How Deadpool 2’s Elaborate Campaign Transformed the Anti-Hero Into the Anti-Marketer

Breaking the fourth wall with 7-11, Espolòn, Trolli and more

Trolli created a new candy based on Deadpool’s tiny hands.
Trolli

Candy, liquor, a convenience store chain, even frozen food, Deadpool has hawked it all with his usual grim self-awareness ahead of the May 18 release of the anti-hero’s sequel film. Twentieth Century Fox, the studio behind Deadpool 2, developed an elaborate anti-marketing marketing campaign for the witty super-mercenary, played by Ryan Reynolds, that winks at traditional tactics while aiming to turn them on their head.

Putting Deadpool front and center is “very in keeping with this character, that he’s going to get down and dirty and market this stuff,” said Nancy Hansell, strategy director at global brand strategy shop Siegel+Gale. “Normally a lot of the superhero characters it’s beneath them—and beneath the actors playing them—to market stuff.”

Not so, for Deadpool and Reynolds.  

Case in point: Espolòn tequila, one of the film’s many brand partners, tapped Deadpool to serve as the liquor’s creative director—well, to be clear, the brand’s “creative director of culture ’n’ stuff”—a nod to the fact that marketers love to give celebrities cd titles—only to have Deadpool create exactly what you’d expect from him: lazy, subpar creative work.

But that’s exactly what Espolòn wanted. “Partnering up with Deadpool 2 gave us the opportunity to lean on the very popular trend to hire celebrities as a creative director, but we gave it a fun, satirical twist we could only achieve with a character such as Deadpool,” explained Christine Moll, marketing director of tequilas and rums for Campari America, who added that being part of the pop culture conversation allows the brand to attract new fans—especially millennials.

Espolòn is one of a number of sponsors, which include 7-Eleven, Mike’s Harder, Devour and Trolli, to partner with Twentieth Century Fox on co-branded campaigns that use Deadpool’s irreverent and calculating personality to tweak the traditional film partnership to devise something original.

“The consumer landscape is saturated with traditional blockbuster campaigns,” said Zachary Eller, evp of marketing partnerships for Twentieth Century Fox, explaining that Deadpool 2 is one of the first R-rated films to have a larger roster of brand partners. “We wanted to take an anti-approach to that and work with brands who were willing to have a lot of fun—not your typical brand partners.”

Eller added that Deadpool’s unique ability to break the fourth wall gives them the flexibility needed to execute an effective co-branded campaign.

Twentieth Century Fox kicked off conversations with brand partners roughly 18 months ago. The studio used a war room approach—inviting marketers and their various agency partners—to ensure that not only did each brand have its own unique campaign, but also that those campaigns would accurately reflect Deadpool’s tone and voice.

The result was an array of campaigns. Deadpool broke the fourth wall for Devour as he explained why he became a sellout spokesman for the frozen food brand. Trolli created a new candy based on Deadpool’s tiny hands. The anti-hero took over 8,000 7-Eleven locations with store signage and Slurpee straws that feature a pole-dancing Deadpool. And Mike’s Harder replicated Deadpool’s favorite bar, Sister Margaret, in New York and Los Angeles.

“We had such a great result from the first film that [partnering again] was easy,” said Sanjiv Gajiwala, svp, marketing for Mike’s Hard Lemonade. The company’s limited-edition Deadpool cans for the first film gave the brand a 10 percent increase in sales in some stores.

This time around, Mike’s Harder is focusing on its Deadpool partnership this summer, spending millions of dollars in media (Gajiwala declined to be specific on the spend). One element of the campaign, the Sister Margaret pop-up, has already driven massive engagement for the company, with 800 fans swarming the bar for the first night in New York alone.

“We love the opportunity to get people to try our product and we think that experiential, particularly with the millennial 21-year-old to 29-year-old consumer, is really important,” Gajiwala said, explaining that patrons explored the bar and shared images on social media instead of getting a drink first. “Creating experiences that are positive and shareable are important to brand equity and to grow the Harder brand.”

Siegel+Gale’s Hansell believes the partnerships break through the traditional film sponsorship noise because they are speaking to adults, whereas superhero work is typically family-friendly. She also believes that it helps that the focal point of the creative isn’t the film—or even the brands—but the Deadpool character, making fans more likely to care about the film and the brands. “In a way, this feels like the launch of a bigger brand than just a film,” Hansell said. “This feels like it could be more of a portable template for other brands to emulate.”

This story first appeared in the May 21, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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