'Deadpool 2' Marketing Blitz Bets on Too Much Being Just Enough

Ryan Reynolds isn't looking for respectability this time around, but maybe he's out to prove that the breakout hit wasn't a fluke.
20th Century Fox
Publicity partners for 'Deadpool 2' have ranged from Good Housekeeping to 7-Eleven and Mike's Hard Lemonade.

If ever there was a case of a movie sequel's marketing campaign needing to go even further and push more boundaries than the original film's, it’s Deadpool 2.

Consider this: The first campaign kicked off more or less at San Diego Comic-Con 2015, with an early trailer shown in Hall H providing a glimpse of star Ryan Reynolds as The Merc With a Mouth, setting an underground, guerrilla tone that would continue throughout. From there on out the campaign was filled with dark humor, inside jokes, jabs at 20th Century Fox and lots more. Much of it was executed on Reynolds’ own Twitter account, sending the message that this was a passion project of his that he was working hard to promote.

The campaign — from joke-filled trailers to posters featuring Deadpool in an ugly Christmas sweater to billboards that made it look like a romantic drama — was fun and innovative enough to not only get the audience’s attention to the tune of $363 million in domestic box office but also win a Publicist’s Award the following year.

But Deadpool 2 is not the scrappy underdog the original was. It’s a sequel with a slightly bigger budget, an expanded roster of characters (including Josh Brolin as Cable) and all the expectations that come with it. In other words, it’s no longer fighting for respectability, but instead looking to prove the first film wasn’t a fluke. Here’s how it’s campaign has done just that.

The Posters

The first poster started things off on a promising note. All the characters are seated around a Thanksgiving dinner table in a Rockwellian painting, Deadpool and Cable at the head serving the turkey. Here we can see who’s returning and who’s appearing for the first time. The meta nature of the character isn’t forgotten as a portrait of Stan Lee hangs on the wall in the background.

The next poster/promotional artwork took on yet another classic of the art world, featuring Deadpool and Cable reenacting The Creation of Adam. Another teaser puts Deadpool in an homage to Flashdance, arching his back seductively as he braces against a chair. Instead of water pouring down on him, though, it’s bullets. Yet another promo shows Deadpool riding an inflatable swan in an infinity pool.

A collection of format-specific posters came next. For Imax screenings, 20th Century Fox worked with DeviantArt on a contest that tapped that site’s community of artists to get their best, most original spins on Deadpool. The winning design showed him riding a pink tricycle while holding on to a taxi. Other images placing highly in the contest depicted the antihero falling from a building surrounded by debris, firing his gun amid a sea of chimichangas, riding a playground unicorn away from a massive explosion and more.

Some of that artwork was offered at select theater chains, either as mini-posters or adorning collectible tickets. Another Imax one-sheet used a chibi-style drawing of Deadpool and the other characters riding a unicorn over a rainbow. A Fandango poster featured art by Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld to help goose sales among superfans there.

The final theatrical poster (released by Popular Mechanics) threw the kitchen sink at fans. The photo-realistic artwork shows all the movie’s characters arrayed in the background as Deadpool once again luxuriates in his swan floatie. Copy that touts the movie as coming “From the studio that killed Wolverine” continues the tweaking of not only Fox but also Hugh Jackman that’s been pervasive throughout both this campaign and that of the original.

The Trailers

Things started over a year ago with the "No Good Deed" video (25.8 million views), which played in theaters ahead of Logan and was then released on Reynolds’ own YouTube channel. It wasn’t exactly a teaser trailer, but it certainly made it clear Deadpool was coming back. In it he sees a crime being committed and, while John Williams’ Superman score plays, he takes way too long to change into his costume.

There’s nothing explicitly about the movie here, but there’s still a lot going on. The phone booth Wade uses has “Nathan Summers is coming” scrawled on it, more or less confirming fan theories that Cable would be featured in the story. There’s also a Logan poster seen in the background, and Deadpool talks at the end about how that hero doesn’t need to engage in such elaborate costume changes.

The next trailer, "Wet on Wet" (17.5 million views), keeps everything weird, with Deadpool hosting a Bob Ross-like painting tutorial (complete with outrageous wig) that is just as twisted as you’d expect it to be. Eventually the painting changes on him, which leads to a quick 15 second or so montage of footage from the actual movie showing Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Cable and other characters along with lots of violence and explosions. It cuts back to the painting sequence to finish up.

We meet Cable as the next trailer, "Deadpool, Meet Cable" (22.5 million views), opens as he narrates how most people don’t know what actual pain is like while we see shots of futuristic annihilation happening around him. Deadpool interrupts the action when he "notices" the effects mapping the Cable's metal arm over the green sleeve worn by Brolin aren’t done, making a joke about how it’s not like they’re trying to remove a mustache or anything here. So while those are finished Deadpool plays with action figures. 

The official trailer, "Deadpool 2 | The Trailer" (33.1 million views), is red-band and less overtly meta in nature, starting off with a pretty basic recap of Deadpool as a character and what his overall story is. We see Cable pop in and start causing trouble, which throws Deadpool for a loop. It seems Cable is after a kid with mysterious powers, though his reasoning is never explained here. To protect the kid Deadpool assembles a team of his own, including Domino, Negasonic Teenage Warhead and others.

There are still plenty of wink-and-nod jokes in the trailer, of course, including a bit about each of the supporting characters needing to be able to lead their own franchise for a decade, a line about Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and more. The title card presents the movie as coming from the same studio that brought you 27 Dresses, and really you have to read the story synopsis on that YouTube video because it’s incredible. A green-band version of the trailer replaced the Sisterhood joke with one about millennials and man-buns.

The final trailer, "Deadpool 2: The Final Trailer" (21.6 million views), is another pretty straightforward affair, though it does dwell on how the title character frequently breaks the fourth wall. While everyone in the press focused on Deadpool’s line mocking the dark tones of the DC cinematic universe, the best in-joke in the trailer has the antihero being riddled with bullets after trying to deflect them with his swords. That’s a callback to his appearance (such as it was) in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where he moved through a room of machine gun-toting bad guys with only his spinning swords to save him.

That trailer also introduced us to Peter, played by Rob Delaney. Peter doesn’t have any powers but still secures a spot on Deadpool’s team. It was later revealed Peter has a Twitter account (99.7K followers) that had been running unnoticed for weeks and which reads more or less exactly like the kind of thing created by a khaki-wearing dad trying to sound hip. Peter’s account was later used to introduce the other members of the X-Force team Deadpool has assembled, some of whom had been unnamed up to that point.

Advertising and Publicity

As with the first movie, there’s been lots happening, especially on social media.

Aside from casting and other random news, the first big publicity pop came on July 31, 2017, with the revealing of Zazie Beetz’s Domino in a photo that offered a twist on a similar image used by Reynolds in promoting the first movie. That was followed by a first look at Brolin’s Cable in August of last year. 

In one of the first meta twists for the campaign, Fox arranged for Deadpool to serve as the guest editor of a special issue of Good Housekeeping that was handed out in select markets. That issue featured the character’s unique take on suggestions for holiday decorations and recipes, both of which were largely inappropriate for any family gathering.

Keeping things random, a promotion involving tattoos was announced on Dec. 5 by Deadpool himself for those attending Brazil Comic Con. And even though a Deadpool 2 ad didn't appear during this year’s Super Bowl, Deadpool did insert himself into the event by live-tweeting the game with his usual irreverence.

An Imax promo in April featured Deadpool totally not understanding how the format works. It actually comes off a bit like the classic “Duck Amuck” Looney Tunes short.

Fox’s inclusion of the film in its CinemaCon pitch to exhibitors and press included a video with Reynolds — and Hugh Jackman — engaging in some high jinks with the studio’s distribution chief Chris Aronson that ended with a gag related to the pending Fox/Disney merger.

Reynolds also tweaked the nose of Disney/Marvel Studios by posting a fake letter of rejection from Tony Stark in response to Deadpool’s application to join the Avengers in the wake of Infinity War’s massive opening weekend. He also riffed on the effort by Infinity War directors Joe and Anthony Russo to quell spoilers by posting a note asking fans in his own unique way not to tell anyone what happens in the movie.

There was even a music video, "Ashes" (15.7 million views), that checks all the stereotypical movie soundtrack song boxes. The song is sung by Celine Dion and is 100 percent serious, save for the Deadpool-dressed dancer that keeps moving around her. At the end Deadpool himself praises the performance but then tells her it was too good, way better than it needs to be for a movie like this. “Suck it, Spider-Man,” she says before storming offstage.

That music video is actually the payoff to a joke set up in a video Reynolds shot for an Omaze charity campaign, auctioning off a pink Deadpool suit to one lucky winner. In that video Deadpool makes it clear he’s “more of a Celine kind of guy.”

Jokes about Celine Dion and the Canadian music scene in general continued with a video for the movie’s European promo tour that took aim at how the Eurovision Song Content had snubbed the Great White North.

When it came to paid advertising, there was plenty of it. Key art has been used for online ads while the trailers and other short videos have been placed as promoted posts on social media. 

Promotional partners brave enough to wade into these waters included:

► Espolòn, a tequila company that named Deadpool its creative director and new spokesman as part of a campaign that included co-branded packaging and ad buys spanning outdoors, online, social media and more.

► Devour, which had Deadpool playing up the brand’s microwavable sandwiches (suitably obscure) in a TV spot that also had a kid make an appropriately knowing and meta comment about his endorsement.

► Mike’s Harder, which sponsored a couple pop-up versions of the bar frequented by Wade and his fellow lowlifes in New York and L.A. that also feature movie-branded versions of the company’s drinks.

► 7-Eleven, which launched an augmented reality component to its mobile app that had Deadpool guide you through the store, scribble all over your photos and more. There were also branded cups available for customers coming in for drinks.

► Trolli, which created an exclusive “Tiny Hands” version of its gummy treats for 7-Eleven and promoted that with a short commercial.

Marvel has never been short on Deadpool comics in recent years, but with Domino making her big-screen debut the company announced a new solo series featuring the character. That came with the just-as-exciting news that the book would be written by Gail Simone in her first Marvel work in quite a while. Simone has a history with Deadpool as well, so this made a ton of sense in addition to being very cool.

Overall

What’s notable here is that Reynolds and the rest of the creative team have been allowed to remain as edgy and, quite frankly, offensive as they were during the first campaign. There’s pressure here to prove the first one wasn’t an accident and they seem to have done that by giving in to their best (or worst, depending on your point of view) instincts.

There have been shots taken here at many of the expected targets, but the fact that they were expected doesn’t mean they’re any less essential. Jokes at the expense of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, DC, Hugh Jackman and more are all what worked in the first film, so why not keep the train going. This is who Deadpool is, and while the stakes may be higher (even though we never get a real good sense of why Cable is chasing that kid) he’s still the same foul-mouthed jackweed. And it appears to be a winning formula again. 

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer with 15 years of experience in the social media and content marketing industry.