Movie Marketing Madness: Spider-Man 2

There are so many facets to the marketing of “Spider-Man 2” that I’m going to expand my established format a bit to deal with them all.

Trying hard to not get bogged down in hyperbole, “Spider-Man 2” is probably being looked at as the key to the summer movie season. Sure, we had the return of a familiar ogre (actually two if you count Vin Deisel), the third year at Hogwarts and a special-effects disaster of a movie (sorry, that should have been “disaster movie”), but this is the tent-pole for the industry. If “Spider-Man 2” can recreate the numbers and excitement of 2002’s Spider-Man, then Sony and Hollywood as a whole will be happy.

That’s why all those promotional partners, from Kellogs to Wal-Mart to Crayola have put their names on the list to sell Spidey-related products. If the movie is successful, they get a piece of it. If it’s not, well, then there are going to be a lot of Spider-Sense game pieces being thrown out behind Burger King in the next month or so. Everyone wants their products to be associated with a winner and this is as sure a bet as there’s been in a while.

Marvel Comics especially is hoping and wishing and praying that S-M 2 (saying that makes it sound like a completely different movie) is a huge hit. They have shifted gears to put Spider-Man at the forefront of the company even more so than in 2002. To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge (or was it Josef Stalin?), what’s good for Spider-Man is good for Marvel and what’s good for Marvel is good for Spider-Man.

The Trailers

Both the Teaser trailer and the Theatrical version do nice jobs of showing not only Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus, this movie’s villain, but also of setting up the thematic issues the characters will be dealing with. Tobey Maguire is seen doing his best 1,000-yard stare quite a bit as he alternately rushes into action, throws down his Spidey mask symbolically and stares at Kirsten Dunst.

What both trailers do surprisingly well is let you know what’s going to happen in the movie without completely showing what’s going to happen in the movie. There are lots of shots of things about to happen or just happening, such as Doc Ock, played by Alfred Molina (who I’ve never really forgiven for not throwing the whip back to Indiana Jones) threatening Peter Parker, James Franco as Harry Osborn threatening a bound and prostrate Spider-Man and some shots of Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson expressing her feelings for Peter Parker to seemingly everyone in New York.

When I turned on the DVD for “Mona Lisa Smile” a few months ago I noticed the teaser trailer for S-M 2 and at first that struck me as odd. What was a comic book action movie’s trailer doing on a sappy chick-flick DVD? In retrospect, though, it makes perfect sense. Guys are not going to be able to go see this movie more than once without bringing their girlfriends/wives at least one of those times. So what could get the girls to actually want to come back and see it again themselves? Romance, which is what both versions of the trailer have in spades.

The Posters

There are a plethora of posters out there, El Guapo. The first ones teased looks at Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus. Later ones showed more of Spidey and showed him swinging away with Mary Jane, but one thing missing from almost all the posters is Maquire’s face. In fact, in the only one where he’s not wearing the mask he is facing away from the camera. That makes me think they’re tipping their hands at a plot point that is touched on in the trailer. That’s a nice subtle touch in my opinion.

What is nice about the posters to date is their consistency. They all have a yellowish, almost faded look about them, like Ben Kingsley purposely spilled coffee on them to make them look older and worn. This is in sharp contrast to the text style used for the release date and name that is very sharp, metallic and modern looking.

The Comics

Marvel has really seen the light in terms of corporate synergy since the first X-Men. The company, which just a few years ago had to declare bankruptcy, has now posted record gains due in large part to the savvy way they have branded, licensed and then cross-promoted their character properties.

To accompany the release of “Spider-Man 2” Marvel has reconfigured practically the entire company to celebrate it. A quick visit to has the web-slinger’s visage all over it. The splash page has a tease on how “Five Days Before Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man’s Life Is Torn Apart”, which is a plug for Amazing Spider-Man #509.

In the last three months, Marvel has started five new Spider-Man titles, bringing the grand total to ten. Two of these are overt attempts to tie into the movie without actually being a movie adaptation.

“Mary Jane” reconfigures the Spider-Universe so that MJ Watson is a teenage high school student in the modern world, a nice bit of historical revisionism considering in the mainstream Marvel Universe MJ was introduced in the 1960’s along with everyone else. Mary Jane’s look has always been one of a tall, leggy super-model but here she, well, she looks like Kirsten Dunst. This is in no way a bad thing, but I’m just saying. “Mary Jane” seems targeted specifically toward young girls, a group who does not traditionally buy comics.

The other is “Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One”, a title for which they should have to pay DC royalties. Again, Marvel is hoping everyone has forgotten the actual first meeting of Peter Parker and Otto Octavius, as described in various flashbacks throughout the years, and buy this version. What these titles lack in originality they make up for with…sorry, I’ve got nothing.

Marvel is hoping that the same demographic that has the disposable income to see the movie will then say, “Hey, maybe we should check out the comics?” – kids in their early teenage years. It’s like George Carlin says in Dogma, “Get them while they’re young”. And yes, the cigarette industry analogy applies to comic books too. If Marvel can draw them in with “Spidey/Doc Ock: Year One” then maybe they will go back to the store and pull out a copy of “Amazing” the next time. Pretty soon you’ve got an addict.

The DVDs

Much like Shirley Mclaine, Spider-Man has had a number of incarnations prior to 2002. There was of course the 1960s cartoon (Sing the theme song. Come on. Admit that you know it. It’s one of the stages of recovery), “Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends”, the 70s live-action series and then another cartoon in the mid 90s. After the success of the movie, yet another cartoon was greenlit for MTV incorporating computer animation. Some of these are better than others, most notably any that don’t include Firestar, and some are now being offered on DVD as convenient tie-ins to the new movie.

Buena Vista controls the rights to most of the pre-90s series and they have used both movies as springboards for various releases. Of most interest to collectors is the release of the entire 60s animated series in a box set of DVDs. This includes all 52 episodes as well as a ball-peen hammer to pound a meat thermometer into your skull after hearing the theme song 52 times. I hate it when that happens.

They have also released some random episodes of the 90s series featuring Doctor Octopus and put them on the “Spider-Man Vs. Doc Ock.” DVD which follows the “Return of the Green Goblin” volume released at the time of the first movie and the “Daredevil vs. Spider-Man” disc released when Daredevil hit theaters. Sensing a trend? If the next movie features Spidey fighting some adorable baby cats you can bet we’ll see “Spider-Man Cuddles the Kittens”.

Never one to shy away from releasing 17 versions of the same product, Columbia Tri-Star has some primo oceanfront property in Missouri to sell us. They initially released Spider-Man on a two-disc special edition DVD in late 2002. In the weeks leading up to “Spider-Man 2” they have re-released this edition but this time with a third disc of bonus features as well as a sneak peak at the second movie. But wait, if you act now you not only get the movie, two discs of bonus features and the cheese grater, you can also purchase Spider-Man Superbit Edition, which has a commentary track unavailable previously for only $25 more. If you begin to get the feeling you’ve been violated, you’re not far off. Something about a fool and his money…

Anyway, the two companies have picked up on the fact that Spider-Man can be used to turn a quick buck and will ride that horse until it dies of exhaustion. There’s more money in it for Buena Vista to release these four or five episode single discs than to do the whole series in box sets as collectors would like. These volumes look better on the Wal-Mart shelves so I don’t expect their philosophy to change anytime soon.

The Website

For once the content of a movie-related website is not presented in Flash animation. I’m as big a fan of Flash as anyone, but after a while you begin to realize that the full potential of the tool really hasn’t been utilized by anyone out there.

The entire top of the page is devoted to enticing you to divulging personal information about yourself. The options range from just entering your zip code to see showtimes to signing up for Spider-Man Movie Network.

One of the interesting options the site presents you with is being able to select the graphics theme of the site, be it Spidey, Dr. Octopus or Mary Jane. I selected MJ because, well, I’d rather poke around Kirsten Dunst’s site.

Go back and re-read that last sentence. Take a moment if you need to.

Moving on, “The Daily Bugle” is, surprisingly a more or less regularly updated feature. It’s a blog being written by Co-Producer Grant Curtis and answers some questions fans might have about the production of the movie. I’ve written before that features on websites are slowly becoming more like DVD extras and this is a perfect example. The only difference is that this is actually interesting whereas the majority of DVD features now are being used as cures for insomnia. Also in the “Bugle” section are a variety of press releases and the latest news on the movie. Nothing overly interesting, but at least it explains why the site’s contents have an RSS feed available.

There’s a pretty good-sized Photo Gallery available with some shots of Sam Raimi, who I just remembered played Stick in “Indian Summer”. Notable performance only for how often he gets knocked down while boxing Alan Arkin. The trailers, TV spots as well as some interviews are available in the “Videos” section and the “Ipix” tab lets you get a 360-degree view of some of the sets.

The section “The Movies” is surprisingly sparse. “The Story” contains a scant two paragraphs worth of plot summary. “Characters” and “Cast and Filmmakers” lay out your basic press kit bios on the actors and crew and the characters they play or helped create. I would think with such a high degree of talent behind and in front of the camera, more attention would have been paid here. What’s the point of hiring these people if you’re not going to give them their due?

“Downloads” contains the usual assortment of screensavers, buddy icons and wallpaper with one notable addition, IMVs. I wasn’t familiar with these but apparently they are some sort of e-tool for Yahoo! Messenger users to invite people to online chats. Very slick. Anyone remember when it was a huge deal to be able to send postcards via e-mail? I feel old.

The site is rounded out with “Fan Central” where you can see fan art and view the message boards, “Promotions” where you can buy Spider-Man fishing tackle and “Mobile and Gaming” where you can download or play online or mobile phone games. I didn’t see anything particularly innovative here so I can’t really say these sections are going to garner many repeat visitors.


As I stated, “Spider-Man 2” is the tent pole for the summer movie season. All in all I think the only partner in this entire campaign that stepped wrongly was Columbia Tri-Star in so blatantly making people buy three copies of the original movies DVD. Everyone else may be playing off the movie’s release, but at least they are giving the public something original for their money.

The trailer hit all the right chords, the posters work well at giving a taste of not only the visuals but also the plot and the website is, in not completely original, at least pretty nicely streamlined and easy to use.

Let’s face it, though: They really could have put my bare steaming ass (have fun with that visual) in the trailer or on the web followed by five seconds of a picture of Spider-Man and it still would win its weekend. There are few such things as a slam-dunk but this I have to believe is one of them.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.