August 6, 2012 at 10:40 am by Ted Mininni
No doubt about it. Comic books have been pretty camp since the 1930’s. Reflective of our culture and the times. They’ve been used to entertain, of course; they’ve also been great sources of propaganda during the World War II and Cold War eras. And they became fodder for some of our most popular superheroes in the movies and on television.
Some comic book character originators and illustrators were geniuses. The creativity, storylines and character development they executed were awesome. If they had been less than brilliant, we wouldn’t be talking about Superman, The Green Lantern, Batman, Iron Man, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, etc, in 2012. If irrelevant, these characters would have faded away long ago, but that hasn’t happened, has it? Quite the reverse: these superheroes are not only alive and well; they’re kicking some serious butt at the box office. All of this in spite of the fact that comic book sales are anemic.
There was a time when the strongest comic book titles from Marvel and DC Comics could sell a million copies in a month. Now, the best sellers barely crack the 100,000 copies sold mark. So what’s going on here? Is today’s audience just too sophisticated for the comic book genre now? Do fans just want their superheroes to be delivered via digital media and the movies instead? Should Marvel and DC stop publishing comic books?
Good question. It has been pointed out that comic books still play an important role. In a recent Fast Company article: “In Marvel and DC's Battle of the Superheroes, Can The Hulk Kick Batman's Butt?”, the author astutely makes a case for their value: “But on another level, the business has never been more important, since comic books and the people who create them now essentially function as a relatively cost-efficient concept, character and storyboard lab for a movie genre that has generated revenue in the tens of billions of dollars over the past decade”.
That’s a valid point. But this isn’t only about how comic books have been deftly used a catapult for superheroes to become movie stars, in my opinion. This is about early success stories in marketing via the use of transmedia storytelling. USC professor, Henry Jenkins, has defined transmedia in this manner: “Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.”
What this boils down to in my view: comic books may be the source of some of our most beloved superheroes’ stories, but they haven’t relied solely on the movies to maintain the relevance of these characters. Their storylines have been extended in so many other media over decades: television, radio, social media, books, toys, digital games and licensing deals.
Transmedia marketing is being heralded as the way forward for brands to create a fan culture. New idea? Hardly. Comic book superheroes have been doing this for decades with notable success. Are comic books becoming irrelevant? I don’t think so. But I’ll say this: they are sharing the marketing of their brands, and the storytelling, with more channels than ever. They’ve morphed in a way. How comic bookish is that?
Categories:Licensing, Consumer Products, Entertainment, Marketing Thought Leadership