Superheroes in Advertising

Posted June 5, 2013, under Ad Absurdum

The record-breaking success of superhero movies in recent years proves to the world at large what many of us have always known: Superheroes are awesome!

The larger-than-life tales of fantastical people with questionable fashion sense is widely considered to be our modern-day mythology — seriously, Google will autocomplete the phrase as soon as you hit the first “m.”

From a marketing standpoint, some of the most broadly recognized and enduring brands and marks come from the superhero sector. The Superman “S” shield is frequently listed as one of the most-recognized logos worldwide, and “cape, chest-symbol and misplaced undergarment” has become universal shorthand for an extraordinary problem-solver.

Unfortunately, the branding success is a double-edged sword. Almost since the beginning, advertisers have capitalized on the characters’ popularity to shill product. Toys, video games, clothing — anything that would appeal to comics’ perceived demographic of 8–13 year olds. They even participated in the “Got Milk” campaign, to particularly absurd results in the case of darker heroes like Batman or Wolverine.

Hey, kids! Drink milk and metal spikes will come out of your hands!

Somewhat more appropriately, superheroes are often used to this day in public service announcements on topics as diverse as child abuse, bullying, drugs and even breast cancer (thanks, Wonder Woman!).

But no discussion of superheroes in advertising would be complete without mention of the notorious Hostess ads. They ran from the late ’70s to the early ’80s, which should tell you something right there. Laid out as single-page comic stories requiring the heroes to vanquish their foes using Twinkies or fruit pies, the advertisements ranged from banal to head-scratchingly weird — to unintentionally horrifying.

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Joker Hostess Ad

Penguin Hostess Ad

Captain America and Nick Fury Hostess Ad

The Incredible Hulk Hostess Ad

All Hostess ads photo credit:

Interestingly, the publishers would only go so far in their endorsement of mass-produced baked goods. The superheroes could never be shown actually eating Hostess products.

We have to admit: crazy as these ads are, they’re not ineffective. If Hostess were still in business, we’d buy ourselves some tender, flaky crusts or golden sponge cake with creamy filling. Because now we’re hungry.