Man of Steel: Superpowered marketing


I have been following the marketing, advertising and general promotion of Warner Bros. newest film, Man of Steel, since I first heard it was in pre-production. The director of 300 and Watchmen, Zack Snyder, is at the helm as director with Christopher Nolan of the recent Batman trilogy as producer. Even as an enormous Superman fan, I have been blown away by how much Warner Bros. and the people behind the marketing of this film have done in building this film as an “event film” for its release June 14th. In other words, this is a must-see-in-theaters film and in fact, may require multiple viewings; hence the phrase “event film.”

First and foremost, I think Zack Snyder is a generally well-liked director, even if some found Sucker Punch wanting. However, in advertisement after advertisement it is abundantly clear that Christopher Nolan is a producer of this film and that he was the guy behind Batman. Name recognition, likeability and trust are all significant in building a brand and Nolan’s name carries a lot of weight. Not only does he have built-in goodwill from the Batman trilogy, but his original film, Inception (2010), was a critical and commercial success. Warner Bros. has been smart to capitalize on that goodwill. Certainly, it’s unclear exactly how much involvement Christopher Nolan has really had in the film, but that’s irrelevant in the grand scheme of marketing.

Then back when Warner Bros. and director Christopher Nolan released their third film to close the Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, in July of 2012, a Man of Steel teaser was attached with it; the very first glimpse we saw of the new film. In actuality, two versions were released. One featured the voiceover of Kevin Costner, an Academy Award-winner playing Clark Kent/Superman’s adoptive father, Jonathan Kent. The second featured Russell Crowe, another Academy Award-winner playing Clark Kent/Superman’s biological father, Jor-El.

Such duality serves to reflect the duality involved in the Clark Kent/Superman character. First, that he embodies two people himself, as Clark Kent, mild-manner reporter and as hope personified, Superman. Second, the love he feels for his adoptive parents, the Kent’s, and nevertheless, the gravitation he has to wanting to learn where he came from, with respect to the House of El. That dichotomy is what manifests all of Clark’s problems: loneliness, alienation, and doubt about who he is and what he can be.

In any event, go ahead and check out both teasers, respectively.

Immediately, the first thing a viewer notices when watching either of those teasers is the score from famed composer Hans Zimmer, who has worked with Christopher Nolan on many films. The score carries with it a certain gravitas befitting an individual like Superman; it’s the type of music that sends shivers up your spine and makes you inch closer to the screen. Yet, the first images we see juxtaposed to this weighty score is quite different than one would have expected. The images are of a bearded man against an aesthetic palette of grays, working on a boat and near a dock; it almost seems as if he’s a fisherman.

Then that’s when we hear Mr. Kent come over the images and a quick glimpse of a presumably younger Clark Kent running with a red cape attached to his collar. Kent says, “You’re not just anyone. You have to decide what kinda man you want to be. Whoever that character is – good character or bad – he’s going to change the world.”

With that bold statement, we then get the title sequence that this is the Man of Steel and our first real indication of it being the familiar Superman action: him flying up towards the sky so fast he creates not only a sonic boom that develops below him, but contrails one would normally see behind a plane, trailing him.

Now we jump over to the Jor-El version of the teaser trailer and we’re greeted with the same images and score, but with his voiceover adding something a bit different to consider, “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall, but in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”

In both cases, both fathers expect much of Superman, but with Jonathan Kent, you get a sense that he’s experienced first-hand how Clark has struggled with his fate, expectations and his powers. Contrast that with Jor-El, who seems to just know what he can and will be for the people of Earth; that’s why he sent him there in the first place.

For such a short teaser, it gives the viewer much to consider: why is Superman showcasing a beard and acting like a fisherman, how much of Superman’s origin story are we going to see, and ultimately, how does Superman get to the point of being, well, Superman. Outside of the extraordinary image of Superman’s flight, there is no action or dialogue between characters. These teasers only serve to setup what will be a marvelous bout of trailers and marketing for Man of Steel. As such, let’s move on to the second trailer.

About six months after the first teaser and a month before the New Year, the second trailer from Warner Bros. was released. This time; it was a full-length trailer.

And this time, we get our first listen in on dialogue between Diane Lane, another Academy Award-winner, playing Martha Kent, and a young Clark Kent. Presumably, he’s dealing with controlling his powers as he says to his mother, “The world’s too big mom,” to which she replies, “Then make it small.” Because to a person like Superman, even as a child, with super sight and hearing, the world must seem unbelievably beyond anything a normal human could comprehend; the sensory overload would be unfathomable.

For the first time, we have an action shot: a bus careening into the water and a young Clark Kent saving the students on the bus. A parent seems to be irked by this as she points out sternly that her son saw what Clark did. Afterwards, the trailer cuts to what would be a much-talked about scene. Jonathan Kent tells Clark he needs to keep this side of him a secret and Clark asks him, “What was I supposed to do? Just let them die?” To which he replies, “Maybe,” with an uneasy look on his face.

Granted, we don’t know the full context of that exchange until the film’s release, but that, “Maybe,” caused quite the stir in the wake of this trailer. Was Jonathan Kent suggesting to his young son that he should have let his peers die? Jonathan is clearly trying to balance his overriding sense of fatherhood to protect and shield Clark from the world, but at the same time, instill him with the right values and morals.

Another first for this trailer, we hear from leading man, Henry Cavill, playing Clark Kent/Superman. (Interesting note, he actually auditioned for the part in the much criticized Superman Returns in 2006, but obviously lost out to Brandon Routh.) “Where do I come from?” That’s a question that adds to Clark’s complexity and character. He clearly feels as if he doesn’t fit into this world – this human world – given his extraordinary powers.

As Zimmer’s score increases in intensity, we get a great shot of Superman’s billowing red cape, as he walks through a gorgeous arctic landscape with a rising sun in the backdrop. Before in the teaser, we saw Superman soaring through the air at unimaginable speeds. This time, we see the takeoff with the pressure he exerts on the Earth to do so, and the rush from the ground, as Zimmer’s score swells into a release of energy. This moment really accentuates not only the power of Superman given the action and the score, but also a sense of the hope he can bring to the world, as he flies into outer space and comes around to a visual of the Earth.

From there, we get a sequence of action shots including one of a bearded Clark on fire, alien spaceships, a first shot of Academy Award-nominated Michael Shannon, playing the villain, Zod, and destruction shots of Earth and Krypton, Superman’s home planet. Towards the end, we see Superman hold hands with Academy Award-nominated Amy Adams, playing his love interest, Lois Lane with another of his voiceover’s saying, “He was convinced the world wasn’t ready. What do you think?”

By the end of that trailer, I think everyone would be saying, “Yes, we’re ready!”

Not a peep was heard from Man of Steel for another four months until this mini-teaser in April:

This teaser does a more effective and impactful job of introducing us to the villain of the film, General Zod. The static, the harsh voice and the command (although he says “request”) that the citizens of the world return Superman to his custody. He even asks him to surrender or else he will destroy the world.

While a very brief teaser, it shows quite a bit. First, that General Zod is from Krypton given his use of Superman’s Kryptonian name and therefore we can expect a superpowered fight. Second, that for whatever reason, Zod views Superman as “his” to have. Third, that he has the means to destroy Earth or at least, wage war with it; thus, he clearly has an army backing him. All of this entails quite the dilemma for the people of Earth, as well as Superman. If one recalls, there was a shot in the second trailer of Superman in handcuffs being led by the military. Perhaps that is where they turned him in to Zod?

In any event, it didn’t take long for the follow-up, full-length, third trailer for Man of Steel:

Again, we’re greeted with Zimmer’s weighty score, but this time, shots of Jor-El on Krypton, as it’s being destroyed. Then the familiar image of Jor-El sending his son to Earth with his biological mother, Laura, saying to Jor-El, “He’ll be an outcast; they’ll kill him.” To which Jor-El replies incredulously, “How? He’ll be a God to them.” :stalker:

Zimmer’s score keeps picking up in intensity, as we get some familiar shots from the earlier second trailer intermixed with some new shots and bits of dialogue. For instance, we hear more from Lois, who seems to be searching for this elusive savior in the world. Then we get the awesome takeoff sequence again with Jor-El’s lines from the first teaser as voiceover followed by copious action shots.

General Zod makes another appearance this time saying, “You think your son is safe? I WILL FIND HIM!”

After that dies down, we get Superman and Lois inside what looks to be an interrogation room. She asks him, “What’s the S stand for?” He replies, “It’s not an S. On my world it means hope.” Then before Lois can reply fully, they are interrupted and the scene changes to Superman punching the hell out of someone.

It should be noted, many fans after Superman Returns in 2006, just wanted to see Superman punch someone. I think that ending sequence was definitely a play on that desire.

So, let’s assess where we are thus far. From the beginning with the teasers, we are given this foundation that Superman is supposed to be this ultimate symbol for hope; that he is to lead us into discovering our potential as a species. Yet, despite this greater destiny plotted out for him, he clearly struggles with it because he has two families, two planets and extraordinary powers. He essentially has an identity crisis. After that is established, we get introduced to a teaser of General Zod. As The Dark Knight in 2008 showed with the Joker, any great superhero film needs a great villain. Therefore, it’s quite smart for Warner Bros. to on one hand, play up the mythos of Superman and on the other hand, establish who General Zod is and what he is all about. From there, we get the third, full-length trailer, which brings together these two dichotomous ideas, so we get a better understanding of the film’s plot. Clearly, Superman will face off against General Zod and much chaos will ensue.

That brings us to the latest trailer titled, “Fate of your planet.”

There is the familiar static to open the trailer. And then the score is worth pointing out again. If you noticed earlier, the Zimmer score in the previous trailers was full of gravitas, importance and hope. In this trailer, the score has a very sinister, ominous and threatening quality about it. Again, this goes back to the duality in the marketing campaign for the film and it’s worked brilliantly and here none better.

“Your world has sheltered one of my citizens. He will look like you, but he is not one of you.”

We get a quick repetition of images we’ve seen before, as Zod goes through his command and then that’s when new footage manifests with the score pounding and growing in potency. Then in a chilling moment, one of Zod’s people says to Superman, “You will not win. For every human you say, we will kill a million more,” followed by a startling sequence of Superman being swallowed by a pit of skulls.

This is not your Christopher Reeve Superman. This one screams in agony, shoots ferocious fire out of his eyes and then at the end, BAM BAM, as he punches someone followed by another BAM and the Superman emblem to close the trailer. It’s intense and has a completely different feel to the other trailers. This one is certainly establishing that Zod and his army are more than a formidable foe for the powerful Superman.

To compare, look at this quality trailer from the Superman Returns film:

Admittedly, it’s a fantastic trailer, but there is something quite obvious at play here. Take into account the John Williams score, the look of the Superman costume and the overall tone of the trailer and it’s quite an obvious homage to and extension of the Christopher Reeve Superman films.

On the other hand, as I’ve shown with all these teasers and trailers for Man of Steel, they are clearly trying to set it apart and create something original and different. This is a new, modern take on Superman.

That’s just the trailers, as far as marketing for the film goes. There are also the six different television spots that offer different footage and the posters they’ve been released from time to time on their Facebook page.

Then there’s the Gillette tie-in with, “How does Superman shave?”

The tie-in to Wal-Mart, where for the first time, Wal-Mart sold early screening tickets for the film.

Plus, a tie-in with the Kellogg’s brand where you could “win Superman’s powers” or in this case, prizes like a personal trainer for one year (strength) or movie tickets for a year (vision).

Or there is the tie-in with Carl’s Jr. with respect to a Super Bacon Cheeseburger.

Or there is the tie-in with the National Guard, “Soldier of Steel.”

Or this tie-in with Sears that’s quite heartwarming:

Finally, there is the Web site for the film.

There you can play as Superman in game or go through the Glyph Creator to see what your ancestral house and Kryptonian name are. I was the House of Re, by the way. My ancestors stood for “ethics, morals and honesty.” My name is Brett-Re, pronounced “b.ɹ.ɛ.t.t ɹɛ”

It comes as no surprise that Warner Bros., weeks before the film’s release, is upping the marketing and promotion of the film with trailers, posters, magazines, TV spots, tie-ins with fast food and other brands, but there’s also another reason for this.

Warner Bros. needs Man of Steel to succeed because all else for them pivots upon that success. That is, a potential Justice League film in response to 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers.

As far as I am concerned, I think the marketing has been brilliant thus far. The cast looks strong, the aesthetic looks terrific (as you’d expect from Snyder), there seems to be a good story, the score from Zimmer is epic, and in general, this is becoming an “event film.” This is the Superman film fans have been craving for, for years. Or at least, it appears so. Given that this film needs to succeed for a potential Justice League film, there’s also the potential to get a tie-in with other DC characters like Batman or Wonder Woman. At the least, there hopefully will be a mention of them. That’s sure to get fans packing the theaters too.

All in all, as a fan, I could not be more pleased with everything I’ve seen related to this film just weeks away from its official release date.

3 thoughts

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