Movie Marketing Madness: Observe and Report

observe-and-report-poster-5Download as PDF: MMM_249_Observe_and_Report

Blah blah blah blah blah Volcano/Dante’s Peak blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah Deep Impact/Armageddon blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah crowded marketplace blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah.

OK, yeah. Paul Blart: Mall Cop opened just a couple months ago and now another movie about a mall security guard is hitting theaters. So there’s a risk, albeit slight, that audiences will have filled their craving for food court action sequences, but I think that’s largely been over-stated. In previous cases of one-two punches like this there’s no guarantee that the second movie to market is going to suffer. A movie’s success is still dependent on the same factors as always: Star power, good marketing and the general societal picture the movie is being released within.

All of which leads us to the release of Observer and Report. Starring Seth Rogen, Observe and Report casts him in the role of the head of security at a shopping mall, someone with an outsized personal vision of just how important his job is. Instead of seeing himself as simply maintaining order for shoppers he pictures his role as part of the thin blue line protecting decent society. One day a flasher goes on a wang-proclaiming rampage through his mall, including traumatizing the department store clerk he pines for. And so he embarks on a quest to find the miscreant, blatantly abusing his limited powers in the process.

The Posters

By way of teasing the movie, the first posters put Rogen in all his misplaced seriousness front and center. Designed like flyers that would be mounted to warn people to keep their eyes open, this series of four posters all had different poses but all just showed Rogen’s face against a yellow background. They’re kind of fun and certainly made it clear we’re dealing with a character suffering from major delusions of grandeur, but their spartan design might keep them from being truly memorable or really popping amidst sees of more dynamic images.


The final theatrical poster also featured the same worn flyer conceit but brought the camera out a bit, showing us not only all of Rogen but also pairing him with co-star Michael Pena, the two of them standing back to back against that same yellow background. Points for consistency but it still, I think, errs too far on the side of presenting the film as dry comedy. It should absolutely make that case – that it’s not a prat-fall filled movie but instead something that will make you equally as uncomfortable as make you laugh – but I think it goes just a touch too far in that direction.

The Trailers

Seeking to make an impact right off the bat – and present a strong differentiation between this film and its thematic predecessor – the first trailer released was a red-band version that appeared on the film’s official website.

This red-band trailer opens with the flasher on his exposition spree, culminating in him doing even more than just that in front of Anna Farris’ Brandy, the clerk Rogen’s character is in love with. We then dive into the movie’s story, that of Rogen’s security guard feeling this is the opportunity he has been searching for to not only prove himself as a man but in doing so prove himself to Brandy. Unfortunately he’s not that bright and much of the comedy is obviously going to be derived from the heavy-handed way he treats any violators in his mall and especially anyone he (wrongly) suspects of being the perpetrator. This version is filled with coarse language and even a little sex.

observe-and-report-picThe all-ages version of the trailer is, except for a brief montage of footage toward the end, almost exactly the same only without the offending bits that were in the earlier restricted one. It hits most of the same notes and still comes off as being more than a little violent, something I’m surprised was allowed in this general audience version. It’s one thing when “violence” means “big robots fighting each other in L.A.” and another when it means “someone pretending to aim a shot gun at another person who’s just on the other side of a desk.” That’s actually quite a big line. I get that it might be an accurate representation of the film but it’s still, at least to me, an odd point to include in this trailer.


Perhaps seeking to position itself as more interesting and original than Paul Blart, the movie’s official website actually opens with a screen full of positive quotes about it from a handful of critics, including many online writers. All of them describe the movie as unconventional in some way, with words like “unconventional” and “subversive” as well as “funny as hell” being thrown out there. I don’t think I’ve seen a mainstream movie’s site put this sort of emphasis on critic feedback before (critics play a bigger role in the marketing of independent films) so this is very interesting.

After digesting those you can Enter the Site. The main focus there is on the restricted content, which you have to enter your age and other information to access. That actually takes you to a full alternative – and very R-rated – site with it’s own content.

First and foremost is that red-band trailer which appears on the front page and which is also included, along with a Featurette and a handful of clips, under “Video.”

“Downloads” has a few Wallpapers and a Screensaver you can grab for your own usage. “Observe This” lets you hear various audio clips from the film.

“Pound-A-Perv” is a whack-a-mole type game that lets you hit the anonymous pervert with a flashlight as he pops up. Finally, “Ronnie vs. the Police” is probably another game but I can’t tell because it’s still labeled as “coming soon.”

Back to the general-access part of the site, “About the Film” contains a Synopsis, Cast and Crew bios and Notes, which chronicles the production of the movie and more.

observe-and-report-pic-2“Video” isn’t exactly it’s own section but just brings up a lightbox video player with the all-ages trailer. “Photos” displays not only about 25 stills from the film but also a couple of the posters, which aren’t always included on sites. I wish the stills were downloadable, but that’s a constant frustration and not unique to this site. “Downloads” has some Wallpapers, a Screensaver and a handful of Icons, all of which nicely carry over the same look and feel of the one-sheets, which is very cool.

There are also sections for “Promotions” which is where you’ll find links to contests and sweepstakes run by other sites and the movie’s “Soundtrack.”

The site also has along the bottom a row of icons and buttons that let you share it on Facebook, StumbleUpon, Delicious and more social networking or social news sites. You can also become a fan of the site on Facebook at its fan page profile there and even leave a comment on the site by logging in with Facebook Connect. That’s pretty cool functionality that I’ll probably comment on separately.

Advertising and Cross-Promotion

There don’t seem to be a ton of promotional partners outside the contests and such that are listed on the official site but the film has been supported by a decent advertising campaign, with online ads and TV spots appearing around and about. The TV spots definitely speak to the film’s slightly darker tone but also contain a bit of broad comedy as it seeks to find a middle ground in how it appeals to the mass audience.

Media and Publicity

The biggest publicity boosts for Observe and Report came first when it was announced it would debut at the SXSW festival in March, just a few weeks before its opening in theaters. After it did so there was an immediate wave of reviews, mostly positive and mostly noting it struck a definitely darker and more cynical tone than the other mall cop movie even flirted with. Some reviews, perhaps going a tad too deeply into the realm of hyperbole, even compared the main character with Travis Bickle , Robert DeNiro’s character in Taxi Driver. Whether that perception is accurate or not is still up for debate, but that sort of association certainly couldn’t hurt the movie’s credibility among a select portion of the audience that might be attracted to something a tad more cynical and downbeat.

The cast has also been making the media rounds, with Rogen playing up the film’s non-mainstream appeal in interviews and hitting Saturday Night Live the week before the film’s opening.


observe-and-report-titleYou all know I’m a big fan of consistency in movie marketing campaigns and this one certainly has that going for it. If you look at the movie’s website you’ll see the same key art that was used for the posters carried over there, creating a unified experience for the audience. Even in the publicity and press for the film, all the cast and crew hit the same four or five notes in terms of messaging, meaning readers weren’t given all sort of scattershot viewpoints as to the film’s perceived appeal.

It’s good stuff, but the major obstacle is still convincing the audience that it’s worth their time. I’m very much in favor, personally, of offbeat comedies but right now I’m probably in the minority. I don’t think the stumbling block is going to be that it’s the second mall security guard movie to market. Instead I think that it’s presenting itself as a movie that might have more squirms than laughs – despite the emphasis on Farris’ ditzy drunk act – and I’m not sure that’s going to appeal to a large swath of the audience right now. Still, it gets points for going in that direction assuming it’s an accurate representation of the film. I don’t have a problem with the campaign – it’s good – but just think it might be hitting the audience wrong, something that can’t really be helped.