Marvel's Pasciullo Embraces Change with TV Advertising

Tuesday afternoon, Marvel Comics announced something of a unique promotion for their summer event series "Secret Invasion" -- a television commercial.

Airing Tuesday evening on ESPN2 during the Bricktown Showdown, the Minor League Baseball Championship, the commercial promoted "Secret Invasion," the 8 issue series by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu, that finds earth invaded by the alien Skrull race who can change their physical appearance to look like pretty much anyone. In the commercial, the familiar tag line Embrace Change was used, as seen in Marvel comics house-ads, and urged viewers to visit EmbraceChange.org, a web site "paid for by Skrulls." In addition to the television advert, fans in attendance at the game received Skrull masks, comics and other Marvel promotional items.

Commercial advertisements on television for comics isn't completely unheard of, but it's almost as rare an occurrence as finding a mint condition copy of "Amazing Fantasy" #15. What is behind this effort on Marvel's part and can we expect Marvel to "embrace change" themselves by airing more television commercials to reach mainstream consumers? CBR News spoke with Mike Pasciullo, Vice President of Merchandising & Communications, to further explore this latest promotional endeavor.

Mike, thanks for talking with CBR today. To start off, what's behind the decision to do some television advertising?

Over the last few years, Marvel and Minor League Baseball have established a strong relationship through partnerships with our Custom Solutions division. As a result, they came to us with a unique opportunity to advertise during the Bricktown Showdown telecast. This happened at the same time that we were finalizing our plans for the Secret Invasion "Embrace Change" marketing plan. And as we looked at the campaign, we realized that the imagery and the messaging of the campaign was intriguing enough that it could very easily captivate a mainstream audience to the point of wanting to find out more. So with the pieces fitting so well, we decided to try something new.

For a long time fans have asked, in some cases begged, comics publishers to advertise on television in an effort to reach a wider audience, but the answer was always, "It's just not cost effective," the thinking being that a comics publisher would never see a return on their investment. But here we are. What changed?

I wouldn't say that anything has really changed overall. It is still very expensive to advertise on a national broadcast, but sometimes you look at all of the factors in a situation and decide that a course of action is worthwhile. When we looked at the property, the concept, the reach, the financials, and the awareness potential, we agreed that this was something worth pursuing. This also falls into line with our overall initiative to reach the mainstream audience through different outlets. Over the last year, we have strived to create greater awareness outside of the comic book industry by working with publications like "Entertainment Weekly," "USA Today," "The New York Times," "The New York Post," as well as internet destinations such as MySpace, Facebook, MTV.Com and AintItCoolNews.com. This is another attempt to create awareness through means that are not considered traditional in our industry.

With two major Marvel film releases this year -- "Iron Man" and "Incredible Hulk" -- one might think they and their comic tie ins might be obvious choices to advertise, but it's not those individual titles that are being advertised, rather the massive "Secret Invasion" cross-over. Why advertise "Secret Invasion" specifically?

As it is, the DVD releases of the "Iron Man" and "Incredible Hulk" movies have their individual marketing strategies and plans in place. We could have looked to include these broadcast opportunities for the DVD releases, but with their plans already targeted and locked in, we decided the potential benefits to "Secret Invasion" were much greater than for the movie properties. Also, with the continual excitement that "Secret Invasion" has been generating in mainstream press like "Entertainment Weekly," "The Wall Street Journal," "Publishers Weekly" and more, as well as with causal and lapsed readers, this seemed the perfect property to promote on a national broadcast.

Is this the beginning of possibly regular television advertising on Marvel's part? There does seem to be other good mainstream opportunities for advertising, especially with Stephen King's "The Stand," "Dark Tower" and the upcoming "N" digital comic and even Marvel's Digital Comics Unlimited subscription service.

As with all of our marketing efforts, we will continue to evaluate all promotional opportunities that exist with the properties that we are promoting and make decisions based on what we think will be the most effective. Obviously we would love to do on-air advertising as much as possible, but it really comes down to all of the pieces fitting perfectly together.

What sort of response is Marvel looking for from this campaign that would green light future on air advertising?

As with most traditional advertising, it is extremely hard to gauge the ROI of an on-air advertisement. We have a few different internal gauges that we are using to determine the success of the spot. But as I said before, when looking at any marketing opportunity, we look at all of the elements involved and then make a decision.

What was the process and thinking that went in to creating these advertisements? Were the concepts created in house and then sent outside for production? Who handled production on these commercials?

We approached the concepting from a standpoint of what would intrigue and motivate a person, who has no idea what a Skrull is, to find out more about what they just experienced. Our goal is to make them want to find out more about what "Secret Invasion" is and what Embrace Change means. This commercial is just the first step of that process and fans should keep their eyes open for what step two will be

It was a very collaborative effort to create the commercial. Everything was handled in-house from concept to copy to music to final production and mixing. We had a group of individuals including Jeff Suter, Ramon Olivo, Jason Harvey and Tim Dillon that came together and did a stellar job creating a spot that we are all very excited about.

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