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Category winner: The Marvel Way: Restoring a Blue Ocean

This case won the Strategy and General Management category at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2020. #CaseAwards2020
The case

Who – the protagonist



Marvel is the hugely popular comic and film franchise, which has produced the likes of Spiderman, X-Men and The Avengers and four of the all-time top-ten US grossing movies.


This case looks at how Marvel went from a roaring success in its early years, to filing for bankruptcy in the 90s, and then returning to its glory days in the 21st Century with its blue ocean strategic pivot, Marvel Studios.


Marvel is a brand that’s recognised around the world. Founded in 1939 by Martin Goodman, Marvel is now a wholly-owned division of Disney with offices in New York and Los Angeles.


Marvel’s first major successful period was between 1961 and 1965, when Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee and comic book legends Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko delivered a multi-year burst of creativity. Rather than copying their major rivals, DC, many of Marvel’s characters started as ordinary people and transformed into reluctant superheroes.

It started to go wrong in June 1968, when Martin sold Marvel to conglomerate Cadence Industries. A series of owners focused on short-term profits leading to bankruptcy in 1996.

Eventually, Ike Perlmutter's Toy Biz, Inc. acquired the assets and he and CEO Peter Cuneo stabilised the business. In 2004, Hollywood veteran and former management consultant David Maisel proposed a new strategy: create their own movie studio to self-produce Marvel movies that were both differentiated and low cost. Marvel Studios became the most valuable movie franchise in history.

They haven’t looked back since.

Key quote

ironman“It’s extremely rare for a company to find a new strategy that could add multiples to the valuation of the business. That was the fortunate situation where we found ourselves in 2004. After five years of hard work and careful execution it was extremely satisfying to see the success of the strategy with the well-received launched of Iron Man in 2008.” – David Maisel.

What next?

Will recent changes such as the movie studio being reassigned from Isaac Perlmutter (CEO of the Marvel division) to Disney studio head Alan Horn pay off? Will dissolving the Creative Committee prove the right decision? Or will these strategic changes lead to another red ocean?

Interested in finding out more?

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The Marvel Way: Restoring a Blue Ocean
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Simplified Chinese language version

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Spanish language version

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Korean language version

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Teaching note

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The authors


W Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne and Michael Olenick

Chan, Renée and Michael discuss students’ love of Marvel, gaining key access to their executives and their case writing tips.

Turning Marvel around

The authors said: “It is rewarding and an honor to learn our Marvel case has been so well received by professors, students, and executives. It’s thrilling to see the strong response to the theme of the case – how a company’s strategy can turnaround even the most challenged business.

marvel“Marvel was tied up in a long and contested bankruptcy. They emerged deep in a red ocean of debt, dissatisfied employees, and a customer boycott. Their blue ocean strategic move reversed this, creating a new type of movie studio that offered higher value movies produced at substantially lower cost that made competition irrelevant.”

Making the case fun

The authors commented: “This case is fun to read, combining deep pedagogical value and strong narrative. It illustrates how a business students know and love, Marvel, used differentiation and low-cost in real life. Plus, it’s a fun and interesting story: the fight for Marvel, complete with heroes and villains.

“There are first-hand interviews with Marvel executives. Enticing students to do their homework can be challenging but professors tell us students consistently read this case and many even circulate it to friends and roommates for pleasure reading.”


The trio added: “Gaining access to the Marvel executives was challenging but working with them to understand how they turned around the business and created Marvel Studios was a highlight.

“Covering Marvel’s 80-year history was a challenge. Reviewing their business strategy then seeing their work at the local cinema, with the excited audiences, was great.

“Marvel executives were incredibly gracious with their time, especially former CEO Peter Cuneo and the original head of Marvel Studios, David Maisel. We’d like to give a shout-out of thanks to both Peter and David for their time. We were thrilled when they told us this case is the most accurate narrative related to Marvel’s turnaround and the establishment of Marvel Studios.”

Keep writing

The authors concluded: “A tip for writing a good case is write lots of drafts! And write a good teaching note. Weave pedagogical material together with a strong narrative, which makes the case theoretically and strategically insightful for students and executives but also fun.”

About the authors

W Chan Kim is The Boston Consulting Group Bruce D. Henderson Chair Professor of Strategy and International Management at INSEAD, and Co-Director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.
e chan.kim@insead.edu
tw @BlueOceanStrtgy

Renée Mauborgne is The INSEAD Distinguished Fellow and a professor of strategy at INSEAD, and Co-Director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.
e renee.mauborgne@insead.edu
tw @BlueOceanStrtgy

Michael Olenick is an Institute Executive Fellow at the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.
e Michael.olenick@insead.edu 
tw @michael_olenick


View all the 2020 winners