How Deadpool resurrected Blockbuster in an ‘incredibly liberating’ PR brief

Deadpool resurrects Blockbuster in London

Deadpool 2's incessant and effective marketing onslaught is set to reach an end now the movie is available for sale. But first, comms agency Premier marked the occasion by bringing beloved media rental company Blockbuster back to life in London.

The irreverent Deadpool 2 marketing campaign needs no further ado, nor does lead actor Ryan Reynolds' cross-promotional efforts for his Aviator Gin. However, a campaign from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment arguably raised the stakes and tapped into nostalgia by bringing video brand Blockbuster back to the UK (Shoreditch, London) for two days only. It was solely stocked with limited edition copies of Deadpool 2 housed in special edition VHS boxes.

Fans of the Marvel superhero who visited the store were welcome to a copy if they could dust off their old Blockbuster card – or display evidence they have a superpower to the cashier.

The stunt leveraged the movie's nostalgic themes and its time-travel elements to deliver the throwback experiential stunt. There were 1989 free copies of Deadpool 2 in the store, marking the year the chain first opened.

Speaking to The Drum, Leigh Debbage, creative director at Premier, said it was a big challenge for the agency to top – or at least match – the high calibre marketing that preceded it. This includes the Celine Dion music video, the emoji out of home poo ad or the Valentine’s Day trailer.

“Approaching Deadpool is incredibly liberating - unlike many PR campaigns all rules are out the window, restraints are off and pretty much anything goes, the more bizarre and leftfield the better," said Debbage.

At the conceptual stage, Premier’s team was intent on getting into the mind of Deadpool, or more accurately, getting into the mind of a fourth-wall-breaking anti-hero, whose references are not just quite as contemporary as he may think (the main campaign leant on Bob Ross and Celine Dion for example).

“How would Deadpool tackle a Blu-ray, DVD and digital download PR campaign?" asked Debbage. "He loves nostalgia – from Wham to Salt 'n' Pepa – but is also very progressive. He has an ego the size of juggernaut and of course a legendary mischievous side. He'd probably just create a store that only stocked Deadpool 2.”

As this thought was coming together, Blockbuster was in the news cycle. It had reduced its global presence, at a peak 9,000 stores worldwide to a single outlet in Bend, Oregon where its survival has been linked with the region’s dire internet infrastructure rather than any profound love of physical media.

“This seemed like an opportunity not to be missed,” Debbage said. After a few calls with the brand’s owner Dish Networks it was clear the agency could tap into a “nostalgic goldmine”.

The agency had an existing relationship with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment but this work elevated that. He said: ”They bought into the idea from the get-go and supported it in every way possible, making it a hugely collaborative process and a very rewarding working relationship.”

For the campaign to succeed, it was not just enough to just harness the nostalgic property, it had to be relevant and cared about and used effectively. “Nostalgia done properly can be a really effective tool for PR and marketing. But the news hook has to be right and we managed to get the rights to Blockbuster Video at the perfect time.

“Journalists we are targeting still have very fond memories of it and retro is incredibly kitsch for the younger generation right now.”

The drive was also underpinned with research from the agency. It said 16-24-year-olds were the group most optimistic about bringing Blockbuster back, although it is highly unlikely that anyone in that age group spent any time in a Blockbuster.

There were challenges in delivering the stunt. The Deadpool and Blockbuster crossover was saturated with branding – which could have distanced some media. “Wherever the cameras looked, the Blockbuster brand was blindingly prominent and the digital download messaging had to be at the forefront of everything. In this instance, these brands were so integral to the story that we were able to overcome commercial restrictions to create something with strong editorial value that brought a smile to many.”

Famously Blockbuster executives had the opportunity to acquire video streaming giant Netflix but turned it down. At its peak, it had 9,000 stores worldwide and 528 in the UK. The last UK store closed five years ago.

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