The Marvel Comics vs. DC Comics rivalry is almost as old as the comic medium itself. But now that we’ve entered the era of blockbuster superhero movies making billions of dollars in the networked world of 21st century social media, there is quite a lot at stake in the social strategies of these ostensible comic book companies’ movie studios. So who’s winning the social media battle between Marvel and DC? Well, I could be magnanimous and say that each side has its strengths and weaknesses and other even-handed things like that, but it wouldn’t be the truth. Marvel is winning. Because it’s the one having the most fun.
It is important to know that, when it comes to comic book and superhero movies, the PR efforts of movie studios are as much about reassuring fans that they understand and will protect the characters as much as it is about promoting films. Comic book readers can be fickle (and I would know, I am one), and it can break a fan’s heart, and more importantly create a lot of bad buzz, when they see a studio ‘missing the point’ of the characters that they know and love. So, what is Marvel doing right?
Rather famously, Marvel was set to release the first trailer for their summer tentpole feature Avengers: Age of Ultron in the middle of a broadcast of their spin-off television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was a smart, synergistic strategy to get the tailer out to their hardcore fans, who were probably watching the show anyway, and boost the show’s ratings by getting those excited about the movie trailer to tune in for the TV show. And then the trailer leaked a week early.
Marvel did the smart thing and rolled with it. The leaked trailer was a blurry, pixelated mess, so Marvel quickly uploaded an HD copy of it. And rather than give up on the synergy with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., they still included the trailer on the show, but with extra footage to entice fans further. Most importantly, they even cheekily referenced the whole mess in a meta tweet:
Laying the blame at the feet of the evil organization that played the villains from Captain America: The Winter Soldier was clever social marketing. And it saved the company the trouble of sending out endless DMCA takedown notices to sites hosting the leaked trailer in a futile game of digital whack-a-mole while they waited a week to release the real thing. In terms of dealing with a social media crisis, it was a win. (It should also be noted that while Marvel handled the leak well in public, it has also made efforts to discover the source of the leak and protect its brand.)
Meanwhile, DC Comics has … put out photos of the Batfleck? Maybe, because DC hasn’t had the opportunities Marvel has had, they could still show as much of a sense of humor, but it hasn’t happened yet. Instead, there have been a lot of promotional pictures that haven’t been entirely well received, and a super serious trailer for their own upcoming blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The thing is, it isn’t just the fact that Marvel’s social media team knows how to deal with a crisis that makes them the winners here. What separates Marvel and DC in their approach to social media is that Marvel seems to be honestly jumping into the spirit of its own stories and characters, while DC is just promoting its movies. Marvel’s twitter feed is fun and light-hearted. DC’s twitter feed, well, promotes DC projects and properties. Which is fine, but doesn’t do much to change the general view that while Marvel’s movies are fun and joyful, DC’s are gritty and dour.
Here’s the best example: Marvel’s character Deadpool has a movie coming out next year starring Ryan Reynolds. This is Deadpool:
Deadpool is an irreverent fan-favorite character in the Marvel universe who is a deadly assassin who also happens to be deeply insane. In the comics he breaks the fourth wall regularly, constantly mentions to other characters that they are in a comic book, has conversations with his own narrator, and can see the little yellow boxes of text that follow him around everywhere. He is a very weird and strange character. So how does this relate to social media? The Deadpool movie’s twitter account is following exactly one other twitter account:
If you wanted to reassure your fans that yes, you understand the spirit of the characters you are putting on film, that you get it, this is exactly how you do it.