When Did Marvel First Put Product Placement In Their Comics?

In "When We First Met", we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, "Avengers Assemble!" or the first appearance of Batman's giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man's face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that.

Reader Dan Q. wrote in to ask when Marvel first did product placement in their comics.

Now, first off, we're not talking stuff like when Ross Andru, who was highly dedicated to drawing authentic locales, would draw in stuff like Nathan's hot dog stand at Coney Island into a Spider-Man comic book...

We're also not talking stuff like Marvel's famous Hostess ads...

We're not even talking about Marvel's various licensed comic book characters over the years, like NFL SuperPro...

Or the various license comic books that Marvel puts out (like the Dodge comic book that I took the featured image from).

We're just talking about when a company pays a comic book company money to advertise their product within a comic book. Marvel's former Advertising Director Joe Maimone explained how it all came about in a great interview posted at The Outhousers...

Marvel, when I got there, was not the company that it is today. You know, now they’re making their own movies; they’re doing very, very well. The comic book circulation originally wasn’t that great. Marvel Comics now is the fourth largest men’s magazine in America. Before I got there, they barely had any ads in the comic books. For the last two or three years I was there, we maxed out every month. In the world of comic books, every comic book has a certain amount of pages and a certain amount of ads to sell. It’s not like another magazine, where you could just keep adding pages and make advertising revenue. Comic books are always, if I remember correctly, thirty-two pages, no matter what. Whether there are ads in them or not, they’re always the same amount. So when I was there, we really started getting at what they call non-endemic advertising. Back in the day, you would get advertisers who were endemic to comic books.

Like, for instance, for a sports magazine, an endemic advertiser would be an entity like major league baseball. In Billboard, an endemic advertiser was Sony Records. Marvel, when I first came on board had nothing but endemic advertisers. Companies that were Marvel licensees; people who made, like Spider-Man sneakers, things like that. They never had ads that catered to their demographic audience, basically, which was guys from 18 to 34.

So when I got there, we started working on capturing non-endemic ads.

Maimone then explained HOW they got those non-endemic ads...

Most comic book geeks, if you will, people who have been reading them for ten, twenty, thirty years, would be mortified at the thought of product placement in comic books. It was never thought of before, but I think because I came from outside the industry and was looking at these comics where Spider-Man flew through Times Square on paper. You know, they would draw the exact ads that were in Times Square the day that artist drew that scene. So I was like, well, it’s great that we have these ads that are really there, but, you know, why can’t we put whatever we want on those ads? And since they retained the look of ads – and basically, the word we used was organic – why can’t we just put whatever we want there as long as they are organic and flowed with the story and didn’t really take away from the story? And I was able to talk the Editorial people into doing it. In any magazine, there’s a huge butting of the heads between Editorial and Advertising. It’s just there – it’s everywhere. I don’t care – any magazine from Oprah to Cosmo to Sports Illustrated to Marvel – Editorial and Ad Sales butt heads. But I was able to convince them to try it. Like I said, there are a ton of scenes -- whether it’s Spider-Man flying through Times Square or just a bunch of kids on a corner wearing T-shirts. Why can’t there be something on the T-shirt? Why can’t we make it a concert T-shirt? Put a Van Halen logo on there or something like that? Or a logo, you know – I’m trying to think of one of the first ones we did – ah, I forget the name of the band. But we actually did as a product placement a record company. Remember, Marvel puts out, if I remember correctly, forty to sixty comic books a month, so there are plenty of opportunities throughout the comics where there are some people wearing T-shirts that could have a logo on it.

So when did Marvel actually start doing that sort of advertisement?

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