Man of Steel, Man of Advertising

Recently, a featurette was released for the upcoming Man of Steel that gave us a little peek behind the scenes of the movie while also providing some details as to how the initial concept of the movie came about through Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, director Zack Snyder’s energy and confidence behind the camera, and brief interviews with the cast.

Here’s the featurette:


What’s interesting, to me at least, is the focus on grounding Superman in reality. While this isn’t a novel concept considering Nolan and Goyer accomplished the same goal with The Dark Knight Trilogy, what makes Man of Steel’s need to justify the existence of Superman in our world is through the use of real world settings. The featurette shows the production filming outside of a Sears and a 7-11, stores that are familiar to the general population. It’s an interesting contrast to Batman since those movies were solely focused on justifying Batman as a character and portraying him realistically while Gotham felt like a city somewhat removed, like it was its own reality. Superman, on the other hand, because he’s a character that kind of defies our concept of realism (this is an alien we’re talking about), has to be grounded and made relevant through the world around him, the world we recognize, which is one of consumerism.

I promise this isn’t some jaded look into movies and advertising. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m intrigued by the types of adverts that have been popping up within the last two months or so as Warner Bros. and DC Comics attempt to drum up more and more excitement for a movie that basically holds the future of the DC Cinematic Universe in its tenuous grip. While I doubt it’s the best business model, the various ads on television have been appealing to the movie-going public in a way that pretty much screams, “Please like us enough to go watch the movie! We promise Superman will be cool and relevant!”

And in a lot of ways, I think they’re succeeding. Based on the full trailers and the tv spots alone, the movie’s garnering plenty of positive attention with people really getting excited for Man of Steel. Beyond that, a few promotional videos definitely show the variety of ways Superman can be utilized to appeal to a target audience – even if it’s just a commercial. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be looking at three different ads/promotions and how they’re being utilized to get more people interested in Man of Steel.

The first is a video for the National Guard:

This has mostly been playing in theaters during the designated ad segments, but I think it’s made its way on to television screens as well. When you think about it, using Superman as a parallel to soldiers is practically a no-brainer. Superman may be a superpowered alien, but he inspires others to do better, to be courageous, brave, and reveal the true heroes from within. He makes people want to go where their safety may not be guaranteed just because they have a desire to help others. And like Superman, soldiers may not always wear their uniform on the outside, but they know, no matter what, that they’re always wearing the uniform even when others can’t see it.

The second ad is a commercial for Carl’s Jr.:

Yes, it’s just trying to get you to buy Carl’s Jr. burgers, but I like how they poke fun at the obvious damage that would occur from Superman fighting in the streets of Metropolis or Smallville and how much work that creates for others who have to go in and clean up after him. Unlike Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent doesn’t make enough money to pay for damages. So when the featurette says they’re trying to ground Superman in the real world, this is actually a pretty solid example of that. I love the look Superman gives (wonder what context it’ll actually have in the movie?)  after he damages the street in front of the construction worker. That sums up Clark and his small town upbringing right there. Plus the actor playing the construction worker is pretty funny too.

Okay, so this last piece of Man of Steel promotion requires some set-up. The first full trailer that pretty much got me completely on board with the movie showed Clark during his “lone wolf” phase as he tries to discover himself and his purpose for being on Earth. During this period of his life, he’s sporting a very nice beard and even has a fair amount of chest hair when he saves the oil rig workers and is shown on fire. Within a few seconds, we see Clark walking around, presumably, the Fortress of Solitude and then emerging in the Superman outfit completely clean-shaven. This prompted Conan O’Brien to post this vlog:

Superman Shaving

If you’re a fan of Conan O’Brien and his style of humor, then you know it’s just a parody of a lot of trailer response videos that are out there. Surprisingly, though, his point about not understanding how Superman could shave his beard sparked a hilarious response from Gillette. Not only did the company run a tv spot asking the same question, but they created a YouTube page featuring celebrity theories about how Superman shaves that people could vote for as well as contribute their own theories via Twitter. I personally think Kevin Smith’s theory is the best, but you can also choose theories from Bill Nye, Mayim Bialik, or The MythBusters. I mean, if you wanted to ground Superman in the real world, then what better way than asking how he accomplishes the everyday tasks and chores of the average man? He can obviously grow a beard, a man’s gotta shave, so how does he do it?

The odd thing is how polarizing this particular ad campaign has become. The “how Superman shaves” theory isn’t new to the geek community since the agreed upon canon reason is he bounces his heat vision off a mirror and sears the hairs off. I get that it’s in the comics and several versions of Superman have used it, but the amount of responses that were genuinely angry at Gillette for daring to question the sacred hygiene habits of the Man of Steel is sort of baffling. Many responses were just the canon reason even though I think Gillette’s intentions were to get people to think outside the box about the answer and have some fun with it the way the celebrities are in their videos. Yes, they’re trying to make money. Gillette’s a corporation, but that doesn’t mean the person in the Marketing/Advertising department who came up with this response doesn’t deserve a little credit. It’s a fun way to get people talking and thinking about Superman in a different light, grounding him in the same way the featurette talks about.

But that’s just one person’s opinion. I also suggested that Supes just rips his beard off and throws it into the sun – like ya do. Whether or not you like the ads that have been coming out for Man of Steel, I think we can all agree that June 12th and the weeks that follow are going to have a lot of DC fans on the edge of their seats.

About the author

Samantha Cross

Sam is a self-described "sponge for information" soaking up little tidbits here and there that make her the perfect partner on pub trivia night! Hailing from the beautiful Pacific Northwest, she indulges her nerdy and geeky qualities by hanging out at the local comic book shop, reading anything she can find, and voicing her opinion whether you welcome it or not. An archivist and historian, she will research any and all things and will throw down if you want to quote Monty Python, Mel Brooks, or The Simpsons!


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