Movies · News

Wonder Woman Deserves Better

How to make a dumb marketing decision. Or, brand names are important.
By  · Published on May 8th, 2017

Or, brand names are important.

There is a new Wonder Woman movie coming out on June 2. Considering the site you are visiting, this is probably not news to you. In addition to the usual flood of interviews, trailers, and TV spots, Wonder Woman has snagged some cross-promotional deals, including Dr. Pepper (cool), Pinkberry (sure), and thinkThin protein bars (*cue internet firestorm*). And if you didn’t expect the third one to stir up some controversy, I only have a vaguely patronizing head shake and four words for you: you sweet summer child.

I myself was not pleased by the third one, though admittedly slightly amused—if I couldn’t find some form of amusement in these sort of things, I’d pretty much be a perpetual rage monster, which sounds exhausting. I mean, there seem to be large swathes of the internet where people enjoy that lifestyle, so maybe there’s an appeal I’m just not getting. To each her own, and all that.

Anyway, I’m the sort of person who likes to think things to death, and then ruminate a little more for good measure, so I asked myself, why exactly did the Wonder Woman/thinkThin announcement cause me to feel that way? Why are others upset about it? Is there something actually worth being upset over?

Like I mentioned, I felt both irritated and amused, so let’s deal with the amusement bit first, because it’s incredibly simple. I just imagined the following exchange in some meeting room somewhere, featuring two suits who probably have a bunch of fancy degrees and diplomas on display in their offices and consider 1950s USA as #lifestylegoals:

“We want to reach out to the womenfolk. What do women like, Jim?”

“I dunno, Bob.” *head scratch* “Well, the missus is always going on about her diet…”

“That’s it, Jim! You’re a genius!”

And that’s it. I am somewhat easily amused. On to the irritation:

Now, just to give a bit of background: I am not a DC hater or huge Marvel fan. I am a generally neutral territory that can be swayed to sympathize with whichever side gives me better movies. When Batman was Christian Bale and DC’s favorite director was Christopher Nolan, I even leaned DC. But times have changed. The new DC movie aesthetic is coded Zack Snyder, which is a choice that has brought in box office dollars if very little else. I approached Man of Steel with an open mind and heart and left wanting to apologize to my current self on behalf of my two-and-a-half-hours-ago self for making such a poor life choice and losing precious time that could have been spent watching paint dry somewhere, free of charge.

My personal reaction to first hearing about the upcoming Wonder Woman film was the sort of feeling you get seeing an acquaintance who seems to be a genuinely decent person out on a date with someone you know is absolutely awful: a general sense of foreboding, perhaps the tiniest pinch of disappointment, and a tidbit to file away because it might be a useful point of conversation later. But then I saw the first trailer for Wonder Woman and was pleasantly surprised. I even began to have the slightest shred of hope—maybe this could actually be good? I mean, even if the movie was a total garbage fire I had made up my mind to buy a ticket. I would like to see a quality woman-lead, woman-directed superhero movie at some point in my life, ideally before I pay off my student loans, and if Wonder Woman isn’t it, having it flop commercially would hardly be a harbinger of such a future. Still, I really want to actually enjoy Wonder Woman, and all the trailers and TV spots I have seen for it thus far have actually managed to keep some small flame of hope burning. So I can’t fault the marketing there; no Batman vs. Superman trailer or TV spot managed to convince me to even consider the possibility that they would get my money by any means short of prying it out of my cold, dead hands.

That said, when it comes to Wonder Woman’s marketing, two things appear to be upsetting people: a perceived dearth of it and the cross-promotional partnership with thinkThin. In regards to the first one, while I would agree that I personally, at this point, do not feel like I am seeing more of Wonder Woman than I do most of my own friends the way I did Harley Quinn when the marketing for Suicide Squad was at its height, the numbers simply don’t seem to be there to support that argument. Warner Bros. has spent considerably more ($3,043,212 vs. $2,645,643) on ads for Wonder Woman at this point than Suicide Squad, and while it’s unclear if these numbers include money spent on such inspired (note: this is sarcastic) decisions as modifying a trailer to “fix” Wonder Woman’s armpits, the bottom line is Warner Bros. has spent the money.

Which brings us to the second thing—the thinkThin partnership. The incredible thing about this debacle is that it’s literally a matter of the brand’s name, and the way that a specifically female consumer whose eye happens to be caught by the Wonder Woman display will be instructed to “think thin” and presented with a picture of an incredibly thin woman—and not just any woman, but the latest variation of a cultural icon. There’s nothing wrong with Gal Gadot being thin, but this particular marketing choice puts a specific emphasis on her thinness rather than something that actually matters.

The usual way this sort of branding works is more along the lines of “this superhero is awesome, this product is also awesome.” Captain America and Cheez-Its. Guardians of the Galaxy and Doritos. With Wonder Woman displayed alongside boxes of thinkThin protein bars, the message instead is, “See how skinny she is? You, too, might have a chance to be skinny if you eat our protein bars.” If Wonder Woman was being promoted on, say a display of Luna bars—i.e. another female-marketed protein bar brand—the “this superhero is awesome, this product is also awesome” relationship would once again be front and center. Yeah, those same eye-rolling undertones would be there, but with this particular partnership those undertones take on the subtlety of a giant flashing neon sign.

It’s a dumbass marketing choice. Or in a sad way not so dumb, because it’s at least got people talking. But if we’re going to talk about Wonder Woman’s marketing—and we should, because that, too, is marketing, and if we really don’t like the way Warner Bros. is doing it then we might as well pick up its slack—why don’t we actually talk about something cool?  While Wonder Woman’s marketing features perhaps an unusually high number of dumb choices, between the deal with thinkThin and the armpit “fix,” not every marketing decision has been equally confounding. The trailers themselves have been quality stuff—enough to give some sense of plot while steering clear of over-sharing, as some trailers are wont to do—and then there’s Danica Patrick’s car. Danica Patrick’s car is seriously awesome. So why don’t we talk about that instead, hmm?

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Ciara Wardlow is a human being who writes about movies and other things. Sometimes she tries to be funny on Twitter.