My Dad Loves Deadpool: Marketing for the Masses
I'm a big midnight opening movie guy. I want the purest, most uninfluenced experience so I see movies as early as possible. I'll even go as far as to avoid reviews and shut off my internet access to protect myself from spoilers. I generally don't go alone, I have a small group of friends who will go with me to most of these screenings, which is great because I can bounce my theories around and more often than not they will catch things I overlooked. This means I regularly end up outside the theater at 2 in the morning with my fiance' and a bunch of friends trying to figure out exactly what philosophical realization can be found in Superman's freaky CGI mustache.
So there I was, having just seen Deadpool 2, standing outside discussing what we thought of it, but with one exception. My father was in the group. He wasn't chaperoning, I'm a grown ass man, and I hadn't dragged him along, he just really wanted to come. See, my dad LOVES Deadpool. He's not a comic guy and he doesn't really care about Marvel or DC movies all that much, he doesn’t even really understand most of it. He just likes action movies and likes to laugh a lot and the first movie delivered that in spades. The next day we were talking about what we liked about the movie and he made a really interesting comment, he told me his favorite part of the movie was the advertising. He REALLY enjoyed the movie, don’t get me wrong, he at one point started choking from laughing so hard and was texting me quotes from it the entire day. He had already made it clear that it was his favorite superhero movie ever. Yet… he liked the MARKETING the best. I had to figure out exactly what had happened here.
The first Deadpool movie is where we have to start. Most of you know the story behind the making of it. Ryan Reynolds pushed for the movie for years, a script was written and then visual effects artist Tim Miller was tapped to create a short CG cinematic to test the action in the movie. Fox Studios proceeded to shelve the entire project for years, until the footage was leaked in 2014 just days before San Diego Comic Con. Public support was so strong the movie was rushed into production on a shoestring budget and released in 2016. It was a huge success, becoming one of the highest grossing R-rated movies of all time. Now, onto the advertising. If you look up the marketing from that film you will notice a few little quirks, including posters that parody other movies and billboards that make it seem like a generic romantic comedy using the tagline “I love you Wade Wilson”. There was even a Deadpool Tinder profile you could come across if you… you know… were on that particular app. I wasn’t, so I never saw it, but maybe you did. Obviously a cheeky way to promote a movie about a character that knows he's in a movie, it is also telling that these more “outside the box” styles are relegated to the less expensive forms of media. The trailers are fairly stock standard, funny, but pretty much what you would expect for a superhero movie. Barring a single TV spot where Deadpool talks directly to camera, the trailers are relatively “safe” compared to the rest of the marketing.
This leads us to Deadpool 2… which… boy....oh boy is the marketing WAY RAMPED UP in comparison. It began with the Bob Ross style teaser, offering a bananas-level degree of off the wall humor with a touch of insanity. From there we were gifted with a flurry of Instagram posts, a cookbook cover for Thanksgiving, Valentine’s day cards, a Céline Dione music video that included a Deadpool dancing in heels, and an entire candy dedicated to the Merc with the Mouth. There are more. There are SO MANY MORE. And we will get into them as we go, but if I list EVERYTHING we will be here all day and I want to go through this chronologically.
So what has made this movie so damn popular with people like myself AND like my father? My father is a middle aged, casual moviegoer, and lover of comedies and action movies. He’s just like everyone else’s dad and uses Facebook WAY too much and will spam me with emails over text messages. I've already explained my type of fandom and we are literally total opposites. As I really dug into this I came to the realization that playing both styles of fan off of each other is EXACTLY how they became so popular and built up their fanbase. The Deadpool marketing team was able to target multiple demographics using the same clever marketing ploys.
They began with the Bob Ross styled viral video, something that you could easily send to friends and family, “Hey look at him pretending to be that Painter Dude!”. It's quick and silly and quirky and entirely inoffensive. The hardcore fans started the months long process of deciphering every frame for clues (my favorite podcast hosts swore they saw Juggernaut in that weird paint splotch at the end) while the casuals are just having fun with this goofy guy in a red suit and wig. This is quickly followed by a cookbook cover for Thanksgiving and a video featuring a Deadpool speaking Portuguese for Brazil's Comic Con Experience. The first major pieces of marketing dropped in less than 3 months and it's all fluff. There's no epic voiceover of a character most people don't know (I'm sorry I love you Thanos!) and no foreboding shots of our scarlet hero cradling a friend's body. It's goofy and fun, the counter argument to the seriousness of its competitors, why stress out over those other films when you can just come see me and have a good time. It's the booty call of comic book movies!!!
A few months passed and when that first trailer dropped and for a solid 30 seconds, it sure as hell looked foreboding and had a voice over with someone we don't know… is he wearing a green sock on his arm? That first trailer did something super unique, it targeted the fans and the casuals. It gave me what I wanted, it showed me Cable in the future, looking like Cable is supposed to look, and a quick glimpse of the X-Force that had me pausing and zooming in on every frame. It gave my dad Deadpool playing with figurines, talking to the camera, and a single swear word. If the first teaser was the bait, this one sunk the hook deep. While the invested fans spent the next 2 weeks watching breakdowns and debating the future that Cable will be coming from, the relaxed fans were enjoying something that was making fun of those “serious” superhero movies. Right after that we got our first full looks at Domino and Cable, including THE CORNIEST Valentine’s Day cards of all time! Easter came along with an Instagram post and Deadpool’s own coloring book. More easily digestible reminders that Deadpool is for the masses!
April is when the real marketing genius really hit me. It began with Deadpool dropping in on Hugh Jackman’s twitter message to his wife. Everyone loves Hugh Jackman! I do. You do. Your mom’s best friend’s Nana loves Hugh Jackman! And now he’s connected himself to not only Deadpool, but Ryan Reynolds specifically. Comic book movie fans know that Mr. Reynolds is essentially the living embodiment of Mr. Pool, but now the rest of the world did too. This meant that pretty much EVERYTHING he's ever done or will do will retroactively become promotion for Deadpool. I kid you not, my boss asked me if The Hitman’s Bodyguard was a prequel (how cool if it was right?). All it takes is a scroll through his Instagram and Twitter to see that he is either posting goofy dad jokes or posing as Wade Wilson. This is brilliant because not everyone is going to love a superhero whose main form of communication is ball jokes. It's a real niche market, but everyone loves the handsome, funny, father of 2 whose best friends with Hugh Jackman.
Speeding on through the final month before the release of the movie and we were bombarded with the most (intentionally) half-assed product promotions of all time. Ads for Epsolòn, a Mexican tequila company, featured the Merc’s face and the bottle literally taped over ads for what I can only assume is a body wash ad from the 70’s. The convenience store 7-11 got graffitied (I own a Slurpee cup with the “Slur” crossed out that I will cherish forever) as well as a Snapchat filter style interactive app. Trolli came out with a “TinyHands” gummi that could be the most perfectly branded product ever. And Deadpool is actually called out in the commercial for “selling out” while advertising Devour frozen foods. There were no leaks of secret characters from toys and no tasteless promotion that was clearly a cash grab because everything was CLEARLY a tasteless cash grab.
As we close in and get to opening night Deadpool takes over Walmart, Celine Dion tells him to beat it, and he apologizes to David Beckham. Writing about these things won’t do them justice, please look them up (or look at our links). For 7 straight months we received a constant stream of trailers, clips, promotional materials, and Ryan Reynolds singing a song from “Annie” while wearing a unicorn mask on a South Korean competition show (again… look it up). During that time a teaser, 2 trailers, and a single clip of actual footage were all we got of the film. Compare that to the 5 featurettes and multiple trailers from Avengers: Infinity War and you will notice that its very little actual movie promotion. The team behind Deadpool knew the key wasn’t promoting the actual movie, but promoting the character and the “fun” that would be coming along with him. They gave us a constant taste of the kind of comedy you could expect without giving us any real expectations of the plot beyond Cable, Domino, the X-Force, and a whole lot of 4th wall breaking. I couldn’t have been more happy with the entire experience and I’m excited to see what happens next!