Spider-Man 3: Web of Influence In Kid-Culture

spiderman3mini.jpgThere are plenty of spins on the Spider-Man 3 record-breaking $382 million worldwide “priciest movie ever made” buzz…so I’m going to take a deconstructionist view about summer box office biggies, and look at the impact of media hype-fests on kids.

Not pickin’ on Spidey, here; haven’t even seen the flick yet, I’m talking about a global web of pop culture influence that has a much more nuanced reach.

Movie launches are inevitably 360 degree marketing surround sound, that part is a given: Kids are cocooned like flies in a sticky web of consumerism, marketers target “sticky eyeballs” with online advergaming, official video games (SM3 got mixed reviews) and some fun “user-generated” contests that tap into teens’ digital creativity with retailers like Target’s “spin a webisode” or social media tools like PhotoBucket’s campaign allowing its 39 million users to create “Spider-Man-braded slide shows” with their photos. Then there’s the ubiquitous junk food branding, jammies, toys, sheets, and home goods so even wee ones aren’t “left out” of the Spidey spin. This article, Caught In A Web At Age 3 weaves an educational spin on Marvel comic books software offering an alternative to tots’ exposure to the movie itself.

Blockbuster blitzes are a “tradition” so instead, I’m going to leap into the strong but SUBTLE influences that pretty much fly under the radar of behavioral undercurrents. Such as?

Media’s field day with “dark side gone wild” pathologies, and a penchant for ever-edgier violence and mayhem. —Guerilla marketing promotions using “captive audience” strategies—And the blurred lines between comic book heroes and celebrity cues that establish behavioral norms, like this article about Spidey’s Mary Jane proudly stumping for…er…ahem, Mary Jane.

Do we really need kids to absorb a “marijuana’s okay, ’cause Spidey’s girl says so” message? Kirsten Dunst may not be trying to represent herself as a ‘stoner starlet’ but with celebrity comes responsibility. C’mon m’dear, curb the media spillage, take a PR class or just zip it, ‘MJ.’ Sheesh.

Meanwhile, Spiderman himself seems to be the media poster child for responsible rebounding on the celebrity crash-n-burn circuit, after hitting AA rehab at 19 and coming out sober.

Proud papa to a newborn, he’s been glowing and crowing about being engaged to the mum, looking serene, settled and Yoda-like in comparative wisdom.

“I have an addictive nature,” he says in aol-news, “an obsessive-compulsive nature – well, I don’t know that’s what it is clinically. But I go to addictive extremes, and before I got sober, that became routine.”

Gee, thanks for sharing, Tobey, but that’s “tmi” on the kid front.

Do you see what I’m saying here?

Pop culture leverages every iota of “person as product” with constant in-your-face “placement,” so kids are consuming far more than “the movie” itself.

Tobey and Kirsten are “branded product extensions” whether they admit it or not.

Comic book heroes and movie stars are now conjoined…it’s concurrent bonding…step that out to the junk food next, and behavioral contexts and you’ll begin to see “zee probleme.”

Kids are desensitized to the normative wackiness of media icons’ behavioral cues.

From ‘oops, no undies’ antics to Spidey’s order reversal of the playground fave, ‘first comes love then comes marriage, then comes Toby with a baby carriage’—it’s all “Ho hum. Yawn. Whatever.”

Kids don’t even blink. Behavior shifts to “accepted as the norm.”

This aol poll within the story asks, “Does a star’s drug habit change your opinion of them?” Results? No59% Yes41% Total Votes: 120,234. Hmn.

Seems to me, media and marketing execs need to give themselves a bracer when they dismissively say things like, “oh, c’mon, these are celebrities not heroes” or “movies and games don’t cause violence” or “junk food ads have nothing to do with childhood obesity” or “we’re working hard to make sure we’re being responsible.”

Yeah, gee, okay. Let’s talk about responsibility a sec.

Food industry folks claim the recent Kaiser Family Foundation study revealing incomparable links between food product advertising and kids’ media and dietary consumption was ‘a couple of years behind’ by the time it was published and that things have “changed remarkably.”

Ah, gotta love the internet. These Spidey promos are up-to-the-minute with currency.

But wait. Kraft has the gall to trot out their “good guy” hat saying 50% of their ad budget has shifted to healthy offerings? Would that be…offerings like THIS?

Unless those promos for Spidey Pringles with movie trivia stamped into the chem cuisine using Blue 1 is a healthy bet…I’d say we can count on products persuading media consumption internally AND externally…Now, you can trash your mind and bodies in one fell swoop. Double feature, woo-hoo!

Sorry, sounding cynical. Just saying you can’t toss a “Shrek PSA” promo into the media mix and say “ok, we’re good to go.”

Pestering parents is prevalent, even if you dominated the airwaves with counter-marketing messages.

That’s like those commercials telling kids to “get outside” while they’re glued to the TV! (I can hear kids saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah, quitchernaggin’, just lemme finish this show”)

Mind you, they COULD do what Shaping Youth is doing in our counter-marketing by having Spidey spin off some swingin’ active tie-in with jumpropes or climbing (that’s what I’m spinning to leverage Spidey’s success) but alas, it still wouldn’t make a dent by comparison with unhealthy messages promoted to kids.

That’s why all the falderal and hand-wringing in government “CARU” circles about childhood obesity being an epidemic problem being tackled on the advertising front rings so false.

Media and productization CAN market healthy choices that make cash registers ring, but they don’t stand a chance obliterated by sheer quantity of the converse.

Use the charms of the silverscreen for POSITIVE messaging, after all, Spidey shattered weekend records in 29 countries, so they’ve got some clout here. Use it. Leverage it.

Let’s look BEYOND the larger implications of gargantuan movie hype. Beyond requisite Spidey toys, plastic action figurines or regurgitations of Spider Spud (a Mr. Potato Head derivative) and Spi-dog (a music boppin’ idog knockoff).

I’m not a TOTAL killjoy, as a silly string fan of yesteryear, that thing that shoots “web fluid” out of kids’ wrists intrigues…And there’s a slew of slingers, blasters, spinners, vile venom web ooze and slimy offerings that will no doubt provide consumerism ka-ching.

But again, let’s think about global implications. —If merchandising and product placement begins to drive core content, the entire creative process itself is in jeopardy.

For example, some have opined there was “overkill” of villains and too many layers in Spidey3.

Could it be that the extended cast of costumed characters were being crafted to be wedged into the mix to round out the kids’ meal deals more than the plot points?

Will movies become one big Toy Story? (speaking figuratively of course, as that’s one of my faves)

Again, just offering conjecture, and trying to crow bar some dialogue from industry cohorts who seem to like to ping me in person rather than comment directly.

Reminder, don’t be shy…ALL civil dialogue is welcomed; use a screen name if you’re goosey about your job. Sound off here, say it out loud!

Another global issue on blockbusters like this?

Marketing hype and ethical reverb:

I’m not just talking about the “green goblin” money machine that supports the movie with more cashflow than most third world countries. I’m talking about slam dunk, “cross-the- line” ethical no-nos.


Ad creep insinuating itself into paid venues that SHOULD be off-limits to reach and reason.

This Crunch Gym “spinning” class was hijacked into a vehicle to promote the movie among paid patrons that rightly expect their membership to be a commercial free zone!

One lady walked out immediately, while other innocent workout folks were ensnared in a captive web of opportunistic idiocy. Ad Age quipped, “brought to you by the coalition to ruin Spider-Man.

As the writer implied, even rookies know “one must pull consumers into the brand, not force them to interact with it.” Sheesh.

This investigation by The Consumerist draws out the thinking even further, revealing the patter with Crunch employees when confronted.

Read through it. It’s scary.

It’s part lockstep protectionism of corporate virtue, part “you too can get this ad experience” duplicity, and part entrepreneurial revenue model that begs the ‘what if’ question…

Will we start paying to have quiet spaces, unencumbered in our lives? Will anti-advertising be the new rev stream subscriber model?

This is a much bigger wrap-around issue about noise pollution and ad clutter, and human’s tipping point of tolerability.

As you navigate the web of movie media and marketing this summer, keep that universal question in the back of your mind.

How much is too much? When will the public ‘max out’? If it’s already creating physical and socio-emotional behavioral changes in kids who can’t dodge the pop-ups, signage, and urban wallpaper infiltrating daily life, when will it reach the ‘hurling’ point?

Seems media and marketing are now being consumed in copious quantities, ingested by ambient exposure WITHOUT free will and agency…That’s a dark side intrusiveness that clearly needs a spotlight shined on it.

Will we merrily accept ‘this is just how it is now’ when paid classes, events, or movies themselves become torture chambers for pummeling people with MORE advertising, without any kind of discount for enduring it?

Are we being brandwashed to perceive these ads as so ‘helpful’ in keeping us updated with media offerings that they genuinely merit our attention?

Without pushback, you can count on it.

That “dark goo” is starting to stick..

I say it’s time for a wardrobe change.



  1. Very interesting article! But I think it’s just a harmless film. People read too deep into these things. I watched mush worse things when I was younger, and believe it or not, haven’t turned out to be an axe yeilding maniac, but more a loving hard working family guy. Sorry to disapoint.

  2. I’m a Spidey fan, myself, so no disappointment here…but I DO believe that the marketing/merchandising is OOC (out of control!) and yes, there ARE worse things than consumerism I suppose, but I feel like it’s (pardon the pun) ‘over-shadowing’ all of the stories AND the superheroes, from the Dark Knight on down…;-)

  3. Spidey 3 definitely had some darker elements but overall i would have to say the message about taking responsibility and doing the right thing was there ok.

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