100 Days of Pop: Episode 10

Hello True Believers!  
I’m Joe Cox the Pop-Marketer and today we honor the late Stan Lee, the creator so amazing that the ideas he created continue to be as relevant and fantastic as they were decades ago when they were created.  An uncanny feat in itself, but not the topic we’ll discuss today.

Stan wasn’t just a creator, but an incredible marketer, who’s vision into his audience and why and how they consumed entertainment was way-way ahead of his time. Yes, Stan Lee was the OG and grandfather of Pop-Marketing as an art and I’d like to celebrate him today by talking about a few of them.
I am bummed, yes because the world seems a little less spectacular without Stan in it, but also that I didn’t begin hunting down pop-marketers earlier. I really would have loved to have talked to Stan about his ideas about marketing the Marvel universe from the very beginning.  
The great thing is that you don’t have to be a comic nerd to know who Stan is and his impact on pop-culture and entertainment, the tough part is narrowing down his ideas and insights to just a few.  


Probably the most famous is that he put the human into super-humans. Comics really were so 1 dimensional before he arrived on the scene.  There really wasn’t much to the characters. He changed the game- He read a ton growing up and wanted to be a famous novelist- He knew that great stories are all about the reader being able to relate to a character and even being able to see themselves in their shoes.  This created a connection with Marvel’s audience. Marvel characters weren’t from Metropolis or Gotham, they were from Queens and Hells Kitchen. They weren’t aliens or billionaires they were highschoolers that weren’t as much worrying about the guarding the universe as they were about paying rent, getting a date to the prom and a math quiz on Thursday. For the first time the reader felt like these heroes were humans, just like them, they had flaws and fears and with great power came a great responsibility.  

For us marketers, this is as relevant and powerful for us today as it was for Marvel when Stan saw it decades ago.  Humanize your brand story, empathize with our audience and understand their world and you will connect with them in a greater and more impactful way.


And then there are the cameos-  Cameos are such a pop-marketing idea that I’d almost call it a pillar.   Though Stan didn’t invent the creator cameo, he certainly perfected it, appearing in 34 movies as well as video games, cartoons and of course comics. It was like a water-mark that told everyone that the story was Stan approved, that we didn’t forget the fans and he was somehow keeping a watchful eye on his babies. It wasn’t like Hitchcock, they weren’t hidden, but they were signatures.

It still remember reading Stan’s editorial pieces in comics.  They weren’t debating canon or how strong Spiderman really was but about things that Stan was thinking about. Racism, family, bullying, inspiration and work ethic. He wasn’t talking to us as if we were children. He wanted us to think and instead of spoon feeding us only the things we wanted, he challenged us as his readers and always let us know he cared deeply for what he did.

Marketers take heed of this.  What are your brand’s signatures?  How are you building relationships with the consumer and the people bring your brand story to life?  People want a POV, they want to be challenged, not spoon-fed. If you find yourself dumbing down your communications because your consumer won’t get it, you may want to reconsider.


My all time favorite though is the fact that was a was a universe builder.  He saw the giant opportunity that was a connected universe and is a grandfather of the now pop-cultured idea of a crossover.
BS or Before Stan, comic books and characters were confined to their own worlds- Metropolis, Gotham City-  They did their own thing. Same with movies- They were there own 2 hour worlds- and with the help of creators like Stan, we found the now unlocked potential that would be unleashed if you let things spill over, if you made things one world, taking a bunch of separate sandboxes and dumping them all into one giant sandbox.  This is a brilliant creative idea but an even more potent and extraordinary marketing idea.
The story behind the crossover is pretty cool-  Stan was working with his team on Fantastic Four comic and  in the comic story, they were at a baseball game- on a whim they thought-  Hey, let’s draw Peter Parker into the crowd, because maybe he’d be there taking pics for the Bugle-  This wasn’t mentioned in the story and there wasn’t social media to make it go viral, but they got hundreds of letters from fans letting them know that they saw Peter and how mind-blowing that this small action was-   He used that feedback to power some of the largest crossover stories ever told in comics and now movies with Infinity War-
Joining worlds allows fans of one comic to be introduced to characters that they never knew existed. It allows you as a company to bring everyone together and expose to new or lagging product to give a reason beyond price and discount to trial- A way to launch a new product using the product that currently has all of the energy-  This is such a huge lesson for us as marketers- If you like our coats, you’ll love our hats and pants and luggage- If you dig our software, you’ll really get a lot out of training camps- This is the world of spinoffs and crossovers - Universe building is just another name for a branded house- A brand that connects-

I’ll leave everyone w/ my favorite quote of Stans and something that has shaped my own work and life.

I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.
— Stan Lee, The Washington Post

Excelsior my friend-  Thanks for all of the stories and for inspiring so many.  

Joe Cox