Movie Marketing Madness: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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“Fan service” is a term that’s just been coined, or at least has just come into popular usage, in the last four or five years and it’s been used in an increasingly derogatory manner. It’s come to mean something that is done in a film, mostly comic book or sci-fi franchises, that’s done just to appeal to fans, to make the geeks in the audience squee because that element plays to some secret knowledge they have. But it’s been applied too liberally in the recent year or so and the tag is now applied to just about anything about these movies that isn’t a super-generic plot point or character trait. It’s as if making something that’s going to get fans excited is a negative that takes away from the overall artistic worthiness of the movie, which is a fairly narrow view.

The comic books that are providing the ignition points for many of today’s movies are, of course, full of “fan service” because that’s what moves books off the shelf or spinner rack. Yes, there’s obviously a place for the writer and other creatives to tell something they feel strongly about, but they also need to keep the train going, especially in the world of the big comics publishers where they are given temporary control of characters. So you have to not only serve the art but give the readers some of what they want.

One of the most popular tropes in comics is heroes fighting each other for some reason. The idea has been around forever, sometimes pitting one hero against each other and sometimes whole teams facing off. On the one hand it’s a way to break up the repetitive nature of an endless array of villains who can never quite get the upper hand. But on the other it is fully “fan service” as it’s meant to address the endless debates those fans have about whether The Thing or Hulk would win in a fight and so on.

Which brings us to this week’s big release Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The movie uses the oldest premise around to get the heroes fighting, that they don’t know each other and are suspicious of each other’s powers. In the case of this movie Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck, making his debut as the character) saw first hand the destruction resulting from the fight between Superman (Henry Cavill, returning from Man of Steel) and Zod and doesn’t trust him. So, being Batman, he wants to eliminate the variable and prepare for when he will need to take Superman down. Added to the mix here is the first appearance of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who has his own reasons for wanting to take Superman off the board. In some manner he pits the two against each other through his own machinations but a variable enters the fray in the form of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who joins the fight against a common foe.

The movie is not only telling its own story but, even more than 2013’s Man of Steel did, establish the DC Cinematic Universe and lead into a number of movies that are already planned, including a two-part Justice League series. So the campaign not only has to sell this movie but ultimately get people excited enough for a whole lot more that are coming down the road.

The Posters

The first two posters released were effectively character posters that hinted at the conflict that drives the story. One features Batman, but with Superman’s “S” defacing the image. The other flips that and shows Superman’s face with the Bat-symbol over his eyes. They both look like propaganda posters that have been vandalized, an effect that may have hints about the story in and of itself.

A little after that – like a week or two tops – a Comic-Con exclusive banner was released that skipped the subtlety and just put Bats and Supes on opposite sides of the image, glowering at each other disapprovingly.

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Three character posters were released next, each one showing Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in some sort of action pose, with their respective symbol in front of them bearing the movie’s release date. These continued to make it clear we’d continue to get Snyder’s signature color-desaturated look as well as a bunch of deadly-serious super heroes. Later on the rest of the cast would get similar one-sheets.

The next two posters decided to skip all attempts at subtlety. The first just took the first two and smashed them together, with the combined symbol and release date in the middle between them. The second just put the two heroes of the title on opposite sides of the image, staring each other down. The hashtag at the bottom would be used throughout the latter part of the campaign as it encouraged people to weigh in for themselves on #whowillwin.

 

One more poster, an IMAX-specific one-sheet, focuses on the showdown between the two title characters, showing them facing off with each other as dust and destruction swirls around them. That wasn’t it, though, as character posters featuring Alfred, Luthor and Lois were then released, each of them sporting some symbol that applied to their character. So Alfred had the Wayne family crest, Luthor had the LexCorp logo and Lois the Daily Planet symbol.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer starts off with a series of news report voiceovers about how there seems to be some skepticism about Superman’s powers and place in the world. That all builds to the reveal of a defaced statue of Supes that has “False god” written on it. Then we get Alfred intoning “That’s how it starts…” seeming to Bruce, who we see next glaring at the Batman costume. It finishes up with a few shots of some sort of battle including a shot of the Batwing (or whatever it’s called in this movie) and ending with the “Tell me…Do you bleed?” line as an armored Batman faces off against a looming Superman.

Next up was the first full-length trailer that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con 2015. This one opens up with some sort of hearing that’s being held into Superman’s powers. Then we cut to Bruce Wayne in footage that takes place during the fight in Metropolis from Man of Steel, but from his point of view. We see one of the buildings come down and Bruce run into the smoke cloud before a shot that makes it clear it was a Wayne building that was destroyed, so it sets up the personal vendetta he has against Superman. More shots of Bruce Wayne follow as we see what may be the Batcave (including a Robin costume with an ominous message written on it) and a newspaper clipping that seems to be mocking both Wayne and Batman. Some conversations about Batman’s role and the hope about Superman’s role follow before we see Lex in various stages of plotting something. Lots more fighting and brooding follow, including our first look at Wonder Woman, Kryptonite and so on until we end with Batman and Superman staring each other down as Lex intones “The red capes are coming…” in a mocking voice.

This is a super-serious trailer that is meant to sell the movie as a high-minded and action-packed alternative to sillier comic book movies. It’s clear Snyder is aiming for something with elements of Greek tragedy and so on here as everyone doesn’t crack so much as a half-smile for the entire time of the preview. Lots of hints about the story are here and it’s easy to see what the basic outline of the movie’s story is, even as some of the details remain murky.

The next trailer – which was teased during the “Gotham” mid-season finale in December – starts out by introducing us to both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, who meet each other at some kind of event being hosted by Luthor. Kent asks Wayne what he thinks of Batman and his vigilante methods while Wayne mocks Superman’s powers and costume until Luthor interrupts them. This dialogue is meant to set up the animosity that exists between them on many levels. We get some of the same shots of the hearing about Superman’s powers and Batman’s quest before it moves into knock-down-drag-out fight territory, which Lex seems to at least enjoying if not orchestrating. We see Lex is up to something involving Zod’s body that may or may not be tied to the appearance next of Doomsday (which is kind of awesome). The trailer ends with Wonder Woman saving both Batman and Superman, who both think she’s with the other one.

 

It’s a good trailer that does a good job of mixing the serious and the slightly comic tones the movie may have. Unlike many online, I like both Affleck as Batman and Cavill as Superman much more in this trailer than I did in the first spot. That runs from the needling of each other in the first shots to the uneasy alliance they seem to have formed at the end when Wonder Woman shows up. While Doomsday, yeah, may look a bit cheesy this makes the movie seem much more well-rounded than the previous spot, which was super-serious.

A final trailer was released just about a month before the movie hit theaters that starts out with an extended sequence showing, finally, Batman in real action against some bad guys. It also shows more of Alfred’s attitude about his boss’s activities. Then it’s back to more of the conflict between the two title characters.

There’s actually lots of good stuff in here and, as some people noted when it came out, this would have been even more effective coming out a month or two earlier. We hear Wonder Woman speak for the first time, there’s some good new footage to check out and more. Overall the tone and pace of the trailer is a lot tighter and shows more of a well-rounded movie in a lot of ways.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website is a framed version of the DC Comics site, which means they get traffic and that there’s a nice menu at the top that takes you to sections on that site. After the site loads you get to watch the last trailer again. Close that and the page is taken over by full-screen video showing scenes from the trailers on a loop with a big button to “Get Tickets” in the top right corner.

Opening up the menu on the left the first section is “Video” and is where you can find all four trailers if you want to rewatch any of them. There are over 20 images in the “Gallery” including a mix of stills from the movie, a couple behind-the-scenes shots and some promotional images of Superman, Wonder Woman, Luthor and the Batmobile.

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“About” has an alright synopsis of the story but it’s pretty short for a movie that’s being sold as an epic, likely because they don’t want to give anything away. Most of what’s here is about the people behind the scenes, especially Snyder.

“Downloads” is where you’ll find promotional banners, including versions of the character one-sheets, you can download to your hard drive and use as you see fit. The companies that signed on to cross-promote the movie get links in the “Partners” section.

If you want to take a more interactive approach you can find some stuff to play in the “Games” section. That has links to the “Who Will Win” mobile and browser (as long as it’s not Google Chrome) games as well as the Injustice: Gods Among Us mobile and console game. The latter fits nicely with the “heroes fighting heroes” theme of the movie.

The “Photo Uploader” takes you to another site where you can choose which hero from the three you want to be then find a photo on your computer – or take a new one or just use your Facebook avatar – and have it inserted into that character’s look, creating an image you can then share on social networks.

“Premiere” has video from the red carpet premiere of the movie in New York City. “Soundtrack” has information on ordering or buying the album on iTunes or Amazon. “Tickets” is another prompt for you to buy tickets.

The final section is “Who Will Win,” which is pulling in a curated collection of posts from Twitter and Instagram of people using the #WhoWillWin hashtag, which has been promoted throughout the campaign. Those posts include fan art, action figure photos and more as people were asked to choose sides and make their predictions.

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The movie’s Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram pages have all been very active going all the way back to early 2014, when it was first announced as the follow-up to Man of Steel. On those networks the studio has been sharing promotional images, trailers and other clips, links to important interviews and lots more. Twitter obviously features a lot more RTs of celebrity fans and various media but they all hit roughly the same notes, just differing on small things. The idea behind all of them is to play  to the fan base and get them fired up for the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotion

The TV campaign kicked off during the NFL wild card playoffs earlier this year with two spots that presented different aspects of the movie. The one featured Batman driving the Batmobile right into Superman and showed the real context for the “Do you bleed?” line that’s been shown in other trailers while the other used the scene of Bruce Wayne meeting Clark Kent and then being interrupted by Luthor that we saw in the second trailer. More TV spots would continue to trickle out that each touched on various aspects of the story but all were pretty familiar in terms of overall tone.

Many more TV spots would run over the next couple months. Most of them focused on footage from the showdown between Bats and Supes, many with voiceover from Lex and a handful of shots from other parts of the movie. But they’re all meant to continue selling the movie as basically one big fight, an odd choice considering Man of Steel was dinged by many for a fight sequence that went on for the better part of an hour.

In terms of promotional partners, a number of companies signed on to help promote the movie:

  • General Mills: Created Batman and Superman packaging for different cereals and had a Tumblr blog that asked you to choose whose side you were on.
  • NASCAR: Drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove Superman and Batman cars, respectively, at the Auto Club 400, something that was well-promoted ahead of time and again asked people to choose which side they were on. The cast of the movie appeared before the race for some photo ops and, luckily, Johnson’s Superman-themed car won the race, providing an added boost for that effort.
  • Turkish Airlines: Was the movie’s official airline partner and had a special trailer created for them that featured mostly the same footage but did have a one additional scene of Wonder Woman on a plane that, presumably, is a Turkish Airlines jet.
  • Dr. Pepper: Created a series of collectible soda cans and, with purchase and after people scanned a code using a mobile app, access to exclusive prequel comic stories that told some of the story leading into the movie which were created by some of DC’s top talent.
  • Doritos: Offered yet another digital-first comic in conjunction with Walmart that acted as a prequel to the movie, showing the unveiling of the Superman statue and basically leading into the movie’s story.
  • Fiat Chrysler Group: Ran co-branded ads for Jeep that featured movie footage combined with shots of the Jeep in action to make the case that this was the car we needed now in these dark times.
  • Amazon: Created a promotion involving both the Amazon Echo or Amazon Fire TV called “The Wayne Investigation” that took owners on an choose-your-own-adventure type of hunt to find clues related to the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents.
  • Cold Stone Creamery: Offered Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman-themed ice cream treats along with a BvS-themed cake.

DC and WB used the series premiere of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” to help promote the movie by airing a special immediately afterward that included a few bits of new footage along with new looks at Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad. Just ahead of that special the studio released a look at concept art that featured the first official looks at The Flash and Cyborg, who were also featured along with Aquaman in that CW special.

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Ads for the movie were run on Snapchat as the sponsor of the NFL’s “Live Stories” around the championship games in advance of the Super Bowl. Also during the game two commercials were run that were for the movie, yes, but they came from promotional partner Turkish Airlines. There was one touting the airline’s routes to Gotham and one for Metropolis featuring Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor, respectively. There were also pages on the airline company’s site for the two cities touting the benefits of visiting both.

Back to Snapchat, WB ran even more on that network just before the movie’s release. That included sponsored selie lenses for Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman that let people adopt the costume and logo of the hero of their choice. The studio also created a Batman v Superman channel in Snapchat’s Discover section that featured video from the stars along with exclusive DC Comics artwork.

LexCorp

In an interesting move, Warner Bros. dipped a toe into an alternate reality component of the campaign. That began when it placed a profile of Lex Luthor in Fortune Magazine that provided some background on the character Eisenberg would play and maybe just a few hints as to why he acts the way he does in the movie. That’s an interesting viral stunt that might have raised some concerns about the ethics of the magazine if we weren’t living in the age of sponsored content and native ads.

That in-world extension would continue when it was announced that LexCorp would be providing free wi-fi to attendees of New York Comic-Con. The news stated people would have to enter their email address to access the network, so I have to wonder if there’s going to be a payoff for those that do so later on. LexCorp was also giving away phone charging portable batteries, thereby fulfilling two of the three basic needs of any Comic-Con (the third being hand sanitizer). Then, just as NYCC was starting, a promotional video for Lex/OS was released alongside the launch of a company website that promised something big was coming later in the year.

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Another in-world profile of Lex appeared later in Wired where he talked about his disdain for Superman and other powered individuals, offered thoughts on Batman and vigilantism and more. It also included a cool graphic related to defense industry spending that name-dropped Kord and Queen Industries, two companies owned by the public personas of The Atom and Green Arrow, respectively, thereby opening the door into their entry into this universe. A special edition of the magazine with Lex on the cover was later given away at CES 2016, just a few months before the film’s release.

That LexCorp website evolved to be a kind of human cognition test that was meant to help computers learn how people think, but because of some of the symbols on the site and the overall theme there was speculation it might tie into a potential Brainiac storyline either now or in the future.

Ultimately though nothing really seemed to come of this. It very much seems like an idea someone had that they never really figured out an endpoint for. So unlike an the ARG for something like 10 Cloverfield Lane, it doesn’t seem like this leads into the movie’s story at all, at least not in a way that’s obvious here.

Media and Publicity

The publicity campaign for the movie kicked off just before San Diego Comic-Con 2014 with the release of the first official image of Cavill Superman from the movie. At the convention itself a shot of Affleck as Batman was also released. Then during the Warner Bros. panel the three leads made a surprise appearance at the Warner Bros. panel. That didn’t amount to much as they didn’t make any statements and there was no footage shown, but it did coincide with the release of the first image of Gadot as Wonder Woman. Fast forward a few months and we got our first look at a very bald Eisenberg as Luthor.

Snyder would keep things going from time to time with reveals of the Batmobile and more on social media. But the next big push would come at San Diego Comic-Con 2015 with the full cast appearing for real this time at the WB Pictures panel, including the debut of the first full trailer, and at the DC Comics booth for an exclusive fan signing. (I know because I was there.) Around that same time there was a bevy of features in Entertainment Weekly and Empire Magazine with new stills and other details.

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Affleck would take to the press as part of a larger series of stories to talk about how this was going to be the movie to turn things around for Warner Bros. after an admittedly rough box office year in 2015. His interview also included comments about how this was going to be the first step in an explosion of movies based on DC Comics characters, a collection of IP he called “under-exploited.” Shortly after that new stills were released in Total Film.

A first look inside the Batcave along with other details on Alfred and more appeared in EW toward the end of 2015. Soon after that Eisenberg talked in detail about playing Luthor and how he went about approaching the character. He’d hit that many times, including in a later story here.

Then there was a big story in USA Today that focused on the new cinematic universe DC/WB were trying to kick off with this film along with Suicide Squad later this year. For BvS Snyder and Affleck talked about their version of Batman, including more comments about where he is in his career when the movie starts and more. Synder also talked about the other new characters coming to the world being setup in the movie, include The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. Later, in an attempt to make Doomsday into a viable villain (something the comics have famously struggled to do), Snyder said the film would explore his mythology a bit, which could mean some connection to Man of Steel or something brand new.

Another huge feature in Empire featured new images, new details on Wonder Woman and other characters and more comments from the cast and crew about the story and more. Cavill and Affleck appeared on “Good Morning America” in a nicely produced interview that was just a glorified sizzle reel.

Like many recent movies this one partnered with Omaze for a campaign that helped some worthy causes and gave people the chance to win a trip to the movie’s premiere among other opportunities and prizes. The campaign kicked off with a video of Cavill asking kids who their favorite hero was, Batman or Superman, that generated lots of press and attention.

One more big push came in the final weeks before release, with Snyder and others talking about the challenges of making the movie and setting up a universe – including introducing some new characters – as well as dropping some secrets about details in the movie. And an EW cover story contained segments about how Batman hates Superman but is inspired by Wonder Woman, what it was like for Cavill to share the screen with other heroes and more.  

Affleck sat down with The New York Times for a big interview about taking on the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne as well as his career as a whole. It winds up not treading a whole lot ground that hasn’t been covered before but it does give Affleck some much-needed humanity, which doesn’t always come across in interviews.

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Gadot would mention a few times how she didn’t know what it was she was auditioning for, meaning her eventual casting as Wonder Woman was a bit of a surprise. The trio of Affleck, Cavill and Snyder talked here about the desire to expand the DC universe of characters in this movie and why it was so important to pit these two characters against each other. The bigger cinematic universe was also the topic of this story featuring not only Zack Snyder but also his wife and producing partner Deb, with the pair also talking Marvel/DC comparisons, the movie’s rating and lots more. 

A couple weeks before release it was announced the entire cast, including Eisenberg, Lane, Hunter and others would appear on the (WB-produced) “Conan” a week after release to keep the promotional wheels turning. Of course the cast made the rounds of all the talk shows in the weeks before release as well.

One of the bigger meta-narratives that the media latched onto early on and hasn’t let go of is that this movie is a “risky bet” by Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment. The thinking behind this seems to be that the entire future of the DC Cinematic Universe rests on the success or failure of this movie and that anything short of stupidly fantastic numbers constitutes the latter. This is where the media in large part assumes everything Marvel Studios has done has been absolutely perfect and has therefore provided the yardstick by which all comic book franchises will be measured. There’s a certain logic to that but it also overlooks how all movies are big bets and that Marvel’s model can fall apart at any moment while positioning anything different as unproven and like money is just being thrown around willy-nilly.

Overall

While I don’t put a lot of stock in the narrative mentioned above that the movie is some sort of huge risk for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment, it would be naive to not put this campaign in the context what has come before and how well that has worked. And that conversation necessarily needs to include the Marvel movies as well as the recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens campaign and the marketing for previous DC-based movies like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies and Man of Steel as well as 2011’s Green Lantern.

Unsurprisingly it’s most like the Man of Steel push, which makes sense since it’s from the same producer and director and very much representative of Snyder’s artistic vision. It hits the same kind of notes and presents the same kind of movie, one that’s dark and grim and very, very serious in its handling of the super heroes in the story. That’s in stark contrast to the bright, playful campaigns for the Marvel movies and the gleefully nostalgic push for Star Wars. Again, that’s not to say one is better than the other by default but they are different and it positions this campaign as being against the grain of most other genre efforts.

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You can’t say the marketing isn’t both consistent and on-brand. Everything here is washed out, devoid of strong colors and drenched in rain and fire. It’s perfectly in line with the universe begun by Man of Steel and with Zack Snyder’s overall directorial brand. All that carries over from the posters to the trailers to the site and more.

What I find most interesting is that it seems determined to double-down on the one part of Man of Steel that was the most controversial: The big fight at the end. Many reviews of that movie criticized the extended battle between Superman and Zod as being sense-numbing as they crashed through building after building in cartoonish fashion. The marketing for BvS: DoJ takes the fight between the title characters, which could take anywhere from 15 minutes to 50 minutes of actual screen time, and makes it the focal point of the trailers and other materials. That leaves little room for, well, anything else.

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