If you haven’t yet seen it, there’s a terrific infographic featuring the popular Marvel Comics superhero Wolverine. Much of the world became familiar with the Wolverine character through his portrayal by Hugh Jackman in the X-Men movies.
But Wolverine was a fan favorite, ever since his introduction in Incredible Hulk #181 (1974). The character exploded in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s and continues to be an A-list character in the comics and on the silver screen.
I discovered an infographic on Gizmodo.com and was impressed with the way the designer managed to incorporate the right amount of design, text, and layout to this rather complex character.
This was no average fan. This was a pro designer at work and this infographic was quickly going viral. At the bottom of the infographic was a cleverly placed URL that drove you to a website where you can buy costumes.
Yep, you guessed it, there are even costumes of Wolverine. This was a fantastic example of visual content marketing in action. They knew who the audience was, what would draw them in, and how to get them to their target website.
Two of the architects behind this content marketing campaign were Kate Willeart and Mark Bietz. They sat down for a brief email interview to discuss their content strategy tactic from a marketing perspective. (Note: This is Part 1 of a 2-part series. Check out Part 2.)
BUDDY: To get started, can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
KATE: My name is Kate Willaert, and I’m a graphic designer for Fun.com (and its sister sites HalloweenCostumes.com and T-Shirts.com). My job includes web design, creating t-shirt designs, and designing marketing materials such as infographics.
MARK: I’m Mark Bietz, VP of Marketing for Fun.com and I lead the marketing strategy here.
Just for context, there’s this great infographic that painstakingly details the costumes of the Marvel superhero character Wolverine. At the bottom is a URL for HalloweenCostumes.com. Can you describe how this project came about?
KATE: The Wolverine piece is actually the third in a series of superhero costume infographics I’ve designed, which previously included Iron Man and Superman. The inspiration came from an infographic I saw comparing the cost of Batman and Iron Man’s estates — their suits, their houses, their cars, etc. You get to the bottom of this infographic and see that it’s by an insurance company. I thought that was really clever.
MARK: We knew we wanted to try this approach so we brainstormed infographics that would maintain our company’s core focus on being the web’s premiere costume authority.
KATE: Being a comic fan, my first thought was naturally: “hey, superheroes wear a lot of different costumes!” There was an Iron Man movie coming up, so illustrating a visual history of Iron Man’s armor seemed like the way to go. Since that one was well-received and Superman had a movie coming out the following month, I followed up with a Superman-centric infographic.
There had already been a very nicely illustrated Superman costume progression by Deviant Artist Imbong Hadisoebroto, so focusing on the history of Superman’s chest emblem instead seemed like a better direction. The Superman infographic was even more successful than the Iron Man piece, so continuing with a Wolverine one seemed like the thing to do.
There are countless superheroes, including several with movies in the theaters right now, so how did you come to decide to feature Wolverine?
KATE: The main factors taken into consideration were the popularity of the character, whether the character had enough history to do a costume progression, and how much buzz the character would generate around the time the graphic was completed. Nothing generates more buzz around a character than a movie release so Wolverine was the obvious choice.
Who are you hoping to appeal to with this particular tactic?
KATE: We imagined the target audience to be moviegoers who also read blogs. Superheroes have been big at the movies this summer, so it was more than just my personal love of comics that led us in this direction — though there was that too, of course.
I’ve seen infographics by Kate before and it appears she’s something of a Tumblr superstar (http://katewillaert.tumblr.com/). What role does Tumblr’s ecosystem play in a campaign like this?
KATE: Ha, I’m not sure I’d go that far. While my Tumblr has gotten a lot of exposure this summer, my total number of followers is still lower than you’d probably think.
MARK: Tumblr can play a big role due in part to the platform’s popularity. Most of all, though, Tumblr’s advantage is the explosive connectivity that the content curators and publishers share with each other as a result of their like-minded interests. This is critical to helping a content piece spread.
And what tips would you have for people who are interested in using Tumblr as a marketing channel?
KATE: My advice is just keep in mind what the Tumblr audience wants to see. They’re not interested in being advertised to; they’re interested in images that are unique, funny, informative, impressive, or artistic. If you create something that hits one or all of those categories there’s a better chance of it taking off, even if it’s branded content. If you think about it, Mondo-style movie posters are essentially ads, but people share them because they’re impressive and artistic.
MARK: It’s really about making sure that the content you are creating and marketing is relevant to your brand, and that it brings a unique value to those folks seeking out popular online dashboards. They’re looking for the best, freshest content around the web, and you’ve got to keep up! Also, finding the right audience is key.
How would you describe this? Is it viral marketing? Is it visual marketing?
KATE: “Viral marketing” is an odd marketing term in that you can’t necessarily call something viral until it actually goes viral, so saying you’re going to create something viral is like saying you’re going to write a hit song. There are too many uncontrollable factors to ever guarantee something will go viral. I’ve gotten lucky in creating a few “hit songs” in a row, but there’s no formula that will automatically lead to success. I’m not really sure what I’d call this specific approach. Complementary marketing? For me, it’s about creating entertaining content with a message that happens to compliment what your business does.
MARK: I agree.
Were you able to measure a lift in any of your key performance indicators?
MARK: Good content that gets spread will always drive traffic, so yes, it has definitely helped our KPI’s.
I first discovered the infographic on Gizmodo. Did you realize it was there? And what’s the significance of seeing this infographic break out of Tumblr and begin to go viral?
KATE: Yes, we were definitely excited to see it show up on Gizmodo so quickly after we published it. However, Tumblr wasn’t the only entrance point to the infographic. While it has definitely gone viral, our marketing team has worked hard to get the word out through many other platforms. Note that Gizmodo sourced the HalloweenCostumes.com blog directly, and sister site Kotaku cited Geekologie.
How does this fit into the larger marketing campaign and are more of these infographics being planned?
MARK: A big part of our culture is being costume experts and we hire people accordingly – people that really know a lot about the realms in which costumes are present (such as comic books). This mentality flows throughout the company from merchandising to web design to customer service, and allows us to easily connect with people by creating content that is directly in line with the research we are already doing. Our goal is to provide the best end to end experience to our customers, so if they hear about us by seeing a cool infographic that resonates with them, we are off to a good start.
KATE: It’s safe to say that we’ll be doing more costume-related infographics at some point, but now that the summer blockbuster season is ending they’re not necessarily going to be superhero-themed. (Unless blogs start emailing us demanding more superhero costume progressions.)
These days, there are a lot of people who want to market to the “geek” crowd. Many of these campaigns can be a bit cruel or condescending. Yet this one seemed to resonate with the target audience. What should marketers keep in mind when it comes to communicating with the geek crowd?
KATE: My advice is simply: take the subject matter seriously. Speaking as a comic fan, we can instantly tell when copy has been written by someone who doesn’t read comics, because they often play up the campy side by inserting phrases like “Bif! Bam! Pow!” The same rule applies to any subsection of “geek culture.”
Take it seriously, and respectful to the subject matter. Using humor is fine — I have a very dry sense of humor — but you need to make sure you’re laughing with the fans and not laughing at the topic as whole because you’re not taking it seriously.
MARK: Well put.
KATE: Having fun is serious business.