What the Nature Education community should pay attention to Deadpool.
Warning: This might seem like a weird blog post.
It's probably a little nutty to compare Nature Education and Wilderness Schools and the latest super 'anti-hero' movie Deadpool, but bear with me. I think this will be worth your time, especially if you are working to reconnect people with nature.
If I'm being honest, 'nature' connection is a tough sell. Not because it's not a powerful, skill developing relationship that affects your whole life, but because it's just not seen as all that important in today's modern world. It's needed now more than ever, but most people don't actually KNOW they need it. So, it's not easy sometimes to fill a program when there isn't a natural demand for it across our cultural spectrum.
This is where Deadpool comes in. So, you probably need a little context first.
Deadpool is a comic-book 'anti-hero' who is a completly wacky, wise-cracking character with powers, a frightening visage and a heroic sense of humor. He's not a massively popular character like Iron Man/Tony Stark, or Spiderman/Peter Parker, or Batman/Bruce Wayne. He did generate a very large fan base over the years, who enjoyed the contrast he offered to the usual run of the mill 'hero' stories.
To say that getting a Deadpool superhero movie project to actually happen was a longshot is an understatement. It was viewed as 'highly risky', and most studios wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole, sensing a financial failure and embarrassment. Studio executives DO have a sense of pride, after all, and no one wants to be on the hook.
Enter Ryan Reynolds, as a champion of Deadpool and representing a lot of passionate fans. Reynolds played Wade Wilson/Deadpool in the X-Men Origins: Wolverine film, which introduced the Deadpool character but strayed from the character's true nature and this INFURIATED the FANS. Ryan felt it was up to him to actually do it right, and bring the character to life in the way the comic books originally intended, but he was having trouble getting any traction.
Why am I telling you all this? Because it's important to know this so you can fully appreciate the LONG ODDS facing this movie that opened in theaters this weekend.
Reynolds convinced the studio to do a short 'audition' film of him as Deadpool, to see how it would resonate with fans, and somehow, it was 'leaked' to the internet, and well, here's the full story.
Once it was greenlit by the studio, who recognized the fans demanded this be done, Ryan was chosen for the lead, and they started adapting the story/script to fit their budget and production limitations. This wasn't a big budget film like the Avengers or Captain America. The writers, producers and crew begain putting it together, after an eleven year battle. That's dedication!
However, Ryan Reynolds knew that the movie could still struggle at the box office, so, he and his team begain a fiercely creative marketing efforts that I have EVER seen. They began shooting 'spots' or short ads that basically defy every traditional movie marketing plan I've ever seen.
Deadpool was everywhere online, with TV ads but especially on social media, where they got VERY creative. Deadpool The Marketing Machine went nuts. Reynolds played a huge part in this entire effort, and he went far away and above ANYTHING that ANY other superhero movie actor has done, EVER.
Deadpool had his own Tinder. He had his own EMOJis!
He gave Conan O'Brian a MASSAGE.
He created billboards implying that Deadpool was a romantic, Valentine's Day Date Night film.
He got Betty White to do a film review video and posted it online.
I have barely even scratched the surface of how completely viral they got this movie marketing effort. (The 12 Days of Deadpool was awesome.) Deadpool was on the map, in a big way.
People who had never heard of Deadpool, were getting drawn in, because the marketing was genius. It drew people in. It was different. It was unique. It was hard to know what to make of it all, but they kept watching, and getting a feel for this irreverent, creative, fearless, saucy superhero. They were getting a dose of Deadpool, to know him. They were getting to like him. And they eventually started to believe that he could be fun. They were starting to trust him to entertain and spend some time hearing his story.
You know: The KNOW, LIKE and TRUST factor.
Time will tell whether or not this movie is a blockbuster, but I just saw that today, on Saturday alone, the movie has exceeded the opening of the X-Men, Days of Future Past. That's pretty significant, because that was the SIXTH X-Men movie in their franchise. Formidable competition indeed.
"Okay," I know you're saying. "What's your point, Rick?"
Here you go: We have to be A LOT more creative if we want to get Nature Education, Wilderness Skills Programs, Earth Philosophy, or Tracking to become mainstream.
Yes, Ryan Reynolds is a celebrity. Yes, his movie was backed by 20th Century Fox, and given millions for a creative marketing team to launch this movie. Yes, I totally get that.
But here's the thing: Reynolds, who is almost more of a natural Wade Wilson than Robert Downey Jr is Tony Stark, was willing to throw everything but the kitchen sink into this effort to get this movie SEEN by people.
We can learn from this effort, people, and use it to the benefit of millions of people.
For the children.
You see, the problem is that, when you go out into the wilderness and you have an EXPERIENCE, and that gets you on a path to learn skills, herbal medicine, tracking or whatever, you become humbled by all there is to know. You learn to move silently in the woods, and you learn to listen intently.
After a bunch of years of study, on your own and under the guidance of some good teachers, and you go to open your own school, you're different. You probably shun mainstream media, and social media a bit. You feel guilty promoting your programs, your events, because, we're taught to be humble, and you know how much there still is to know. All of this is in right order, if we were living in a traditional society.
The thing is, most people don't know that much about native peoples, or nature, or wilderness skills, and they don't care about tracking. Most people, that is.
Why is this? I mean, it probably is unfathomable to us that anyone could just 'Not Know' about how great it feels to make a fire without matches, or throw a tomahawk. They don't know how it feels to make pine needle tea around the campfire after a hard day's tracking or hiking or gathering acorns. They don't know.
They don't know.
Just like, a few months ago, most people didn't have any clue that Deadpool existed. They didn't know ANYTHING about him.
Okay, I am hoping you get it.
Marketing is communication. Communication is about engagement. It's about emotion, and connection and finding ways for people to experience something that they didn't know they need or want, prior to hearing about it through some sort of medium.
I'm talking Blogs. YouTube. Billboards. Twitter or Instagram. You get the picture.
But here's the thing about most 'nature marketing': It's kinda boring.
How do I know? Well, that's easy. It's not working. You can tell when something's working, because people are calling you up, demanding it. People who know they have a problem or a need search for solutions to their problem. They start looking for YOU. (Or US, as the case may be.)
When they get the VALUE of what we have to offer them, for their kids or for their health or their family's lives, they will be lining up to take our programs.
But yeah, obviously, we aren't there yet, are we?
I can go on and on about this topic, but I won't. Not right now. But this is food for thought, and I hope it's stimulating your appetite.
If some creative teams can leverage all of the media tools that are available out there to ALL of us to get literally MILLIONS of people to go see a juvenile, foul mouthed, violent anti-hero like Deadpool, in just a few months, we should be able to do something similar for the power of nature and earth skills.
We just need the right creative team, and a budget, and the motivation to make this happen.
Honestly, all of these are out there, attainable and ready to go. We just need to develop some different angles to approach this so that we can help people understand why Nature Matters. And maybe the people in that room should be people who understand both the nature world and the modern world, and can help build a bridge to connect the two.
I think it's possible, and Deadpool's success makes me excited, honestly. Because we're not just a comic book character. What we have is real. It's powerful, and it's a key ingredient for humanity to find it's way out of this mess we've created called modern society.
What do you think?
Update: Deadpool is slated to end the weekend with the biggest President's Day open for movies, ever, at $130 million projected. That's over double what the studio was hoping for.
Marketing. It's important.