Prior to 20th Century Fox’s mass social media marketing campaign, the average cinema fan probably had never heard of Deadpool, the foulmouthed antihero who made an appearance in several Marvel Comics. A record-breaking $132 million box office opening, however, proves that more people eagerly awaited the “mercenary with a mouth’s” big screen debut than most people thought. While you may know a few die-hard Deadpool fans, the movie’s wild success is likely attributable to its viral marketing campaign.
Deadpool: The Campaign You Couldn’t Miss
The brilliant, unique, and quirky advertising tactics Deadpool’s marketing team came up with matched perfectly the main subject of the movie – Wade Wilson, an antihero who is mentally unstable and physically disfigured. The “Regenerating Degenerate” talks to himself, curses profusely, and has the special power of accelerated healing. He’s also an accomplished mercenary with physical prowess to match other, better-known superheroes.
20th Century Fox’s marketers had the creative freedom to take the Deadpool campaign and run with it. They showed audiences what happens when untapped advertising potential and wickedly creative minds come together. Fox introduced the nation to Deadpool with a nonstop, all-out blitz of advertisements and marketing campaigns – but instead of feeling forced and intrusive, ads were remarkably fresh and entertaining. The secret lies in the movie’s genius marketing team members, who understood the subject matter they were promoting 100%; they won by playing off of the character’s no-holds-barred personality.
Just like Deadpool himself, Fox’s advertisements ranged from weird to wild – but all of them hit the mark with audiences. Deadpool is famous for his tendency to break the fourth wall, talking directly to the audience. Fox took advantage of this character trait and wrote nearly all of the commercials from the viewpoint of Deadpool himself, breaking the fourth wall to talk to fans about 20th Century Fox and the upcoming movie.
Ryan Reynolds promoted the movie tirelessly on his own Twitter account, using genuine excitement about the film to boost audience interest. He appeared in commercials that mocked Fox and bashed the movie itself and agreed to show up for special events in the suit for seven-and eight-hour days. Paired with the brilliant marketing team, Reynolds helped transform Deadpool from “just another superhero movie” to one of the most anticipated R-rated films of the year.
What Fox Did Right
Deadpool’s campaigning included a long list of varied tactics, but the most noticeable is the fact that Fox made fun of itself through its marketing. Deadpool makes fun of Fox’s 2009 mistake, where they introduced Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine to the chagrin of thousands of die-hard Deadpool fans. They completely missed the mark, inexplicably sewing the character’s mouth shut and creating a character far removed from the comic book version. In the 2016 advertisements, Deadpool talks about these mistakes and bashes Fox – a risky move for any company.
It’s not in most companies’ natures to allow their marketing teams to criticize them publicly, but for Fox, this tactic was an inarguable smash hit. Fans responded to the advertisements positively, and praised Fox for nailing Deadpool’s character and personality. Fox listened to fans’ concerns that they wouldn’t portray the character properly and answered with an aggressive – but effective – marketing campaign.
A major factor in Fox’s favor was its social media marketing for Deadpool. The movie’s social media presence was arguably the greatest driving force behind the film’s smashing opening weekend success. Deadpool’s Instagram account cultivated thousands of followers, accumulating hundreds of comments and shares. From posing on a bearskin rug to sharing candid bathroom photos, the Instagram account gave fans a taste of what to expect from the movie. Fans showed their appreciation for the accurate portrayal of Deadpool’s character by showing up on opening weekend.
Deadpool took it a step forward with fake clickbait pranks that led users to a movie promotion and even took to social media sites such as Tinder to promote the movie. Since Deadpool is famous for being “morally flexible,” these tactics worked wonders on audiences who knew the character and intrigued those who hadn’t heard of him.
Risks That Worked
The main appeal of Deadpool’s marketing was the fact that Fox took risks. It pushed the limits as to what it could get away with, attracting audiences who hadn’t heard of Deadpool without a qualm. Instead of targeting the largest audience possible, Deadpool marketers saw the value of creating content optimized for Deadpool fans. Only fans of the comics could fully understand and appreciate a lot of the advertising, but this worked to Fox’s advantage. It reached its ideal audience through niche marketing and enjoyed the returns a targeted audience gives.
One example of an advertisement only true fans would understand is the billboard: a skull emoji, a poop emoji, and the letter “L.” This super-meta marketing represents the film’s title (“Dead” “Poo” “L”), but many people didn’t understand the ad. Luckily, that’s what made it great. Deadpool fans felt proud that they could decipher the code and shared the billboard across social media sites.
Another billboard advertised Deadpool as a romance movie, set to hit theaters right before Valentine’s Day. Fans went wild over this hilarious advertisement, and it generated a large volume of responses. While the marketing campaign relied heavily on film to get its message across, its multichannel advertising hit audiences from all angles – creating a barrage of Deadpool ads that fans couldn’t get enough of.
What You Can Learn from Deadpool’s Marketing
While the risky and risqué marketing tactics of Deadpool worked smashingly for 20th Century Fox, the main takeaway here isn’t to shock your audience. It’s to listen to them and respond accordingly. Initially, Deadpool debuted in X-Men in 2009. Fans bashed Fox for its poor representation, and Fox listened. When footage leaked of the new and improved Deadpool, fans went wild and demanded more. Once, again Fox listened and delivered, signing on Ryan Reynolds for the Deadpool film.
Fans of the character were nervous that Fox would butcher it or try to make Deadpool fit the mold of other PG-13 rated Marvel Comic blockbusters. Fox threw all worries about being able to market to its typical, Disney/Marvel channels and listened to fans. It announced that the movie would have an R rating to the immense delight of fans everywhere. Instead of focusing on the bottom line or a tried-and-true content marketing technique, Fox prioritized its audience and obeyed consumer demands.
Ryan Reynolds himself campaigned for the movie for several years, and his enthusiasm when Fox announced its release was contagious. His perpetual promotion of the film made it spread to a wider audience and convinced fans who were still on the fence that his version of Deadpool was true to the comic. He responded to fans’ tweets and questions and kept the hype about Deadpool rolling. Through his all-in participation, Fox was able to get creative with its campaign and trust that the star of the show would be on board.
What businesses can learn from the Deadpool marketing campaign is to remember that the number one thing consumers want is to be heard. If you don’t listen to your customers’ needs and desires, your products, services, and campaigns will miss the mark. Content optimization and search engine optimization marketing will only take you so far. There comes a time when you may need to break the mold and adhere to what’s best for your customers.
Deadpool marketers chose their audience over pre-established expectations of what a movie advertisement campaign should look like. Between Reynolds’ championing of the film and Fox’s insanely brilliant marketing techniques, Deadpool rose from a little-known comic book hero movie to a multimillion-dollar box office success.
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