On Business: Pro-Bono Advertising

By | Monday, January 18, 2016 Leave a Comment
A MOD Pizza opened up near us recently. It's a fairly new "chain" (although they don't like to use that word) with fewer than 100 locations, most of which are centered around a dozen cities, so you might not have heard of them yet. My wife and I really like them and have swung by about once a week since they opened in late December. If you do have one in your area, they're worth checking out.

In any event, they have one wall of the interior decorated with a huge mural/collage of photos. Lots of smiling, friendly faces, most of which inside a MOD Pizza location. Maybe about half of the pictures feature employees (or at least people wearing a MOD Pizza t-shirt) and the other half look like patrons. The whole thing is clearly intended to convey a friendly, casual atmosphere where everybody's having a great time.

What caught my eye yesterday, though, was the picture of a kid, maybe five or six, in a Superman t-shirt. Light blue shirt with dark blue line art with a collage of Superman panels all over it, then with a chest-size S-shield embroidered over top of it. That's the whole picture -- this one smiling kid in a Superman t-shirt. You can't look at this picture and not see Superman.

There was another photo of a guy in another Superman shirt. And another where you could see a Bat-logo underneath somebody's zippered sweatshirt.

Now there were some other shirts visible with other characters and logos on them. A variety of sports teams and universities, various Disney characters, etc. So it didn't seem like they were singling DC out to promote them, but it still struck me as curious. There I was, sitting down and enjoying my pizza, while looking right at what was essentially an ad for Superman comics. In a pizza place that, as far as I can determine, has nothing to do with DC and/or comics. It was just, "Here are some of our customers, some of whom happen to like superhereos."

I'm wondering, then, what was the decision-making process in selecting these particular photos. Was it a case where the promotion of another company via clothing has become so ubiquitous as to be essentially white noise that we don't even see as advertising? Or was it more along the lines of not registering that Superman is a unique character owned by a corporation, as opposed to a historical character like Hercules that's in the public domain?

There's nothing wrong with DC shilling their characters on t-shirts and such, and if the kid likes Superman, then he should by all means tell people. And I'm not personally bothered by seeing Superman in a spot like that. But from the perspective of another corporation and/or their ad agency, it seems like a curiously absent-minded decision. Surprising, even. At least to me. I suppose there's a higher level of authenticity in those photos now because of that, but historically, most companies don't want to promote other companies' ideas without getting compensated for it. Yet, as far as I can tell, it's just some kid who genuinely likes Superman.

I don't expect an answer here, but I just thought the whole thing was curious.
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