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The Perfect Anti-Hero Formula for Success

How Deadpool Broke Hearts, Fourth Walls and Major Box Office Records

The formula for promoting superhero movies is something most studios have mastered. Typically it involves an appearance at Comic-Con, a sneak-peek trailer during a tentpole TV event, and sprinkling a few Easter eggs across social media for good measure.

But Deadpool the character is a snarky and self-aware antihero—not a superhero—and unlike the universally loved Batman and Superman, he wasn’t a household name. In other words, Deadpool the movie had an image problem to overcome.

So, when it came time for 20th Century Fox to promote the film with the help of Viacom Velocity, the powers that be on both sides decided to follow their main character’s lead by NOT following the rules. (After all, when you’ve got a project like this, the best course of action is to own the hell out of it, wear it on your sleeve, and turn it into a major marketing advantage.) But first they needed to address the proverbial elephant in the room. How do you sell this kind of movie to non-comic book fans on the most romantic day of the year—especially when it comes all wrapped up in a big red bow with a huge “R” rating attached.

Step 1: Make Valentine’s Day Moviegoers Take Pause; Then Hit Play

To start with, you poke fun at the movie’s absurd context while offering a wink to its Valentine’s Day weekend release. Typically during this time of year, walls outside of movie theaters are plastered with posters featuring two eye-locked lovers, lips pursed, ready to induce a steady stream of tears. Given this, Deadpool looking passersby dead-on with taglines like “Wait ’til you get a load of me,” was clearly a little out of place. But it works when you consider the fact that this IS a romantic love story in the mind of the main character, no matter how twisted the sentiment.

Well, I may be super, but I’m no hero. And yeah, technically, this is a murder. But some of the best love stories start with a murder. And that’s exactly what this is, a love story. And to tell it right… I gotta take you back to long before I squeezed this ass into red spandex.

The Velocity team turned the release date and the film’s irreverent character into a distinct advantage. At the center of each piece of promotional creative, Deadpool, played by Ryan Reynolds, would send viewers lewd and offbeat messages of “love.” Many of these “love notes” featured Reynolds breaking the fourth wall as he spoke directly to the camera.

No fight scenes. No explosions. No saving the world from Armageddon. Instead, this video, and the handful of others produced for the campaign, features an antihero who propositions potential moviegoers and often crosses the line; Deadpool proudly owned its R rating, making it clear to viewers looking for another sappy Valentine’s Day release that this was the kind of date night movie prepared to take no prisoners.

Armed with provocative and buzzworthy creative, the Velocity team set in motion an innovative distribution plan leveraging its best assets: its data (in order to find the right audiences) and Viacom’s linear TV and social networks (in order to reach these audiences at scale).

Step 2: Become a Network Demigod

Giving new meaning to “9 to 5,” Deadpool took over not just some, but ALL of the ad inventory for nine programs across five Viacom networks—MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Spike, and Logo. The appeal of getting in front of the younger audiences tuning into shows like Ridiculousness, Tosh.0, Workaholics, and Cops, was clear. Taking over an episode of Logo’s Golden Girls, though, was a bit more surprising. But strategically it proved to be a major win with hardcore fans that recognized the nod to the character’s ongoing obsession with Bea Arthur and how it clearly factored into the film.

Like any modern-day social influencer, Deadpool demonstrated a media prowess across his own account that was amplified by Velocity’s efforts to help extend his message through other Viacom channels. The team pushed out 25 posts across multiple social platforms and even took over the MTV and Comedy Central Snapchat Discover channels.

Step 3: Leave Viewers Wanting More

This social stunt was unique, and while expensive, the way it was carried out is perhaps the most compelling part for advertisers. Product placement has been around for years, but native TV advertising with 100 percent share of voice, if executed well, presents a tremendous opportunity for marketers. The Deadpool takeover achieved this, giving fans more of what they really wanted: funny, engaging material that let them in on the joke. It also led fans to seek out more of the commercials online and across social.

As a result, the Velocity team managed to create some seriously powerful momentum, generating hundreds of millions of TV and social impressions with its “9 to 5” takeover, and 5.3 million organic online video views which extended across international markets. These initiatives helped to propel the ultimate “antihero” movie to a $150 million opening weekend—breaking every box office record for an R-rated film.

Everything about Deadpool bucked the superhero stereotype. Well, except in one regard: Deadpool 2 is officially in the works, which means a cooking show featuring chimichangas can’t be too far off.

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Published: Aug 01, 2016