How Ryan Reynolds Turned Deadpool Into The Blair Witch Project

How Ryan Reynolds Turned Deadpool Into The Blair Witch Project


At the age of 25 I was given the digital marketing keys at the Walt Disney Company. Why did I want them? Because it was an area of marketing unencumbered by politics and restrained by creative handcuffs. I could take risks, get things wrong, learn and progress – something this industry doesn’t typically endorse. I’m not claiming Nostradamus like status but it was clear to me that this internet thing could be my ticket to status and notoriety and ever the ambitious student of the business I grabbed my opportunity and ran with it.


In 1999 a movie called The Blair Witch Project changed the paradigm. It was the fist time an online viral marketing campaign had made studio executives sit up and ask, how can we do that? At that point, the microscope was switched on and digital was no longer that thing the intern did.


Fast forward 15 years and the industry has changed but not as much as it should have. Film marketing still operates with a heavy reliance on traditional media and the business as a whole continues to battle with the enormity of paralysis and a fear of change. Film tracking is openly famed for inaccuracy and an ongoing struggle to cope with the power of listening versus asking. Worldwide publicity junkets continue to frustrate all involved from publicists to journalists and the talent themselves. This is a high cost item with an ever decreasing impact and it quite frankly blows my mind that we haven’t figured out how this can be done more efficiently and effectively in today’s age. On set content gathering or unit publicity is another area that’s incredibly traditional where the primary focus remains, how do we create content for TV and long lead magazines purely for the theatrical release window. Perhaps most remarkable of all is the continued over-reliance on TV as an advertising medium, when public data shows that TV audiences are fragmenting and becoming disengaged. This is an industry still finding its feet in an ever changing marketing and distribution landscape.


So here’s my prediction. In 15 years time, the industry will talk about Deadpool in the same way old codgers like me still refer to The Blair Witch Project. It is an industry defining marketing campaign and here’s why:

  • Frustratingly in my view, the Deadpool marketing campaign had been heralded as a success since day one. I don’t believe in quantifying success until we have seen the results. The results are in, and the campaign is A SUCCESS. Make no mistake, this movie shouldn’t have worked as it did. Not a well known character, R rated and its star’s biggest lead turn to date being Green Lantern which delivered $219m worldwide (which Deadpool has already cruised past
  • The campaign was about the freedom to have FUN. Not something you can do on every title, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest an emoji campaign for 12 Years A Slave, but the narrative of the campaign perfectly fits the narrative and tone of the movie itself
  • Its greatest ambassador was its lead star who unlike many actors, going through the motions on a worldwide publicity tour, led the campaign from the front and pro-actively asked the marketing team behind it to have fun with it. Congratulations to Fox who did just that
  • It felt like a campaign championed by the spirit of YES. After 25 years in this industry, it’s fair to say this is a business typically championed by the spirit of NO. NO is easier, safer. NO won’t get anyone fired and NO is often the response when you are dealing with multiple stakeholders as it only takes one person to say NO and several to say YES. The creative team behind the movie are always the easiest route to a YES if they are willing


So why industry defining? Because I imagine its impact will be to drive some YES back into this industry. I genuinely expect that after Deadpool, we will see more creativity, more risk and more industry defining campaigns. Not all the time every time. But if you are casting a big franchise movie, why not cast a movie with talent in mind who will deliver more than just a performance. If it took Blair Witch to switch on the digital microscope, my hope is that Deadpool will lead to the same questions – how can we do that?