Night of the Living Dead's Copyright flub is an important lesson in brand identity.

A Lesson in Brand Identity

George A. Romero and John Russo created one of the most successful horror film series of all time. Their creation, Night of the Living Dead, is a classic horror movie that transcends genre, film, and culture, and spawned one of the greatest brand identity lessons in film history.

Night of the Living Dead, originally titled Night of the Flesh Eaters, was renamed by distributors to differentiate it from another recent film, The Flesh Eaters. The name change came late in the process so the film’s opening title card was skipped over, which omitted the copyright information. Unfortunately, under the Copyright Act of 1909, the first public release of a work must have a copyright notice on it or it is considered public domain. George A. Romero and John Russo received next to nothing for their work due to the omission, while the distribution company received almost all of the $30 million profit.

“The Living Dead” vs “The Dead”

Responsible for one of the most popular horror films of the era, Romero and Russo had creative differences to workout after the breakout hit. Romero, an indie filmmaker at heart, wanted to take his films in the direction of social commentary and trend highbrow entertainment. Russo wanted to build on the film’s commercial success and take it in the slasher direction of contemporary horror. The two agreed to part ways and make their own films. From a branding standpoint this was Coke vs Pepsi. Two filmmakers building off of the same story but in opposite directions. Romero followed up Night of the Living Dead with another hit, Dawn of the Dead. Russo followed Night of the Living Dead up with cult classic, Return of the Living Dead.

Each film was a sequel to the 1968 film, but was different in almost every way from its counterpart. Russo moved his brand in the direction of campy, b-movie style horror. His vision of the “Living Dead” brand became a series of popcorn flicks – movies you didn’t have to think hard about. Romero took his now trademark social commentary to the next level. He took a genre that would become known for gore and made a statement with his films. His brand of “Dead” franchise films was more highbrow, similar to independent arthouse films.

Brand Identity

The chief lesson to be gained from these screenwriters is a brand can move in different directions and remain successful. In the way a film can be a social commentary on class and also a grindhouse horror fest, a car dealership can be marketed as a fun place to shop for a quality bargain or a classy locale to purchase high-end machinery. A pizzeria can be branded as a fun, family restaurant or a local, ingredient-first dining experience.

Quantifi Digital pours hours into market research and provides everything your company needs to decide how to present yourself to a consumer. We also provide the creative and delivery to ensure your message gets through to the right audience and in the right way. Let us help you make the decision – John Russo or George A. Romero.