Quick survey. Raise your hand if you had no idea what a “Deadpool” was before the movie that came out on February 12. Now raise your other hand if you still have no idea what I’m talking about. And now put your hands down. I cannot see you. The point I am attempting to make is that Deadpool is an extremely niche Marvel Comics superhero with very low level name recognition that, three weeks ago, made $150 million at the box office on a holiday weekend in February. How was this accomplished? In part, because of its marketing, which we will be studying today. But really, it was all because of me. I will explain.
Once the movie was first ushered into production, the first step after having convinced the studio to take a risk on a mostly unknown character, was to convince the fans of said unknown character that they knew who he was. And an important part of that was releasing this first promotional image, so that the fan base could be assured their Deadpool didn’t look like, oh, say, a bald albino with no mouth, swords for hands and laser eyes. And since you, humble reader, still don’t know what a Deadpool is, you’ll have to take my word that this is exactly what Deadpool would look like…
if he was real and Ryan Reynolds in a full body outfit, splayed out on a bearskin rug a la Burt Reynolds. Which, on a personal level, had me believing that Ryan Reynolds is Burt Reynolds’ son for the last eight months (According to IMDB, he is not, as it turns out). But it also put the masses’s minds at ease that yes, they knew what Deadpool was supposed to look like.
Moving on to closer to the film’s premiere. There was a couple of red band trailers which I really, really can’t share on this blog. But what I can show you is this billboard, which is simply the greatest thing.
Am I wrong? I don’t think that I am. It’s marketing by emoji, and it is clearly the wave of the future.
And then, finally, there was this little nugget of brilliance where the marketing team decided to try to pass off the Deadpool movie as a romantic movie, so that dweebs could fool their significant others into seeing it over the Valentine’s Day weekend. Because if there’s one way to tell the people you love how you feel, it’s tricking them into seeing a movie about a guy in spandex shooting guns at things for two hours.
There were many other cogs in the marketing machine that was the Deadpool campaign, but the provided pieces should be sufficient in convincing you that it was not your normal movie marketing. Which was, of course, entirely the point. What made the campaign stand out and, ultimately, incredibly successful based upon the box office receipts, was that the campaign didn’t dumb anything down or assume that they had to explain the appeal of the Deadpool character to you, the great unwashed masses.
So how, when presented with a movie about a character that no one knew, was the proper way to market it to an unknowing populace? Most marketers would make the mistake of trying to explain who Deadpool is. The proper marketing technique was exactly the opposite. All of the pieces you just saw didn’t do a single thing to tell you.
But what they did do was speak directly to the few people who already did know, and did it in a language that was immediately familiar to them: in Deadpool’s voice. What this did was rally the base, and consequently they showed up for the premiere in droves. And they brought their friends. And then the next week, friends of their friends showed up to see what the big deal was. And it made a yippy-skippy ridiculous amount of money.
So who is responsible for the success of Deadpool? I am. Because I have been a Deadpool fan for 10 years, and I was the person that the Deadpool team directly marketed to, and when they finally made a Deadpool movie that catered to everything that I wanted to see as a fan, I went out and I told everyone I knew. I put it on my Facebook and my Twitter. I put up a Deadpool standee behind my desk at work. I droned on endlessly about it to complete strangers. (I also got a Tweet liked by Ryan Reynolds, but that’s neither here nor there.) I became possibly the most annoying human being on Earth, and I was not the only one. And it worked. Millions of people showed up to see Deadpool in theaters, and based on the overheard conversations in the theater of the two showings I saw, maybe only 30% of the two sold-out crowds had any idea what they were about to see. But 100% of them applauded when the film was done. And on a daily basis, people I know are still coming up to me and telling me that they saw the movie and they loved it. Because I guess I made the movie? I don’t know. People are weird.
That, true believers, is a picture Ryan Reynolds took with the Deadpool marketing team that he posted to his Instagram. In the caption, he said that they “changed the game.” And they did. They marketed this obscenely niche movie in a way that was smarter than most marketers would ever conceive of, and probably have influenced viral marketing campaigns from this point on with all they accomplished. But like any good Deadpool fan would, I’m going to take all the credit for myself, because I deserve it. The marketing was geared directly at me and people like me (God help those people), and that’s why it worked out so well. As Deadpool would say, “Time to make the chimichangas.*” Whatever that means.
Erik Hagen is the senior copywriter for KK BOLD and hopefully burned up all his Deadpool conversation topics writing this piece so that he will finally stop droning on about Ryan Reynolds liking his Tweet at work.
*That’s from the movie. Again, I was a fan.