What do you do when you have a character like Deadpool, who is adored by comic book fans but isn’t as well known or successful as Spiderman? That was the question Deadpool’s marketing team had to figure out… and fast.
If you haven’t crossed paths with the Deadpool marketing campaign by this point, then it would appear that you are something of a statistical anomaly. In the build-up to the film’s February 12 release date, the team behind the fourth-wall-breaking antihero waged an unrelenting siege on every platform you can think of to promote it.
Billboards, social media, emojis, Tinder… there’s literally nothing the marketing team wouldn’t touch to get this film noticed. And who can blame them? Compared to other superhero films, this shouldn’t have been as successful as it was.
So why was it so well received? Simple: it was everywhere.
Content marketing against the odds
In order to understand the success of this type of campaign, we need to take a closer look at the “Merc with a mouth” and his backstory. You see, Deadpool cut his teeth in the comic world for being know as a tongue-in-cheek, brazen, anti-hero who could actively break the fourth wall – he knew he was in a comic book.
The main reason why Deadpool generated such a cult following in the comic book world is mainly down to the character’s striking personality. He’s almost peerless in that respect.
Deadpool is the Leicester City of superhero films. Slightly unconventional, highly offensive and with the odds stacked firmly against him, the character has defied fans and critics alike to become one of the highest grossing R rated films of all time.
Let’s put that into perspective. The odds of Leicester City winning the Premier League this season were a staggering 5000-1; higher than those of Elvis Presley being discovered alive (2000-1) and Simon Cowell becoming Prime Minister (500-1). As it stands, the film currently sits outside the top 10 highest grossing superhero films of all time, with $362,952,685 made in the American market alone.
It’s incredible to think that a minor superhero such as Deadpool could outsell two of the world’s biggest names in Batman and Superman, but here we are…
6 examples of Deadpool’s marketing breaking the fourth wall
If you’re not up to date with your theatre lingo, the “4th wall” is essentially an imaginary wall that once referred to the front of the stage (basically where the audience sit). Historically speaking, it’s something of a no-no to engage with the front row because they’re meant to be suspended in disbelief, but if you’re Deadpool you can do whatever you want.
1. It all started with a tweet…
With great power, comes great irresponsibility. #deadpool #officialsuit @deadpoolmovie pic.twitter.com/MPM89bYz1B
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) March 27, 2015
And just like that the world fell in love with Deadpool’s irresistible charms. This tweet from Ryan Reynolds’ personal account set the marketing wheels in motion, with over 55,000 retweets to date. It was March 27, 2015 and the film would release less than a year later. The game was afoot.
2. The great emoji marketing campaign
Who would have thought that back in 2011 a simple bit of code would have changed the way we communicate, yet here we are in 2016 and Deadpool is taking no prisoners.
This particular billboard left more than a few people scratching their heads, none more so than the younger generation who regularly incorporate emojis into their conversations. Not long after the billboard was spotted, Ryan Reynolds himself released a new poster with the title “Skull Poop L.”
Just 29 days til, "Skull Poop L"! pic.twitter.com/Ktpo6eUPAp
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) January 14, 2016
3. The real hero here: social media
If there’s one film that was capable of ‘breaking the internet’, then it’s almost certainly Deadpool. The marketing team knew this too and so set about preaching Deadpool’s story in every social media outlet possible. It was a bonanza. From creating a ‘beef’ between Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), to making a clickbait generating website, there was nothing off limits.
No go @VancityReynolds – the 11th day is #Wolverine's https://t.co/Qx0HAwRj2i #Snikt #12DaysOfDeadpool pic.twitter.com/QEpfU4vyge
— Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) December 24, 2015
It was this relentless attack which helped it generate so much attention, with fans from all walks of life sitting up and taking note.
4. Risqué business
From day one the Deadpool marketing team brought out unparalleled levels of sass and sex appeal; an homage to the character’s risqué nature. With the film getting an R rated classification (18 here in the UK), it was always going to be an uphill battle for them, especially considering nearly every other superhero film is given a PG-13 classification.
The R-rating could have placed the film’s marketing team in a difficult situation as they wouldn’t be able to target the lucrative children’s market. So, instead of toning down their marketing, the team stuck to their guns and created ‘adult’ promotional material to target the adult market this film was for.
5. Ryan “Deadpool” Reynolds
Who better to promote this film than the man himself? Ryan Reynolds is a one man marketing monster. There’s no telling where Ryan ends and Deadpool begins (just check out his Twitter account) and that’s why this a match made in comic-book heaven.
Reynolds made a career out of being a larger than life character, adding depth to his roles and creating lasting impressions in films even when he had no right to do so. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine for example, he made his first appearance as Deadpool and despite the character and film being tarnished, he left the audience wanting more.
He believed in this project from the start and even bankrolled the project using his own money, with the result reflecting his ambition.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you will notice Reynolds holding up a figurine of his original Deadpool character in this new film where he makes a joke at the original’s expense. This is another example of Deadpool breaking the fourth wall by making a joke at his own expense to the delight of fans.
6. Ferris Bueller-ing Ferris Bueller
Long before Deadpool arrived on the scene, the art of breaking the fourth wall was already mastered in the 80’s coming of age flick, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Throughout the course of Deadpool we’re treated to no less than 23 instances of wall breaking (not literally), including a super-meta 16-wall wall break. But it’s the scene after the credits which caught our attention the most, as Deadpool re-enacts the film’s famous post-shower scene (bathrobe and all) in which he unconventionally reveals that a sequel is already in the works.
So what have we learned from Deadpool’s success?
Oh look, another agency trying to piggyback off Deadpool’s success… how original. Well yeah, but hear me out for a second.
Deadpool is being championed left, right and centre as a template for movie marketing success. Having been set a paltry budget of just $58 million dollars (compared to Batman V Superman’s $250 million dollar warchest), the film has gone on to earn a staggering $760 million worldwide – making it the third most bankable superhero movie ever.
Cooking up a few creative marketing ideas is one thing, but actually putting them into motion is another. That’s why a lot of businesses (small companies in particular) seem to fall short, but using the film’s strategy as a template you could make your campaigns come to life.
Just follow these basic principles:
- Know your audience
- What do they like? How will they respond?
- Create rich content that resonates with its audience
- Pick up on the latest news / trends and fit your campaign around it
- Make it shareable
- Be consistent
- Don’t be afraid to be a little adventurous
Content marketing can be as simple as you want it to be. If it’s sad, funny or bizarre enough people will engage with it. The trick is sharing it with as many people as possible until something sticks.