What’s the trick to opening an R-rated Marvel superhero film to a worldwide gross of $284.5M? Make sure your marketing campaign stays true to your film’s protagonist. In the case of 20th Century Fox’s near-yearlong promotion of Deadpool that meant keep it subversive, raunchy, hysterical and, above all, fearless.
In a town where a film’s ad campaign is deemed successful or not based on whether it opens a film, a slew of Fox’s rivals think the Pico Boulevard studio’s audacious promo plan with Deadpool was just genius. Fox built a superhero franchise akin to a summer blockbuster, not a February hopeful as Deadline’s Anita Busch pointed out this weekend. For a film that carried an estimated production cost of $58M, some say that Deadpool already is in the black theatrically after factoring in P&A. Many believe that domestic can make $325M-$350M. Deadpool‘s Tuesday posted a February record for the day of $11.5M, and this weekend a $200M-plus cume stateside is a clear shot.
Every time Fox thought it pushed the bar too far in its advertising, it gained even more groundswell and respect from its target audience. Viral PSA videos showing men and women how to feel themselves up for testicular and breast cancer, respectively? While that doesn’t sound like the type of marketing for your average Disney Marvel title, every hysterical facet of Deadpool‘s marketing is attributed to its leading anti-hero’s sensibility. Read, those PSAs for Deadpool were ripe “because his character is a cancer survivor who frequently touches himself. Deadpool is probably the only superhero that can deliver a serious message in a lewd way that young men would listen to,” points out Fox worldwide distribution-marketing president Paul Hanneman.
Before Fox got the word out, there already was a strong awareness about Deadpool among males 17-34. All other demos were soft. However, rather than tailor certain promotions to certain demos, i.e. women who decide what movie a guy sees on Valentine’s Day, Fox felt that Deadpool was such a powerful character, it was better to sell him universally. Further, with Ryan Reynolds as your marquee man, women already are in the door.
One would think that when it came to educating the non-fans about Deadpool, specifically foreign audiences, Fox would have paired the anti-hero with Wolverine or X-Men in its marketing, so that people would draw a connection to the character. Disney implemented a one-sheet plan during the latter part of Ant-Man‘s marketing by placing him alongside popular Marvel figures as Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. However, Fox felt Deadpool was compelling enough at the center of a campaign, requiring little propping. “Obviously, Deadpool appeared alongside (X-Men character) Colossus in TV spots. We weren’t trying to hide from X-Men, but Deadpool is his own thing,” said Fox domestic marketing president Marc Weinstock.
Deadpool kicked off its buzz in March 2015, when the first photo of the costumed character dropped. It showed Deadpool on a bearskin rug in front of a fireplace; a nod to Burt Reynolds’ Playgirl spread. When launching awareness for a superhero movie, costume reveals are a matter of life or death. Screw up a superhero’s costume, and it could cost a studio the entire movie. One of the most legendary cases of a costume snafu was when Warner Bros released an advance look of Halle Berry in her Catwoman getup for that 2004 film. Fans were so appalled, it was as though Warner Bros was insulting them personally. From that point on, Catwoman was on a downward spiral — a path from which it never recovered, ultimately flatlining at the box office ($40.2M domestic).
Deadpool‘s getup was an immediate win with fans: He was wearing the same tights he wore in the comics. “The costume reveal is a big first step in any superhero campaign, and we wanted to subvert the reveal in true Deadpool fashion,” says Weinstock. “We tried to be very true to the character in every aspect of the marketing.”
During its early promo phase, two more Deadpool stunts further cemented fans’ fervor for the film: an April announcement on Extra that the Marvel feature would be rated R signaled to fans that the movie was staying true to the comics’ tone (Deadpool even ‘killed’ Mario Lopez on the show). The footage that was shown at Comic-Con in July, which also played on Conan (in an TV-MA edition of the talk show), was promptly pirated. After being officially released, the Deadpool trailer wound up being the most viewed redband movie spot, with 114M-plus. “Fans will let you know if you mess with something they don’t want in the marketing,” says Weinstock. “It’s about building trust with the audience, and everything in regards to Deadpool was super-calculated.”
Reynolds worked overtime in promoting Deadpool. On his six-city overseas tour, he posted social messages in each country’s local language. He literally suited up multiple times across YouTube bits, Conan, The Late Late Show With James Corden and a set of Viacom channel interstitials. He tweeted during the premiere of ABC’s The Bachelor with the #DeadpoolOnTheBachelor and traveled to the Deadpool junket at the Super Bowl where, together with co-star T.J. Miller, they poured pints and played darts with the press. According to iSpotTV, the Super Bowl pregame Deadpool spot drew 52.8M TV impressions and 3.2M on social. The “Touch Yourself Tonight” PSA campaign alone attracted 15M-plus.
Quite often, movie marketing executives talk about the lost generation of male moviegoers; how the teen-to-twentysomething set has been taken hostage by video games, YouTube and anything mobile; that they’re impossible to pull into the theater. As such, studios reach that crowd with heavy digital pushes. “I wouldn’t classify young men as a lost generation,” Weinstock says. “If there’s a movie they want to go see, they’ll go see it.”
According to RelishMix, Fox’s social media for Deadpool — which included a “12 Days of Deadpool” Christmas campaign that counted down to the final trailer — was more than perfect with a social media universe of 527M. Fox went after college kids during their December exam periods with “Dead Week,” whereby students received free pizza delivery, caffeine baskets and bar nights. “Sit On My Face” Deadpool coasters also were distributed to bars.
Overseas, Fox employed local comedy writers to make Deadpool‘s humor culturally relevant in its marketing materials. “Not an easy feat,” says Hanneman. Although the film did not pass Mainland China’s censors due to its bawdiness, Reynolds recorded a Chinese New Year message that was used in promotions in Asian markets. In Italy and South Korea, during the national elections, teams ran around posting Vote for Deadpool posters in the streets. A Deadpool Australia Day message drew 4M views across various platforms. In Paris following the terrorist attacks, a one sheet campaign featured Deadpool promoting messages of peace and love. In the U.K., where Deadpool made $20.3M, Fox teamed up with the Manchester United Football Club for the team’s first-ever movie partnership, reaching 600M fans across game ads and a bespoke Deadpool video. Says Hanneman about integrating Deadpool into various cultures, “It was about piggybacking on local cultural events to make the film locally relevant.” And wherever there was a comic book convention from Moscow to Sao Paolo, Fox was there.
Paramount, too, executed a campaign for Zoolander 2, which stayed true to its leading character’s comedic sense with a cast who, like Reynolds, were all too willing to pull off public stunts as their alter egos. Z2 stars Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson crashed Valentino Rome storefronts and fashion shows. This translated into spikes on Z2‘s tracking report, prompting an opening weekend projection in the $20M range for Z2. The sequel debuted to $13.8M, falling short of the 2001 original’s $15.5M. Brutal reviews, as well as the dominance of Deadpool, certainly could be blamed. But for those who voted with their wallets at theaters, it was clear that Derek Zoolander’s high jinks were just old hat.
Deadpool, on the other hand, served up a fresh sense of irreverent humor.
Says Weinstock about successfully hitting the audience with Fox’s Deadpool marketing, “They got the character and said, ‘We’re gonna follow this campaign.'”
Below Reynolds celebrating with Fox’s marketing team on Facebook: