Marketing any media genre (books, music, and TV follow the same rules) requires an understanding a willingness to play with the tropes inherent to that genre. Every piece of marketing created for a movie series starts with an explicit understanding of expectations, and ongoing conversations that is genre.
The ongoing conversation of genre
Every movie exists in this ongoing conversation that we call genre—that is, a series of ideas, attitudes, character types, major blockbusters, major directors, major actors, cult classics, and so on that every fan of the genre is familiar with.
For example, every slasher film that’s ever made between now and eternity has to at the very least be aware of Psycho and Scream. Every fan of slasher films is going to be familiar with the idea of the “final girl.” Even if a movie is nothing like Saw, a director who has a villain who tortures his victims will probably either avoid the elaborate puzzle-like traps of Saw or will knowingly and intelligently subvert them, or even pay homage to them. No modern horror director can even exist without knowledge of Hitchcock, Romero, Anderson, or Craven.
Why this artistic dive into genre? Because your fans know their preferred genre at least as well as you do—if not better.
Every piece of marketing that is produced for a movie series needs to—at the very least—be aware of what’s been done and what fans expect. Smart marketing is going to take advantage of tropes, is going to pay homage to previous films in the genre, is going to tease fans with promises of what each fanbase loves most in each genre. The Blair Witch Project did this perfectly when they essentially created a brand new genre while making it clear they understood the ongoing conversation that is Horror.
Becoming deeply familiar with the conversation your target audience expects in the context of your communications with it, will allow you to add depth and authenticity to your materials. This, in return, build a connection few other tactics can.
Superhero movie marketing does it right
Superhero movies are a genre all to themselves—part sci-fi, part fantasy, all comic book, but existing as part of a modern conversation that has changed drastically in the past twenty years.
For example, if you made a superhero movie thirty years ago, you would understand that the audience was small, was likely made up mostly of comic-book fans, that the budget would have to be equally limited, and that fans would be well aware of the very few superhero movies that had come out at that time. Further, fans would perhaps expect essentially all action, and would be paying particularly close attention to details to make sure the story was not deviating from the comic books (or whatever the source material was).
Superhero movies are completely different nowadays. They’re expected to play to a wide audience (including the massive audience overseas). Light-to-medium character development is absolutely a must. Severe deviation from the source material is fine. With the recent unprecedented success of The Joker, it’s clear that audiences are fine with massive character development and even deep character studies (as long as there’s action here and there).
More so, and particularly of note for marketers of movie series, superhero movies are not afraid to create marketing that assumes you’ve seen all the previous movies in the series.
You can’t get away with this in all genres. There are more than a few where—even if it’s the 8th or 9th movie in the series—the story needs to be universal and understandable to a brand new audience who hasn’t seen (and won’t see) the previous 8 films. The Fast and the Furious is a perfect example of this. You can pick any of the movies in the series in essentially any order and enjoy yourself.
Keep that in mind when you build your next marketing strategy – are you talking to an informed audience? Is your story clear enough even to the lesser-informed?
When promoting a movie series, meet and subvert the expectations of the reader
When marketing a movie series, your main goal should be to meet, exceed, or subvert the expectations of fans within the genre. For example, when marketing the (almost) final installment of The Infinity Saga, every piece of marketing assumed that you knew the 30+ films of the previous decade that preceded Avengers: Endgame. The basic assumption was that the audience knows the backstories.
Additionally, subverting expectations is generally a trope-based approach. For example, a slasher film could show previews that hint strongly at a subversion of the “final girl” trope, teasing fans with the idea that this is not your average slasher. Sci-fi fans love the unexpected—which is harder and harder to do with each passing year as film after film becomes more and more creative—but a series of posters that hints at some truly new idea (an incredibly strange planet, aliens or monsters that are far more bizarre than anything anyone has created) can be especially enticing to fans.
Creating tension around expectations is a subtle art. When done right, it can yield an exceptional campaign.
For example, the movie Arrival succeeded in large part due to its incredibly strange premise—trying to learn the language of the aliens (instead of the aliens landing and speaking broken English or having a translator, as they all seem to do). This, excited fans of the genre and got them talking.
Taken altogether, writers and marketers can create a movie series brand that excites fans of the genre, gets them into the theaters, and inspires them to keep coming back for more. And there are lessons to be learned here for all marketers.