(Note: Yes, this should have gone live last week. Schedules and circumstances prevented that from happening, but since I had it almost completely written anyway I figured I may as well push it out. Apologies all around for the delay.)

I was talking with someone recently about how much better a certain singer’s performances are when he’s paired with someone else in a duet. Putting him in that situation forces him to tone down his vocal gymnastics, designed to do nothing but broadcast fake emotions that he’s not seemingly able to pull off authentically. But put him up against someone and he’s pushed to actually sing in order to keep up with his partner, resulting in a much better performance. Even the great performers of all time, Eric Clapton comes to mind, benefit from supporting players that push them to the limits of their abilities instead of allowing them to sit back and give awesome but relatively uninspired performances.

Such is the case with someone like Will Ferrell. He’s remarkably funny in and of himself, but when he’s put in a position where he can riff off of someone equally talented his performances are raised to a whole other level. That’s certainly the case with movies like Anchorman, where while he was the star he had to keep up with what Paul Rudd and the rest of the cast were doing as well.

In Step Brothers, Ferrell turns to John C. Reilly as his partner in comedy. Reilly has made a mid-career adjustment from serious dramas to comedies, not forsaking the latter entirely but certainly focusing on the former more and more in the last couple of years.

The movie has the two actors playing grown men, neither of whom have left their respective nests. Eschewing all forms of responsibility or maturity, the two are brought together unwillingly when their single parents marry each other, forming a family that now includes two man-children. While the two first plot against each other they eventually find out they have quite a bit in common and use each other to continue prolonging their adventures in delayed self-reliance.

The Poster

It’s not actually that surprising that there was only one poster for the film that was created. It’s not really a high-profile action film or even something that invites multiple perspectives. The one-sheet shows Ferrell and Reilly in a family portrait style photo, both with incredibly ridiculous looks on their faces. It works on a very basic level, in that the main selling point of the movie is the interaction between these two goofballs.

You might think there would be room for a couple of character posters in this campaign but I think that separating the two actors would take away much of the funny. The movie is based on the conflict, and later camaraderie between the two characters so splitting them apart would also split apart the essential allure of the film.

@timnudd points to this poster as being the tipping point, when Sears Family Portrait Studio-type pictures officially became uncool. While I whole-heartedly agree with him that such photos are uncool, I have to wonder when he thought they were cool. That in and of itself disturbs me more than a little.

The Trailers

The one and only regular trailer opens with the two main characters, Brennan and Dale, meeting each other for the first time and not exactly getting off on the right foot. Their relationship is immediately defined by threats of bodily harm and instances of them actually attacking each other, something that includes Ferrell’s character attempting to bury Reilly’s alive. Eventually, though, the two find they have quite a bit in common. The story of the movie is then revealed as the two grown losers are told to get jobs and get out of the house, something they sabotage to the best of their ability so they can continue their lives of absolutely no responsibility.

The red-band trailer amps up the language quite a bit. The conflict of the movie is immediately setup as the two meet when their parents get married. There’s quite a bit of the same footage that appeared in the first trailer, with most of the new scenes being ones that feature some crude language. A few of them are just extensions of scenes we’ve seen before.


When you load the movie’s official website the first thing you see is a framed portrait of Ferrell and Reilly that’s very much like the poster. Only this moves. Ferrell will do something and Reilly tells him to calm down or cut it out and then the picture freezes. Below it there’s a “Replay” button for you to kick it over to the next thing that they do.

Off to the side there’s something called the Step Brothers Duel. It’s basically a little gag to play on your friends that lets you upload their picture from your hard drive and then have it sent to their mobile phone. At least that’s how I’m guessing it works since the site wasn’t really working for me, though I did see a box to enter your friend’s phone number.

There’s also a link there to watch the restricted clips there that includes access to the red-band trailer and some similarly bawdy clips from the film. Basically the studio wants to remind us that the actors are allowed to swear in the movie and these work quite well at achieving that goal.

Once you go ahead and enter the site, you’re basically taken into the feud between the two new step-brothers. Specifically you’re taken into their house, with the site’s sections scattered around the place. It’s not like they’re hidden, it’s just that the site is meant to continue the attempt to draw you into these people’s lives.

“About the Film” contains a brief Synopsis as well as the usual Cast and Crew profiles. You’ll find the Trailer, some Clips and a couple of TV Spots under “Media” and a whopping eight stills from the movie under “Gallery.” “Downloads” has just what you’d expect, a Wallpaper, a Screensaver and a bunch of Buddy Icons.

The content under “Special Features” is a little bit better. Brennan and Dale (Ferrell and Reilly’s characters, respectively) are lists of their special treasures, things like karaoke machines and other goofy stuff like that. There’s also a Soundboard that consists of brief audio clips from each character and a Step by Step Guide to getting along with your brother-in-law, which thinks it’s much funnier than it actually is.

“Promotions” is just a sweepstakes the studio is running in conjunction with MovieTickets.com

Like the stuff under “Special Features,” the “Join ASSB” takes you to the site for the fictional “American Society of Step Brothers.” And like the “Special Features” content, it thinks it’s much funnier than it actually is. You can upload your own photo or that of a friend into the family portrait from the movie. You can also play a game called “Whack-A-Bro” where you get to select which of the two, Ferrell or Reilly, you’d like to hit over and over again in a whack-a-mole type game.

There are also the requisite Facebook and MySpace pages for the film as well as a Mobile friendly site and content. The Facebook page has voicetones you can download, trailers, the Duel game and a batch of photos. You’ll find videos, games, downloads, voicetones and the staring contest widget on the MySpace page.


Like they did with You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Sony/Columbia created standees for the movie that come equipped with Bluetooth technology. The standees, which have been placed in 50 Regal Entertainment theaters across the country, will beam four voicetones to moviegoers who interact with the standee. A fifth is also available to those who take an extra step. Those who saw the standee between July 18th and 20th also were able to grab a 30-second clip from the movie.

There were also quite a few TV spots, a smattering of online ads and a few outdoor ads that I’ve seen for the film.


The stars and director of the movie stopped by Comedy Central’s “Reel Comedy” show to talk about the difficulties of living with family and other such topics. This is a standard part of most comedy’s publicity plans.

Reilly and Ferrell also appeared on the newly launched site IBeatYou, engaging in a staring contest on the site that didn’t do much more than put a presence for the movie there. You could grab this contest as a widget to put on your own online presence. It’s not necessarily something where the funny holds up upon repeated viewings, but what are you going to do?


It’s an alright campaign in achieving its target goals of simply alerting the general public there’s a new Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly comedy – directed, I should mention, by Anchorman and Talladega Nights helmer Adam McKay – that’s hitting theaters. But while the single poster and the couple of trailers are plenty funny the website speaks to a marketing effort that does not appear to have a lot of support. I realize that the online component might not be the most visible in terms of what’s seen by the mass audience, but you can also use that to some extent as a barometer of a studio’s excitement about a movie.

I think the biggest problem I have with the general lackluster vibe the campaign gives off is that we’re now over a month past the release of just about all the other major comedies of the summer. You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Get Smart, The Love Guru and The Happening were all released in early- to mid-June. That means Step Brothers, with a more full-throated marketing yawp could have been THE comedy of the mid- to late-summer, a light-hearted antidote to the super-serious Dark Knight and the bevy of action films that have come out. True, Hancock was positioned (somewhat inaccurately) as a comedy, but that wound up fitting very much into the action movie mold more than anything.

The campaign relies almost exclusively on the audience’s tolerance for Ferrell and Reilly’s mugging instead of making the case for the film itself. While, again, most of the individual components work pretty well at conveying the selling points of the film, the campaign as a whole fails to measure up.


  • 8/20/08: Don’t tell anyone, but Step Brothers has quietly amassed over $100 million at the domestic box-office, which is kind of a big deal when you think about this being a mid-level comedy. As Karina says, this sort of “Oh my, did that really succeed?” movie is one of many reasons that studios have been shutting down their specialty divisions that deal in movies that require marketers to actually “think” and “put together a plan.”

1 Comment

  1. I had a good laugh when I saw you include The Happening as a comedy. It probably would have had a bigger audience if it had been marketed that way.

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