Friday, September 22, 2023

TO IP OR NOT TO IP: The world of intellectual property

Lady Rainicorn at the Cartoon Network Store. Photo courtesy of edg

By Steve Guy, president EDG

What makes an idea an intellectual property? 

And, for that matter, what is an intellectual property? I’ve seen plenty of official definitions, and I’ve boiled it down to this: An intellectual property [IP] is what happens to a good idea when money and lawyers get involved. I don’t mean this in a negative way; in fact, I love IPs (and lawyers, sometimes) – particularly when they’re mine, or I at least get permission to use them.

My company, edg, got started a little more than 21 years ago when I, along with a few fellow upstarts at Six Flags Theme Parks, decided to go out on our own in the world of entertainment design and production. At that time, I don’t think any of us gave much thought to the potential impact that IPs might have on how we conducted business or how successful we would become. We were always inundated with IPs at Six Flags, and using them was an everyday occurrence (which is likely why we enjoyed continued success at the park). It was not until we were out on our own that we truly learned the value of IPs – once we had to work to incorporate them into projects and productions without the power of a major corporation behind us! Now, with 21 years and thousands of projects and events now under our belts, I have found it to be an interesting exercise to take time to reflect on the role that IPs have played in our company’s history.

In the world of entertainment, IPs are hard to avoid. Whether they take the form of a themed character, a movie, TV show, song, a piece of artwork, or even just a catch phrase or simple logo design, IPs are everywhere. Given this fact, folks in our industry have only two viable options:

  • Create programs, events and experiences in partnership with (and permission from) the owner of a particular IP
  • Create programs, events and experiences that avoid the use of an IP altogether

A third option – Using an IP without permission and hoping you don’t get caught – is not something I’d recommend trying. I’ll leave it at that. Of the two viable options, we have had our fair share of both examples over the years – each with their own sets of pros and cons. Through two recent examples, I’d like to briefly illustrate how companies can find success through either option.

To “IP”
Working with the right IP is like walking into a crowded room with a celebrity on your arm: You’re sure to get noticed. The level of success you create for yourself depends on what you do once you get the attention.

We’ve worked with some great IPs, including characters from movies and TV shows, including Shrek, Chronicles of Narnia, Batman/Batman Forever, Peanuts, Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” South Park, Hole-in-the-Wall, etc. Each property lends its own personality – and its own intrinsic value – to our scenic projects, whether they are part of a stunt show, holiday décor display or interactive experience.

We typically create IP-leveraged programs for third-party companies, like theme park operators or entertainment networks (both of which often own the IPs), as well as museums, malls and other retail clients. Recently we were able to work on a project that was a combination of all of these.

I’ve always been of the opinion that – if given the choice – I would rather work with an IP (versus without one) 99 times out of 100. Working with Turner to create a larger-than-life Lady Rainicorn character for its Cartoon Network retail shop in Atlanta’s CNN Center embodies the two key reasons I love working with IPs.

For one thing, IPs (the right ones, anyway) offer instant recognition. The Lady Rainicorn character from CN’s “Adventure Time” series has become a big hit in a relatively short time. The character is quirky and engaging, and its unique shape and vibrant colors are unusual and easily recognizable. Working with such an appealing character helps ensure a level of success in whatever program we build with or around it.

Second, IPs – as closely guarded “brands” in and of themselves – typically come with a distinct set of guidelines (brand standards) for every aspect of design, including size, dimensions and color usage. Having the exact “blueprints” and style guides for designing themed environments or a themed element makes our job much easier, as it takes the guess-work out of the design.

The CN project allowed us to take a well-known character, complete with its own “assembly instructions,” and let our imagination take it from there. With the help of – and ultimate approval from Jacob Escobedo, VP, Design/Creative Group for Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, we came up with a visually stunning result that they were happy with and we are extremely proud of.

Not To “IP”
Sometimes, leveraging an IP is not an option for us in working for our clients. Often the subject matter for a client project is compelling enough on its own, without having to go through the added expense of leveraging an IP. Often a client may not have the budget to accommodate an IP. Sometimes, clients want to partner with us to create something that might become an IP in its own right.

Getting around using an IP is harder than it sounds. It’s like trying to write a column without using the letter “e.” Simply put, they’re hard to avoid…but not impossible. Creating compelling content without IPs is a matter of creativity and a bit of cunning.


Earlier in 2011, edg was approached by the ownership team of 200 Peachtree – a Downtown Atlanta special-event/exhibition facility and retail/restaurant hub located in the footprint of a former department store building on Peachtree Street. The goal: to help them create an annual attraction that draws visitors and Atlanta natives alike to dine, shop and experience the recent resurgence of the Downtown area. Based on this request, and after several brainstorming sessions, “Christmas on Peachtree” was born.

The Christmas on Peachtree concept allows 200 Peachtree to leverage a highly recognizable theme (Christmas and Santa Claus and all that goes along with it), and avoid bumping up against an IP. Christmas and Santa are a few of the remaining popular-culture icons that can’t be co-opted as an IP. Complete with the tagline, “Everything Christmas should be,” Christmas on Peachtree would include holiday shopping (including classic holiday displays for window shopping), games and rides, a holiday music and light show, and – of course – visits with Santa.

Over the past six months, Christmas on Peachtree has evolved from concept to reality, with a launch date in Atlanta of November 25, 2011. And while it is likely that Christmas on Peachtree may leverage IPs as trade-in-kind from early sponsors of the event, the concept was created to stand alone if necessary.

Christmas on Peachtree has its own brand and logo (soon to be IPs???), both developed by 200 Peachtree’s marketing team at Creaxion, Inc. Based on the success of Christmas on Peachtree, the annual holiday event is likely to grow, and it’s even possible that other annual events “on Peachtree” will be developed as well.

With IPs or without, there are never any absolute guarantees for success. Picking the right IP at the right time to engage audiences and drive sales is a rare skill, as is creating a compelling concept without using an IP. Learning to generate success with or without IP’s is what ensures staying power in this business. 

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Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She reports on design and technical design, production and project management, industry trends and company culture. From 2005-2020 she ran communications and publications for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, and has contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a BFA from Pratt Institute. She has lived in Detroit, New York, Oakland, and now Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts community.

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