Inside the Over-the-Top Marketing Strategy for 'Deadpool'

Social Media Can Still Make or Break a Movie Opening

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Credit: Deadpool via Ryan Reynolds via YouTube

Too much "Deadpool" marketing, you say? Moviegoers were bombarded with gifs, billboards, videos and PSAs starring Marvel's anti-hero heading into last weekend's opening of the film, leading some to criticize that 20th Century Fox had gone overboard.

But "Deadpool's" marketing strategy, which started in March 2015 with an image of the "Merc with a Mouth" laying on a bearskin rug, will surely be considered a case study in movie marketing for years to come.

"Deadpool" shattered records in its opening weekend, soaring past $130 million to make it the biggest opening ever for an R-rated movie. Fox had predicted an opening weekend of about $70 million.

"We had a fantastic superhero movie on one end and a hilarious comedy on the other and we knew if we did our job right we could bring in both audiences," said Marc Weinstock, president-domestic marketing, 20th Century Fox.

It was such a success, in fact, that 20th Century Fox may be considering an "R" rating for the third "Wolverine," according to reports.

"This reaffirmed my faith in social media," Mr. Weinstock said. "There's a lot of debate as to whether or not social media can really open a movie…and this proves it can."

From the get-go, "Deadpool" had plenty stacked against it. Fox took a risky bet on a relatively unknown, potty-mouth anti-hero, all on a budget of $58 million, miniscule in the world of Marvel movies. And while rabid fans demanded an R-rating, that also limited its audience.

"With R-rated fare, gone are the usual Disney/Marvel avenues of outreach," said Gary Faber, co-founder, Entertainment Research & Marketing, a research and marketing strategy firm, via email. "Aside from that, we see Marvel films typically advertised everywhere — to all four quadrants — with ads on everything from kids' TV to adult TV, from daytime to overnight (in Subway restaurants, etc.). Again, the R-rating restricts that."

But Fox used the character's decidedly not family-friendly persona to its advantage, creating a barrage of irreverent TV, digital and social content.

Much of the campaign centered around introducing Deadpool, played by Ryan Reynolds, to a national audience, which allowed Fox to distribute a plethora of content without revealing key plot points of the film.

"The digital team was able to create a lot of content that wasn't movie-based, but Deadpool -based," Mr. Weinstock said.

This included an April Fools Day interview on "Extra," where Deadpool confirmed the movie would be rated R. That video has since received over 8 million views. Deadpool counted down the days to Christmas with "12 Days of Deadpool," with new pieces of content being distributed daily, culminating in the release of the second movie trailer. Deadpool raised awareness for testicular cancer in a parody PSA, tweeted during the premiere of ABC's "The Bachelor," and had his own Tinder account.

And heading into opening weekend, Deadpool took over three Viacom networks, with custom ads running during a three-hour stretch on MTV, VH1 and Spike.

This in-your-face marketing may have been too extreme for some, but "many others were just getting it," Mr. Weinstock said.

Deadpool's tendency to break the fourth-wall, presented the studio the leeway to go a bit overboard.

"There was a freedom I haven't had in other campaigns I have worked on," Mr. Weinstock said.

But it was Mr. Reynolds' passion for the project that Mr. Weinstock said allowed for all of this to really come together. Mr. Reynolds shot countless pieces of additional content, aggressively advocated for the film on his own social media accounts and took part in numerous promotional events.

"This is a template for the future," Mr. Weinstock said.

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