Dreamworks Animation must feel like it finally has a position of power in the family entertainment game. Despite being the home of bona fide blockbusters like Shrek, Shrek II and Shrek the Third, most all non-Shrek animated features have had either minimal success or not done very well at all. But last year that started to turn around with Kung-Fu Panda, a delightfully refreshing tale of a panda with delusions of grandeur but a massive destiny to fulfill. Unlike other Dreamworks features, this one wasn’t filled with pop-culture references that were out of date as soon as they were put to film. Nor was it just one crotch joke after another, though there were a couple of them, but no more than you’d find in your average episode of “Zack and Cody.”
Looking to build on that momentum, Dreamworks this year is releasing Monsters Vs. Aliens, which serves nicely as not just a title but also a plot description. The movie, then, is about an alien invasion, one that’s countered by the U.S. government through the deployment of a team of, well, monsters. The team includes an ooze monster, a gigantic girl and a couple other misfits and creatures.
As we dive into the movie’s marketing campaign keep one thing firmly in mind. As much as the push seeks to sell the movie itself it’s also about selling the idea of 3-D exhibition to the general public. While 3-D has had a good amount of success so far with releases like The Dark Knight and Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, the format is still looking for a breakout smash. More accurately, it’s looking for a release where a significant portion of the box-office has come from 3-D, something where the movie’s success is largely attributed to its appearance on 3-D screens. But the public needs a strong case to be presented to it that the format provides an added value to their viewing experience. So that’s been Dreamworks’ case, having included 3-D mentions in a significant amount of the campaign.
Let’s take a look.
The first teaser poster released played up the idea that this was a fun and funny movie with a loose sort of attitude. It featured B.O.B., the blue blob voiced in the movie by Seth Rogen, flashing a peace sign with the copy “Ooze gonna save us?” above him. You would think, since this is essentially an ensemble comedy and there’s no one titular character (as was the case with Kung Fu Panda) that there would be more like this but there weren’t.
There were, though, a whole series that featured every (or just about every) character from the film released later on. These were all created in a style the evokes memories of the Red-scare monster movies from the 1950s and 60s and they’re all pretty good, certainly selling the audience on what the look and feel of the movie will be. The designs are bright and colorful and contain some adjectives about the creature featured on that poster. There were versions showing off Ginormica, B.O.B., The Missing Link, Dr. Cockroach, Gallaxhar and Instectosaurus.
Finally, the theatrical poster brought the whole team together, showing the good guys standing between the city – in this case San Francisco – and the bad guys, whose ships are shown flying in the background. It’s actually a pretty standard sort of action movie poster and while I think it’s pretty effective at selling the flick to the target audience of kids and their moms, it’s not all that exciting in and of itself.
There was also a slightly – but only slightly – different version of the theatrical one-sheet that played up a bit more the film’s distribution to 3-D screens.
The first trailer starts off by showing us Ginormica’s origin and using that as a way to introduce us to the U.S. government’s team of monsters. Eventually we get to the plot of the alien invasion and how this team of outcasts and misfits eventually comes together to fight it off. It’s funny but goes by really, really quick and doesn’t give anything, either the visuals or the story, much time to breath.
The second trailer starts off with the invasion force being discovered by a couple of amateur space-watchers. Then it gets to showing us the monsters and how they’re Earth’s best hope for survival. The last two-thirds contains a lot of the same stuff from the first trailer so there’s not a lot new to comment on.
There’s also another trailer that, again, doesn’t reveal much that’s new but arranges it in a slightly different manner so it’s worth checking out if you want to make sure you’ve seen everything.
The movie’s official website opens with a TV-spot type video that plays automatically up on the page loading. There’s also the opportunity there to Grab the Widget, Create a Monster (more on this later) and put B.O.B. on your iPhone, with that link opening up iTunes so you can grab the app.
Once you enter the site you’re greeted with, essentially, the poster art with buttons to play brief little character-setting video snippets from the film. You can view even more of these by using the arrows on the right and the left of the screens to change environments, of which there are eight to choose from.
The first section of content is “Videos,” which is something that struck me as interesting. Usually the first section is “About” or something that gives some background on the making of the movie and its story. But this movie, which is all about the visuals – and which is targeted at children – puts video at the forefront instead. Just something worth noting.
Anyway, “Video” contains a featurette titled “Story of 3D,” which is all about how Dreamworks Animation has embraced the 3D format for this movie and how the technology has enabled for a whole new level of story-telling. Both trailers are also there, as well as a montage of footage from the movie titled “Director’s First Look,” which actually serves the same purpose as an “About” section, only without all that text to read.
Also tipping us off as to who the target audience is is the fact that the next section is “Games and Activities.” In the former category you have Gallaxhar Invades, which is a movie-themed variation on Space Invaders, Monster Creator, which allows you to design and download your own monster and finally information on both the Mobile- and Console-based tie-in video games. In the latter category there are an absolute bucket-load of downloadable material, from stickers to cards to party items to anything else you could think of to occupy the time of a seven year-old.
“Downloads” contains a number of the usual types of items, including Wallpapers, Buddy Icons, Signatures for your email, Web Skins and a PC Screensaver. “Dossiers” gives you some background information on the main characters on the Monsters team. “Partners” I’ll cover below.
The last section, “Behind the Scenes,” is where we finally get some information on The Cast and The Crew. There’s also what are in essence production notes within The Film and some similarly-themed videos under “Video Featurettes.” Lastly there’s some Production Art in a gallery that you can check out.
There’s also a separate site at http://www.topsecretconspiracy.com/ that seeks to appear like an effort to expose the government’s cover-up of the monsters that are among us in the world. It’s mildly funny and certainly takes advantage of online media, with a Twitter feed and some RSS feeds that you can subscribe to, as well as the ability to upload your own stories of where you’ve found the truth.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The movie has not lacked for advertising support by any stretch of the imagination. The movie’s ads have been blanketing the internet and the TV airwaves for months now, all of them making sure to note that you’re especially encouraged to see it in 3D.
But no advertising move by Dreamworks in support of the film was bigger than their decision to advertise within the 2009 Super Bowl broadcast. Not only that, but the ad was shown in 3D . The ad was for the movie but it was also sponsored by Sobe Life Water, a drink being promoted by maker PepsiCo, thereby deferring a bit of the cost of the spot’s production and airing. In order to watch it you had to go to one of the partnering retailers to get special 3D glasses in order to fully enjoy the spot.
Unfortunately for everyone the reactions to the spot weren’t all that positive. Many folks called it “lame” or chalked it up to a publicity stunt that had no value or even criticized the effects. It’s true that for a movie that’s claiming to up the ante in 3D, especially in the use of special polarized glasses, probably was never going to benefit greatly from TV 3D (which never turns out well) and the use of old-school red/blue cardboard glasses. I get what the studio was going for by doing this but it was probably a bit of an over-reaching moment in trying to reach the audience and actually reminded me of the poor reactions to the 2003 Super Bowl spot for Ang Lee’s Hulk in the backlash.
The movie got some print advertising support from a variety of Time Inc publications after Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg personally called Time’s editor in chief John Huey. The deal worked out in a way that would have five Time titles each creating a 3D section of its own that would be supported by McDonald’s, a promotional partner with the film, as well as Real D, HP and Intel.
Moving on to the cross-promotions and partners, let’s dive back to the “Partners” page on the movie’s official website.
- Energizer is including one of three toys in four-packs of every parent’s best friend, the AA battery, as well as offering a contest to win a family vacation.
- Wrigley is selling Hubba Bubba bubble gum in MVA packaging that lets you enter to win one of a number of prizes.
- Frozen meal maker Kid Cuisine also put movie images on select packages and offered the chance to win a year’s worth of movie tickets as well as some cash.
- LandOFrost, a lunchmeat brand, included collectible cards in their products and let you enter to win the movie’s video game.
- McDonald’s, a regular partner of Dreamworks, picked MVA as their latest Happy Meal theme, including toys with the food and even bringing Gallaxhar, the villain, into the Happy Meal virtual world.
- Since this is National Frozen Food Month, the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association got its members involved to offer a $10,000 sweepstakes. If you’ve looked at grocery store flyers for the last month you’re likely to have seen mention of this.
- Visa is offering Signature cardholders the chance to see a complimentary screening of the movie as well as get free popcorn and soda while doing so.
Media and Publicity
While there’s been plenty of the usual publicity for the movie around and about in the media in the form of cast interviews and such, much of what I’ve read about the movie has been contained within stories about the penetration of 3D into the mass audience, showing I think just how closely the two things are closely entwined. Unfortunately many of those stories have been about the slowed roll-out schedule of 3D projectors and systems due to the recession or other reasons.
First, there’s the emphasis on promoting 3D as part of the movie-going experience. It gets in the way sometimes of the actual movie campaign and actually, it occurs to me, runs the risk of creating a feeling in the audience that if they can’t see it in 3D they’ll just pass on it altogether. I don’t think that’s a big risk, but I keep coming back to it.
Second, the campaign reaches a bit farther than it needs to on more than one occassion. A lot of that is in support of the 3D push but even aside from that it comes off, at least to me, as sometimes being a bit more hard-nosed than it needs to be or tries to generate too much publicity for its marketing than it really needs to.
Other than those issues, though, it’s a decent campaign that Dreamworks has put together, with a good site that is certainly geared toward its target audience and some good trailers and posters. Be interesting to see how this turns out at the box-office.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 4/3/09: I forgot about this, but RealD offered a UStream-powered video feed widget from the movie’s premiere red carpet event. You can still view footage from the event on that page.
- 4/3/09: Robert Marich talks about the costs of the worldwide marketing for the movie and also about how the success of the film will be closely watched by Wall Street investors. That’s because the studio’s financing deals and that fact that it only releases a small number of films, each one has to be a success or the studio’s stock price could take a major hit.
- 4/3/09: There are a few more “viral” sites that I hadn’t heard about but which add some backstory to the movie’s characters and locations. There’s one for W.R. Monger, one for Pacific Monster Island and one for Old Man Carl’s snack food company.
- 4/24/09: I didn’t see this promoted anywhere so I can’t say definitively whether it’s official or not (it certainly seems to be) but there’s a MVAMovie Twitter account that has published updates on the movie’s release. This would have completely passed me by if I hadn’t noticed a referral to MMM from it in my traffic stats.