How Deadpool Broke Every Marketing Rule But Was Still Huge

Jon Tan
Jon Tan
March 1, 2016
2 min read
How Deadpool Broke Every Marketing Rule But Was Still Huge

In this article



Deadpool broke the superhero movie genre’s mold... and as a result, broke box office records.

It got there by breaking a whole lot of other things.

To most of the world, Deadpool is a little known superhero, famous mostly within the legion of comic fans that populate the geek fanbase.

The movie had a troubled production history, spending 11 years in production limbo.

Prior to its release, was preceded by a version of Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine that was lampooned for being a terrible portrayal of the character.

Production company, FOX, was so apprehensive about Deadpool that it cut the movie’s budget while it was in production.

Against all odds, Deadpool has come out guns blazing (literally) and murdered box office records. It’s one the highest rated R-Rated movies in history.

What’s more impressive is that the movie has trumped Captain America and Ant-Man in box office records and is on it’s way to pummel Thor’s - all without the ticket sales from throngs of children and their parents.

Much of this incredible success can be attributed to its somewhat insane marketing strategy that, like the film, broke all the rules.

Absolutely nothing about Deadpool is subtle, and the movie’s advertising is no less so:

The campaign was so crazy that it seemed as though Deadpool himself had planned the film’s advertising… but how does such an unconventional marketing strategy work anyway?

We’ve analyzed the most insane movie marketing campaign in history and included takeaways you can apply to your own marketing, enjoy!

1. The Emoji Billboard

If you happened to be driving down Los Angeles in mid-January, you might have spotted this billboard.

That’s an ad for Deadpool, even if it might look like a fourteen year old’s indecipherable text.

The billboard was featured on dozens of sites and was one of the star pieces of Deadpool’s marketing arsenal - Adweek described the billboard as “So Stupid It’s Genius” while TechTimes called it “Crude and clever”.

The ad worked so well that “Skull-Poop-L” made repeat appearances in the rest of Deadpool’s advertising.

The Broken Rules

Billboards are intended as an advertising medium that targets a general audience in a geographical area.

That means kids and grandma might walk by and see it too. Not exactly the intended audience for an R-Rated Superhero movie.

Moreover, messages on billboards tend to be quick and succinct due to short exposure times. Billboards are less “stop to ponder” and more “quick glance as you drive by”.

Yet, the Emoji billboard is something of a puzzler - it needs more brainpower to figure out than the average billboard.

Is Skull-Poop-L a new film we haven’t heard about?

But It Worked!

The billboard was funny because of the juxtaposition of its traditional straight-laced format against the ridiculousness of having an emoji-only poster.

The ad used the medium to its advantage and people got a good laugh out of it. Patton Oswalt, a star amongst geeks and comic aficionados, certainly did.

Oswalt tweeted a photo of the billboard and it took off online. The ad was picked up and featured on a slew of sites from Adweek to Gizmodo and Laughing Squid.


Your marketing efforts aren’t limited to the medium they’re released on. They can have a much further reach.

In fact, the limitations of the medium can be weaponized as a part of your marketing strategy.

So don’t dismiss traditional or conventional mediums - instead, find creative ways to integrate them into your battle plan.

2. The Valentine's Day Prank

Deadpool got a Valentine’s Day release in most countries and was (jokingly) marketed as a romantic movie, releasing posters and a billboard that framed it as the movie to catch this V-Day with your significant other.

Of course, said posters failed to mention that the film was also a violent bloodfest full of R-rated jokes.

Boyfriends around the world were suddenly empowered, gently suggesting to their clueless girlfriends a romantic night at the movies with Deadpool.

The Broken Rules

Deadpool’s romantic elements were not the focal point of the movie and the posters falsely advertised the movie’s main plot.

Dishonest advertising has almost never gone down well with consumers, if at all, and risks leading to bad publicity...

Not to mention some very disgruntled girlfriends who were probably expecting The Proposal.

But It Worked!

Deadpool is a prankster of the highest degree, and this tongue-in-cheek form of marketing fit the spirit of the movie perfectly.

It even sparked a trend of viral posts showing boyfriends luring their trusting (and arguably gullible) partners into catching the “most anticipated romantic film of the year” on Valentine’s Day 2016.


If a marketing move breaks convention and defies common sense, but fits the spirit of your brand, consider executing it anyway.

Defying the norm can be a powerful way to stand out from your competiton and define your brand.

Of course, exercise caution - most brands can’t act with the impunity of Deadpool’s marketing team.

3. Marketing On Tinder

As Tinder users furiously swiped left looking for true love, some of them found themselves matched with none other than Deadpool.

If they swiped right, users would be informed of the movie’s release date and encouraged to take their matches to watch Deadpool.

The Broken Rules

Tinder isn’t exactly the most useful form of marketing, reaching only a very small demographic of people.

Also…you’re not legally allowed to promote any services on Tinder.

But It Worked!

Similar to the emoji billboard, the Tinder profile was never meant to stay stagnant on the app.

It was a pleasant surprise, and people love sharing happy things.

Deadpool’s Tinder profile quickly found itself plastered across the internet - Tinder users who matched with Deadpool quickly shared screenshots which found their way to major geek news and advertising sites.


Unconventional marketing methods can draw attention precisely because they’re unconventional.

What’s the craziest idea you’ve had? With a little tweaking, it might just work.

4. TV Spots

Ryan Reynolds as himself and as Deadpool rode on the conventional talkshow movie promotional circuit… in the most Deadpool-esque fashion possible.

Reynolds’ appearance on talk show Extra struck horror into the hearts of fans by confirming their greatest fear –

The ultra-violent, inappropriate version of Deadpool they had come to know and love from the comics would be dumbed down in a PG13 film for the sake of toy sales.

Of course, it was revealed to be an April Fool’s joke and the final film would receive an R rating.

Reynolds/Deadpool also made an appearance on Conan, in a sketch where he massages Conan with panda tears as lotion. The sketch culminates in Deadpool mocking Conan’s lack of glutes, screaming “WHERE IS YOUR ASS?!”

The Broken Rules

It’s the norm for actors to promote their movies on talk shows.

These appearances follow a standard format - an interview with some amusing stories followed by a promotional clip.

Though Reynolds did do interviews as himself, running the talk show circuit in character, especially an R-Rated one who isn’t very well known, was a big risk.

But It Worked!

Deadpool is a little known superhero outside of the comic fandom, unlike film heavyweights like Wolverine, Batman or Superman.

The public required exposure to be pulled into the cinemas. By appearing on primetime television, it was assured that a ton of people would have their interest piqued by the strange man in a red leather suit appearing on their screen.


You don’t need to follow a best practice strategy with any medium you choose to advertise on.

Instead, know what your audience needs to know about your brand and cater your marketing to match:

Do they already know about your product/service and just need brand exposure?

Do they need to know the features and functions of your product/service?

Do they already know all about your brand and just need a reminder?

5. 3 Full Hours of Deadpool Ads

Named “The Deadpool Takeover”, three TV channels: Spike, MTV and VH1 advertised nothing but Deadpool for 3 hours and promoted the takeover in the weeks leading up to it.

The channels even went so far as to alter their usual programming to cater to Deadpool’s demographic – including reruns of Golden Girls, which Deadpool is a huge fan of.

The Broken Rules

Ad fatigue is the idea that repeated exposure to an advertisement will annoy a customer, making them dislike the brand, which is counter-intuitive to the point of advertising in the first place.

A 3 hour movie already sounds exhausting, let alone 3 hours of Deadpool ads.

But It Worked!

The stunt was covered on sites because it was over the top and ridiculous - just like Deadpool.

It could have been seen as desperate or obnoxious if it was for any other film, but because it was Deadpool, it was spot on with the movie’s branding.


Sometimes an idea may seem counter-productive for most brands, but if it works for yours, don’t be afraid to go for it. And when you do, go big or go home.

6. Ryan Reynolds

Most of Deadpool’s marketing efforts actually came from its own star’s personal twitter. Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) shared photos of him attending related events such as the Deadpool Beauty Pageant, in addition to the usual promotional material.

Reynolds’ efforts were thankfully well received, but there were many reasons it could have gone south.

The Broken Rules

Films tend to be panned for over reliance on star power.

Not to mention, Reynolds’ previous superhero efforts were awful as a terrible Green Lantern AND playing a version of Deadpool so far removed from the source material that it enraged fans.

Reynolds’ simply doesn’t have a great track record of playing well loved superheroes.

But It Worked!

Ryan Reynolds was ultimately instrumental in getting the movie released, even co-producing it. Reynolds is also a huge Deadpool fan - just like the film’s target audience.

Reynolds’ personality on social media has also always been very similar to Deadpool’s, making the marketing push feel authentic, not salesy and forced.


If you find a poster boy/girl who really cares about and represents the product you’re pushing, empower them to evangelise your brand.

You’ll often find that they are either:
a) Your team members
b) Your best customers

If the sentiment is real, it’ll show.

7. 12 Days of Deadpool

12 different websites released 12 pieces of exclusive Deadpool content leading up to Christmas, culminating in the final film trailer. Sites involved included EW, People, Mashable, Deviantart and EMPIRE.

The Broken Rules

A countdown can be a strategy that gets tiring to follow on a daily basis.

It also had to compete with a slew of advent calendar type campaigns that pop up every year during the Christmas season... and there’s a very small limit to the number of countdowns a person will pony up the effort to follow.

But It Worked!

People who start the countdown end up getting hooked on the constant drip of marketing content, and have something to look forward to every day.

Even more so with the promise of a big juicy reward at the end of the countdown - a shiny new Deadpool trailer.

Many websites were also eager to aggregate the content for fans who didn’t follow the campaign, allowing internet trawlers from various corners to be exposed to Deadpool no matter what site they used.


To keep attention on a drip campaign, promise something enticing to look forward to at every moment of your campaign duration.

A campaign can excel even in a crowd of competition if your content is of quality and well-timed.

8. Custom Emoji Keyboard

As a gift to fans during the 12 days of Deadpool, the Deadpool marketing team released a Deadpool Emoji app reminiscent of Kim Kardashian’s successful Kimoji app.

The Broken Rules

This was not a well designed app, holding a middling 2.5 star rating on the App Store.

It required users to copy and paste the emojis into their messages instead of integrating the keyboard directly into their phones.

What if app users start to associate Deadpool with disappointment?

But It Worked!

The app was featured on Mashable and geek fan sites with much more enthusiasm than the disgruntled reviews on the App Store would have you think was possible.

That’s because the app isn’t for everyone, it’s for the fans who love Deadpool enough to power through the user-unfriendly interface.

More importantly, they could share their love without the fear of annoying their friends because Emojis can unintrusively find their way into most text conversations.

The app put the ability to spread the word about Deadpool into the hands of every eager fan with a smartphone - that’s word-of-mouth marketing at its best.


Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool for any brand.

Empower and entice your audience to share your content by making it as convenient as possible for them to do so.

9. “Beef” with Hugh Jackman

As part of its promotional efforts, Ryan Reynolds staged an online “beef” with Hugh Jackman.

Shenanigans included Reynolds, in character as Deadpool, promoting Hugh Jackman for People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive and Jackman responding by giving Reynolds the finger (or in this case, the claw) as wolverine.

The Broken Rules

Generating publicity through overblown “beefs” have been a strategy used by rappers for decades.

But in recent years, beefs have become regarded as tired, sad attempts at creating drama.

This is especially true for staged beefs - they’re seen as lame and fake with parties involved losing credibility and respect.

But it worked!

In the true spirit of Deadpool, the “beef” parodied the promotional “beef”, just like how Deadpool consciously parodies superhero movies.

Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds are also longtime friends both known for being great people who don’t take themselves too seriously.

It was obvious that the “beef” was tongue-in-cheek entertainment and the audience never felt like they were being duped.


Don’t dismiss a marketing tactic just because it isn’t “in” or well-regarded.

If you can find a way to make it work for your brand, the feat will be even more impressive.

10 . Dirty Humor

Deadpool’s entire marketing campaign was supercharged with lewd jokes and crass humour that have been described as speaking mostly to 14 year old boys.

Some of these include Deadpool in suggestive poses, and innuendo laden taglines like “Wait till you get a load of me” and “Sit on this”.

The Broken Rules

Deadpool was marketed very extensively - ads were everywhere and accessible to anyone. This might have potentially angered the masses for exposing children to inappropriate content.

But It Worked!

The number 1 fear of Deadpool fans was that the movie would not stay faithful to the over the top tone of the comics.

The marketing campaign’s overt use of juvenile humour was a nod to fans that the movie will be exactly what they hoped for and played a big part in creating buzz during the movie’s early marketing.

Notably, the posters weren’t overtly obscene and expertly straddled the line between crass and appropriate. There were also harmless G-Rated marketing material for use when even the slightest naughtiness wasn’t appropriate.


If there are boundaries you need to break or risks you need to take in your marketing, calibrate how far you actually need to go to get the desired effect.

Hey! While you're here, why not check out why Netflix is so damn good at what they do!


Jon Tan
Jon Tan

My coffee expenses and my office rental are one and the same.Terrified of mathematics and carbohydrates.

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