How the Deadpool movie was overshadowed by its marketing

No matter how well the Deadpool film performs at the box office, its marketing has conquered all media to propel the little-known comic book character from zero to hero in the awareness stakes.

The long-awaited X-Men spin-off hits cinemas today (10 February), backed by Fox Studio’s social media campaign that’s flipped from the ridiculous to the sublime at will.

A year ago Marvel’s decidedly provocative anti-hero might not have been recognised by the average film fan, but thanks to a deft marketing plan he has cut through the public’s consciousness. Up, close, personal and maybe just a “little” irrelevant are the ingredients the film’s maniacal marketers are pouring into a campaign that has many fans already questioning whether it will be better than the actual film.

Time will tell whether that’s true, though what’s not in question is that Deadpool has never been as popular as he is now. The hype for the film is in overdrive, with the character appearing everywhere from Tinder to the Super Bowl since the turn of the year in an audacious attempt to ensure the film’s marketing is every bit as unpredictable and off-the-wall as the titular character.

If those examples don’t sound brassy enough, then look no further than the five different Viacom channels blasting out nothing but Deadpool trailers for three hours straight, or a Valentine’s Day ad that masks the film as a tender love story. This ‘no limits’ style of marketing is clearly generating a lot of social media buzz, with people who had no previous interest in the film admitting that they now can’t wait to see it.

Emotive mentions surrounding the film are overwhelmingly positive – 74 per cent positive compared to 26 per cent negative – between 1 January and 9 February, according to Brandwatch. Deadpool mentions peaked on the 23 January after its Australia Day trailer went viral.

The extraordinary amount of red tape which usually wraps film marketing campaigns has been brazenly ditched by Deadpool’s creative team. What other movie would think a ‘Skull, Poop and L’ emoji billboard would be a good way to promote its name, or that letting its foul-mouthed hero hang out with kids on Halloween would become a viral hit? Had Deadpool been less comedic, perhaps more dramatic or older skewing, it’s arguably unlikely audiences would see this level of creative license.

“Most great creative ideas within film marketing are usually prevented from a green light by film makers,” explained Adam Rubins, chief executive at Way to Blue.

“Often for good reason and once again, they know their product better than anyone else. This is not a high-risk market; it’s one that is tried and tested, so establishing new perimeters and new ground is beset with challenges. That said, I would argue there are a number of fantastic film marketing campaigns that break creative boundaries, but they may not stand out as much as a Deadpool simply because of the golden terrain that this particular movie gives you.”

This has undoubtedly been helped by the fact that the film’s star Ryan Reynolds is also the producer who has been trying to get it made for 11 years. The long-time Deadpool fan has made no secret of just how hands-on he’s been in the film’s marketing, going so far as to even help come up with some of the more popular ideas.

He told BBC's Graham Norton earlier this month that the emoji poster (see above) started out as a “jokey text message between me and a couple of other people” before Fox’s marketing team said they would turn it into a billboard. Another example has seen him provide the voiceovers for some of the film’s trailers.

Deadpool’s marketing is blessed with a cacophony of viral friendly trailers and meme-ready images that show its marketers understand the currency of shared content. But, perhaps even more importantly, there’s a clear sense that the character could have created the campaign itself. And while there are other standout campaigns from the risk-averse Hollywood studios, they may not do as much as Deadpool simply thanks to the rich creative opportunities that this particular film offers its marketers.

Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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