Very few brands have touched as many generations around the world as DC Comics. Two years ago, DC Entertainment approached Landor to refresh the DC Comics brand to ensure it was fitting of a multimedia brand distributing content in a myriad of new ways. DC's rebrand, which coincided with its decision to reboot its entire line of superhero titles, was a signal of the company’s efforts to evolve in order to ensure ongoing relevance for new audiences against its competition.
Once iconic comic book rivals, Marvel and DC Comics now compete on a global movie stage, along with their respective studio partners, Disney and Warner Bros. The last few weeks have been fueled with speculation around ‘the first true face-off between DC and Marvel’ after it was announced that Marvel's third installment of it's Captain America franchise would be released in the box office on 6 May 2016, the day initially outlined for the release of DC's 'Batman Vs Superman’, In light of this debate, and the new stage in which superheroes now compete on, we thought it would be interesting to compare the strength and stature of superhero brands in Australia.
We spoke to Australians aged 18-54, asking them specific questions relating to superhero brands' relevance, differentiation, knowledge and esteem (four pillars of brand health). The findings were not entirely surprising but make for interesting reading. Probably the most telling finding is that, whilst Batman and Superman share the top spot amongst 35-55 year olds, Superman drops to 5th for 18-34 year olds, and Batman, one place to 2nd. It seems that, whilst Batman has continued to re-invent himself to stay relevant for new audiences (namely through the recent Dark Knight movies) Superman has been clinging onto his illustrious past.
Wolverine is overall strongest amongst 18-34 year olds, which is perhaps not surprising given that he has featured in 7 movies in the last 14 years, all played by Australian favourite Hugh Jackman. Ironman tops the overall rankings on Relevance alone, which indicates a broad association with audiences. Given the wide success and broad appeal of the Iron Man movies, and of Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of playboy millionaire Tony Stark, this is not entirely surprising either.
When you dig a little deeper, the data reveals that Superman remains strong amongst 35-54 year olds, particularly on Knowledge and Esteem, the pillars that determine a brand’s stature, often associated with large, successful heritage brands such as Qantas or Holden. Batman is ahead of Superman on the pillars of brand strength (Relevance and Differentiation), normally associated with newer brands or brands that manage to consistently re-invent themselves for new audiences, such as Apple or Sony.
These pillars of brand strength is where Superman falters dramatically amongst 18-34 year olds, falling to 4th in Differentiation and 6th in Relevance, behind Marvel's Wolverine, Ironman, Thor and even Captain America. This lack of relevance is clearly recognised by DC comics, who, when rebooting all its titles in 2012, did away with Superman’s marriage to Lois Lane to pave the way for a new romance with Wonder Woman. It will be interesting to see what impact these developments may have on the brand health of these superheroes once they filter through to the big screen.
It's worth noting that, whilst Wonder Woman failed to make any of our final tables, she does retain some residual brand stature, coming 3rd amongst 35-54 year olds for Esteem. In a corporate world she would share a similar position on a brand map with Kodak – not extinct but it’s a long road back.
Richard Swain, senior strategist, Landor Associates