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August 19, 2017

Boy, X-Men: Apocalypses Marketing Was All Over the Map, Huh?

With the possible exception of the Wolverine movies (which we’re a little tired of), the X-Men franchise has always been the forgotten superhero cinema franchise. They deserve far more credit than they’re getting, but there’s no denying that they’ve never fully escaped deep nerd territory.

That, our friends, is what you call a branding problem. And from the looks of it, X-Men: Apocalypse hasn’t solved it. Coming in at $80 million domestically (modest for a holiday weekend, especially compared to Days of Future Past‘s $110.5 million opening weekend), it’s no juggernaut. Sure, it took the top spot, but its competition was the unasked-for and the ridiculous: Alice Through the Looking Glass and Angry Birds.

So, as we’ve done before with other blockbusters, we dug around the Internet to track the successes and failures of Apocalypse‘s marketing campaign. It’s got all the right moves—nostalgia, “accessible” stars, app-based stunts—but it falls a little short of having that spark. And once the box-office projections came in, thingsgot a little…awkward.

Going Retro

Admittedly, things start out kinda sweet. Apocalypse‘s ’80s vibes have been fun from the beginning, and the marketing campaign has embraced and made the most of that throwback nostalgia.

To wit:this kitschy, lo-res fake commercial for Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, starring Jubilee (Lana Condor):

Or this fake ad for an episode of In the Footsteps of … (a parody of Leonard Nimoy’s old mystery show, In Search Of …) about En Sabah Nur (Apocalypse).

(Which they followed up with a series of tweets linking Apocalypse to major historical disasters.)

They also launched Retro X: Arcade, which hosts a series of pixely faux-classics, much to the delight of Ataribabies everywhere.

Getting with the Kids

But you know who doesn’t get nostalgic about the ’80s? People who weren’t alive in the ’80s. So whileit escapesthat Batman v. Supermanstodginess, the X-Men franchise still doesn’t feel entirely of-the-moment. So it’s not a surprise that big portions of their marketing campaign feel distinctly youngs-friendly. Like these custom emoji—which apparently are something no superhero movie can go without these days.

Or this M&M-basedmarketing stunt that’s about as deep as the shell on the candy

(Incidentally, this is the third superhero movie asking us to choose a side on Twitter. Superhero team-up movies need to come up with some new plot devices.)

But what X-Men: Apocalypse does bring to the table is a cohort of social media-savvy young stars like Sophie Turner and Alexandra Shipp, who are the marketing team’s resident Twitter mavens.

Nicholas Hoult is doing his bit, too:

Is this Ryan Reynolds/RDJ levels of compelling? Absolutely not. Is it inoffensive and fine? Sure. Despite starring Internet darling Jennifer Lawrence,X-Men: Apocalypsehas a bit of a star power problemat least where social is concerned.

J-Law shines on late-night TV (and rakes in next-day YouTube views), but she hasn’t done much more than that, and she’s pretty clearly on her way out of the franchise. In the age of personality-driven viral marketing, Shipp and Turner and Hoult are too unfamiliar to rest a campaign on. If you want evidence, just checkthe total retweets and favorites that the above tweetsthen compare that tothis single, banal Hugh Jackman tweet.

Apps and App Takeovers

Some of Fox’smore modern marketing techniques have been more successful (or at least, more noticed). While the standaloneX-Men Movies app wasbasically a clunkier, X-centric Instagram, X-Men: Apocalypse has managed to finish what Deadpool‘s Tinder account started. The Apocalypse marketing team bought out Snapchats’s lenses for a day, and replaced them with ones that literally turned Snapchat users into X-Men.

Not everyone was happy that it was now mandatory for them to become X-Men rather than a cute dog and someone puking a rainbow, but this was actuallylegitimately cool. (Snapchat also debuted a new feature where you could buy X-Men: Apocalypse tickets in-app.) So: points for effort and creativity, but demeritsfor the fact that the movie tried to make us putitsfaces on our faces. Which is maybe the most 2016 thing we’ve written in some time.

The (Defensive) Aftermath

Maybe because things never quite clicked with the whole viral marketing thing, publicity effortsseem to havetaken a sharp right. For a number of days now, the movie’s official Twitteraccount has been a retweet machine, and the message they’re trying to drive home is pretty unambiguous.

No, Apocalypse Twitter, don’t do it! Calm down, and listen to Liz Lemon:

Regardless of critical response, the X-Men are always going to have a place in our hearts, in nerd culture, and in the multiplex. It’s just maybe not going to beright there alongside Batman or the Avengers. Embrace your nature, X-Men promotional campaign engineers:There’s so much more to you than you know.

CORRECTION [3:50 pm on 6/2/16]: The original piece erroneously embedded tweets retweeted by an account unaffiliated with 20th Century Fox, and has been updated with tweets from the official account, @XMenMovies.

Originally published at: http://www.wired.com/