Copyright & Property: Marvel Entertainment

How Marvel uses Neuromarketing

Note: This was originally a scientific article used in an exam context. It is therefore meant as an educational piece and not written as a typical blog post, i.e. it ends abruptly.

Written by Jakob Pii

Artistic works of art has always been difficult to commercialize on a mass consumer bases, it can easily become too pretentious. The entertainment industry is by and large works of art or some form of pop-art. Especially the movies- and games industry is big business, which mixes Return of Investment with emotional messages. It basically means that a paradox is constantly present in the entertainment industry throughout its lifespan. A paradox between an inherent risk adverse behavior, from the money men and the artistic views, from the creators.

So how did this billion-dollar industry fix this paradox and create a steady flow of content, through a multitude of distribution channels? By letting both sides win, so the money men minimizes the risks involved and the creator side, gets artistic freedom. Enter Neuromarketing, exemplified through Marvel Entertainment and their use of Neuromarketing as Universification[1].

The neuromarketing angle of consumer decision making, is based in large part by a framework consistent of 4.5 parameters; 1) Representation & Attention, 2) Predicted Value, 3) Experienced Value, 4) Remembered Value and 4.5) Updating of Brand Associations. (Plassmann, Zoëga Ramsøy, & Milosavljevic, 2012: “Branding the Brain: A critical review and outlook”)

The human brain and the average consumer, are bombarded with stimuli from all-around. Even though the brain is inherently visual guided, it can on average only process 50 bits of information, without filtering something out. This filtering is extremely important and interesting in the field of neuromarketers, giving that it basically means if your brand works or doesn’t (Plassmann, Zoëga Ramsøy, & Milosavljevic, 2012: “Branding the Brain: A critical review and outlook”). The human brain in this context therefore filters out from basic categories or parameters, driven by internal and external sources of influence. The internal sources are the scientific or biological ones. In the context of entertainment, it will be the state of mind of the consumer, at the present moment, the brand is shown or exposed. It will be driven by the mood, preferences, memory and thereby in which there is or isn’t a need for entertainment or escapism.

Where the latter, the external ones, is defined by the immediate environment around the consumer, as well as the cultural cloud that surrounds them. This is the location of which the brand is shown, hereby the communicative noise level and the existence of alternative buying options, as well as the social context of the brand. In the case of the entertainment industry, exemplified through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this parameter is mastered to an extreme amount by Marvel Entertainment. This is covered in the next part called; The Practical Exemplifications. Spoilers, they basically construct the external sources, to guide and manipulate the internal ones. The result, generating an artificial or enhanced positive experienced value, through a positive pre-conceived one.

More precisely, are the predicted value in the consumer brain, a biased view of the enjoyment of the brand in consumption — the experienced value. This evaluation is documented to be shown in two main areas of the brain; vmPFC (Ventral medial prefrontal cortex) and dIPFC (Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). A study conducted by Schaefer & Rotte in the Neuroreport, have shown in this context, that positive brand associations or memories, constitutes a positive biased view of the consuming of the brand. (Plassmann, Zoëga Ramsøy, & Milosavljevic, 2012: “Branding the Brain: A critical review and outlook”)

The practical exemplifications will be focused on Marvel Entertainments Universification and their marketing- and brand strategy.

At the start of the millennium Marvel Entertainment was conducting a long term strategy, realized through the hiring of a new Chief Executive Officer. A hardcore comic book geek, named Kevin Feige. He pitched to combine the world building of comic books, to various and conjoined cinematic experiences. The movies or Intellectual Properties, would tie in to each other, generating a clear and consistent brand identity. It got greenlit and realized first through Iron Man in 2008. It became a critical darling and both fans and mainstream moviegoers, praised it to the skies. Today, everybody knows who Iron Man and Tony Stark is. Which before 2008, only a devoted fan base of comic book readers, knew of this.

But this was only the start. Through the combination between the activation of, what I will coin as, Sleeper-Communities[2] and the mouth-to-mouth promotion following. Launched a new era of cinema, in the entertainment industry. For the first time, through After-Credits Scenes and cross character appearences, the next Marvel property was teased, to generate conversation and fan theories. Basically promoting the next cinematic experience, the second after the viewer have watched a Marvel movie. The Universification of a conjoined world of tie-ins, was created.

This was ingenious move on many accounts. But the Neuromarketing or cognitive explanation of the successful strategy of narrative world building, is covered by three psychological effects: The Recency Effect, Frequency Illusion and Confirmation Bias. (YouTube, 2014, Nerdwriter1: “The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon)

The human brain are pattern-finding powerhouses. How we perceive the world and understand the reality around us, are through patterns. If these patterns are not inherently visual or logical, the brain will create illusions to trick our consciousness into believing it`s real. This cognitive behavior is called The Frequency Illusion. This combined with how we understand this pattern or world around us, can be distorted and subjected in what us, as individuals, have combined in patterns. This means that our reality is fluid and can keep up or change our ignorance or perception on many subjects, theories or areas. A term called: The Confirmation Bias. (YouTube, 2014, Nerdwriter1: “The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon)

When we perceive a newfound word, theory, term, world etc. our brain creates a new pattern. Tricking our mind into seeing this new word, theory, term or world, everywhere. An aspect of the cognitive behavior, called The Recency Effect. To put it into marketing terms. One of the key points of promotion and categorizing of a target group, is through a market map. Within this, exists a key term called the percentage of attention and the percentage of knowing of the brand. When using these psychological methods and biases, you artificially create a higher attention rate of your product. Something Marvel Entertainment has done with their conjoined properties, giving that they basically have constructed a movie-pattern, our brains easily can connect to.

To give a concrete example of how well thought out, Marvel Entertainment realizes their brand- and marketing strategy. You have to look at their Social Media tactics.

A carefully orchestrated plan is put in motion, for the launch of each Marvel property. They combine Social Media, with PR and distribution. To create and manipulate the audience through two theories; Hyper-Socialization and The Band-Wagon Effect.

With every new opening of a Marvel movie, press- and fan screenings are conducted. These individuals (which usually are devoted fans) and media institutions, have review embargos up to a certain global date. But assign access of Twitter-reactions through defining Hashtags. What this means is, that Marvel creates an extreme amount of anticipation, for the general consumer mass. It creates conversations, fan theories and brief snip bits of the movie, typically positive, due to the devoted fan screenings. After this hype-period, the global review embargo date is released and a flood of reviews are published. Drowning the average consumer in reviews and thereby hiding the more critical and negative opinions. This generates an artificially positive perceived value of that movie, resulting in a sizeable bigger blockbuster opening[3] (2014, DenOfGeek: “Marvel Studios, and the Marketing Model Template).

All This combined with the social media implications of the mouth-to-mouth promotion of the movie. Basically being indorsed by friends and family, certain opinion leaders. Something the millennial generation is especially prone to, a theory called; Hyper-Socialization or The Band-Wagon Effect. (iMedia Editors, 2014: “4 Ways Millennials are Shaping Entertainment Marketing)

[1] Definition: A conjoined world of narratives, tone, characters and style. Can be both literally, cinematic or interactive.

[2] Definition: A relatively small and devoted fan base, of similar characteristics, also known as Sub-culture or sub-societies.

[3] Definition: A blockbuster opening is the launch of a particular movie and the income generated in that period. Typically the first two days of release.