In an effort to extent the lucrative X-Men film franchise 20th Century Fox elected to reboot the storyline by reaching back and giving us an origin story. That means this iteration had to be set in the tony, swanky period of the early 1960s. While it makes for stylish visuals and compelling settings, such an exercise has also brought numerous challenges to Fox in selling this pic.
For one, in setting a film around half a century in the past you severely trim opportunities for product placement. That said a few viable labels were found, as they were brands which existed back in the day. Hence Ford Motors, Folgers coffee, and Oreos managed to get screen time, as they were on shelves when this story was set. Fox also resorted to another selling technique popular decades ago. At the time of release high-tech skywriting was spotted around the Los Angeles area.
The entire production had to be immersed in the culture of that era, and there was one method used to help bridge that time gap in the minds of viewers – stunt casting. One of the most critically lauded television shows airing today is the advertising period piece “Mad Men”, and replicating that feel was clearly a goal.
And having “Mad Men” cast member January Jones as one of the mutants certainly helps achieve that goal.
The motion picture magazine Total Film got involved in both the contemporary marketing and the throw-back vibe of the production. In an X-Men edition they offered up a series of alternate covers which not only displayed individual characters from the film but employed era-specific graphics to alter the appearance of the periodical.
Even some of the traditional endorsement outlets are bypassed as a result of this time warp. Most of the costumes and wardrobe choices – a valuable bragging right for designers and clothiers who want to get name recognition – are not branded either. In a quest for some fashion recognition Esquire magazine explored the fashions of the film, in an effort to nail down some of the tailors and design houses involved in the production; they basically came up empty, because according to the film’s costume designer:
“Every single item was made, actually, apart from some polo-neck jumpers. There’s nothing we bought from any designer, either. With all the stunts, we needed four, six, or eight of each suit, and I had a team of 40 makers; it’s bespoke, but I had my own tailors. There’s nothing in the film I can say is a label.”
About the only reliable articles came in the form of the leather goods worn by some of the men. Many of the jackets seen came courtesy of the British leather experts at Wested Leather Company, they of the source of the iconic Indiana Jones leather coat. That is because there is a bit of a history with the franchise – Wested were the creators of the iconic Wolverine jacket worn numerous times by Hugh Jackman.
Despite this chronological challenge there are some contemporary marketing partners, albeit those in limited quantity. There has been heavy rotation of promotions for the film during the telecast of the NBA Finals (at the same time the NHL Stanley Cup games have been introduced in similar fashion with promos for “The Green Lantern”). Not everything in selling this picture works, however.
For a few weeks now TV audiences have been scratching their heads, trying to figure out some of the imponderables offered up by the Farmers Insurance commercial that has sprouted up. This involve veteran character actor J.K. Simmons starring in a series of spots as the professor of an imaginary college for future insurance salesmen. For X-Men: First Class – but for reasons inexplicable – the character of Beast is shown in a classroom with other prospective actuary scribes. About the sole connection is in the commonality in attending of a secondary institution. Beast lends nothing at all to the proceedings, and notably this spot has little in the delivery of reasons why you should purchase insurance through Farmers, nor in why you would go see the film.
Other promotional airtime came from advertising partner Blackberry. They have been running heavy coverage of commercials for their new PlayBook device, a direct competitor aiming at Apple’s ubiquitous iPad. These spots are not a whole-hearted devotional towards X.M.F.C.. The commercials display numerous features of the PlayBook, with select scenes from the film’s trailers playing. However, in order to highlight the ability of their device to play flash software they feature the music of Queen, lifted from a completely different movie — the 80s camp classic “Flash Gordon”.
As you can expect video games and X-Men go hand-in-hand. Yet, there seems to have been a bit of lack of communication here between Fox and the production partner Marvel Entertainment. As an additional platform Marvel has decided to re-release the arcade version of the once popular X-Men video game, from some 18 years ago. This is available for people to download onto their favorite devices – except for that of the film’s promotional partner. The game was released for play on Blackberry’s competitors, the iPad, iPhone, and/or Android devices.
You really start to get the feeling that the studio grappled with ways to push this film successfully. Many of the above examples with major partners seem to be more miss, than hit. And then you discover that they came up with another promotion that seems to actually be effective, and then they make another confounding move. The Dominos Pizza chain has a decent-looking deal where you purchase a value combo meal, and doing so entitles you to an exclusive X-Men: First Class collectible glass. This even comes in a Box with the film’s graphics – a pretty decent-looking gimmick, and one that would appeal to the fanboys for sure.
However those fanboys better live in the orient. I have only seen this glass being offered at Dominos locations in Singapore and Malaysia. To go along with this cross-promotion they are also encouraging customers to try out pizzas with regional topping selections, including one pie filled with prawns. This is a sublime idea for the movie. Having an X-Men deal that offers up a pizza that is basically a mutant itself is downright inspired.