The Birth of Deadpool 2: A Marketing Mercenary


In speaking with friend @Darth_Mommie about the promotions for the comic book sequel “Deadpool 2” (which we are both anticipating) she expressed some concern. “Are they jumping the shark here? I mean, it lines up with DP as a character, but…” I can understand the feeling.

Frequently studios go overboard with the marketing of their blockbuster titles. The carpet-bombing commercials and promotions can become a drain, actually creating a negative effect. Yet, as the past few weeks have seen 21st Century Fox in fact making their anti-hero character ubiquitous, there is a difference. For a few reasons this is both different, and far more effective.

The whole arrival of this character to the screen is the work of many subversive efforts. While the genesis of this particular franchise was in 2000, its true lineage dates back to the 1980s. Some may be surprised to learn that in that era the comic book film fortunes were flipped. Where today Marvel is a cinematic juggernaut, and DC Comics films are a mixed lot at best (for every “Wonder Woman” there are at least as many “Suicide Squad”s) back then DC was seeing movies as a new horizon, all while Marvel was a struggling entity.

The “Superman” films were a mostly strong enterprise (save for “Quest For Peace”) and then Tim Burton’s “Batman” ignited the box office. Meanwhile Marvel Comics was on shaky ground. The company was employing an altogether different plan to invigorate its prospects. Since the mid-1970s most of its stable of characters had been placed on the market for studios to purchase the production rights. This was intended to deliver some needed cash flow, and the hopes were any movies or TV shows that were created would lead to increased book sales.

It was through this process that Fox came into possession of the rights to “The X-Men”, and “The Fantastic Four”. Over the years Marvel has worked on getting back the rights to many of its auctioned characters, but Fox has steadfastly retained its grip on those under its licensing agreement. The studio has fumbled on some of the “X-Men” entries (albeit while becoming profitable), and the less said about their “Fantastic Four” foibles the better. But against the studio’s instincts Ryan Reynolds prevailed.

The actor took a strong interest in the project once he was told of a line of dialogue from the comic. At one point Wade Wilson (Deadpool), when asked how disfigured his face is beneath his mask, describes himself as “A cross between Ryan Reynolds, and a Shar-Pei”. From there Reynolds was enamored and he ushered the character to the screen.



He began negotiating a film with New Line Cinema in 2004 but ran into licensing problems, since Deadpool actually derives from the X-men universe. Fox had interest, but was tentative. They elected to do something of a trial run, having Reynolds portray a variation of the character with an expanded cameo in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” in 2009. As reviled as the film is, and as corrupted this version of Deadpool was (for a lengthy battle the loquacious killer actually has his mouth sewn shut), Deadpool was warmly received. But after Reynolds appeared in the bomb “Green Lantern” Fox became squeamish, and shied from an R-rated comic film.

In 2012 Director Tim Miller and Reynolds, with writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, cut some test video for the studio. Fox was still ambivalent, but when the video was released online in the summer of 2014 it created a stir with fans, and the studio was convinced. The players struck a deal with Fox where they accepted a lower budget in order to have creative control and retain the R-rating.

That budget cut meant the marketing spending was also truncated. So Reynolds, as one of the producers, went on a guerilla offensive. He maximized digital marketing and also retained one of the Deadpool suits. He made numerous appearances as the character and this saw the character cropping up in as many platforms as affordable. And it paid off.

The unorthodox methods fed into the character’s irreverence and it was eagerly absorbed by fans. “Deadpool” opened to record numbers, shocking most with a $130 million debut. For the sequel a more conventional marketing campaign is used, nearing saturation levels, but two factors may help avoiding advertising fatigue. The character itself lends to this crassness of advertising, and the way the ads and tie-in promotions are used are actually unique enough.

In a spot for Devour frozen dinners it essentially sets the tone for the whole promotional push.  We get an off-kilter dream sequence and in it a girl scout accuses the character of selling out. “Of course I am” he tells her smugly. This both explains and excuses much of the marketing excess.



One of the primary sponsors is 7-11 Stores, with the interiors filled with promotional signage and multiple products bearing the movie logo and graphics. This is where the promotional tie-in effort differs from most films. Usually you get packaging reflecting the concept art of the film. It creates a wave of homogeneous images, and frankly they can all blur together. (Note with the upcoming “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” how most tie-in products all share the similar graphics from the film’s key art.)

For “Deadpool 2” any partnering product seems to have its own unique graphics, and many of them have either a level of significance to the movie, or at least convey the personality of the character.



And this being an adult-themed hero picture it stands to reason adult beverages get a rare partnership opportunity. The Mike’s Hard Lemonade is sly, as it is actually a callback to the first film, where it had prominent product-placement in Weasel’s bar. The tequila on the other hand…



One inspired piece comes from the studio itself. Creating an in-store eye-grabber Fox teamed with Wal-Mart to have end-cap displays featuring a bevy of DVD titles from its vault. The cover art to each film is corrupted by incorporating Deadpool into the imagery. A great method of promoting the new, while generating some to purchase the old for the novelty of it.



Even if to some this seems like overkill (pun intended) it is also needed. Fox sees their promising sequel bracketed by other popular titles. Disney has aggressively positioned 2 mega hits around this weekend’s release. The massively popular “Avengers: Infinity War” is still in theaters, and next week they open “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. The “Merc With The Mouth” is going to need to draw as much interest as possible.


for more movie nuggets and societal ravings follow me at @MartiniShark