Pop-Marketing™ Dictionary: The Crossover

According to Wikipedia, a crossover is the placement of two or more otherwise discrete fictional characters, settings, or universes into the context of a single story. They can arise from legal agreements between the relevant copyright holders, unauthorized efforts by fans or common corporate ownership.

That's a lot to take in.  An easier way to think about it when pop-culture worlds collide, but the insight for us marketers is that audience LOVE to see the impossible made possible, to see two things they love to play together in a shared world and the more disparate the mashup the more attention and interest you can acquire. 


You can track the first iconic American crossover to literature.  In 1885, Mark Twain threw Tom Sawyer into The Adventures of Huckleberry Berry Finn novel as Huck's good friend and narrator of the book. Twain knew exactly what he was doing. He built the world of Tom Sawyer and used it to bring his audience over to a new story with a spoon full of sugar and something that they were not only familiar with but a fan of to solidify something new. 

The crossover had another golden moment in film through monster movies, starting with Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman in 1943.  The tidal waves of the films that followed are too numerous to mention, but the one that always filled me w/ awe and wonder as a child was 1962's Godzilla vs King Kong.  Even then, it somehow seemed impossible that these 2 worlds, characters, and stories would get smashed together. 

It spread through cartoons in the 70's where Scooby Doo made it a part of the show's DNA.  Scooby and the gang met up with everyone from Don Knotts to Batman and Robin, but the one that would bring me in so close to the television that I would tan from the radiation was when the gang would solve mysteries with The Harlem Globetrotters. How brilliantly weird the 70's were. Before the internet, it felt like you could get away with things more when nobody was looking. Either that or the drugs. 

Video games have a long history of cameos and crossovers, specifically with games like Kingdom Hearts which was a mashup of Disney and Final Fantasy Characters, as well as Marvel vs. Capcom series that allowed you to fight your favorite Marvel superheroes with the Japanese equivalent. Now that I'm thinking about it, the Japanese really had this thing down. 

TV is no stranger, though they were really masters of the "spin-off" which brought us shows like Mork and Mindy and Frasier, that's for another post. 

It was comic books that were able to take the most advantage of the phenomena.  They doubled down because it held a core business opportunity for them. A very effective way to bring readers of one book to a book that hadn't quite caught steam with an audience yet.  Basically, "put a Batman on it". These crossovers then turned into epic Crossover events that happened yearly. Events like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Civil War have recently come to life through their Big Screen Adaptations in the Marvel Cinematic universe as Captain America 3: Civil War and the epic Avengers 3: Infinity War. 

Are Crossovers Still Relevant Today? 

This would be a shitty read if it wasn't, but yeah, it's kind of a golden age for crossovers all through pop-culture.  Ready Player One is the perfect example of the crossover mixed with nostalgia with a healthy dose of nerd culture and Avengers 3: Infinity War is hand down the largest crossover of all time, spanning 10 years and multiple movies and characters, Marvel built a crossover machine and the crowds scream for more. 

Like most pop-marketing™, the trend bleeds. The creators of Fortnite have a fat finger on the pulse of this with the recent crossover with the Avengers baddy Thanos as a playable character and even outside of the game with the Twitch streaming viewing record being shattered by Drake crossing over with streaming gaming influencer Ninja for an epic round of Battle Royale. 

Ninja + Drake +Fortnite = Crossover Heaven

Ninja + Drake +Fortnite = Crossover Heaven

Sports, Music, TV, games, literature, the list doesn't quit and to answer your next question, nope, not a phase we're going through, crossovers, just like nostalgia, don't ever go away, they just move.  Smart Marketers just gotta know where to look. 

3 Ways Marketers Can Use Crossovers in Their Marketing Strategy:

The insight for marketers is that the audience, the fan, and your consumer want to see disparate things that they love, come together to create something new and remarkable, play in the world together or simply nod to each other's existence. 

The reason is simple and self-serving, not to the brands or icons involved but to the audience. It's dishing up what really tickles those dopamine sensors in our brain.  By mashing two seemingly disparate worlds together, that both impacts a consumer's life, you're giving your consumer evidence that they're persona and interests are valid.  They are cool. They get it and we know it. 

It also brings a sense of awe and wonder of the discovery of this team-up, or the story that these two entities breathe into the world. Curiosity is a hell of a drug and great marketers can use a crossover to get an unfair amount of attention on their brand, product or service and that's a big part of this very metagame.  We're all playing in a new world of competing in the Feed.

Here's how you can use this insight:

  1. Brand Mashups- Partnerships are a pillar of Pop-Marketing™ and a great place for brands to start is partnering up with other brands. What happens when your product, service, artifact, location, etc teams up with another brand? Burger King's McWhopper case study shows us that even the idea of a crossover no matter how impossible it seems can have a massive impact on culture. 
  2. Insert Yourself- Your cross-promotion doesn't have to be lame (yes, 89% are duds). Brands that know themselves and know where they can play can crossover into pop-culture and it can actually become part of the cannon. When we worked with Dairy Queen on Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the DQ team was able to work directly with James Gunn & Marvel to bring DQ into the Marvel world in the most relevant way, making a DQ restaurant into a key part of the plot.  DQ was able to use its small-town editorial authority to its advantage and make the crossover way more powerful than other larger brands w/ way deeper pockets.  Pick the right places to insert yourself, where you can share the stage, not get lost in the background.
  3. Sponsor a Crossover-  What crossover does the world want to see most? How can you use your corporate superpowers to make that happen? This is a fun one because you can cross time and space to bring together music groups, characters, events, or celebrities that the world will pay attention to. The SuperBowl halftime show cameos are a big example, but you can scale down as long as you know what your community wants to see most. 


Joe Cox