Every projection about this summer’s blockbuster The Avengers severely underestimated its earning potential. As the No. 3 top-grossing movie of all time, only behind Avatar and Titanic, The Avengers has currently grossed over $1.4 billion worldwide—a number that continues to grow more than a month after its release.
So what made a seemingly normal comic book movie into the year’s biggest hit? And how can you apply that to your business? Here are four takeaways we gathered from The Avengers’ success:
1. Reward your true fans. Let’s face it. The geeky comic book fan is a small and special subset of the movie-going population. Many Batman or Spiderman fans grew up watching the TV shows, might have flipped through a comic book or two, but they couldn’t tell you what Superman’s birth name is (for the curious, it’s Kal-El). You would think this translates to a tuned-down version when creating a movie for the masses, but instead, they didn’t shy away from pleasing the fanatics. The dialogue is filled with nerd-speak and insider references to things like Chitauri or the Tesseract. It excited hardcore fans and leisure fans didn’t mind. If anything, the geeky terms were less of a turn-off and more of an appealing touch to the comic book flick. While it sometimes seems necessary to cut time with old and trusty clients in an attempt to attract new ones, never forget your loyal fans. Consistently reward your devoted fan base, and the new ones might be motivated to join in on the insider fun.
2. Think big picture. Five years ago, Marvel Studios planned to package, develop and market four of their superheroes so that they could eventually create a “super movie” featuring all of them. Marvel’s President of Consumer Products Paul Gitter explains: “We took the superheroes — Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk — that we felt were the most relatable, relevant and aspirational to build into one package. Every Marvel movie since 2008 was created with the full intention of this super franchise.” What about your business? Are you thinking of the big picture or are you just focusing on the sales you can make for the week? Marvel Studios was willing to wait five years to create six different movies with various cliffhangers and lead-ins to essentially put all of their eggs in one basket for The Avengers. And it worked. Which also leads us to…
3. Take risks. Believe in someone unlikely. Having come from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fame, director Joss Whedon was a risk. Sure, he had directed cult classic TV and sci-fi, but he wasn’t an industry staple in the world of action movies, and he certainly wasn’t someone who first comes to mind when heading up a movie worth five years of work. Joss Whedon turned out to be a fantastic risk; the dialogue and directing was praised by critics. Having achieved cult-level status in the world of geekdom definitely didn’t hurt, either. (Another example of Reason No. 1 of this list; San Diego Comic Con fans rejoiced when Mr. Stan Lee himself announced Whedon as The Avengers director.) Having indie art house film actors Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk) and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) instead of seasoned action stars was a risk that was also well-rewarded; they ended up being two of the most memorable characters. Everybody has to start somewhere. When was the last time you took a chance with someone?
4. Place Strategy. As featured in the June issue of SUCCESS, marketing expert Dan Kennedy explains place strategy—the idea that an increase in clients and sales comes from where you are. Redefining a target market and physical or medium relocation are all ways that a business can find better opportunities than before. Probably without even knowing it, The Avengers employed great use of place strategy. Their release came at the perfect time, with no other rivals at the box office, either before or after their box office debut. The only other competing action movie out on opening weekend was the dystopian flick The Hunger Games, which, at the time, was going on its 7th week at the movies. It’s notable that The Avengers was released right before the start of summer, crushing Battleship on its debut weekend, and well before the highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman releases could threaten its earning potential.
And if all else fails, here’s what comic book legend Stan Lee said about the success of The Avengers at Dallas Comic Con: “Want to know why The Avengers was so successful?… I have a small cameo role in every movie. But they’re kept very short! So if you turn away for even a second, you’ll walk away from the movie thinking, ‘Hey! I didn’t see Stan Lee! I guess I have to go see The Avengers again.’… And that’s why it was such a hit.”
Read more about Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee in his own SUCCESS magazine feature, 'Man in Motion.'