Why Superhero Marketing Works So Well — Lessons from Marvel
As we sit and recover from the emotional trauma of watching ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (and the series finale of ‘Game of Thrones’), it’s important to look back on the good times and memories made alongside these superheroes who’ve made such a lasting impression in our hearts.
Superheroes have existed in the media since the mid-1930s. Mankind has a history of creating a cult following around comic book heroes — whose earliest forms remain some of the most well-known names even today.
From comic books to blockbuster movie franchises, Marvel has swept the world with its iconic heroes and heroines. Its staying power has made it one of the most recognisable brands among a wide array of audiences. From the young and old to comic book enthusiasts and action movie junkies, everyone loves Marvel.
It’s almost textbook how Marvel continued staying ahead of the curve. Even in comparison to its most known ‘rival’ — DC Comics, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has made a place for itself atop the food chain. But what is it about MCU that works so well in a world of endless entertainment options and ever-changing interests?
Build anticipation, giving your audience what they want
MCU movies are one of the most heavily anticipated film premiers of the world. Each and every blockbuster that hits the movie theatres are welcomed on opening day by a horde of movie-goers and superhero enthusiasts — and it’s more than just big budgets and crazy special effects that pull them in. It’s about delivering a good story and executing it well. Moviegoers invest in the lives of these characters, as seen by the cult following of Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, and the like.
So much so that the true diehard fans willingly sit through the roll of the end credits for a little extra something each time.
That’s right — the end credit scene.
Marvel has conquered the masses by simply building the anticipation of their audiences and keeping it at the periphery of their minds while enjoying an action-packed film. The end credits scene made its debut after the end credits of the 2008 hit Iron Man. Marvel reeled in their audience with a hint of something even bigger coming down the line with Nick Fury promising Tony Stark that ‘Iron Man isn’t the only superhero in the world’.
From there, Marvel continued their line of tantalising their audience and leaving them wanting more. Whether it’s additional scenes from throwaway lines about shawarma to Captain America himself breaking the fourth wall and addressing the crowd, Marvel knows how to build and deliver on anticipation.
Be consistent with quality
It’s not just building the hype around upcoming movies that keeps Marvel the highest grossing movie franchise. Marvel reels in theatre-goers by the droves because they keep consistent with the quality of their films. The top 5 highest grossing movies in the past 10 years have been from the Marvel franchise, grossing anywhere from $1.3 billion to $2.6 billion. Marvel’s first woman-led superhero movie ‘Captain Marvel’ made an explosive $455 million worldwide on opening weekend alone, which surpassed even ‘Avengers: Endgame’ which reached $357 million.
The Captain Marvel film features the quote ‘Higher, Further, Faster’. All of which Captain Marvel delivered for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s gross revenue.
Despite what the naysayers have said in protest of having a female-led superhero film, the revenue of Captain Marvel speaks for itself. Marvel’s brand isn’t easily swayed by the whims of the negative few, rather delivering on what they know works best — and that’s quality content.
Create something people love so they will talk about it
Tying back to the whispers and hisses brought on by exclusionist crowds and end credit scenes, Marvel has always built a buzz around its films. Whether it be discussions about each end credit scene, or to heavily weigh in on the character development and plot choices, the talk spreads. People consistently discuss the things they love most and the things they love least, with the hype often drowning out the disapproval. Positive consumer experience is always key in growing a community that supports brand decisions and execution. While some audiences may have doubts about particular films or character portrayal, their faith in Marvel keeps them standing in line when the movie hits theatres.
A vivacious social media community between actors, directors, and audiences is also extremely vital to build hype and develop audience engagement. Marvel is known for its crossovers and clever references in their movies, but actors that play these characters also engage actively with one another on an online and offscreen basis. Promoting their movies becomes a joint effort — a combined force. The Instagram and Twitter feeds of actors like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Mark Ruffalo were filled with content revolving the premiere of Avengers: Endgame when the film was set to be released.
RDJ’s Instagram post garnered the attention and likes of over 4 million people. Posting about Gwyneth Paltrow’s birthday caught the attention of several million the same. Robert’s constant engagement with the crowd, regardless of their loyalties to Marvel or Iron Man or the direct relevance of his posts to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, created buzz around the upcoming film.
Social proof goes a long way
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is and of itself, social proof. With anti-spoiler culture so widespread, it’s no surprise that social media hype and consequent discussions among peers and friends about the movies only serve to encourage people to visit the theatres when a Marvel film is playing. Being part of the conversation at the office or among friends means keeping up with the trend, and Marvel capitalises on FOMO (fear of missing out) best. The myriad of Twitter feeds, Reddit threads, and Instagram posts speak for themselves.
Excelsior! — Ever Upwards
At the core of it all, Marvel seems to be keeping Stan Lee’s catchphrase to heart. They strive to deliver something worthy of remembering each time, and dedicate their time and efforts to leaving a legacy that will last through the decades.