Digital Marketing for Deadpool: How 20th Century Fox Innovated Their Marketing Strategy

Patrick Whalen

Feb 12, 20165 min read
How 20th Century Fox Innovated Their Marketing Strategy

Deadpool, AKA the “Merc with a mouth,” is the latest comic character to rise to the big screen from Marvel Comics. The character was created by writer Fabian Nicieza and artist Rob Liefeld in the early 90’s during their run on the New Mutants title. Since then, Deadpool has spawned multiple solo titles and crossovers with almost every Marvel character imaginable.

While the character started out as a grim mercenary who mirrored DC’s Deathstroke the Terminator, he eventually became more unique and humorous under the authorship of Joe Kelly in the late '90s. The comedic tone launched Deadpool to mainstream readership, and eventually his fanbase cried out for him to come to cinema. Actor Ryan Reynolds, who campaigned for the role, championed their pleas.

20th Century Fox put together a somewhat non-traditional marketing plan for the movie, one that relied little on film footage, but heavily on film. Viral videos, holiday pieces, regional marketing and social media were all employed in their push for box office success.

Digital marketing pervasiveness coupled with outside-of-the-box strategies mirrored the bizarre nature of the character they were promoting. Ultimately, the marketing team tried to permeate as much of peoples’ lives as possible while exposing a minimum of the film itself.

Holiday Marketing

One thing you can rely on to trend in the news is holidays. Capitalizing on that, the Deadpool camp planned strategies to promote the movie through viral videos and other holiday hijinks. Starting with April Fool’s Day last year, the studio answered their fans’ concerns about whether the movie would be rated PG-13 by having Deadpool show up in character and stage an attack on Mario Lopez on Extra.

Their holiday-themed videos continued with a Halloween video, this time on Ryan Reynolds’s own YouTube channel. The video has since gained over 4.2 million hits. One takeaway here is that a low-budget creative piece like this can get people talking almost as much as a high-budget movie trailer. The studio also had Reynolds act as an ambassador for the film in a much bigger way than most films do, with talk shows and interviews.

The biggest holiday push came with the 12 Days of Deadpool.

From December 14 through December 25, every day had a unique piece of content, leading up to a new trailer for the movie.Partnerships with Entertainment Magazine, People Magazine, Deviant Art, Fandango and others were formed. GIFs, new movie posters, and branded emojis scattered around the Internet kept fans engaged on a daily basis, and kept brand awareness at a peak level, pushing it to trending level for weeks.

Regional Marketing

While most of the marketing for the movie focuses in on broad appeal through sex, violence, and laughter; several of the marketing initiatives focused in on more specific audiences. In particular, there were several videos released specifically to target certain geographic targets.

Deadpool was banned in China over censorship issues, but that didn’t stop the marketing team from acknowledging the fans over there. Like most of their viral videos, Ryan Reynolds got into costume to wish everyone a happy Chinese New Year. Similarly, there was a video released for Australia Day.

The third region-specific video took things a step further by showcasing the partnership between Manchester United and the studio. In it, Deadpool scores a goal with a bunch of football players cheering him on.Cross-promotion between the two entities helped to push the video to over 1.5 million views in less than a week.

Social Media

This one may seem obvious, but the social media campaign for this movie definitely helped to poise it to break out. Not only is there an official Twitter account for the movie (@DeadpoolMovie), but Ryan Reynolds’ account has turned into a huge promotional tool in their arsenal, posting almost exclusively about Deadpool for months.

Many of the posts are done in character, with a tongue-in-cheek awareness of the fact that it’s all make believe, as Deadpool breaks the fourth wall. Being a superhero movie gives Deadpool an edge, but another huge takeaway here is the community interaction.

While most businesses don’t have a rabid fanbase who are into cosplay of their main character / mascot, Deadpool’s marketing proves the worth of interacting with your audience and giving them the opportunity to promote you as brand ambassadors.

Marketing Outside of the Box

What sets the marketing efforts of Deadpool apart from most movies is the way the marketing echoes the protagonist of the film. Everything about the promotion for this film is aimed at people with a short attention span with a dark or raunchy sense of humor, and is a little off-kilter. Deadpool embodies the dark comedic sensibilities of a generation desensitized to violence, and too detached for typical super hero stories.

Along with hammering the public with video after video online, marketing efforts were ramped up as the release date drew near. Five TV networks ran custom ads during three-hour blocks, customized to the demographic of the programming being run. “Workaholics,” “Tosh.0,” and “Golden Girls” were all featured in this campaign. In the comic, Deadpool has a strange attachment to Bea Arthur, but since she passed away, Betty White was featured in a gleefully mischievous promotion piece.

20th Century Fox also took advantage of the release date’s proximity to the Super Bowl.Not only did they buy a commercial during the game, but they also ran several live promotions over the course of the weekend.

On Friday, the studio arranged for Ryan Reynolds to take over a taco truck to serve chimichangas, which the character loves. Saturday, Fox transformed a spot near the stadium into Sister Margaret’s Bar, a location from the film, and had Reynolds and co-star T.J. Miller there to socialize. Sunday saw Deadpool “taking over” Fox’s Snapchat account during the big game.

There were several other stunts the marketing team pulled to promote the movie, some of which were just left-of-center. Carl’s Jr., known for unabashedly using sex to sell, are helping to cross-promote with limited edition large Deadpool drink cups, with “Size Matters” written on them.  Bizarre billboards and self-referential humor were employed.

There are several lessons to be learned from the marketing efforts of this film:

Know your audience. Promote, promote, promote. And ultimately, try something new with your campaigns.

What do you think about the marketing of Deadpool? Let us know in the comments!

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.