Brand: Marvel Studios
Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen “Avengers: Infinity War,” you may want to stop reading.
“Avengers: Infinity War” is the biggest blockbuster of 2018. It’s made over $2 billion around the world and current sits as the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time.
The ending of the movie is a jaw-dropper: When the movie’s villain, Thanos, snaps his fingers, half of the beloved heroes turn to dust and disappear.
Moviegoers were traumatized. The emotional death scene of Spider-Man had fans grieving on social media for weeks after the film’s release, according to ComicBook.com.
Superheroes never die. Moviegoers aren’t used to watching their favorite characters bite the dust. (Or turn into it.) Yes, hard-core fans know there are new Marvel movies on the horizon, but will they feature the characters they’ve come to know and love?
How does Marvel build on the momentum of a huge hit when fans are still hurting?
Marvel decided to give its fans a group hug. The studio created a pop-up therapy room at San Diego Comic-Con — the biggest annual gathering of superhero fans. The room was home to group discussions, complete with free donuts, tissue boxes and stuffed animals to help fans cope. The walls featured inspirational posters, with sayings like: “You have a Hulk” and “You are stronger than Vibranium.”
After attending a session, fans could get a “group hug” (and cool photo opp) from the Hulk outside the room. Paul Bettany, who played Vision, surprised fans and posed for a group photo after one of the sessions.
Not all of Marvel’s offerings were touchy-feely, though. The therapy session included a chance to watch a deleted scene from “Infinity War,” in addition to some exclusive merchandise, like “Spared by Thanos” T-shirts.
The therapy room generated tons of buzz on social media and led to articles from sites like HuffPost and The Daily Dot. Germain Lussier, from the site io9, raved: “As Comic-Con promotions go, this is definitely one of the cleverest we’ve seen in quite some time.”
Who needs a hug?
Lessons to be learned:
Experiences drive social. — Seventy-two percent of Millennials prefer to spend money on experiences than on material things, according to Harris Research Group. Smart brands are more frequently spending money on creating unique experiences in hopes of driving what people are talking about on social media. (Remember the “Game of Thrones” bar?) Here, Marvel built something that reflected the conversations fans were already having online.
Therapy as marketing. — Marvel pitched the therapy room with a wink, but mental wellness is a top issue for Millennials. According to the Global Wellness Institute, 18 to 34-year-olds report higher levels of loneliness and stress than any other age groups. People are more open about their mental health struggles and experiences — especially in response to recent issues affecting popular celebrities. Young people are more focused on improving their personal wellness, which means that many young Marvel fans likely appreciated the chance to treat themselves...even as a joke.
Serve your fans. — Marvel movies feature tons of in-jokes for superfans. The therapy room was no different. “Group Hug” was the temporary name given to “Infinity War” before its official title. The tongue-in-cheek posters referenced past movies. The experience offered fans bragging rights to watch deleted scenes weeks before they hit the public with the DVD/Blu-ray release of the movie.
What they said:
“I just want to tell you (the deaths) are real, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you will be able to move on to the next stage of grief,” Christopher Markus, co-writer of “Avengers: Infinity War,” told ComicBook.com.