Creating brands out of literature

Zoe Watkins, Managing Director, FourteenFiftyFour

FourteenFiftyFour is an intellectual property development company specialising in literary brands.   This is often something of a tricky proposition to explain – in no small part because ‘brand’ is such a loaded term – it tends to make people think of golden arches and trainers, of rampant consumerism rather than artistic merit.   At FourteenFiftyFour, we strongly believe that brand-building from the earliest stages of a literary based project gives it the best chance of success, particularly in the highly competitive Young Adult marketplace.  This is an ethos very much shared by the Duchess of Northumberland, with whom we have been working on Poison Diaries – a dark, gothic brand centring on the ambiguous power of poisonous plants to kill or cure.

Although ‘branding’ carries connotations of the artificially constructed, if you look at the few truly global book based brands – Bond, Potter, Twilight, they have one thing in common: Fleming, Rowling and Meyer all believed passionately in the characters they created (whatever the self-deprecating Fleming may have said to the contrary). Whilst these brands have all been shaped by the vast successes of the film franchises that grew out of them, all three authors had already reached bestseller status before the films were made.  Poison Diaries is the brainchild of the Duchess of Northumberland, who has had the voice of its central, enigmatic, male character, Weed, in her head for years.  This authenticity is impossible to replicate and without it, book brands are always going to struggle to get off the ground.

The Poison Diaries brand is wider and deeper than the teenage market that the initial trilogy of novels, published last week by HarperCollins, seeks to target.  The first step in translating the concept for this very particular segment of the reading audience was finding the right author. From the very beginning of the project, Poison Diaries Ltd has worked closely with HarperCollins in both the US and the UK, and Maryrose Wood was their recommendation.  Although an American author for a book set almost exclusively in the North of England at the end of the eighteenth century may not seem an obvious choice, Wood has really got right under the skin of the story and the resulting first book is a tantalising opening to the trilogy.  This choice of the right talent for each element of the project, always coming back to the Duchess’s central creative concept, is vital:

Poison Diaries’ visual identity has been developed by Blue Marlin, and the striking logo and Poison Diaries alphabet will be used across all future brand extensions, ensuring cohesion from the outset.   Illustrations of the individual poisons have been commissioned from Sav Scatola, an Edinburgh based artist specialising in 3D photorealism – these bring the Poisons themselves to life in a way which would not come across well in a book, but already sets the tone for wider exploitation across film, console games and merchandising.   This is not to say that this is not an organic process – we are not branding tins of beans, but a narrative based creative concept which will, inevitably, take on a life of its own.   We have also had to be sensitive to the needs of individual markets – although HarperCollins UK and US are using the same specially commissioned cover image, the treatments of it are very different.

Virtually every book published for the Young Adult market these days at least has a publisher’s microsite and web presence is crucial for reaching this audience,  but the point of www.poisondiaries.com is not solely to act as a promotional tool for the books. It is the hub for the brand as a whole, combining interactive and information elements and although the books form an important section of the site, exploration of the poison garden and interaction with the individual poisons drives visitor activity.   The site will develop as the brand grows and has been designed to be scaleable.  The Poisons artwork is all shareable and this will further serve to spread the brand message.

Understandably, publishers do not necessarily have the desire to create holistic brands – their business is publishing books.  But as the marketplace gets ever more crowded, creation of inhouse brands is going to become something that publishers look to as a means of generating greater revenues and controlling valuable ancillary rights.  FourteenFiftyFour is already working on a number of inhouse projects, and also acts in an advisory capacity to a number of estates and copyright holders seeking to maximise their literary brands.   Perhaps more surprisingly, other companies creating literary franchises seem happy to drop the concept off at the publisher’s door and wait for the film companies to do the rest. This is certainly a cost-effective option, but does limit the potential for overall brand control.

Creating a successful literary brand requires time, patience, selecting the right creative talent, and last but by no means least, financial investment. It also requires holding your nerve and resisting the temptation to jump on the nearest vampire driven bandwagon.  We believe that Poison Diaries has got all these things right, but only time will tell, as what is also needed is a good dose of luck.   As Fleming, Rowling and Meyer would probably all attest, the other thing that these huge literary brands have in common is that no-one really saw them coming.

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