DC and Marvel are "The Big Two" in comic books. Now that geek is chic and comic book movies and TV shows are popular, the rivalry between these companies intrigues a large audience – and marketers should pay attention. From exclusive cover releases to live tweeting TV shows and making announcements at fan conventions, these giants know what they're doing when it comes to marketing.
We took a closer look at the statistics behind the success, analyzing SEO, social media marketing, shifting audience demographics, advertising budgets and revenues for these two companies.
In reality, most comic book, TV and movie fans may favor one company over the other, but generally consume content created by both companies and appreciate the ongoing rivalry.
First Glance: What Does SEMrush Reveal About DC Comics and Marvel Comics?
While Marvel and DC are traditionally competitors in comic books and other media, what about online? Since they have different, known characters, stories, and superhero teams, these brands actually compete heavily with content sites when it comes to website traffic. Additionally, DC and Marvel encompass several spheres of entertainment: comic books, movies, TV, merchandise (toys, clothing and more) and even live events and podcasts.
Let's start the showdown! We'll begin our analysis in SEMrush, which yields plenty of information about the health of the brands' sites and what consumers search for to find their sites.
Here are Marvel's Main organic competitors. The top five competitors are all websites that post news, blogs and other content about comic books and comic book movies.
Comparatively, here are DC's main organic competitors. While DC and Marvel aren't necessarily competing for keywords versus each other's sites, they are competing for reader attention on the same news sites where fans go to get their entertainment news.
This is a little different than what you'll find in the tool for competitors in other industries, like Home Depot vs. Lowes. Those brands compete for industry keywords like "home improvement," while Marvel and DC have a hefty amount of organic traffic coming in for titles and characters. This means that there's some overlap, but not as much as you'd see between competitors in other industries. It also underscores the high value of their intellectual property (IP) and how their characters define their brands.
Let's take a look at Marvel.com's top organic keywords.
Marvel ranks for its own properties, including the popular "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron," recently successful movies. It also ranks for its own brand. Interestingly enough, Marvel ranks highly for "Black Widow," one of the Avengers. There are current comics and novels out about Black Widow, but she doesn't have her own movie.
Perhaps the attention to a primary keyword ranking indicates future plans for Marvel to do more with this character (we Black Widow fans can only hope).
You'll also find IP/character-related results in the dccomics.com organic keywords report:
DC ranks for its own branded keywords (including "DC," which can also stand for "District of Columbia") and "Batman," "Superman," and "Wonder Woman." These characters all have active comics and the upcoming "Batman vs. Superman" movie will include DC's film debut of Wonder Woman. This suggests that they're consciously producing material to generate interest in The Justice League and the characters slated to appear in their next film release.
Overall, Marvel wins the website traffic game with a much higher SEMrush rank (although DC's score of 1.8k is extremely respectable). With increases in organic search results, both DC and Marvel are heading in the right direction. In terms of traffic, Marvel is doing about twice as well as DC, but DC is gaining at a rate 3% higher than Marvel. (Click images to enlarge.)
Marvel.com at a glance:
DCComics.com at a glance:
Here is a visual representation of organic keyword competition and overlap:
Avengers Assemble (...for High CPC)
During our analysis, we discovered that the CPC (cost per click) of "Avengers" is significantly higher than the other relevant comic book character keywords. This results from the high level of competition for this keyword.
Domain vs. Domain Comparison
As mentioned above, most of the keywords the domains rank for include their own IP. Most Batman fans already know that Batman is property of DC, so there isn't too much competition for those brands' top keywords.
- Both DC and Marvel universes contain the character Ares, so their competition for related keywords is evident.
- The companies rank closely for San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) and New York Comic Con (NYCC), two of America's largest conventions. Similarly, they compete for keywords related to large comic book stores and distributors, such as Diamond and Midtown Comics.
- They compete for comic book creator names, as many comic book writers, artists, editors, etc. have done work for both companies.
- Generic terms are competitive: superheroes list (DC rank 4, Marvel rank 5), comics online (Dc rank 4, Marvel rank 7), comic characters (Marvel rank 1, DC rank 2), online comics, free comics, comic list, etc. DC has a slight edge on most of these phrases, which are more likely to be found to those new to comic books.
Continuity and a Divergence in Marketing Strategies
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) maintains complete continuity over movies and TV. Characters like Agent Coulson and Lady Sif appear on the big screen and the small. DC keeps its movie and TV universes distinctly separate, which can be explained by the multiverse theory used in their comics and introduced on their TV show "The Flash."
Both companies have successful animated properties.
Let's take a look at how DC and Marvel compare on social media. We'll use key metrics to compare them, we'll also take a peek at what kind of content these companies post to see whether it engages fans.
Marvel creates Twitter lists to support their brands, creators, film actors, editorial staff and more. Some of their lists need to be updated and they could benefit from more lists. They should continue their practice of adding Marvel convention attendees to Twitter lists. As someone who attends conventions as press, I can say it makes it a lot easier to find a correct Twitter handle when it's on a brand's list (especially if the person's official handle is unverified).
Similarly, DC could do with some more lists and updates. Like Marvel, they're on the right track, but using list features could generate more engagement.
Both DC and Marvel post a healthy mix of tweets about comics, TV and movies. They're also good about mixing up the content type, sometimes posting videos, sometimes colorful images and other times news. They both win big here.
One of Vertigo's newest properties (DC imprint), "UNFOLLOW," may appeal to digital marketers and social media mavens in particular with a tweet that's tough to miss. As a digital marketing professional, "The 140" caught my eye immediately:
Marvel incorporates several of its Avengers characters at once in this video. As a Thor fan, I noticed Thor and Mjolnir right away.
Each brand is distinct. In accordance with fan perception, DC goes dark and edgy while Marvel asserts a hopeful and progressive tone:
There's also support from the casts and crews of currently running superhero TV shows, allowing for an interactive live tweet experience for viewers.
Both companies post several times per day on Facebook, but Marvel kills it with over 21 million likes – seven times as many as DC. They also post content more frequently – about once per hour during peak times.
DC and Marvel both publish a healthy mix of content: print, animated, movie, video and more. DC pinned this CTA-oriented (call to action) post on October 8, 2015. It includes exclusive content.
Pinterest is used heavily by women, so brands wanting to reach this demographic should really have a presence there. Here's a look at what we found:
Marvel kept current with #Costoberfest, a month celebrating cosplay. This board features mostly women and includes those of different body types and ethnic backgrounds.
DC courts its female demographic with a Wonder Woman board, though it's mostly filled with products. They should use this space to empower women in a straightforward way considering Wonder Woman is a feminist icon whose fans span generations. That said, those shoes are really cute and I might buy them! :)
Epic Marketing Challenge: Existing Audience, New Audience
Marketing new comic books, movies and TV shows presents a challenge to both publishers. They want to maintain traditional fans while embracing new audiences. This isn't always easy. Fans may feel really attached to characters and may even experience feelings of ownership over them, causing them to protest changes and serve as gatekeepers to comic book subculture. This creates a precarious marketing situation for The Big Two.
Let's take a look at these audiences and how DC and Marvel produce and market content that appeals to existing and new audiences.
New Audience: Women and Girls
Have you ever been a woman going into a comic book store or a comic book convention more than five or six years ago? Ahh! It's the worst. But I still like comics, so I read them online, ask my husband to buy them or head into a kinder store.
I'm not the only ladygeek all about the comics. Women now account for 53% of comic book readers (i.e. the majority) and the percentage of women at New York Comic Con has increased over 60% in just three years. Experts also credit social media and online culture as the major breakthrough in female participation for this: and the creators of comic books and comic book movies are listening.
Other publishers, including indie creators who crowdfund, are also taking advantage of this trend; and the most searched for Halloween costume in 2015 was DC's Harley Quinn, and comic book publishers are finally hiring more women to create comics.
This trend even shows up in the organic search results for "comic books" in ranks 11 and 12, ranking lower than Marvel and higher than DC in that result:
On a related note, Marvel and DC are closely ranked for "girl superheroes" (Marvel rank 9, DC rank 16):
And while Marvel is launching a game about The Avengers in high school, DC is doing so with a focus on girls with "DC Superhero Girls." DC had a very visible booth to support "DC Superhero Girls" at NYCC in October.
Case Studies: Batgirl/The Killing Joke Variant Cover (DC) and Thor (Marvel)
Catering to the female demographic has created a shift in content as well as some controversy.
DC and Marvel handled criticisms when it came to two specific titles.
Marvel's Challenge: In 2014, Marvel announced on "The View" that Thor would be a woman without providing any details about how that would occur.
How They Handled It: Despite fan criticism about Thor's new identity, Marvel stood firmly behind the Thor creative team.
The Result: After a successful eight-issue run of Thor in which the woman's identity was revealed, Marvel announced a new story arc starring Thor.
DC's Challenge: In 2015, DC took criticism (and praise) for a Batgirl variant cover paying homage to "The Killing Joke."
How They Handled It: In March of 2015, DC supported artist Rafael Albuquerque's decision to pull the Batgirl variant cover edition he created. Both the publisher and the artist made it clear that it was the artist's choice to do so, and while some didn't like that DC wanted to publish the cover to begin with, fans lauded the fact that DC stood behind their artist.
The Result: DC then announced that "The Killing Joke" would be made into an R-rated animated film.
In these cases, there is no way to please every fan. Some fans won't accept a woman bearing Thor's name and lifting Mjolnir and others feel empowered by her. Some fans find the homage to "The Killing Joke" a misogynistic twist on a recently-empowered Batgirl whereas others consider it a classic story revealing much about The Joker.
Both DC and Marvel did something their fans appreciated: they stood by their creative teams, and they did it on digital publications, at live conventions and on social media. Additionally, both companies moved forward with more media about these controversial characters and stories. They got the community talking and they're money makers for these companies.
The Popularity of Comic Books
We looked up the search phrase "comic books" in SEMrush to see if it revealed any trends about The Big Two. Some observations:
Germany (DE) is the hot place to advertise right now when it comes to comic books. We typically think of the US, UK and Asian markets as hot targets for comic book and comic book movie advertisements.
What does Google identify as keywords related to "comic books?"
Marvel wins this one. CBR (Comic Book Resources) shows up here again, furthering the assertion that they're a real keyword competitor for DC, Marvel and anyone else in the comic books space. "Comic Book Resources" also shows up as a phrase match keyword.
As for organic search results, Marvel bests DC there as well, ranking 8 and 9. However, both companies have a /comics page. This is best practice SEO and advisable for anyone wanting to rank for terms like "comics" and "comic books." Both domains show evidence of good basic SEO practices in this regard.
Comic Book Movies
Comic book movies are increasingly popular, and earned revenue and frequency of superhero movie releases prove it. How much do DC and Marvel spend when it comes to advertising these movies?
This research reveals that spend on Marvel properties and return are often double.
Additionally, superhero movies are extremely popular around the world, particularly in Asian markets. Marvel dominates box office distribution worldwide while DC 's distribution is far more limited with distribution primarily in North America.
Some of these superhero movies are not produced by the respective comic book company or its studio due to rights sales. As Facebook would label the relationship: it's complicated. To keep it simple, we've broken these down by titular character/superhero team.
Comic book movie winner: Marvel
Comic Book TV Shows
The fan perception: DC rules TV shows.
Looking at the popularity of these shows, it's true. This information also reveals the popularity of animated series as well as those only available on services such as Netflix. DC not only produced more TV series than Marvel, it has more seasons in each of their TV series, suggesting they win not only in popularity, but in longevity.
The streaming service shift is popular with both DC and Marvel; both companies release shows on TV and on these services. Check out the recent jump in TV show production:
Comic book TV show winner: DC
The Big Two have taken drastically different approaches to marketing their stables of superheroes. While almost half of DC's budget is pinned on Batman, Marvel's budget is far more diversified. That said, their top-grossing superhero (Spider-man) takes the biggest piece of the budget pie.
Obviously, there's a huge amount of fans who enjoy both DC and Marvel publications and films and occasional crossovers have happened. While TV and movie crossovers are highly unlikely, it would be a smooth marketing move that could help DC improve movie results and Marvel improve on TV.
Streaming View (Netflix and Hulu)
While shows like Marvel's "Agent Carter" and DC's "The Flash" live on TV, many Marvel and DC properties live on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Both DC and Marvel have a hand in network television and streaming services, allowing them to reach broader demographics.
Stealing Keywords and Backlinks
New fans head to Google after they watch or read about their new favorite character. For example, I'm a huge fan of the new Supergirl show. What might I search for in Google now that I'm a new fan?
- Supergirl comics
- If I like Supergirl what should I read?
- Superheroes like Supergirl
- Female superheroes
To get a competitive edge, Marvel could slyly attempt to rank for these terms. But that gets tricky in this industry, because most of the terms are based on characters/IP. There's a less obvious option.
Here's what happened when I looked up "superheroes like supergirl."
See that first search result? It's an article over on Forbes. After I get past their famously villainous pop up, I see that the author does mention other superheroes, including The Hulk, a Marvel character. Contributor Bruce Y. Lee is a self-professed geek, so he'd probably love to hear from Marvel pleasantly asking them to include a backlink to their own page about The Hulk. If you're a Marvel digital marketing intern, this is probably work you should be doing.
DC vs. Marvel: Marketing-Based Predictions
Superhero teams like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers are mega-popular. DC hasn't had a blockbuster team movie yet, but The Justice League is coming together nicely. I predict they'll make some more headway when it comes to movies if "Batman vs. Superman" is successful, especially since the film will debut Wonder Woman, a generally popular character who will capture and retain the interest of the burgeoning market created by the aforementioned female comic book buyer.
That said, DC's TV shows stand solidly on their own. "Supergirl" has taken some criticism, but generally, fans enjoy it.
Eventually, DC should (and will) create a TV show and a movie in the same universe. And if one of those is wildly popular, then the other has a chance to ride its wave of success. Furthermore, this allows for transmedia integrations, like how Marvel's "Jessica Jones" and "Daredevil" are current TV shows and video games.
While DC has done a great job of explaining their multiverse to fans of their TV shows and movies, Marvel nails continuity. Fans want to watch the TV shows to keep up with those popular movies. Want to know what happened after aliens invaded New York and left it a mess? Not sure how HYDRA was formed? Watch "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." for answers.
Thematically, DC and Marvel have both learned to strike a balance between what comic book readers are used to and what will appeal to new audiences.
The exact source material ("that was just like volume x, issue y!") is more obvious for some movies and TV shows than others, but they're present. That said, innovation and envelope-pushing will continue to happen first in comics, with or without social agendas, which isn't necessarily bad. You may very well see Batgirl and The Joker in a live-action "The Killing Joke" or the new Thor on the big screen in the future.
Join the Webinar
Interested in learning more about how DC and Marvel stack up when it comes to social media marketing? Be your own social media superhero with me as your trusty marketing sidekick! Join my webinar, DC vs. Marvel: Social Media Showdown, on Nov. 25. Click here for local time and registration information.
This post was created by the SEMrush U.S. Marketing Team. It was written and initiated by Blog Editor Tara Clapper with Data Scientist Qi Zhao. Images are by SEMrush Graphic Designer Bob Foster. They would like to thank SEMrush U.S. Director of Marketing Michael Stricker and the rest of the team for their support and suggestions in the creation of this content.
Tara M. Clapper is Blog Editor at SEMrush and Senior Editor at The Geek Initiative, a website celebrating women in geek culture. Tara is a prolific content creator, having written thousands of blog posts, small business websites and other inbound marketing content through the course of her career. Tara enjoys blogging about SEO copywriting, content management, corporate culture, personal branding, networking and LinkedIn. She has over a decade of experience in digital publishing. Connect with her on Twitter @TaraMClapper.
Qi (Vincent) Zhao is a data scientist in SEMrush. He loves making beautiful things with data. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
Bob Foster enjoys the arts and crafts and is a student of strategic design. He finds peace cooking dinner for friends and family and cleaning dishes, and relaxes by playing banjo-ukulele with a gentle breeze. Bob really appreciates the experience of working with all the intelligent and friendly people who are employed by SEMrush. Say hello to Bob at LinkedIn.