May 25, 2011
My kids came across some tattered old comic books a few weeks ago and enthusiastically dug into them. Their interest spurred a family trip to Uncle Sven’s Comic Shoppe on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, where we picked out a bunch of new comics.
I’ve never been into comic books. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d never bought one before. So I was surprised to encounter a comic-book-within-a-comic-book while reading “Red Robin vs. the Black Bat” to my son.
There was no mistaking who paid for the insert: Subway. But this was far more than a typical ad. It was an 8-page booklet that featured Batman, Green Lantern (I had to Google that) and three celebrity spokespeople, including Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. Batman, Green Lantern and the athletes — wearing Subway-branded outfits — defeat some bad guys I’d never heard of.
It’s an interesting content campaign from Subway. The chain definitely has embraced the idea that producing entertaining content is a great way to hook a target audience. DC Comics is obviously on board, too, looking to generate revenue in non-traditional ways.
My colleague Scott Broberg notes that DC Comics has been doing sponsored content for several years. In fact, Fast Horse was involved a few years ago in a POWERADE campaign that featured an illustrated LeBron James in a DC Comics series titled “King James.”
This summer’s Subway campaign features four editions and a microsite. The Subway branding is heavy duty — and prompted some disdain from comic book aficionados. Indeed, the Subway product placement is over the top, which creates some fairly silly scenes.
Here’s a sample of the blowback, from the Gamma Squad blog.
“Every now and then, people ask me why I stopped buying comics by the individual issue. My answer? Crap like the crap you’re about to witness. DC Comics has been struggling, and they’ve responded in about the stupidest way possible: cutting comics down to twenty pages instead of twenty-two, which has infuriated artists and writers who get paid by the page, and shoving in these eight-page inserts to plug whoever is willing to pay for them.”
I’m the last guy who would complain about a sellout super hero. I’m not invested in super heroes. Plus, I don’t mind “heroes” from other walks of life endorsing products. If I like the spokesperson and the product interests me, I’ll enjoy a company’s viral video.
My issue with Subway comic centers around the content itself. When the branding gets too intense, the storytelling suffers and the audience gets turned off. And that definitely is not part of the plan.