“Deadpool,” after languishing for years in development, was finally brought to the silver screen in early 2016. At the time, few would have predicted the critical and financial success it would garner, given that it was an R-rated film and February has long been considered a dumping ground for less-than-buzzworthy studio releases. Nonetheless, according to Box Office Mojo, it went on to gross $783.1 million worldwide.
Marketing can make or break a film because creating a good film doesn’t always equate to success at the box office, and the opposite is true. A critical darling like “The Last Jedi” may receive scathing reviews from audiences. A film prioritizing spectacle over substance, like the Transformers films may still make hundreds of millions of dollars at its weakest, critically speaking. A key factor to box office success especially with films is getting the general public interested in a film’s premise and working to make it a cultural event. “Deadpool 2” will strive to surpass its predecessor’s worldwide gross over the coming weeks, and it can thank its lead Ryan Reynolds and the marketing team for turbo charging awareness of the sequel to its peak.
Deadpool’s marketing strength lies in its ability to break the fourth wall and poke fun at itself. Ryan Reynolds, who plays Wade Wilson in the film, embraces the persona wholeheartedly. As Deadpool, he can get away with addressing viewers explicitly. This tool unlocks the ability to have self-deprecating humor and make pop culture references without seeming too out of place. The character serves as a mouthpiece for popular culture references and criticism of tropes. It’s a satirical inspection of not just the superhero genre but the studio system. He’s self-aware. The influx of Deadpool-related content in a variety of products, from homages to classic films on posters, Deadpool-themed candy and TV spots with celebrities such as David Beckham and Celine Dion contribute to the realization of Deadpool as more than just a character in a movie. He can interact with celebrities, voice his opinions for comedic effect and get away with being excessive because of the type of character he is. Deadpool can pop into the foray of any product and the connection that people make will be that it’s not some writer making Deadpool promote this product, rather, Deadpool himself is promoting the product. This gives him the rare distinction of not being bound by the medium in which he is seen and lends weight to the dimensionality of the character and further consolidates him in the public’s culture.
This type of appeal can be traced partly to the popularity of companies and brands who use social media platforms to connect with prospective consumers. One needs to look no further than entities such as the Wendy’s and Arby’s Twitter accounts, for example, which are famed for their humanization of a brand. There is a certain amount of wittiness and meme-chasing that occurs from these accounts, all of which play into the casual viewer’s response: “Can they really get away with that?” Even Hamburger Helper released a mixtape in 2016 dubbed “Watch the Stove,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to “Watch the Throne” by Kanye West and Jay Z. This type of marketing is engineered with the intent of going viral and by humanizing their brands, they ensure their space in the public conversation.
Deadpool’s marketing strategy isn’t as easily transferable across all of Fox’s creative products. “Deadpool” is unique because they have artistic license to break the fourth wall. At its best, it’s like satire. It doesn’t provide a perfectly nuanced perspective on things, rather a distorted one that is more easily accessible and thus, more popular. The omnipresence and self-awareness of the character make it all the more of a fixture in the entertainment industry and popular culture.