You can buy Clark Kent glasses from Warby Parker. You can eat the same hamburger he (or rather, Superman) does from Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, drive a Dodge Ram truck as fast as he flies, and you can debate the removal of his stronger-than-steel beard hairs in a series of Gillette ads featuring Bill Nye, Mayim Bialik, and Kevin Smith. With over 100 promotional partners, 140 lines of licensed product, hundreds of retailers, and thousands of items—all the way from Under Armor work-out gear to a Superman doll from Mattel with stretchy arms that lets kids sling-shot him around until he looks like he’s flying—Warner Bros.’ Man of Steel is the most marketed movie this summer, if not this year. Don’t expect it to stop any time soon.
“We’re re-launching the entire Superman franchise,” says Brad Globe, Warner Bros.’ president of consumer products. “We’re coming off three Batman movies and Superman is the next [DC Comics] character we’re working on.” Man of Steel is just the first in what’s expected to be at least a trio of Warner Bros. movies, including a rumored Justice League film. But how do you market a character that most people already know about?
According to the Q Scores Co., which measures a brand or character’s cultural saturation, 87 percent of Americans knew who the red-caped superhero was before Man of Steel came out. (Sadly, the company doesn’t say what rock the the other 13 percent have been living under for the past 75 years.) “He’s right up there with Batman, Daffy Duck, the Easter Bunny,” says Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Co. But aside from the 2006 dud, Superman Returns, the 75-year-old character hadn’t been doing much lately to earn his fame.
“We’d sort of been out of the Superman toy business for a while. It wasn’t a significant property for us,” says Warner Bros.’ Globe. In fact, Superman’s Q score—the percentage of people who not only know who he is, but who consider him one of their “favorite” superheroes—is only 32 percent, which is pretty low for a man who can outrun a train. He’s better liked (With a Q score of 41) among men aged 18 to 49—but not nearly as much as Batman (45), Spiderman (47), and Iron Man (52). Of course, those guys have benefited from recent Hollywood blockbusters, while Superman has been flying out there on his own.
That’s why Warner Bros. has gone all-out with its promotional blitz; the studio is trying to remind people that Superman is more than just a Christopher Reeve movie or a hokey TV show. Warner Bros. has made close to $170 million in promotional deals with over 100 partners—more than any movie in recent memory. According to Ad Age, the previous record holder was Universal’s 2012 movie, The Lorax, which had 70.
The onslaught of endorsement deals and product tie-ins guarantees that you can’t turn on a TV or visit Wal-Mart right now without being made “aware” that Superman exists, and the film has been such a box office success that it’s almost guaranteed to boost Superman’s popularity. Both Q Scores and the marketing analytics company NPD Group say it’s too early to tell how Superman-themed merchandise will fare compared to that of his comic book peers, but they expect the reboot to be a big success. In the week since the movie made its debut, over 100,000 Superman-themed t-shirts have sold, and an additional 100,000 toys have left the shelves.
“He’s selling as well as Batman, which is surprising,” says Globe. “We’ve always thought Batman had an advantage from a toy perspective because he has a very cool car and gadgets, while Superman, uh, flies.”