Everything tangible or intangible in our world needs to be marketed. Whether it’s a chocolate bar, a book, a hotel room, a car towing service or, in our case, a film, it needs to generate some buzz in order for potential consumers to become interested in it. From the pool of people whose interest has been peaked as a result, some will end up spending money on it, at one point or another. Others will not. It’s how it works – how it’s always worked.
It is also how it will always work, no doubt about that. The ground rules will never radically change, but the numerous variables which constitute the marketing equation will always be adjusted. We will briefly go over two case studies: one in this article, centred around a film that rode on the success of a brilliant viral marketing strategy, and one in a future article, about a spin-off that shifted well-established formulas which worked so well in the past.
How to position an anti-superhero movie in a sea of superhero movies
Deadpool might be considered a superhero film, but is it really? Sure, it’s no subtle satire aimed at superhero films and the dumbing-down of audiences, as Birdman was, but it should not be placed on the same shelf as all the X-Men entries, Iron Man, The Avengers or the more recent Black Panther. Those function by the same old tired formula, and people don’t seem to notice that they’re being spoon-fed the same plot and characters over and over again, just like Call of Duty players don’t seem to notice the presence of the same formula with mild, incremental changes from one installment to the next. Deadpool the first, and presumably the second one as well, might have formulaic plots, but the overall take on the film is very different from what we’re used to. It’s a combination of mature content, instances of breaking down the fourth wall and daring, non-PC humour that did the trick.
Marketing with no inhibitions
The different positioning style then allowed a largely different marketing style. While not completely disregarding the traditional formula of a trailer, billboards and numerous pre-release press events, Deadpool largely used viral marketing to its advantage. From a series of hilarious short videos, obscene posters, Ryan Reynolds’ tweets, billboards that spelled words using obscene emojis, positioning the film as a Valentine’s day romantic comedy and a lot of self-irony, the film scored big.
Can it hold up?
The success can surely be explained by the sheer brilliance of the overall material, but also by something known as shock factor. Deadpool 2 did more of the same (and also involved David Beckham into it), but it remains to be seen whether or not it will have the same positive effect. The target public is already used to the approach, already knows what to expect from a Deadpool film, and might be less crazy about it as they were at the beginning of 2016. This is not saying that the film will flop, but that the success will be more moderate. Regardless, Deadpool may very well go into the history of cinema as the film with the best viral marketing campaign ever – alongside The Blair Witch Project. Does this mean that it changed the rules of film marketing? Not at all. I think the structure and flavour of the film was initially so freeform, that the film was molded by the viral campaign, and not the other way around, as it usually happens.