Film & Culture

Marvel’s Mindy Hamilton on the Importance of Authentic Brand Partnerships and Black Panther

With the Oscars airing this Sunday, we thought it was the perfect time to share our recent interview with Mindy on the impact of Black Panther and the importance of creating authentic partnerships that strengthen emotional connections with fans. 

Black Panther has had an epic run, and it’s not over. It’s the first superhero film ever to be nominated for the top prize at the Academy Awards. It’s one of the highest-grossing domestic movies of 2018 and one of the most influential films of the year. With seven total nominations, including Best Picture, Black Panther hopes to make history at the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday.  Black Panther is the people’s choice according to a poll – will the Academy vote the same? We’ll be watching on Sunday.

Black Panther’s penchant for impacting culture goes back to its 1966 debut when he became the first Black Superhero to appear in the pages of a major American comic book. The political movement of the same name was founded in Oakland a few months later. Now, 52 years later, the film has made its star a household name – appearing on the covers of TIME magazine and Rolling Stone, and even hosting Saturday Night Live – and has redrawn the playbook for what “sells” in Hollywood.

Chadwick Boseman graces the cover of Time Magazine.

Still, Marvel’s initial investment in an unproven franchise with a 31-year-old black director and a predominantly black cast was certainly not a slam dunk from the outset.  It was the type of picture that was going to require some strong brand partners to help shoulder the weight of its hefty $200 million budget and get the word out about this relatively unknown protagonist.  

Enter WORLDZ Master Mindy Hamilton.  As Senior Vice President of Global Partnerships and Marketing for Marvel, Hamilton is responsible for developing global marketing partnerships and digital solutions for Marvel Entertainment’s theatrical, television, digital and publishing lines of business.  She has led the charge on high-profile film deals including Audi, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Pizza Hut while spearheading an aggressive initiative to expand Marvel’s offerings in the digital space. And as she is quick to tell you, finding the right brand partners goes FAR beyond mere product placement.  We sat down with Mindy to get her thoughts on making films that matter and finding the right way to get them out to the masses.

Are you surprised that Black Panther has been so culturally resonant?

Marvel’s goal has always been to reflect the world outside of our windows. Even though our stories are rooted in fictional tales about Super Heroes with unbelievable powers, we still want to ground them by exploring themes that are relevant to today’s society. 

Mindy Hamilton leads a Master Course at WORLDZ 2017 entitled, “The Superpower of Partnerships: Putting the ‘Intellect’ in Intellectual Property”

With something as successful (and expensive) as Black Panther how do you retain the integrity of the original product while still bringing in the appropriate brand partners to help pay the bills?

I will never be able to say it enough, but everything needs to revolve around our stories. We’ve always been a story-first studio, which is the reason I think we’ve found success and maintained credibility with our fans. We’re never looking to partner with somebody solely for the sake of adding another brand name to the roster. Everything that we do is driven by a creative desire to explore these narratives in deeper, more nuanced ways that complement the efforts of our general studio marketing campaigns.

We need to ensure that our partnerships are relatable to fans and strengthen emotional connections. If the connection isn’t authentic, our fans will sniff it out right away and no one will benefit.

Photo courtesy of Matt Kennedy

Does a property like this one beg for certain types of partnerships?

Multicultural audiences are always a big part of our marketing efforts. This time around, we were keen to work with brands who already speak to those individuals. At the end of the day, though, the key to a successful partnership on any film is to further develop our stories and make them more tangible to people as they go about their daily lives. By working with companies like Lexus and Brisk, we were able to extend our messaging into unexpected places. The end result was a series of surprise-and-delight moments where we came together with our fans to teach them more about different aspects of Wakanda and the characters who reside there.

What are some ways you look to get people to interact with a brand other than the obvious direct consumption? 

People expect to see movie trailers online or billboards as they’re driving around town, but they’re not necessarily expecting to encounter our IP [intellectual property] on a sculpted 3D can, in car dealerships, or at events during NYC Fashion Week and NBA All-Star Weekend. Through these encounters, we’re able to enter into people’s personal worlds, and, as a result, they end up caring more about ours. That emotional connection is what we’re always aiming to establish or strengthen because it inspires people to invest their time and energy into this interconnected universe that we’ve created over the past 10 years.

As fans are growing up, we want to evolve with them and extend our stories in meaningful new ways. Brisk, for example, identified their Creators Class initiative as a key touchpoint throughout their Black Panther partnership. We thus tied into the theme from the film of Wakanda’s voice and presence not really being felt or recognized within the global political spectrum, and we used the platform of this tentpole film release to shine a light on voices from the artistic community that were similarly going unnoticed. This is the type of work that makes marketing matter. We don’t just want to transact with consumers by selling movie tickets; we actually want to open up a dialogue and interact with them in order to facilitate an exchange of ideas.

The Black Panther appears in a special Lexus commercial during the 2018 Super Bowl

When you see the numbers for one of your brands, in this case Black Panther, go up and up, obviously you’re thrilled and excited. But what’s something that concerns you, that presents a challenge, and how do you overcome that?

For something like Black Panther, the immediate response is: “how are we going to replicate this!? How do we recapture that lightning-in-a-bottle moment?” That reaction, though, is also the easiest trap for us to fall into. We of course want to one-up ourselves with everything that we do – we want to learn from our successes just as much as our mistakes. But we also need to recognize that there’s not one specific path to victory and every film is different. From a partnership marketing perspective, we have to understand what makes each film and the characters in it unique. Our filmmakers are incredible about making each film feel fresh, so we need to do the same in our approach and the tactics that we’re exploring with our partners. Our commitment is to continue to innovate, think outside of the box, and explore stories that have untapped potential. A big hurdle we run into with brand partners is the assumption that product placement is a required component in order to develop a successful co-branded campaign, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether you have placement or not, there are synergies that exist and that demand to be explored further – if you’re willing to lean in and share these story extensions with the fans, they will be more than happy to follow you on that journey.

Marvel’s goal has always been to reflect the world outside of our windows.

Hollywood has been criticized for not being diverse enough and people are pointing to Black Panther as helping to break that mold, what sort of pressure does that put on you as a curator of that brand?

We’re developing our stories from source material that’s over 70 years old – it’s interesting to take a look back at it and recognize which issues still resonate today. I’m proud of how Marvel continues to evolve and embrace our ever-changing society. It’s something we’ve been committed to from the get-go as evidenced by our diverse casts and exploration of challenging topics. And it’s something we’ll continue to focus on, which you’ll see in Ant-Man and The Wasp — our first male and female co-led film — as well as with Captain Marvel — our first fully-led female Super Hero movie.

The official Black Panther release poster

How do you feel about BP serving as a teaching tool – it can and has already had great impact on society – what message would you love to see BP get across to our world?

My favorite part about the movie is the multitude of takeaways that it offers. There are so many layers to the story like the values and responsibility of inclusion, honor, family, and innovation. And, all along the way, it remains timely as well as entertaining.

What about this franchise do you personally love? What is different about this character, their origin story etc?

It’s always a blast to explore this totally unique, previously untouched corner of the Marvel Universe. Wakanda is a fictional nation that we all wish was real because it’s a technological utopia running laps around what we’ve accomplished here in reality. Seeing it come to life for the first time was really exciting, especially because I’m a huge tech geek who always follows the latest news and developments on that front. Seeing the film’s tech had my head spinning and asking…what if? Additionally, I love the character of T’Challa because of how uniquely complex he is; he’s both a hero and a monarch, and he has such incredible swagger. And let’s not forget how fierce the women of Wakanda are. They’re completely empowered, independent warriors who protect our male Super Hero, but they also spearhead the development of the nation’s claim to fame: its technology. They are simply badass!


imgFive Questions with Mindy Hamilton

SVP, Global Partnerships & Marketing, Marvel


1. What is an important fact about yourself that isn’t on the internet?

As a teen during my summer breaks, I did rodeo – barrel racing, roping and more. Also, I used to dress my dog up with a Superhero cape while I took on the role of Shazam.


2. What is the most valuable piece of advice your parents ever taught you?

Growing up, I was taught perseverance and grit. My mom used to say, “Ask, try…what are you afraid of? No? The word ‘no’ stings in the moment, but it will not kill you. Let it propel you. You don’t need to get upset; just smile and try a different path.” Another great moment was when I was fretting over a pair of shoes for prom and she said, “If people are looking at your feet, you’re doing something wrong.”


3. What is the BEST thing about being Mindy Hamilton?

My gut (intuition) is my greatest strength. And, thankfully, I was raised in the South with an East Coast parent, which keeps me humble – I have a twinkle in my eye and a smile on my face, but I walk fast and am not afraid to curse.


4. What is the WORST thing about being Mindy Hamilton?

It’s not original and almost cliché, but I wish that I had more time for all of the amazing things in my life, especially to travel because seeing new places and meeting different people ignites a fire in my soul. Stepping into wide-open spaces sparks my creativity.


5. What fictional character do you identify with and why?

Ferris Bueller. I love how he seeks out freedom for himself and his loved ones via outrageous carpe diem creative game plans. Also, I couldn’t agree more with this insight: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” If you’re asking me to pick a Marvel character, I can’t. There are so many to love, and no one would want to read the back and forth in my head as I attempt to narrow the list down!


Mindy Hamilton is the SVP of Global Partnerships & Marketing for Marvel Entertainment. She led a Master Course at the WORLDZ Summit entitled “The Superpower of Partnerships: Putting the Intellect Back in Intellectual Property.”