'Batman v Superman': Inside Warner Bros.' Massive Marketing That Led to a Record Opening

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'

The studio spent an estimated $28 million on TV trailer ads for the tentpole in the U.S., beating 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens.'

Warner Bros. spent a superhero-sized $28 million on national TV trailer spots in the U.S. for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice prior to the film's release, more than was shelled out for fellow tentpoles Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avengers: Age of Ultron, according to iSpot.tv estimates.

The might of the marketing push for Batman v Superman underscores how Warner Bros. left nothing to chance in promoting Zack Snyder's movie, which launches DC Entertainment's cinematic universe in the battle to rival Marvel. The value of the national TV spend is estimated to be closer to $35 million, but discounted rates negotiated by the studio brought the actual buy down, according to insiders.

By all accounts, it paid off. BvS opened to a record $170.1 million at the North American box office over Easter weekend, the No. 6 opening of all time and the No. 4 opening for a comic book adaptation behind a trio of Marvel titles, not accounting for inflation. That's despite poor reviews and being criticized by some comic book fans. (It's also one of the few marquee superhero films to earn a B CinemaScore; most have earned some variation of an A grade.)

Overseas, BvS — teaming Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) for the first time on the big screen, as well as marking the feature film debut of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)  — took in $254 million from 66 markets for a global bow of $424.1 million, the No. 1 superhero launch in history and one of the top numbers ever. The big caveat is that the movie opened everywhere at the same time, including in China, a benefit most tentpoles don't enjoy.

It's not unheard of for a Hollywood studio to allocate $175 million to $200 million on a worldwide marketing campaign for a mega-tentpole such as BvS, although Warner Bros. sources say the spend was in the $150 million-$160 million range, since digital marketing, an increasing percentage of any marketing budget, has brought down costs over the past two years.

The iSpot numbers only apply to the U.S., where, prior the film's release, Warner Bros. aired 20 versions of the BvS trailer 2,991 times since Jan. 9. In comparison, Disney and Lucasfilm spent $25.5 million to advertise 24 versions of the Star Wars trailer 1,913 times.

Additionally, five co-branded BvS ads paid for by promotional partners Jeep, Dodge, General Mills and Turkish Airlines resulted in an estimated push of $18.5 million. Toy ads tied to the movie added another $3.2 million, bringing the total ad spend on the movie to $46.4 million.

Still, that's nothing compared to co-branded TV spots for Star Wars prior that movie's release in late December, which iSpot values at $68.1 million for a total $93.6 million.

Looking at other superhero movies, Disney and Marvel spent $17 million on trailer ads for Avengers: Age of Ultron prior the movie's release in May 2015. Co-branded spots added another $16.2 million to the pot for a total $33.2 million, including promos on Disney-owned channels including Disney Channel and ABC Family.

More recently, Fox spent $23.4 million on national trailer spots for its R-rated, superhero blockbuster, Deadpool. Co-branded ads brought the total spend to $25.8 million, according to iSpot.

BvS would seem to set a new bar for superhero movies in terms of co-brands, with Warners scoring 130 partners worldwide. A key player was Turkish Airlines, which has never before worked with a Hollywood studio. The airline paid for a Super Bowl spot and made TV, print, outdoor and online spends in more than 40 international markets. Doritos and Chrysler also made a global push, including a co-branded Jeep Renegade ad featuring Affleck in character as Bruce Wayne.

"Warner Bros. promoted this film with a strong push of traditional trailer placements and unique co-branded spots set in the iconic Gotham City. Although co-branded efforts around movies are starting to become the norm for blockbuster-type releases, the studio took them to a new creative level for Batman v Superman," said Jon Cappetta, entertainment analyst with Fabric Media, which represents iSpot.

Warners kicked off its marketing push for BvS at Comic-Con in summer 2015. The studio later struck key digital partnerships with Facebook, Snapchat, Amazon and Omaze. And it provided exclusive live-streaming content during the NCAA's March Madness.

The budget for BvS was at least $250 million, although that's after rebates and tax incentives. Sources put the figure significantly higher, or $325 million.

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