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A summer internship with Captain Underpants

MBA student develops brand strategy for popular—and controversial—children's book series at DreamWorks internship

September 4, 2015

Kate Agnew

Kate Agnew

The popular Captain Underpants children’s book series was required reading for Kate Agnew, MBA ’16, this summer. Agnew interned at DreamWorks Animation, where she worked for Franchise and Brand Development, a new team that was formed to ensure franchises were being considered strategically at all levels of the organization.

As part of the team, she helped create an entire brand strategy for the Captain Underpants movie coming out in March of 2017. A member of the MIT Sloan Entertainment, Media, and Sports club, Agnew is also on the Student Title IX Working Group at MIT. MIT Sloan caught up with Agnew recently.

How did you prepare for your internship?

To get ramped up, I read every Captain Underpants book. The twelfth one was just published on August 25. I started researching similar publications that both successfully and not-so-successfully transitioned to television and movies. I compiled extensive information on movie revenue, titles published, and an assortment of consumer products on titles like Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Baby-Sitters Club, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I then looked at the brand attributes of Captain Underpants specifically. What is it that attracts kids? What are the attributes that are key to the brand that will need to be represented in anything we do?

Captain Underpants

Some parents find the Captain Underpants series a little controversial and the American Library Association listed it as the number one book on its most frequently challenged books list in 2012 and 2013. Is that something you had to consider in your internship role?

It is something I definitely had to consider and address in evaluating the brand positioning. I spoke to a few of my friends who are teachers and they described it in two ways: First, there is a lot of potty humor–which is what little boys laugh about anyway. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they are into that. But there is also the pranking attribute, and I think this is what makes them more controversial. It teaches kids to disobey authority figures. That is at the core of the brand. It is not a series for everyone, but I think the fans of the books will really love the movie.

Previously you worked at Target. Are you looking to change careers?

I would love to work in a similar capacity to the work I did at Target within the technology space, but I’m a lot more attracted to entertainment. When I lived in Minnesota, I was also the managing director of a nonprofit, Girls in Tech, which tried to engage more girls—middle school and high school-aged—in technology. Female empowerment is a huge passion of mine and I believe I can make an even larger impact by using the entertainment industry to influence the entire next generation of girls, showing them that they can be superheroes in any way they want.

What is your ultimate career goal?

I want to do a rotational program at an entertainment company after graduating, and then be an executive leader at a company like Disney where I can truly influence the narrative being told about girls and women.