An intellectual property (IP) in the theme park world is effectively an established brand or franchise sponsoring a ride or park.
Disney commissioned its first parks in the United States in the 1950s, with Universal and Dollywood eventually following.
Away from those large-scale, IP-based parks, there are countless brand-based areas and rides within existing parks.
In the UK, Legoland Windsor is the only major IP-based theme park in the country.
Nickelodeon Land, the World of Jumanji, and Peppa Pig World are IP-based areas brought to our existing parks.
And then there are the rides – Thorpe Park’s Saw and, for many years, the Pepsi Max Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
‘Tummy bubbling fun’
Sometimes, IP branding has been the result of blatant advertising, and often made little thematic sense.
In 2004, Alton Towers tied in with Imperial Leather to re-brand and sponsor its log flume water ride.
The re-working of the ride – re-dubbed ‘The Flume Unplugged’ – included the original log boats being replaced with themed bath tubs.
There was a theme there, but it was seemingly more about the ride matching the brand, rather than the brand matching the ride.
In 2011, orange drink Fanta briefly sponsored the Oblivion rollercoaster, before its “tummy bubbling fun” and other bright livery was swiftly removed.
While sometimes the quest for extra revenue can go too far, Saw – The Ride is now in its 14th season.
It is an example of where IP and ride design has fitted together well and stood the test of time.
And with new film Saw X out this month, who knows how long the rollercoaster will remain under its current theme.
Peppa Pig World is also a long-running success at Paultons Park, taking it into the big time of million-plus visitor theme parks.
But there have also been those quietly dropped. Think Ben 10 at Drayton Manor, or Cadbury Heroes parting ways with Air at Alton Towers.
Merlin Entertainments chief Scott O’Neil has talked up the role of IPs since he took over the role last year.
Introducing IPs is a delicate and careful balancing act. Nostalgia is a significant factor in the appeal of theme parks.
But so are escapism and immersion – things which tend to cost a little more when being built around a film, television show, or game.
Some of the hostility around Oblivion’s Fanta branding caught bosses off-guard.
People tend to be fairly nostalgic around certain rides, attractions and, theme parks themselves.
This stretches beyond simply theme park enthusiasts, but the general public might simply not return so soon, rather than air strong irritation online.
Chessington’s World of Jumanji has proven that good quality IP branding can be launched in the UK.
The new area is perhaps on a relatively small scale – a shuttle rollercoaster with two flat rides to accompany.
But its early success may provide Merlin with the confidence to move onto bigger and bolder things with future IP investments.
With guests much more nostalgic about some theme parks than others, it might be that there is a shift in the balance of IPs at some parks, with some parks seeing more and others less.
We have already seen this at Thorpe Park. Since Saw – The Ride was introduced there has been a steady stream of IPs that have come and gone.
It is also easy to forget the concept of expanding existing, self-created brands. Sea Life attractions now exist at three out of the four major Merlin UK parks.
And in 2003, Thorpe Park’s Nemesis Inferno followed nine years after the original Nemesis rollercoaster.
Nemesis Sub Terra followed in 2012, with the original ride’s reopening under an expected ‘Nemesis Reborn’ banner next year.
It is without doubt that IPs can have an excellent complimentary effect on established parks, but there are also many times when they are simply not necessary.
Either way, they are here to stay.