Marvel and museums? You may think that we’re writing about a comic book museum. However, if you look closely at Marvel Studio’s incredible marketing strategy, you’ll see that their layered approach is applicable to museum marketing.
Let’s take a deep dive into Marvel Studio’s marketing strategy and history to understand how museums can adopt their successful strategy. We’ll present three concrete strategies that Marvel has used to the success of the franchise and can be adopted by your museum to increase engagement and inject new life into your storytelling.
1. Bring characters to life
Personification is key. Marvel’s genius strategy begins with shaping the superheroes’ stories and building them up through individual films and crafting social media personas. Even the actors who play these characters have been known to adopt the characters publicly and play a key role in social media strategies. They then throw them all of the iconic characters together in a box office hit film and have fun pitting them against one another.
Let’s take Iron Man for example. Marvel introduced this character in 2008 and it quickly became one of the most successful movies in the franchise. The quick-talking billionaire was the focus of three individual movies and then six group movies. Marvel cleverly built a budding relationship between Iron Man and audiences which flowered into box office sales and a dedicated fanbase.
Just as Marvel shares stories of popular characters like Iron Man, The Hulk and Thor, so can museums highlight interesting characters in their collection like The Grant Collection’s Jar of Moles and Icicle Bear, The Horniman Museum’s Twitter-savvy walrus. Choose some objects from your collection that have an interesting story and think about how that can be told in a fun and imaginative way. If you really want to take a leaf from Marvel’s book, then think about how their stories can come together in a collaborative campaign, video, story, podcast, group photo – the options are endless!
Marvel brilliantly drops hints in two very important ways – hiding ‘Easter eggs’ in films and teasing in social media.
Easter eggs are well-known in the film industry. It’s a term that used to describe a hidden symbol or message that’s stashed in a scene to reference another character or film. An example of this within the Marvel universe is that “I am Iron Man” is Tony Stark’s last line in both 2008’s Iron Man and 2019’s Avengers Endgame. Easter eggs have a tendency to get audiences to look deeper and interpret the films differently. Sounds a bit like what we are trying to do with museum marketing, doesn’t it? There is absolutely no reason why your museum can’t adopt the ‘Easter egg’ strategy and share messages and references to other galleries or objects within your collection. Build upon this idea by creating a digital scavenger hunt of sorts and engaging audiences in identifying hidden messages by navigating through your collection either digitally or physically.
If Marvel was on the dating scene, they would be considered a total tease. That’s because in the lead-up to their films they never fully reveal the characters, plot or setting, but rather, they consistently leave breadcrumbs to keep their audience engaged and eager for more. Prior to the release of Avengers Endgame, they dropped hints through their intriguing and ominous Instagram posts which left fans wondering who would make it out alive. These bite-sized chunks of consistent content kept fans on the hook. Museums can adopt this same strategy by parcelling out teaser information about an upcoming event or exhibition and scheduling regular content updates on multiple channels. This holistic strategy of posting similar teaser information on multiple channels aids in building up an appetite for your event/exhibition.
Marvel had quite a bit of fun with their marketing campaign for Captain America: Civil War. The premise of the film is that Captain America and Iron Man are staunchly divided over a political issue and Marvel really capitalised off this split with film marketing. It’s the same sort of divisive tactic that we saw with the Twilight film series and ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’.
Marvel asked fans to choose a side with blue representing Captain America and red signalling Iron Man. On Twitter, they used the hashtags #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan and even had cast members respond with videos to fans who had used the relevant hashtags. This genius move upped engagement even more and believe it or not, those hashtags are still being used today, four years later.
The museum world has flirted with the ideal of a ‘battle royale’ with the most recognizable example being of an accidental Twitter war that started in 2017 during a Twitter “Ask a Curator” session between the Natural History Museum and Science Museum in London. These neighbouring museums had a playful exchange over who had the better collection. This playful banter captured the attention of national and international media.
A ‘versus’ strategy like this could be adopted by several museums as in the example just noted, but also on an individual level by asking audiences to choose between certain galleries or objects in your collection. Get creative with personification and background stories to fan the flames and encourage audiences to build an attachment and pick a side. This kind of playful engagement will make your museum stand out a cut above the rest of social media and will pull in new audiences.
Our final lesson
Great marketing ideas are all around us, we just need to take the time and look. Marvel’s genius strategy is unexpected, but perfectly situated to help your museum successfully market to and engage new audiences. Get creative with your messaging and take a leaf from Marvel’s book by crafting unique characters and stories that highlight your museum’s collection in a fun and effective way.
Do you have suggestions of other successful and perhaps unexpected social media marketing tactics? We’d love to hear about them, so please let us know about them on Twitter.
About the author – Devon Turner
Devon Turner is an Arts & Culture Writer. She has worked extensively in arts marketing for both the visual arts and performing arts in the US and UK. Now living in London, Devon works in the arts and culture sector and enjoys traveling to visit museums.