Why Fantastic Four Is a Cautionary Tale—for Marketers Especially

Marketers know better than anyone: If you do nothing else, at the very least listen to the people you are targeting. The customer is always right, as they say. Despite years worth of successful efforts to the contrary, 21st Century Fox seemed to forget this fundamental marketing truth this weekend, but it will likely remember in the coming weeks as it endures the wrath of comic book fans around the world over the quality of the studio’s latest film, “Fantastic Four.”

Between comic book characters dominating cinema, TV, and video games, and the phenomenon that is Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), fans of this material—often categorized in the past as nerds—have grown into one of the most powerful consumer segments around. While it indeed comes with great responsibility, this power works in favor of the fans, and the fans didn’t favor Fox’s “Fantastic Four” reboot, which opened over the weekend to a paltry $26 million, and some of the harshest criticism of the year.

Now, flops happen, and in the grand scheme of Hollywood, filmmakers probably won’t approach their craft differently in the aftermath of this single failure. However, marketers stand to learn much by analyzing the marketing missteps Fox took that led to its current predicament. Here are the three marketing failures that made “Fantastic Four” the cautionary tale that it’s sure to become.

Not listening to customers

Despite months of negative feedback from fans on leaked details throughout the film’s production, Fox ostensibly remained committed to its vision of the film, possibly in hopes of franchising the material in lieu of the MCU. The problem is that the vocal majority of fans haven’t been clamoring for a Fox MCU; they’ve been asking for the opposite, actually. If customers seem to be in consensus around a particular issue, brands should listen to these vocal contingents of their audience.


Not unifying the team

Rumors abound about the relationship between Fox executives and “Fantastic Four” director Josh Trank. Trank was distant and destructive; Fox was manipulative and meddlesome. Regardless of the truth in such accusations, the fact that these reports are so prevalent speaks to some level of disharmony and unity behind the scenes. Of course, marketers know all about the dangers of disharmony through the unfortunate prevalence of silos. Cohesive, omnichannel experience struggles to manifest when the teams behind their creation struggle to communicate, or cannot do so productively.

Not polishing the finished product

Consumers are growing used to clean presentation and expertly designed experiences in a post-Apple, post-Steve Jobs world. Marketers must contend with this trend in all aspects of the creative process of campaign implementation. Is the experience optimized for mobile? Does the creative work across browsers? Does the ad slow down Websites? Combine this expectation for polish with moviegoers’ expectations for high production values, and it’s easy to understand why fans who paid for “Fantastic Four” are miffed by the film’s lackluster CGI and negligent editing.

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