Episode 20: A Pop-Marketing Take on Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel, Had a $455 Million opening weekend and As I’m  recording this she is steadily cruising towards the $1 Billion worldwide mark. That far exceeds even the most optimistic projections and I’d like to explore that.

On today’s Pop100, we’re talking about the MCUs Captain Marvel.  How did Marvel and Disney accomplish this? What can marketers take from this and how is Marvel using universe building to evolve the marketing around their films?

First off, I’m not a movie critic and this isn't that place.  What I talk about here is the marketing of the film. How can we as marketers read this text and dissect how Marvel brings ideas to life. Helping us all make our own content resonate with our audience more.

In the case of Captain Marvel, the context of this release played a large part in its success.  There was a lot of anticipation for this film. It’s been growing steadily within the ever-growing MCU fan base.  The call for a female character that leads a film. After DC released the successful Wonder Woman in 2017, all eyes turned to Marvel Cinematic Universe to see how they’d move forward.  Marvel decided to proceed with a character brand spankin new to the MCU. The cosmic-powered Air Force pilot Sara Danvers or Captain Marvel.

Small side note, Captain Marvel is also the OTHER name of SHAZAM! Which is the DC film that is releasing only a couple of weeks after Marvel’s Captain Marvel. Coincidences are few and far between in this world. I don’t think that this was a main goal but I also think it’s far from a happy accident.  

While researching the marketing campaign, there are a few observations that stand out and I’ll talk about 3 of those today in more depth.

1. In 2019 noise level does not equal size

As no-brainer as it sounds, a successful superhero film starring a strong female lead is a new idea. It’s not the first, but it’s an important idea to introduce in the MCU.

There was some loud criticism for this film.  A small but extremely vocal group of individuals had politicized this film and the ideas within.  It got bad enough that days before opening night, a concentrated effort was made on the RottenTomatoes audience score rating to tank the reviews prematurely.  It’s gross and it’s noisy. Brands say they want brave ideas but in my experience, few are prepared for this kind backlash.

You can use Captain Marvel as a great case study for this.  Though the groups that were outraged did not even have a small impact on the tremendous success of this film it was for sure a stressful month for the teams that were marketing this movie.  In hindsight, it’s clear that that’s the case, but in the fog of war and in the moment, are you prepared to take on the trolls? What’s your Troll plan? Do you feed the Trolls or pretend they aren’t there?  

2. Nostalgic with purpose.

Captain Marvel is set in the 90s, in an MCU before Tony Stark had announced to the world that he was Iron Man.  It’s a key part of the plot but it also does another job in how the film brings in new audiences. An insight From my friend and fellow Pop-Marketer John Kreicbergs, The secret to audience building is giving fans a reason to bring someone else. In this case, a parent that grew up in the 90s wants to share this experience with their kid, who’s there to see Captain Marvel plasma through spaceships. It’s something they know, that’s familiar and something they want to revisit and share with their children.  

If you’re a brand that wants to use Nostalgia.  Great! Why? What’s the doorway that it opens for you? Make sure that it serves a purpose beyond just the skin-deep observation that the people we want to buy product X probably watched and liked this as a kid.

3. Stan Lee is the Patron Saint of Universe Building

I brought this up in the Stan Lee episode, but Captain Marvel is such a perfect example of it in motion. Pixar is the top of the top in storytelling, but what Marvel has brought to the part in the last decade is a masterclass of building a true cinematic universe and this has allowed them a ton of upgraded superpowers in how they market their movies.

I’d argue that Captain Marvel’s main source of marketing didn’t come from a rad 90’s themed website or a SuperBowl trailer, but  was embedded within Avenger’s Infinity War Movie itself. They built the anticipation for this unknown character right into the center of their most popular property.  They made a new character that we’ve never met the key to solving the bummer of an ending that we got with Infinity War.  The post-credit scene becomes a giant teaser, a trailer, a bridge to something new being very freaking important.

Do you want to catch the whole story?  Cool, go over and buy this new movie that you know nothing about.  You only believe it’s important because we told you it was and it’s key to understanding how End Game will play out.

This is a genius move, but something that Marvel’s been doing in comics for decades, to lead audiences to new comics by incorporating them into large story plots as a springboard.

And now Avenger’s Endgame will come out mere weeks after the Captain Marvel release, so I’d argue that the entire movie of Captain Marvel also acts as a giant advertisement for EndGame. By connecting their movies into one universe Marvel has changed the script on what’s possible with these connections.

Apple toys with this concept with their Keynotes, but the wonder and the magic seem sucked dry from them lately.  What would Nike look like if they connected their universe?  What about Red Bull? Who else could connect their products or their brand into one universe, using one product to sell new items and giving their audience access to new ideas by being a patron?  Xbox? Amazon? They’re close but who can articulate it?

Ok, that’s Captain Marvel-  at the end of the day, I’m psyched to be able to take my 5-year-old daughter to a superhero movie and for her to be able to see herself as the main character.  That’s something I’ve had since I was a kid and yes it’s damn time for girls everywhere to feel that.

I’m Joe Cox, the Pop-Marketer, you can catch more Pop-Marketing content and think at Pop-Marketer.com where you can sign up for my newsletter the Weekly Zeitgeist.  Thanks so much for joining me today and Excelsior! True Believers, Ever Upward

Joe Cox