For the second weekend in a row, Deadpool – Marvel Comics’ cult favorite antihero – turned the box office on its ear with its self-titled and self-aware movie adaptation.
As the film enters its third weekend in theaters, the “merc with a mouth” has grossed more than $200 million domestic and has broken a slew of box office records, thanks in no small part to a gloriously manic “Deadpool” marketing campaign.
Credit Fox and marquee star Ryan Reynolds. Their disparate yet delicately aligned promotional pushes serve as a masterclass in making the weird sell. Quite a feat, considering the film’s Hard-R rating and previously limited name-recognition among non-fans. Among the methods to their madness:
- Start with the car chase. The onslaught began way back in July of 2014, when test footage of an extended, Interstate-set action sequence dropped online featuring the titular character rendered in CGI and featuring voice work by Reynolds himself. The frenetic clip arrived at a time when the prospects for a solo film looked bleak, and became an overnight Internet sensation. If 20th Century Fox had no hand in its release – the video’s benefactor remains shrouded in mystery – it certainly raised some studio heads. The word “viral” all but became synonymous with the film’s title, and the clip has since been viewed millions of times.
- Social media was their super power. From the first pic of the character in costume, Tweeted by Reynolds and aping Burt Reynolds’ infamous bear skin rug pose, the “Deadpool” marketing campaign was off to the races. From there, Deadpool sightings spread like wildfire online – with irreverent, guerilla-style soundbites and images popping up on Twitter, Instagram, and even Tinder. Reynolds himself proved an unlikely PR guru, taking it upon himself to unleash a steady barrage of hilarity by way of videos and updates from the set.
- Keep an eye on the “big picture.” The film’s print campaign, too, was one for the record books, boasting tongue-in-cheek advertisements, billboards, and posters that played up the idiosyncratic nature of the character, simultaneously providing a wink to fans and chuckles for those who had never heard of him. A highlight? A saccharine, romcom-style billboard a la Nancy Meyers promising “True Love Never Dies.”
- Celebrate the holidays. From a perfectly timed April Fools’ Day spot on “Extra,” in which a meta Deadpool accosted host Mario Lopez while he interviewed the film’s star, Reynolds, to Fox’s yuletide-themed “12 Days of Deadpool” which yielded chestnuts like Deadpool’s Christmas List and a heavily annotated page of the script, themed material for virtually every holiday (even Australia Day made the cut) managed to keep the project at the forefront all year long.
Marketers could – and should – glean any number of lessons from the triumph of the “Deadpool” marketing campaign: Make a hard-hitting first impression. Play to your strengths, while staying true to your brand. Harness not only the power and breadth of social media, but its versatility. Know your audience, and keep them tuned in and turned on. And like Deadpool himself – be fearless, but measured.
Sadly, like a rowdy student sticking pencils in the ceiling, Hollywood tends to catch only snippets of the lecture. History dictates that studios will now trample one another to leap aboard the bawdy bandwagon, regardless of what the source material calls for.
Within days of the box office reports, word of an R-rated home video release for Warner Brothers’ “Batman v. Superman” hit the web. (Though officials claimed the version predated the Deadpool brouhaha.) Still, it begs the question: Does the next Wolverine film really need to be R-rated? Who’s to say? One thing is certain: Hugh Jackman better start exercising that Twitter finger.
– Nathan Oravec, Copywriter