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My favourite ad campaign of all time: Deadpool’s breaking the fourth wall and beyond

I love advertising. I love being part of the process of making ads. I love watching them. I’m the type of person who doesn’t click the skip button for new ads, regardless of how intrusive they are. That’s why it was tough for me to pick my favourite campaign.

Being a Proctoid for most of my professional career, I surrender to our reassuringly logical principles – as follows. Do I remember the brand? Did it create action? And did it make me feel anything?

Looking through this lens, one campaign that I’ve seen doing all three in spades is Deadpool – both for the original film and the sequel.

Brief explainer on the Deadpool character before we dive in. He was born in the 1990s. At first, he was merely a clone of another DC character ‘Deathstroke’ (also known as Slade Wilson). However, he figuratively and literally got his own unique voice by introducing his ability to break the fourth wall.

Initially this strategy was thought off as a joke, with the writer expecting his book to be cancelled at any minute. But his success started from then on and it’s been an upward trajectory ever since.

But back to the topic in question. How do the ads carry on this anarchic approach and why are they so good? It always starts with a strong understanding of what makes Deadpool special, the schtick that breaks the fourth wall, and everything else that is just plain absurd.

People behind the campaigns know that it’s a match made in heaven given our clickbait culture and the industrial meme complex. Finally, it is only possible because of the strong involvement of the lead actor, Ryan Reynolds.

While most movie advertising campaigns rely on footage from the film edited into trailers and commercials, the Deadpool campaign created a series including television, digital, OOH and even brand-partnership content – making full use of the lead actors’ time through additional shoots and voice-over sessions, not to mention the character turning up in all manner of strange places.

But while seemingly random, every activity has been carefully chosen to exemplify the absurdity of Deadpool as a character, from the emoji billboards, the beatdown of celebrity journalist Mario Lopez, to the hijacking of the Celine Dion music video.

When emojis hijack billboards

Given its incredible success in the box office, becoming one of the highest grossing R rated film in history, Deadpool has made major waves in how movies and content are created today. Gone are the days that equated R rated films with box office failure.

Furthermore, taking its cue from Deadpool, brands are now more inspired to stretch the limits of irreverence. I am not surprised that one of the biggest and most traditional all-American brands, Tide, made a big splash in the recent Super Bowl with the ad featuring David Harbour irreverently breaking into all sorts of different ads. 

As a marketer, one key take away here is going all in with your product, warts and all. Ryan Reynolds and team knew this and found their audience, going all in with Deadpool as a character.

They knew that he was not the most famous superhero and the risks of alienating audiences with the character’s absurdity, and yet they still went with it. Clearly their risk paid off faster than Deadpool can heal himself.

Going back to the original questions from my Proctoid brain. Do I remember the brand? Did it create action? And did it make me feel anything?. How does it fare? Yes. Yes. And Yes. In fact, I’ll be watching the sequel, dragging my friends along in the process. That speaks volumes in my view. 

Delbert Ty is head of marketing at the telco provider Circles.Life and is based in Singapore

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