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We hope you Martians appreciate the fact that we take any and all opportunites to incorporate writing about comic books into our college assignments. When we could analyze any print ad of our choice, there was really only one glorious option: the anti-marijuana ads published in Marvel Comics. This one came from somewhere in the middle of Matt Fraction’s & Greg Land’s run on Uncanny X-Men.

What did our instructor in “Principles of Advertising” have to say? “10 out of 10. Excellent – once in a while I get something from a student that makes ME think.”

Date: June, 2009. Magazine on stands 3 months prior to listed publication date.

Magazine: Uncanny X-Men (ISSN #1083-401X) by Marvel Publishing, Inc., a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, Inc.

Description of Ad: 2-page, centerfold, full bleed.

“Become a TV Remote Control Operator” ad parodies the unmotivated stereotype of marijuana users and warns, “There aren’t many jobs out there for potheads.” The ad abandons traditional moral and/or safety arguments about marijuana usage in favor of a single economic argument. Ad directs readers to AboveTheInfluence.com for more information.

This ad was part of an ad series run in Marvel Comics that year, all with similar layouts and graphic sense, and showing consistent branding and logo throughout. The series included other jobs like “couch potato.” Other ads, also from this company with a somewhat different visual approach but consistent humor include two CGI slugs sitting at a table with a pile of salt, remarking, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Circulation: 04/09 Uncanny X-Men #508 – 76,442 (Obrien).

Estimated readership: Comic books are often shared with friends and siblings, and many of them are sold 1, 2, or more times on the aftermarket for used books and comics. It’s safe to assume a larger readership than circulation.

Estimated cost: Unknown. Checking with Marvel’s Advertising Department via email on rates. ***note: I contacted the listed email for Marvel’s ad department in the inidicia and no one ever got back to me.***

Target Market: The comic book is rated T+, a Marvel ratings system similar to “PG-13” for movies. The target market for Uncanny X-Men is mostly older teens and twenties, though the readership has a large segment of readers over 30. As a demographic trend, comic books are currently made in the U.S.A. by Gen X-ers for themselves and Gen Y, with a significant number of baby boomers in editorial and creative positions. The reference in the ad to college taking four long years suggests the target market of the ad itself is traditional college age – late teens to early twenties.

Does Ad Work for the audience? The ridiculous title gets your attention and interest. The ad also boasts ideal placement – not only in the middle of the magazine but in the middle of the issue’s narrative. A variety of readers sampled found it humorous enough to read the ad, and some remembered the logo and or website. All, however, remembered the point. It’s efficacy in deterring marijuana usage could not be studied, but it does at the very least succeed in communicating its most essential message.

Further Analysis:

A similar anti-drug ad running in comic books in the early 2000s was truth®. Through bold, sometimes disturbing images, truth® portrayed big tobacco as a liar. truth® invited readers to learn more of the truth about cigarettes on their website – the things big tobacco didn’t want the reader to know. Part muck-racking, part sensationalism, and part public service announcement – but did they work? A study of 50,000 youth “concluded that 22 percent of the overall decline in youth smoking from 2000 to 2002 was directly attributable to the truth® campaign” (Moriarty, 27).

On the other hand, Professor Herbert Jack Rotfeld of Auburn University claims public service advertising “misdirects resources and attention,” and calls it a “wasted effort” (278). “Advertising can’t do anything to help solve the problem,” says Rotfeld.

New Yorker contributor and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell might agree with Professor Rotfeld. In Tipping Point, Gladwell describes studies on the increase in suicides after the press reports suicides – and the strangely congruent increase in airplane crashes after the press reports an airplane crash. The numbers Gladwell cites suggest that publishing stories about suicide and crashing a plane leads very predictably to more people crashing their planes and killing themselves. One might wonder if publishing ads about drug use might not similarly lead to more incidents of drug use.

Professor Cornelia (Connie) Pechmann of UC Irvine believes that advertising for cigarettes leads to increased intent to smoke among adolescents (171). Marvel’s Editor In Chief Joe Quesada, in a move Professor Pechmann would appreciate, banned all images and instances of smoking in Marvel Comics. His father contracted lung cancer and died – and Quesada used his editorial authority to prevent children from choosing a similar path. But has Quesada defeated his own efforts by frankly addressing marijuana smoking in the magazine through advertising?

Did Marvel’s 508th issue of Uncanny X-Men persuade any readers that marijuana use is uncool, unwise, and economically unsound? Or did its collegiate audience laugh at the joke and decide to smoke? Does the presence of marijuana in the publication amount to little more than product placement? Even if we could track the hits on abovetheinfluence.com, the data only tells us the ad got attention and achieved interaction with the readers. But it would tell us little of the actual results.

Did teenagers around the country log on to the site as they abused marijuana as a prank? Were they horrified by the information there? Were they helped? It is hard to say. Because marijuana is a black market product, we cannot obtain reliable data on product sales or customer usage. Placing these ads right now is mostly an act of faith. If the federal government would allow the commodity to be bought and sold on the open market, regulated and taxed, we could obtain and track reliable data on the efficacy of these ads.

Works Cited:

Obrien, Paul. “Marvel Month-to Month sales: March 2010.” The Beat: The News Blog of Comics Culture. 03 May 2010 .

Moriarty, Sandra E., Nancy Mitchell, William Wells. Advertising: Principles and Practice. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009.