Fortune magazine has published what they’re calling, rather generously, a “profile” of Lex Luthor Jr., the fictional supervillain (and the arch-nemesis of Superman), who will appear in next year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
The profile, which is a flattering look at Alexander Joseph Luthor, Jr., a “wunderkind” who took over LexCorp after his father, Lex Luthor, passed away in 2000, offers a few clues about the upcoming Superman movie as well — Luthor Jr. has, for example, a “world-famous collection of meteorite crystals” in his office.
There is no byline on the article, which features a photo of actor Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor. It mentions that Luthor is the youngest person to be named Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year and was included on the publisher’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.”
It’s an unorthodox way to market a movie — most content marketing from publishers has had its roots in reality, such as The New York Times’ work for Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” which discussed female incarceration rates. Previous content marketing from Fortune, done in collaboration with an organization of insurance agents, focused on providing retirement and financial advice.
A Fortune spokesperson confirmed that this was native advertising and said that this only ran online, not in print.
Hollie Blum-Alum, VP accounts at native ad firm Nudge, said that the style is very new, but the connection to the movie is “fantastic, unexpected and yet completely on brand,” both for Fortune and for the movie. Nudge found that the article has almost 8,000 shares on social already. Also, making Luthor a “Zuckerberg-style boss” makes it feel modern, said Blum-Alum.
Social-media campaigns, especially for fantasy films, have in recent years moved towards this kind of all-encompassing acceptance of the fake worlds these characters inhabit. For example, Lionsgate has consistently promoted its “Hunger Games” franchise by advertising fake beauty brands used by the characters in the movie, and creating a new television network called “CapitolTV” that was the official news source of the government in the movies.
Some branding experts, however, cautioned that this approach could backfire. Jennifer Vafidis, content strategist at Huge, said that this campaign reminds her of a similar one leading up to the release of 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” which gave you a look inside the characters and encouraged fan interactions. The current work isn’t up to the same standard, she said, because the Fortune ad is, so far, on a limited number of channels and risks falling flat because comic fans already know the Luthor character well.
“If the main takeaway from this profile or the Twitter account is that Luthor Jr. is going to be vaguely antagonistic, then the comics world isn’t discovering anything,” said Vafidis. “And if the content isn’t memorable in some other way — for example, it’s not funny — then there’s no reason for anyone to share it.”
Warner Bros., declined to comment for this story.
The profile on Fortune.com is wrapped by display ads about the fictional LexCorp, and is labeled as “Content from: LexCorp.” Nothing else suggests that this is a native advertisement — except the fact that Luthor, LexCorp and everything about this story is made up. Readers running ad blockers reported landing on a blank page when they visited the native ad.
Still, clicking on those display ads leads you to @alexanderluthor, Luthor’s Twitter account that only has one tweet (about the article) and has already amassed almost 8,000 followers.
— Lex Luthor (@alexanderluthor) October 5, 2015
Because modern digital marketing is about (fake) news about (fictional) comic book characters who also have Twitter.