How 'Captain Marvel' Marketing Introduces Carol Danvers to Audiences
In the period between last year’s Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame there’s been no small amount of conversation about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This week’s Captain Marvel is an indicator of what comes next. The character, played by Brie Larson, has been positioned throughout the campaign as essential to the MCU, maybe even a leading figure in the post-Avengers: Endgame future of the franchise.
Before the future is written, though, Captain Marvel takes a trip to the past. The story is set in the mid-1990s, as Carol Danvers (Larson) returns to Earth after spending years in outer space becoming a warrior in the powerful Kree Empire. She has no real memory of her life before joining the Kree, but is home because the planet now stands in the middle of that race’s ongoing war against the shape-shifting Skrulls. Helping her is a pre-SHIELD Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) encountering the first of what will be many super-powered beings in his career.
Heat Vision breakdown
Tracking estimates predict an opening weekend of $125 million-plus and it’s already passed Fandango pre-sales for other origin stories like Wonder Woman and Aquaman weeks before release. The campaign has sold a movie that’s inspirational and exciting, telling an untold story of the MCU a decade before Tony Stark declared he was Iron Man.
“Higher. Further. Faster.” is the copy on the first poster, which shows Carol standing defiantly in the open doors of an airplane hanger. The Captain Marvel symbol is visible on either side of the open doors and, as many people noted, what appears to be her cat is barely creeping out of the shadows on one side.
The second poster from early December has a better close-up hero shot of the character, with energy crackling off her while one side shows alien aspects of her nature and the other side the human, Earth-bound elements. An illustrated version of Captain Marvel, shown with a sly smile and in full costume, graces a poster exclusively available to attendees of December’s Brazil Comic-Con.
Exhibitor-specific posters included a Dolby one-sheet that showed Carol flying into the sky against a background including her logo, a Real 3D poster that placed the camera above an unmasked Carol who’s glowing with power and an IMAX poster with another shot of her in full costume against a starry background with copy promising the audience up to 26 percent more of the picture. Those attending opening weekend screenings at Odeon Cinemas got an exclusive one-sheet showing Captain Marvel flying into space, one of the best of the bunch.
A series of 10 character posters offered close up looks at Carol, Fury (featuring a young Samuel L. Jackson) and other key players, including the cat. Two more posters followed in early February that took a different visual style showing more washed out, rough images of Carol both with and without her mask in place.
The final theatrical poster was a variation on one of the early teasers, with a slightly different version of the character’s star symbol behind her as she stands ready for battle.
In case anyone was unclear about when the movie took place, last September’s teaser trailer (53 million views on YouTube) opens with Danvers’ ship crashing to Earth inside a Blockbuster Video. We hear Nick Fury talk about how he can see she’s a soldier and that she’s not from around here as we have the interstellar, alien invasion plot laid out. There are Skrulls, Carol punches an old woman, she uses the same communicator Fury did at the end of Infinity War, we glimpse Mar-Vell and see Carol go full Binary. In between all that there are a couple nice cadences of incidents from her past that echo in the present, setting up her character nicely.
The second trailer (35 million views on YouTube), released in December, opens with footage from the scene of Carol beating up an old woman on the bus that got everyone’s attention from the first one, that being what’s shown as Fury is making sure he understands the alien power dynamics correctly. That’s followed by an explanation of how the Kree found Carol and made her something stronger to help them fight off their enemies. The rest of the footage and dialogue makes it clear that the story will focus not only on outer space battles but also Carol’s search for clues to a past she doesn’t fully remember and answers as to who she really is.
Advertising and Publicity
It had been rumored for a while, but the first publicity for the movie came when Larson was finally officially announced as the title character at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Larson talked soon after that about how nervous she was about taking the role, particularly because she was concerned about the backlash she might face from irate fanboys. The movie’s writers also talked occasionally about how they were trying to fit Carol into the Marvel Universe and thread the needle on the first female-led MCU story.
Later on at San Diego Comic-Con 2017 Marvel told everyone the story of the movie would take place in the 90s, effectively acting as yet another prequel to the cinematic universe that kicked off in 2008, and feature the Skrulls, which had everyone wondering what the details of the story would entail.
The movie was also part of the 2018 CineEurope presentation from the studio. After that some great news came when it was announced the film would be scored by Pinar Toprak, the first woman to provide the music for a superhero movie solo.
Marvel kept raising Carol’s profile over time, starting with a new video series exploring the origins of the character. Around the time of San Diego Comic-Con 2018 a new “The Life of Captain Marvel” series was announced that would explore areas of the character’s life that weren’t well-known and which could serve as an entry point for new fans. Another ongoing series from star writer Kelly Thompson series featuring the hero was revealed later on, one that promised to reestablish Carol’s connection to the rest of the Marvel Universe of characters.
In early December Larson brought a bit of new footage to Brazil Comic-Con to get fans there excited. That was followed by the movie being named the most-anticipated of the year by IMDb users. Later that month TV spots began running, with different versions focusing on the fight Carol is involved in and the mystery surrounding her origins and the purpose she’s been given.
In early January a “Special Look” video was released that featured a bit of new footage, including our first look at a younger Agent Coulson as well as more humorous interplay between Carol and Fury.
The studio went big with a Super Bowl ad, a spot that offered a bit of new footage along with what we’ve seen before. Reaction to the commercial was overwhelmingly positive, though, as the “Higher. Further. Faster.” mantra quickly caught on with people excited by the story of a women setting out to show the boys how it’s really done.
The company brought a bevy of Captain Marvel merchandise to Toy Fair 2019 in February and made sure everyone knew the character was playable in most all of its video games.
Another TV spot offered a bit more of the interplay between Carol and Fury, as well as explaining in more detail how she’s on Earth to stop the shape-shifting Skrulls. Further commercials focused on different aspects of the story and character but all kept showing how Carol is unwilling to be defined by anyone or not live up to her potential.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
► Wix, which used a co-branded TV spot as part of its campaign to sell its Turbo site-hosting service for people unhappy with slow loading times.
► Alaska Airlines, which affixed movie branding to a 737-800.
► Dave & Busters, which used a commercial to promote the availability of an arcade version of the Contest of Champions game featuring Captain Marvel.
► American Eagle, which offered a series of t-shirts and other apparel featuring the character, her symbol and more.
► Synchrony, a longtime Marvel partner that this time around positioned becoming more financially independent and secure with becoming stronger physically, just like Captain Marvel is.
► Hertz, which used a co-branded commercial to tie the hero’s ability to find solutions to problems to its upcoming “Fast Lane” speedy rental process.
► WNBA, which connected the journey Carol goes on in the movie to the inspirational stories of the league’s women players.
Many of those partners ran their own online ads to support their campaigns as well.
Promoted posts on social media extended the reach of the trailers and other TV spots while outdoor ads used the key art to keep selling the colorful, inspirational hero of the movie.
Marvel Comics helpfully released a “Captain Marvel 101” video offering a quick overview of the character and her history for anyone not already in the know. A featurette released shortly after that had the directors as well as Larson talking about the training she did for the role as well as the fun everyone had on the massive production. The first clip was released in early February, showing a fight between Carol and a Skrull in disguise atop a moving train.
While he was discussing plans for the soon-to-launch Disney+ streaming service, Disney CEO Bob Iger noted this would be the first Marvel Studios film not licensed to other companies but held exclusively for their own platform.
About a month out from release Marvel generated a lot of attention when it launched a retro website for the movie that was inspired by web design from the mid-90s, when the story takes place. The prolific use of GIFs and clunky navigation using all sort of different fonts offered the usual array of information about the movie, just in a new (old) way.
A Hollywood Reporter cover profile of Larson had the actor talking about her desire to not only use the movie as a launching pad for conversations around gender roles and equality but how she hoped the press tour she was embarking on would include a more diverse group of journalists. Those comments were misinterpreted by some, who launched a campaign to push down the movie’s pre-release Rotten Tomatoes score. That’s similar to efforts these groups have undertaken around movies like The Last Jedi and 2016’s Ghostbusters. It worked for a while — the RT score dropped significantly, from a 99 percent “Want to See” to as low as 58 percent.
Rotten Tomatoes announced in late February it was making changes, including disabling comments in advance of a movie’s release, that seemed directly inspired by the backlash and the company’s desire to keep studios, who often use scores from the in their campaigns, happy. That controversy coincided with the first reactions to the movie hitting social media. Those reactions were almost universally positive, as the movie was praised as being wonderful and a great example of a female hero owning her identity and future.
Larson and Jackson introduced the real star of the film, Goose the cat, around the same time Marvel offered an hourlong live stream of the cat’s antics on a set, including a healthy amount of napping.
Late February brought another featurette that offered a primer on the Kree/Skrull conflict. A couple weeks prior to release a few short videos came out under the #MondayMotivation banner that had a background on the real pilots that inspired Carol’s skills, another brief one on Larson’s physical training for the role and one where she talked about how playing Carol is the culmination of her career.
There were also a series of clips that had Carol and Nick interrogating each other, Carol and Mar-Vell engaging in some training and her getting ready for some flying with Maria Rambeau. Another couple featurettes had Larson and Jackson talking about 90s technology and styles and more interviews with Benning, Law and others. Jackson also explained how the story jumps back well before the cinematic events audiences have already seen.
The movie’s red-carpet world premiere featured appearances by Larson, Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Gemma Chan, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and, of course, Goose the cat along with castmembers from other Marvel films and shows. There was even representation from the U.S. Air Force, which sent its Thunderbirds team of precision flyers to make a pass over the event.
Throughout the campaign the audience has been exposed to that “Higher. Further. Faster” tagline, whether it’s spelled out on the posters or shared as a line of dialogue in the trailers and TV spots. That creates a strong, consistent brand identity for the movie that makes any individual element of the marketing instantly recognizable as one part of the whole campaign.
It also serves as a simple, elegant summation of the title character and her journey. Whether she’s an Air Force pilot or intergalactic warrior hero, Carol is going higher than she ever imagined, traveling further than most any Marvel character we’ve seen onscreen to date and doing it all faster because she’s more driven to succeed by a desire to be the best around.
Even more than that, one line from the Super Bowl commercial stands out as nicely summarizing the campaign: “Time to show these boys how we do it.” It’s not Carol saying it, but that attitude is behind most everything here. That message is part of the whole campaign, from the trailers that show the character picking herself up off the ground any time she’s knocked down to the cross-promotional efforts from brand marketing partners that use Captain Marvel to sell their own empowering products and services.
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