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The Best Marketing For “Black Panther” Was Making “Black Panther”

The director, the cast, and the story are what built Marvel’s latest and most unique phenomenon.

The Best Marketing For “Black Panther” Was Making “Black Panther”
Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) with some of his border tribesman in Black Panther, 2018. [Photo: Film Frame/Marvel Studios]

When a movie makes $242 million at the domestic box office in its first four days, it’s not long before we all start dissecting the reasons behind that success. Black Panther obliterated the previous President’s Day weekend record set by Deadpool in 2016 ($152 million), and the only movie to ever make more money in its first four days is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Part of this post-opening weekend reflection involves the marketing strategy around the film and its role in fanning the flames of a phenomenon.

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But those looking for a marketing blueprint to follow for future box office glory won’t find it in things like the New York fashion show, the NBA Finals trailer debut, the College Football National Championship halftime show with a Kendrick Lamar soundtrack tie-in, or even the Lamar-curated, Billboard-topping soundtrack. Impressive, smart marketing moves all, but none stand out as groundbreaking in and of themselves. It’s the movie that’s groundbreaking. The buzz surrounding the film was formed as soon as Disney decided to make the film in the first place—and to make it the way that it did, with the cast and director it chose to work with.

By putting Ryan Coogler, one of the most exciting young new directors in Hollywood, at the helm of a story that would be told through a primarily black cast of Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Forest Whitaker, and more, the stage was set for what Variety called a “grassroots marketing movement . . . unlike any other Marvel movie.” The kids at Ron Clark Academy weren’t excited to see Black Panther because of a college football halftime concert or a fashion show. They were excited to see people who looked like them in a blockbuster comic book movie.

Now, all that pre-release hype could’ve been watered down had the movie not delivered on its seemingly impossible expectations. But by backing a director like Coogler, along with writer Joe Robert Cole, Disney bet wisely that they’d deliver something unexpected and epic, and that 96% fresh rating confirms the gamble paid out in a massive way.

If there is a marketing lesson or blueprint to take from all of this, it’s that marketing success starts with the truth of the product itself. Disney built a fantastically solid foundation, then tapped into the magical Marvel hype machine to amplify the film’s inherent strengths. The single greatest marketing move for Black Panther was T’Challa and the heroes of Wakanda themselves.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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