Ryan Reynolds Explains How He Became a Marketing Tour de Force

He's one half of the creative genius behind Aviation Gin's advertising

Ryan Reynolds' creative process for Aviation Gin often begins with a text message with his creative partner.
Aviation Gin

Ryan Reynolds burst onto the marketing scene thanks to his never-ending line of stunts to promote the Deadpool movie franchise. From a Bob Ross spoof to taking over the entire DVD section at Walmart, Reynolds frequently broke the fourth wall with audiences during Deadpool’s marketing. That success led Reynolds to Aviation Gin, which he bought a stake in because he said “it was the best gin I’d ever tasted,” and he felt he could relay that passion for the brand into marketing that could move the needle.

With a small marketing budget at Aviation Gin, Reynolds said he and his partner George Dewey, the president of Maximum Effort Production, “play around with expectation and subverting the norms of advertising” when designing their stunts, like a partnership with Richard Branson and resolution of his “feud” with Hugh Jackman, as well as an ongoing series of out-of-office emails and a hilarious spot about Aviation’s mystical distilling process.

Reynolds spoke with Adweek as a member of our annual Creative 100 list, which honors the most creative people across advertising, marketing and television.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: With your film schedule, how much do you get to help conceptualize the ideas that Aviation Gin is going to execute?
Ryan Reynolds: There’s really only two of us, so no one else is going to do it, really. A lot of it is just myself and George thinking about stuff that we’d like to see. It’s really as simple as that. There isn’t some gigantic whiteboard with conspiracy yarns linking different ideas to each other. It’s mostly just thinking about commercials as something that’s slightly disposable and meant to acknowledge and play with the cultural landscape in the moment. A lot of the spots have just been text messages that George and I send back and forth, like the one we did called The Process, which looked at harvesting the juniper and misting the fruits with the tears of Ryan Reynolds. That was just a text message that turned into a commercial.

What are your kind of benchmarks for success for marketing your gin, as opposed to when you’re doing a movie campaign for Deadpool or Detective Pikachu?
They’re slightly different. Certainly with the gin I can maybe convince people to buy a bottle of Aviation Gin once, but Aviation Gin has to do the rest of the work, and that’s why I got involved with the company, because the gin is so good. I knew if people would try it once they would continue to buy the product and switch to Aviation Gin. On a movie, it’s a completely different situation because you have to build in awareness before you even have the product, so the marketing job starts usually even before you start filming the movie. Very different products at the end of the day, but we approached it creatively in a similar fashion.

"I literally chew and blow bubbles with pop culture."
Ryan Reynolds on his love of pop culture

How did the marketing for Deadpool inspire your work for Aviation Gin?
People can sense whether you are being authentic with any kind of particular product or a film, so I don’t think it was ever that calculated. People realize I have a genuine obsession and passion with Deadpool. People can see that I have a genuine obsession and passion with Aviation Gin. I don’t really think of it too far beyond that. We liked how our objective when we were working on the Deadpool films is to create content that isn’t necessarily culled directly from the film. Deadpool gets to address the audience directly. In a way it’s kind of cheating because it isn’t a fictional character that is intermittently clenching his jaw muscles and taking out bad guys; he’s a character that’s totally self-aware and is looking straight at the audience, so you get to kind of talk to them and make them your friend. I love that about that particular character.

Do you find that almost makes doing the marketing easier, when you’re able to be that self-aware?
Yeah. I literally chew and blow bubbles with pop culture; I love pop culture so much. It’s a huge part of my daily life. And Deadpool loves pop culture the same way I do, so you really get to kind of stretch the boundaries of your own imagination and you get to do things you never thought possible, certainly in a marketing world. That’s also what we do with Aviation. It’s “How can we tackle something that is culturally relevant right now and play with it and have fun with it and be self-deprecating and not take ourselves too seriously?” and also really create a certain level of brand awareness without broadcasting to everybody, instead really focusing on engagement—having people share these stories, independent of the fact that it’s an ad, or the fact that they know it’s an ad. We are telling them it’s an ad right off the get-go, yet we’re still having fun with that idea and still co-opting and engaging the audience, as opposed to just kind of constantly broadcasting “Aviation is an amazing gin you should try.”

In the last couple years we have seen more and more people from Hollywood becoming more than just pitchmen. They’re actually getting their hands dirty, directing, they’re investing, they’re being the creative mind behind it. Why do you think that you’re not alone in wanting to do more content creation for ads?
I can’t speak to other people. I do love it, though. In the stuff that we get to do with Aviation Gin is not unlike the stuff I get to do with Deadpool. It’s creatively satisfying; I really enjoy it. I am a huge believer that necessity is the mother of invention. That old idiom is never truer in the marketing space, because we just don’t have a lot of money to do stuff, your spectacle is actually born of character, not planes crashing or crazy explosive special effects. I love it when things are analog, and intentionally analog, so I think that that’s a lot of fun for me.