Unless you've been asleep since 2000, you probably already know that superhero movies have been getting progressively more popular over the past decade. The start of this craze can trace its roots back to the X-Men and Spiderman movie franchises of the early 2000's. Because of these two, people started paying a lot more attention to, and even became eager for superheroes in their stories. Then, in 2008, both Iron Man and The Dark Knight came out and heroes completely took off.
Marvel and DC have since been aggressively recruiting new fans and exciting the old fans. Marvel has almost certainly been more successful with their movies (at the very least in quantity, though I'd argue quality as well). They've had blockbusters like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy along with numerous individual hero stories. DC, on the other hand, has released a lot fewer movies and have been gradually building up their television base. For example, their new show Gotham has been getting great reviews since its premiere earlier this week. A lot of people aren't really sure why these concepts have been so successful, but I think there are a few reasons.
Nerdy isn't really nerdy anymore.
First and foremost, movies like this hitting the mainstream is kind of a huge deal. Even looking away from heroes, science fiction and fantasy have been getting more and more popular among regular people. And keep in mind this was before studios even remembered comic book heroes. Take as an example Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, and the Star Trek reboots. As "nerd culture" has become more mainstream, no one is embarrassed to talk about movies that wouldn't have been cool twenty or thirty years ago.
These movies are really awesome.
And I mean this in the most adult, sophisticated way possible. Superheroes are really, really cool. Everyone kind of wants to be able to do the things they do and be the kind of people they are. These characters are essentially Human 2.0, the new model. People always want to be more and do more so seeing people fly, or fight, or have amazing gadgets is something we can't help but be jealous of. Additionally, many of these characters are practically morally incorruptible. They are principled people who make the right decision even when it's hard and show us the best of what we can be. Even if we can’t fly, there's no reason we can't try to embody the integrity they represent.
They appeal to everyone.
When your target audience is all four key demographics, (Old Women, Young Women, Old Men, and Young Men) it’s pretty obvious that you’ll do better than movies that exclude audiences from the outset. Superhero stories usually offer a good vs evil struggle that engages all kinds of people. With Marvel especially, (who tends to stay away from gritty violence) these are things that even children can enjoy.
Heroes have always had a place in my heart, so I'm glad that they've become popular enough to warrant big budgets and great quality. Clearly they're not going anywhere for awhile.
As someone still exploring all the different areas of marketing, it's always really exciting to get the opportunity to get to hear someone pitch why they think their field is the best. The biggest reason for this is obvious: who is in a better position to talk about something than the person who gets to do it everyday? Listening to a marketer, or anyone for that matter, talk about something they love is indescribably more interesting than listening to someone who works for the sole purpose of leaving at the end of the day.
This is why I want to talk about content marketing. Two amazing staff members from Purple Moon Media in Orlando were guest speakers in a class of mine a few days ago. They got to talking about their area of expertise, content marketing. Guest speakers are always really interesting, and I always take some useful information away, but this presentation really made me think about the goals and methods of marketing in general. Content marketing focuses on creating interesting and useful content for the public to consume and share, thereby driving digital traffic.
This kind of marketing really gets my vote for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it works. I can't think of a better way to make someone interested in something than by treating them like the educated consumer they are and just talking about the product and its features. When you have knowledgeable buyers, you sell more. The other thing I really like is that it's not as disingenuous as a lot of marketing. I see a lot of strategies focused on the quick sell at the expense of the consumers and it makes me extremely uncomfortable. Content marketing takes a different approach; it creates long term success by actually creating something valuable for people that they can share. It drives online traffic because it's exactly what people want to use the internet for, sharing ideas.
When it comes to marketing for movies, thoughtful and creative campaigns have always been the best way to raise public awareness and engage the public. In the past, brilliant campaigns like the unprecedented strategy used by The Blair Witch Project used the early internet, coupled with other mediums, to spread rumors like wildfire and incite interest in the mythology behind the movie. A testament to a committed marketing staff, The Blair Witch staff convinced audiences nationwide that the film told the true story of real people’s lives.
A few years later, A.I. Artificial Intelligence began marketing for their movie release in 2001. They also saw the internet’s potential for building excitement. A perfect storm of several brilliant ideas, they brought awareness for the movie from a small base of interested parties to a much larger audience. They created a national (and in certain cases worldwide) buzz before “going viral” was an understood phenomenon. A.I.'s strategy was, essentially, an interactive game to involve movie goers. Many promotional posters featured websites, emails, and phone numbers with riddles encouraging communication to solve the riddle. There were multiple trailers that implied puzzles and riddles and dared the audience to solve them. Going with the theme of the movie, it implied that some sort of computer had come alive and was communicating. The game only concluded upon seeing the movie.
This was an extremely creative and massively successful promotion strategy that many marketers today could use as an example. The internet is more interactive than ever, and with a little innovation, an even more brilliant campaign could keep people talking for a long time.
Jump forward to January of 2014, and Devil's Due was on its way into theaters. The promotional staff for this movie decided to build a noisy, animatronic baby doll that looked possessed and could be controlled remotely. Google the picture of "Devil Baby" at your own risk. The took this doll and put it in a stroller alone in NYC. When people approached, it would jump up and make noises. As terrifying as it was to a lot of people, this campaign spread a lot of awareness for what would otherwise have been a quickly forgotten film. Even though some people didn't appreciate the prank, there was mostly positive coverage on several news sources.
Movements like these challenge the status quo and push people in the entertainment industry to come up with new ideas. When this happens, it not only generates current interest for whatever you're promoting, but also makes lasting memories for the people who come into contact, and subsequently making a better overall industry. Positive hype and captivated audiences has only ever been a good thing, so we should be trying to create more of it instead of falling back on old tricks.
If everyone can agree to be honest for a second, I think we need to have an candid discussion about marketing as a profession. There have always been services that the public dislikes, but being in marketing, media, and advertising, I tend to hear all about it. Meeting new people usually comes with the standard icebreakers, "What do you do for a living?" or "What do you study in school?" I like to say that responding is like getting sushi from a gas station: I'm not positive it's going to go poorly, but I'm not optimistic.
In almost all developed countries, as well as several underdeveloped ones, entertainment and its publicity are things that regularly touch people's lives, usually multiple times a day. Simply being bitter about something so prevalent is a waste of both marketers' and the public's time. Instead, as marketing professionals our time would be better spent striving to make the industry something that's worth respecting. People already like entertainment; it allows them to pay for things to make them happy. It shouldn't be so unbelievable that we could bring people around to respecting the entertainment marketing profession as well.
Because of its expansive reach and almost impossibly wide scope, entertainment has the capacity to have a powerful and extremely positive impact on the world. When you approach media and advertising from a place of optimism and positivity, it creates better work and can make unfamiliar territory a little more sympathetic for the average person. Not to imply sympathy is a goal in itself, but no one wants to feel manipulated or used after paying for an experience. People do, however, want to be part of something bigger than themselves, be it a movement, culture, or experience. By marketing to the human side of people and showing them how entertainment makes the world a better place, we can reverse the stigma associated with marketing and advertising and create respect where there hasn't been any for a long time. I truly believe it's worth making the effort. I know I can't be the only one who doesn't want to justify what I do for a living for the rest of my life.