Just a month from release, DC fans have been quick to notice that Wonder Woman's marketing pales in comparison to her male colleagues Batman and Superman. There will be some who view that as a long-overdue adjustment, given that recent superhero films have seen their marketing budgets bloat to hundreds of millions of dollars. But it's what fans have been shown to expect studios are willing to spend... so why is Wonder Woman the first to take the hit? Well, if you believe that flooding the market space with unavoidable advertising, footage, promotional tie-ins, and sponsorship succeeds by raising awareness, or convincing the widest possible audience to pay admission, Wonder Woman may not need the help... not after Supergirl showed how much demand was already there.
Speaking during Oracle's Modern Marketing Experience 2017 in Las Vegas this week, Time Warner's Chief Marketing Officer, Kristen O'Hara explained that finding, courting, and satisfying target audiences is a different beast in the digital age. Back in the days of Mad Men, flooding the market was seen as a recipe for success, and to this day, many companies believe that "dominating" the conversation is the most desirable strategy. But as Time Warner is now finding, inundating the public with advertising may be a direct route... but not necessarily the best in the long term.
So as the devoted fans see the lack of highly-visible marketing as cause for anger or concern, and movie blogs explain it as more reason to assume the worst of the DCEU, the marketing team is just as likely to be cross-pollinating DCEU products with HBO's Game of Thrones audience, or vice versa. The person leading that interconnected marketing overhaul is O'Hara, who makes it clear that the science behind the advertising and audience of Wonder Woman goes deeper than fans could ever know:
"We want the release of Wonder Woman in June to be a heroic moment for our company, but I think in a data-driven world the heroic marketing moments aren't those big, huge moments. They're an aggregate of tiny little moments that happen over a long period of time that help us get smarter and smarter about our customers [and] their behavior... in the case of Wonder Woman, this is a release that we started talking about two years ago... the collection of data across the entire DC franchise, whether it was video games, comic book releases, TV shows, or theatrical releases... every moment mattered to us."
Knowing the marketing for Wonder Woman is only nearing the conclusion of its two year plan may do little to assuage concerned or indignant fans, justified in their fear that Wonder Woman is being given worse treatment than her fellow DCEU heroes. Or worse yet, being set up for failure when a lack of marketing leads to lower box office numbers.
Not so, suggests O'Hara. In fact, when the marketing campaign for the Supergirl TV show's second season was in its early stages, Warner's marketing team saw it as a chance to test just how much of a sense could be gained of its female, superhero audience:
"One example... About fifteen months ago, we had a modest campaign that we were doing for the TV show Supergirl. And we started to discuss, yes it was important to drive tune-in for that show, but one other amazing benefit from that campaign would be the amount of data we could collect about female superhero fans, which we hadn't really done up to that point. So a modest campaign generated, I think, five million female superhero fans in one week that we were able to model over time, to grow that audience leading up to fifteen months later the release of that movie. Now we're certainly not just targeting female fans, it's a wide release. But that ability to think about segmentation and every consumer engagement with our content is an opportunity to learn about them and serve them better.
"We’re at a point right now where every marketing campaign, whether it’s HBO, Turner or Warner Bros, games and so on, is starting from a data-first place. It’s informing everything from communications planning to creative strategy and media planning... That’s shifted so much of how we go to market."
O'Hara's comments offer another important voice in the current conversation surrounding superhero mega-blockbuster filmmaking and advertising. There's no question that it's thrilling for fans to see a studio bankroll a big budget adaptation of their favorite characters or properties, AND a massive, globally-visible campaign to guarantee its dominance of the market. But avid movie fans will also know that it's that exact thinking that leads to incredibly bloated budgets - and the now clichéd axiom that so-called "box office blockbusters" have to earn close to $1 billion just to break even. As a result, dependable formulas arise, and are repeated ad nauseum.
Both sides of the argument make valid points. Yes, it's disappointing that the first female-led, shared superhero universe film isn't being marketed as the biggest, must-see film of the summer (yet). But every dollar spent towards that kind of campaign - which O'Hara claims is an older mode of thinking - is a dollar that must be made back for the film to be viewed a success. We previously made that point when other pundits claimed Wonder Woman's opening weekend would disappoint... ignoring its far smaller budget, and therefore increased odds of WB deeming it a success. It's possible that the marketing analysis surrounding Supergirl offered more evidence that brute force, "one-to-many" marketing strategy wasn't necessary. Make the movie, show it off in strong trailers, and beef up trailer and TV spots before release day.
It isn't news to female superhero fans that there is a demand for more representation, and these insights might help to explain the lack of female-led superhero properties at Marvel. If Warner Bros. only realized the marketing potential after launching a female-led superhero series, it's a competitive edge they now have over the competition. A competitive edge that will likely extend, given the immediate green-lighting of a Gotham City Sirens and solo Batgirl film. On an anecdotal level, it seems fair to state that superhero movie fans who would need to be convinced to see a Wonder Woman movie beyond trailers and traditional marketing may not be a worthwhile target audience.
In the end, the fans looking to simply get excited about Diana Prince's big screen origin story should ponder if the fact they're not seeing much Wonder Woman marketing has something to do with the fact that they're already on board... while taking comfort in the fact that Wonder Woman's release strategy is being steered by the actual research and data of the female superhero fan base. As opposed to the kind of female-focused online marketing that, unfortunately, courts trolls and misogyny all too easily.
And remember: if it appears Warner Bros. aren't worried about Wonder Woman needing all the help they can buy, well... they would know.