A month before Deadpool broke every theater's fourth wall in February 2016, comedian Patton Oswalt noticed an interesting billboard somewhere in Los Angeles. It was an advertisement for the highly anticipated Ryan Reynolds film, but Wade Wilson himself was nowhere to be found on it. Instead, the billboard sported a plain white background fronted by the skull and poop emojis, a giant letter "L" and a release date. It spelled out "Deadpool," in other words. "This idiotic/brilliant billboard is why I'm all in on the DEADPOOL movie," Oswalt tweeted at the time.
Deadpool's famous emoji billboard was not the first — let alone the weirdest — piece of advertising for the comic book adaptation, but it was highly indicative of what came before it. Oswalt's discovery also serves as a wonderful introduction to the current marketing campaign for Deadpool 2, the equally anticipated sequel that drops this Friday. Much like its predecessor, the Deadpool sequel featuring Cable (Josh Brolin) and Domino (Zazie Beetz) has inundated potential audiences with a variety of bizarrely wonderful ads.
From LL Cool J...
From creative posters and teasers targeting other comic book movies, to a music video and Reynolds' own Twitter account, the campaign behind Deadpool 2 is monstrous. Yet any attempt to catalog it all must start at the beginning, specifically the beginning of 2017's Logan. A short titled "No Good Deed" starring Reynolds, some extras and a requisite Stan Lee cameo ran just before Hugh Jackman's final bout as Wolverine. Though technically not a teaser, it features Wilson slowly suiting up in a phone booth in the style of Superman: The Movie while a mugger threatens, and eventually kills, an innocent bystander. When he finally reaches the victim's corpse, the failed hero apologizes, lies down next to it and eats from a pint of ice cream.
The short teased the sequel was "coming not soon enough," which proved to be true as no other major teasers were released until "Wet on Wet" in November 2017. A sendup of The Joy of Painting, the video had Deadpool sporting a Bob Ross-like getup while painting a landscape that turned into a Norman Rockwell-esque portrait featuring himself, Cable, Domino and characters from the first film seated for a Thanksgiving meal. It also offered fans their first preview of actual footage from Deadpool 2. Three months later, the campaign formally introduced audiences to Brolin's Cable with a pseudo-serious teaser that quickly devolved into another Wilson joint. Much of the "Wet on Wet" footage was included, albeit with more context and additional clips.
March saw the arrival of the first official trailer. It not only clued viewers into the movie's major plot points, but also promised something special "from the studio that brought you 27 Dresses and The Devil Wears Prada" — all while a remix of LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out" played in the background. A second, final trailer dropped a month later. Even so, the real meat of the campaign's videos were themed promos, like the pink-suited Deadpool's OMAZE campaign and its masterful sequel, the official music video for the Celine Dion song "Ashes" from the Deadpool 2 soundtrack. ("Sequel" in that Deadpool jokes about preferring Celine to Pink in the OMAZE clip.) Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Deadpool rebuked the Eurovision song contest for shunning Canada and apologized to David Beckham for a joke from the first film.
And that's just the teasers, trailers and gag clips, because aside from the Rockwell-inspired Thanksgiving painting, Deadpool 2 has swamped everyone with a seemingly endless array of posters. A recreation of Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam", a parody of the chair dance scene from Flashdance, an IMAX poster contest featuring fan designs, a Fandango exclusive from Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld, a final entry with all of the major characters and a final dig at Jackman's Wolverine — they've done, and Reynolds has done everything in his power (i.e. tweeting) to make sure the fans get to see it all.
Same goes for early revelations, like the first official looks at Domino and Cable. 20th Century Fox's media relations arm obviously drowned the press with official hi-res images for clippings and blog posts, but Twitter more often than not served as everyone's first look at just about every piece of marketing the studio pumped out for the picture. Even behind-the-scenes looks at filming locations and, sadly, a necessary public comment on the death of Deadpool 2 stuntwoman Joi "SJ" Harris were addressed on Reynolds' timeline. The character of Peter, the seemingly unpowered member of Deadpool's "X-Force" played by comedy actor Rob Delaney, got a Twitter account following the final trailer's release.
Not to be outdone, the advertising for Deadpool 2 is rife with plenty of crossovers and product placements. Interwoven through the season eight finale of The Walking Dead in April, a three-part bit dubbed "The Walking Deadpool" enticed fans of the zombie survival series. Back in November, the character was named a "guest editor" of Good Housekeeping, and several issues of the special edition (along with its beautiful cover) were made available in select areas. Espolòn Tequila named Deadpool its new "creative director" in April, 7-Eleven adorned its Slurpees with film artwork and Deadpool figurines, Trolli Candy made "tiny hands" versions of its gummies, Devour brought on the anti-hero to pitch its microwavable sandwiches, and Mike's Harder continued its partnership from the first film with several pop-up experiences and a chance to attend the premiere.
This is a lot, and to be honest, it's annoyingly impossible to identify every piece of marketing (especially among Reynolds' tweets) for the sequel. As massive as this campaign has been, however, its magnitude and important pales in comparison to the one launched for Deadpool in 2015. After all, Deadpool 2 benefits from the fact that everyone knows what the property is now that the original is just over two years old. So while the first movie's advertising onslaught doesn't achieve the same quantity as the second go-rounds, its impact is much bigger. You might even say it was as loud as Wilson's love of the band Wham!
All of this can be traced back to 2014, when the test footage put together by Deadpool's eventual director Tim Miller, Reynolds and a small team of visual effects artists leaked online. While not technically part of an official marketing campaign, the leak was "100 percent" the reason it was greenlit in the first place, as the actor explained in February 2015. A month later, the process of promoting the character general audiences had only seen once before onscreen (in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine) kicked off with Reynolds revealing the official suit design on Twitter.
The rest of the campaign before Deadpool's Valentine's Day 2016 release was an explosion of jokey viral videos, official teasers, larger trailers, non-emoji (but equally hilarious) billboards and other internet shenanigans perpetrated on the welcoming public by Reynolds and 20th Century Fox. Family-friendly and red band versions of the first trailer dropped in August 2015, but not before a requisite "trailer" trailer teased everyone with Wilson's gargled "trailer voice" narration. In the six months that followed, fans were complemented with Halloween and Christmas-themed promos (including a yule log video), a TV commercial baiting The Bachelor viewers, an "Australia Day" bit, a Super Bowl spot, a short review by Betty White, a random clip of Deadpool rescuing a "disgusting" cat from a tree, and green and red band versions of a second, final trailer.
Other video highlights included a tie-in with the entertainment show Extra confirming the film's R rating in the United States. While interviewing Reynolds about the project, host Mario Lopez is crushed to death by a studio light by Deadpool after the actor falsely claims the movie won't be rated R. “F*** you, Slater," he quips while standing over the Saved by the Bell star's body. (In a wonderfully meta moment, Deadpool created a video montage for the 2016 Clio Awards, at which it won the "integrated campaign" trophy.)
Yet as was demonstrably the case with Deadpool 2, much of movie's non-video blowout arrived thanks to Reynolds' Twitter account — as well as the then-new @deadpoolmovie handle the studio created for the release. From the "12 Days of Deadpool" Christmas promotion that included a custom holiday newsletter to various pieces of panel-based artwork, Reynolds' feed featured all kinds of goodies. The actor even took to answering numerous queries from fans, be they serious or silly. The @deadpoolmovie account also took the reins from time to time, posting script pages that were "annotated" by Wilson himself and other choice items. Even Wolverine himself got involved with the marketing blitz and engaged in a faux fight with Reynolds across all of social media.
And no matter what mind-numbingly weird product placements for YouTube videos were ultimately employed by 20th Century Fox, this is ultimately what made Deadpool and Deadpool 2's marketing campaigns so successful. That is, they're adept use of social media. Many of the above videos were never even seen on theater screens or TV sets, but on Twitter and Instagram instead. Even old-school billboards, such as Oswalt's emoji sighting and the "romantic comedy" banner featuring Wilson and his love interest Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), reached more eyeballs online than anywhere else.
It's why Marc Weinstock, then-president of 20th Century Fox's domestic arm, praised social media's influence for the film's success. "This reaffirmed my faith in social media," he told Ad Age. "There's a lot of debate as to whether or not social media can really open a movie… and this proves it can." Let's just hope that should Deadpool 3 enter the picture, Reynolds and company — let alone the audience — don't tire of the creative and hilarious ad campaigns.