16 Aug 2016

Suicide Squad: Where Marketing Budget Trumps Movie Quality

Comic book fan or not; social media enthusiast or not; you’ve likely heard more than your fair share about “Suicide Squad”.  The DC comics sidestory has been widely promoted starting with a trailer leak during Comic-Con, multiple follow-up trailers, as well as the neon posters occupying walls, billboards, and bus stops. 

Despite abysmal reviews, “Suicide Squad” set box office records with the violent PG-13 film totalling around $135 million on its opening weekend. Judging by the harsh criticism the film has received, the success of “Suicide Squad” was certainly not due to the quality and prowess of the film’s star studded cast. The disparity between its reviews and box office haul interestingly indicates the power of a meticulously executed marketing campaign.

If you’ve been outside or on the internet at any point in the past year, you’ve likely been bombarded by “Suicide Squad” propaganda. The marketing campaign for this movie has seemingly lasted an age. Towards the end of the campaign, they could just keep releasing a stream of teasers and the media would continue to go crazy over each new photograph of Margot Robbie’s twisted grin and pigtails.  

So in a marketplace overflowing with spandex-clad superheroes, how did “Suicide Squad” capture audience attention? Their success arguably lies in the fact the film’s marketing campaign paired fan excitement to mass appeal. Therefore, “Suicide Squad” carefully fed fanboys with a steady stream of content and activations at strategic events such as Comic Con, whilst simultaneously selling the film to moviegoers using the mass appeal of a cast featuring Will Smith and Margot Robbie. In turn, they gave the core audience what they wanted, and was able to reach the wider audience; leaving no stone unturned.


“Suicide Squad” was definitely no exception to Warner’s ‘leave-no-billboard-untouched’ strategy. The first footage from the film was released in July 2015- mere weeks into filming. After this, an endless stream of different posters made their debut in January, as well as an action packed trailer which generated an impressive 180 million views online, perhaps assisted by the fact it adopted Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a rousing soundtrack. The campaign, in its truly relentless fashion, then produced 11 more character ads, an additional 11 special designs for Comic-Con and 11 character videos (ensuring even the lesser-known characters were exposed to mainstream consumers). In addition, there was an extensive digital marketing effort which tapped into the Snapchat filter hype and provided at least five opportunities for Snapchatter’s to adopt a “Suicide Squad” themed geo-lens.

As if that wasn’t enough, Warner hit the nail on the head in March by setting up a tattoo parlour at the SXSW film, music and interactive media festival. The parlour, ostensibly the creation of Margot Robbie’s tattooed character Harley Quinn, gave free “Suicide Squad” themed tattoos; literally branding the film’s fans with a scrawled cult-like ‘SQWAD’. The stunt inevitably started a social media whirlwind— with photos posted on Twitter that showed Robbie wielding a tattoo gun on the set sending the internet into a frenzy, which in turn prompted coverage by mainstream publications.


The hype surrounding the film crushed the dismal reviews for opening weekend, raising the question; with a relentless marketing campaign…does the quality of the movie even matter?

In its most simple form, “Suicide Squad” may be the worst movie you will ever see, but that didn’t stop it from breaking box office records. Regardless, the ‘SQWAD’ hype tornado which sent crowds to see the trainwreck for themselves, really does prove the power of a relentless marketing campaign over mainstream media.