by Aaron Hastings
In the year prior to the release of Zach Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I only really heard one consistent question:
Why are Batman and Superman fighting?
Of course, the answer is extremely familiar to comic book lovers and DC devotees alike. The pressing ideological and philosophical motivations alone make for a tension filled relationship.
The rest of the world doesn’t see it that way.
They see Batman and Superman as allies on the cover of comic books, in animated TV shows, and soon to debut on the big screen. They are simply not familiar with the often extensive lore of the fight and the history surrounding famous works such as The Dark Knight Returns.
But there is a deeper meaning.
In the times I’ve been asked this question, I often refer to the Nabisco’s Oreo cookie Super Bowl commercial from 2013, which features an absurd argument over which part of the Oreo is better, the cookies or the crème.
This level of marketing is not new. The use of a false dichotomy or dilemma has been seen in the marketing campaigns for Twix, Outback Steakhouse, Starbursts, and many others.
Take the Oreo for example. It doesn’t matter which you prefer, cookies or crème; what matters is you are still interested in buying the product, and more importantly, you are talking about the product. The conversation is an advertising phenomenon that spreads through social media, and the products you think about are the ones you buy.
Thus, we have Batman v Superman.
Yet I can already hear you shouting at your screens: The differences are real, the debate is real, the fight is real. Yes, the idea for the super-pair is as old as the 1940s. It spawned from a diamond thief on a cruise ship, spanned across World’s Finest and Brave and the Bold comics, showed signs of maturity in 1986’s Man of Steel #3, and culminated in that same year with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
So yes, there is some strong history between the pair, going past 1986 into the Warner Bros. Animated series featuring the two as well as other Justice League members.
Ultimately, the 1952’s Superman #76, the very origin of the first real meeting of the heroes, was a result of a marketing tactic. We can even see it on the cover, with words like “Double-Feature!” and “The Mightiest Team on Earth!”
And it doesn’t stop there.
Look at Captain America: Civil War, which bares striking similarities in its marketing tactics to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Are you #TeamIronMan or #TeamCap? This keeps the conversation fresh, it keeps it focused, it keeps it relevant, and it keeps it centered on the product.
But wait, there’s more.
X-Men: Apocalypse features a war among heroes, with favorites such as Storm and Archangel fighting the likes of Professor Xavier and Mystique. Heroes and enemies are on both sides. Who do you want to win? Can the horsemen of Apocalypse redeem themselves, or will they fall to the true X-Men? Are they even the true X-Men?
See what happens?
The conversation keeps going. As long as there’s an argument, even a false one, it keeps the conversation fresh and centered. It practically sells itself.
This is the genius behind false dichotomy in marketing.
Now, don’t break down and despair just yet; this type of marketing is not a bad thing. Everything you thought you knew about comics is not a lie. In fact, it’s the very reason why we love these stories.
Conflict is a dynamic tool for storytelling. Without it, the story is dry and bland. Additionally, conflict of this nature, where the fight is black and blue rather than black and white, makes for a more compelling and passionate experience, where the consumer is desperate to understand and make sense of the confusion in the search for resolution.
Ultimately, good stories sell. False dichotomy can make a story incredibly moving and dynamic. Naturally, marketers use it in advertising, in a world where even cookies and crème can tell a story.
So the next time you break out an Oreo, open a Twix, or get a blooming onion after a bowl game, just ask yourself: who’s going to win? I think the answer just might be all of us.