Movie Marketing Madness: Hancock

Will Smith had a lot of good will built up after last year’s action/drama I Am Legend. He earned rave reviews for his performance as the sole survivor of a virus that had wiped out almost the entirety of humanity, leaving most dead and the others turned into nocturnal zombies. Since the movie was mostly Smith all by himself it was his to carry and he did so admirably, getting praise from audiences and critics.

For his follow-up, Smith picked Hancock. In it he plays the title character, a super-powered individual who is kind of a dick. He’s homeless, sleeping on park benches and such, and completely inconsiderate about how much damage he causes in his mis-guided attempts to save the day. He smashes into street signs and breaks up streets and everything else as he flies about and insults people and while he’s on the ground.

It is, to say the least, a risky move for Smith to take and it’s going to be a tough movie to sell. After all, this isn’t just an anti- or reluctant hero we’re talking about. Hancock is almost set up as the bad guy in his own story, someone with no public support and a bad attitude. The trick for Sony is to sell this as an interesting bit of entertainment in a summer that’s already seen Iron Man become a massive, shiny hit and is soon to see The Dark Knight appear as a dark hero to be sure, but still a no-doubt-about-it hero.

The Posters

Really there was only one poster released by Sony for the movie, one that showed Smith as Hancock in extreme close-up, with his full nasty looking outfit of dirty ski cap and big sunglasses on. In the glasses you can see the reflection of Los Angeles, something that is a pretty typical superhero pose, that of the hero looking out over the city he protects. But Hancock being in such filthy clothes is meant to contrast against that, creating a stark – and hopefully memorable – image in the mind of the audience as being more “unconventional” than anything else. Sony is obviously hoping that this is then interesting enough to the public to make it their movie of choice this weekend.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer starts off in much the same way you would expect any sort of superhero movie to, with a camera sweeping through the clouds with bold text coming at the viewer. It then sets up Hancock as a very different hero, sleeping on a sidewalk bench before being awaken by a small boy, who Hancock then yells at. After making an inappropriate grab for a hot woman walking by him he blasts off, destroying the bench, almost hitting a jet plane and crashing through highway signs as he misguidedly tries to save the day.

At that point the action shifts to reveal that Hancock is not well loved, a situation that is obviously setup to provide most of the comedy in the film. We see him destroying streets and ultimately throwing a beached whale back into the sea. The last bit comes with commentary from Jason Bateman, playing a publicity agent of some sort who’s determined to help Hancock clean up his image a bit.

It’s a good trailer that does quite a bit to setup the story and the characters (at least most of them) and provides a very solid introduction to Hancock himself. It’s played for laughs almost exclusively, as is much of the campaign.

The first theatrical trailer starts off with an extended version of the highway chase scene, with Hancock this time being introduced while flying and drinking before moving to more of Bateman’s PR guy and his attempts to improve the hero’s image. It then moves into less comedic territory, with lots of scenes of the character struggling with his identity and his public persona and how to reconcile the two. We even get a few brief shots of Theron, though not enough to really pin-down who her character is or what she’s all about.

At the time it debuted – and I still feel this way now – I thought this more heroic tone was a response to the fact that all of a sudden Sony found itself in the middle of what, at the time, was the full-court press that was the Iron Man campaign. The studio all of a sudden needed to market it as a superhero movie and not so much as a comedy. So while there were still some comedic elements in this and the second theatrical spot that was largely the same the focus was coming around to the saving the day parts of the movie more and more.

Online

The movie’s official website is a litlte disappointing, at least by the standards of a major tentpole release from a big studio. It’s well designed – I love the tile look to the navigation and how the sections keep rearranging themselves every time you come back to the main page – but the content is just a tad light.

Before you enter the site there are a couple of contests you can enter. The first is the Cover to Cover Comic Book Sweepstakes, which is giving away some original artwork that is meant to be the covers to some fictional Hancock comic books. The second is a contest to have your mortgage paid off. The contest uses the idea that Hancock has destroyed your home and it’s Bateman’s PR guy that’s coordinating this in order to boost Hancock’s public image.

Upon entering the site we’ll start off at “Trailers,” where you’ll find both the teaser and the theatrical trailers. Next up are the only eight pictures that are housed in the “Gallery,” officially making it weaker than the selection you can find somewhere like Yahoo Movies. “Downloads” has just a Screensaver, some Buddy Icons and a few Wallpapers.

“About the Film” has a decent, if not spectacular, Story synopsis as well as sections on the Cast and Filmmakers that contains some pretty standard write-ups on their history in the film and entertainment business.

Most of the rest of the site’s content is meant to be more interactive and entertaining in nature. We’ll first look at HancockWasHere.com, a site that’s meant to be a blog by a bystander in Hancock’s area that chronicles his actions. So it’s filled with videos of him swooping down and destroying things and reports from people on the ground when he mishandles an attempt at saving the day. I’m not a fan of fake blogs like this, but it’s not completely offensive so it’s not worth quibbling over. It’s pretty obvious – by the huge tower ad for the movie if nothing else – that it’s a promotional effort so I’ll give it a pass here.

There are also some games under the “Hancock’s So-Called Heroics,” most of which focus on having Hancock save the a citizen from some sort of problem, with his efforts being measured against the financial costs of his actions. That’s also the main point of “Guess the Financial Toll,” which takes you through a scenario from the movie – for instance him throwing the whale back into the ocean – and then you have to guess how much that’s going to cost the city.

Finally there’s a bit of promotion for the movie’s mobile game, which it says is available on some carriers but doesn’t go into which ones.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There’s been quite a bit of advertising done for the movie, including numerous TV spots that you can view on the official YouTube channel setup by the studio.

Two complaints that streamed in about the campaign from those that were seeing the movie early were that 1) Sony was selling it as a flat-out comedy while the actual movie was quite dark and 2) That co-star Charlize Theron was completely missing from the marketing.

One of the final TV spots sought to address both of those concerns, eliminating almost all the comedy and instead presenting the movie as a pretty dark action movie. The shift in tone was drastic and, let’s be honest, had to be more than a little jarring to the public at large.

I also saw a lot of bus-side ads around Chicago’s Loop and I’m ssuming this was replicated in other major cities as well.

Overall

As the movie’s campaign progressed over the course of the last several months it kept getting hammered by early reviews and leaks about how the film was darker than the marketing was making it out to be. That was usually coupled with predictions of the movie’s eventual box-office demise as audiences found it wasn’t the laught riot the trailers and commercials seemed to be selling to the public.

But it’s a good campaign that hits a lot of the right notes. Yeah, it mostly emphasizes the funny parts, but that’s alright since, according to an informal review I got from Tom yesterday, it actually is pretty funny.

Whatever the case might be, the campaign is consistent in how it sells the movie, at least for the most part. It presents a very solid image of the character of Hancock and how things are going to wind up going for him. The trailers create a nice arc from the teaser to the theatrical and are probably the strongest part of the campaign. I’m a little disappointed there was only one poster and, as I said, the website is a bit weaker than I would expect from a summer tentpole like this.

But despite those problems don’t derail this from being a strong campaign that Sony has put together. Now it just has to be strong enough to convince audiences to see it and not WALL-E or Wanted, whichever one they didn’t see last weekend.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 7/9/08: I didn’t include this in the column despite the fact that the story was released before I published more because I couldn’t find a good fit for it more than anything else.
  • 7/9/08: Sony is planning to release Hancock to owners of Sony Bravia sets via Internet download in the period after its theatrical run is finished but before the DVD is released. The download is run through Sony directly, seemingly without the participation of one of the traditional players like a cable company and is likely to honk those people off. I’m curious to see the pricing on this. It’s too limited a test – again, it’s just web-connected Bravia owners – to draw any real conclusions about the viability of breaking the window like this, but is an interesting move nonetheless.
  • 7/16/08: The site for Hancock that was developed by Trigger was tagged as one of Adobe’s Sites of the Day.

2 thoughts on “Movie Marketing Madness: Hancock

  1. susieq says:

    I was in several European cities and they each had
    posters of Hancock with different skylines reflected in his glasses
    In Krakow it was 2 buildings from the old town and I think the other one I saw was in Berlin. What’s up with that and what other cities did they advertise?

  2. Are Sørum, Norway says:

    In Norway they’ve put Holmenkollen, Norway’s most famous ski-jump-arena, in his glasses…

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