Ryan Reynolds has revealed that his recent incarnation as a global marketing supremo came about in part because of tireless efforts to get his hit comic movie Deadpool off the ground.
“I spent ten years trying to get the film Deadpool made — it was hell,” he told an audience at the Cannes Lions advertising event in France today. “We shot some test footage, some absolute bastard leaked it onto the internet, and that’s what got the movie made.”
Reynolds was speaking in his capacity as Chief Creative Officer of ad-tech firm MNTN, which last year bought the marketing division of the actor’s production company Maximum Effort, for which he has created ads for a number of his film projects and for brands such as Peloton and R.M. Williams.
He said Deadpool “got made through some pretty unorthodox methods,” adding: “The studio [20th Century Fox] never really believed in it so they gave us absolutely nothing compared with other comic movies. We had to make every dollar feel like ten.
“As we did this, I was learning lessons left, right and centre. We started to really know and play with the cultural landscape of the character. During the movie, we replaced spectacle with character and I saw that it worked just as well.”
Driving away from the studio armed with Deadpool’s distinctive bodysuit, Reynolds started marketing the film with the costume. Reynolds described “having fun, without giving away pieces of the film,” which proved a hit to the tune of $782M at the box office following its release in February 2016.
Reynolds told Cannes Lions: “I used some of that sweet Deadpool money to buy Aviation Gin, and I needed to market that. Inadvertently, we became a marketing company and we were having the time of our lives.”
Reynolds became a co-owner of Aviation Gin in 2018 and sold it to Diageo only two years later for more than $600M.
Keeping It Fun
Speaking with Wendy Clark, Global CEO of Japanese ad giant Dentsu International, Reynolds discussed the impact advertisers can make by embracing and reacting swiftly to cultural trends and using their brands to tell a story.
Clark identified two of the key aspects of Reynolds’ appeal in the advertising world as speed and humor. Addressing the former, the Deadpool star said: “Most campaigns can take up 9-12 months to launch, and if you’re trying to do something that is relevant to culture, you’ve completely missed the mark. It’s not one-size-fits-all, but speed is incredibly important to me. It’s about keeping the necessary checks and balances, but creating a system that allows us to work at speed.
“Culture moves really fast. When a cultural conversation bubbles up in a big way and it becomes the subject of every social media platform, it’s being commented on with or without us. We try to add a production element to that. If you [do] that, it’s a whole next level. You’re taking a conversation that’s already happening, inserting a brand into that conversation and thus the brand becomes the conversation.
“If you’re doing it in a way that is a, ‘Do no harm, shots not fired’-kind of philosophy, it can be incredibly fun.”
On the point of humor. He agreed he was deliberately “light” in his style, inspired in recent years by his need to go against the downbeat tone he kept hearing throughout the first months of the pandemic: “That idea was drilled home during 2020. We definitely want help where we seek it, but otherwise we want to lighten this load. Everybody has anxiety. When I’m trying to create something, I want to unburden others of that.
“Humor and emotion travel the most virally. Oftentime ads are hyper-sincere, and I think they’re noise. If you really want to punch through, you can make people laugh. Consumers and audiences know they’re being marketed to, and they can feel the tactics, they can feel the conversations the executives have had. If you can drop that artifice a little bit and speak plainly, they’re much more willing to share it.”
Reynolds also pointed to his latest project Creative Ladder, a new non-profit benefitting aspiring creatives from under-represented groups, announced yesterday at Cannes Lions. The organisation, with early support by Deloitte, Hilton, VaynerMedia and Martin Agency, will offer programs and services for students and emerging talent interested in marketing, advertising, design and commercial production.
Reynolds said: “There is so much talent out there. We’re missing the opportunity. It’s totally selfish: I want better stories, and better stories are told through diversity, complex and unique perspectives and opinions.
“This is a means to create generational wealth, which so many have been excluded from. These are incredible jobs, from marketing ads all the way through to production. Otherwise, how can we continue to tell stories that are relevant if they’re only relevant to a few?”