fatigue among the audience as well as the creators as it requires both the audience and the creators to keep referring back to the multiple TV series or movies. This time commitment and effort may lead to a mental fatigue. Another reason for mental fatigue can be due to the mental energy invested in understanding the relationship between characters and plot twists. From a creator’s perspective a cinematic universe requires a huge financial investment to sustain the momentum.
Based on my personal experience, I am not very inclined towards exploring the cinematic universe of Marvel and DC, however the newly created cinematic universe in the Indian film industry is currently less complicated and the movies can survive as standalone stories as well as a part of the cinematic universe, this is lesser cognitive load for the audience. According to me, India being a diverse country, the cinematic universe will unlock the doors to explore regional characters which in turn can significantly improve the reach. There are opportunities galore with cinematic universe which is much needed for the entertainment industry.
Figure: Known Earths of DC Comics Multiverse
Can you explain how a cinematic universe will help in brand building?
How can cinematic universe be utilized to acquire new audience?