“Viral” marketing has always straddled the line between “it’s kind of cute that they made a website for The Daily Bugle” and “that seems kind of desperate.” But with Batman v Superman, “viral” marketing has reached its absolute nadir.
I cannot emphasize the scare quotes around “viral” enough. Even when it actually is the case that something gains inexplicable popularity through pure serendipity, adding the word “marketing” gives it a whole new level of misery. Saying “viral marketing” out loud leaves a bad taste.
We’ve had a couple of years of fake websites for fake companies in movies and TV. But what’s going on with Lex Luthor in Batman v. Superman is beyond the pale.
Remember when “LexCorp” sponsored free wifi at New York Comic Con? Nothing like forcing the con to pretend LexCorp is a real thing on their FAQ page:
Yes. Free WiFi throughout the Javits Center will be provided by LexCorp Industries.
LexCorp unites humanity through technology. We believe in technology as a means of communication, unification and a source of inspiration. To access the WiFi on-site at the Javits Center, connect to the “LexCorp” network from the list of available networks.
You will automatically be redirected to the LexCorp WiFi login page where you can enter your email address and click “CONNECT” to gain access to the network. LexCorp – together, we can build a better world.
You know what doesn’t sound ominous at all? Giving your e-mail address to LexCorp. And it wasn’t at all frustrating that the wifi had connectivity problems, so you were forced to give to them multiple times. And watch a video commercial for LexCorp. And not one that told you anything about Batman v Superman. Just one with the LexCorp logo. It was miserable branding.
That was bad and annoying, but the sponsored content on Fortune and Wired is a whole new level of strange. Fortune’s came out on October 5 and is a profile on Lex Luthor. It’s not a video of Jesse Eisenberg in character as Lex Luthor. It’s a written “article” about the life of fictional character Lex Luthor. And it is exactly as infuriating as it sounds. Here’s a representative sample:
As we patiently wait our turn at the complimentary LexCorp vegan food truck (this day’s fare: pesto-olive pizza with raw almond crust), the son of Alexander Luthor Sr. – Lex Luthor – explains the evolution of LexCorp.
Complimentary LexCorp vegan food truck. Turn that over in your head for a bit. Turning LexCorp into a parody of a hip Silicon Valley workspace doesn’t really sell the whole “he’s the villain” angle. Mostly, it just reminds us that Eisenberg did this role already in a better movie.
Want to see the dastardly Lex Luthor fall even more in your esteem? Here you go!
“Well, Dad was a complicated guy,” his down-to-Earth son notes as we pass a tasteful display of his world-famous collection of meteorite crystals. “He came from a country where the government, in the guise of protector, had absolute control over the citizens. That drove him. I get it. Heck, I’d hate to see that sort of thing happen over here.”
“Heck,” he says. And “darn” and “shoot,” I’m sure.
As for the accusations of a few fringe outliers who accuse him of being a “war monger,” Luthor just laughs them off. “I don’t know very many ‘war mongers’ who have a foosball table in the conference room.”
This is the content meant to sell us on Batman v Superman. It is not doing a good job. In fact, it is doing active harm. Because it is impossible to take Lex seriously now. It’s also impossible to take seriously a world where this article exists. It ends with, “It’s just lucky for us that, whatever the dangers lurking for us today, we have on our side Lex Luthor, a man of tomorrow.” No. Stop.
Which brings us to Wired’s “interview.” Not only is Lex going to take a beating this time, the fake interview is conducted by Ron Troupe, another DC character. Who, in the fictional world of this bit of advertising, works at Wired, I guess.
THE ELEVATOR DOORS open and I step into the opulent Royal Penthouse Suite at the Park Metropolis Downtown. Eleven lavish bedrooms, each with its own floor-to-ceiling Italian marble bath, a 100-seat cinema/lecture hall, a four-lane bowling alley (two standard American, one duckpin, one Belgian feather), twin helipads and its own private Caffè Bene. In other words: exactly what you’d expect for $95,000 a night.
Of course, no one’s actually staying here. This is just the space he’s rented for my fifteen-minutes-but-more-like-ten, no-holds-barred-except-several interview.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think billionaire tech wunderkind Lex Luthor was trying to intimidate me.
A) Caffè Bene! Two for one in the advertising in this piece! B) $95,000 a night. Lex is a fucking moron for how he spends money. C) Of course he’s trying to be intimidating. He’s Lex Fucking Luthor. But wait! There’s more!
RON TROUPE: Nice digs.
LEX LUTHOR: We’re not doing that.
RON TROUPE: Doing what?
LEX LUTHOR: We’re not opening with a wide-eyed layman’s description of the hotel room that makes me look unrelatable just to set up a dramatic twist wherein, lo and behold, you discover I’m surprisingly down-to-earth because I know the score of the last Metros game.
RON TROUPE: Do you?
LEX LUTHOR: Metros 102, Guardsmen 86.
RON TROUPE: Weird. (it’s the correct “relatable” small talk, but coming out of him, it sounds less like a basketball score than a set of algebraic integers.)
Holy mother of god, someone tried to write like Sorkin. It’s so not clever that it’s physically painful. And, once again, while the Eisenberg version of Mark Zuckerberg was good in The Social Network, it’s not exactly intimidating. I also question the constant reminders of better movies in the ad campaigns for your superhero movie.
The entire fake interview is like this. The good news is that, unlike the Fortune piece, Lex does not sound like a squeaky clean child. The bad news is that he sounds vaguely like he should be standing on a street corner with a sign reading “The end is near!”
Look at it from the other side: today, there are more criminals than ever. If you’re a criminal, that means more competition. So if you’re going to survive in that economy, you have to be better; you have to edge out your rivals. Shouldn’t the same be true for those on the side of the law? If justice is going to survive in the new global paradigm, we have to get better, invest in new disruptive technologies, think outside Pandora’s Box. Who has the resources to do it? The government? No; the only thing holding that old purse together is a thick layer of impenetrable red tape. Vigilantes like the Batman? Not unless they have access to vast amounts of untold riches.
Or possibly one with a racist epithet:
LEX LUTHOR: We should all be careful when we elevate anyone, human or alien, to “super” status.
RON TROUPE: Because we’re all equal.
LEX LUTHOR: Well that’s just absurd. No – I’m saying we need to be selective and elevate the right people. The right human people.
Congratulations, Warner Brothers! You’ve ruined Lex Luthor before anyone even saw your movie. Instead of letting it speak for itself, you poured resources into created hundreds of fake words about a fake character and a fake company. Instead of letting the audience fill in the blanks when they see the movie, you’ve packed it full of vegan food trucks and human-first propaganda. The only satisfactory movie now is one where Lex is just punched in face for two hours.
And it kind of seems like they know they’ve just shot themselves in the foot. Because this bit of meta-commentary is in the Wired “interview”:
LEX LUTHOR: Well, he is. In fact, I’d say [Superman is] all too human. Any objective analyst will tell you that his brand of justice, vigilantism, is painfully outmoded, designed to be effective in an age when the law carried billy clubs because crime carried knives. The most dangerous guy on the street worked in the shadows because he was cowardly and superstitious. That’s all you needed to play upon in order to disrupt their operations. You want to clean up the streets? Dress up like the boogeyman, switch on a fog machine and lower your voice.
RON TROUPE: When you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous.
LEX LUTHOR: It didn’t when the Batman first appeared, but that was a long time ago. This is a new world, Ron, and it’s time to get serious.
“It sounds ridiculous.” YES IT DOES. And pointing out that the whole premise is ridiculous doesn’t get you points. Neither does having your villain say “it’s time to get serious” when “being too serious” was a major criticism of the last film.
This needs to stop. Lex Luthor isn’t a real person, and pretending he is makes the whole endeavor look insane. Even if these were well-written—which they certainly aren’t—they’d still be doing an awful lot of telling and not showing. Stop it.
Image: Warner Bros.
Contact the author at email@example.com.