Movie Marketing Madness: Pirates of the Caribbean – At World’s End

It’s been just one year since we gathered here to review the marketing campaign for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the second movie in the Pirates series. The second and third movies were, for the most part, shot back to back so Disney could release them on just this sort of schedule, an idea they got from New Line and their Lord of the Rings franchise.

This entry follows the continuing high seas adventures of Will Turner, Elizabeth Swan and, of course, Captain Jack Sparrow. At the end of the last movie things were a tad up in the air and the fate of Capt. Jack unknown (unless you were paying attention) and this one picks up right where it left off. This time, based on the campaign, it’s the fate of pirating as a profession that’s at stake, with final showdowns being planned and professional groups gathering for semi-regular conventions.

While I loved the first movie I was disappointed by the second one. Where the first had a jaunty, go-for-broke attitude (which might have been the biggest surprise) the second felt weighted down by too many plot lines designed to do little more than stretch the story as long as possible and get to the third. Everyone involved in the second seemed to be just trying too hard to recreate the whimsical nature of the first movie and the movie suffered from too many plot twists. My hope is that they were able to get a little of that back in the third movie, but let’s see what the campaign has to say.

The Posters

I’m not even going to address the merits, from a visual standpoint of these posters because, quite frankly, I’m hopping mad. I’m mad because Disney completely ignored the opportunity to continue the fantastic branding they had going with the first two movie’s posters.

Here’s what I mean:

The first movie’s poster showed all the major players’ heads above a pirate ship. The actors looked swashbuckling and very, very much like they belonged in that era. The orange, brown and black color scheme that surrounded the faces and pictures complimented what was going on and sort of color-coded the campaign. Even the choice to call the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, showed that the studio was trying to create an overall brand identity for the movie. I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t get why they were doing that when the movie first came out but it made more and more sense as time went on and I was glad they did it.

The campaign for the second movie started off with a series of character posters for Jack, Will and Elizabeth. All of these were created with an aqua or greenish look that was carried over into the theatrical poster, which combined all those head shots. Again, the color-branding of the movie did as much, if not more, than the title of the flick itself to create the sense in the audience that this was a separate film but also a continuation. It maintained the brand identity while showing this to be a new product under that brand. An excellent effort.

The posters for this third entry, though, have completely ignored all the ground the previous two blazed. Instead of sticking with the “head shots against a maritime background with a new color theme” idea, the marketing team decided to go in a whole new direction. All the character posters, of which there were a lot more with Jack, Will and Elizabeth returning but also one-sheets for Capt. Barbosa and Capt. Sao Feng, featured a foggy theme and showed everyone’s full body. That’s more or less fine – I’ll look past that.

But what I can’t look past is the lack of a unifying theatrical poster for the film. Instead of following the pattern of the first two and putting everyone together on one poster, the marketers simply lifted an image of Capt. Jack from a previously released wide banner and used it as the sole image on what, I presume, was their final poster. The rest of the cast is gone. It’s just Johnny Depp walking toward us. This completely kills all the branding efforts to date. I get that Depp’s flamboyant performance is the main selling hook for these movies, but COME ON! There was a fantastic pattern going and it’s been completely shot. If you lined up the three posters for these movies side-to-side I bet you, too, would be disappointed in how the third one compared and broke the rhythm.

It’s just disappointing.

The Trailers

Yeah, yeah, Johnny Depp is very cool as Capt. Jack. We get it.

That’s the feeling I have when I watch most of the trailers or TV spots for the movie. They rely so heavily on Depp’s performance that it almost begins to create a sense of contempt in me. I’m not saying they’re bad trailers, just that for some reason they’re completely ignoring the rest of the main characters whose stories we’re following. The focus is so heavily on Jack Sparrow that Keira Knightly’s Elizabeth is reduced to just a couple lines and Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner is almost completely non-existent.

OK, first off, let’s take a moment and marvel in the fact that Disney didn’t feel it necessary to create a teaser trailer for The Pirates of the Caribbean. Wow. I mean…I don’t even know what to do with that. It’s mind-boggling that a marketing component like a teaser trailer that’s become such a given would be ignored. Name me the last major studio summer release that didn’t have a teaser trailer. I dare you. This is symptomatic of a general malaise that runs through the campaign.

The trailer that was released was pretty good and even got better upon repeated viewings. There isn’t a whole lot of story to setup beyond the fact that all the “Pirate Lords” are being assembled and that rescuing Capt. Jack from his fate at the end of the last movie is a priority. Other than that there’s a lot of time spent reminding us these are characters we love and they’re being put into exotic new settings.

Before the trailer was released Disney created a widget that bloggers could put on their own site that would show a countdown to the worldwide premiere of the spot. This was a great move, I feel, since letting people be excited about something and giving them the tools to express that excitement is a great way to encourage and nourish word-of-mouth.

Through the widget Disney was able to send the trailer to its entire de facto online network at the same time it premiered on TV. That led to a tremendous achievement in pure reach as the trailer got in front of millions of eyeballs, creating one of the more effective ad “roadblocks” in recent memory.

Interestingly, just weeks before the movie’s release Nielsen BuzzMetrics reported that the trailer for the film had the strongest buzz among online videos.

Cross-Promotions

Let’s just list these out.

  • Volvo got involved in another “look for the free car” promotion.
  • Disney tooted its own horn for the film on a newly launched social network for kids it built.
  • Toys, toys, toys, toys and more toys.

I’m sorry, was I supposed to get excited about any of these? There are a bunch more listed on the website but they’re not worth diving into individually.

The Website

When you first enter the official website you’ll notice it’s setup just like the site for Dead Man’s Chest and similar to other Disney films such as Chronicles of Narnia. The site is a series of locations from the film, with content scattered around. It could be accessed by clicking a box or a frame or something like that. This tactic is obviously meant to increase user engagement on the site and prolong visit times as visitors go from locale to locale.

Your first stop is Singapore Harbor and you can’t progress to the next one until you find the voodoo woman from the film and find the “clue” she points you toward. That clue is actually a bit of content and around the site they range from games to downloadable items and such like that. I’d be interested to see how many people actually make it around to all the spots on the compass and how many give up at some point.

You can also access most of the standard content that’s actually about the film via a Menu toward the bottom of the screen. Some of this is just downright disappointing and some is repetitive and some is repetitive.

    • Trailer: Just the theatrical trailer, the same one there’s a permanent link to on every page of the site.
    • Gallery: A whopping 12 still images from one of the biggest blockbuster releases of the summer.
    • Synopsis: Actually, a pretty nicely written and informative bit of story wrap-up on the movie. There are also full Production Notes to download if you’re interested in more.
    • Cast & Crew: The usual look behind the careers of the major players both in front of and in back of the camera.
    • Video: There are three Behind the Scenes spots, two TV commercials and four clips from the film. What’s disappointing about this section is that it doesn’t include the trailer or all the TV spots. This is the movie’s official website! If they’re not going to make it into a one-stop hub of information than they’re pretty much ceding that position to an unofficial site that can do it better. What a tremendously wasted opportunity.
    • Partners: Here’s where they obviously spent some time since there are 12 promotional partners listed, including the Blue-Ray disc releases of the first two movies in the series. Priorities, folks.
    • Timeline/Map: Actually kind of a fun feature that allows you to dive into the world of the movie a bit deeper. You can explore key events and locales from the series on each one.

And that’s it. That’s it for one of the tentpoles of the summer. W.T.F? Was there any effort put into this or did they just swap out the content from the second movie’s site and republish it under a new domain? I honestly can’t believe that this was as deep as they were willing to dive for a movie on which, if reports have been accurate, there’s a lot of money riding.

There seems to have been more attention paid to the MySpace page where you could dress yourself up as a pirate, which is very odd.

Overall

If anyone believes this third entry into the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is where Disney is going to let it end, I’d like to know what they’re smoking. The previous two movies have been too successful and there’s too many merchandising dollars at stake for the company to let it die a natural and dignified death. Instead it will likely be driven into the ground over the next few years with various commercial incarnations.

But let’s address the sheer laziness of the campaign. There was no theatrical poster, no teaser trailer and a generally lackluster website. I’m all for saving money on formal advertising and marketing on movies like this since public relations efforts often make up the slack. But there is no excuse for dropping components like Disney did for this campaign. It’s like they weren’t even trying.

Despite that lack of effort the movie will almost assuredly win this weekend’s box office race since there’s nothing new opening that compete with it and it’s likely to siphon off a good portion of the people who have already seen Shrek the Third. I just wish I didn’t get the feeling they were treating it like a cake walk they could move through easily instead of actually trying to sell the movie. TV airwaves have been inundated with TV spots but that seems to have taken up the lion’s share of the marketing budget.

It’s almost like the movie has been un-marketed.

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