The four-day opening of Black Panther netted $242 million in ticket sales, edging out Star Wars: The Last Jedi ($241m) and is now the second-highest grossing film of all time.
With Black Panther, Disney has once again deciphered a winning code for the future of cultural marketing, tapping into the unmet needs of an underserved market. We’ll examine how they did it, and how it’s part of a larger strategy of cultural marketing.
The Cultural Narrative: World-Making
The story of Black Panther is the story of T’Challa who returns home as king of Wakanda – a fictional, Afrofuturistic utopia – only to find his sovereignty challenged by a powerful adversary, in a conflict with global consequences. The movie and its black cast and creative team shatter stereotypes, and is already being hailed as the best movie in the Marvel pantheon by fans and studio executives alike.
The cultural narrative goes well beyond the comic book story or plot. Its a narrative based on African tradition and history, with influences from various tribes and cultures – to create the myth of a new, futuristic Africa, led by an enlightened ruler. The marketing for this silver-screen epic resembled more a cultural movement than an advertising campaign. The politics is inescapable as well.
A MODEL FOR UNDERSTANDING CULTURAL NARRATIVES
What is the role of narrative? According to John Hagel, there is a crucial distinction between stories and narratives. Narratives are stories that do not end – they persist indefinitely. They invite, even demand, action by participants and they reach out to embrace as many participants as possible. They are continuously unfolding, being shaped and filled in by the participants.
A cultural narrative is the ongoing and unfolding history of a people or community – it is the aspirational journey of a tribe as they struggle to make sense of the world and their place in it. Yes, it’s linked closely to identity and ideology, but the narrative is fundamentally one of opportunity. The future lies ahead.
Disney has created a new world in royal Wakanda – one that has challenges, but offers a future of hope and progress – and a rich tradition of greatness.
Disney’s DNA, as we all know from childhood, is about world making.
Henry Jenkins describes “the art of world-making” as “the process of designing a fictional universe that will sustain franchise development, one that is sufficiently detailed to enable many different stories to emerge but coherent enough so that each story feels like it fits with the others. That’s Disney.
Cross Cultural Marketing
The world has changed. As we hear in this profound interview with Bob Iger, Disney pays close attention to demographics.
Disney knows the US has changed as well. In The Opening of the American Mind: Intercultural Affinity Segmentation, Nielsen’s Mike Lakusta and Aret Ratyosyan tell us that the U.S.-born population of multicultural households has increased exponentially, the blending and mixing of races and ethnicities within households has become the norm for over half of the U.S. population under the age of 50. Fifty-three percent of the U.S. population under 50 now lives in either multicultural households or households that are blended. They describe a new form of segmentation – Intercultural Affinity Segmentation – that opens the door for Disney’s franchise creation model across cultures – globally.
Disney wouldn’t be Disney without its ability to deliver cultural myths and then scale them across cultures. Pinocchio, Snow White, Cinderella were all cultural fairy tales that Disney remade for the world. Fast forward to the present, and we see Disney’s prowess and building branded cultural myths. Coco, animated by Disney’s Pixar became a hit not only in the US, but even more so in China. It too is a cultural narrative with universal appeal.
A Global Business Model
Intercultural affinities are global. Disney will follow the demographics and go where the kids are. And that’s not the West.
Black Panther had a record opening in the United Kingdom. Across Africa, the reviews were emotional and euphoric (Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa). So far, Black Panther raked in $426.6 million globally since opening in international markets last Tuesday. That total does not include China, the second biggest movie market in the world. Black Panther opens there on March 9. The film has yet to open in Japan and Russia.
Disney’s world making business model is scalable:
The message of Black Panther resonates across the world – culture sells: “…in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.”
Jenny Cheung is a freelance marketer and project manager based in Texas.