Credit Disney with the first large-scale branding of imaginary characters. The house that Walt built is one of the great branding and licensing machines on the planet, and serves up characters galore as a regular part of its marketing menu.
Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Snow White, Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" and other figments of the imagination are not just characters but perennial revenue producers through merchandise sales and "appearances" at Disneyland, Disney World, and Disney Resorts. They also don't grow up and wind up in the tabloids.
That's why other character rights-holders are following suit, including DreamWorks — which makes perfect sense as it's run by former Disney animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg.
As the former chairman of Disney Studios, Katzenberg knows firsthand the Disney branding playbook and business model that has been followed by virtually every other entertainment company looking to make its nut on a cartoon character, book protagonist, or superhero.
That's why DreamWorks is now embarking on a licensing spree with its own characters, namely those from animated feature movie franchises Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Shrek. In fact, we're surprised they haven't been doing this long before now.
Last year, DreamWorks dipped its toes in the licensing waters by renting rights to the use of its characters to Royal Caribbean cruise line, obviously looking to lure family business away from Disney Cruise Lines.
Now DreamWorks has struck a deal with Gaylord Entertainment, owner of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and four resorts in Tennessee, Florida, Maryland, and Texas.
The deal with Gaylord will put characters like Shrek and Po the Panda front and center in Gaylord Hotels. Along the Disney lines, related merchandise is planned, as well as "character breakfasts," poolside activities, birthday parties, parades, and more.
There could be "themed hotel rooms, greeters and even Shrek wake-up calls," according to Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks' chief executive. Characters will appear at the resorts in November, just in time for the holiday season, under the terms of a three-year contract that could be extended.
Gaylord needs to broaden its base, and characters may be just the thing to do it. The Times reports that "Gaylord's bookings primarily come from conventions," so the characters could draw families to the resorts at a time when the travel business is soft. Gaylord lost money last year, partially because of floods that hit Nashville.
Gaylord is known for its elaborate, over-sized attractions, such as giant ice sculptures at its Orlando resort during Christmas, and three botanical gardens and an indoor boat ride at its Nashville resort, which boasts nearly 3,000 rooms. Sounds like a life-size Shrek will fit right in.