9:23am PT by Chris Thilk
How 'Avengers: Endgame' Marketing Sold the Finale of a Never-Ending Series
Last year’s marketing campaign for Avengers: Infinity War relied heavily on 2018 being the 10-year anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s launch. The message at the time was that the movie was the culmination of everything that had been building over the course of 18 films, ever since Tony Stark first came out of a cave and later announced to the world he was Iron Man.
It wasn’t really the end, though: Infinity War was just the first of a two-part story, one that now concludes with this week’s Avengers: Endgame.
The heroes not wiped from existence by Thanos (Josh Brolin) are still reeling from their failure in Wakanda. Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and others remain determined to find a way to confront the Mad Titan and undo what he’s done. They’re aided by the appearance of two friends conspicuous by their absence in the first movie — Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) — as well as the arrival of the cosmic-powered Captain Marvel (Brie Larson).
Opening weekend tracking estimates an $850 million to $900 million global bow at the box office. Reaching those heights depends on the audience’s reaction to a campaign that has once more relied on nostalgia for what’s come before in the MCU while showing as little as possible from this new movie because every scene could be considered a spoiler.
At the same time the first teaser trailer was released in early December the first one-sheet showed the familiar Avengers logo being blown into dust following Thanos’ snap.
The second poster, which hit along with the final trailer in mid-March, takes the standard approach of showing the assembled heroes arranged in order of billing priority with Thanos looming in the background. Those shown, of course, are only the ones confirmed to have survived The Mad Titan’s fateful snap, but even that group is substantial.
A mini-controversy followed the release of that poster, which initially omitted the name of Danai Gurira even though she’s shown in the design. Marvel quickly corrected that, posting a revised version on Twitter, saying “She should have been up there all this time.”
Atom Tickets revealed an exclusive poster in March at the same time tickets went on sale. That poster shows the surviving Avengers arranged around the team logo with Thanos, the target of their avenging crusade, standing menacingly at the bottom.
Every character — or near enough — got their own headshot poster, each sporting the tagline “Avenge the fallen,” a mission statement for the heroes in the story. These posters offered insights for the audience into which characters survived Thanos’ snap by showing those still fighting in color while those turned to dust are presented in black and white.
More exhibitor/format-exclusive one-sheets arrived earlier this month, with the Imax poster encouraging audiences to “Experience Avengers: Endgame to the fullest” while showing the surviving heroes up front while those erased loom ghost-like in the background. For Real3D the heroes still fighting are shown ready for action in some sort of war-torn alien setting. On the Dolby Cinema poster most of the survivors are placed in a red diagonal stripe while Thanos is above and Captain Marvel below, placement that seems to hint at the latter being integral to the defeat of the villain.
AMC Theaters offered a pair of mini-posters that combine to form one image, with one available opening weekend and one the weekend of May 3, but only to those seeing the movie in Imax. Users of the Regal Cinemas mobile app could scan posters at those theaters to unlock exclusive character art.
For a long while the Internet was convinced the first trailer would drop at any moment, a feeling that finally proved true in the early part of December. That first trailer (94 million views on YouTube) opens with Tony Stark adrift in space with life support about to fail. Back on Earth, Captain America and Black Widow are dealing with the aftermath of Thanos’ wiping out of half of all life on the planet but are intent on finding a way to get their friends back. Thankfully, Ant-Man comes knocking and Black Widow tracks down Hawkeye, now dressed in black ninja gear similar to what he wore in the comics when he briefly adopted the Ronin identity in the mid-2000s.
That trailer was the latest video to break viewing records, accumulating 289 million views across platforms in the first 24 hours.
In mid-March the second trailer (93 million views on YouTube) was released, timed for after Captain Marvel was in theaters. This one takes the approach of making an even more explicit connection between it and the last 11 years of Marvel films, with footage from Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor showing the beginnings of the MCU’s big three heroes and shots from Infinity War establishing what has happened before.
Advertising and Publicity
Naturally there was plenty of talk about this movie during the publicity cycle for Infinity War, though Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and others tried to remain mum about the details for this second part of the story as much as possible. That intentional silence included the announcement Marvel would skip a star-studded Hall H panel at Comic-Con 2018, which took place just a few months after the first movie hit theaters. It was, though, included in Disney’s CineEurope presentation later that year.
A cryptic tweet posted by the Russos in mid-September sparked tons of speculation as people analyzed a set photo of Joe Russo for any and all hidden clues and messages. Similar speculation was generated by a photo posted upon completion of filming.
There was a bit of new footage in the Super Bowl commercial that aired in February, including a shot of someone reluctantly strapping Captain America’s shield to his arm. The main point is to convey that the surviving heroes just can’t move on following the events of the last movie and so are seeking ways to undo what Thanos did.
Imax released a version of the first trailer offering a side-by-side comparison of how the movie would look on a “standard” screen compared with how much more picture will be shown on its large-format screens.
After the second trailer dropped in mid-March a new TV spot was released that took the same approach as that trailer, using a mix of footage from this movie and black-and-white scenes from previous films to highlight who was lost and who remains to fight on. Another had Captain America delivering an inspiring speech to the remaining team about the gravity of their mission.
Featurettes were released in late March/early April that had the cast talking about how the heroes are in the unusual position of having just lost and how the film was shot with Imax cameras to take advantage of the large format to capture more of the action.
When tickets went on sale earlier this month — an event accompanied by a new “Special Look” ad that featured our first look at Tony Stark and Steve Rogers reigniting their bromance and the heroes finding Thanos to avenge their fallen friends — demand was so great the sites for AMC Theaters and other ticket sellers went down or suffered problems because of traffic. Fandango reported the movie broke its record for presales in just six hours and eventually outsold Infinity War. Similarly, Atom Tickets said the movie outstripped the first day sales for the rest of the top 10 films combined and set an all-time presales record. One key detail from that video, which was also used as a Promoted Post on Twitter, is that the weapon Thor summons when showing off for Captain Marvel is — or at least looks — different from what was seen in the final trailer.
Captain Marvel joining the team and explaining where she’s been all this time was the subject of a clip shown by Disney to the industry audience at CinemaCon, where the film was presented as a sure thing for exhibitors. A week or so later Marvel held a huge press conference where the cast answered questions and talked about the movie. The event notably had chairs for everyone but only half the cast in attendance, with the others left empty for those erased by Thanos.
The first clip showed a key scene hinted at in the trailers, with Captain Marvel joining the team and explaining not only why she’s the key to stopping Thanos, but also where she’s been during previous battles.
Members of the cast and crew traveled to South Korea for a publicity event to get fans there excited.
An extended TV spot — it’s basically a third trailer — was released to mark the 10-day countdown until the movie hit theaters. The commercial spends 1:50 of its 2:30 runtime reminding the audience of the 22 previous MCU movies that have come out, from Iron Man to Captain Marvel, before showing a few brief glimpses at the events of Endgame, most of which have been seen before.
Additional TV spots came out after that, with some playing up the movie’s humor, explaining that this is the end of the story, encouraging the Avengers to live up to their name, how this movie was the beginning of summer and more.
As had been done with previous films, many theater chains, including AMC, Regal and others, hosted epic marathons of the entire MCU leading up to and concluding with Endgame. Imax released a brief Q&A of Joe and Anthony Russo talking about the advantages of shooting with the larger cameras and the fun of watching fan theories evolve online.
The Russos hosted a fun little faux game show featuring the cast having to guess what someone is drawing, something that has no real connection to the movie other than showing off how well the actors know their costars and the characters they play.
► Google, which unveiled a co-branded campaign for its Pixel 3, promoting the inclusion of character Playmoji that could be added to the world via AR. A commercial imagined what ordinary people could do with a Pixel device when they found themselves in the middle of a massive superpowered battle.
► Audi, which launched a campaign for its e-tron SUV that included Downey Jr. taking the car for a ride and a longform video of Captain Marvel being brought up to speed on everything that’s new since she was last on Earth.
► General Mills, which offered a ticket to the movie in exchange for buying three co-branded boxes of cereal.
► Coca-Cola, which put soda cans on shelves featuring images of the original Avengers as well as Captain Marvel.
► McDonald’s, which offered movie tie-in toys and packaging in Happy Meals, with exclusive content available to those who use the chain’s mobile app.
► Geico, which ran a co-branded campaign including a commercial with the company’s spokesgecko dreaming about what he could do if he wielded the power of the Infinity Gauntlet.
► Hertz, which gave customers with a qualifying rental two tickets to the movie, an effort supported by a commercial promising no drama despite whatever superhero battles might be going on around you.
► Stand Up to Cancer, which, in conjunction with Mastercard, had stars from the movie appear in a cross-media campaign featuring real life cancer survivors that encouraged people to donate to research efforts.
► Synchrony Bank, which launched a new campaign — the latest in a string of partnerships with Marvel Studios — encouraging people to explore how the bank can help them save.
► Ulta, which created a new line of beauty products inspired by the movie and its characters.
► Ziploc, which offered a $9 ticket to see the movie when you bought two co-branded items.
There were also a couple video game tie-ins, including Roblox, which added movie-themed collectibles to its “Egg Hunt 2019: Scrambled in Time” event and awarding those who found them all their own in-game Infinity Gauntlet, and Fortnite, which began teasing a promotional tie-in earlier this week. And of course the movie’s characters and settings were featured in Marvel’s own games as well. Forty different hashtag emojis were created featuring characters from this and other Marvel Studios films for use on Twitter.
A week prior to release a bit of footage from the movie was leaked online, though the source of the leak was unconfirmed. The appearance of that footage on Reddit, Twitter and elsewhere caused some fans to declare they were quitting going online simply to avoid being spoiled at all. Around the same time the Russo Brothers encouraged people to not spoil anything they may know about the movie to others.
The campaign ended with a massive red carpet premiere at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where one of the halls was converted into a state-of-the-art theater with the help of Dolby. The event was live-streamed by Marvel and included interviews with most of the cast and crew, including Disney CEO Bob Iger and those who have appeared in other Marvel properties.
Marvel Studios had to run an abbreviated campaign. The first trailer for Infinity War debuted five months before the movie’s release date, but the first Endgame trailer came out just four months ago, largely because the studio wanted to avoid too much overlap with Captain Marvel’s marketing.
Marvel also had to keep almost all the movie hidden away. That first trailer from December contains the largest single amount of new footage while the second trailer and most of the other TV spots mainly contain the same Endgame footage already seen while being made up mostly of clips from Infinity War and the other 20+ MCU films.
The studio also couldn’t risk revealing anything. The reason for that abundance of recycled footage is that every frame of footage could be considered a spoiler that might offer hints as to which characters are or aren’t dead, who might be resurrected and who doesn’t survive the final confrontation with Thanos. That’s why, with the exception of Spider-Man: Far From Home, no further MCU movies have been scheduled, because doing so would provide hints about which characters are still alive and active.
In an effort to overcome all those and other concerns, Marvel Studios has focused on the emotions that come with the story. Marvel is also counting on fans being on board with the story to the point they don’t mind sitting for a three-hour film. Infinity War clocked in at an already-impressive two-and-a-half hours. Endgame will push that even further, making some question whether or not studios and theaters need to reintroduce the concept of intermissions. The marketing promises there will be a lot of story packed into those three hours, including action, heartache and hopefully triumph as this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes to an end.