Line Extension Innovation on Broadway
Recently The Wall Street Journal had a nice piece on "How 'Wicked' Cast Its Spell,” showing how the Broadway musical business is taking a page out of Hollywood’s business playbook by using line extensions to monetize a media asset.
The initial Broadway showing was undersold and got a deadly NY Times review, which should have put the kibosh on the effort. But leads actors got Tony awards, and the producers still believed in the property, so instead of folding their tents, the marketing folks discounted the tickets to get enough traffic to allow its popular appeal to kindle. Now they have reframed Wicked as a brand franchise—a la Lion King, Shrek, and Mamma Mia, so the book, the play on tour, the T-shirts, even golf balls and necklaces all interact to reinforce the brand theme. A movie, DVDs, a line of toys, all are part of foreseeable future.
What is interesting here is that the innovation strategy of line extension, normally thought of as a way to fill up the nooks and crannies of a product category, is actually jumping across multiple product categories, the brand image being the common thread that makes the connection. In other words, it used to be consumers determined the category of offer they wanted and then chose the brand within it that most appealed to them. Now we are seeing consumers choose the brand they want and then selecting the offer that most appeals to them.
The underlying message is that in an increasingly digitized, symbolized world, the value of thematic assets increases. It is the same force that leads on-line game players to purchase digital accessories for their avatars. We are living increasingly abstracted lives in which our norms are being set more via fantasy than social interaction. This has disturbing implications on all kinds of fronts, but one thing is sure from an economic point of view: the value of brand symbols in such a world can only escalate.