Published on: July 23, 2019by Michael Sansolo
Given the frenzied pace of news - which seemed to continue even though MNB has been on hiatus for a few weeks - it’s easy to understand why industry leaders worry about the ongoing relevance of supermarket shopping. We have new generations of shoppers seemingly disinterested in shopping the way anyone has before, we have e-commerce players changing the rules virtually overnight every night and we have technologies that take us to previously unthinkable places.
Seems like a perfect time to escape to the movies.
But not, as we usually do, for a metaphorical lesson. Rather, let’s consider the business challenges that faced a media titan prior to releasing a movie now considered a classic both in story telling and financial achievement.
The New York Times recently had a story about the incredible risks the Disney company took back in the early 90s when the original animated version of The Lion King was released. As the Times recalls, at the time Disney wasn’t nearly the powerhouse it is today or had been historically. For a long period - starting sometime after Mary Poppins and ending with The Little Mermaid - Disney wasn’t exactly wowing anyone.
In fact, the company long seen as the king of animated features was flirting with irrelevance. But with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, Disney, as the Times reported, regained its fastball by reminding audiences of its singular abilities with animated films thanks to world class animation, songs that rivaled everything else and the ability to appeal to children and adults.
Still, The Lion King wasn’t a sure bet. Thanks to a series of circumstances, Disney produced the film without its usual team of songwriters and directors, chose an unusual subject matter (no humans for example), and a story that didn’t build off an existing tale (despite the clear homage to Hamlet.) Even the movie’s singular opening, with a song and jungle scene preceding the title, was chancy.
Disney rolled the dice big and won.
It’s a reminder of sorts that relevance can be regained by understanding what the audience or shopper is really seeking and delivering on it with a vengeance. It also reminds us that such a path comes with risks aplenty but the potential for enormous rewards.
It isn’t, obviously, a perfect metaphor for the supermarket industry today. After all, Disney might have found a very different outcome had Dreamworks, Amazon Prime or Netflix been out in the early 1990s producing animated movies. That’s a luxury retailers don’t have today.
However, the underlying truth is one worth considering. The kingdom is under assault and the only way to retain leadership will require a rededication to core strengths, while building new ones on the fly possibly in new directions, with new people and new gambles.
There's only one sure thing in this equation. Doing nothing will lead to nothing good, so it seems like an apt time to defend pride rock with all you’ve got and then some.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
- KC's View:
Occasionally I feel the urge to comment on Michael’s columns, and today - perhaps because I’ve been on holiday for a few weeks and have all sort of stored up opinions - is one of those days.
I have three points.
It is important to point out that when Michael talks about the time of the original, animated version of The Lion King, it was years before Disney acquired Lucasfilm - and along with it all the rights to future Star Wars films - and Marvel, which gave it Iron-Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, et al. When Disney went on an almost unprecedented roll of animated box office hits, of which The Lion King was central, it helped to generate the kind of economic success that allowed it to make those acquisitions.
Second, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Disney seems to be engaged in a long-term strategy of remaking animated films from its library as live-action films. The question that I think needs to be asked - regardless of the films’ financial success - is whether this represents some sort of creative bankruptcy. This may not matter short term - Disney can chortle all the way to the bank about people like me calling it creatively bankrupt all - but I do think it raises long-term questions about creative direction. If all you make - or if the only profitable movies you make - are remakes, superhero movies and space operas - is that a sustainable model? I just think it is a question worth asking, and one that should resonate for any business that simply tries to recreate past successes instead of forging into new territories.
Finally … I was fascinated by another New York Times piece about the movie - pointing out the ways in which The Lion King doesn’t get lions right. “Disney took a lot of creative license when it comes to lion behavior and family dynamics, zoologists and lion researchers say,” according to the Times story, which added, “If the movie were true to big-cat life, the rivalry between Simba’s father, Mufasa, and his uncle, Scar, would not have existed, and the lion cub would not have been forced to flee so young.”
There’s another big way in which The Lion King gets it wrong - in fact, lions are matriarchal in nature, with lion prides being led by females, not males. “Although male lions appear much bigger and more aggressive, females are more dominant,” experts tell the Times. “They do the important decision-making. They are in charge of the majority of hunting and cub-raising. They also have to protect their territory against other intruding females and decide when to let in new males.”
In other words, if Disney really wanted to be creative and innovative and occupy new territory, it would’ve remade The Lion King as The Lion Queen.
Now that’s a movie I would’ve wanted to see.