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Look, we’re not wanting for super hero movies these days. Since 2000’s X-Men but especially since 2008’s Iron Man we’re more or less drowning in them each year. The trend is so pervasive that inside of those 16 years we’ve seen Hulk get three fresh starts, Fantastic Four get two and Spider-Man’s on the cusp of his third. The genre is seen as so rich that even when one underperforms it’s just taken out back, given a new coat of paint and brought back out for the public to reevaluate, hopefully while forgetting whatever it is that made the last one not meet expectations. Many of these involve some sort of magic laser that threatens the entire world, while only a few focus on more personal stories.

Now we have Deadpool. The Merc With a Mouth was introduced in 2008’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine where he…promptly had his mouth taken away from him. But now he’s back in his own movie, though with Ryan Reynolds once again playing everyone’s favorite wise-cracking mutant tough guy. In this new movie we go back to Deadpool’s retconned origins, this time with Wade Wilson as a former soldier who is diagnosed with several forms of terminal cancer. The only hope he’s given is agreeing to an experimental procedure to give him super healing powers. While that’s happening his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is kidnapped by someone with a vendetta against Wilson. Adopting the Deadpool identity he goes on the hunt for vengeance.

So we have a few things going on: Sure, this is yet another reboot of a character who had a less-than-successful debut. But it’s the same actor playing the role. And we have stakes that don’t involve the Fate of the World but which are very personal. That, combined with Deadpool’s trademark wit, could make for a very interesting movie. Let’s look at how it’s being sold.

The Posters

Things started out with a teaser that just featured the character’s eyes poking out of a dark circle with a red line around it and line bifurcating it. Not much to it, it’s just about making sure people know there’s a Deadpool movie coming out at some point in the near future.

The first poster (at least of the domestic U.S. variety) begins the non-too-subtle sexual innuendo flavor of the campaign, showing Deadpool’s crotch with a gun placed just so over his crotch. At the top there was the copy “Wait ‘til you get a load of me,” just in case the image itself wasn’t clear as to the point of the poster.

There were some fun poster/banner things created that made it look like the movie was a romantic comedy coming out just in time for Valentine’s Day. This is basically the studio seeing how many angles they can pull out of the film and play around with different elements. There’s no deception here, it’s all very “wink, wink, nudge, nudge,” which is in keeping with the tone of the campaign.

After that was goofy one-sheet that shows Deadpool in what looks like a senior class photo, with him looking off into the middle-distance while wearing his trademark mask along with a preppy sweater with his name emblazoned on the front.

We got a look at the supporting cast on the IMAX-specific one-sheet, with various characters along the sides of the poster design against a backdrop of flames while Deadpool himself sat on Colossus’ shoulders in the middle. Below the title treatment we’re told “Size matters.”

A series of one-sheets just featuring Deadpool against a white background were next. In one he’s making a sign of a heart with his hands. In another he’s looking all shocked and dismayed. Finally in the third he’s standing in a more traditional pose, arms crossed in front of his chest.

The whole poster campaign does what it can to be fun and convey the sense of humor of the movie in a series of still images. There’s only so far that can be taken but these work well to show that this is not your traditional super hero movie. There’s not consistency throughout the whole group but there is within various groups. And it’s fun how they went with a series of themed posters and designs timed with various holidays and other events.

The Trailers

Outside of the pictures that Reynolds in particular was sharing on Instagram and Twitter, the first real push for the movie was when the first trailer was released, a release that was preceded by a trailer for the trailer.

That trailer starts out with wade and Vanessa discussing his diagnosis, which precedes someone making him an offer to turn him into something special. It’s not long before the violence begins, but not until after a thinly veiled dig at Reynolds’ previous super hero role. We see a bit more of Vanessa along with brief shots of Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead and more.

The story here is secondary to just about everything else. We see that yes, it’s an origin story but the point is to sell the attitude and humor, not a super-deep plot. There was a red-band version as well that featured more cursing, more violence and, generally, more.

Both versions use the “Deadpool jumps into a moving car” scene that was created as a bit of proof-of-concept test footage created by Reynolds and a VFX house and “leaked” to try and unofficially prime the pump for excitement about a potential movie. It’s not clear whether that footage was reshot for the movie or just cleaned up, but if you saw that video you’ll clearly recognize that scene, the inclusion of which in the trailer can’t be coincidental.

A short trailer was released as part of the “12 Days of Deadpool” countdown to promote the movie’s release on IMAX that featured Deadpool making a point about the movie being on IMAX using a chimichanga.

At the end of the 12 Days of Deadpool we were indeed gifted with a new trailer that came in red-band and green-band versions. It starts out by telling us this is a very different kind of super hero story we’re going to see. We get some details on Wade’s origins and what the mission he’s on is. This one also shows more of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, including mentions of Colossus being there with at least some brief from the X-Men since Deadpool name-drops them.

While this one certainly hits different story beats that previous trailers, including more of Baccarin as Wade’s wife, it plays largely the same since it’s all about showing off Deadpool’s attitude and running monologue as well as the overall sense of humor in the movie. It works really well and, even without the heavy-handed declaration it’s easy to peg this as being very different from other comic hero adaptations.

Online

The movie’s official website can be navigated either through the menu at the top or just by scrolling down the page.

The first section on the site is a prompt to get tickets. That’s followed by the most recent red-band trailer. Below that is “About” where you’ll find a story synopsis and cast and crew list.

There are two one-sheets in the “Poster” section. Then the site wants you to subscribe to get email updates about the movie and Fox films in general.

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A “Gallery” with eight images is next. Then there are some other fun things like Clickpooler, a satire of click bait news sites that generates outrageous headlines for you to share on social networks while also promoting, Deadpool Core, which encourages you to sign up for emails that will make you the first-to-know about movie-related updates and a link to download a Deadpool emoji keyboard app for your mobile device.

“Social Updates” is wall of updates from the movie’s various social network profiles. Finally, “Partners” has links to the companies that chipped in to cross-promote the movie.

The movie was also active on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. But throughout the campaign Reynolds’ personal Twitter account functioned as an important outlet for updates as the actor shared goofy Deadpool images throughout production and post-production/marketing phases.

Advertising and Social

The first TV spot, which came out a few months ago just before Christmas, plays pretty well. It provides a quick narrated summation of the situation in the movie and what’s motivating Deadpool without getting too deeply into the story. It’s all about attitude here, which is a solid call.

There was even themed TV advertising done, with a spot featuring Deadpool selling the movie as a romance that aired during an episode of “The Bachelor.” More themed commercials included this one that aired during college football playoffs. A spot was also placed as the pre-roll before the “ad free” distribution of the “X-Files” revival through the Fox app, a nice case of a company using one hand to promote the other.

There were in-theater standees created that were wholly inappropriate for the families who may be walking past them on the way to something more wholesome. But they were in-line with the movie’s and character’s brand and so are kind of awesome. The out-of-home campaign also included billboards that spelled out the movie’s title in emoji, with the addition of a poop. Just in case anyone was taking the film seriously.

The meta-awareness of the campaign continued with an “Australia Day” message from Deadpool that thanked the country for giving them Hugh Jackman even as he held it accountable for the first solo Wolverine movie, which he called a “career low.” Then there was a spot promoting testicular cancer awareness and one where Deadpool dreamed of playing for Manchester United.

In the week before release the movie took over the advertising for eight shows on various Viacom channels, with those shows going ad-free save for commercials promoting the film. Those shows ran from “Tosh 2.0” where the demographic makes a ton of sense to “Golden Girls,” which is just a fun play on one of the character’s best-known quirks.

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One more TV spot ran just before release during the Super Bowl or, as it’s labeled here, the “Superb Owl.” That was accompanied by an Instagram ad buy of sponsored filters featuring Deadpool and movie messaging.

In terms of promotional partners, the list included:

  • Mike’s Harder: Created movie-branded cans for its hard lemonade and generally helped promote the movie.
  • Carl’s Jr./Hardees: Offered movie-branded soft-drink cups in stores.
  • Spencer’s: Not sure what else there was but the retailer certainly took the opportunity to promote its Deadpool merchandise. It also offered horribly inappropriate Valentine’s Day cards on its site featuring Deadpool.
  • f.y.e.: In addition ro promoting Deadpool mercy it is holding a Twitter party where it’s giving away prizes if you ask a movie-related question and yours is chosen.
  • Alienware: Not sure, couldn’t find details on anything specific.
  • Pik-Nik: Ran a sweepstakes giving away a trip to New York City.

Media and Publicity

Reynolds joined the rest of Fox’s mutant cast – mostly made up of those in X-Men: Age of Apocalypse – on stage for a mega panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2015, with the trailers being released just days after that because they had leaked anyway.

Well before any more marketing kicked in, much less the movie was released, there were already reports that the studio was planning a sequel (Wired, 9/17/15). Around the same time Reynolds was profiled by GQ (9/15) in a spread where he talked about fatherhood, his career in general and how this was the perfect time for a Deadpool movie since it was modestly-budgeted and features a much different attitude than any of the other superhero movies currently glutting the box office.

Reynolds would continue to fan the flames on social media, including by dressing as Deadpool for Halloween and going out with a bunch of kids dressed as the X-Men.

One of the major themes of the press, as exemplified in this story, is how this movie was going to be different from other comic book movies. The filmmakers and studio definitely want this to be seen as unique and not just another in a series of largely interchangeable entries. They want to be clear that they are making a Deadpool movie, not something that’s going to get a cartoon spinoff and lots of family-friendly tie-ins. So everyone talked about the nudity, the graphic violence, the sex and more that will be in the movie, making it clear this is not just an R-rated feature but, as they say, a “hard R” movie. They also talked about how they brought in other X-universe characters, how faithful they all worked to stay true to the character and what kinds of insanity fans can expect when they go see it. Selling “hardcore” nature of the character included the filmmakers confirming Deadpool would be portrayed as “pansexual.”

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Before the second trailer was released the studio enlisted a number of press outlets to engage in “12 Days of Deadpool,” with each site debuting a clip or other goody leading up to the Christmas Day release of the trailer itself. Those goodies would include new posters, Deadpool’s Christmas list and more fun stuff that was designed to show off the movie’s sense of humor and keep people talking at a time where the conversations were dominated by Star Wars and other end-of-year releases.

EW in late December revealed the actor playing and voicing Colossus in the movie, Serbian actor Stefan Kapacic, who was a last minute add-on after problems with the previous actor cast. Around the same time more photos and details about the movie came out. Other photos would be given to Empire that got people talking because it showed Negasonic Teenage Warhead wearing a New Mutants costume, fueling fan speculation.

Liefeld, the creator of the character, eventually got his turn in the spotlight in a story that acknowledged his divisive role in the comics world while also pointing out that for all the hatred and bile aimed in his direction he *has* played a significant role in the industry since the early 90s, notably introducing Deadpool in a random issue of New Mutants. Around the same time EW ran a faux interview with Deadpool himself.

There was a flurry of activity right before release, with Reynolds talking about Deadpool’s sexuality and the possibility of the character having a boyfriend somewhere down the line, the movie’s writers talking about the role the 2014 leaked footage played in getting the movie made and more and how that leak set the stage for a movie the studio is hoping is unlike any other in its skewering of super hero tropes.

Overall

If you’re suffering super hero fatigue – and I certainly am – this will be a breath of fresh air. Even the Marvel Universe movies, which are straight comedies compared to the dour and colorless world of the DC films, aren’t nearly as self-referential and meta as Deadpool appears to be. Not only that, but as I mentioned above the stakes in the movie seems to be much more intimate. Instead of trying to stop someone from destroying the timeline or siphoning Earth’s atmosphere, the character here just wants to get his girl back and beat up the people who took her. It’s that simple. It’s a Charles Bronson movie with a foul-mouthed Bugs Bunny in the lead.

And the campaign conveys all that. It relies heavily on Reynolds’ inherent charm to sell a character a very small percentage of the audience is likely familiar without outside his one premious ill-fated cinematic outing. The sense of humor of the movie comes through in all elements of the movie to sell something that may not be a laugh-a-minute time at the movies but which certainly looks like it’s going to work hard to entertain. The focus on gags over story in the campaign has me *slightly* worried there’s little of the latter to be found, but we’ll see.

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