Spider-Man 2 came up just a short while after I started writing Movie Marketing Madness columns for FilmThreat. It was only my sixth column and I was just getting in a groove in terms of content, style, format and such. The movie’s campaign, though, begged for me to break out of that format and expand my coverage beyond the trifecta of Poster/Trailer/Website that had become â€“ and still is â€“ my bread and butter outline. It was such a massive undertaking at the time that I found myself needing to catch my breath and take a week off from writing another column after finishing it.
So it’s with a sense of nostalgia that I approach Spider-Man 3. My column for Number 2 really, I think, proved to my own mind that this was could be something done seriously, with research and note-taking and drafting, not just slapping down impressions and opinions.
But to Spider-Man 3 we do, now, come. The focus of the movie, as we’ll see as we drive through the campaign, is on The Black Costume. Not familiar with the black costume? In short it’s an alien symbiote that attaches itself to Spider-Man and feeds off his emotions, turning him into a short-tempered and vindictive person. When Peter Parker rejects it the being latches on to Eddie Brock, who hates Parker, and turns him into Venom, literally the dark reflection of Spider-Man’s nobility. In the movie Venom is just one of two villains. Sandman also makes an appearance though, as we’ll see, his presence in the marketing campaign has ebbed and flowed like so many grains of sand.
Spider-Man 3 is, like its predecessor, being looked to as one of the linchpins of the summer’s box-office. It’s also one of at least three big threequels, all of which come out within a month of each other. The first movie ruled the summer of 2002, reinvigorating moviegoing after a few disappointing years. The second was hailed as the rare sequel that actually broke new artistic territory from the first one, diving deeper into Parker’s issues of duality and responsibility. So the stakes are high for the third entry to not only perform well but to measure up to the artistic legacy of the first two. In a recent Variety article, a Sony exec dealt with S-M3’s position in the summer, saying:
“Believe me, it’s not vanity, it’s a necessity when you have this time schedule,” Blake said Tuesday morning Tokyo time following the premiere. “Another part of the urgency we feel is we’re the first one up. We want to get the summer off to a great start, and we want to take advantage of the fact we’re two weeks ahead of ‘Shrek’ and another week before ‘Pirates.’ “
Because of the tight packing of the big event movies in the early part of the summer it’s important to Sony that Spider-Man 3 perform well not only right out of the box but almost exclusively within that box. Shrek 3 comes out just two weeks later and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 comes out only one week after that. So there’s no long-tail or long-term play here for Sony. They have their eyes on huge opening and second weekend numbers being racked up. After that screens are going to be given over to the newer flicks. That’s why, as we’ll now see, the campaign has been absolutely huge. And that’s why Sony has to be at least a little pleased with reports that the movie’s awareness levels are huge and that, according to MovieTickets.com, early ticket demand has been strong.
Like the first two movies, Spider-Man 3 has had a bunch of posters created, most of which have also been re-purposed as outdoor ads or online banner ads.
The very first official marketing image to be sent out was a picture of Spider-Man, donned in black, perched atop an ornate building edifice. At first there was some question whether the image was leaked or not (it was, but officially, like a covert CIA agent) and then whether the image was black-and-white or full color. As soon as Sony issued a statement saying it was not a black-and-white picture but an accurate portrayal of how Spidey would look in the movie, the online world went wild. This was the first real confirmation that the movie would indeed dive into the story of the black costume.
I contend this one, single image did more to guarantee the movie’s success than most of the rest of the marketing campaign. Here was, for anyone who knew the comics saga, everything they needed to know about the movie. Spider-Man dons the black costume. When can I buy tickets? Everything that came after this is, to some extent, gravy.
The next poster released was interesting not only for being one of the first marketing components released but also for just what it was. The one-sheet was a lenticular image that, as you moved around it, changed back and forth from Spider-Man’s red and blue to his black costume. (Note: This was actually one of two lenticular posters Sony put out at the time. The other was for Ghost Rider and showed a picture of Nicolas Cage that changed to the Ghost Rider’s flaming skull. â€œFlaming skullâ€ would be an excellent name for a drink. But I digress.) By releasing such a unique poster, I’d be willing to bet Sony doubled the digital ink that was devoted to it. It’s an item that was so different it practically demanded to be squealed over by online fans, some of whom likely went to see a movie just so they could find the poster and drool in front of it.
Unfortunately this poster did not translate well to the internet â€“ at least not with its coolest feature intact. So the version appearing online just shows the blackness encroaching on the familiar red costume. Either that or it was broken up into one all red and one all black. Still pretty cool but not in the same way the real life version was.
Next was a promotional poster showing Parker opening his shirt to reveal the black costume underneath. Pretty cool but nothing too exciting. After that were posters showing the dual sides of Spider-Man with their backs to each other that really, I think, hit home and were the first big indication of the “battle within” theme the rest of the campaign would take. Around the same time an image hit showing the Venom symbiote attaching itself to Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) who, let’s just say, does not look thrilled with the experience.
As we got closer to the movie’s release there were a series of new one-sheets and other images released. One showed Spider-Man sans mask standing next to Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) striking a very stereotypical super-heroic pose. The other showed Spidey swinging along but with the alien costume winding its way up his arm. Both of these let the character itself do the branding and simply featured a â€œ3â€ in one of the bottom corners. These two posters are probably the most familiar to the everyday person since it’s these that were most widely disseminated as outdoor ads. The latter image was even later used as one of a series of posters that show the progression of the black costume enveloping Spider-Man, from just his arm to his whole body.
Of course there are always some problems when you’re talking about a huge, international operation like poster production. That was shown to be the case when some Japanese posters were missing the Spider-Man name and instead were printed with the alphabet instead.
Before diving into the trailers themselves, let’s take a minute and revel in how Sony has made the marketing of this movie an event in and of itself. When the first teaser trailer hit the studio held a big to-do in New York’s Times Square. Who does that? Later trailers hit TV with big roadblock-style scheduling on MTV, CBS and other stations.
Let’s break these down in some sort of logical fashion:
Teaser trailer: Pretty good. Gives hints that there will be lots of internal conflict and soul-searching among the main characters as relationships are redefined. A little bit of Sandman but nothing of Venom.
Theatrical #1: Again, pretty darn good. A little more flesh put on the bones of the story and a lot of playing up of Sandman as bad guy. Also more of how Spider-Man gets that pesky alien costume off of him but that’s as far as that goes.
Theatrcal #2: This is pretty much how the rest of the video portion of the campaign will be played out, including the 1,459 TV spots that were created. It opens with Peter and MJ getting their web freak on and then transitions to Peter announcing to Aunt May he’s going to propose followed by him getting swiped by Harry Osborn/New Goblin (so much for that Spider-Sense, huh?). After that plot is brushed aside we’re shown quite a bit more of Eddie Brock and we get out first real glimpse at Venom.
While not technically a trailer, Sony did produce a “First Look” featurette that played in theaters participating in the National Cinemedia in-theater advertising network. There was also a later seven minutes or so of exclusive footage that debuted on NBC’s “Heroes.” Most of that footage was stuff we had already seen, but expanded.
The use of some of those trailers and TV spots on Cartoon Network has raised the ire of MarketingProfs writer Harry Joiner. Spots for the movie aired on CN in the weeks leading up to the movie, all of which identified the movie as not yet being rated. Of course Joiner was skeptical. Joiner actually believes that Sony held off from officially stamping the movie with its PG-13 rating until after it had been hyped to the younger set and getting them all excited for the movie. Now he’s in the position of either denying them the movie or going with them, ensuring not only their ticket but his. I think there’s some validity to Joiner’s theory. The tactic of withholding a movie’s rating has been under some scrutiny lately since there are sharp curbs on R-rated movie advertising efforts. So a studio is likely to advertise heavily before the movie receives that rating, at which point buzz has already begun.
The movie’s official website loads and, at first blush, is pretty low-key. There’s the back-to-back Spidey image, a box to find 5/4 midnight screenings and a link to the Spider-Man Week in New York City page.
But then you load the Flash site and it’s a boisterous affair. Let’s work first across the bottom menu bar:
- The Movie:
- Story – One paragraph synopsis that covers most of the movie’s main plot points.
- Gallery – I counted 34 still pictures, most of which will be familiar to those who have watched all the trailers.
- Cast & Filmmakers: Standard background on the major players
- About the Film: Not that much different from Story, but there’s the option to download the full set of production notes.
- Next along the menu is a link to the movie’s official blog, which I’ll cover shortly.
- Video – Oh there’s a ton of content here. I keep wanting for official websites to become video repositories and this does just that. All the trailers, music videos and behind the scenes videos are collected here in one easy spot. The only thing missing is the wealth of TV spots but the sheer number of those might have necessitated another server or two.
- Downloads – Wallpapers, Screensavers and Buddy Icons are the big three and there are a ton of each. There are also a host of downloads of trailers,wallpapers, flipbooks and more for the PSP and iPod. There’s also an RSS-powered countdown widget for site masters to put on their blogs. It requires the Yahoo Widget Engine, though, so make sure you’re down with that.
- Games – Two games, both awesome. First is The Battle Within and then there’s Ultimate Challenge Game. Both pit you against villains from the film and they’re both very fun to play. That’s actually rarer than it sounds when it comes to movie website games. Most are boring.
- Mobile takes you to a storefront where you can purchase wallpapers, a mobile game or participate in Veeker’s “What are you most looking forward to” promotion asking for cellphone-shot video responses.
Most – but not all – of this content is also available off the Home page where it says “Open Menu.” It’s not all there, though, and not laid out as nicely so I’d recommend just using the toolbar at the bottom. That also says “Roll over the character icons for relationship info” but only Gwen Stacy’s worked for me when I visited the site.
The menu bar across the top has options to go visit the websites for the first two movies, visit the Spider-Man Movie Zone, sign up for News Alerts and Join the Spider-Man Movie Network. There’s also a page for five or six of the major promotional Partners, including Burger King, General Mills, Kraft, Pringles and 7-Eleven.
Overall it’s a solid website. There’s not a lot of new fangled offerings other than the Countdown Widget but it does achieve something that a lot of websites just plain don’t. It presents its information in an easy to find and logical yet entertaining way. The design of the site does not get in the way of the information. There are some video transitions but they’re not taking up 90 percent of the time you’re on the site and leading you to give up trying to get where you’re going. That’s a major accomplishment and Sony should be commended for not going completely overboard on the flashiness of the site.
Sony kept everyone up-to-date on how the movie was progressing and published a number of interesting features on the official movie blog. This is pretty much a textbook definition of how to run an official corporate blog, much less one for a movie. There were posts on behind the scenes features, there were posts soliciting fan input and there were posts on some of the major promotions and marketing efforts. It’s kind of awesome, especially when you consider they’ve been running a FeedBurner -powered RSS feed you can subscribe to for updates, making it a blog in a very real sense.
Heck even the movie’s soundtrack got its own website.
Needless to say Marvel’s official site has been acting as a press outlet for the film pretty consistently. That includes everything from movie game screenshots to posters to background on how many Goblins there are in Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery.
Comics, Promotions and Tie-Ins
There are so many promotional tie-ins for this movie it’s almost hard to keep count. Let’s do a brief rundown of some of the ones that have made news.
- 7-Eleven has Spider-Man 3-themed Slurpees – a promotion that even got its own online campaign
- Sony released a new, expanded DVD version of Spider-Man 2, dubbed Spider-Man 2.1, that not only contained eight minutes of new footage but also the requisite sneak peeks at the third movie
- MySpace used it as the latest entry in its Black Curtain series of member incentives/rewards
- Movie integration into a larger Sony Electronics consumer-facing campaign
- Branded slideshow presentation on photo-sharing site Photobucket – A move that led to MySpace blocking Photobucket widgets
- Comcast created its own microsite for the movie that hosted the debut of the final (sort of) trailer as well as other content
- General Mills put Spider-Man on its Fruit on the Loose product and even created a TV spot to support that
- Target invited people to “Target Your Own Webisode,” essentially asking for consumer-generated videos related to the movie. Submissions were voted on and the winners got a bunch of prizes
- Veeker was also looking for your videos, though this was specifically tied to what people thought of Venom
- A Japanese cell phone provider launched a sizable promotional campaign, including putting a Spider-Man figure on the outside of their building
In that same Variety article mentioned above, Sony’s Jeff Blake had the following comments on the movie’s promotional partners:
Studios also rely on promo partners to defray marketing costs. “And ‘Spider-Man’ certainly has no shortage of that,” Blake said.
It’s hard to imagine what the Sony-led campaign would have looked like without those promotional partners. And if this is what constitutes â€œless to launchâ€ than the marketing campaign budget that might have been has to be a truly frightening number.
Major toy retailers such as Target, Toys R Us and, I’m sure, others all devoted huge sections of in-store real-estate to the array of Spider-Man 3 toys. Hasbro created so many toys they even created their own “the toys are here!” promotional spot. In fact, through a deal with the licensing arm of the Spider-Man franchise, stores will each get different layouts and exclusive products. At a product level, General Mills will turn over the packaging of 20 of their brands to Spider-Man promotions. That includes Cheerios, Yoplait Trix Yogurt and more. Kraft and Pringle’s also are providing packaging support leading up to the movie. Burger King will be running a “Which Spidey Suits You?” game that gives people a 50/50 chance of winning a range of prizes.
Sony also launched a couple of new media type promotions, including a search for the Face of the Fan, looking for a man and woman interesting in being the face of promotional webisodes and other online content related to Spider-Man news. Users of AOL’s AIM Pages were also able to access exclusive widgets and other content to trick out their pages with Spider-Man materials.
And let it never be said that Sony doesn’t know how to blow its own horn. It put up a huge Spider-Man on the outside of its LA studios.
There was even a Google Earth skin created that transforms part of the virtual world into Spider-Man’s New York, complete with Daily Bugle building, character information and billboards for the film.
As far as the Marvel comics go, there was an interesting development in the Marvel Universe in the last few months that, while it might not have been strictly dictated by the movie, certainly was not coincidental. At the end of the Civil War that pitted hero against hero, Peter Parker was left at odds as a superhero outlaw and also had just been struck a devastating personal blow. So, the story goes, he reached into the back of his closet and found his old black (non-alien) costume which reflected his dark mood and stance. That’s been accompanied by a major push by Marvel titled “Back in Black” that’s spread through all the main-universe Spider-Man books. So while there was some attempt made at justifying the switch back to the black costume by Spidey, the timing of that change just before the movie could not have simply been a case of fortuitous timing.
There wasn’t quite the outbreak of new ongoing or limited-series Spider-Man titles that there was in the lead-up to the second film. That’s fine since most of those were pretty blatant efforts to tie into the movie and likely (I didn’t read most of them) did a bit of damage to the character’s continuity.
As the movie’s release date there were two prominent themes: Will/won’t there be more Spider-Man movies (with sub conversations about who will/won’t be involved) and the fact that there’s a Broadway musical based on the Spider-Man franchise. I’ll let Ian Schafer take care of that one since I don’t really have the emotional strength to dive into how many things are wrong with that. There was also a bit of speculation that the movie cost $350 million just in production costs, with an additional $150 for marketing and promotion pushing that up over $500 million in total costs.
I want to point out a quote passed along by our friends at Newsarama. In describing the push for Spider-Man 3, Melissa Marr said that audiences don’t react well to superhero movies where the hero spends much of the time in deep, soulful introspection. He points to the disappointing box-office income of Superman Returns (I’d also mention Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk) as evidence of a case against soul-searching heroes in favor of ones that beat up bad guys. So, he says, Sony has been promoting Spider-Man 3 as almost the first movie instead of a threequel.
I disagree with the conclusion of that argument. Yes, there is a case to be made for dropping the pathos and just getting to the butt-kicking but I don’t think that’s what Sony has been doing here. Every part of this campaign has been about the struggle within. In fact that’s the main tagline for the movie. The title cards that appear in between scenes of Peter Parker struggling against his darker impulses all play up the idea that this movie explores how he overcomes those impulses. THAT’S THE MAIN POINT OF VENOM, ONE OF THE TWO VILLAINS IN THE MOVIE. If anything, the theme of Parker’s personal journey has been an increasingly common theme of the campaign as its shifted its villain focus from Sandman to Venom.
It’s almost hard to judge whether the Spider-Man 3 campaign is â€œgoodâ€ or â€œbad.â€ For something this big and this established the quality of the campaign is nearly impossible to judge. There were things I liked about the push (Face of the Fan, the teaser image) and there were things I didn’t like (the way all the trailers and TV spots opened with the same scene) but those are personal judgments. The campaign will almost assuredly bring out record box-office numbers. If it fails to set those records â€“ and not just set them but blow away the previous holders â€“ I don’t know how Sony or anyone else can justify the cost of the push.