“Top Gun: Maverick” movie madness has taken the world by storm this summer. In the two months since its release, the much-anticipated sequel, starring Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, has grossed more than $1 billion in box-office sales domestically and internationally.

The red-carpet fan experience for the movie held on the USS Midway Museum in early May, which involved all the film’s stars, was also an overwhelming success. The media coverage for the epic world-premiere event on board the ship reached an estimated viewing, listening and reading audience of more than 9 billion people globally (yes, that’s more than the population of the planet).

As Midway prepared for its first post-pandemic summer in more than two years, the museum’s marketing team worked closely with its advertising agency, VITRO, to see how the “Top Gun” phenomena could be incorporated in the ship’s summer marketing campaign.

“There are very few naval ship museums in the world where visitors can get as intimate a taste for aircraft carrier aviation as they can on Midway,” said David Koontz, Midway’s director of marketing. “Exhibiting 30 beautifully restored military aircraft ranging from World War II era to the present day, Midway prides itself on bringing naval aviation and the Navy’s history to life.”

For VITRO, tapping into the power of “Top Gun” made perfect sense in marketing summer visitation to Midway.

“It all stemmed from the insight of turning fiction into nonfiction,” said Ricky Harpin, Midway’s advertising account manager for VITRO.  “Although “Top Gun” is a fictional movie, it’s based on a real group of aviators that experience real heart-pumping action, and land on real aircraft carriers like the USS Midway. Leveraging the fandom and excitement around the film, we encouraged movie lovers to visit the museum for an authentic, real-life “Top Gun” experience that they could only get here in San Diego.”

The VITRO team has worked with Midway for nearly four years and knows well the vision and culture of the museum.  Having the opportunity to channel “Top Gun” as a vehicle to create an advertising campaign was an exciting proposition.

“We were beyond thrilled to work with the Midway to develop a campaign that could inspire a whole new generation of “Top Gun” lovers,” said Ricky. “The museum and everything that it represents is such an interesting and authentic story to tell, and that’s what made creating such a unique advertising program both effective and fun to work on.”

As with all marketing and advertising efforts, the goal is to always maximize exposure within an established budget.  This process is often as important as the actual development of creative components of any campaign.

“It was all about being in the right place, at the right time, in front of the right people in order to build awareness and drive ticket bookings,” said Ricky. “Knowing that there was going to be a lot of attention on the movie, we capitalized on this by buying digital placements where we knew interested audiences would be Googling and visiting online “Top Gun” movie sites and articles.”

Along with creation of digital advertisements for online and social media sites, VITRO knew that theaters would be packed with movie goers, especially in the first several weeks following the film’s release. To make the most of this opportunity, they produced a fun and engaging 30-second video, shown in local theaters, of museum visitors on Midway’s flight deck reciting some of the classic lines from the original “Top Gun” on camera.

“When we had their captive attention in the theater, we showed them the entertaining video during the previews,” said Ricky. “We were also able to digitally retarget the same visitors to encourage them to visit the museum.”

The in-cinema video ran for six weeks in 17 San Diego-area theaters on more than 250 movie screens. It was estimated that more than 750,000 people watched the video.

The “Top Gun” summer marketing campaign for Midway is a perfect example of exceptional strategic planning coupled with playful creativity and insightful tactical execution taking advantage of an extraordinary moment in time.

“A visit to Midway is one of the most unique museum experiences anyone can have,” said David. “Having our summer advertising be, in essence, a wingman to the new “Top Gun” movie proved to be tremendously successful in attracting new as well as repeat visitors to the ship.”

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