Amidst rain and darkening skies, around 50 students packed the Silliman head of college house to hear from Brian Siegel ’94, a product developer for Marvel and Disney, on Monday.
Currently, Siegel serves as the director of franchise strategy for consumer products for all Marvel properties, with a focus on the franchise of “The Avengers” and “Spiderman.” At the talk, he discussed the journey that led him to a career in product development and what the field entails.
“My biggest job is that I have to inspire,” Siegel said. “I have to inspire people in a company to make the products, I have to then inspire that company to inspire the retailers to buy the products, and then I have to inspire those retailers to inspire the consumers to buy it off the shelves.”
Siegel, who transitioned from the sciences to his less conventional job today, encouraged students to be less fixated on choosing particular majors and classes to crack into a specific career. The former president of the Yale Dramatic Association explained that it was his extracurricular and social life that shaped his future interests, rather than his degree in chemistry.
“There was a comfort in not necessarily having to plan out the rest of my life. It was just seeing about what I was passionate about and what excited me and how I could translate that into a career,” Siegel said.
Siegel recounted getting in a car with two fellow Yalies the day after his graduation to reach the destination of his dreams: Los Angeles. He began working on a television series, “Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad” and ended up with a job at Disney through an assignment from a temp agency. He has been there ever since.
During his career at the Walt Disney company, Siegel has directed product development for major films such as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Cars.”
When asked about what exactly brand management entails, Siegel contended that understanding the emotional attachment that consumers can have to Disney franchises was crucial to marketing products. Part of the unique appeal of Disney films, Siegel said, is that they often have a profound impact on one’s childhood.
“There are people who are just such die-hard fans they want to buy a $250 Swarovski crystal figurine to put on their nightstands,” Siegel said.
Still, Siegel said that some of their best-selling merchandise included toothbrushes and underwear, relatively small and private purchases that remind people of their love for the extraordinary.
“People like to believe that wearing a ‘Captain America’ shirt will make them lift just a little bit more at the gym. And I think it will!” Siegel said.
But Siegel contended that not all of the products from his films were immediately received well by retailers to whom he attempted to sell the merchandise. When developing products for “Finding Nemo” for example, he claimed that retailers were narrow-minded when it came to investing in aquatic-themed toys.
“How do we tell them that this movie about fish is going to be a breakthrough, and people 20 years later are still going to want a piece of it?” Siegel said. “We think people will fall in love with these fish!”
Film producers have also been integral in creating the merchandise that will go along with the film, Siegel said. Siegel often mentioned his appreciation for Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, for adjusting movies in accordance with retail demands. In “Black Panther,” for example, Feige said that he included a vehicle for T’Challa so that it could be sold as merchandise. Siegel mentioned how he often asked producers to incorporate helmets, masks or capes into films in order to diversify film-related merchandise.
“What made Pixar so strong was that John Lasseter loved products,” Siegel said. “And his dream for ‘Toy Story’ was that everyone would go to bed with a Woody or a Buzz Lightyear doll.”
Four students interviewed by the News said they all agreed that people can often find an emotional attachment to the characters in their favorite childhood movies.
John Dallard ’22, a self-proclaimed “huge Marvel fan”, echoed Siegel’s description of the impact of Marvel on consumers’ lives, saying that the brand has been a huge part of his life.
Catherine Bui ’19 shared Dallard’s sentiments.
“I grew up with the Marvel movies, so I feel like it’s been a consistent theme in my life,” she said.
Marvel was founded in 1947 in New York City.
Meera Shoaib | firstname.lastname@example.org .