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Movie Marketing Madness: Sweeney Todd

sweeney_toddI’m an unabashed fan of director Tim Burton and have been since…well…I first discovered him. I love Edward Scissorhands, really dig Ed Wood and even like Mars Attacks!, a movie most people detest, largely because I don’t think they get what he was trying to do. I think the only Burton movie I haven’t seen is Planet of the Apes, and that’s just because it looks really, really bad. But everyone is allowed the occasional misstep and I don’t think it detracts at all from the rest of his body of work.

(On a side note, a friend of mine said after we watched Batman Returns, “Tim Burton really likes directing snow…” I think that’s such a perfect description of his style Burton should have it put on his gravestone.)

For Sweeney Todd, Burton reteams with frequent star Johnny Depp, who’s also joined him on Scissorhands, Wood and Sleepy Hollow, as well as doing a voice in The Corpse Bride. The movie is, of course, based on the famous musical from Stephen Sondheim about a vengeful barber who extracts his pound of flesh from those who wronged him earlier in life.

There are multiple marketing hurdles Paramount/Dreamworks will have to clear to get Sweeney to become a box-office hit. For one, it’s coming out in a very crowded Christmas season. For another, it’s a musical, but not the feel-good romp that movies like Chicago, Hairspray and others were. It’s also got to appeal to both Burton fans and Sondheim fans, groups that may not significantly overlap.

Over- or under-playing any of these hands and the movie will not connect with audiences. So let’s see how the studio(s) did with the campaign.

The Posters

sweeneytoddposter1.jpgThe first teaser poster was a bit odd, I felt, in how heavy-handed it seemed. Showing a man’s silhouette as he walks under a bridge of some sort, the poster is filled with signs that shriek to the audience that this is supposed to be scary instead of just being scary in and of itself. Burton and Depp are prominently mentioned, but the oddly on-thel-nose title treatment overwhelms any actual sense of foreboding or terror that the imagery might be trying to create.

Later on there were a whole batch of character posters featuring Depp and co-star Helana Bonham-Carter. There were a number created for each of the two of the but I’m not sure to what end. All were variations on the same theme, that Depp is the Barber and Bonham-Carter the Baker who disposes of his victims in a uniquely culinary way. All accomplished their goals with different levels of success, with some posters working better than others. The ones that I think work the best – and this should come as no surprise – are those that continue the same sort of brand identity from the theatrical one-sheet. But they’re all kind of cool and each one is going to appeal to a different viewer, it’s just that I’m surprised they created multiple posters for just two characters when the movie isn’t a sci-fi movie or anything that traditionally lends itself to character posters like this.



There were then, it seems two stabs taken at a final theatrical poster. At least that’s the way I viewed it.

The first put Depp in his own barber’s chair, staring vindictively at the audience. This is probably my favorite of the posters as it does the best job of presenting a clear, concise picture of the movie. You’ve got Depp, clearly plotting something and looking more than a little honked off. You’ve got the washed out grays and reds that look like they haven’t seen the sun in years, a visual style Burton has done before and quite well. I just love the way it sets the movie up, from the main character to his place of..ummm…business all in one image.

The next one took that image and put it way down at the bottom of the poster, opting to fill most of the real estate with Depp’s ginormous head. The red sky over the London skyline does a nice job of setting up the bloody nature of the movie, but I think that such a close-up of the actor in character kills a good amount of the terror. It’s obviously an attempt to make Depp the focus of the campaign and play off his celebrity but it winds up making it about 60 percent less scary than if he had been more in the background, or at least further away from the camera as in the character posters.

The Trailer

There was just one trailer that was created for the movie’s U.S. audiences. But it’s a very good trailer. It sets up the movie’s plot quite well, showing how the man who would be Sweeney got in the position he’s in after his wife was stolen from him by a corrupt judge. It then shows how he returns and plots his revenge with the assistance of Mrs. Lovett and how he carves his way the London citizenry. Despite the constant cries of some people there is plenty of music in the trailer, with Depp singing what seems to be one of the movie’s major set pieces. I don’t know how much more music would have satisfied people. I can only assume they were looking for a half-hour clip that was 75 percent singing in order to prove to them that they weren’t playing down the music in the movie’s marketing campaign.


When you pull up the movie’s official website the first thing that greets you is the same picture of Depp that was used on the second (and lesser) of the final two posters. Right below his visage is a graphic triumphing in the movie’s four Golden Globe nominations.

Off to the right are links to a variety of things to do if you’re just passing through. First on that list is “View the Trailer” which brings up the trailer that was released. Included there is a “Share this Video” option that lets you send it as an email or grab code to embed it on your own site.

Next is the “Cut Your Own Trailer” feature that lets you create your own Sweeney spot using provided audio and video files as well as other assets like transitions, graphics and title cards. Once you’ve done that you can either email it, embed it or just grab a permalink to that video, which might be my favorite option since it makes it very easy to spread the word simply and efficiently, just like any other webpage.

Finally (overlooking the “Register for Updates” option) there’s a link to the Sweeney Todd MySpace page. Unlike a lot of MySpace pages, this one actually seems to do something – to have some purpose. Much like the “Cut your Own Trailer” feature on the main site, here you can take some provided material and use it to skin your own MySpace profile page. After doing so you can enter a contest to win a MacBook with Final Cut Express software already on it.

There are actually a few more things before diving into the site. You can send a Christmas e-card with a Sweeney-bent that can be customized. Here’s what mine looked like.


There’s also a link to buy the official companion book from Titan Books. That little rotating GIF also eventually prompts you to find out how you can throw your own Sweeney Todd party on Facebook. That’s accomplished by adding the Party On application to your profile, which then gives you a number of themes to choose from, Sweeney Todd among them.

So let’s finally get into what lies underneath the “Enter the Site” prompt.

The first thing to note is that songs – complete songs, not just snippets – from the movie’s soundtrack play over the site as you click around. You can skip to new songs or stop the music altogether by hitting the “Audio” button at the top. Right next to it is “Players,” which is a series of character profiles. On all of those profiles there’s some sort of interactive element. Scroll over a window and someone appears, scroll over a candle and it goes out…that kind of thing. There’s also a character description, seemingly in the form of a lyric from the production or something like that.

To the top left of the screen is a Menu that drops down allowing you to navigate the site’s main content.

sweeneyweb.JPG“The Film” contains a brief Story synopsis, some fairly extensive Production Notes and backgrounds on the Cast and Crew. “Video” has the Trailer, a handful of Clips, all four TV Spots and a couple of Studio Sessions showing the two stars recording some of their songs. Those videos were released by the studio about a month ago, just as the “They’re downplaying the music” backlash was really gaining steam, which was a smart strategic move.

“Downloads” contains Wallpapers, a Screensaver and Buddy Icons you can grab. There are also some Takeaway Banners that, when you bring them up, give you the embed code so you can grab them and put them on your own site without eating up your bandwidth. That’s a really great move and I like it a lot.

“Music” is pretty self-explanatory. it lists the songs on the soundtrack and lets you select them to sample out. There are also links to buy the album on Amazon, iTunes, and, most interestingly, Nonesuch Records. That last one I’m picking out because of the recent announcement that Nonesuch would allow you to download a free digital copy of every CD you buy, making it that much easier to get a physical record and put the songs on your portable player at the same time.


Considering Paramount/Dreamworks has about six niche groups it had to appeal to, the campaign did a pretty good job of selling the movie. There was plenty in there to connect with fans of Burton, Sondheim and Depp, its three major target groups.

But this is one of those cases where the whole is not equal to the sum of its parts. Each component is very strong, from the trailer to (most of) the posters to the website. But when it’s all added up the campaign just feels kind of…slight. There’s little substance to it, as if the studio was too busy putting a sheen on everything that it forgot to actually let people into the movie’s universe through the campaign. I can’t point out what it is – and I’ve been thinking about it – but it seems like the campaign was designed to be very tasty but not stick to your ribs in any meaningful way.

But that shouldn’t detract from some of the good stuff in each part of the push. The emphasis on spreading the word, through links, embed code and more on the website is great to see. And the trailer is a lot of very dark fun. It’s just that there’s little connective tissue to those components, resulting in the movie not having as strong or as weighty a brand identity as it could have.


One of my favorite ways to amuse myself during the day is to be annoying on Twitter. That should come as a shock to absolutely no one, at least not if you’ve been reading my stuff for more than a day and a half.

Yesterday I dropped a quote from Leon: The Professional over there when making an annoying comment on Google’s 2008 buying strategy and CC Chapman responded saying he loves that movie, so in honor of his birthday today I’m killing time while working on other things by posting that clip from the movie.

More cities get Simpson-ized

simpsonsmoviedvd1.JPGApparently New York City wasn’t the only metropolitan area to be targeted by 20th Century Fox for large-scale Simpsons Movie promotions. From Reuters/THR:

In Los Angeles, holiday elves wearing yellow Santa hats will hand out pink-frosted D’oh!Nut sprinkles, Homer’s favorite treat, to commuters downtown, while in Hollywood a “Simpsons” holiday spectacular will boast inflatable Homer Santas, pink-flocked Christmas trees and donut balloons.

In 20 cities, including Salt Lake City, Honolulu and El Paso, pink donut Mylar balloons will be tied to parking meters at high-traffic shopping areas, signifying free parking.

And in 51 cities — from Mobile, Ala., to Concord, N.H., yellow “Simpsons” Santa hats are being distributed at random locations.

Didn’t see anything like that in Chicago on the walk in this morning, but I’ll be looking out for them on the walk this afternoon.

Firefly, the way it was meant to be seen

Zatz Not Funny! Prescription for TV Networks To Weather the Writers Strike

The idea of resurrecting some of these great shows that were killed before their prime to fill in the strike-created gap is kind of brilliant. And it would help DVD sales to boot.

Google V. Microsoft: Let’s get ready to rummmblllle!

Google Gets Ready to Rumble With Microsoft – New York Times

This passage struck me as I was reading this piece:

“The growing confrontation between Google and Microsoft promises to be an epic business battle.”

Not if Microsoft shows up two days late, which seems to be the trend to date.

Test post

Just testing some functionality. Bear with me.


Paramount, Hammer looking for new distribution platforms

computer2.jpgOn the same day (more or less) we get two stories about movies being distributed online in new and inventive ways.

First, there’s the widely discussed decision by Paramount and MTV to make Jackass 2.5 available through the Blockbuster-owned MovieLink exclusively for a week before releasing it into theaters. The movie will stream there for free, with ad support. Spots will air before and after the movie. The move is part of MTV’s online extension of the Jackass franchise, something that’s going to be expanded in the coming months. It should come as no surprise that Ian Schafer and the Deep Focus team are all over this, doing the online advertising for the movie.

(Side note: Keith O’Brien picks out the money quote from the NYT story. Good catch)

The legendary Hammer films shingle is back in business and looking for a new audience after 30 years off. The studio will release movies for free through the MySpace TV platform. Episodes will be released in 20-minute segments and then the finished product will be available for downloading or to buy on DVD. Even though it’s been a while, the Hammer name is apparently still synonymous with the horror genre, with the first movie being a teen vampire flick.

These are both great experiments, much along the same lines as Ed Burns releasing Purple Violets exclusively through iTunes, eschewing a theatrical release as well as not going the direct-to-DVD route. Players like this are going to be the ones that might be on the bleeding edge of a business-model shift, a scary place to be for sure, but we’re going to look back on this kind of stuff and remember how they changed distribution models for the better.

Also of interest is something Jane Green is trying out with Honeydripper, the new film from John Sayles. She’s going to be interviewing Sayles about the state of independent film and other related issues and posting those interviews online. That sort of transparency and talent access can be a big hook and I’m looking forward to seeing how this progresses.

Movie Marketing Madness: I Am Legend

iamlegend_galleryfinal.jpgI’ll be honest with you right from the start here. Movies about viruses scare the living crap out of me. I yawn at chainsaws and claws and most everything else that populates horror films, but make a movie about killer flu or something and I am, quite frankly, creeped the hell out.

So while I Am Legend certainly seems interesting it’s premise makes my insides clench a bit. Will Smith plays Robert Neville, seemingly the only immune survivor of a man-made virus that’s killed most of the world’s population. The handful that lived are infected, with the virus turning them into vampiric, cannibalistic mutants. Neville is a virologist, and is working to find a cure for those infected survivors using his own immune blood as an antidote.

The movie is based on the book of the same name by Richard Matheson and this is actually the third adaptation. The first, called The Last Man on Earth, starred Vincent Price as Neville. The second was The Omega Man, the tremendously cheesy movie with Charlton Heston in the lead role. Each one, including this one, updates the story a bit to take place in its own time period or, in the case of the new movie, the not-too-distant future.

The Posters

Warner Bros. created two posters for the movie but in reality their variations on the same theme. The teaser shows Smith walking with his dog, gun in hand, toward the viewer in fairly small scale. The only copy on the poster aside from the title treatment is the same text that would be used elsewhere in the campaign, “The last man on Earth…is not alone.”

It does a good job of setting up, mainly with that copy, the basic outline of the movie. The small figure of Smith that’s on it, even though he’s just set against a more or less blank backdrop, creates a nice sense of the sheer scale of solitude he’s dealing with.

iamlegendposter.jpgThe second, theatrical poster takes away the generic cityscape and instead sets Smith against a ruined, abandoned New York City where vegetation has begun to creep into the urban dwellings. Like the teaser poster, it’s main goal is to graphically explain to the viewer that he is very much alone in the world and does that by dwarfing him compared to the city around him.

In the background we see the George Washington Bridge, seemingly collapsed in the middle and no longer connecting the city to itself. But we know it didn’t on its own because of neglect because the bridge also features prominently in…

The Trailers

Again, there are two trailers created for domestic consumption.

The teaser trailer just went for basic setup of the movie’s story. I don’t even know that I’d fully call it a teaser since it didn’t really tease so much as provide an initially, incomplete picture of the movie. There wasn’t much teasing going on since we see the panic of the population as the infection spreads, the solitude of Robert Neville as he struggles for survival and then a bit of his battle against the infected survivors.

A full third – actually almost the first half – of this first trailer is devoted to showing Smith, in military uniform, struggle to get his wife and daughter to safety. It’s then that we see the bridge fall, seemingly after a squadron of military jets fire missiles at it. So, going back to the poster momentarily, we get a nice cross-pollination of a single plot element into multiple facets of the marketing campaign. That’s a cool idea since that makes each component a bit more engaging for the audience since they say to themselves, “Oh, that’s the bridge that’s destroyed in the trailer.”

The second trailer took the surprising tact, I felt, of positioning the movie as more thriller than action flick. We get plenty of scenes of how the world got into this situation, but then most of the running time is devoted to showing Neville hunt and gather for his food, showing him struggling for a cure to the virus and eventually outrunning the mutated ghouls who want him dead.

It’s a tight, tense trailer that ups the drama but also shows there’s at least a few action sequences, something I thought they’d accentuate more strongly. I’m not complaining about it or saying this an ineffective strategy, just that it’s surprising there isn’t more action in the trailer. Maybe this is how the movie really is and WB didn’t want to sell the movie in a misleading fashion.

Stop laughing – that might actually be true.


The movie’s official website is among the slickest I’ve seen lately. There’s some good content that’s wrapped inside very slick packaging that’s very brand-consistent.

When you first pull up the site you’re presented with one of the ruined New York scenes like the ones that grace the poster and the trailers. The second trailer auto-plays, so be careful not to have your computer speakers on too loud if you’re at work. Once you stop that you’ll notice off to the left by where it says “Navigation” there’s a little pie-chart looking graphic that prompts you to “Rotate View.” If you do that you’re swung around to a different part of New York that’s giving way to vegetation and ruin. That’s a nice tough to more fully immerse the visitor in the movie’s world and provide something more than a static background.

Before diving into other areas, there’s a sidebar of information that’s shown off to the left of the screen that has some interesting stuff. There’s a feed of news items about the movie (more on that later), an interactive map of locations in New York City that play into the movie’s plot and a Daylight Meter.

Clicking on one of the locations pinpointed on the map will take you to that part of the city and show you a picture of how that spot appears now and how it appears in the post-apocolyptic future of the movie. Nice feature that makes the movie’s setting seem a little more real by putting it in the context of the present day. The really interesting touch is that if you visited the site during nighttime hours you saw shadowy figures peaking out from behind lamp posts, out of windows and other hidden places.

The Daylight Meter is something that again tries to immerse you in the movie’s world. First of, it should be noted that the background image on the site appears with the amount of daylight occurring in real time. So if you visit the site at 4 PM Eastern time, you’ll see a picture with the sort of daylight that happens at 4PM Eastern time. That’s a nice touch. Someone was obviously paying attention and thought that would be a cool feature. They were right.

So the Daylight Meter shows how much time is left until sundown. Since Neville has to be back in the safety of his apartment before the sun goes down and the ghouls come out this is an important plot point. You can also click to get an Enhanced Daylight Meter, which is basically a widget you can take with you elsewhere on the web, thus extending the movie’s marketing campaign at the same time.

Hitting that “Navigation” button takes you into the site’s full content.

iamlegendweb.JPG“Downloads” contains a number of Wallpapers, Screensavers, Buddy Icons and both of the movie’s Posters you can save to your hard drive. “Photo Gallery” contains a paltry seven stills. Really. Just seven.

Both of the trailers described above as well as the four TV Spots for the movie can be found under “Video.” I’m always glad when the official site contains all the TV spots as well as the trailers. These are just as important – if not more so – to the campaign as the trailer since the potential audience of these spots is just as big as that of the trailers.

“Synopsis” just has a single paragraph of text that actually describes the movie and then two grafs talking about the director, producer and other behind-the-camera talent. Why can’t this just be purely about the movie’s story again?

The site’s “iPhone” section contains a batch of iPhone-specific wallpapers. That’s just one portion of the movie’s playing to the iPhone audience, though. Warner Bros. created a whole version of the site that was specially formatted to iPhone users. I’ll get into why I think this is a big deal later on.

Next is yet another way to access the “Enhanced Daylight Meter” I mentioned earlier. “Partners and Promotions” is basically a list of outside movie sites that ran Legend-related contests and such. “Production Notes” is actually not anything on the site itself. Clicking that link opens up a PDF you can save that contains the production notes and credits, about 30+ pages worth. That’s neat and all, but it’s common web courtesy to warn someone when they’re about to open a PDF, something that occasionally causes people problems.

Also on the site is a preview of “Awakening,” the tie-in series of short comic stories that tell the story of the world as it awakes (natch) to the threat of the virus. Some of the stories are shown in total, others seem to be just sneaked. The whole thing can be downloaded as a PDF, which is very cool and a great promotional tactic designed to whet people’s appetites to go out and buy the whole thing.

A few of hose Awakening stories were also teased with animated videos that use the comic artwork, but sort of roughly put them in motion and with voices and sound effects added. Great idea to lure people in online and get them to seek out the book.

iamlegend4.jpgThe release of those videos – as well as other announcements of new trailers, posters and other news – was all pushed to the RSS feed you can find under the “News Feed” part of the site. Subscribe to that either from the site proper or from the stand-alone I Am Legend blog Warner Bros. setup and you’ll get automatically notified of updates.

Also online the studio created a MySpace page for the movie but, unlike some executions, actually did something with it. For one thing it acted as one of the distribution outlets for the second, theatrical trailer. Along with that, Warner Bros. created sponsored video slideshows people could put on their own profiles that create a scrolling menu of videos on a profile instead of forcing people to point visitors to the “Videos” section of their pages.


Warner Bros. obviously dropped some serious kwan on advertising this movie. Not only were there a batch of TV spots that ran in heavy rotation but there were have been bus ads in downtown Chicago for a long while now. They also bought the inside of some Netflix envelopes.


I wanted to break the games that were created for this movie into their own category since they were so in-depth and fully thought-out, not just cheap toss-off online games.

The first is the I Am Legend Survival Game. An execution within the virtual world of Second Life, the Survival Game allowed people to enter the game’s playing area and take on the role of either a survivor or a Dark Seeker, the ghoulish bad guys. The game’s story is actually set within the year leading up to the story told in the movie, meaning at least a little bit of the story of the missing three years in the movie gets fleshed out. Different areas of New York City were created and specific challenges were set for teams. There was even a separate blog setup just for news about the game.

The second game is the I-AM-IMMUNE challenge. Adam from Hollywood Chicago was all over this one. Essentially, people registered on the site and received a patient bracelet in the mail containing an access code. Once logged into the site as a player, participants were given street challenges to perform in order to prove they weren’t infected and prizes were awarded. A very nice effort that was just as interactive in the real world as the Survival Game was in the virtual one.

Finally there’s God Still Loves Us. When I first saw the site, which encourages people to share stories of how God hasn’t forsaken the human race just yet, my initial thought was that it might be part of the I Am Legend campaign but ultimately couldn’t draw a direct line to the movie so didn’t mention it. In another sign that I have smart friends, Kirk has a great post he just put up does draw that line and goes into why it’s such an interesting effort so I’ll turn you over to his able hands.

Mini Review

This is a first for MMM. I was invited to see the movie at its New York City premiere the Tuesday before it opened so I’m actually able to offer a mini review of the movie and tell you how it compares to the campaign. You can read my co-worker Allison’s recap of the evening here.

First off, the movie is very cool. It’s a tight, action-packed movie that is one of the most genuinely thrilling – meaning it actually caused me to jolt in my seat more than once – that I’ve seen in a long time. This is possibly Smith’s best role to date and he creates a compelling portrait of someone who is carrying the weight of the world, or at least the world’s fate, on his shoulders, a burden he has no one to help with save his loyal dog. The movie works more or less from beginning to end, with a strong script that doesn’t fall back on cliche too often

After seeing the final product I have to say the campaign is pretty darn accurate. There’s no misleading element to the campaign that I can pinpoint, no attempt to play up something that receives only minor mention in the movie or anything like that.

Instead the campaign strives to extend the movie’s universe to the viewer and does so very accurately. If you have experienced the campaign then you’re completely prepped for the movie and will find its setting instantly familiar. By immersing the audience in the world Smith lives in through the campaign, Warner Bros. has actually added to the audience’s enjoyment of the movie, something that’s quite hard to pull off.


If you’ve been paying attention you’ll find it not surprising that I like this campaign and think it’s a very strong effort. Good trailers, good posters and absolutely excellent online and gaming executions make this a great push for a movie that lots of people are saying might be the blockbuster hit Hollywood needs this winter.

The main theme of the campaign is one of technology, a theme that’s repeated not only in what we see about the campaign – with lots of computers and such shown to the viewer – but also in the platforms used for the campaign’s distribution. Second Life, iPhones and other tools are all used to lend the movie’s brand an instant association in the audience’s mind with being on the forefront of technology.

What Would Chris Read?

Since MMM is as much about marketing as it is movies I thought I’d share with you the post I put up over on OTD where I list what social media marketing books I have on my shelf. There are a bunch of good books on the list that you should definitely be checking out if you’re interested in some in-depth examination, strategizing and theorizing on where marketing is moving regarding social media.

MMM notes

Just a few quick house-keeping notes.

First, I’m considering doing away with the “Quick Takes” posts and just pushing those items I don’t feel moved to write full posts on to my Shared Items link blog through Google Reader. I re-installed that widget over on the right. There are advantages to both and downsides to both. If Feedburner let me splice in that feed and dump items into a post like they do for the problems would be solved, but they don’t have that right now.

In case you haven’t noticed I’ve stopped putting huge poster images in posts. I think that keeping everything formatted to the right and letting you choose to expand the picture by clicking on it creates a better reading experience and makes the site look nicer. I don’t like making you click “More” or anything so this is the most elegant solution.

I’m opting to just continue using YouTube videos for trailers instead of uploading videos to the site and such. I like giving people the functionality they’re used to from elsewhere on the web and the flexibility to take those videos over to their own places on the interwebs so that, after some internal debate, is sticking around.

Finally, I’m going to be traveling the rest of the week to the east coast. That includes going to the I Am Legend premiere tomorrow night in New York. Then I’ve got a client event on Thursday in NYC and then traveling back to Chicago on Friday. So if posting seems light that’s why.