Movie Marketing Madness: The Runaways

It’s not just rock and roll that’s all about attitude. Jazz, folk, classical…all kinds of music are about attitude, the conveying of an emotion or thought through notes. Personally, I get more emotionally into a James Taylor song or a Bach concerto than heavy metal, complete with head-banging in my car as I drive along and listen.

Brief and disturbing insights into my personal habits aside, there’s always been the notion that the 1970’s punk scene was all about bringing the emotion – raw, naked and unhinged – back to pop music in response to what was felt to be the bland clinical approaches of Pink Floyd, Genesis and other bands and artists that were more concerned with songcraft than just flying off the handle. You can argue the artistic merits of the punk movement for a good long while but you certainly can’t say that it wasn’t pure id.

While much of that movement was dominated by men there was a portion of it that laid the foundations of the female rock scene and which built directly off the “women’s lib” societal push of that era. No band did more in this area than than the one whose story is being told in a movie that bears the group’s name, The Runaways. Starring Kristen Stewart as guitar hero Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as lead singer Cherie Currie, the movie follows the band from its inception through the heyday they enjoyed as counter-culture revolutionaries, not only breaking down music industry barriers for women but also giving their audience an outlet through which to funnel the emotions they were feeling. So let’s look at the marketing of that movie.

The Posters

The teaser poster – which stood as the film’s only one-sheet for a good long while – was a play on the title of The Runaways’ classic song “Cherry Bomb” and features a dripping wet cherry with its stem lit like a fuse. The image not only is a little interpretation of that song but also contains more than a little allusion of female sexuality, which we don’t need to get all detailed into right now. Suffice it to say with the combination of hints toward sex and anarchy (I won’t say outright violence) it’s pretty rock-and-roll.

The later theatrical poster, which didn’t hit until just a few weeks before the movie’s release, was actually a re-purposing of one of the first teaser images that was released as part of the movie’s publicity campaign. Featuring Stewart and Fanning with feathery hair and big sunglasses leaning up against a speaker, the idea here is to convey the attitude that is supposed to be coming off of the women they’re portraying. The slightly hazy colors add to the 70’s vibe that the poster is going for. But as we’ll see with what comes later in the campaign, the choice of an image that has these characters seeming so static is contrary to the sense of frantic energy that other components try to give the audience.

The Trailers

The first trailer was pretty brief – clocking in at a mere 48 seconds – but certainly conveyed the attitude of the movie. It quickly shows us how the rock world was not ready for a bunch of rocker chicks in 1975 but that through sheer determination and talent the Cherry Bombs managed to break through. There’s lots of quick cuts of girls with punk hair and some on-stage action of the group as well as call outs of both Stewart and Fanning but that’s about it. It’s over before it can get much momentum, which kind of – and I don’t know if this was intentional – mimics the punk rock of the era with it’s “play two-minute songs so fast it’s like your life depends on it” style.

The theatrical trailer goes a little bit more into the film’s story, starting with shots of Fanning’s Cherie applying paint to her face in an obvious sign of rebellion and then continuing with a scene of Stewart’s Jett proposing to someone the idea of starting an all-girl rock band. It then jumps right into the rock and roll scene, with The Runaways performing at clubs and elsewhere, gigs that were dripping with sexuality and power. We see their rise from playing in living rooms to stadiums and getting signed by a record label, as well as how they enjoy their new found success. There’s also quite a few shots of how their music has impacted their audience, with girls dancing provocatively and even bursting down doors and windows to meet the band they love so much. It’s a decent spot that gets the general point of the movie across and makes it clear it’s the Cherie/Joan relationship that will drive much of the story, which is what it’s supposed to do.

Online

The movie’s official website opens with that cherry from the teaser poster finally burning down and exploding, which reveals the main content menu.

“The Movie” has a decent synopsis of the plot that tells the audience what to expect – a story of an unlikely musical pairing that went on to become the stuff of legends – that’s decently written if pretty brief.

“The Cast” is broken up into two sections – Performers/Cast and Roadies/Crew – that features biographic and film histories of the major players in the the movie.

You’ll find video under “The Footage,” which contains the Teaser and Theatrical trailers, a TV Spot and an extended clip of of the scene where Joan meets Cherie and convinces her to become part of her band. THere’s also a couple of clips of footage from the cast and crew’s appearance at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. There are also links YouTube clips of various of the actual band performing in the 70’s, which is pretty cool as a way to introduce those who might be interested in the movie to its inspiration.

“The Scrapbook” is a photo gallery with somewhere around eight or 10 stills from the film. “The Swag” then is the section with some downloads, mainly just a handful of screensavers and chat icons. Finally there’s a section for the film’s “Soundtrack” that has a list of the songs on the album and links to buy it either physically or digitally.

At the bottom of the page are links to the film’s YouTube Channel (which unfortunately just has the teaser trailer), a dedicated Twitter profile that had updates on the film’s campaign and some cool giveaways and other fan interactions, a Facebook page that did similar things with the addition of video and photos as well as more information on the real-life Runaways and a MySpace page that had the same sort of content as well as a prompt to become a fan of the movie’s Facebook page.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

No cross-promotions that I came across, but there was a bit of advertising done for the movie, including some online ads and at least one TV spot.

Media and Publicity

The vast majority of the film’s publicity centered around its festival appearances, first at 2010’s Sundance Film Festival and then at SXSW this year. Other than that much of the press has been about whether or not Stewart can use The Runaways as part of an exit strategy from the shadow of Bella, her character in the Twilight movies. The latter point is an easy hook but kind of unfair to Stewart, who’s only going to be typecast in that kind of role as long as the press thinks that’s all she can do.

Overall

While I usually compliment campaigns for their consistency, this one instead feels oddly one-note, which is slightly different. The campaign, while it maintains much of the same look and feel from one component to another, doesn’t seem to do anything new with the material in each environment. So instead of coming off as a cohesive experience, the reuse of elements from the poster to the website or from the publicity campaign to the poster instead comes off as having nothing new to say.

I do like how the marketing, as I said in regards to the early trailer, has kind of a sense of “live fast” attitude to it that moves at breakneck speed, much like the music the movie is focused on. That’s good since it sucks the audience into the campaign and creates that sort of frantic sense. But then it does nothing with it. So while I’d really like to say this campaign works I just can’t. It does a few things well but overall fails to gel in any meaningful way, at least from my point of view.

By Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.