Content marketing, digital marketing, video marketing, video production, marketing, Marvel, Avengers, Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel marketing, serialisation, serialised marketing, marketing strategy, cliffhanger marketing, comic books, production company, video series, video marketing tips, video ideas,
Over the weekend I, along with a few hundred thousand other people, went to see Marvel’s newest blockbuster hit: Avengers: Infinity War. It’s the 19th film in Marvel’s franchise and represents the culmination of every character and story-thread they’ve given us over the last ten years into one massive crossover event. There are over forty speaking roles in total, making it one of the most ambitious (and expensive!) film projects ever produced.
It also acted as a big indicator to me that the way we consume media might be shifting - in a way that marketers can take advantage of.
As I was leaving the cinema and discussing its various escapades and twists with my friends (don’t worry, no spoilers), the thing that struck me was how Marvel had managed to turn the general public into stereotypical comic-book fans. A lot of the movie would go over your head if you hadn’t seen the eighteen films that came before it, and the crowds around us were all discussing with fervor what the next installment would hold, in the same way you can imagine that a fan reaching the end of a new comic chapter would eagerly await the next release in the series.
It’s a sense of ongoing expectation than you wouldn’t usually expect from a film studio, where stand-alone movies or finite trilogies are the norm. In many ways, it actually has more in common with a TV series, where every episode is feature-length. The Marvel logo that appears at the start of each film feels like the opening credits to your favourite show as it displays a montage of its leading characters, and the regular post-credits scene acts as the ‘next time’ teaser. It might also be worth noting that twenty-two was once considered the ‘golden number’ of episodes for a season of network television, and the next Avengers movie - set to close this phase of the story - will be their 22nd film.
This blurring of lines is also noticeable in other areas of pop-culture. The finale to the most recent season of Game of Thrones, for example, certainly approached the ‘feature-length’ mark at 79 minutes. The show also has the kind of budget you might attribute to the big screen, with the next six episodes for its final season set to cost around $15 million apiece to produce. Tie this in to the rise of ‘binge-watching’ culture attributed to Netflix taking the world by storm and allowing viewers to watch ten+ hours of TV episodes at a time, and it doesn’t seem like a stretch to say that the way we consume media might be shifting. The thing that remains at the heart of it though, is this core principle of serialisation.
As someone who’s a bit of an English Literature geek, it’s really fascinating to see serialisation making this mainstream come-back because it used to be the norm. It was the dominant form of publishing novels in the Victorian era, first popularised by Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, which had its chapters released incrementally over a period of about twenty months. It was a clever way to spread the cost of literature over a longer period - making it more affordable both to print and for the growing masses of new readers to buy. (That’s also probably one of the reasons that the modern-day comic book is so effectively targeted at kids and their pocket money.)
Aside from the financial benefits, serialisation also allowed for a new kind of intertextuality, where big and complex narratives could be explored through multiple smaller texts, as well as opportunities to build intrigue and keep readers returning to an author’s work. In essence, it’s the source of the modern-day ‘cliffhanger’ that TV shows use so effectively to tell a prolonged story to a hooked audience. (Fun fact: the term ‘cliffhanger’ is actually considered to have originated from a serialised work by Thomas Hardy called A Pair of Blue Eyes, published between 1872 and 1873, in which one of the protagonists is left literally hanging off a cliff.)
Serialisation isn’t just a technique that works in literature or in Hollywood filmmaking, though. Its logic can be applied at any scale to become a really creative and powerful marketing tool.
Take our educational Principles of Persuasion video series, for example. Instead of creating one longer video around the topic that tried to cram in all the information we wanted to share, we dedicated one video to each of Robert Cialdini’s maxims. This proved to be really beneficial in a few ways:
It allowed us to give each topic the due explanation it deserved: We got to explore each principle thoroughly and even give some examples without having to worry about creating a video that was way too long for the average attention span.
They created a chain that led to more overall traffic: Once someone found themselves at the end of the first video, the second would be a click away for them to continue watching in digestible chunks. As a series, the videos got more cumulative views than a single video would likely have been able to get on its own.
They benefited our SEO: The key to a good Google search ranking is to prove that your website is useful and trustworthy, and a good indicator of that is how much time people typically spend on your site. By keeping viewers invested in a video series and on the site, we were able to give that overall time a boost.
They were perfect for social media: Any time you post content to social, you’ll probably only catch a small slice of your overall audience. People are offline, asleep, or busy, and your post gets lost to the sea of content washing through their feed. By releasing the separate parts of a series at different times, however, you can effectively capture a bigger proportion of your following.
Incorporating serialisation into your strategy could be as simple as creating a three-part video series focusing on your different services, instead of bundling them all into one. Or, it could be as complex as weaving a riveting story into your promotional efforts, something that’s actually becoming an increasingly popular approach with many brands. The key, ultimately, is to lay out a pathway for your audience to keep consuming content.
It worked in the 19th century, and it’s still working now - you can’t get more tried-and-tested than that.