A year ago, if you had asked someone on the street who Deadpool was, you’d probably have been met with confusion. Though the character has enjoyed a surge in Internet popularity the last few years, Deadpool just wasn’t a major player in the eyes of the mainstream populace. It didn’t help that his first on-screen appearance was in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, widely considered to be the worst film in the X-Men franchise. Not only that, but his portrayal in that film was an enormous bastardization of the character’s comic book roots and persona.
However, the actor who played Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds, felt an immediate kinship with the character. He continually pushed to have a more faithful version of Deadpool make his way to cinema screens. This eventually led to a potential feature film, but the project was scrapped due to the powers-that-be at Fox not quite grasping the appeal of the character. As time wore on and the possibility of a Deadpool film began to dissipate, a piece of test footage that was shot for the planned feature was leaked online.
The reaction to the illegally leaked footage was massive. Fans everywhere saw the vision that Ryan Reynolds, screenwriters Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, and director Tim Miller had been trying to realize for eleven years. Based solely on the immensely positive reaction to this test footage, Fox finally gave Deadpool the greenlight.
Fox’s marketing team knew they had a challenge on their hands when it came to selling Deadpool to the public. Here is an obscure superhero character that’s also extremely raunchy and constantly breaks the fourth wall. How to sell an irreverent R-rated superhero to the average moviegoer? Simple: don’t. Instead, use the enormous support of already established fans to do your marketing for you. Create ads that reinforce the movie that fans want to see and they will evangelize Deadpool to their outsider friends.
A big part of this strategy was selling Deadpool as a comedy first and a superhero film second. This involved such silly stunts as announcing Deadpool‘s R-rating through a staged confrontation on Extra, releasing a page of the shooting script with annotations and notes by Deadpool himself, parodying Nicholas Sparks romance posters, and even creating Deadpool’s own brand of emojis. No other superhero film has played with the marketing machine like Deadpool has, and that sense of self-awareness has also done the job of selling the character’s own self-awareness to the greater public. For example, take a look at this billboard:
When it went up, people began dubbing it SkullPoopl in jest. So, the Deadpool marketing team embraced this and turned SkullPoopl into a hashtag. That kind of self-deprecation and “we’re all in on the fun” attitude has given the film a huge audience before it’s even premiered.
It’s obvious that the marketing for Deadpool has been a big hit. The film is projected to have the biggest opening weekend ever for an R-rated comic book movie, and if the word-of-mouth is fantastic it could be one of the biggest February releases ever. The marketing team in charge of Deadpool crafted a hit by giving the fans advertisements that accurately reflected the character they know and love, and they banked on that affection to become infectious. It’s pretty clear that absolute confidence in your property and your fans is the way to sell a movie like Deadpool in this day and age.
Here’s hoping more movie studios follow this method in the future.