Movie Marketing Madness

Movie Marketing Madness: The Bourne Ultimatum

The-Bourne-Ultimatum_poster_goldposter_com_9It’s an easy rhetorical device, and one that many writers have used, to compare the character of Jason Bourne with that of James Bond. The two are lone-wolf secret agents, yes, but that’s about where the comparisons end. Bond is a loyal servant of the British crown who often bends and breaks the rules in his quests. Bourne is an amnesiac who was trained by a secret wing of the CIA and who doesn’t know who the heck he is or why every one is trying to kill him. There were a lot of people who called Casino Royale, the latest Bond film, more Bourne-esque since gone was much of the veneer that had built up on the franchise, replaced by a more brutal and uncompromising Bond. Whatever, in my opinion. I never saw why the two were being discussed together since they’re so substantively different.

The Bourne Ultimatum is the third film in the Jason Bourne series and is again based (loosely) on the novel of the same name by Robert Ludlum. The first two movies, The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, followed Bourne (played by Matt Damon) as he tried to piece together the fragments of his memory while at the same time trying to not be killed by the very people, it seems, who trained him to kill people. The movies featured a pretty solid story that was presented with some of the best action sequences in modern film. But, while they’ve been successful at the box-office, my sense is that they’ve flown under the radar of a good portion of the movie-going audience.

Let’s take a look at what Universal is doing to change that.

The Posters

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here – the one-sheet execution for this movie has been one of the best in recent years. For a non-ensemble, non-scifi movie there are a surprising number of posters that were created, all of which are strong efforts.

The teaser poster didn’t show much but promised something quite different from the earlier movies. It simply showed the back of Damon’s head against the New York skyline, with the promise in the copy point that “This summer, Bourne comes home.” This worked on a number of levels. First of all, it accomplished the very basic task of teaser posters, which is to setup the basic premise without spilling the plot. It also showed U.S. audiences that at least part of the movie took place on familiar territory. With so much of the previous entries happening in Eastern Europe, it’s reassuring to domestic audiences that they won’t again be subjected to hours of people driving on the wrong side of the street during those cool chase scenes.

Next there were two posters released, both essentially character posters but for the same character. The first one showed Bourne’s face up close, sweaty and dirty. Very much all about the tough, get it done attitude here.

The second of the two took half of that image and split the poster real-estate with a pose of Damon standing, gun in hand, defiantly against those coming after him. Right there is a great example of using the one-sheet for a bit of character development. This is a guy, the poster is saying, who’s not afraid to get dirty in the pursuit of his job. Since Bourne is being positioned, at least in the press, as a rougher James Bond that’s a very good point to drive home as often and strongly as possible. I don’t think it works as well overall as the one with just Bourne’s face but that’s simply because the split-screen look is a little distracting. It’s a minor quibble, though.

The final theatrical one-sheet carries over a similar look and feel from the first two movies. Bourne is on his own as he navigates, again while armed, a blurry, crowded street. Not much too it but again, it works well with the movie and with the franchise as a whole.

If there’s one thing that I might take issue with it’s the “…Bourne comes home” copy point. I know I just said that it was great at establishing the location of the movie, but I also think it unnecessarily alienates those who haven’t already jumped on to the Bourne series. “Bourne comes home? Home from what? Oh forget it – let’s go see Bratz.” is what I’m afraid people will say if they’re not already fans of the Bourne books or movies. Again, a minor point and one that all sequels have to grapple with. Considering how badly some take on the question of alienating existing fans/bringing in new ones Universal did a good job of walking the line. I’m just pointing that out for the sake of pointing it out.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer that first hit was short on exposition for the actual movie but long on efforts to position it in the series to date. It starts off by running through who exactly Jason Bourne is, why he’s on the run and why he’s honked off at the people trying to find him. There’s not a lot of action shown from the new film, mostly just people walking around a command center as Bourne threatens them over the phone. It does a good job of setting up the movie as a continuation of the story began in the first two while being a bit exciting in and of itself.

The theatrical trailer featured lots of cool action sequences and such but distinguished itself mostly because of a phone conversation scene. The middle of the trailer features a cut-up scene of Damon and David Straitharn, playing one of the mystery men in the CIA, in a game of cat and mouse as the latter tries to track Bourne down. It’s more suspenseful than just about anything else in the trailer and really amps up, for fans of actual spy stories, the excitement factor in a way that car crashes just can’t.

Online

The movie’s official website is laid out, on the opening splash page, with the same image used on the theatrical poster. That dominates one half of the main part of the page. The other side is largely taken up with a big ad promoting Google’s “Ultimate Search for Bourne,” which manages to work in text that pimps both Google and VW, whose Touareg 2 is one of the big prizes in the contest.

At the bottom of the page are tabs for The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy. If you just mouse-over those tabs you get a brief video montage of scenes from the two films. Clicking on them takes you to the old official websites for each movie which are now being used to promote the DVD releases. That’s a nice nod to the franchise.

Once you enter the site you’re greeted with a more or less full-frame video presentation of clips, mainly pulled from the trailers. It’s very cool, but kind of slows down the site. Still, I’m not going to fault Universal or its web firm for over-reaching here since this is the future of the internet.

Along the bottom of the page are a series of character and related names from the Bourne-iverse. click on any of them and you’re taken to a little bit of content about that person or organization. So, for instance, clicking on “Bourne” will take you to a new section where you can view or grab wallpapers and still photos of Jason Bourne. Likewise for the rest of the names.

“Intel” is where you can access a menu that takes you to the rest of the site’s content. Mouse-over that and you’ll expand a list of sections to hit.

“Downloads” is pretty sparse in terms of types of offerings but makes up for it with a lot of choices. There are just some Buddy Icons and Wallpapers there, but there are about a dozen or more of each.

“Media” contains one of the richest offerings of video content I’ve come across in quite a while. You’ll find both trailers, three TV spots and eight clips from the film as well as “A Look Inside,” a brief behind-the-scenes featurette. This sort of wealth of content is exactly what an official site should do, become a hub of video offerings for the visitor to peruse. Nice effort. Even better is the fact that for each video you can grab embed code to put on your site or social network profile.

“Images” houses all of 18 still photos, many of which are drawn right from the trailer. “Overview” is a pretty decent synopsis of the movie’s plot and why Bourne is doing the things he’s doing.

“Production Notes” is quite good. Broken up into five sections it’s by no means an authoritative look at the behind-the-scenes action but most of the major questions a casual observer would have are answered so it does it’s job. The site is rounded out by a series of “Cast & Crew” biographies and filmographies.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The Bourne Ultimatum, as Variety recently pointed out, is the first of the series to receive promotional help from partner brands and companies. Let’s start from lowest-impact to highest for a change.

  • Regal Cinemas promoted the movie with on-screen in lobby ads in their theaters
  • American Airlines added the first two movies as well as trailers and other promos for Ultimatum as part of its in-flight entertainment.
  • Computer security firm Symantec, which gets some placement in the movie, will cross-promote the film with online ads and on-package stickers.

OK, now that those are out of the way let’s dive into some more substantive partnerships.

Volkwagen is a significant partner but I’m not going to cover that portion here because of a conflict with my day job. Instead I’ll just send you to the BrandWeek story on the topic and leave it at that.

Mastercard is sending out promotional material to a number of its partner financial institutions. It also incentiviced use of its cards for purchases at Universal Studios theme parks as well as at Best Buy. Best Buy’s Sunday circular ads in the couple of weeks before the movie’s debut featured prominent placement of a new 2-pack of the first movies. As part of that ad was a note that consumers using their Mastercard for buying the DVDs would receive a discount on the product. That’s the first time I can remember seeing what you choose to buy with influence the actual price of the purchase.

The credit card provider also engaged in a little sponsored search link marketing. When I ran a Google search for “bourne ultimatum” there appeared to the right, under the “Sponsored Links” column, a Mastercard ad that used Jason Bourne in the text and redirected to the Priceless.com website. That’s a nice bit of paid search marketing.

The biggest promotional partnership (at least from my perspective as someone who lives in the online media world) is the one with Google. That’s right, Google. The search engine/advertising giant teamed up with Universal to create an onine game dubbed The Search for Bourne. The game primarily utilized Google Earth to cast the user as an agent on the tail of Jason Bourne, tracking him throughout the world and finding clues as to where he might be.

The site featured a good amount of video content ranging from trailers to a mission overview from Straitham’s character. Players then ere immersed in the world of spy cameras, codes and other fun stuff. It was very slick and cool and all that. But what was the bigger deal (again, from my own warped point of view) was how Google promoted the game.

The first pointer to the game, before it even officially launched, game at the end of the theatrical trailer when it was released. A simple text card and voice over prompted viewers to visit www.google.com/bourne to help in the search. That redirected to SearchForBourne.com. Yes, to answer your question, it would have been just as simple to promote the resolved URL itself but then Google would miss out on some important branding opportunities and wouldn’t be able to track how visitors were hitting the site.

Google also gave the game – and by extension the movie – some premium search marketing help. Running a search for just about anything Bourne related brought up a wealth of content in the blue paid placement box at the top of the search results. Initially this box was labeled with standard paid-placement verbiage but that was later replaced by text identifying it as a “Google Promotion” to make the relationship the company had with the game clear in the minds of the users.

 

That blue content box contained a link to the game, a graphic of Damon as Bourne and a link to the movie’s trailer. The trailer actually expanded within the blue box when you clicked on the “+” box next to it and started up a YouTube video. The picture of Damon is notable especially since it’s pretty much, as far as I know, the first time Google has displayed a graphical ad in the paid search marketing results box. That’s kind of huge. Can you imagine what other search marketers would pay to have their brand or corporate logo appear right there at the top of a page of Google search results? This smells very much to me like proof of concept testing to see what kind of resources on the server side are needed to display such ads and how they might influence click-throughs.

To actually participate and play the game you needed to have a Google account as well. I’d love to know how many new users Google got out of this. If it’s any sort of sizable number Google just accumulated a wealth of personal data on people it can tag as movie fans and being at least somewhat interested in online gaming. Users of the Google Personalized Homepage (something you can build if you’re a Google Account holder) could add a Google Gadget to that homepage to track the game and their progress in it. A button to add the widget was prominently displayed on site.

But the game overall was a move designed to bring people into a deeper interaction with the Bourne brand. They’re now participants in the movie’s plot and are going to be, to some extent, more motivated and engaged to go out this weekend and see the movie. That might be a little bit of a logical fallacy since you could argue that only people already with high intent to see the movie are going to play the game. But I think there’s a good number of people who were on the fence about the movie, dived into the game because it seemed like a good way to avoid the spreadsheet they needed to build, and are now going to buy a ticket to the film.

This is the second time Google has gotten involved in the marketing of a movie. The first was a couple years ago for The Da Vinci Code, where they hosted a game that prompted users to unlock some sort of reliquary or something. It was, more or less, just an online game to play that was related to the movie more by theme than by substance. Google also gave the game just the barest of marketing, putting just a small link to it on the bottom of some of its pages.

The Search for Bourne is much more of a full-fledged effort. It deeply ingrains not only the movie’s brand but also Google’s in both the promotion and execution. You need to access it through Google and you need to use Google to play it. There’s no way around either of those.

But other brands were involved with the game too. The prize for winning was a Volkswagon, and MasterCard received branding throughout the effort as well. So this really was open to all comers and became, for all intents and purposes, the central hub of the cross-promotion aspect of this campaign.

Overall

While the trailers, posters and official website are all good, strong and brand-appropriate efforts, it’s the utilization of search marketing by both Universal and its promotional partners that really makes it stand out in my mind. Everybody got on board with the philosophy and understanding that brand experiences begin with Google and other search engines.

Paid search is something studios, in my experience, have danced around and flirted with (a couple have hooked up with paid search efforts but haven’t really committed) for a year or more now but Universal really started seriously dating the idea with this campaign. (ed note: Wow. What a metaphor. Even I don’t know what to do with that and I’m the one that wrote it. Let’s move on.) That’s what makes this an above-average campaign even more than the excellent one-sheets or well-paced and edited trailers.

It actually occurred to me as I was reading the online Production Notes that I don’t think I ever saw a “spy report” or “leaked set photos” from the making of The Bourne Ultimatum. It’s not that kind of movie and not that kind of brand. It doesn’t elicit the shrieks of fan-boy mania like a Batman, James Bond or other movie. I get why it’s not subject to that kind of coverage but I still think it’s more than a little interesting that it shares so many characteristics with those films (continuing character, large-scale action set-pieces, etc) but pre-release buzz coverage is almost non-existent outside of the release of formal marketing materials.

I’m always a big fan of campaigns that don’t try to portray the movie as anything other than what it really is and I think that’s exactly what this push does. The Bourne Ultimatum is, if you were to make an assumption based on the campaign, a decent action movie with some intrigue, international locations and a heavy emphasis on action. Considering that description applies generally to the first two movies in the Bourne franchise I think it’s safe to assume that this campaign provides an accurate window into the film itself.

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