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What Makes an IP Strong

What Makes an IP Strong
Start Something

Start Something


13 Aug 2021·8 min read

While the legalities behind protecting intellectual property (IP) are clear as day, building a strong one isn’t. In today’s post, we look at some key elements that make an IP strong in the 21st century. In particular, we’ll look at IPs as they appear in media pop culture.

Without a doubt, the value of strong intellectual property within the media is very tangible. To put things in perspective, the top-grossing films of the last decade involved an IP in one way or another. (8 out of 10 of them are also owned by Disney, but we’ll get to that later)

Have a look:

After looking at multiple million-dollar IPs within the media industry, I’ve noticed 4 common traits that they all have – other than a set of good lawyers. They are — in no order of importance — creating a universe, merchandising opportunities, cross-collaboration, and emotional connection.

Creating a Universe

Saying that a strong IP has a universe is like calling someone with muscles strong. While seemingly obvious, many IPs tend to fall into the trap of creating a universe around the main character, rather than creating one for the character to live in.

Think about most cartoons in the early 2000s – Dexter’s LaboratoryBen 10 and The Fairly OddParents to name a few. Most episodic stories revolved around the main characters and quickly grew stale. In fact, it can be argued that most IPs with universes centring around the main character result in said character being the architect of their own challenges, hardly heroic and very repetitive.

Now take something like Hey Arnold or SpongeBob SquarePants which have universes of similar scale as the above, but with attention distributed more evenly among all the other supporting characters. The result is an IP with depth and appeal across multiple audiences. I mean how many of us felt our hearts sink as Sandy tried to prove herself in the episode “Pressure”?

Merchandising Opportunities

It can be argued that a great IP leads to merchandising opportunities. If we can slap Star Wars onto condoms (not endorsed by Disney), I don’t see why a Homer Simpson bald cap hasn’t seen the light of day.

Flip the coin, however, and try to imagine your IP on some common products. If you can’t see it on a cup, t-shirt, or even poster then it may not be the most appealing IP. In fact, almost 7% (or $5 billion USD) of Disney’s annual revenue comes from consumer products. This is a media company, putting their characters on unrelated products and earning half as much as Pampers, a diaper company, selling diapers.

Accordingly, businesses need to consider that merchandising isn’t simply a source of revenue, but also acts as a gauge to which your IP can have mass-market appeal.


Name me a more iconic duo.

A signifier of a strong IP is their ability to interact with other IPs within their space. It took The Simpsons and Family Guy 13 years before finally sharing a screen together and boy was it worth it.

While IP collaboration could be seen as interacting with a competitor, it’s worth considering that IPs in the media industry function slightly differently from traditional products. Many Simpsons fans are Family Guy fans and vice versa. Viewers saw their crossover episode as a pipe dream come true and quickly took over entertainment news on its debut. 4 years later – it holds an 8.4/10 rating on IMDB out of over 4000 votes, much higher than the average Simpsons or Family Guy episode.

Collaborating with another IP can widen your audience and leverage on the equity of the other IP. However, who you choose to collaborate with should be based on a strong understanding of your consumer and the market. After all, no one wants to see Winnie the Pooh down a bottle of Clorox. (Or do they?)

Emotional Connection

An IP can be seen and heard, but most importantly, it can be felt. MBLM’s 2019 Brand Intimacy study ranked Disney number one when it came to creating an emotional connection – ahead of Apple, Amazon, and YouTube. (Told you we’d get back to them)

We didn’t need research to drive home that point. It is all over Disney’s marketing that emotion is a core element of their IP and brand. Who could forget that Disneyland’s tagline is “the happiest place on earth”?

But it’s not just happiness. Strong IPs can connect with the audience on a variety of emotions. From the anger we felt towards Cruella Deville to the sadness of losing Ellie (the main character’s wife) in Up, every emotional trigger brought and bought us closer to the IP. There is even a sense of self-reflection as Wreck-It Ralph challenged the notion of what it meant to be the “bad guy”.

Final Thoughts

Whether considering creating an IP and already working on one it is evident that building a strong IP requires planning, discipline and a large amount of investment be it time or money.

Though not impossible, it can be challenging and we hope that the above 4 elements can help your process in one way or another.

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