How Marvel's Black Panther marketing campaign married movie and movement

Black Panther posters and crowdfunder

Black Panther is a flagship movie for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the first in the 17-film franchise to boast a black lead in Chadwick Boseman and also the first to feature a black director in Ryan Coogler of Creed fame.

As audiences have largely forgotten that Wesley Snipes' non-MCU Blade was Marvel's first black superhero movie in 1998, the company has been widely praised for its handling of the Black Panther. It is no surprise then, with the initial trailer sparking twitter hashtags like #BlackPantherSoLit, that the film has topped Marvel’s all-time record for first-day advance ticket sales. The record may not be in place for long with The Avengers: Infinity War coming out later this year.

​As Variety reports, Black Panther has mobilized a grassroots marketing movement unlike any movie preceding it in the series. The film will be released during Black History Month, and our protagonist T'Challa shares a name with the Black Panther party of the 70s - although he was named before the group was formed. Nonetheless, the movie lands at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement and the visibility of POC talent in Hollywood especially is becoming prioritized by many,

One of the first major stories to emerge around the film was a crowdfunding effort to ensure the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem could all secure seats to what will likely be a lasting role model in the superhero genre. The GoFundMe page said: "This representation is truly fundamental for young people, especially those who are often underserved, unprivileged, and marginalized both nationally and globally.”

The drive tripled its goal of $10,000 in just four days, reaching $45,000. A series of celebrity donations helped reach the goal. Furthermore, Ellen DeGeneres paid for the kids to visit the cinema.

Below is the moment that the club found out they were going to see the movie.

This move garnered broad media coverage and a series of copycat fundraisers cropped to do the same for kids across the country.

Similarly reaching children was toy-selling ad campaign from Hasbro. Featuring. Charles Pulliam-Moore writes in Gizmodo how this campaign (ad below), featuring children of color is important: "Characters of color have historically been relatively marginalized in movies, comics, and television, toys and commercials like this simply haven’t existed before."

With sentiment like that, it is clear that Black Panther has stirred a passion in audiences that could be matched by the 2016 flop Ghostbusters and the critically successful but ignored at the Oscars Wonder Woman.

For many, it is more than a movie.

The attachment of a Disney movie to a powerful social movement empowering black creatives, and audiences, has inspired some skepticism on Twitter. Black Panther is after all a movie, designed to make a profit, produced by one of the largest companies in the world.

Here are some of the few tweets to this end.

Furthermore, there is a Change.org petition urging Marvel to invest 25% of its profits from the movie in black communities. Although it only reached 557 signatures, it is reflective of some of the opinions held by the public. It reads: "Through a clever, well manufactured marketing campaign Marvel Studios and their parent company The Walt Disney Company have targeted the black community with their advertisements for the upcoming Black Panther film, due to release on February 16, 2018.

"As marginalized groups have become more vocal, corporations and their savvy public relations departments have turned to catering to these groups - to turn a profit - and this film by Marvel Studios is no different. "

Marvel's campaign has been received positively with one notable exception. A group called 'Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys' were planning to tank the movie's Rotten Tomatos score. Members claimed to have done the same with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, due to its inclusion of new, diverse characters.

Facebook removed the group from the site for breaching community standards. Rotten Tomatoes said it does not condone hate speech and acts to remove this as quickly as possible, according to The Verge. Black Panther sits at a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The negative reviews have not been too openly embraced.

The campaign

The marketing push commenced in June 2017 with a teaser trailer and stately poster of T’Challa on his throne. A new comic of the same name ran in sync with this to help build up an audience for the movie. Both marked the 50th anniversary of the hero.

The official trailer dropped 16 October, racking up 17 million views and giving viewers more of a look at the fictional country of Wakanda.

This unveiled the Afrofuturism world that T'Challa would rule, boasting a distinctly unique aesthetic for the series. It also informed users that much of the movie would be set on the African continent, a region where Marvel will hope it performs well.

Come January 2018, Marvel pushed forward with multiple TV slots, and gave the world Kendrick Lamar’s OST.

On the commercial side, Toyota-owned Lexus is seemingly the only major brand partner.

Its activity culminated in lucrative Super Bowl slot called Long Live the King with the intent of putting keen to put itself in front of a younger and more diverse audience than it is accustomed to. It pursued a return to glory, having last led US luxury car sales in 2010.

"We are going after a younger customer, and just from a demographic standpoint, the younger you go, the more culturally diverse the population gets,” Cooper Ericksen, Lexus’s vice president of marketing, said at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “The task to hit our sales plan really comes from bringing a lot of new customers into the brand.”

This was designed to show off the supposed duality of the 2018 Lexus LS 500 F Sport performance sedan, regality and performance, traits it argue T'Challa also shares. Furthermore, the brand released two cars inspired by the film, playing on the film's identity.

The Root reports that ad agency Walton Isaacson delivered the Super Bowl ad. Most notably, the agency was founded by African American man Aaron Walton, it was also saw Shauna Williams produce, joining a small group of women of color to ever produce a Super Bowl ad.

Additionally, the big US billboard reveal was captured by movie star Lupita Nyong'o. This technique is more popular than ever, Hugh Jackman did it before the launch of Logan.

Finally, and most recently, Imax unveiled its exclusive movie poster for Black Panther. It will distribute these in theatres during select screenings.

In the UK, the movie touches down 12 February. Several days later it will be launched in the US 16 February.

It is expected to be among Marvel's top five grossing films.

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