“I Like My Jesus Dressed Like Superman”: Niche Marketing and Man of Steel
Matthew Krebs / University of Texas at Austin

adventures of superman 500

The Adventures of Superman #500 depicts a resurrection.

On June 10th of this year, the Warner Brothers’ Superman franchise was once again rebooted with the release of Man of Steel. It has, since then, set a June box office record of $116.6 million and become the most successful comic book character reboot of all time in the U.S.1 While other recent superhero films like Warner Brothers’ Dark Knight trilogy and Disney’s The Avengers have managed to garner more critical acclaim, it is clear that Man of Steel is a box office smash that continues to draw audiences into theaters to watch a new take on the American cultural icon. What has a number of critics and journalists buzzing about the new Superman, however, is the way it has been niche marketed.

Warner Brothers has collaborated with a Christian marketing firm in an effort to get pastors into advanced screenings as well as launching a site through MinistryResources.org that provides prepared sermons and movie clips that implement Man of Steel into allegorical Christian teaching.2 The site contains video snippets, images, outlines for how the film can be integrated into sermons, as well as a conversation guide for how fathers can be superheroes for their children provided by the American Bible Society.3 “Round up the kids and take them to see Man of Steel (PG-13). Then use this Conversation Guide to take another look at the movie’s major themes. In the conversation, you will discover new connections to your own life and God’s Word.”4 Warner Brothers has previously marketed to spiritual groups in other films including The Blind Side, The Notebook, The Book of Eli and the Harry Potter series.5


This Christian based niche marketing, however, is not limited to the WB brand. Disney and Walden Media reportedly spent $5 million (6% of the overall advertising budget) targeting Evangelical Christians for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 2005. Marketing was utilized in the form of posters, online resources, as well as pamphlets for church leaders and faith groups to promote what Media and Communication Professor James Russell refers to “as an explicitly evangelistic experience” and “Christian educational goals.”6 Further, secular advertising is also implemented to achieve the greatest market response while spiritually driven advertising aims to assure the viewer that the film’s themes are candidly rooted in Christian doctrine. What is intriguing about both Russell’s analysis of Christian/corporate branding of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Man of Steel’s promotional niche marketing are a number of themes that arise from both of their frameworks.

These frameworks seek to present an apocalyptic spectacle that encourages youth to align themselves with a combative Christian character. While perhaps in opposition to Gospel doctrine that builds on “turn the other cheek” behavior, it certainly does not shy away from the interconnections of nationalist and religious rhetoric (e.g.- “Fighting for God and country”). Man of Steel’s Christian marketing stresses binaries of good/evil and right/wrong. The only option Superman has is physically combating the evil enemy (like Jesus?) through ultimate personal sacrifice. In addition, the human race does not control its destiny and must rely on supernatural guidance to fight for its survival. As the MinistryResources supplement explains, “He is undaunted in doing what is right. He alone can save the world. But the cost is total — taking on the full assault of an enemy who would stop at nothing to destroy every member of the human race. This enemy is someone Superman alone can stop, and only through extreme personal sacrifice. This is an age-old story, played out powerfully here, but echoing the best of the mission of Jesus in the New Testament.”7 This guide goes on to encourage fathers to live their lives as Superman/Jesus by being an example of what is “good” and loving their children.

Pastor Quentin Scott of Shiloh Christian Community Church in Baltimore views the promoted allegorical messages as beneficial for both Hollywood and his ministry as documented in an interview with CNN. “They’re using us but, in fact, we’re using them. If you give me another opportunity to talk to someone about Jesus Christ and I can do it because of your movie, that’s a win for me because it’s about spreading the Gospel.”8 Although it is worth mention that CNN is owned by Time Warner, this awareness of mutual exploitation raises interesting questions regarding how negotiation between social institutions operates through current media market practices and cultural iconography to achieve their respected goals. Russell evokes what Henry Jenkins refers to as an “alternative sphere of popular culture”9 utilized by Christians. This is set in place to reflect conservative ideology that interprets popular culture items as its own, in this case accepting a deeply rooted Christian allegory as the basis of Man of Steel.


At what cost, if any, does this pose for how media is marketed? How do we define exploitation if certain receiving parties welcome it in exchange for its own exploitative ventures (“we’re using them”)? How are perceptions of good/evil and right/wrong tied into how seemingly opposing ideologies are forged into nationalist and religious mythology? In what ways does “spreading the Gospel” require the use of these binaries with apocalyptic anxiety and a request to emulate a Jesus that is ready to take “full assault” on an enemy? Pastor Scott is fully aware that he and his congregation are being used to market a Warner Brothers product but feels he is using the same product to reach potential believers and relate to members of his church through items of popular culture.

I would argue that the most troubling facet of this marketing faith agreement is the necessary violence the audience is encouraged to support. Narratives of a savior can be allegorically connected to a number of superheroes via the theme of sacrifice but often entail an element of mass devastating violence that is overlooked for entertainment value or read as necessary casualties in the story.10 Further, integrating a pacifist religious figure with the mythology of a pugnacious comic book character is conflicting at best and manipulative at worst. However religious leaders may feel about using popular culture and mass media to build congregations and reaffirm faith, combative devotion to a strict binary of good and evil is extremely problematic if one strives to promote non-violence and tolerance through social institutions.

Image Credits:

1. The Adventures of Superman #500 depicts a resurrection.

Please feel free to comment.

  1. “‘Man Of Steel’ is officially the most successful superhero reboot ever.” Yahoo! Movies: UK and Ireland. 7/7/2013. http://uk.movies.yahoo.com/man-steel-officially-most-successful-superhero-reboot-ever-045300740.html. Accessed 8/1/2013. []
  2. Marrapodi, Eric. “Superman: Flying to a church near you.” CNN: Belief Blog. 7/14/2013. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/06/14/superman-coming-to-a-church-near-you/. Accessed 8/2/2013. []
  3. “Man of Steel: Ministry Resource Site.” MinistryResources.org. http://manofsteelresources.com/. Accessed 7/16/2013. []
  4. Father’s Day Conversation Guide. “Man of Steel: Ministry Resource Site.” MinistryResources.org. http://manofsteelresources.com/. Accessed 7/16/2013. []
  5. Lang, Derrick J. “‘Man Of Steel’ Promoted To Christian Groups: Warner Bros. Takes Superhero Flick To The Pulpit.” Huff Post Entertainment. 6/19/2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/man-of-steel-christian-groups_n_3466754.html. Accessed 8/2/2013. []
  6. Russell, James. “Narnia as a Site of National Struggle: Marketing, Christianity, and National Purpose in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Cinema Journal. 48:4 Summer 2009. p.59-76. []
  7. Father’s Day Conversation Guide. “Man of Steel: Ministry Resource Site.” MinistryResources.org. http://manofsteelresources.com/. Accessed 7/16/2013. []
  8. Marrapodi, Eric. “Superman: Flying to a church near you.” CNN: Belief Blog. 7/14/2013. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/06/14/superman-coming-to-a-church-near-you/. Accessed 8/2/2013. []
  9. Jenkins, Henry. “The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence.” International Journal of Cultural Studies. 7:1 2004. p.88. []
  10. McQuaid, John. “Marketing ‘Man Of Steel’ To Christians.” Forbes. 6/18/2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnmcquaid/2013/06/18/marketing-man-of-steel-to-christians/. Accessed 8/1/2013. []


  • With the constantly changing media landscape and permeation of content across the numerous platforms available for consumers of all kinds, it is not completely surprising to me that a major Hollywood studio like Warner Brothers is implementing niche marketing techniques to reach a potentially incredibly lucrative market that might otherwise have been (somewhat) unreached if only traditional, mass-marketing techniques were used by the media giant. With a franchise like Superman, its content is spread synergistically across multiple media forms in the first place in order to create a pinball effect of revenue generated on the largest of scales; this allows many demographics to be reached and catered to, such as the gamers, kids who play with toys, and older demos whose loyalty to such a brand has been formed years ago. It is interesting how Warner Brothers has perhaps recognized that some of Superman’s content might not be appreciated by Christians, such as killing the enemy, however other themes can be connected to being Christ-like in terms of good overcoming evil and martyrdom.

    It makes sense that Warner Brothers would employ such niche marketing, especially since Superman has been rehashed multiple times, in order to cater to modern market demands when it comes to reaching a total audience and making essentially old content work, and work quite lucratively. The studio is understanding that Christians may have a problem with such content, and is collaborating directly with a Christian marketing firm in order to permeate directly into that market, even so far as to connect Superman’s content with actual sermons. It is also interesting, and maybe even problematic, how Christian churches are seeing this collaboration as helping the church as well; in actuality, this is ultimately just another move to make money and sustain Warner Brothers’ prestige in the world of Hollywood conglomerates. This is proven further by the fact that Pastor Quentin Scott was interviewed by CNN, owned by Time Warner who also owns Warner Brothers. This does seem quite capable of being exploitation of the Christian church in that it is all for money-making purposes, however the church seems pretty satisfied and convinced with the whole deal. Faith is a very unique, personal and touchy subject in the first place, so in terms of prompting the support of violence in Christians and potentially going against teachings, I think that it is up for each audience member to interpret what is necessary and in line with what God wants. The fact of the matter is, those people are now audience members, and Warner Brothers is reaping the benefits.

  • On the topic of Warner brothers using this type of marketing to push a film like “Man of Steel” is not surprising. In order to market this film to all audiences, Warner Brothers appealed to a certain demographic in which they knew this movie could be an issue for and tried to collaborate to push this film into profitable direction. Christians could have had a problem with a film like this due to its content being similar to the bible but they decided to connect with this target audience and promote this film with a tie-in with Christianity which is manipulative. Approval from just one certain target audience is just the start of getting the ball rolling for the rest of Warner Brother’s marketing for this film.

    Superman is a franchise that has been done over and over again. Warner Brothers has learned from the past and will improve on what will work for the promotion of this film to make it successful.”Man of Steel” has connections to Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy” since they are both in the DC universe and since Nolan is producing it. With the success of Nolan’s trilogy, Warner Bros is going to try and benefit from the similar marketing techniques used across different forms of media similar to the dark knight but also with the addition of new marketing strategies to make these a profitable franchise with the next installments yet to come.

  • Initially reading this, I immediately only saw another way in which studios can dig deeper into their audiences at an attempt to grasp their interest at any means. I work for a marketing agency that promotes films and a lot of the research that I execute requires that I reach out to certain groups or communities that fit demographics for the film. It really puts into perspective what exactly all of these techniques deduce themselves to, and the need to fill seats and boost opening night box offices becomes extremely evident. Reading this article, I was sort of able to draw parallels but when it comes to religion and exploitation, it becomes more of a debate on morals. Is it necessarily “wrong” to reach out to religious groups and entice them with a cleverly spun synopsis on why a pop-culture icon could actually be a metaphor of sorts for their Savior, and thus generate new interested group? Possibly. However, it is not exploitation if both parties are willing participants, and it appears that in this case this specific church was able to see how they too could benefit from the marketing technique.

    In relation to the media industry, this tactic is just another way to really distinctly connect audiences to what they are viewing in theaters and at home. The one issue that I would wonder that may arise, is one of propaganda. If Warner Bros. decides to target niche groups and imply that the content is something they could relate to, then what of groups that fall short of their target. In this case, Superman being metaphorically compared to Christ, so then should someone of Islamic faith boycott the film as propaganda?
    I could possibly be looking too deeply into it, but I see a technique such as this as being exclusive for some, and exploitative for most.

  • Nokwanda Ramatheko

    Highlighted in this article is a contemporary topic worth intense discussion which is: the emergence of an interrelationship between social institutions and the media marketing industry in an ever evolving and increasingly competitive television and film distribution industry. Since its’ inception and implementation, the TV/Film industry has been based on the following fundamental and cyclical principle: A continuous pursuit of a larger number of viewers/audience in order to attract advertisers who are willing to pay more for Ad-space in order to boost their individual sales, while the money paid is used to produce for content to attract more viewers. This basic principle upon which the TV/Film industry functions has created an increasingly highly competitive platform on which producers of TV/Film content fiercely strive to attract and maintain a large audience. Observed on this platform is a movement toward niche marketing by producers, where content is marketed to and sometimes produced for a specific group of people. A practical example of this point is discussed in this article where the Warner Brothers marketed the iconic Superman story as a religious allegory of the bible, and particularly the story and teachings of Jesus, where super man is being portrayed as the only world-saving and good martyr who sacrifices himself to save humanity like Jesus did. It’s surprising to me that this marketing strategy succeeded to a point of convincing a pastor that this is a way in which they too can attract and teach Christian church member’s, hence the church acting as self-interested advertising agencies too. It’s more disturbing that the Christian doctrine of always doing good is corrupted, when Superman who is alluded to Jesus is using violence to fight off bad. When such a false film inspired doctrine is embedded in religious teachings, of which humans are generally easily accepting of, then I foresee an increase in violence practiced as a form of correction our society. If this continues, could there could be a rise in an Al-Qaeda-like Christian group which uses extremist religious doctrine to justify war?
    Based on this, it is clear that niche marketing is no longer determined by only gender, sexuality or racial classification but also religion. Also, this could highlight that the TV/Film industry still has an immense amount of influence on society, even as it is constantly changing in a highly competitive market that has profit at the center of it. This audacious move that Warner Brothers took, indicates how factors such as the recycling of concepts; the changes in distribution of content and media conglomerate competition have complicated the TV/Media industry and made it so competitive that producers are left to try un-thought of strategies to reach a wider audience at the expense of societal values, all in the name of survival.

  • I would like to thank everyone for their comments and input on this article. As I continue thinking about this subject, I desire to further explore the relationship between spiritual leaders and their ability to frame their congregation’s interpretation of corporate commercialized text. If one accepts the idea that advertising in general seeks to psychologically obtain the desires of its potential consumers, then religious groups present an interesting category of research given the amount of personal trust a member of a specific sect or group places on its spiritual leader. If Superman can serve as a reflection of traditional Gospel beliefs for Christians, I wonder what is to stop Nike or Apple computers or (given the violence of the film) weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin from implementing the same marketing strategies. I don’t believe this is too far-fetched since the nature of the Superman sermon guide seeks to build on patriarchal protection of family and the movie itself works to build this idea that the U.S. military needs to come to grips with trusting a supernatural being to influence its fight against “evil”. What I think is missing from this article at the time I wrote it are further connections between nationalized religious rhetoric in the U.S. film industry that possess the ability to serve as both marketing strategies and framers of complacency in time of military conflict. People can choose to accept or not accept the marketing strategies utilized by the U.S. film industry, but I believe that specifically exploring the influence of spiritual groups is interesting and quite relevant within the structure of corporate advertising given the amount of trust members place upon their leaders. In this way, I don’t think that using a term like “propaganda” is “digging too deep”. Thanks Ayo Owolabi and everyone else.

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