The Cutesy, Bromantic Brilliance of Civil War’s Marketing
If the box office numbers are any indication, that whole “everyone and their mom saw Captain America: Civil War” cliche might actually be true: the movie raked in a whopping $181.8 million last weekend in North America alone. While a lot of that success, no doubt, came thanks to nearly universal praise for the film, Marvel’s marketing gave people a healthy push into theaters to make it the fifth-biggest opening weekend ever. But what exactly got those extra butts in seats? We looked into it, and what we found was…well, it was weird.
The marketing campaign isn’t a self-aware meta-troll like Deadpool’s, or a self-serious, doofy dad schtick like Batman v Superman’s. Instead, it flips between stoic and cutesy; throwback and bleeding-edge; Reddit and Tumblr. In other words, it’s Marvel’s soul. Take a look.
Audience Participation (i.e. Pick a Side … Or Else!)
From the get-go there have been consistent calls to pick a superhero team, ranging from rah-rah to angsty to … Walmart.
And the team-building exercises really went to the next level on Twitter, where polls were conducted by the official Captain America: Civil War account:
The time is now — let the world know who you stand with. You never know who’s listening… https://t.co/ZOvwuL2Obk
— Captain America (@CaptainAmerica) April 11, 2016
Poor Cap seems about as good at Twitter as you’d expect. (Is that a Santa reference or a threat?)
And it’s not like Chris Evans’ account has any more panache than his character’s. It’s mostly about the Patriots (he’s a big Tom Brady fan/Deflategate denier), but he’s also got some tweets like this one:
— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) February 8, 2016
That’s sweet, Chris, but you’re no match for Robert Downey Jr.’s more insouciant calls to action.
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) April 1, 2016
Luckily, Evans got a little backup from Team Deadpool, aka Ryan Reynolds, aka the Trickster God of Marketing.
— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) February 20, 2016
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) February 20, 2016
.@VancityReynolds Et tu, D-pool? Gimme a shout when Rogers boots you out for “cussing”!
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) February 20, 2016
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) February 21, 2016
So far, all normal, dudely, superhero stuff. But when Marvel tries to use RDJ the way Deadpool uses Reynolds, things start to go sideways in a truly spectacular fashion.
The Big RDJ Tease
To begin with, let’s just agree that Robert Downey Jr. is beloved by the Internet, and the feeling appears to be mutual.
Why, Internet? I thought we were friends! pic.twitter.com/112OW5aTsd
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) July 24, 2015
One look at these Avengers-themed holiday tweets, and it’s hard not to believe deep in your heart that RDJ is as much of a stan as you are.
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) March 27, 2016
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) October 31, 2015
Happy Valentine’s Day!
(Credit: Sekra on Tumblr) pic.twitter.com/UiqU8B90MP
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) February 14, 2016
Being an unpredictable charm-bomb is RDJ’s thing, and while Marvel long ago learned to ride that bomb like Slim Pickens in Doctor Strangelove—you could even argue that it helped shape the MCU’s tone—it’s suited to a viral marketing campaign in a way that Captain America and his trademark apple-pie sincerity never could be.
But even the sincerity works when it’s wielded right. One Omaze campaign raised funds for RDJ’s newly minted charity, Random Act of Funding: Donors entered to win a trip to NYC, where they’d get a seat in the audience for the filming of an episode of The Tonight Show, a private screening of Civil War, and a pizza dinner/photoshoot with Iron Man himself.
Look at this very Internet, very RDJ promo video:
So, basically what’s on offer here is a date with Robert Downey Jr., right? It certainly feels that way.
Bromancing the Stone
Even allowing for the fact that RDJ is a troll, he’s been shipping Iron Man/Captain America so hard that he might have been possessed by Tumblr. (There’s is a large and noisy contingent of fans—mostly women, mostly on that platform—who are extremely committed to the idea that Cap and Iron man are in love, and have been reading Civil War as a lovers’ quarrel from Day 1.)
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) January 24, 2016
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) February 5, 2016
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) April 21, 2016
Whether Marvel is complicit or not, this certainly looks like RDJ playing right into that narrative. And judging from the favorites/retweets, the fans ate it up.
That’s not to say that other parts of the Civil War marketing campaign aren’t similarly cutesy—like, say, these custom emoji.
— Oh My Disney (@OhMyDisney) February 7, 2016
But since the bulk of this massive marketing campaign has been standard-issue, seeing Civil War through rom-com-tinted glasses is the closest thing they have to what feels like a stunt. Marvel might not ask actors to massage Conan O’Brien in costume, but on the other hand, you’ve got Chris Evans saying this on late night television:
— Robert Downey Jr (@RobertDowneyJr) September 30, 2015
It’s no secret that Marvel movies are a dude-fest, and the male-female breakdown on those custom emoji is 9/2. Could this be an attempt—albeit a bizarro, kinda lackluster one—to win women over and smooth some ruffled feathers? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, though, consider us entertained.