ByTom Cox, writer at
Staff writer for Moviepilot. Tweet me @thomascox500
Tom Cox

An explosive marketing campaign can stick in your head forever if it's got the right formula. Sure they're a little morally questionable in bombarding us with information until we give them our hard-earned cash but we usually enjoy the movies, right?!

The tactics of advertising can make or break a movie. They define our pre-film buzz and exercise major influence over whether we hand over bills at the theatre. Too much and you're tired of the plot before seeing the movie. Too little and you don't know who's in the cast. There's an especially grave responsibility in the lap of those heading comic adaptations because of the passion of the original's fans. Never cross a comic book lover.

From Deadpool to The Dark Knight here are seven of the craziest superhero campaigns that did right by the books and socked the movie into mythical orbit:

7. Captain America: Civil War

Civil War strode into third place of biggest Marvel opening weekends with an admirable $181 million at the domestic box office recently.

The marketing climax was cleverly blowing a bubble of hype by nurturing wild rumors that Spider-Man was going to be in the film, and then ACTUALLY producing him in a trailer. The ploy has been so successful it was used with the late introduction of Wolverine in X-Men Apocalypse via trailer recently.

Spidey essentially did that breaking internet thing, and then he did it again in another short TV spot with a two-second clip of the webbed hero on April 25. In this latter one he says memorably to Bucky:

You have a metal arm, that is awesome dude!"

That is awesome.

6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The Batman v Superman marketing campaign was turned up to kryptonite levels of powerful in the build- up to its March release with a gargantuan effort to make us believe it was possible one of the two superheroes would perish. Sadly they were both fine.

If sales are a measure of a marketing campaign's success (and I think they are) then it was a viral triumph — becoming the second biggest opening for Warner Bros. with over $850 million worldwide.

The chequered campaign used some interesting ideas. They aimed for the families by asking kids which hero they preferred in a charity video, and then for people who like flying to Turkey through a collaboration with Turkish Airlines.

The highlight for me was the spoof 'deleted scene' on the Jimmy Kimmel show. It was an unusually starry satire: including Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck and Jesse Eisenberg. In the clip Kimmel recognises the pair and out their identities loudly to a room full of people. Cavill smashes the presenter off to Mars, where he meets Matt Damon in The Martian.

Watch the Kimmel spoof in full here:

5. Deadpool

The record-shattering juggernaut of Deadpool did not take off purely on the fuel of its wit and Reynolds' charm. The marketing helped. Reynolds was so grateful to the team for making him one of the most popular superhero actors in a movie grossing $760 million worldwide that he took this lovely selfie with them:

The team worked more seriously than the pout of Negasonic Teenage Warhead to fire the hype by producing the riskiest superhero campaign ever. The sassy fast-talking personality of the Merc with the Mouth was used as a basis for the crazy tactics. His exploits included:

  • His name spelt with poo on a billboard
  • Valentine's billboard
  • The 12 Days of Deadpool for Christmas
  • A movie script annotated by Deadpool
  • Countless risque posters
  • A custom Deadpool-style emoji
  • Taking over Hugh Jackman's Instagram

4. Ant-Man

The little man with big strength hauled in $519 million at the international box office with his tiny buggy arms. The marketing team began a viral campaign in July 2015, shortly before the movie's release, with actress Leslie Bibb reprising her Iron Man role as a journalist to take the world by storm with a faux news program.

Ant attack
Ant attack

In the TV slot as Christine Everhart, Bibb provoked excitement about the movie by reporting dramatically on the aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron and the events leading up to Captain America: Civil War.

In addition the team drew on Ant-Man's teenyness through really small billboards and Ant figures placed on the street.

3. Chronicle

Chronicle was a relatively low-budgeted superhero movie, with just $12 million in 2012, but their found footage style captivated people via the sensational campaign. They pulled a stunt that made it look like people were flying through the sky above New York.

The soaring models by ad firm Thinkmodo referenced the flying characters in Chronicle. They were custom-made aircraft shaped like humans that looked shockingly realistic from a distance.

They swooped about landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty. The "flying people" not only made it onto YouTube, but also caught the attention of several news channels.

Watch the people fly:

2. The Avengers

Marvel's The Avengers did not pull any spectacular stunts, they just played it cool and waited the long game. Five years long (a bit like the Soviet Union).

The Avengers is the biggest grossing superhero movie ever, pulling in $1.5 billion worldwide. They drew from the success of predecessors: two Iron Man films, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk — with the entirety of Phase One: Avengers Assembled acting as a prolonged marketing campaign.

The team had been doing this since the success of the first Iron Man, which opened to $98.6 million on its first weekend. When this was released Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced four more movies that would climax in a massive team-up: The Avengers. It had the power of five prequels.

Marvel Studios gradually introduced the general public to Marvel-lous characters, drip-feeding them heroes, so mass audiences would be prepared for The Avengers when it finally emerged.

They also had some more gimmicky aspects — teaming up with Gillette for "Avengers-inspired" razors to smash away stubble with the strength of the Hulk; and now-common features like Twitter accounts for the characters and a trailer release at San Diego Comic-Con.

1. The Dark Knight

Perhaps the greatest viral marketing campaign for a film was by The Dark Knight in 2007. They showed the world what movie advertising could achieve — $1 billion.

In May a website was released by 42 Entertainment with an image of Aaron Eckhart as Dent (which went on to plaster merchandise) called Soon after, Film School Rejects remembers, a second website called emerged with a vandalized version of the picture. Entering your email address on the site removed one pixel. When enough emails were added, a first look at Heath Ledger's Joker was revealed.

The Dark Knight also team took over Comic Con '07 (just as BvS did this year). Another website called had a labyrinthine puzzle. There were real people in clown costumes on The Gotham Times website, messages in balloons, telephone numbers, airplanes dropping messages. A clutch of other websites. There was also IMAX screenings with a live Hans Zimmer orchestra, a pile of merchandise and even roller coasters at Six Flags theme parks.

42 Entertainment wrote:

"'Why So Serious?' was designed as a 360° alternate reality experience that played out over 15 months leading up to the release of The Dark Knight. Over 11 million unique participants in over 75 countries fuelled the rise of the Joker as henchmen."

42 Entertainment continued:

"From calling phone numbers written in the sky, to hunting down GPS coordinates to find mobile phones baked inside of birthday cakes, 'Why So Serious?' was an experience like no other. As these fans collectively scoured the globe in search of clues, their incredible passion generated billions of impressions in the press and blogosphere setting a new benchmark for immersive entertainment."

The marketing died down when Ledger tragically died in January 2008. They paid tribute to him with memorial pages online, but returned after news of his stellar performance leaked. It's morbid to say the success was down to Ledger's passing, but it definitely didn't hurt.

Can you name any other memorable superhero marketing campaigns?

Source: Film School Rejects, HR


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