Superhero movies are big business.
Since Blade sliced its way into our pop culture in 1998 they’ve steadily been taking over the landscape, solidifying into a protracted duke-out between the two major comics studios, Marvel and DC, battling for our hearts and cash at the box office.
At this point, their forward-planning and world building is a Marvel (sorry) to behold, and fans are expected to start getting excited for films a good three years before their release. This has led to a sea-change in how films are marketed, how fanbases are engaged, how momentum is maintained and curiosity toyed with. Parallel to this, there are whole new areas of film and culture theory that have cropped up to talk about fan engagement, branding as narrative and how peripheral media pieces like trailers and interviews inform and colour our opinions of the final film.
This year, though, something happened that was not planned for or predicted. An anomaly. An anomaly that has so far grossed $754.5 million worldwide and was made for only $58 million. To say it’s rocked the boat is an understatement.
So what made Deadpool different? While Deadpool fans are loyal folk, we’re not exactly a major demographic. Also, it’s not the first comic adaptation film to come out of the blue with relatively obscure characters (hi, Guardians of the Galaxy) and knock our socks off. Nor is it the first comic book movie aimed squarely at an older audience - Dredd was aimed at mature audiences and so was The Dark Knight.
It was the marketing. Oh my goodness, was it the marketing.
Within a market so saturated with superhero cinema, so practiced in releasing teaser trailers for teaser trailers for trailers, footage of stars in costume visiting hospitals, interviews to discuss a love of the source material or of ‘best pal’ stars riffing on their camaderie for the camera, this little upstart movie not only managed to come in and do something new with these exact same tools, the whole thing set off a chain reaction of people joining in with the fun just to watch the marketing team do its thang, piquing interest in people who would never have thought twice about watching the film before the marketing kicked in. As Emma Ellis put it over at Wired.com, “Even if you weren’t a Deadpool fan before, aren’t you intrigued now?”
No medium was left unviolated: There was a perfectly pitched newsletter, a 12 Days of Deadpool countdown over Christmas, this goddamn work of art billboard that went viral and, inexplicably, a custom range of emojis. The team even out-clickbaited the clickbait just for yucks. The whole Deadpool character is about being a self-aware wiseass, making fun of the tropes and structures that surround him. Therefore trolling and revelling in internet silliness was not only good fun but wholly in keeping with the character himself.
Instead of remixing the same basic content for each new trailer, maybe teasing a new character reveal or iconic vehicle replicated onscreen as others have done, the Deadpool promo materials were treated as standalone content. Each brought something different into the mix, whether it was Deadpool turning up to kill an interviewer, Reynolds hijacking Hugh Jackman’s press junket for his own ends or even handing out healthcare advice. With each new piece of content, there was a clear intent to a) make it fun and b) keep it in line with the tone and style of Deadpool himself. It’s incredible to look at how many great stunts they pulled off, all calibrated to fit right in with the established character behaviour of our beloved Merc with a Mouth.
It was made clear to us as fans that the makers of this film understood our concerns and suspicions. They knew enough to deliver exactly what we wanted, because they were as invested as we were - if not more. Reynolds has frequently spoken about crying the first time he put on the suit; it meant that much to him to do so. To see how invested he was in bringing the character to the screen gave hardcore fans faith and newcomers a sense of something special about to happen. Even now, months after the film’s record-breaking release, the marketing team are still coming up with brilliant ways to get us to remember why we love Deadpool and all his antics.
Marketing insights we can take from the Deadpool campaign:
No rehashed trailers: Content is King. Everything is led by the content
Reynolds tweeting as Deadpool: There’s nothing more valuable than a strong brand advocate when it comes to getting people emotionally invested in what you’re doing, so find a passionate, knowledgeable person and get them front and centre in your campaign
Fan-only Newsletters and the SkullPoopL billboard: Don’t write off a medium just because it seems old-fashioned - figure out something new to do with it. You can’t blame the platform for your lack of imagination...
Superbowl slots and Valentines Day trolling: Be agile and responsive, always looking for a way to put your ‘take’ on an event
Crashing Hugh Jackman’s press tour: The Buddy System works - if you can make a business partner look good while they help you out, you both look great and you get to reach two sets of followers at same time
Honest Trailers and custom emojis: Know your audience and meet them where they are. Even better? Give them what they don’t know they want yet.
And above all: Make it personal, but more than anything…Make it fun!