Since comic books began, the rivalry between Marvel Comics and DC Comics has been going strong. Now, in the era of multi-million dollar summer blockbusters featuring the iconic characters, the stakes are much higher. Both companies have been purchased by major competitors in the television and movie business – Marvel was purchased by Disney in 2010 for $4 billion, while DC was purchased by Time Warner in 2009 and then was later absorbed into the deal AT&T made to purchase Time Warner in 2016 for $80 billion. Clearly, both players in the bringing-comic-book-characters-to-life game are backed by money and expertise. So, who’s winning?
The brand strategy used by both companies is the same, or nearly so, at least on the surface. Both create blockbuster movies based on comic book characters that the audience knows and loves. Both have television show tie-ins that give viewers both the excitement of the big screen action and the week-to-week suspense of the small screen adventures. However, Marvel is much more prolific, at least on the big screen, and their television show tie-ins, most notably Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., strive for some consistency between the happenings in the movies and the plotlines of the weekly show. With franchises like Iron Man, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel has shown a willingness to both stay true to the comic book history for the characters, while also breathing new life into them with exciting storytelling.
Three ways Marvel has broken the marketing mold in movies are:
- Organic product placement. In some cases, the story and the characters make it too easy: take Tony Stark’s obsession with luxury cars, for example. Audi leveraged an organic connection in The Avengers: Age of Ultron by putting Robert Downey, Jr.’s character Tony Stark behind the wheel of one of its line of luxury vehicles, and it felt completely natural to the viewer.
- Using brand history to create current stories. Marvel first launched Fantastic Four 54 years ago, and today the brand’s iconic characters like Spiderman and Wolverine are pop culture mainstays. Marvel Studios understands this, and has worked hard to develop fresh content that will appeal to new viewers while also staying true to the roots and origin stories to appease long-time comic book fans. Bringing more obscure, less mainstream-friendly characters to the forefront has also proven to be a good look for Marvel – Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool are testaments to that marketing move.
- Serial storytelling. This goes back to Marvel’s movie/television crossover we discussed earlier; the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a living, breathing, and fluid thing, and the connections keep the viewer interested between seasons of the television show or year-long waits for the next movie. Viewers who follow both the movie and television aspects of the MCU are rewarded with a heightened sense of engagement, while viewers of only one or the other still have a fully entertaining experience, too (Simpson, 2015).
Where Marvel excels is the consistency between its movie and television offerings. Meanwhile, DC Comics has publicly stated that their television and film universes are unconnected, leaving newer fans feeling disconnected and confused and making long-time DC lovers angry by the differing origin stories and plotlines across the universe. If there were one thing DC could do to improve its marketing strategy, it would be to tighten up that consistency and create a fluid big screen to small screen experience for its audience, the way Marvel has done. Any marketing campaign should take into consideration how the audience will feel about the message, and should also work to ensure that the message is delivered clearly and with the same vision, no matter what the medium (Gardiner, 2015).
Though my nature is usually to identify with and support the underdog, in this rivalry I definitely come out on top for Marvel, which I believe to be the “top dog.” While both companies have enthusiastic and loyal fans, I think the box office earnings and market share enjoyed by Marvel shows pretty clearly that consumers prefer Marvel over DC, too.
Gardiner, H. (2015, February 19). Content Marketing Lessons From Marvel & DC Comics. Retrieved April 8, 2017, from https://www.koozai.com/blog/content-marketing-seo/content-marketing-lessons-marvel-dc-comics/
Simpson, P. (2015, April 21). 3 Things Marketers Can Learn From Marvel. Retrieved April 8, 2017, from http://www.dmnews.com/content-marketing/3-things-marketers-can-learn-from-marvel/article/410091/