How Warner Brothers Created a Massive Movie Event with “Suicide Squad”


Warner Bros. Pictures’ highly anticipated has earned some mixed reviews prior to its official opening August 5, but the DC Comics movie is also off to a strong start at the box office, breaking a record for most August pre-sales from ticket-booking site Warner Brothers has built excitement by challenging conventional wisdom about how to market an action-oriented comic-book adaptation, for instance by focusing on characters over plot. The early box-office success of Suicide Squad shows that inventive branding with personality can turn a movie release into an event. Here are some of the ways Warner Brothers has done so:

Marketing What Matters Most

Most summer movies promote action-packed plots. With Suicide Squad, Warner Brothers instead focuses on the characters. Suicide Squad introduces an ensemble of jailed supervillains who have been sent on a top-secret mission that will result in their gaining clemency if they succeed. The marketing focuses on the strange, eclectic squad itself, such as Harley Quinn, a rival to Batman who has a talent for doing backflips and wielding an oversized mallet; and Deadshot, a hired assassin who cracks cynical jokes in the face of danger. Suicide Squad brings to mind Guardians of the Galaxy, which also assembled a fresh set of memorable characters in ensemble fashion. But unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, the villains become the heroes.

Less Is More

Warner Brothers also breaks with tradition by revealing very little about the plot in its teaser trailers — a potentially risky move since the movie is trying to sell a new franchise that will cross over to a mainstream audience. Oftentimes, action movies practically share the entire plot in its promotions, which is understandable given how many millions of dollars are on the line with any movie production, especially a blockbuster summer film. It’s as if the studios want to give away the entire movie to convince audiences to actually come and see it. Warner Brothers shares only enough to help the audience understand what’s going to happen: a collection of the worst criminals are going to get a shot at redemption. We don’t know what their mission is or the outcome. We know some firmly established DC Comics characters such as the Joker will appear, but we do not know how they will influence the outcome of the plot. In other words, we know just enough to want to learn more — thus demonstrating once again the power of mystique.

Finding the Right Moments

The buzz around Suicide Squad really exploded when Warner Brothers capitalized on Comic-Con San Diego in 2015 to roll out the movie and then the 2016 Comic-Con to ramp up a massive promotion that included a virtual reality experience and a tattoo parlor. Warner Brothers was smart to bet big on Comic-Con in 2015 with the release of a trailer that acted as a first look for the superfans who typically attend Comic-Con each year. As we have noted on our blog, superfans bring big expectations, but they also bring an undeniable passion that can quickly go viral. Comic-Con also brings together a large gathering of news media eager for content to report, and the promotion of Suicide Squad has given crucial outlets such as Wired plenty to talk about both years.

Adopting a Refreshing Tone

Comic book adaptations of recent years have been very dark. Infighting threatens the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War. The X Men face extinction and global cataclysm in X Men: The Apocalypse. Batman and Superman square off in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The visual design and tone for these movies is heavy, even bleak, relying on angst-ridden images of superheroes to promote the films. But Suicide Squad relies on a bright, irreverent tone in its visual design and storytelling to promote the movie, the use of uptempo songs such as “Ballroom Blitz” in the trailers, and the striking masks depicted in neon poster art.  As a similarly irreverent comic-book movie Daredevil has demonstrated, audiences are looking for a break to gloom and doom.

Warner Brothers can point to many other reasons for the successful promotion of the movie, including effective use of social media. Event planners can learn a lot from the elements I’ve stressed, such as the importance of choosing the right content to promote in the most effective way. What are some of your favorite blockbuster promotions?

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We Love Live. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing


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