What The Grinch Can Teach About Brand Integrity

Every year about this time since 2000, the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard interpretation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas rears it’s ugly head. It’s dark, it’s loud and there are words and images in it that Dr. Seuss would never have used. I’ve heard it referred to as an interpretation geared for today’s kids, and unfortunately, it is probably true that some very young children will associate this 2000 Hollywood version of the story as THE version of the story. I am a brand purist and this movie is a prime example of how to ruin a perfect brand.

When Theodor Gisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was alive, he fought off movie companies knocking at his door to buy the rights to a variety of his classic books. He always said no, with the exception of when his respected friend Chuck Jones convinced him to let him take a stab at producing and animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. But Gisel knew and respected Chuck Jones and worked closely with him on the production to assure the integrity of the Dr. Seuss brand, message and style remained intact, and Jones was committed to making sure it was done right. The end result is a testimony to their commitment to retaining the true essence of the story, the characters and the feel of the book. This original 1966 Boris Karloff/Chuck Jones version is perfect, timeless and tells the story completely in the words that were written by and in the illustrative style of Dr. Seuss. It indeed has become a timeless classic.

But after Gisel died, his widow started signing away the movie rights to her dead husband’s life work, and in turn, bringing in millions from the deals. With one swipe of her jewel encrusted pen, his widow dismissed the value and meaning of all that her husband had worked to protect for his entire working life. Money won over substance, ironically contradicting the very meaning that the story of the Grinch conveyed.

Some things shouldn’t be messed with. Some things can’t be improved, especially those that offer originality and innovation. Making something a commercial blockbuster will most likely mean those unique elements that made it special in the first place are scraped away and replaced with bells, whistles, fireballs, predictability, maybe some cleavage, and lots and lots of toys and licensed products that will be on the shelf for way too long.

I am perhaps idealistic when it comes to brands. I am always a believer in the longevity of building a pure brand, one that may take a bit longer to create, rather than the quick rise of commercialized garbage to make a fast buck. Just because something may make lots of money fast, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do for the long term value of a brand.

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