Most people have very strong opinions about business travel. While there are a few people who love it and say it’s an interesting way to get out of the office there are also vast swaths of the population who view business travel as something akin to being beaten with un-ripe pomegranates by ethnically insensitive monkeys. Then there are a few – like me – who are sort of pragmatic about it: It’s not the worst thing in the world. Certainly not the way I’d like to spend all my time, but I’ve got a system more or less down that works for me and makes it a not horrible experience.
Ryan Bingham would definitely fall into the “loves it” crowd. That’s the character played by George Clooney in Up in the Air, the new movie from writer/director Jason Reitman. Clooney’s Bingham is a hired gun, going from town to town and assisting companies by doing the dirty work of letting employees know they’re fired for them. That job keeps him on the road – actually in the air – a lot and, since he’s free of personal relationships, that’s just how he likes it. Instead of meaningful connections he’s instead focused on frequent flier miles and what his hotel status is. But then tough times hit his own job and he finds he must adjust to the new reality, one that he has little to no experience in.
Expectations are seemingly pretty high for this movie as it not only is Reitman’s follow-up to the word-of-mouth success Juno but because it stars Clooney and, as we’ll see, has a good amount of buzz and excitement already surrounding it.
The movie’s plot and major characters are laid out pretty clearly in the first poster, as are the credentials of the major players that are going to be a lure to the audience to come see the movie.
Clooney stands in the middle of the image but is seen only in silhouette and from the back, meaning the poster forgoes the easy route of putting his famous face front and center. To one side is what looks to be an older professional woman and to the other what looks to be a younger professional woman who’s busy checking her Blackberry. Outside the huge window they’re all in front of a massive airplane which, combined with the fact that all three characters are hauling or sitting on travel roller bags, makes the movie’s theme of always being on the move clear as day. It’s blue-gray colors give it kind of a work-place tone – the world of these characters is not filled with bright colors but neutral corporate ones.
At the top there’s a huge airport-type sign that sports Clooney’s name, the title treatment and the fact that this movie is the latest from the direct of Juno and Thank You For Smoking, though Reitman apparently still lacks the mainstream audience name recognition to include his name. That’s fine for now since most people are going to see the names of these movies and make their decision to see it based just on that.
The first trailer, released just days after the movie’s Telluride debut and on the coat-tails of the resulting buzz, is all different sorts of cool. It’s bookended by Clooney giving some sort of corporate presentation at a podium and it’s that presentation that is continued throughout the trailer’s running time in the form of narration, narration that makes it clear the movie is about relationships and how we carry them through our lives.
Underneath that narration we get scenes from the film that depict just where Clooney’s character is coming from and what his life looks like. That includes a lot of time in airports and other places associated with travel – airport shuttles, hotel room exercise centers, airline executive clubs and such.
In addition to that we get a few glimpses of some of his character’s own relationships, including a woman he has some sort of romantic connection with, a younger woman he seems to work with and a few other people. We also get a sense of what he does, which is break the bad news to some people that they’re being fired. That’s clear from the looks on the faces of supporting actors like J.K. Simmons and Jason Bateman.
The trailer works on so many levels it’s kind of ridiculous. It’s at once kind of funny – it’s hard not to laugh at how easy Clooney’s character moves through the airports and other locations – and heart-breaking – it’s obvious he keeps most everyone except this one woman at arm’s length emotionally. It works at just the right pace to get you worked up about the movie, something that’s aided by the simple music that plays. More than anything, though, it makes you want to see how the movie this only hints at actually plays out, which is kind of the goal so it’s good that it gets accomplished so easily.
The second trailer was a bit less sentimental but much heavier on plot and story. It starts off with more Clooney narration as he explains to us just how much he travels, how much that works for him and what exactly his job is. We get more footage that includes Simmons, Bateman and others as it’s made clear how this character lives his life, which is from airport to airport.
Then we’re introduced to the young woman who has been tasked to shadow him and learn the ropes, which includes him explaining to her just how to plan to get through airport security the fastest. She also, as we come to see, is at his side as he goes through an uncomfortable transition as not only does he see his job changing but also his personal life as he meets what might be the woman of his dreams, a fellow business traveler who is “turned on by elite status” and with whom he can feel a connection that he has, as he explains to his young assistant, never felt before.
This trailer works on different levels than the teaser. Where that one was about creating a mood this one is about creating a connection. We are asked to connect with Clooney’s character, someone who does something many of us would find morally reprehensible but who also has zero emotional ties to the world. So it’s an odd situation of trying to connect with a character who has eschewed almost all connections until one finds him (the love interest) and one is foist upon him (the assistant). Still, the overall presentation is of slick, professionally produced movie that’s targeted at adults but which might just make us ask some hard questions about our own relationships.
The official website opens, after a transition animation sequence, with a recreation of the poster key art.
Before we get to the main content – housed under the Arrivals sign – there’s a section down at the bottom that’s labeled “Get Connected.” Clicking that takes you to a separate site, UpintheAirTweets. That site collects the stream of Twitter updates that mention the movie or one of the related hashtags, as well as prominently displaying not only the updated from Reitman himself but also from other “Featured” partners like @ReelzChannel and others. There’s also a News feed over to the right that displays headlines and links to recent media coverage of the movie.
This sort of Twitter update aggregation has become very popular in the last year or so, with various consumer-focused brands executing it in one way or another. Skittles was one of the first big brands to do so, with Pepsi and others doing similar programs. Paramount also did something similar for Paranormal Activity a couple months ago.
It’s an interesting idea but one that I’m not necessarily sold on the effectiveness of. It’s interesting to see all these things in one place, yeah, but I don’t quite think it’s all that interesting to see this information visualized like this. Too often – and I’m not accusing Paramount of this or anything – programs like this are put up as examples of companies “listening” to the online conversation when all they’re actually doing is aggregating and displaying. That’s a lot different than listening, trust me.
That “Get Connected” box also has a link to the movie’s Facebook Fan Page and a prompt to respond to an RSVP to attend the movie’s opening night – not a specific event but a signal that you’re going to go see it at a theater near you when it opens on Friday.
Moving back to the core content areas, the first one up is “Videos.” There you’ll find both the Teaser and Theatrical Trailers, as well as the Co-Pilot spot that would become the long-form TV spot we’ll see later in the campaign. There are also two clips that significantly expand scenes we’re shown briefly in the trailer. After each video ends you’re given the option to share them with others, either over email or through Twitter or Facebook. That sharing is made very specific and do-able because the site, while Flash-based, does have deep-links that enable you to send someone to the exact video you’re watching and recommending.
“Reviews” is next and actually has the look and feel of a press room with how it not only includes a handful of pull quotes from various reviews but also the logo of the publication those reviews appeared in as well as a link to the full piece – something that’s usually left out – so the reader can get the whole article. That speaks somewhat to the idea that those reviews are fully favorable and the reader won’t see that the quotes weren’t pulled out of context.
You’ll find a Synopsis and five sections of Production Notes under “About the Film.” Those Production Notes cover a good deal of the making of the movie, from Reitman’s passion to adapt the source book to the casting and editing to the selection of songs for the soundtrack. They’re pretty well written and interesting, at least as far as things things usually run.
There are, by my count, 17 stills in “Photos,” including a handful of behind the scenes shots that include Reitman but mostly production photos that show off scenes we’ve been introduced to in the trailers.
“Cast” and “Crew” sections are next, providing background on the major players on the film.
For some reason “Downloads” is not included in this menu but instead is placed far away in the lower left hand corner of the page. All that’s there, though, is a single Screensaver (still labeled as “coming soon” a scant two days prior to release) and a handful of Wallpapers.
The last section in that main menu then is “Partners,” the details of which we’ll get into below.
The Facebook Fan Page is pretty nice for what it is. There’s lots of fan response on the Wall, trailers, TV spots and clips in the Videos section and more stuff on the Info and Photos tabs as well. Get Tickets brings you to links to the major online ticket retailers and Events lets you, as I mentioned earlier, signal your intent to see the movie on Friday.
A key component of the online campaign, as well as a big platform for keeping the movie’s word of mouth sustained, has been Reitman’s own Twitter account. It’s from there that he’s been engaging fans – mostly the movie blog writers he’s met at various festivals – and talking about where he’s headed on the publicity tour for the film, including a pie chart of the questions he’s most frequently being asked, which has been kind of funny. While Reitman seems to be doing this independent of any sort of organized campaign he’s been managing it pretty well and certainly has working overtime in terms of the effort he’s put in. Best of all, that sustained word-of-mouth that he’s been able to build is sure to have a return on investment – even if the investment has been primarily his time – when it comes to the movie’s box office take this weekend.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
One part of the TV advertising campaign included the running of what was essentially the second trailer, in its entirety but with a few changes, during the season finale of “Mad Men,” positioning that I just have to stand up and salute since that’s a high-end crowd being sold a high-end movie. The re-worked trailer not only includes a couple of changed scenes but also features a lot more critic blurb quotes praising the movie.
There was also a good amount of online advertising done, most of which has re-purposed either the poster art or one of the primary promotional images, mostly the one of Clooney looking above the camera, presumably at an Arrivals/Departures board.
In terms of cross-promotions and partnerships, the movie’s campaign is unsurprisingly chock full of travel industry companies and brands.
American Airlines, which makes an appearance in the movie, ran a sweepstakes that was appropriately geared toward travelers. Called “A Year in the Air Sweepstakes,” the contest required you to buy a plane ticket during the contest period (now closed) in order to enter and then awarded one grand prize of 700,000 AAdvantage Miles and, two tickets to the movie’s premiere and a $300 gift card, with 20 other winners getting a copy of the movie poster and soundtrack. The airline also sponsored Up in the Air’s premiere in Los Angeles.
Hilton Hotels also signed on in a deal that was more an exchange of goods than anything else. While no money reportedly (Brandweek, 11/9/09) changed hands, the hotel chain made itself available for low-cost lodgings for the cast and crew and space for production staff. Hotel locations appear within the movie prominently, with many scenes being set at Hilton’s across the country – even if most of them are actually the St. Louis hotel gussied up to look like Hiltons in other cities. Hilton also ran a sweepstakes that awarded loyalty club points and other prizes to those who entered either on the website or by participating through Twitter or Facebook.
Luggage company Travelpro also secured (MediaPost, 11/11/09) product placement within the film. That deal includes a sweepstakes of its own that’s supported a print, online and out-of-home marketing effort.
Sprint also ran a contest/sweepstakes that awarded one winner a Blackberry 8339 Curve with six months of free service as well as a Jabra Bluetooth headset and the film’s soundtrack. Other winners received either the soundtrack of the headset.
Media and Publicity
Right around the time the first poster was released it was announced the film would be making its debut at the Toronto Film Festival, a move Anne Thompson pegs as one designed to position the movie as an Oscar contender.
It jumped the gun a little, actually, and made an early appearance at Telluride, just a week or so before Toronto, an appearance that earned it almost uniform positive reviews, with many people calling it a triumph and similar glowing praise. That debut was complemented by the release of a very brief – it runs just about a minute – clip from the movie that gave a quick sense of Clooney’s character and how he operates.
It’s eventual planned appearance at Toronto – it was actually one of two movies starring Clooney (Time 9/13/09) at the fest – was met with even more accolades for the star and the director, including more than a little speculation that it would be – as Thompson stated – a shoe-in for one or more awards.
The movie’s release schedule was also the source of some media coverage. While it was, I believe, originally planned for December it then got moved up to November. The date, though, was a problem as it would have opened against one of two other Clooney movies debuting this fall, specifically The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Paramount blinked eventually, though, and moved it to a final release date in early December.
As the film’s release date drew closer the media coverage of the movie took on a distinct and singular flavor. While occasional pieces popped up spotlighting some of the supporting cast, as is the case with this profile of Anna Kendrick (Los Angeles Times, 11/1/09) most of the focus wound up being put on Reitman himself, who in the span of just a few movies has become one of the bigger brands in Hollywood. In one piece he was said to be fully “at the controls” (Los Angeles Times, 11/29/09), in another he was labeled the “grown-up’s director” (Newsweek, 11/25/09) and others were just an interview with him.
There was even a story about the marketing itself that appeared just days before release. The piece (Los Angeles Times, 11/30/09) focused on a number of things, but primarily on how a story about corporate downsizing might not be the most attractive fair to an audience that’s been hit hard by just that corporate move. There was also the angle of the movie having a story that, because of the emotional complexity and the even slight desire to hide that downsizing aspect, is deeper than most films and therefore a challenge to market. While the story notes that the campaign has focused more on the emotional arc Clooney’s character goes on, I don’t agree that Paramount has hidden the more unpleasant aspects of it.
What that LAT story doesn’t focus on is how, largely through festival appearances and interviews between Reitman and a number of movie blog writers, Up in the Air has become a cause celeb among those writers, who have been singing its praises since it first debuted. So whatever the general audience might think about the movie coming up to its release, there’s likely to be a significant portion of those that read some of the more popular movie blogs that’s been looking forward to the movie for a long time, despite the subject matter. That all ties back, to some extent, to Reitman’s presence on Twitter and general approachable image and, if I had to guess, will work greatly in the movie’s favor come this weekend.
Engaging and consistent. Those are the first two words that come to mind when I look at the campaign from top to bottom. The trailers are engaging and are consistent with the posters which are consistent with the website. And while I can have issues with the way the UpintheAirTweets site is handled from a marketing perspective I certainly can’t fault the way Reitman has gotten his hands dirty on Twitter himself and built up a following there of fans are almost certainly going to be converted to a paying audience this weekend.
There isn’t really a whole lot more to say about the campaign. From a purely marketing perspective each component of the effort speaks to the same audience – that of a higher level of audience that enjoys populist messages but delivered in a stylized and slightly arrogant way. That’s in no way a criticism, just a statement of (perceived) fact based on my read of the campaign, especially in light of Reitman’s previous directorial efforts.
It’s a solid campaign that manages to make a big splash at the same time it’s quieter tone allows it to stand out somewhat from the bigger, noisier efforts that are immediately following it.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 12/07/09: You could add your own two cents on what travel tips have worked for you by logging in to Twitter on the Ryan’s Rules site or by using the #mytravelrules hashtag.
- 12/14/09: Andrew Hampp at AdAge has a closer look at the promotional partnerships between the movie and both American Airlines and Hilton Hotels.
- 12/21/09: The New York Times then wrote basically the same article.
- 12/22/09: Time examines the realities of travelers who hit the 10 million frequent flyer mile mark and finds it cool but not quite what the movie portrays it to be.
- 12/28/09: The American Airlines and Hilton product placements within the film have been estimated at a total value of over $14 million and top the AdAge list of best placement deals of 2009.
- 01/08/10: Jason Reitman took a picture of most everyone who interviewed him on the press tour and put together this very cool video collage of various images.
- 03/03/10: AdAge compares the campaign elements for Up in the Air to those of The Blind Side, two late-2009 hits that achieved decent success. It comes in second in a two-horse race, but just barely and primarily because Blind Side was helped by a lot disparate audience groups.
- 03/04/10: An analysis of ads of the 2010 Best Picture nominees by TiVo showed the TV spots for Up in the Air were the least skipped out of any of the 10 looked at.