Batman’s mission in Justice League is to unite powerful heroes from across the land and sea.
Warner Bros’ mission is to get as many fans aboard the Justice League hype train. The movie studio has been working hard to control the narrative surrounding their upcoming superhero movies and the DC Extended Universe as a whole.
Here’s a quick recap to put this in perspective. Back in 2013 when Batman v Superman was announced at San Diego Comic Con it garnered a tremendous amount of excitement for both the film and the next phase of DC Extended Universe.
Later subtitled “Dawn of Justice”, the film was designed to showcase an epic showdown between two superhero titans and in the process springboard a number of other DC movie franchises.
Fast forward to March 2016, BvS’s theatrical release was met with mixed reviews and fell short of the one billion dollars mark at the box office, the mark surpassed by Captain America: Civil War.
Marketing A Film Vs A Cinematic Universe
The marketing campaign for a film is tricky business. For example, the marketing behind Fox Studio’s wise cracking Deadpool wouldn’t work across the board for all superhero movies.
What makes the marketing build up for Justice League a doubled edged sword is that it’s an integral part of a cinematic universe. There are many benefits of an extended universe, one of which is the built-in fan base that’ll hopefully carry over from one movie to the next. If Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman are well received movies it could add to the momentum, whether rightly or not, towards Justice League.
The downside is that Justice League is coming off Batman v Superman, a polarizing film to say the least. For fans who didn’t like BvS, it would be reasonable to believe they’ll be more skeptical of buying tickets to see the next instalment. After all, Justice League is from the same director, Zack Snyder.
Snyder has his own perspective when it comes to making comic book movies which was reflected in BvS. He said in an interview with Empire magazine that “I kinda came to the conclusion also that they [superheroes] couldn’t really talk in their suits, um, with any credibility…”
The definitive version of BvS is the Ultimate Edition which improved upon the flow of the story and fleshing out characters. Although the three hour and 2 minute run time won’t appeal to casual moviegoers, the Ultimate Edition is generally regarded as restoring some faith in what the director was aiming for.
Note: The purpose of this post isn’t to review Batman V Superman or give initial impressions on Justice League. The focus is on taking a closer look at how Warner Bros is reshaping the conversation surrounding Justice League.
Changing Critics Opinion
For Justice League to be a huge, bankable success it’ll need to reach a broad audience that’ll include casual moviegoers, families, superhero fans and film critics. How much negative reviews hurt a film at the box office might be over estimated, take for example Tranformers: Age of Extinction which got destroyed by the critics yet astoundingly rang up a hundred million dollars domestically opening weekend.
But what critics think can be influential, particularly within the comic book centric and geek-oriented media circles. Considering how social media response can take on a life of its own (see Ghostbusters reboot backlash), it’s important for the movie studios to put a positive spin on each news release and development.
So with all of this in mind, Warner Bros zeroed in on industry pundits who were reasonably critical of BvS and invited them onto the Justice League set to see early filming, get insight on the development process and personally speak with the director. Even keeping in mind that on-set visits are often carefully orchestrated by the studios, the feedback from the reporters is overwhelming positive on what they saw being filmed, the story set up and the change in tone. Changing the outlook of writers/critics from major websites and publications to a more open-minded or positive light is one step in Justice League’s marketing spin to the masses.
Changing the Tone
Brand awareness and recognition affect how consumers make choices, including when it comes to deciding which films they want to watch. It’s not by accident that as seen in BvS, the prominent logos from each member of Justice League was put into LexCorp’s hidden camera videos clips, before their superhero names were established within the movie universe.
One could also make the point that the darker, edgier tone gives DC EU its own separate, identifiable brand from its competitor. Similarly in terms of brand awareness, movie goers have come to expect that every Marvel Studios film will be appropriate for their children and family to watch.
However, a common critique of BvS is that it’s too dark and lacked fun. In response, Warner Bros. is promoting Justice League as a more fun spirited movie that’ll have some lighter moments and amusing one-liners. Because consumers associate specific qualities to certain brands, marketing wise it’s easy to understand why Justice League is rebranding itself as crowd pleasing entertainment that’s not going to take itself too seriously.
The counterpoint is that there are darker superhero properties which are positively received and conversely lighter, family oriented ones that aren’t. The discourse on changing the tone is a smokescreen for the underlying problems about BvS. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to add humor, but it would be a stretch to believe that changing the tone is the definitive answer on why Justice League could be a marked improvement over BvS.
Be Clear and Straight Forward
The marketing campaign is typically a marathon for big budget blockbusters. A recent notable exception to a long ad campaign is low-budget thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane which was shortly released about 9 weeks after some clever and cryptic marketing.
The point is that the studio wants to build a buzz from time the film is publicly announced through each stage in the movie making process. In this age of information overload, the idea is to keep their property at the forefront of consumer’s mind and at the top of people’s social media feeds. Every nugget of news from casting announcements to so-called leaked photos from the set help to drive discussion.
At the same time, there are key plot details or spoilers that the studio would rather keep under wraps until the movie is released. What Warner Bros has learned this time with Justice League is to get in front of the information and be transparent with their messaging. So while BvS was critiqued for its plotting and inconsistencies, Justice League’s story will be clear and straightforward: Batman will unite the heroes, the macguffin are the mother boxes and the main villain is Steppenwolf.
Withholding information is one thing, it’s another to mislead fans. Unlike Game of Thrones which had a disinformation campaign on the fate of a major character, Justice League isn’t playing coy with their audience. It’s clear from Justice League promotional images that Superman is front and center. Actor Henry Cavill also made an appearance with the rest of the Justice League cast at SDCC 2016.
I Hear You Can Talk To Fish – The Trailers
What the comic con trailed showed and didn’t show says a lot about the focus of the marketing campaign. Put together from early footage, the story based trailer featured a lighter tone and chemistry between the characters. Part of the appeal for fans is anticipating how the personalities and powers will play off of each other.
As filming and the special effects progress, Cyborg and his interactions with the rest of the cast should be more prominent in upcoming trailers. By design the Justice league trailer didn’t feature much of Wonder Woman because she has her own trailer released on the same day. The enthusiastic response to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in BvS and her action-packed solo movie trailer is having a rub-off marketing effect on Justice League.
Of course, not all movie-goers who were turned off by BvS may give Justice League the benefit of the doubt. Yet the general vibe from online comments and feedback is a progression from how BvS sparked a polarizing debate on the movie’s merit, the directorial choices and the future of DC EU.
A film’s promotion is crucial to fill up the theater seats on the opening weekend. However, the excitement and anticipation can only carry a film so far at the box office. A perfect example is the stellar marketing campaign and trailers for Man of Steel, which in the end pulled in a respectable but less than super 668 million USD.
In other words, in addition to strong marketing efforts, the film itself has to be a home run and must be rewatchable. If Justice League lives up to its potential, fans will return for repeat viewings on its second, third or even fourth week. That would be an over simplification.
Justice League is scheduled for release on November 17, 2017.