Twentieth Century Fox apologized last month for an “X-Men: Apocalypse billboard because it shows Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Mystique, being choked by Apocalypse (a male character). The outrage over the X-Men billboard began when actress Rose McGowan posted her disappointment on social media after seeing the billboard in Los Angeles. After the public flogging, Fox issued this statement:
In our enthusiasm to show the villainy of the character Apocalypse we didn’t immediately recognize the upsetting connotation of this image in print form. Once we realized how insensitive it was, we quickly took steps to remove those materials. We apologize for our actions and would never condone violence against women.
The offended people and 20th Century Fox are both missing the point. When analyzed from a marketing perspective, both groups are making a mistake.
Of course. Everything is offensive to someone. The legendary “Got Milk?” ad about the assassination of Alexander Hamilton may have offended people. Budweiser’s Clydesdale ads offend people against the use of animals in advertising. Does that mean they were bad or mean-spirited? No. Marketing is a combination of art and science. It should be understood that “you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” (John Lydgate, adapted by President Abraham Lincoln). The important issue is whether or not the offense or the size of the offended party merits attention in your marketing.
In this case, the size of the offended group and their voice were extremely small until Rose McGowan used social media. After that, the size of the offended group remained small but they had a larger megaphone to broadcast their grievance. They became a very vocal minority. It can be said with some certainly that most people understood that the latest installment in the X-Men movie franchise had violence in it. Why was this violence so offensive?
It is worth noting that the image depicted on the billboard is taken from the movie itself. It is an actual scene in which Apocalypse battles Mystique. But only the advertising was vilified. Why is the on-screen “violence against women” not decried yet the advertising depicting the violence is maligned? According to Ms. McGowan and followers of her cause, they didn’t feel it was right to have the image “forced” upon them (especially their children).
Some facts need to be added for the sake of marketing analysis and public perception:
It seems counterproductive to criticize a billboard for violence against women when that movie has a strong, female lead character who defeats all the men that stand against her.
Furthermore, the same level of outrage was lacking from Ms. McGowan and her fans when Mystique was killing military personnel in previous films or when she was beating up men at all. A double-standard in objecting to violence seems inappropriate.
Fox’s mistake came not in the billboard, but in their apology for the X-Men billboard and removing it from the campaign. As marketers, we fully appreciate the pressure on major corporations to walk many fine lines to please customers. In this case, we would not have advised Fox to apologize or remove the billboards. It is our opinion that they should have stood behind their campaign, the strong female lead character, and the film’s PG-13 rating which deems it appropriate for most of the world’s population to watch.
For parents, the billboard is an opportunity to have a positive discussion with their kids. They can explain Mystique, her strength, her redemption, he leadership, and her triumph over evil. Tell them Apocalypse is an evil character who thinks it is okay to use power over people instead of helping them.
The X-Men, like the Fantastic Four, and many other comic book characters are about good defeating evil, equality among all, and justice reigning supreme.
Fox could have told that story instead of apologizing for it.