'Aquaman' used Jason Momoa, moms and feminist marketing to make box office splash

Similar to how Warner Bros. hooked female moviegoers with "Wonder Woman," the studio lured that demographic again for "Aquaman," but under a different guise.

With "Wonder Woman," female audiences finally had a superhero they could claim as their own. Diana Prince’s image easily sold the virtues of female empowerment and strength. When it came to Warners attracting women to "Aquaman," it was all about the hunk factor in leading man Jason Momoa, not to mention selling the maternal and romance storylines of Nicole Kidman’s Atlanna character.


Warners’ marketing plan worked: "Aquaman" grossed $105.7 million over the five-day holiday (including previews), winning females over in a big way with females over 25 giving the DC superhero pic its best gender score of 84 percent on ComScore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak, plus its best definite recommend of any gender demo at 71 percent. Moms turned out in greater numbers than dads, 56 percent to 44 percent, and enjoyed "Aquaman" more, 91 percent to 85 percent. Women also graded "Aquaman" with an A- CinemaScore, a number that was equal to men.

Warners noticed early on in test screenings that the James Wan-directed feature played well with women who gave the pic a 90 percent score in the top two boxes. And even though the studio was building a four-quad event for the holiday season, completely sold on its own merits as a standalone DC film, the Warners marketing team led by Blair Rich, took a talent-led approach with "Aquaman," leveraging Momoa as well as Kidman and star Amber Heard, who respectively play the two strong female characters at the heart of the film.

Similar to Gal Gadot with "Wonder Woman," Momoa delivered a relentless passion in tub-thumping "Aquaman," thus creating social media events. One of the biggest splashes two weeks prior to release was the "Game of Thrones" star performance of a ceremonial Māori Haka dance on the "Aquaman" Hollywood premiere red carpet. Social Media monitor RelishMix reports that the stunt was "the cherry on the sundae" of the pic's marketing driving close to 6 million YouTube views (across two videos) for "a social media campaign that was already pacing very well." Overall, "Aquaman" counts over half billion followers on social media across YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter ,and what's remarkable about that number is that it's all organic, without any boosts from other DC-related properties such as "Wonder Woman" and "Justice League."

Similar to how Warners infused a sense of humor into their marketing for "The Meg," they also had some fun with "Aquaman," capitalizing on Momoa’s allure and initializing the social media trend #MOMSFORMOMOA. This was in response to Warners noticing a viral meme that grew among moms online: They yearned to take their kids — or anyone’s kids — to "Aquaman" as an excuse to see Momoa. As part of the stunt, mommy bloggers attended an advance screening at the Grove with a surprise appearance by Momoa, complete with t-shirts and schwag. Partners for the event included Bustle and IMomSoHard.


As early as San Diego Comic-Con 2017, Warners had unofficially crowned Momoa their Robert Downey, Jr. Much like that Iron Man actor would lead the charge into Hall H for Marvel’s annual mega movie panel, Momoa, fiery hair and all, was starting the for the studio at SDCC. At last July’s SDCC, Momoa kicked off Warner’s "Aquaman" campaign with a selfie-style video ocean cliff dive with a "Trailer Tomorrow" tease. The cast’s takeover of Hall H, which included a five-minute video and the pic’s first trailer; that package yielded an amazing 156 million views in one week. Overall, per RelishMix, "Aquaman" official videos have churned out a huge viral rate of 60:1 well ahead of the superhero movie’s average 45:1. Per Warners, "Aquaman" saw record search results and social engagement due to their made-for-digital content strategy. Social volume grew double digits week over week starting in early November. In regards to search, "Aquaman" was twice greater than such pics as "Justice League," "Venom," "Wonder Woman" and "Thor: Ragnarok."

In another maneuver to pull in women, Kidman launched an "Aquamom" series as part of her premiere social take over on Bustle. While Momoa counts 8.1 million Instagram followers, Kidman is"the social star" per RelishMix with 13.4 million across Instagram and FB, who has been sharing materials and talking up the film on talk shows.


For Amber Heard's character Mera, Warners created a bespoke Hispanic campaign that focused on her character, Mera. "La Mera Mera" is Spanish slang which literally means "The Boss of Bosses," but is commonly used to refer to someone as the best and/or person in charge. From mid-October to opening, "Aquaman" had a heavy presence in iHeartRadio Fiesta Latina Sponsorship, Latin American Music Awards, Latin Grammy’s, Premios Deportes, NBA, and UFC and Spanish language Network/Cable with additional African American targeting. Hispanic audiences repped 22 percent of "Aquaman's" moviegoers who gave the movie its best diversity demo score of 87 percent positive to Caucasian and African American’s 81 percent and Asian audience’s 79 percent.

Other marketing highlights for "Aquaman" which were targeted toward fanboy and four-quad crowds included early TV spots around SDCC and consistently since October on such programs as Conan at Comic-Con, CW DC Crossover, the "Supergirl" premiere, "Arrow" premiere, DC’s "Legends of Tomorrow" premiere, "The Walking Dead" finale, and the Gamers Choice Awards.

Overall, "Aquaman" counted 70 promotional partners worldwide, and 10 stateside, which fueled over $40 million in promotional support. Of note, AT&T ran an in-theater ticket campaign at 10,000 screens nationwide over the last month and a half. Non-profit org Oceana ran a "Be an Ocean Hero" PSA TV spot featuring Patrick Wilson. Coldstone Creamery since the end of November featured custom film-inspired ice cream creations at over 1,000 locations with in-store signage. Meanwhile, Burger King throughout December and into January has a worldwide kid’s meal program with six premiums in 90+ territories and 13,000 locations.

Coming away from the upset that fans and critics expressed over big DC pics "Batman v. Superman" and "Justice League," it’s been a priority for Warner Bros. to evolve the DC cinema brand and that began earlier this year with the appointment of New Line horror exec Walter Hamada as the overseer of DC films. Hiring edgy storytellers like Patty Jenkins for "Wonder Woman" and its upcoming sequel, "Conjuring" architect James Wan on "Aquaman," and now James Gunn to write and possibly direct the next "Suicide Squad" has been key for the Burbank lot. And given the global audience response to "Aquaman" this month, which counts close to $557M to date, you could say that Warner’s next phase of DC is off to a great start.


Says RelishMix about the current buzz for "Aquaman" online, “DC Comics fans have been frustrated with previous movies in the series, with the exception of the beloved 'Wonder Woman.' Fans are likening this Arthur Curry origin story to that film, saying that 'Aquaman' is righting Warner Bros.’ DC ship.”