Deadpool is everywhere. The character has become a household name, spurred by the marketing efforts of Twentieth Century Fox over the past year, and the popularity of the film that was released two weeks ago. In that time, the film has shattered multiple records, grossing over $500 million at the box office, exceeding the studio’s expectations more than two-fold, and changing the landscape for R-rated films in Hollywood.
Hollywood has been clamoring about the success of the Marvel Studios movies, trying to emulate their success. Yet Deadpool, a Marvel character long ago licensed out to another studio is defying the odds to be the next big movie success.
While there are over 20 R-rated films based on comics, it’s the first Marvel character to have a R-rating since 2008, and has out-ranked 8/12 MCU movies’ aggregate scores on Rotten Tomatoes of 83% from critics and 94% from the audience. As marketers, why should we be concerned with such a pop culture phenomenon? It’s a case study with a lot of takeaways that can be scaled to a smaller level.
1. Have Faith in Your Marketers
Whether in-house or a hired agency, you need to have faith in the expertise of your marketing team. Take your time to evaluate who will promote your work, but once you’ve selected them, you need to trust them to take some risks in promoting the product. Twentieth Century Fox granted free rein, leading to a less-than-conventional approach to for the movie, resulting in a big payday.
2. Research Your Market
The success of Deadpool didn’t happen over night. The character was created twenty-five years ago, and it took almost eleven years for the studio to green light the production.
Take the time to examine your competition and find a niche that you can satisfy before jumping into the market.
There was a massive outcry from the comic book community for this film to be made. When Reynolds and the creative team approached it, they knew from other films that they needed to set the right foot forward by releasing an image of the costume and the hard R-rating.
3. ...Then Put Together the Right Package
Deadpool is a movie that appeals to the lowest common denominator in the best way possible. Its success can’t be attributed to any one aspect of the film, but rather the combination of them. Other comic book films have tried spotlighting sex, violence, and humor, but none saw the success of this one.
In your marketing, consider the value to the client. Strategizing the proper balance of social media, paid search, design and SEO is vital as you start a marketing campaign. This foundation can make or break your efforts going forward.
4. Know Your Demographic
The marketing team of Deadpool capitalized on the pre-existing fan base from the comic book. The core demographic for the movie is men age 17-34. The marketing started through the comics, and went from there.
It’s vital to understand who your target audience is, so that you can tailor your efforts to target them. Considering age, gender and location are just preliminary factors – the more focused your efforts, the better the leads you’ll generate in the end.
5. ...Then Expand Beyond It
As both star and producer of the film, Ryan Reynolds had heavy influence on the film. He understood the importance of portraying strong female characters in the film, and the appeal of such a movie to a female audience.
“I liked the idea of some kickass women in the film,” he said during an interview. MMA fighter Gina Carano was joined by Brianna Hildebrand, who trained in Muay Thai, and Morena Baccarin, whose character says “I’ve played a lot of roles – damsel in distress ain’t one of them.”
The film carried three strong female characters, which is a huge improvement over most comic films!
Knowing who might be interested in your product or service and then appealing to them is marketing 101. Taking a chance and expanding beyond that audience is what will push you to the top of the game.
6. Remember Regional Marketing
Deadpool ran several region-specific promotions in their marketing campaign.
Localized SEO is no longer optional. Unless you are running strictly mail order e-commerce, you must have this as part of your campaign.
7. Learn From Your Mistakes
Don’t run away from your marketing mis-steps. Embrace them. Learn from them. Then own up to them on a public platform if they come up, and demonstrate how you’ve improved.
Deadpool was a character in the 2009 film Wolverine: Origins. His character wasn’t well represented, but Twentieth Century Fox poked fun at themselves by referencing the mistake in the new film.
8. Be Authentic
Before the film dropped, some fans petitioned for a PG-13 rating. Giving in to this would cost the studio the integrity of the character, as he is an anti-hero much darker than the superheroes many children are used to seeing in theaters. The studio committed to an accurate portrayal of the character, and the fans responded with a massive showing, leading to huge box office pulls.
Misrepresentation in marketing is an easy trap to fall into, but one that will quickly catch up to you. Be authentic in your representation of your brand. Your audience will respond positively.
9. Believe Your Own Hype
Someone in the Deadpool camp believed in the product enough to leak out test footage of it. Ryan Reynolds petitioned time and again for the film to be made. When it came through, he acted, produced, and marketed for a year straight.
Have confidence in your product and project it to the audience. It shows.
10. Attend Conventions
Attend conventions, trade shows, and local meet-ups. There are wonderful opportunities for you to demonstrate your offering, as well as connect with both peers and clients. Ideally, schedule a balanced calendar of small and large events to optimally promote your brand.
Deadpool connected well with its audience last year at the San Diego Comic Con. The main cast was in attendance, and they were able to promote the film and conduct a live Q&A session. It paid off, launching the hype machine that continued for six months afterward.
11. Interact With Your Community
Surprise screenings, conventions, talk shows, and social media were all part of the interactive marketing for the film. Ryan Reynolds even conducted a Twitter Q&A session, answering all sorts of questions from fans.
Seek out and find ways to connect to your audience, whether it’s a chat box on your home page or through regular social media management.
12. Set Expectations
Be clear about your offerings. If your product or service seems wide in scope when you begin to market it, tighten things up. Case studies are a great way to do this – you can show exactly what results you can hope to attain via your product or service.
Differentiating it from other comic films, the marketing team made sure to impress on parents that it would be inappropriate for children. The marketing of the film clearly echoes the titular character and the tone of the film – profane, violent, and irreverent.
13. Know When to Hop on a Trend (or Steer Clear of One)
Following the success of Deadpool, media outlets are reporting several other comic properties aiming for a R-rating so as to recreate the box office success of Deadpool. The makers of Batman v Superman (rated PG-13), which is not even in theaters yet, have already announced a R-rated alternate cut will be released on Blu-ray.
While this might work for some productions, it’s important to acknowledge this isn’t the first R-rated comic adaptation; it’s just the most successful. According to media analyst Paul Dergarabedian, “What works for Deadpool may only work for Deadpool.”
Imitating the success of a film whose success was largely built on originality seems counter-intuitive. It’s always prudent to take the time to analyze the success of a competitor before hopping on the bandwagon. Success breeds imitators, but originality makes for winners.
14. Market Through Nontraditional Channels
Focusing on the creative efforts and outside-the-box marketing of Deadpool could fill a whole article. A silly emoticon text became a series of billboards. Conan O’Brien switched out the rating of his show for one night to TV-MA to debut the red-band trailer for the film. Deadpool even spoke on a PSA for an organization fighting cancer.
If you’re strictly occupying the spaces your competitors are, you’ll miss out on audience acquisition. Find channels they aren’t employing, be creative, and take a chance on some creative outlets.
15. Use the Holidays
The marketing team at Deadpool took full advantage of multiple holidays throughout the year to drop viral videos and Tweets to promote the film.
Holidays are a social media paradox in that they are evergreen trending topics. Craft marketing campaigns around them in advance, and launch them on a tight schedule to maximize engagement.
16. Don't Forget Speakers and Frenemies
As an organization grows, it’s important to have a speaker on staff to represent the brand. Brand evangelism and frenemies, or competitors who you form partnerships with, also have grown in importance for promotional strategy.
Ryan Reynolds actively championed the film throughout its marketing. He went beyond the talk show circuit, and became the spokesman for the film.
He turned his Twitter account into a huge promotional channel, almost exclusively tweeting about Deadpool for months. Viral videos were shot at his house, and he even did some voiceover work for the trailers. Reynolds received public praise from fellow actors Chris Evans, Hugh Jackman and Patton Oswalt that also helped garner attention for the film.
17. Use Promotional Partners
There are also plenty of opportunities in business to team with non-competitors to cross-promote to each other’s audience. Complimentary services or products benefit from the exposure that each partner brings to the relationship.
Deadpool found several of these opportunities, from releasing exclusive content on Fandango to creating a Tinder profile for the character.
18. Consider Ever-Present Branding
Branding is something the creative team scattered throughout the Deadpool movie. Alongside the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, there are several nods to the creators of Deadpool in the film. Rob Liefeld, the artist that co-created the character, has a small role in the movie. Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Feige are also subtly referenced in the movie. It is important both for your existing audience and potential leads to see your brand. Promoting your offering and reinforcing your selling points are equally important for competitive purposes.
19. Employ Humor
With the ever-shrinking attention span of the American public, it’s become crucial to market content that will take footing fast. Humor is a great tool when crafting such content. One of the funniest promotions the marketing team ran was to set up a clickbait generator that led people to a site for the movie. It engaged the audience, and allowed for the fans to spread the content organically.
20. Social Marketing is King
Social media was the number one factor in promoting Deadpool. “There's a lot of debate as to whether or not social media can really open a movie…and this proves it can,” said Marc Weinstock, president of domestic marketing for Twentieth Century Fox. Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr were all leveraged, but it was Twitter and YouTube that spread Deadpool-mania best.
Figure out which social media channels work best for your brand, and then engage your audience daily.
21. Aim for Viral
Twentieth Century Fox put together a marketing team ideally suited for this project. They pushed out GIFs, posters, and videos all with the mindset of hammering the audience with a variety of material suited to go viral. Engagement was amazing. The two red-band trailers alone received twenty million and forty million views, respectively.
Videos drew a giant number of “thumbs up” from viewers and social sharing pushed out the low-budget video clips to a massive audience. They even exploited the fact that it’s an election year.
Not every promotional piece can go viral, which is why it’s important to…
22. Pay Attention to Analytics
Monitor your successes and failures, and make sure you allow enough time to get an accurate sample. The campaigns received 74% positive feedback in social media comments. Instagram posts gained up to one hundred thousand likes. Specific keywords were targeted, varying audience demographics had promotions tailored to attract them, and the marketing team clearly knew which channels to push.
23. Figure Out What Works, Replicate
The sequel to Deadpool has already been given the green light. Yet, in spite of the massive success of the film, the writers are already saying they don’t want a massive budget for the second film. The low budget allowed for certain aspects of the film to come to life in a way that excessive CGI and a larger cast would likely destroy.
Find your successes, analyze what allowed you to achieve them, and recreate them.
24. Take Care of Your Team
Acknowledging those that helped your successes is the only way to receive any future help. Find ways to show your gratitude – send thank you notes, praise employees, and return the favor of any external partners by promoting their work. Reynolds celebrated the success of the movie by sending over a platter of Chimichangas and a Mariachi band sporting Deadpool masks. He also stopped in to a meeting of his marketing team to thank them and is quick to share the credit with the director, writers, and his co-stars.
25. Never Stop
Whether it’s a product launch or a successfully completed marketing campaign, there’s generally room to do more afterward. Take the time to celebrate, but understand that resting on your laurels will result in missed opportunities.
As of this writing, Deadpool has made around half a billion dollars at the box office. While that’s a huge success, the team isn’t stopping there. They are seizing the momentum and taking Blu-ray pre-orders, promoting on talk shows, and lobbying for Oscar consideration.
There’s even a fan-driven petition to have Deadpool (note: not Ryan Reynolds, but the character of Deadpool) host an episode of Saturday Night Live. Reynolds was quick to respond, in character, through a parody of Kanye West’s recent back stage ranting.
What part of Deadpool’s marketing do you think was handled the best? Let us know in the comments!
Deadpool header image: Twentieth Century Fox. Deadpool Press Kit. Used with permission.
Patrick Whalen is a webinar host for the U.S. office of SEMrush. He has several years of experience in digital marketing. Before joining the SEMrush marketing team, Patrick worked in SEO, inbound marketing and paid search as a project manager. He is also an avid comic book reader, with a collection stretching back 25 years. You can follow him at @2PatWhalen.