It's not often a video game character can teach us something about business. But in the case of Sonic the Hedgehog, you might be surprised.
Sonic the Hedgehog is an iconic video game character. Created by Sega in 1991, the blue hedgehog is noted for his speed and his games have sold countless copies.
Sonic's design, characterized by a distinctive blue color, prominent eyes, and red sneakers, is as iconic as the games he's featured in. People young and old look at a Sonic the Hedgehog drawing and immediately recognize the character.
In November, Sonic will be even further immortalized when he takes to the silver screen in a film aptly titled Sonic the Hedgehog. It features a computer-generated Sonic living in the human world as he prepares to battle his arch-nemesis Dr. Robotnik, played by Jim Carrey.
Needless to say, Sonic's fans were anxiously awaiting the film's first trailer when it dropped on April 30. And since then, it's been viewed nearly 30 million times. But that didn't mean people liked it.
Soon after the trailer aired, Sonic fans took to Twitter, Reddit, film forums, and anywhere else they could sound their displeasure and railed against the Sonic character's design. They noted -- accurately, mind you -- that the character looked almost nothing like the Sonic people around the world have come to love.
The film's character has Sonic's distinctive blue color, but his face and body look almost nothing like the video game version. He's fast, but his eyes don't look like they do in the games. And gamers were quick to note that Sonic has distinctive teeth in the game that you just don't see in the film.
Finding Your Sonic
The widespread outcry driven by passionate fans is something business owners could -- and should -- learn from.
In any strong business, there's something distinctive that makes the company appealing to customers. And in especially successful companies, that something appealing can become sacred to customers. It takes on a life of its own, leaving you, the business owner, little more than a caretaker.
But when Paramount Pictures gave the filmmakers the opportunity to do what they wanted with an iconic Sega character, they lost sight of that. Sonic isn't just any video game character; he's the game character that an entire generation of people group up with. And he's one of only a handful of video game characters that has the kind of following and fan loyalty game developers to desperately seek.
In any well-run business, the goal is to find that Sonic -- that feature, service line, or new division -- that resonates with customers and takes on a life of its own. And after that, it's incumbent upon you, the business owner, to ensure that nothing you do materially changes that Sonic your customers care so much about. A single misstep throws your business into disarray and puts its future at risk.
To their credit, the Sonic the Hedgehog filmmakers were quick to acknowledge their misstep. And in a tweet soon after the outcry erupted, director Jeff Fowler said they'd go back to the drawing board and redesign Sonic to look more like his original self.
It was a smart move. And with any luck at all, the filmmakers can get it right. But now all eyes are on them to get it right. And surely there are some Sonic fans who feel they've already committed the ultimate misstep by changing Sonic's design. For those folks, Sonic the Hedgehog the film is a nonstarter.
So, take some lessons from the Sonic kerfuffle. Find your Sonic, care for your Sonic, and most importantly, don't ever do anything that fundamentally changes the ingredients that made your Sonic special.