The case of Marvel’s Deadpool is truly a unique one. This character has lived, and continues to live, only to prove the skeptics wrong. Even though the odds are constantly against him and sometimes he feels like a parody of the genre that could go rogue at any given time, Deadpool somehow continues to make the impossible happen. This character has managed to rise from obscurity in the comic book world and become one of Marvel’s most celebrated figures.
For those who are not familiar with the name, Deadpool is one of Marvel’s weirdest heroes. Deadpool, a.k.a. Wade Wilson, is a fictional anti-hero whose mouth is as big as his ego. He basically never shuts up, which is why he is also known across the Marvel universe as The Merc with the Mouth. Like this wasn’t enough, Wade is also conceptualized as a horribly disfigured and mentally unstable mercenary who possesses the power to recover from any type of injury, regardless of how serious it may be. Hell, he even once recovered from decapitation.
Unlike other Marvel heroes, Deadpool knows that he’s a fictional character. He knows he’s in a comic book, and he’s fine with that. Deadpool doesn’t really take himself or his world seriously, so he continues to break the fourth wall and entertain his readers by directly speaking to them.
When he first appeared in New Mutants, issue 98, the guys at Marvel didn’t really have any big plans for him. Deadpool was basically imagined as a second unit two-dimensional villain whose primary job was to fill in the gaps in the upcoming New Mutants’ adventures. However, thanks to Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, the guys who blessed the character with his trademark features, Deadpool became an instant hit with the fans.
Since his very first appearance in Marvel Comics, to this day, Deadpool has had nothing but success. Even though he was always considered a risky investment or a joke that will quickly get old, this character’s journey has truly been a remarkable one.
Despite how bizarre this character as a concept may seem, Deadpool really works as a stand-alone hero. People just cannot get enough of him and his ever-running mouth! Wade Wilson, a.k.a. Deadpool, a.k.a. The Merc with the Mouth, continues to push sales and rapidly grow his fan base, and no one can do anything about it, except take notes.
Even though his comic book adventures have a solid following, this character really struck gold with his first feature film. Even with the modest budget of $58mil (yes, that’s not that much for a superhero movie), Deadpool demolished all expectations in February as the R-rated, already doomed, highly-risky and unconventional superhero picture opened to an INSANE $132.4mil weekend. Considering that Deadpool has not been previously teased in a couple of movies (if you ignore that Origins garbage), or that he isn’t some famous IP property – this is an amazing result.
When it comes to numbers, during its time in the theatres, Deadpool has managed to hit a mind-bending worldwide gross of $745.9mil, earning him the status of the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time.
Thanks to the wild success of his first feature film, Deadpool’s legend is still growing and the fans are now more pumped up than ever to see The Merc with the Mouth kick the living Hell out of his next foes, both off and on screen.
So, why does this keep happening? Why is this character such a monster success with comic book and movie fans from all over the world? How did he manage to grow without having an insane marketing machine behind him? – These are just some of the questions I’ll try to answer in this post. Deadpool is truly a unique specimen and his continuous growth is something that every serious businessman should really take an interest in. Following and analyzing Deadpool for years now, I have managed to detect a couple of traits that could explain how The Merc with the Mouth has managed to disarm all the naysayers and become such an international superstar that he is today:
1. Reinventing the Wheel – Find a Micro Niche and Dominate It!
Even though Deadpool was basically a cheap knock-off of DC comics Deathstroke, from his appearance, to his name (Slade Wilson and Wade Wilson? Jesus, Marvel.) and character traits, Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza still found a way to make him quite unique.
Most superheroes try their hardest to suck you into their world, make you believe in their adventures and teach you important lessons about friendship, sacrifice, and dedicating yourself to a greater cause, but not Deadpool. He does quite the opposite. Deadpool isn’t really interested in teaching you anything. When you really think about it, he’s basically a tool and a murderous psychopath who, from time to time, develops a soft spot for some poor soul. His only desire is to have fun and make a quick buck. That’s it. There’s no moral high ground behind his actions, nor a code, or anything in between. He’s basically just trolling around and shooting at people for a fair price.
Unlike other Marvel heroes, Deadpool deliberately sabotages your every chance of sinking into the story. He constantly keeps reminding you, the reader, that you’re following a made up tale, with made up characters, in a made up world, that has no real significance to your or any other living being’s existence.
He always makes fun of himself and the genre he lives in. Mr. Pool drops constant references to pop culture and basically everything that’s trending. He even mentions real life actors, TV shows and video games in his stories. Once, he even managed to destroy an entire Marvel universe by going out of the comic and killing its writers. It doesn’t get more meta than that.
Deadpool is basically a walking joke, and he seems to be ok with that, because his commentary is something that defines him.
Personally, I think this is the no.1 reason why this character is so successful. Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza took the standard superhero formula, and turned it against itself. They found a micro niche and exploited it for their own gain!
The fans really appreciate that. Why? – Well, because it’s new, it’s refreshing, it hasn’t been done before, and above all – it’s honest. Deadpool doesn’t try to sugarcoat the whole superhero thing, nor sell you some BS – nope. He calls ‘em like he sees ‘em. There’s really no other character like him.
Being unique is really important in business. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, if there’s some money to be made in your niche, you better believe you’ll have to face some serious competition. And that’s ok. Competition is healthy. It makes us think harder and analyze our products and services over and over again in order to make them as good as they can possibly be. Take a note from Deadpool’s success, analyze the market, figure its flaws, reinvent the wheel, and turn the formula against itself. I guarantee you, people will appreciate your fresh perspective and you’ll see your brand grow in no time.
2. Don’t Just Advertise, Provide Additional Value and Add Charm to a Stale Format
Some people might not agree with me here, but we live in an age of terrible advertisements. We really do. Everywhere you turn and look, you can see hundreds and thousands of awful, unimaginative ads. I’m not just talking about Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook ads. Nope. I’m talking about all sorts of banners, billboards, TV commercials, posters, flyers, movie trailers – everything!
Even though big, medium and small brands are now spending more money than ever before on advertising, they still keep producing dull, lazy and unattractive content that no one even wants to register anymore. There are exceptions, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are surrounded by tons and tons of proposals and call-to-actions that don’t really mean anything to us.
A lot of brands keep producing garbage, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Apparently, they don’t really care if their ads are converting anymore. If they did, we would have a completely different ballgame here.
Unlike most of these lazy publishers, advertisers and marketers, Deadpool knows his audience and how to get their attention. Example 1:
Just look at these classic movie posters.
They all look familiar, right? Now look at one of the many Deadpool’s cool advertisements.
As you can see, Deadpool has a pretty different approach to advertising. The Merc is deliberately making fun of all the unimaginative promo materials. The guys behind this project are huge fans of the character as well, so they know what needs to be done in order to interest people in seeing their movie.
Unlike most popular movies out there, Deadpool doesn’t try to impress its target audience with big effects and aggressive advertisements that try to show just how badass their character really is. Nope. Deadpool isn’t needy like that. Why? – Well, because Miller and Reynolds feel pretty confident about the quality of their film. They know that if their promos reek with desperation, they will backfire.
That’s why they’ve decided to take their marketing in a completely different direction. Their primary goal was to show people that this was a giant passion project for them, and not just another sorry attempt to rob the audience of their money. They understood the soul and purpose of the character and what he really meant to the fans, so there was no cutting corners.
Instead of firing their content everywhere they possibly could, Miller and Reynolds decided to carefully choose their battles. The very first time we’ve seen Reynolds in costume was on a Mario Lopez show, where dressed as The Merc, he kicked the living crap out of the host. This naturally made the clip go viral and gave the film insane exposure, without resorting to shady tactics, like aggressively pushing the photo of him in action on every existing entertainment website.
Reynolds and Deadpool had a lot of cool stunts like that. For months, they kept releasing fresh short teasers until the movie finally aired in theaters. Heck, Deadpool even starred in his very own honest trailer. Meta all the way, baby.
Everything Deadpool did, marketing and advertisement wise, was a monster hit with the fans. From signing petitions to get the studio execs to make the movie, to short teasers, guest appearances and billboards – everything! How come? – Well, because, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Reynolds and Miller truly care about the film and that they were willing to go the extra mile to make everything look awesome. Everything they did, they did with maximum dedication and effort, and in the end – it all paid off.
That’s why I think, no matter how good or creative you may be, you cannot sell everything. Before you take on a gig, it is of crucial importance that you first figure out if you love what you’re selling or not. You have to truly live and breathe your business if you want people to respond to your messages and advertisements, and eventually convert. In this day and age where almost everyone has the opportunity to present his or her business to the global market, you have to keep in mind that only those which emanate passion and dedication will make the cut.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Add Humor to the Mix
Since the beginning of time, people have appreciated a good laugh. Humor is the no.1 tool for disarming people and getting your messages to resonate with the audience. But, if you want to use humor to your advantage, you have to be clever about it. You cannot just force it. Humor was, is and always will be a great marketing tool for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Everyone still remembers that hilarious Tuborg commercial where a guy sits at the bar and watches the girl sitting in front of him keep looking better and better with every new sip of his beer.
Even though humor is a great spice to every marketing campaign, most brands don’t really know how to leverage it right. In order for a joke to work, your audience cannot see it coming. Just like the great Chuck Jones, one of the all-time masters of visual comedy, has shown us in his work – every successful gag needs to have a two-part structure. In the first part, it has to lead you to make an assumption. And in the second one, to prove it wrong.
Apart from all the fart jokes, Hello Kitty merchandise and Hugh Jackman references, the thing that really made this film so funny and appealing to both those who are and those who are not fans of the comics, is the fact that you cannot really anticipate when the next joke is coming. Deadpool doesn’t respect the rules of story structure, nor does the film try to make sense of its narrative or appeal to a certain standard in modern filmmaking. I think that people really appreciate that. Everything they’ve seen was new, exciting and fresh.
That’s why it’s always important in business to keep surprising your current and potential customers. You have to stay fresh and exciting if you want people to stay invested in your brand.
4. Never Give up on Your Goal and Take Risks all the Time!
Deadpool, both the movie and the comic, are always on the verge of being too clever for their own good. As we have seen in the film, the creators didn’t really try to appeal to a wide demographic, which, as you know, is every investor’s worst nightmare.
As you probably know, Deadpool seemed like a disaster on paper. It was considered an endless money pit that had no chance of making back its budget. But Ryan Reynolds still believed in the project. He knew he was risking everything pursuing such a project. It took him 11 years to finally convince the execs at 20th Century Fox to allow him to make this film. And they would have never approved his request if someone didn’t leak the test footage online. Yes, some lunatic (I’m looking at you, Mr. Reynolds) wanted so badly to see this film made, that he (or she) committed a felony by stealing the property of 20th Century Fox and leaking it online.
Once Reynolds finally got the green light to go ahead and make his damn movie, he fought really hard for the R rating, even though he knew that this type of classification would automatically exclude a huge part of the audience that’s usually interested in seeing superhero movies – the teenagers.
Apart from that, Deadpool isn’t really a noob friendly movie. If you want to catch up on all the jokes and fully enjoy Reynolds’ and Miller’s film, you have to do your homework. Again, this is something that tends to drive people away from the theatres. Why? – Well, because average movie goers are lazy. They don’t like to invest any extra effort into what they’re seeing. They just want to be entertained. Nothing more, nothing less. However, even though the odds were again against Deadpool, the film came out victorious in the end. People seemed to love it, and the things that they didn’t fully understand only stimulated them to look for answers online and re-watch the film, over and over again.
I think there’s a lesson to be learned here. As Paul Wernick, one of Deadpool’s screenwriters, said in an interview for The Playlist: “More than anything, the lesson we hope people take away is that you’ve got to take risks. Sometimes that risk will be an R-rating, sometimes it won’t, but to trust the lunatics is the lesson to take away from Deadpool’s success.”