Yesterday, something rather remarkable happened. Someone leaked a copy of the trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron… and Marvel, rather than throwing a hissy fit, just tweeted:
Dammit, Hydra. (October 22, 7:50 PM EST)
Pitch perfect. It’s self-aware, self-referential in a funny way without being too clever-seeming or coming off like it’s trying too hard, and just a generally good response. The team could have fought it (though ultimately that would have just made things worse), but instead Marvel played its hand perfectly. The response was was funny and demonstrated that the folks who work there actually understand how the internet works.
That alone would have been good enough to put Marvel in a league of its own when it comes to managing things not going the way hoped for. But (after what I’m sure was considerable back-room wrangling), they followed it up an hour and a half later with another, equally fantastic tweet:
Your average old-media company these days would have thrown a fit and made a stink about the release of their media. They would have done everything in their power to get the video taken down. Many companies have done just that under similar circumstances, aiming to get the trailer, snippets of the movie, music, or the like removed from the internet. But that simply isn’t how the internet works: it famously “treats censorship like damage and routes around it” (John Gilmore). Once a video is online, it’s online. Someone, somewhere, still has a copy of it and can put it back up. So rather than fight it… Marvel just rolled with it and made the best of the situation. They cracked a joke, went ahead and put the trailer out themselves, and earned general approval from the internet. Again.
Despite being a decades-old company, Marvel is clearly a new media company through and through at this point. They managed to dodge the Streisand effect quite nicely, turning what could have been an opportunity for hostility all around into a PR coup and a win that they couldn’t have scored on their own.
Other old (and new!) media companies, take note. This is the way you play the game. You recognize when the cat is out of the bag and you run with it. Own it. Make it your own somehow. Don’t let it own you. The internet is a big, crazy, chaotic place, and you can never hope to control it—nor even the narrative about you and your stuff, whatever that may be—like you might have been able to do twenty-five years ago. But that’s okay. If you can roll with the punches, you can still come out ahead, and you’ll look a little more human doing it. I call that winning.