Not only does X-Men: First Class — the new #1 film in America, taking in an estimated $56 million over the weekend to topple The Hangover's sequel — rewind the Marvel superhero movie franchise's plot back to the 1960s, but it appears to have taken the marketing strategy from that era as well.
No overt product placement. No high-profile marketing tie-ins. No Happy Meals. No Professor X-branded Big Gulps.
It's like the film is some kind of Hollywood mutant.
X-Men: First Class is the latest bit of American entertainment to be obsessed with the early 1960s, the sweet spot when America was discovering how to be cool, but before its youth became politically rebellious (or the dangers of cigarettes were known). A time when men still wore suits and women, preferably, wore nothing.
AMC's chronicle of 1960's New York advertising, Mad Men, was the spark that fired not only X-Men: FC but also two upcoming series based on legendary early 1960's brands.
The presence in X-Men of Mad Men's January Jones as Emma Frost at times makes X-Men feel like a spin-off of Mad Men, in which Don Draper's ex-wife (Jones) has taken up acting in one of the B-movie sci-fi series popular at the time. Indeed, scenes with Jones from X-Men and Mad Men can be, almost, confusing.
Meanwhile, NBC's The Playboy Club, a series helmed by a Mad Men director, bills itself: "It's the early '60s, and the legendary Playboy Club in Chicago is the door to all your fantasies... and the key is the most sought-after status symbol of its time."
Scantily-clad club scenes from X-Men: First Class look straight out of that upcoming 60's era drama:
Not to be out-Sixtiesed, ABC is reviving the iconic brand Pan Am in a series called (wait for it) Pan Am. Its promotional copy, too, could nearly double for X-Men: First Class — "It's 1963 and the whole world is on the brink of a cultural revolution. WWII is history, the Cold War is just getting warmed up and big changes are in the air."
So while X-Men: FC is largely free of product placement, it is part of a larger cultural campaign to sell audiences as a whole on a point in time, on an era that is being rebranded in a fashion that Sterling Cooper would be proud of.
This doesn't mean the X-Men prequel is totally free of product placement. As with Mad Men, brands of the time pop up, including Oreo, Ford, and Harvard University, amongst others. But for the most part, the film, like the period, is a long shot from the ad-cluttered landscapes we know now.
Of course, as important as what the women weren't wearing in the 1960s is what the men were. In true '60's style, audiences aren't going to see any labels on the outside in the film. That means a little Professor X telepathic powers are in order.
Esquire Magazine gets the lowdown on the slick suits seen throughout the film in a conversation with the film's costume designer, Sammy Sheldon. So, who was responsible for the bespoke fashion Sheldon says was inspired by Bond classics Dr. No and Goldfinger? Nobody. Yes, nobody.
Sheldon: "Every single item was made, actually, apart from some polo-neck jumpers. There's nothing we bought from any designer." When Esquire finally presses for "any suggestions where men can look for clothes like these, without hiring 40 seamstresses," Sheldon relents and suggests Zara, Reiss and Ted Baker.
When the X-Men change out of their formalwear into their chore leathers, a similar problem arises.
Despite clear interest, moviegoers will have a tough time figuring out who made the envy-inducing leather jackets so stylishly sported by the X-Men.
While one internet sleuth pointed out a listing for a "Belstaff Birling X-Men's Jacket," it turns out that was just a fluke. Another web sleuthing fan of the movie's leatherwear got confirmation that at least some of the jackets are products of famous Hollywood leather specialist Wested Leather Co., the original maker of "The Indiana Jones."
Wested made the jacket worn by Havock:
Wested also provided the heavy brown jacket for Magneto (Fassbender) in the Russia special operations scene. In fact, that jacket looks identical to Wested's "Dr. Who" version. Yes, you too can be Magneto for £165.00.
It would mark sense that Wested was involved with the latest X-Men as the company produced all versions of the franchise's most famous leather jacket: Wolverine's.
For a film that touts its own historical accuracy with an iPad app about the real events of the time, it's odd to see a newspaper headline in the film from The New York Tribune, which merged with the New York Herald in 1924 and was in fact called The New York Herald Tribune at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Another paper called the New York Tribune published again, but not until 1976.
Offscreen, X-Men's partnership shave made seemingly less sense. Farmers Insurance is the only brand out there (besides the NBA Finals) running heavy X-Men cross-promotional marketing.
It started with Farmers moving its HQ to the shadow of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. Then, as Farmers VP-director of advertising John Ingersoll tells Ad Age, "Although 'X-Men' didn't seem like much of a fit at first, a quick plot synopsis soon showed that the film's university-themed plot synced up nicely with Farmers' current campaign." And that's about it.
The Farmers X-Men "insurance university" concept seemed to have some potential, but as Beast was the lone X-Man to take part, the campaign felt incomplete and naked, especially as it was just one of a number of spots in the Farmers University campaign. Why not include a few other versions with other new X-Men to fill out the theme?
X-Men: First Class does have another co-marketing partner, not that audiences would know. Eagle-eyed viewers may have caught short bursts of X-Men clips in recent Blackberry PlayBook commercials:
Did that X-Men tie-in look familiar? If so, here's why:
Anyway, it's no surprise Blackberry's tablet marketers are halfheartedly embracing its exclusive X-Men tie-in considering Marvel is only halfheartedly embracing the exclusivity back. Marvel's release of the classic arcade X-Men game is for "iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or Android devices."
Finally, a neat footnote. The Las Vegas "Hellfire Club" subplot in the beginning of the film is a wink to the actual Hellfire Cub of the 18th Century, better known as the "Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe." The clubs, which existed in various forms through the century, were where important men did naughty, naughty, naughty things that make the PG-13-rated X-Men's version look tame by comparison.
It is also a horror-themed restaurant in England.
For all of the products and brands spotted in X-Men: First Class, visit the Brandcameo product placement database.