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Driving cross-generational appeal in entertainment universes

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Photo: Rod Long

Photo of Karol Severin
by Karol Severin

Building and maintaining cross-generational appeal in entertainment is hard. A key challenge is in catering to seemingly wildly different consumer segments with the inherent risk of targeting ‘kind of everybody’, which may lead to true fandom with nobody.

Yet, there are several entertainment brands that have managed to build successful cross-generational entertainment worlds, or universes. Though most took several decades of organic forming and gradual expansion, there are patterns in their successes, that companies with cross-generational entertainment universe aspirations can learn from.

We are embarking on a bit of a journey to map those patterns out and elaborate on best practices. There is so much to unravel here, way out of scope for a single blog post. So instead, here are few early hypotheses we will be thinking about over the coming months:

Mechanics based versus character based

IP universes with cross-generational appeal are typically character/setting-based (e.g. Marvel) or mechanics-based (e.g. Lego). Each have pros and cons, and different ways of building and expanding as well as specific challenges to face in standing the test of time.

The right flow

A single product rarely has cross-generational appeal from the get-go. It typically starts in one or two key life stages and flows into the others, over time. A substantial amount of time (and other resources) is required in any case, but a carefully planned path across generations can make the expansion smoother and faster. Choosing the initial consumer segment as well as the subsequent ones correctly can make or break the whole journey. We’ll explore the bi-lateral pull of mid-life segments, pay special attention to late-life segments (which may be less suitable as a take-off destination, but can provide a fly-wheel effect if expanded into correctly), as well as to the core desires, dependencies and expectations of early life segments.

Identifying common cross-generational desires

Designing and planning for long-term cross-generational appeal requires identifying basic human psychological needs and desires occurring throughout a lifetime, before going into more tactical and segment-specific deliberations about the right context for each generation. This applies for both mechanics- as well as character-based universes. Once we have established cross-generational desires, we will examine tactics to contextualize those for each generation. We will explore the notion of forbidden fruits for example, which has the ability to magnify specific desires during various life stages.  

Our findings will culminate in a best-practices report for cross-generational universe building, drawing from success learnings of long-established cross-generational entertainment brands (e.g. Disney), as well as looking at companies that are currently on their way of building new ones (e.g. Roblox). Stay tuned!

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