Outhouse Marketing Expert Dooz discusses marketing and comics with former Marvel Advertising Director Joe Maimone.
New X-Men, No. 20, featuring Nike 6.0 brand logo; copyright 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc.
Note: Originally posted @ The Short Shift
In 2006, the Wall Street Journal ran an article
about comics publishers implementing product placement; the articlekicked up a bit of a storm on comics blogs and message boards about theviability and appropriateness of embedded marketing in comic books.While DC Comics seems to have dropped the program described in thearticle (DC's Diego Zhao and his Pontiac Solstice GXP haven't made anappearance since the end of Rush City
's six-issue run in 2007), Marvel Comics has forged ahead with embedded brand messages.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to one of the architects ofMarvel Comics' placement program, former Marvel Advertising DirectorJoe Maimone. What followed was a lengthy conversation about not onlyproduct placement, but comics as a viable marketing channel. Here'sPart 1 of the interview, with Parts 2 & 3 following later thisweek.Kris Mehaffey: Your name came to the forefront first in a WallStreet Journal article written by Brian Steinberg about Marveldeveloping this product placement deal. First, how did you come to workat Marvel Comics as their Advertising Director?
Joe Maimone: I can’t remember the exact dates, but I joined Marvelroughly, I would say, about seven years ago. Before there, I worked forthe music magazine Billboard Magazine
,you know, the one-hundred-twenty-eight-year-old trade publication thateverybody knows for their charts. I worked there for several years, andthe Marvel opportunity just fell in my lap through an employmentagency/headhunters/things like that. So because it was in theentertainment field, which I wanted to remain in, I got the job withthem as Advertising Director.Kris: What was your part in developing Marvel Comics’ product placement program?
Joe: Marvel, when I got there, was not the company that it istoday. You know, now they’re making their own movies; they’re doingvery, very well. The comic book circulation originally wasn’t thatgreat. Marvel Comics now is the fourth largest men’s magazine inAmerica. Before I got there, they barely had any ads in the comicbooks. For the last two or three years I was there, we maxed out everymonth. In the world of comic books, every comic book has a certainamount of pages and a certain amount of ads to sell. It’s not likeanother magazine, where you could just keep adding pages and makeadvertising revenue. Comic books are always, if I remember correctly,thirty-two pages, no matter what. Whether there are ads in them or not,they’re always the same amount. So when I was there, we really startedgetting at what they call non-endemic advertising. Back in the day, youwould get advertisers who were endemic to comic books.
Like, for instance, for a sports magazine, an endemic advertiser would be an entity like major league baseball. In Billboard
,an endemic advertiser was Sony Records. Marvel, when I first came onboard had nothing but endemic advertisers. Companies that were Marvellicensees; people who made, like Spider-Man sneakers, things like that.They never had ads that catered to their demographic audience,basically, which was guys from 18 to 34.
So when I got there, we started working on capturing non-endemicads. And we were able to do so by offering what is called value-addedprograms. In the world of advertising, in an RFP – an RFP is a Requestfor Proposal – an advertiser will say, “We’re interested in advertisingin you. What is the price for two pages, four pages, six pages, or eveneight pages for the next twelve months?” So that’s pretty easy, youjust give them the rate card. But in order to earn the business, youhave to have more than just a good price. You need to offer what iscalled value-added opportunities. So, back in the day, the onlyvalue-added opportunity Marvel had was advertising on their website. Soany major advertiser would get the number of pages they wanted and theymight get a month free on marvel.com. That was their “value added.”But, you know, everybody was doing it, so it really wasn’t acompetitive advantage. So I, because I never had read a comic book inmy life – I was in advertising, but I never read a comic book, neverwas a fan, never grew up reading, never, you know, other thanSpider-Man movies, was into a Marvel brand. I certainly knew of itbecause of the cachet, everyone knows it, but I really didn’t know howcomic books read and what they were all about. So I kind of came intoit with a fresh mind.
Most comic book geeks, if you will, people who have been readingthem for ten, twenty, thirty years, would be mortified at the thoughtof product placement in comic books. It was never thought of before,but I think because I came from outside the industry and was looking atthese comics where Spider-Man flew through Times Square on paper. Youknow, they would draw the exact ads that were in Times Square the daythat artist drew that scene. So I was like, well, it’s great that wehave these ads that are really there, but, you know, why can’t we putwhatever we want on those ads? And since they retained the look of ads– and basically, the word we used was organic
– why can’t we just put whatever we want there as long as they areorganic and flowed with the story and didn’t really take away from thestory? And I was able to talk the Editorial people into doing it. Inany magazine, there’s a huge butting of the heads between Editorial andAdvertising. It’s just there – it’s everywhere. I don’t care – anymagazine from Oprah
to Sports Illustrated
to Marvel – Editorial and Ad Sales butt heads. But I was able toconvince them to try it. Like I said, there are a ton of scenes --whether it’s Spider-Man flying through Times Square or just a bunch ofkids on a corner wearing T-shirts. Why can’t there be something on theT-shirt? Why can’t we make it a concert T-shirt? Put a Van Halen logoon there or something like that? Or a logo, you know – I’m trying tothink of one of the first ones we did – ah, I forget the name of theband. But we actually did as a product placement a record company.Remember, Marvel puts out, if I remember correctly, forty to sixtycomic books a month, so there are plenty of opportunities throughoutthe comics where there are some people wearing T-shirts that could havea logo on it.Kris: Advertising real estate, just sitting there-
Joe: Right, exactly. So, as long as it was organic and it didn’treally seem obtrusive to the reader, they agreed for me to do it. Itwas a big ordeal. Every time I cut a product placement deal, I wouldhave to sit down with the editors, and we together would figure outwhere to put these placements. The first one we ever did was with Nike.Nike was coming out with a new skateboarding shoe, the Nike 6.0. Andthat was the first deal we ever cut where it was actually paid for. Inthe past we would do something value-added as a favor to one of ourmovie studio partners. We would put something in there. But nobody everpaid for it until Nike did. And that was, oh, I forget the amount ofplacements, but maybe over twelve months there were like six or eightplacements throughout the comic book. We determined what comic book;they could not choose – “We only want to be in Spider-Man
” or “We only want to be in Captain America
” or “We only to be in Fantastic Four
” – we determined where this was done. Remember, it’s got to be organic.
So the first one we ever did was Nike. Not only did kids wear theNikes, if they could be drawn in as footwear, but when Spider-Man flewthrough Times Square or when a bus was in the scene, on the side of thebus, where there was an ad, like all ads are, instead of what wasreally there, we would put Nike 6.0. And it went well. A lot ofbusiness, a lot of print business. We got a lot of ad schedules becauseof this, because, you know, nobody else could offer it. Nobody couldoffer product placement in a magazine. But because we were a comicbook, it allowed us to do this, and the flow was normal without itsbeing obtrusive.
The next one we did was with Dodge, which is when the article cameout. We booked a deal with Dodge where, you know – you can imagine allthe cars. Marvel Comics – the good thing about Marvel and why Marvelfans in general loved Marvel versus DC comics: Marvel comic-book heroesand comic-books take place in real cities – real times, real people,real places. None of the characters was born on Mars or Krypton orwherever. You get real people, real problems. So the scenery wasreal-life New York. So when a bus came by, we had that opportunity; inTimes Square, we had that opportunity; when a taxi came by with an adon top of it like they have, we had that opportunity. Nobody else coulddo it. So with Dodge, you know, we made the cars in that scene theCaliber, which was the car they were promoting the most when we did itwith them. Again, these were in the form of value-added items, but, inthe scheme of things, when you look at the entire proposal, they werepaying for these placements. We also did it for a music company or twowith concert T-shirts, with just, you know, kids wearing T-shirts withbands’ names on them, just like in real life. And quite honestly, untilthe article came out, the readers didn’t even notice because it was sonatural, which was great for me, Editorially, because nobody wascomplaining, except for some of the purists, who would send me hatemail and things like that. But you’re going to have that with anypurists in anything.
Now, I’ve been out of there a good two years, so I don’t know if it’s . . .Kris: They’re actually doing it quite a bit. I mean--
Joe: Are you a big fan?Kris: I’ve actually always been a fan of comics, and Marvelespecially, because of one of the points you brought up – you know, thewhole real-world experience.
Joe: And the great thing is – and why the movies do so well – theMarvel characters are real people with real problems, whether it’s girlproblems or money problems or whatever problems. You know, the DCcharacters are from another planet, they’re not human, so they can’thave the problems like normal people like us have. And that’s why theysell a heck of a lot more comic books than their nearest competitor. Imean Marvel’s market share is probably a good 45–50%.
X-Factor No. 24, featuring US Army logo; copyright 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc.Kris: I think that last year, out of the top ten comics thatwere sold, the top ten–selling comics of the year, Marvel had eight.
Joe: Yeah, that’s the way it was when I was there even before they haddominated. But, you know, I’m trying to think of the other – oh, Army!The last big one we did was with Army. We had a huge deal that the U.S.Army made with us. A lot of advertising online, and they had probablyeight product placements in the year’s time they advertised with us.They had their campaign “Army Strong” and we did a lot with that,whether it was on T-shirts or on banners in the background, you know –the normal advertising opportunities. That was the last big one I didbefore I left to do what I’m doing now.Check back Wednesday and Thursday for Parts 2 & 3, when we'lldiscuss the placement approvals process, the roles of Advertising,Editorial and Creative, and reader reaction.