Warning: Put on your headphones, folks. In true Deadpool style, some of the video content is NSFW.
If you didn’t know by now, Deadpool is a comic … And a movie. But it was a comic first. At a strong monthly average circulation around 45k, it’s a popular comic. But with the movie opening to a record-busting $132 Million in the U.S., it’s clear way more than the 45k fans of the comic showed up – 11 million more.
Deadpool’s success was not a given. It was hard earned and readily deserved. Let’s start with what Deadpool had stacked against it:
- R rating – historically an attendance damper; Though superheroes are of ever-growing mainstream popularity, Deadpool is not widely known, more of a niche character;
- He’s bad! He kills people – an anti-hero;
- Having been poorly done in 2009’s Wolverine Origins, studios & general audiences were cold on the character.
So how do you convince a mass audience to flock to a profanity-laden, violent as hell movie on Valentine’s weekend? You make them love you. Sure, you say. That’s so easy (she said sarcastically). Well, Deadpool made it easy. And natural. With a slew of some of the best social marketing in years, this movie engaged with an ever-growing audience over the course of two full years leading up to the release. Their secret sauce? Passion … And Ryan Reynolds … But mostly passion.
It was passion that birthed the movie when the test footage was leaked in 2014. Footage that went massively viral, culminating in a nerdswell of demand that the movie must happen. Armed and dangerous, Reynolds was able to push the passion project forward. Over the next two years, Reynolds, playing Deadpool, would make appearances promoting the film in expected – and sometimes very unexpected – ways.
For April Fools 2015, still a year out, Reynolds appeared as himself on Mario Lopez’s Extra interview talking about how the characters raunchy ways had been softened for the film to attain a PG-13 rating. Just as Lopez agrees that was the right move, Deadpool enters from behind, killing “Slater” with a monster punch, then announcing that the film will indeed be R-rated. The clip, of course, went viral.
Following the head pounding surprise appearance, a steady stream of posts, photos and videos kept the buzz going. From fun fan engagements …
… to hilariously fake anniversary posts on Facebook …
… timely cultural references …
… and of course sweet milestones.
When Reynolds spotted Deadpool billboards and ads around town, he shared and commented on them, inciting fans to actually seek out the ads to see for themselves.
At Halloween, Reynolds dressed up as Deadpool and harassed a group of kids dressed as X-Men.
An interactive video released to Facebook gave users a 360 view of the bar featured in the movie with Deadpool doing randy and inappropriate things at every turn of your phone. What he’s doing behind the pole is quite questionable. The bar was also used for a media junket, where reporters played darts with Reynolds as he answered questions.
And he even lent his popularity to a great cause with a series of videos asking gentlemen and ladies to touch themselves tonight, raising awareness for testicular & breast cancer in partnership with Ballboys, a UK organization. It really doesn’t get much better than these public service announcements.
As the release neared, a new marketing push instructed guys how to dupe their girlfriends into thinking Deadpool was a romantic comedy, complete with romcom mushy images and memes.
They even put out a series of memes with anti-reviews, playing up the violence and foul language.
Essentially, the fervor and passion behind the making of the film and the embedded fan base was put into every aspect of the extensive marketing. It captured the essence of the character and story, promising the payoff everyone wanted. And it did, indeed, pay off.
The opening credits and scene of the film was the final cut of the originally leaked footage that started it all. A very smart decision. The collective laugh of recognition I heard in the theater as the movie started brought it all full circle.
So what can we, as marketers, learn from this success?
Have passion. If you’re willing to care the audience will feel the love. Our work isn’t a game of hot potato. You’ve got to love what you’re doing, every day. Know what you’re selling; Immerse in the audience so you can understand what moves them and give them everything they want plus what they don’t even know they want.
Have fun. Your audience wants to laugh with you. Find the beauty in the details, bring messages to life in a new angle, don’t be afraid to take risks. Social media is a marketers playground. So you don’t get any likes. Move on to the next. It’s the perfect way to test and learn organically with your audience with minimal risk. For most brands who have been dinged for a bad post, the offense is soon forgotten in the never ending tide of social media. The benefits of learning and connecting far outweigh a small whoopsie-daisy.
The more we embrace, embed, let audiences in and be real, the better our story will be.
After the release of the film, Reynolds posted a photo of himself with the Fox marketing team, thanking them for changing the game. He’s right. The campaign was incredibly engaging, inventive and unabashedly cool. Consider this a challenge to us all to up our game. I’m all in, how about you?