Saturday, June 8, 2013

Spreading the Faith, or Making a Buck?

Doug:  Click here to read a story about Marvel's marketing of Captain America as an endorser, for of all things, men's skincare products?

Then come on back here for a general conversation today on the question at the top:  is this shrewd business in the name of the almighty dollar, or does the hobby/industry as a whole benefit from such licensing?


William Preston said...

Didn't Spidey hawk Twinkies or some such thing in the comics back in the '70s? Marvel has always done this, and of course the characters are being used by the company itself as self-marketing tools all along.

What has always seemed worse to me is the use of Peanuts characters to sell insurance. The difference between how Schulz allowed his images to be used (separated from their characters) and how Watterson saw such deals (the images without the personalities and context are just whorish) is worth pondering.

Garett said...

They should use Walking Dead to endorse skin care. Wake up in morning, see zombie in mirror...use product...feel fresh and clean!

Doug said...

Good one, Garett!

William, two things struck me about the comic pictured as well as the news article:

First, and I'm not up on current continuity in the comics, but the movie-version of Captain America is pictured. As others have said around here recently, it is the film versions of these characters that are soon to become the norm in the public eye rather than the 50+-year old comic book versions.

Second, marketing skin care products for men seems to me to be a new demographic. As you mentioned, we've previously seen our heroes hawking pastries, school products, tons of kids' clothing, toys, etc. But getting into that adult demographic seems new to me unless I missed something.

And finally, I love your last point about Peanuts, and would love to hear others' opinions about Schultz's decision vs. Watterson's (which I happily approve of, keeping our memories of Calvin & Hobbes intact as he meant for them to be recalled).


david_b said...

Good points gents..

As for skin-care, I'd think you'd use Tony Stark..

Face it (no pun intended..), if a guy's concerned about skin care, it would be a playboy.

Granted, Stark's got a good backup strategy for pickin' up girls (psssssst, 'he's rich'...), but in line with the latest movie, being stuck in armor all day, those pores'll need some heavy-duty TLC

Baaaaack to the subject at hand, yeah I can see Peanuts on the 'Dolly Madison' snack treats, but between the Pink Panther on insulation and Peanuts with MetLife, it's a stretch. I do greatly admire Watterson for holding Calvin close, but I'd still love to see some merchandising..

Bloom Country didn't do too badly there.., does anyone look at going rates for stuffed Bill the Cat toys..? Minty ones are astronomical.

I would offer that once I started seeing the Hostess ads with our beloved heroes, the magic of entering the MU was gone. I wasn't as upset regarding the DC characters, especially after all the old vintage ads with Batman, Supers and Wonder Woman hawking those amusement park discounts.

And when I say the MU magic was gone, I mean 'pffffft ~ Gone'. For me, something sacred was sacrificed, like being in on an inside joke, then it was broadcast everywhere.

It contributed to my waning interest in comics; once they were characters I invested emotional bonding with like with Gwen's death, now they were just media/marketing images for the highest bidder.

Snack treats today, skin care products tomorrow..

Doug said...

Your last posit, David, about losing interest due to the "selling out" of Marvel per se, is interesting to me. I'm positive as an elementary-aged kid I had no inkling what cross-marketing meant, other than I knew I was now interested in notebook paper and folders that prior I could have cared less about!

Maybe it's our age when we discover "selling out" that jades us?


Garett said...

It depends on the product for "selling out", and how it's presented. Also it can generate interest...I first heard Janis Joplin in an '80s beer commercial, actually someone else singing "Take Another Piece of my Heart", imitating her--and that inspired me to check out her original music.

The Stones "Start Me Up" was ruined for me after it's use in an ad. If it came on the radio, I'd think of the ad, have to turn station. Maybe enough time has passed now that I could listen again.

david_b said...

Well, Doug, I suppose I was a pretty emotional kinda kid to begin with, but see, THAT'S what was neat to me about Marvel back in the early days (Silver and early Bronze)..

Even as a young kid, there was 'something cooler' about Marvel titles than DC, like it was more a distinct 'insiders club', which as most here know (and read the 'reality' of the Bullpen in the 'Untold Story' book..), Marvel really generated their own membership with ranks, a couple of cartoon series then on television, MMMS you name it (early product-branding, call it whatever marketing term you like...). They weren't marketed as nice and cheery as the Distinquished Competition was (alot stemming from the Batcraze, seeing Batman on jelly jars and white bread..), yet they weren't 'adult comics'. It was more a 'dark horse' brand which marketed only their own comics and club. Well, like legions of 'Marvel Zuvembies' back in the day, I trusted that as a line they wouldn't cross.

Of course, the quality of stories and art being churned out wasn't compromised; in fact just likewise with the likes of Lee/Kirby being replaced by Starlin, Gerber, and others with such fantastic cosmic imaginations. But it felt as though an intuitive level of integrity was no longer adhered to.

But not to harp on just the commercial aspects ~ With the management/creative changes at Marvel, the Bullpen page was no longer as fun or cool to read as it once was. All in all, by the late '70s, the experience of grabbing a new comic just wasn't as fun as it used to be. But that's for another column.

Rip Jagger said...

This conversation gets to the nut of it. With marketing characters get thrown into situations that tear at their legitimacy as characters, making them do absurd things they shouldn't ever do.

But that purist argument aside, without the funds that marketing can provide it's entirely possible that the character will ultimately disappear totally.

Peanuts is a good example when compared to Calvin and Hobbes. The former is a mainstay of pop culture, though admittedly diminished from its heyday and the latter is a great strip but collected and remembered almost exclusively now by those who were in the original audience.

I'm not irritated when superheroes are in absurd ads, since superheroes are by and large a reasonably absurd concept in the modern world to begin with.

But I will admit it's a bit jarring when I chance across an ad featuring Prince Valiant who seems out of place in the presence of modern details.

Rip Off

david_b said...

Soooo, let me ask this..?

What is worse..? Using an image of a non-related property (Peanuts selling insurance, Panther selling insulation, or Cap selling skin products..) or an actual storyline/script, as seen in the Hostess fullpage ads for Marvel and DC..?

I'm pondering outloud how I'd feel if the image on an advertisement of a hero like Thor peddling tires would be bad or not, much like Spider hawking Spiderman-brand chewable vitamins back in the '70.

One funny example was the vintage Flinstones commercials for cigarettes..:

I love the lawnmowing commercial with the guys hiding out for a Winston break..

david_b said...

sorry, meant to say 'like Spiderman hawking Spiderman chewable vitamins'

Doug said...

David, thanks for that link! The only Flintstones I've ever seen had a reworked intro/finish, sponsor-free. This was a revelation for me!

Garett, good call on songs used in ads. I generally like ads with catchy tunes that I don't already know (Heineken seems to be good at that), but understand how an older tune can be ruined. I hate, HATE, that the Beatles catalog was sold and Philips started using "Getting Better" in their TV ads. Ugh...

Rip, "purism" is rearing its head in my backyard, as the Chicago Cubs ownership attempts to gain more night games, more signage, and a scoreboard in left field that will blot out the entire north side of the city. Yes, I've been to Fenway Park and have seen what this sort of thing looks like, but I am one who would like certain things to stay in an unmolested-by-marketing state as long as possible. But I do "get" the idea of revenue streams.


ChrisPV said...

In the vein of the old hostess ads, I'd say this makes perfect sense. If anyone is going to save the day with skincare aids, it's Cap. You just KNOW that Red Skull must chafe like no other.

redartz said...

I would agree with Garett; my reaction to merchandising depends on how it is presented. Many good points have already been made here today! I would add that there has been a very long history of established character use in advertising. Growing up, I actually got a kick out of seeing our heroes show up in some unexpected places. As a tot I played with Batman Colorforms; as a teen I found Spider-Man's Planned Parenthood giveaway odd but admirable.

Marvel's heroes, in particular, now have a greater visibility than they ever had before. The films have made household names of characters such as Thor and the X-Men. Prior to those hit films, how many people on the street would have any idea who Wolverine was? By contrast, DC's big guns (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman) were widely known decades ago.

The comic book community has seen greater attention in recent years from these appearances, and from such merchandising efforts as the above clip describes. It seems comic sales are increasing again; this can't be bad for our hobby...

Fred W. Hill said...

Oh, gag, those Flintstones cigarette ads just seem soooo wrong! I only vaguely recall ever seeing any cigarette ads on tv when they were originally aired. Maybe a few after my family returned from Japan in December 1969, a few months before they were banned from tv around the time I turned 8 years old.
It's a weirdly mixed bag. Sometimes use of a fragment of a song I'd never heard before may pique my curiousity enough to want to check out the song, but it can also be irritating if it's a popular song I like (never mind if it's a popular song I don't like!). And the use of Spider-Man, etc. in in-house Twinkie ads no more bothered me than Spidey Super Stories -- obviously the characters in those stories weren't the same as the ones in comics I loved to read. Of course, as far as I'm concerned, the various Spider-Men in original stories in modern comics are not really the same as the Spider-Man whose exploits I read in the 1970s.
Certainly, Romita's version was different than Ditko's, as was Conway's from Lee's, and on and on, but after so many more decades and many more artists, writers and editors making so many incremental changes, even if the character looks much the same its clearly become something rather different. Even in the Bronze Age, when Kirby returned to Captain America in 1976, the character was so different as to seem an imposter to the hero Englehart had been writing about for so many years before and who grew out of the Kirby's own Silver Age depiction. Ultimately, it's just another variation of the character making the pitch to earn more profits for the company that gave him a place to be born, if, alas, not for the actual writer/artist team who gave him birth.

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