Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Messaging a Soviet Superman: Red Son's Lex Luthor

Welcome back to Funding the Kryptonite, a blog that will take a look at comic book super villains and discuss them from a business perspective.

Today’s blog post will go back to communication theory and expand on it by discussing how the destination of your message is crucial to effective communication. In particular, using the example of classic Superman antagonist Lex Luthor in DC Comics’ hit Elseworlds mini known as Superman: Red Son, I’m going to show how understanding your target audience allows you to deliver an impactful message.

In Soviet Russia…:

The story of Red Son takes the premise that Superman’s rocket landed in the Ukraine area of Soviet Russia, rather than Smallville in the United States. Raised in a Communist setting, Mark Millar gives us a Superman who stands “as the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact”. Lex Luthor, perennial Superman villain, is also here as an American scientist who works for the US government in creating anti-Superman weapons. As the story progresses, both rise to power in their respective countries. Along the way Brainiac, another staple Superman bad guy, shrinks Stalingrad down into a bottle city (reminiscent of the classic Kandor situation). As the two superpowers grow, Superman is persuaded to finally conquer the United States and end the stalemate once and for all. He easily crushes all opposition against him until, upon arriving at the White House, he is confronted by Lois Lane (Luthor’s wife in this story) who has been left a letter in an envelope by Lex. She tells Superman to read it and, after doing so, he falls to his knees weeping.

Size and effectiveness:

Marketing is often faced with a crucial dilemma: How do we maximize the value of our message? On one hand, businesses want to reach everyone who could possibly be interested in their products or services. However, the bigger the target audience you want to reach the more trouble you have in crafting a message that is effectively communicated to them. However, if you drill down too far, you can create a finely tuned message that impacts too small a subsection of potential buyers. This results in having overspent in time and effort to reach out to an audience that will generate insufficient return on investment (the ratio of money returned to money spent).

Other factors complicate how you craft a marketing message, including gender, age, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, religion, and so on. An additional risk here is that, as you create different messages about the same product or service targeted for each customer segment, you can generate noise in the channel (previously discussed here) as potential clients see the different messages about the same items. This results in lost focus and lost sales. The key to successful message transmission and receipt is, therefore, knowing the right target audience to go after and gearing your message to them.

How to get the message across:

Which brings us back to Lex Luthor. He knows his target audience is, in this case, distilled down to a single man. Only by hitting him with the most focused message possible can he overcome Superman. A general message to the people of Russia won’t get the job done, and trying to rally the American forces against Superman would not accomplish the task either. So what does he say?

In a single sentence, Lex Luthor has communicated a message that is perfectly predicated on the intended recipient understanding how the context of his entire life falls prey to it. As Lex puts it:

This is the benefit of a focused audience. Generalities are set aside and a deeper message can be conveyed, one that can move your target in a much more impactful manner than one aimed at a wider audience. This one sentence equates all of Superman's actions in running the Soviet Union to that of Brainiac in shrinking down Stalingrad, labeling him as bad a source of alien menace and interference as the robot.

Closing comments:

It’s important to finish on this by noting that Lex Luthor is a genius and Superman doesn’t exist. In the real world, rarely will there be a need to create a marketing campaign aimed at a single person that you would actually put out in the public sphere (maybe a personal presentation, but that would be private). Lex also accomplishes this marketing feat alone, whereas in the real world you would need teams of people to compile and interpret the data needed for this kind of task and that’s even before you get to brainstorming the specifics of the message itself. But then again, that’s why Lex Luthor is so tragic.

What in the world could possibly compare with saving my people from Superman?.” –Lex Luthor (Red Son, #3)

Final Rating: Good business!
Thank you for reading and please hit me up with your comments.

P.S: The story arc covered here can be found in the  Superman: Red Son trade paperback. Check out my Pinterest board for more scans!


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Vladimir, much appreciated!

  2. I like this, I like it a lot. Keep up the good work!

    1. Much appreciated Ed, I plan to!