Mickey in trouble

Mickey in trouble
Steamboat Willie

I started my design career at Disney. 🐭

I could say that I finished there, because I didn't have any other jobs as an employee after that: I started my own business, zwoelf and later brandguide. But that's not the point :)

I learned a lot at Disney. In particular, I learned how much to respect the brand. The greatest of all, the golden goose.

In fact, our whole job was about supporting the spread of Disney stories (creating marketing materials for new movies, animated films, etc.) and at the same time keeping a tight watch on the brand values.

How a brand turns into visual identity

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We only use each character as allowed, fitting the brand, so that they are only used in situations that do not harm the brand, and in fact support the story and message, the Disney values.

Why am I telling you this? The other day, my wife Gabi showed me the news that the early version of Mickey has been released for public use, having lost its exclusive copyright.

This is not the Mickey you see before your very eyes, but an ancient version of him: a black and white mouse, without the emblematic gloves and suspenders. It’s called the Steamboat Mickey.

(By 2024, thousands of copyrighted works published in 1928 will be in the public domain after their 95-year term expires, one of the most prominent of which is the iconic Disney character.)

Either way you look at it, Disney has created hundreds of characters over the last hundred years and continues to nurture and cherish them. This is the first time, however, that it has had to let a character out of its protection, so from 1 January, anyone can use the character for anything.

Previously extended for 20 years by an amendment to the law, the decision has now been delayed.

What this will do, what damage it will do to Disney, is not yet known, but it is possible that the Mickey character will appear in a horror film, as is happening with Winnie the Pooh.

It's worth noting that Mickey Mouse is still a registered trademark of Disney, so as a brand element that refers to Disney, it is still protected. If someone were to mislead their audience that they are seeing/receiving Disney material, they are breaking the law.

Anyway, the AI has already jumped on the bandwagon, and here you can generate your own Steamboat Mickey mouse.

The case also highlights the legal challenges that centuries-old brands can face, which also has a strong impact on brand perception.

Some characters may have to be "buried" or retired by Disney. Who knows what the solution will be, we are curious to see how this brand management issuet will be resolved.

If you want to use Brand Sprint, visit our resources page, it provides you a free PDF guide to learn it—and perhaps use it in your next project, adding value to your services, or by our book which is a step by step guide to branding 👇

How a brand turns into visual identity

Ready to elevate your design strategy? Get this must-have book in ebook or print format. Packed with practical advice, it’s your roadmap to becoming an elite designer who thinks strategically and builds unforgettable brands.

Grab your copy now

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