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Alumni Profile: Making Waves the Marvel Way

Michael Moccio ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor-in-Chief

Emertainment Monthlyas an extension of Emerson College, believes in bringing innovation to communication and the arts. As an entertainment journalism publication, we feel that we have an obligation to highlight when innovation, diversity, and inclusion are brought to the entertainment industry by Emerson alumni. 

Think back to happenings like #GamerGate and #BlackLivesMatter. In both instances, there were people telling truths: the video game industry needs to evolve so that it’s a safe and inclusive space for everyone and we–as a society–need to recognize there’s an experience we’ve refused to look at or acknowledge in America. Both times, the dialogue blew up into heated and vitriolic dialogue because there were people who refused to accept that those people voicing their concerns were speaking their truths. We often forget there are people on the other side of computer screens, which can make it easier for people to be more aggressive towards people and their opinions. Especially when it concerns important socio, political, and economic issues of diversity; especially when it concerns brands in an industry that’s demanded more conversation on diversity and inclusion like the comic book industry.

Adri Cowan, Marvel Social Media Manager. Photo Credit: Adri Cowan.
Adri Cowan, Marvel Social Media Manager. Photo Credit: Adri Cowan.

These are the things that Adri Cowan, an Emerson alumna and Marvel’s Social Media Manager, thinks about every day. A major part of the job for Cowan is being “empathetic to other people and being sensitive in general,” she said in an interview at Book Expo America. It’s important to understand the social media culture that Cowan navigates as she and her team pave the way for Marvel’s success to fully understand how much they accomplish. As a Marketing and PR professional, Cowan is always in the business of getting into the minds of Marvel’s fans, being proactive to anticipate what needs they might have when Marvel does something new. In the current realm of social media, that seems like a difficult job considering how vocal people get when they believe their perception of reality is the only truth to consider.

We wanted to sit down with Cowan because her role is so vital and important within the framework of Marvel. Day-to-day and in long term strategy, Cowan and her team are the ones responsible for Marvel’s social media channels: all of the Marvel-branded pages and the individual franchise pages for movies that come out. “We have, probably, about 27 different social media channels right now.” Because of Marvel’s popularity, there’s an endless amount of inbound content from fans. “It’s less about community management and more about getting the content out,” Cowan said, when talking about her responsibilities in her role.

Marvel, like any other comic book company, has a large amount of history revolving around their intellectual properties. As a storyteller, it’s Cowan’s job to make sure the ventures Marvel sets out to accomplish are seamlessly relayed to consumers. “We want to make sure people have access to [that history] in a way that’s as easy as possible so you don’t feel like you’re missing anything. We have to make sure we’re shaping the stories in a deliverable way so people can consume them.” Cowan’s role, then, is especially vital when thinking about the different movie properties and over 75 years worth of comics that get referenced, even today. Marvel’s current event–which spans across its entire comic book line–references events from across that entire time. It’s Cowan and her team that are behind initiatives that bring consumers materials like a four part history of Black Widow to make it easier for readers to understand.

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A tweet from Ant-Man’s Official Twitter Page, managed by the Marvel Social Media Team. Photo Credit: Marvel Twitter.

In that way, Cowan and her team perform an essential service to the brand. Without them, it would be much harder for the maximum number of fans to be aware of what Marvel’s doing and what the context of these choices are. Especially considering how innovative Marvel is in terms of their content. While discussing about Marvel as its own brand and how they stay true to their values, Cowan pointed out, “We use the products we put out to convey our values, rather than just the social media team doing something on their own. It’s complicated, because we have so many facets of the brand. It’s not just one person’s opinion.” Regardless, it’s ultimately Cowan’s team to ensure that the widest audience possible engages with groundbreaking stories, such as Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson.

In Ms. Marvel #15, the main character Kamala Khan realizes she’s not the one at fault when bad people put her in bad situations. The underlying narrative Wilson presents is one that stands against victim blaming, which is a prevalent issue in how society and culture affect our perceptions of the world. With all the movements in the convention scenes for new policies on cosplay harassment and even in our day-to-day life, the lessons that Wilson conveys through Kamala Khan and Ms. Marvel are so important and relevant. Even though Cowan and her team might now make specific content that addresses that sole underlying point, they’re responsible for broadcasting the story to the world, which is the most important step to getting people to engage with the content.

As media continues to evolve, however, it poses a unique challenge that Cowan and her entire team over at Marvel face. “Social media has changed so much. It’s less about being everywhere and more about figuring out what’s best for our brand and where we need to be, not just in a gimmicky way,” Cowan said, reflecting on how Marvel’s social media remains innovative and progressive by industry standards. “Sometimes brands jump on brands because it’s a cool new thing. We don’t want to do that. We want to be in the right places in the right way.”

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Cowan sharing the news that Marvel’s Instagram broke 2 million followers. Photo Credit: Adri Cowan.

So how does Cowan and the entire Marvel team stay at the forefront of the industry? “I feel very lucky to have gone to Emerson at the time that I did, before social media,” Cowan said. “That allowed me to take all the practical marketing and writing basics and apply that to social media. Seeing it as an outlet with a lot of potential and figuring out on my own how best to use it was invaluable.” This isn’t something unique to the marketing industry as a whole. Besides comic books, television studios are trying to modernize how they track the popularity of their shows as people watch and consume content from more than just live broadcasts. Cowan had the difficult task to adapt to social media when first starting out and she and her entire team have continued to do it since. After all, they have to be doing some extraordinary things when Marvel aggregates over 22 million followers from their main Facebook and Twitter pages alone.

Ultimately, Marvel’s and Cowan’s success goes back to what Cowan believes makes up a good marketer: “You have to be intuitive and empathetic so you can anticipate what people may be thinking and feeling.” In an age where we so often forget that there are other people on the other side of the computer screen, that there are real people who are behind comments–both positive and critical, and that there are people whose lives are being made better because of Marvel’s presence in their lives, Marvel should feel lucky that they have someone like Cowan leading the helm.

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