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Using superheroes to sell, this time to adults

Special for Infobae of New York Times.

Starting this Halloween weekend, customers can walk into any of The Vitamin Shoppe’s 700 locations across the country and purchase a product that promises to actually help them become superheroes.

Do you want the body mass of Batman? Try Batman Gotham City Grape BodyTech Elite Micronized Creatine Monohydrate. How about Flash energy? BodyTech Flash Point Flash Lightning Lemonade pre-workout promises to take care of that. Employees selling the products will be dressed as superheroes, and the retailer’s social media pages will be filled with photos of the characters.

There have been superhero products aimed at children for a long time. An Avengers Band-Aid, for example, heals any wound. But products from The Vitamin Shoppe — part of a collaboration with Warner Bros., which owns DC Comics — are aimed at adults, including those who don’t normally shop at the store.

By associating superheroes with, say, a performance supplement like nitruline powder, The Vitamin Shoppe hopes to broaden the product’s appeal.

“We hope that if customers identify with the superhero on the label, it will help demonstrate what the product can do for them,” said Sharon Leite, CEO of The Vitamin Shoppe. “We don’t know if it works yet because the product goes on sale this weekend, but I think someone who wouldn’t otherwise turn around to see the product now will.”

The Vitamin Shoppe is one of the newer companies to market superhero-themed products for adults. Uniqlo recently launched a collection of clothing for adults to mark the 60th anniversary of Spider-Man. Saks Fifth Avenue features a line of sportswear from Heroine Sport, a company that makes sparkly clothing that resembles what Wonder Woman might wear. Fitness companies like Superhero Jacked create superhero-themed workouts.

Brewers like Unsung Brewing Co. of Anaheim, Calif., and Kings County Brewers Collective of Brooklyn put superheroes in their cans.

Adam Alter, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said he wasn’t surprised.

“Superheroes are culturally ubiquitous in 2022,” he stated. “Over the last decade, the biggest movies have been born out of two big superhero franchises — DC and Marvel — so any brand that uses superheroes is riding on that success.”

That includes the ongoing success of “Black Adam,” a DC Comics superhero movie starring Dwayne Johnson, which topped the box office in its opening weekend, grossing $67 million nationwide.

But Alter also said the semin-child marketing trend could backfire.

“As with any partnership, the brand expects you to think of superheroes one way, but you might think of them another way,” he explained. “Those brands hope you’ll see superheroes as virtuous and strong, but you might see them as old-fashioned, overdone or silly, or in any other way that undermines the intended association.”

Still, company owners are willing to take that risk, hoping their superheroes evoke nostalgia and positive feelings.

“A lot of us over 40 look at the world and think being an adult sucks,” said Zack Kinney, co-founder of the Kings County Brewers Collective. “Superheroes are a trip to the past, it’s evasion, it’s fantasy. There is definitely an appetite and a longing for the world’s superheroes to save us from some impending disaster.”

He added, “I think customers really want to gravitate toward brands that make them feel good.”

Alter agrees that superheroes, especially now, are associated with optimistic sentiments.

“We have had difficult years, between the pandemic and political turmoil, and superheroes are a way of escaping,” he said. “They allow us to temporarily leave the real world behind, and there’s a lot to like about brands that give us license to step back from reality during tough times.”

Rather than deal with complicated licensing deals, Kinney hired an illustrator to create original superhero artwork for his beer cans. The company releases new cans every few weeks, each with a different story of these fictional characters.

“We have a series called ‘Penguins in Space,’ and they’re misty pale beers or West Coast pale beers, and they go on different adventures, to space, to California, to fight hipsters in Brooklyn,” Kinney said. “We try to make it fun and for the narrative to evolve.”

Kinney is looking into creating a line of comics and figurines to sell alongside the beer as a way to keep people interested.

“It’s the cereal box treat or Happy Meal toy for adults,” Kinney said. “The craft beer market is very competitive in New York, and any time we can find a slightly different angle to create a deeper, richer experience for our brand, the better off we are financially.”

“We have to prevent millennials from moving on and choosing another brand,” he added.

While many companies are banking on the way superheroes make consumers feel, others are going for something more literal. They say: if you use our product, you will be much closer to becoming your favorite character.

Mike Romaine, owner of Superhero Jacked, a fitness company based in Auburndale, Florida, posts superhero-themed workout plans. You can do the “Hulk inspired jump rope workout” or follow the “Captain America diet plan”.

Romaine saw her business skyrocket during the pandemic.

“I was making $30,000 a year,” he said. “Since COVID, I haven’t been below $150,000.”

Nostalgia plays a role in its success, Romaine confirmed, but so does people’s desire to have fun right now.

“You’re training like the heroes you met growing up, so it’s fun and it gives you more motivation,” he said. “After all, everyone tries to unleash their inner hero.”

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