Movie Marketing Madness: Kick-Ass

There are, as we likely all know, two levels of comic adaptations. There are super-heroes that are brought to life on the big screen with lots of special effects, costumes and a little dash of questionable casting. Then there are “the others” that are adaptations of less splashy visuals and have, in most cases, a hint of the independent vibe that their creators infused them with and which has then translated to the screen.

But lately there’s a middle ground that has grown increasingly prevalent. 2008’s Wanted was based on a comic that wasn’t a super-hero story exactly, though the film certainly featured visuals that would have been comfortably at home in any of those movies. Likewise the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an adaptation of a comic that features exaggerated characters and situations that are born of the super-hero world but which are not about any such hero.

In that sort of middle ground also is Kick-Ass, one of this year’s most anticipated films among the geekarati. The story is about a world without real super heroes and so, some people start thinking, why can’t they become costumed avengers? You don’t actually need powers, just a mask and a mission. And so a handful of kids put together a costume and start fighting “evil” in some form or another. The source book (which I’ll admit to not having read) is reportedly crass and violent and, based on the marketing we’re about to take a look at, the movie doesn’t seem to deviate from that too wildly.

The Posters

With such a colorful cast of characters there were bound to be a plethora of posters created and the marketing team has certainly delivered on that front.

The first batch of teasers placed each of the main characters – Red Mist, Kick-Ass himself, Hit Girl and Big Daddy – in that most cliched of super-hero poses, that of standing atop a building and looking over the city they’ve sworn to protect triumphantly and with a sense of entitlement and ownership. When you put the four posters together in the order outlined above the title of the movie is spelled out in the sky, which is a nice touch and certainly an incentive for collectors excited about the movie to seek out the one-sheets and webmasters to reprint this group excitedly.

A second batch of teaser one-sheets again featured each individual character, but in different poses and with more color-coded backgrounds. Each one also got it’s own little saying that deflated the idea they were actually had any powers but did emphasize what they could do, which is kick your ass. So Kick Ass’ poster says “I can’t fly. But I can kick your ass.” and so on. Each also contained a URL to what appeared to be a character-specific website but those addresses, when entered, just redirected to the movie’s official site.

Not content with two bites at the apple there was a third set created and released that toned down the clever and just presented the four characters bursting through the title treatment with a burst of color in their wake.

While three series of character-centric posters for a movie with only four main characters it’s showing off might seem…excessive…it did serve the purpose of creating a steady stream of publicity on movie blogs and elsewhere. That kept the movie in the audience’s mind and kept them talking about it in the interim between filming and release.

A theatrical poster took the same visual style as the last of the teaser series, with the bold, block letter title treatment in the background and the four characters standing in the front and above the little bit of non-credit block copy on the poster that states definitively “Shut up. Kick ass.” It certainly looks like the kind of image that might be created for a comic trade paperback and is pretty cool, finishing off the poster component of the campaign nicely, even if I think it was developed and released before series three of the teasers.

The Trailers

The first all ages trailer starts off with a shot of a winged hero standing atop a building ready to take flight. As he prepares we get voiceover asking why no one has thought of being a super-hero before since their lives can’t be so interesting as to not need a little adventure mixed in. When the winged figure takes off he plummets straight down, eventually landing with a deadly thud on top of a taxi as the voiceover informs us that’s not him, that’s some dude with mental problems.

After a brief shot of the main character and his friends discussing whether or not becoming a hero is possible we get a “putting on the costume” scene we’re then shown quickly the other everyday heroes before we finally get the “I’m Kick Ass” scene.

The second trailer starts off with the friends discussing how probable it is that anyone who tried to be a super hero would wind up seriously injured very shortly but then provides a little more background into the guy who would be Kick Ass before showing him suiting up. That initial appearance, we’re told via news footage, inspires others to take up similar mantles and so we’re introduced more fully to Big Daddy, Hit Girl and Red Mist as they seek to fight crime on their own terms. We also get a better idea of what they’re going up against as we see a crime leader of some sort (played by Mark Strong) and what his reaction to the rise of costumed vigilantes is and what sort of havoc they’re playing with his operations.

A third and much shorter trailer really served as a greatest hits compilation of the ones that had come before. I don’t think there’s any new footage in there but it does introduce all four characters once again and get to the idea that these are just ordinary people who have decided to take the law into their own hands. Or at least that they’ve decided to stop allowing innocent people to take a beating without doing anything.

Because the movie was rated R and it was doing so well in establishing its hard core cred, a red-band trailer was also introduced that included more language and mentions of the primary hero’s masturbatory tendencies. It also contained a few more graphic shots of the backs of people’s heads being blown off. Some of that language would come out of the mouth of the young girl who plays Hit Girl, which would result in some hand-wringing by media and other critics that we’ll talk more about later on.


When you load the official website the primary menu shows briefly before giving way to the trailer, which you can also share on a variety of social networks or embed on your own blog. Closing that you’ll see the main page has prompts to Buy Tickets Now as well as a list of theaters showing sneak peeks which seems to be generated based on the location of your computer’s IP address. So when I visited I got a list of theaters in the western suburbs of Chicago. There are also links to read reviews on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, which is somewhat unusual and shows what faith the marketers are putting in word of mouth peer reviews.

When you enter the site the first thing you’re prompted to do is play some light games, which if you register will get you points you can redeem later on. Each character icon brings you to a different game that’s associated with that character’s skills in the story.

Moving to the site’s content menu, “About” has a decent paragraph write-up of the film’s story and characters. The “Cast and Crew” section is one of the best-designed such executions I think I’ve seen with its big icons for each actor that leads you to information on their background and biography.

There are 12 stills from the movie in “Photos” and “Videos” contains the Teaser and Theatrical Trailers as well as a handful of clips from the movie that extend scenes that are teased in the trailers. “Downloads” has four character-centric Wallpapers and Icons that use the same images from one of the teaser poster series.

The “Restricted” section contains direct links to things like Watch Hardcore Videos (the restricted trailer) and an Adults Only Soundboard as well as more that prompts you to take various actions with foul-mouthed language, including a call to grab an embeddable widget, something I haven’t seen in a while.

“Partners” has links to the content hubs at sites like IGN and UGO as well as information on buying movie-branded goods by French Connection and Vans. There are also links to the Lionsgate YouTube channel and information on the film’s soundtrack.

The “News” section has photos from the movie’s screening at SXSW, a music video from Mika and photos from the UK premiere. There are also embedded updates from the studio’s Twitter feed and when you click “See All Updates” you’re taken to that profile.

Finally the “Store” lets you buy movie t-shirts and other goodies from Gold Label.

Each character also got their own Facebook page, something that must have cost the studio a healthy sum considering Facebook’s policies on making sure you are who you say you are on the network. When you visited the pages for Kick Ass, Red Mist, Big Daddy or Hit Girl you were prompted to both enter a sweepstakes to win a trip to the premiere or enter a contest by uploading video of you in your super-hero costume and showing off your moves. Each character’s page also had plenty of information about that particular character as well as links ot the other’s profiles, the official site, links to the Demand It campaign and a Wall’s worth of links to coverage of new marketing materials and more about the movie.

The movie’s MySpace page had the trailers, some clips and links to the same contests and sweepstakes mentioned before.
There was a sited called Real Life Superheroes that was kind of…weird. It’s obviously part of the campaign for the movie – banner ads for the flick are all over the place – but it also seems to exist in a world of such characters, encouraging people to create profiles for their own heroes.

The Lionsgate YouTube channel was retro-fitted to be a hub for people to submit their own video review after seeing the movie. The main channel page also contained a stream of commentary about the movie from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, a stream powered by a service called @ThisMoment, integration it and the movie got a bit of press out of. Likewise the studio’s Twitter channel contained steady updates on the movie’s publicity and links to what it felt was important commentary.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A ton of advertising has been done, including the creation of quite a few TV spots, many of which took the form of trimmed trailers and featured little new material. Still, they’re effective at conveying the overall attitude of the movie to an audience, though there’s the concern that without the additional time that can be used for more explanation there’s going to be the belief that this is a straight super-hero movie. The expanded trailers make it more clear that it’s taking a drastically different approach to the genre but that doesn’t come through as loudly in 30-second spots.

There has been a good amount of outdoor advertising as well as well as some online and, one would assume, in print. Most of that as would be expected has repurposed any of the poster campaign’s art.

Media and Publicity

After an early appearance at Butt-Numb-a-Thon, the movie had it’s official coming out party with a screening on opening night of SXSW 2010. In fact the movie’s presence there included a number of vans to shuttle people around that were decorated with key art elements, which is kind of cool since transportation at festivals is always an issue.

In terms of media coverage a good amount came after the release of some restricted clips that featured foul language, some of which came out of the mouth of young Chloe Grace Moretz, the girl who plays Hit Girl. That led to a lot of commentary about not only whether red-band trailers are appropriate given their propensity to appear on non-age restricted sites (New York Times, 2/24/10) but also on the the fact that an 11 year old girl was saying such things, including lots of references to sexual themes. That focus on Moretz and her role in such a graphic, both verbally and physically, movie continued to be covered in the press (New York Times, 4/11/10) and actually became a central component of a lot of stories (Los Angeles Times, 4/14/10) even those stories that were just about how offensive and incendiary the movie is in general, as well as leading to discussions of gender politics and related issues.

Regardless of what traditional mainstream or trade press coverage the movie has gotten, the real thing going for Kick-Ass is the word of mouth that has been building up for well on a year now. Fans have been absolutely salivating for this movie and have eaten up every new clip, every new trailer, every new preview at a festival or convention. And that campaign has fed that hunger with a steady release of material that has kept the movie never far from top-of-mind and so fueled the conversations about it and therefore the anticipation for it. Indeed it seemed to be pegged by some as the pinnacle (Los Angeles Times, 4/15/10) of the comic/movie geek’s world. As with previous movies in this category, though, how festival and convention buzz translates to box-office success remains to be seen.


For as sprawling as it can sometimes seem, Lionsgate has actually put together a tight and amazingly consistent campaign here. All the components come back to the same four or five themes and hit the same notes, even if they take different paths to get there, leading to an overall campaign that feels familiar wherever you encounter it while also seeming fresh and new in each venue.

What it does is play to its strengths – and presumably the strengths of the movie – time and time again. So there’s violence, language and a “Hey you know what, let’s just go for broke and let the chips fall where they may” attitude that pervades the entire campaign. It knows fans are expecting the outrageous and so, whenever possible, delivers on that expectation.

It also works really hard to get the audience’s approval. That’s why there are three waves of teaser posters and so many released clips and other elements to get people talking. It really wants people to like it and so will deliver just what it needs to in order to achieve that, which is actually different from most marketing. The marketers don’t just want the movie to be chosen, they want it to be chosen above all else because people are excited and have devised a campaign to create that level of appreciation and excitement, which is where it succeeds as a whole aside from any of the individual elements.

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.