T’Challa – Black Panther and King of Wakanda – IMG: Marvel Studios
‘This wasn’t just for our core Marvel fans. We went about making it feel like a cultural event.’
Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter, Disney marketing executive Asad Ayaz laid out the Black Panther marketing plan which propelled the film to a worldwide gross of more than $1.3 billion American.
Black Panther is the first event superhero film to feature a predominantly black cast. It portrays a nuanced reimagining of African culture, in addition to themes of pride and power that have struck a chord with audiences across the globe.
We take a look into the Black Panther marketing strategies which carried the film above others in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, setting a strong platform for future sequels and wider social representation on the big screen.
They Leveraged the Potential of Cultural Marketing
A lot of the success of Black Panther is self-evident. In many ways, the best marketing path that Marvel and Disney took was making the film at all.
Big-budget blockbusters are a risky proposition nowadays. Studio heads prefer to follow tried-and-true formulas that guarantee a measure of success, rather than swing for the fences on a potential flop.
The success of female-led recent releases such as Wonder Woman and Ghostbusters seemingly empowered Marvel to take on Black Panther.
It’s no secret that Black Panther was marketed with an African American audience in mind. The North American audience for the film was 37 per cent African American – the general black audience for superhero films hovers somewhere around 15 per cent.
Part of this success can be attributed to focussed cultural marketing. Kendrick Lamar was tapped to curate the film’s soundtrack, which included work from Lamar himself and a number of collaborators. Marvel and Disney also sought to advertise trailers for the film during television broadcasts of sports that have a strong African American following.
There was even a Black Panther themed fashion show during New York Fashion Week which sought to make a positive impact – ‘Welcome to Wakanda’ brought together noted fashion designers with proceeds helping Save The Children.
They Got the Timing Right
Black Panther was released to coincide with the start of Black History Month in the United States. This proved to be an inspired choice, but it wasn’t without risk. February is a traditionally weak month in terms of box office numbers, but Marvel and Disney took a gamble that paid off spectacularly.
Black Panther and Killmonger – IMG: Marvel Studios
The film was seen as groundbreaking with regard to casting and cultural representation, going beyond the limits of genre to create positive role models for younger generations. The very name of the film is inspired by the actions of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers were a revolutionary group, initially founded in California in 1966 to protect African American citizens from acts of police brutality.
Releasing the film during a time of spirited dialogue surrounding black culture and history was a masterstroke.
They Campaigned at a Grassroots Level
Marvel and Disney’s impending release of a potentially groundbreaking film inspired people to ensure the movie got the audience it deserved. A New York marketing professional named Frederic Joseph raised money to send an entire Harlem Boys and Girls Club to see the film. Joseph started a GoFundMe campaign that raised thousands of dollars in mere days, allowing 300 children to go and see the film free of charge.
The groundswell of support encouraged Joseph to launch the #BlackPantherChallenge, which encouraged others to launch online campaigns that would allow children in underprivileged communities to see the film. Celebrities such as JJ Abrams, Snoop Dogg and Octavia Spencer got involved, with more than $900,000 raised across 600 plus GoFundMe campaigns.
While Marvel and Disney did not precipitate the #BlackPantherChallenge directly, they discreetly supported the movement by helping with screenings. They understood the positive Black Panther marketing potential without looking to take the spotlight from Joseph’s campaign.
Set Your Strategy with Studio Culture
The Black Panther marketing campaign is a triumph of forward-thinking, albeit carried by a significant advertising spend. The few examples we have mentioned only scratch the surface of Marvel and Disney’s overall marketing strategy.