Disney revamped Old Yeller – but tread carefully with your brand revamp

If you’ve been in business for a while, chances are that you’ve considered revamping your brand at some point. Perhaps you’ve changed your positioning, your target market or even your identity. It makes sense to revisit your marketing plan and brand strategy on an ongoing basis.  When you look at repackaging your identity or products, make sure you’re going to be able to pull it off. The importance of this really stood out for me when I saw the following book on the shelf at my kids’ school.


Old Yeller. This was a staple of the Disney movie rotation on Sunday nights when I was growing up. And I later read the book in school. But it was a novel, not a picture book, and it certainly was not meant for first graders.

So, seeing this book set out in the after-school care’s first grade room, I was a little surprised. (It turns out that the book was left behind by someone else.) I opened it up to see how on earth the tragic Old Yeller story would unfold as a picture book. Here’s the last page.

“He knew he was here to stay.”

Well, if you haven’t read Old Yeller or seen the movie and you think you might, I urge you to watch the very sweet opening from the 1957 movie and then skip past the spoiler alert that I’ve marked below, perhaps shielding your eyes.


A 1956 Newberry award-winning novel by Fred Gipson and then a 1957 Disney movie, Old Yeller’s a tale about a little boy who adopts a scraggly dog. The boy’s older brother tries to dissuade him. But the dog eventually saves the family several times, while the father is off on a cattle drive, and the older brother, Travis, becomes attached to the old, yellow-furred dog. Unfortunately, a rabid wolf attacks poor Old Yeller. Knowing the risk to the family, the boys’ mother decides the dog must be killed to prevent further tragedy. Travis, knowing it is truly his dog now and taking on his own emerging role as a man, insists on shooting the dog himself. (The novel is a little bit different, but Travis shoots the dog when it looks like his younger brother is about to be attacked by rabid Yeller.) And there emerges one of the most tragic tales in children’s literature or Disney films. (I just realized this is one of the only Disney movies with a living mother, by the way.) The story manages to recover from that low point after Travis adopts a puppy sired by Old Yeller – Young Yeller helps him get over the tragedy.

So, as you might tell from that summary, the Disney picture book seriously leads the reader astray. “He knew he was here to stay.” I’m serious. That’s how the picture book ends. Yes, the repackaging of a tragic story ends on a completely different note – with a happy dog who knows he’ll be here forever.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not in the habit of traumatizing young children. So I’m not saying that we should tell a bunch of six-year-old kids that a teenage boy has to shoot his beloved dog (as well as the family cow and the rabid wolf).


But I do wonder about repackaging such a tragic tale as a warm-hearted picture book. Kids probably don’t know the story and will be happy to read a book about a lovely Golden Retriever with heroic categories. But I would think their parents, grandparents and librarians are the ones buying the book. Would you think to buy Old Yeller for a young child? Well, I suspect the power of the Disney brand and marketing machine helped to spark sales, but I am not sure any other company could pull this off.

If you are about to embark on a revamp of your own brand, product or services, take a good hard look at what you can actually achieve. If you’ve got the resources, brand power and identity of the Disney marketing machine, you may well be able to turn a real “dog” into a star or cash cow, with just the right plan and implementation. Yeah, I know. I couldn’t help but reference the BCG growth matrix. I swear I’m going to include Old Yeller in all my marketing lectures about BCG’s growth matrix from this day foreward.

For most of us, though, it’s a far easier sell to make changes that align with our core competencies and market. It’s hard to move the position of a low-end product so that you attract high end buyers, for example. It’s much easier to make small moves, unless you’ve got deep pockets, incredible resources and perhaps celebrity endorsements and amazing case studies.

Whatever the case, make thoughtful decisions about your marketing relaunch. Every dog has its day.