Ever since DC and Marvel entered the industry, the two brands have been fierce rivals (Reid-Cleveland, 2018). Over the roughly 80 years of competition these comic publishers have relentlessly fought over the title of “top dog”; always one only temporarily having the upper hand over the other (Reid-Cleveland, 2018). But Marvel’s past decade of cinematic success begs the question; as the underdog, can D.C. make a comeback (Whitten, 2019)?
In the 1990’s Marvel was considered a sinking ship – the company had filed for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, it owed millions of dollars to investors, over a third of Marvel employees were laid off, and every attempt to bail themselves out of financial trouble proved to be an outdated solution (Sampson, 2015). Since Marvel was confident that superhero movies had become cliché, the company chose to sell the movie rights to some of the brand’s most recognizable heroes in order to survive (Elias, n.d.). The deal proved to be an unwise decision for Marvel, as the same characters they had licensed soon after starred in their own high grossing series and entirely revitalized the superhero movie industry (Elias, n.d.).
MARVEL’S TOP DOG STRATEGY
Marvel’s comeback began when the company chose to establish its own production company, Marvel Studios (Lamble, 2018). Under its own banner Marvel initiated its long-term brand strategy and released a series of films, each staring one of Marvel’s relatively unknown superheroes (Lamble, 2018; Elias, n.d.). First Iron Man, then the Hulk; audiences were captivated by their stories and were made blatantly aware of the Marvel brand (Elias, n.d.). Next Thor, and then Captain America; box office sales proved that audiences were hooked and Marvel was the brand fan’s relied on for their superhero fix (Sampson, 2015). After the four superheroes had had their own spotlight and had made personal connections with fans, similar to Marvel’s comic books, their storylines merged, and the superheroes banned together as The Avengers to fight an epic battle in order to save the world (Elias, n.d.; Lamble, 2018). Fans flocked to theaters and the movie earned $1.5 billion in box office sales; becoming the fifth highest grossing film of all time (Elias, n.d.). Marvel had steadily introduced fans to their characters, taken audiences on a progressively evolving journey, and during the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe formed a strong brand relationship with consumers (Elias, n.d.; Kardes, Cronley, & Cline, 2015). To maintain Marvel’s strong brand name the company continues to release brand extensions, which cleverly do not cannibalize any other films or television series because every new character and plotline then contributes to the progression of the Marvel Cinematic Universe storyline (Kardes, Cronley, & Cline, 2015; Elias, n.d.).
DC has a long history of comic book, television show, and cinematic success (Reid-Cleveland, 2018; DC, 2019). The publishing company proudly holds a majority of the top 10 sports for best-selling comic books; in the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s DC’s original Superman films graced the big screen, and Gotham’s Batman first appeared in the mid 1960’s (Zap-Kapow Comics, 2019; Whitten, 2019). Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman even broke the time’s opening weekend box office record, became the fastest movie to gross $100 million, and prompted the follow-up, Batman Returns (DC, 2019). In 1992, Batman: The Animated Series debuted on TV and was considered such a critical and popular success that the series continued for nearly a decade, and led to the first of many feature-length animated films (DC, 2019).
DC’S UNDERDOG STRATEGY
However, following the debut of Marvel Studio’s Cinematic Universe DC’s accomplishments became comparatively void. In an attempt to mimic Marvel’s success and lure fans to theaters, DC quickly released “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a film starring the brand’s most popular characters: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (Whitten, 2019). DC’s brand-name characters drove ticket demand for the movie’s weekend debut but reviews were poor and ticket sales dropped (Whitten, 2019). Despite the negative response, DC has relentlessly continued to try and entice audiences with the same strategy of too much of a good thing in an attempt to combat Marvel’s success (Whitten, 2019). Still, without any prior individual features to allow for character development viewers are less involved, and without any notion to the future expansion of the DC storyline viewers feel less obligated to remain up to date with DC’s superheroes (Whitten, 2019; Elias, n.d.).
HOW DC SHOULD IMPROVE STRATEGY
Overall: DC should do the opposite of Marvel and try to change the superhero entertainment industry (Kardes, Cronley, & Cline, 2015).
Three ways DC should improve its strategy so that it can gain more market share and possibly surpass Marvel as the top dog would be (Kardes, Cronley, & Cline, 2015):
- Disrupt the status quo – As of now Marvel has released 20 plus film and led the narrative for superhero films (Whitten, 2019). DC should deliberately veer off course, and make viewers question what they should expect from superhero films.
- Listen and or return to what viewers liked – DC’s cinematic history is filled with gem’s including the Superman series from the 1970’s and 1980’s, Tim Burton’s Batman, the Batman sequel, Christopher Nolan’s standalone Batman trilogy, and even DC’s animated superhero feature-length films (Whitten, 2019; DC, 2019). Rather than attempting to please Marvel’s audiences, DC should try to listen and appease their own fans, and return to or create a style that differentiates their brand.
- Increase marketing budget to increase brand and film awareness – It’s well known that “success breeds success” however I would say an equally common phrase is “you have to spend money to make money” (Kardes, Cronley, & Cline, 2015; Darcey, 2016). But Warner Bros has been repeatedly accused of failing to market their DC movies – estimates remain at $3M for Wonder Woman’s marketing and $2.64M for Suicide Squad (McCarthy, 2017). These investments are relatively cheap in comparison to even Marvel’s $80M marketing efforts for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 thus providing possible explanation as to why DC was unable to stimulate demand and acquire new viewers (Katz, 2019; Kardes, Cronley, & Cline, 2015).
OPINION: WHY DO YOU BELIEVE CONSUMERS PREFER THE TOP DOG OVER THE UNDERDOG?
I believe that Marvel’s frequent release of films helps to keep the storyline fresh in viewers’ minds, which is perfect in combination with the continuous storyline that encourages fans to remain involved. Although Marvel’s storyline is a lot to keep track of, considering the Marvel Cinematic Universe now spans beyond the movie theater and onto streaming services, the amount of content assists with thoroughly developing the Marvel world and the relationship the brand has with fans. Plus the visual elements, such as the tone of how Marvel shows and films are shot, remain realistic in comparison to DC’s dark and gloomy world. In my opinion the visual darkness of the DC universe is a constant reminder to viewers that the realm is imaginary and prevents the audience from ever becoming entirely invested.
OPINION: WHICH BRAND DO YOU PREFER & WHY?
With the gradual progression of technology, streaming services, and it seems like the ever increasing pace of life, the number of films and series necessary to remain up to date with the Marvel Universe seems to be sky rocking, while the amount of available free time is rapidly disappearing. As a result, now when I watch Marvel movies I have questions throughout the entire feature; versus when I see a DC movie and I wonder if I’m missing a prequel. Both have their pros and cons, but if I must choose one over the other, I prefer DC because I absolutely cannot catch up with Marvel’s storyline. Plus due to recently released trailers I have faith that the underdog, DC will find its footing.
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Katz, B. (2019, April 18). Marvel is spending an insane amount of money on the ‘Avengers: Endgame’ promo campaign. Observer. Retrieved from https://observer.com/2019/04/avengers-endgame-budget-box-office-marvel-marketing-disney/
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Whitten, S. (2019, April 5). Warner Bros.’ DC films are no longer trying to be Marvel, and that’s a good thing. CNBC LLC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/05/warner-bros-dc-films-are-no-longer-trying-to-be-marvel.html
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