L'irriverente genialità delle campagne di marketing di The Boys

The irreverent marketing genius of The Boys

The Boys is now in its third season and Amazon is focusing a lot on it, so much so that it has dedicated several multi-channel marketing campaigns to the show. Let’s analyse these strategies.

In recent years, we have been witnessing a substantial increase in the number of television series released each month. In addition to classic TV channels and PayTV platforms, services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney + release new episodes daily and have now established themselves as producers of some of the most successful shows.

One such series is The Boys. The Amazon Studios product is now in its third season and is generating more than a few positive reviews and comments. However, between the fourth season of Stranger Things and Obi-Wan Kenobi – the new spin-off of the Star Wars universe – the competition is very fierce.

The company led by Jeff Bezos has therefore developed multiple marketing strategies to promote The Boys. These campaigns have been developed on different channels and have wisely exploited both the logics of online communication and the potential of offline marketing.

But are they really useful? Did they actually bring in new viewers? In this article we will analyse these marketing campaigns, in order to understand the reason behind their success and the result they have had in terms of TV ratings.

What The Boys is about

If you are already familiar with The Boys, you can skip this paragraph and head directly to the next, in whic we will analyse in detail some marketing strategies used to promote the show. If you have never seen this series, however, here is a brief introduction.

The Boys is a TV show created by Eric Kripke and produced by Amazon Prime Video, available exclusively on the streaming platform. Now in its third season, the series – inspired by the comic book of the same name written by Garth Ennis – tells the story of the young and shy Hughie and of the former fighter Billy Butcher and their intent to defeat the Seven, a group of superheroes led by Vought International.

This corporation brings together the main superheroes of the world of The Boys and coordinates their activities: the sups are indeed heroes who save people and fight crime, but they are also pursuing personal goals. They are therefore very active in various business initiatives: they act in films, promote services and products on their social media channels, attend television programmes and events, etc.

The peculiarity of this product is therefore the reversal of the classic expectations around superheroes. Furthermore, what characterises the show are the violent scenes, the foul language and the mingling with reality. It is not uncommon, in fact, to watch scenes with meetings to decide on upcoming marketing strategies, new public relations activities or to discuss the launch of new products.

All this creates multiple opportunities to carry out innovative and irreverent marketing campaigns in the real world to promote the new seasons of The Boys.

The marketing strategies used to promote The Boys

As already mentioned, the particular plot of The Boys, the topics covered and the tone of voice of the show made it suitable for various types of marketing strategies, which have blurred the line between reality and fiction and ironically covered current issues.

The promotional activities to advertise the new seasons of the television series involved multiple media and different execution modalities, with the digital world often amplifying the reach of offline campaigns. Let’s now take a look at some successful examples.

The Boys and the offline marketing strategies

To promote the third season of The Boys, which first three episodes were made available on Prime Video on June 3rd, 2022, Amazon Studios carried out several Out-of-Home marketing campaigns (i.e., billboards and installations in public spaces).

One of the most famous was the one made in Auckland (New Zealand): in addition to a series of posters depicting the character of Billy Butcher with fiery eyes displayed along a wall, the initiative included a huge billboard with the same image above them. The peculiarity is that, using LED headlights, reflectors and lasers, the billboard breaks through the so-called “fourth wall”, destroying a (fake) car parked nearby.

The billboard with the marketing campaign for the third season of The Boys

The media exposure of the advertising billboard was also expanded by The Boys’ Twitter channel, which retweeted the photo with an irreverent description, in line with the style of the television series and the way the character himself talks:

According to Mad Daily, the New Zealand portal that collects and analyses successful advertising campaigns, this media mix has increased the interest towards the installation, with motorists and passers-by who stopped to take photos and videos to share on their social media profiles, further increasing the visibility of the promotional billboard.

Ben Poole, co-founder of Billie Media, the company that manages billboards in Auckland, said: “This ad was created specifically to showcase the power of this type of communication, facilitated by the style of the TV show. It attracted the attention of commuters, generated a tremendous amount of interest on the internet and ultimately enticed people to talk about the new season.”

Amazon Studios has also carried out other Out-of-Home marketing campaigns around the world, from Australia to France, via Spain, Italy and the United States of America. Some, as we have just seen, use unusual formats to attract the attention of passers-by. Others combine the fiction of the show with current events by exploiting real-time marketing, with references to Milan design week, music festivals such as the Glastonbury Festival, football and even Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee.

In front of the British Parliament, it took place what, at first glance, might seem like a traditional advertising campaign with the image of a character and the name of the show printed on the sides of two small trucks. What allowed the initiative to go viral, however, is the textual content that accompanies the image: a satirical message addressed to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

During the vote of no-confidence against the leadership of Johnson, accused of having broken the anti-contagion regulations imposed by his government to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the occasion of several parties held at Downing Street, these vans presented the third season of The Boys by describing it as “a fantasy series about controversial leaders with a penchant for parties. Lots of parties. *Any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.”

The vans with the promotional message in front of the British Parliament

Not even Queen Elizabeth was spared from this satirical promotional initiative: keeping the same format, another truck depicting the character of Queen Maeve and the description “The Boys is a fictional series featuring a queen who won’t give up her power easily. *Any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental” was spotted in the central streets of London on the occasion of the parade to celebrate her Majesty’s jubilee.

The small truck with the marketing campaing of the Boys in the streets of London

This time around as well, the creators of the campaign used the themes and the plot of the series to make fun of current events. The result was that the photos of the trucks were posted on the internet by fans of the show and made this content viral, spreading it all over the world.

The Boys and the online marketing strategies

As we have seen, offline promotional campaigns have been very successful thanks also to the exposition offered by the internet. But digital marketing strategies have also been based on real-world events. The combination of real-time marketing with the characteristics of the show made it possible to develop content that generated a huge number of interactions.

Real time marketing on social media

The showrunner of The Boys stated that the people in charge of managing the social media profiles of The Boys are aware of the characteristics that have made the TV series popular and know that followers and fans expect a direct and irreverent communication. Even when it comes to controversial and sensitive issues, which other brands usually tend to avoid or approach with caution.

To promote the release of a new episode of the show, series creator Eric Kripke took advantage of the news about the abolition of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court of the United States to post a The Boys-themed meme.

Making fun of the photo of an anti-abortion couple who, outside an abortion clinic, exposed a sign reading “We will adopt your baby”, Kripke posted a photo with the same description but which portrayed the characters of Homelander and Stormfront, famous in the series for not being really good parents.

Despite some criticism in the replies asking to keep politics and fiction separate, the tweet generated over 15,000 shares and 150,000 likes in a single day.

Marketing within marketing

As already mentioned above, what characterises these contents is not simply their link with real and current events, but the ability to intertwine them with The Boys and to blur the line that separates reality and fiction.

In the fictional world of The Boys, superheroes are also influencers who take part in events, collaborate with brands to promote products and act in films. All of these activities in the show are carefully planned and advertised. Consequently, even in the real-world producers have decided to actually create “fake ads” starring the protagonists of the show to ultimately advertise the show itself.

On YouTube, it is possible to see The Deep, a superhero with the power to talk to and control marine animals, advertise a soy sauce to pour over seafood.

The short video, not even a minute long, has gained over 1,334,000 views, prompting Amazon Studios to create more content of this kind.

Mike Benson, Head of Marketing at Amazon Prime Video, explained that this content was created with a double meaning: “These videos helped us promote the second season of The Boys to fans of the show. But we also know that people who are at a different point of the Customer Journey will see the fake ads and may be wondering what is happening. The absurdity of the videos will lead them to a place where they will understand that this is our show and, hopefully, they will become fans too.”

This type of content, which has proved to be very useful both for promoting the second season of the TV series and for attracting new fans, has also been used to advertise the third season. However, the creators of the new campaign did not limit themselves to inventing fictitious products to advertise, but were once again inspired by issues at the centre of the public debate, such as the regulation of firearms.

Hence, Vought International, the vicious multinational company that manages the superheroes in the world of The Boys, has published a promotional message in favour of the possession of firearms for private use dedicated to a female audience. Because, after all, “Girls just wanna have guns”.

Influencer marketing

Finally, Amazon Prime has also relied on influencer marketing to promote its show.

For the second season, the streaming platform collaborated with influencers and content creators to have them talk about The Boys, each according to their own format.

On the occasion of the launch of the third season, Amazon Prime created a themed event to which it invited other content creators from all over the world. In central London, the company rented a skyscraper and set it up as if it was the headquarters of Vought International. Inside this building, influencers were able to take part in (and, of course, record) an interactive event structured as an escape room that took up the plot of the latest episodes of the TV show.

The results of The Boys marketing campaigns

Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys is a superhero show that blurs the line between fiction and reality, with many elements clearly mimicking what we see every day in real life: large soulless corporations, celebrities looking for followers and power-hungry politicians.

The similarity with real events has made it possible to exploit the characteristics of the show for marketing campaigns that break through the fourth wall with an ironic and biting style, typical of the characters of the series.

From billboards to promotional videos with fake ads, passing by live events and posts on social media: all these marketing activities, interconnected with each other, have certainly made The Boys relevant and generated countless of online interactions, including photo sharing, likes to tweets and views on YouTube. But did they also translate into episode streams?

The Boys’ first season garnered over 4 million views in the first ten days of airing, according to Amazon Prime Video. According to Nielsen, however, these figures are lower than those of the competitors, such as the third season of Stranger Things – released on Netflix in the same period – which totalled 64 million views.

Despite the data, however, the show has been renewed for a second season and, thanks to the marketing strategies listed in this article, managed to position itself on the podium of the TV shows with the most minutes watched (891 million) in the week considered by the Nielsen data.

Some TV journalists have suggested that this success may also be partly due to the methodology used to release the episodes. If the first season was made available entirely on the same day, to encourage the phenomenon of binge-watching, the second followed a weekly release. This may have boosted the interest in individual episodes and provided more opportunities for fans to discuss about them on social media and create memes and content that contributed to the show’s popularity.

Consequently, the same release format has been maintained also for the third season. As it has just ended, Amazon Prime Video has not yet released the data on the number of minutes watched. However, the company has made available percentages on the audience: in the first three days of broadcasting, the Boys’ viewers grew by 234% compared to the first season and by 17% compared to the second.

It’s no surprise then that the TV show has been renewed for a fourth season and that Amazon has announced plans to begin work on a college-centric spin-off sponsored by Vought as soon as possible.

What do you think about it? Have you ever seen The Boys? Do you think the marketing campaigns we presented have been useful and disruptive?

As this article demonstrates, communication on social media and marketing campaigns can help advertising a product/service and achieve an initially unexpected success. EOS Mktg&Communication can help you develop a strategy and better manage your company’s online presence. Visit the page dedicated to our services or write to info@eosmarketing.it to receive more information.

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Marketing enthusiast, bachelor’s in linguistic sciences for media and communication at Catholic University in Milan and then MSc Media Management at University of Stirling. Thanks to my academic background, I am now working my dream job: I manage communication and marketing strategies for EOS and the ipcm® magazines. In my free time I play basketball and watch lots of films. Favourite team: Milwaukee Bucks. Favourite director: David Lynch.

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