Talking about theaters

I’ve been trying to figure out why a story about theater owners focusing on strategies involving 3D and digital presentations (Hollywood Reporter, 6/24/10) rubbed me the wrong way. Finally it occurred to me that the problem with this strategy is that they’re relying on Hollywood to continue to keep the theater-going experience relevant to the movie-going public instead of embracing their own future.

In the restaurant business new places are usually judged on “bread and circus,” the former being the food itself and the latter being the overall environment of the establishment. But, barring something horrible happening, the conversation about going to a movie theater is almost exclusively about the “bread,” the movie itself. If someone is asked about a new theater by a friend, the response is usually limited to a generic “It’s a nice place” or something equally as noncommittal. Especially with the rise of the multiplex in the 90’s, the theater going experience has become a generic one and if a particular theater closes it’s just fine to shift one’s habits to getting the exact same experience elsewhere.

So instead of relying on Hollywood and their current fascination with 3D theaters need to figure out ways to create consumer word-of-mouth. That’s the only way they’re going to survive the next five years in a healthy condition considering those same Hollywood studios are increasingly experimenting with release window changes that are going to impact theater business. The studios have their own best interests in mind and will go where the money is. So theaters need to look at alternate ways to engender a conversation not about the movies but about the theaters themselves if they want people to choose that experience over a Redbox rental and a night in.

At least it wasn’t a hashtag

Who else is more than a little tired of  entertainment “journalism” that relies solely on making assumptions based on the Twitter updates of writers, directors and actors?

AdAge: Even Tom Cruise Couldn’t Beat This Summer’s Hollywood Memes

This article originally appeared on AdAge here.

In case you didn’t notice, Knight and Day, the new romantic action comedy starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, did not have a great opening weekend, grossing just over $20 million and coming in third place behind Toy Story 3 (which, as many have before it this year, repeated in the top slot) and Grown-Ups, the Adam Sandler and gang comedy.

It’s not as if this was surprising, though. Tracking had been weak prior to release, signaling that there was little interest in seeing Cruise and Diaz engage in wacky capers around the globe, with Cruise acting unhinged and more than a little insane while Diaz reacted hysterically to the events around her. At least there weren’t enough people who wanted to see that instead of going to see Woody and Buzz engage in much more heartfelt adventures with the rest of Andy’s toys.

So what happened? Let’s examine some theories:

I’d be surprised if there weren’t at least some portion of pontificating pundits who chalk this up as another example of one of 2010’s emerging Hollywood memes, namely the “Movie Stars Don’t Work” idea. These are two of Hollywood’s biggest stars we’re talking about here, after all, and so a movie with both of them should have been as automatic as Steve Kerr at the three-point line.

It might also be pegged to another contender for this year’s story hook, “The Audience Only Wants Sequels/Franchises/Reboots.” This is one of this summer’s only original properties, even if you can see aspects of a half dozen other movies in the plot outline. So this one might have some validity especially since sans everything else star power itself should have acted as the brand the audience latched on to for familiarity.

There’s also the much simpler explanation that the campaign was a bit disjointed, without a poster or outdoor ads that featured the two big stars that were in the movie – something Fox’s co-president of marketing Tony Sella said was an intentional tactic to make this film different from the rest of the pack – and a series of trailers which didn’t quite know whether to sell it as a romantic adventure or adventurous romance.

Whatever the larger reason there were things that the campaign did well (saturate TV with ads) and things that it didn’t (the aforementioned lack of movie star faces on posters) as is the case with most movies. But with as much warning that vast swaths of the audience simply weren’t aware or interested in the movie it seems that there would have been plenty of time to engage in an inspired word of mouth marketing campaign that could have turned the ship around.

Now Fox did indeed try to get word of mouth going for the movie, mostly in the form of running advance screenings of it about a week before release. That’s a tactic that’s been used over and over again to try and get audiences excited. It didn’t work in this case, though, so maybe it’s time for the industry to start trying new things.

Do something random: Let some people watch the movie – or at least a significant chunk of it – at home. Work with a VOD provider so that random customers can watch a severely extended preview. Or setup in-home viewing parties that are movie-themed of those previews. Cater the party and give everyone a 2-for-1 coupon for the movie at theaters.

Provide incentives: If people came out of those advance screenings having enjoyed the movie what mechanisms were in place to help them spread that message either online or off? A dozen business-card sized handouts or an encouragement to share their feedback on the movie’s Facebook page are just a couple of examples. Both need, though, to provide rewards of some sort for those behaviors that encourage people to take them.

If you’re going to engage in tactics that are designed to get people talking it only makes sense, especially taking social networks into consideration, that there be programmatic elements in place to help move that word of mouth move along. Hollywood could have used a hit from this movie to disprove some of the theories being bandied about but unfortunately this didn’t come through


Phil Gomes nicely deflates the notion of “off the record” in the current media climate and his post should definitely be read since that’s the real problem.

But what keeps occurring to me is that the “it was supposed to be off the record/on background” argument is being used as a defense of the quotes attributed to the offenders, especially in the case of Gen. McChrystal. It doesn’t actually matter whether or not disrespectful comments about the civilian leadership of the Army or those in the chain of command were on or off the record. If they were said they are out of line and need to be dealt with, regardless of the context. Unless Jeff Ross was hosting a discussion at the Friar’s Club, the context doesn’t count for squat for the defense.

Confessional documents

After reading through all of both the Bible and The Lutheran Confessions last year I took a break for the first few months of 2010. But seeing that today is the anniversary – the 480th – of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession I decided this would be a good time to pick both back up.

Get In Touch

I’ve updated my About page with the following short, sweet and to the point…umm…points.

  • Having me review your movie’s campaign: Please include all relevant materials. If it’s not already on my radar I probably don’t have a lot of free time to go hunting around for things.
  • Having me review your movie: Especially if it’s one that I’ve reviewed the campaign for. I love when I’m able to review the movie itself after looking at the marketing to see how much they line up.
  • Having me speak to your company or organization: I’ve been around the block a few times and can present case studies that I’ve actually worked on, not just the familiar ones that people without their own are always referring to.
  • Hiring Voce Communications: We’re not going to drown you in talk of shiny objects and vague promises of “trust” or “engagement.” Instead you’ll get solid objectives and strategies that are supported by a great staff, including a world-class web design and development team.

Movie Marketing Madness: Knight and Day

Charm can get you a long way down the road. Turn on a smile and keep up the banter and before you know it you can make off with the diamonds, kill enough time so whoever you’re talking to forgets they were mad at you and accomplish a variety of other goals. Oh sure there comes a time when you have to ante up and deliver the goods, but (as many social media “experts” know) charm will keep you in the room long enough to collect your consulting fee and before a client realizes you’ve just caused them more problems and that they need a real agency partner.

I may have gone off on a digression there. Where were we?

Charm can also convince people to see a movie. Or, more specifically, a marketing campaign containing the promise of a movie filled with lots of charm can convince people to see said movie. That’s why the campaign for Knight and Day is filled with just that.

The movie stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz as the conveyors of said charm. Cruise plays some sort of vaguely defined government operative with super ninja combat skills who must keep some sort of MacGuffin out of the hands of the bad guys, even the bad guys within the agency he used to work for. While he’s doing that he pairs up with Diaz’s character, a normal non-espionage trained woman who gets caught up in the whirlwind of action around Cruise’s spy.

The Posters

The teaser poster certainly struck a clear 70’s vibe that, and this might just be because of the inclusion of Diaz, reminded me of something you’d see in a promotion for the original “Charlie’s Angels.” The silhouettes with guns visible against the bright orange and yellow splashes all just scream to be rendered in blacklight and stuck on someone’s dorm room wall circa 1973.

The later poster…actually, there was no later poster. That’s it. The sum and total of the poster campaign is a one-sheet that is all groovy graphics without any appearance by the stars themselves. Wow.

The Trailers

It’s obvious from the first trailer that the studio is selling this as a fun thrill ride that coasts breezily on the charms of both Cruise, who’s in full boyish grin mode here, and Diaz, who’s performance seems to be based almost solely on reacting to the goings on around her.

The spot starts off with the meeting between the two characters in an airport and their eventual travels on an airplane occupied solely by the two of them and a batch of terrorists or something. Cruise dispatches of the bad guys while Diaz is indisposed and they crash land the plane and go their separate ways, only for Cruise to later seek out Diaz and tell her how her involvement isn’t yet over. They have to stick together for reasons the trailer doesn’t feel the need to make clear, which then leads to a handful of situations that put the pair in dangerous situations, with Diaz getting in the way of Cruise’s carefully laid out plans and providing lots of opportunities for Diaz to scream and hide behind something.

It’s a fast-moving and fun trailer that doesn’t allow the audience to ask too many questions in the moment by virtue of that fast pace, which is designed to keep the laughs and the actions coming while providing only the barest of plot outlines. Instead of spoiling the story, the trailer simply asks the audience to make their decision to see the film based on their familiarity with the actors and the promise of a good time for both men (based on the action) and women (based on the comedy and the personal issues Diaz’s character seems to be dealing with).

The second trailer released was fairly indistinguishable from the first. There are a couple new scenes thrown in but by and large it hits the same notes as the earlier version.


The movie’s official site opens with a full-screen presentation of the trailer, with the character silhouettes flanking the screen. The content navigation is to the left and stops the video as soon as you click on something and restarts from where you left off when you close the section you’ve clicked in to.

First is “Story” which has a very brief – two sentences – synopsis of the movie’s plot, a synopsis that uses “sexy” within the first three words.

“Video” just has one of the trailers and “Images” has a scant three stills from the movie.

Still labeled as under development is the “Cast & Crew” section while “Downloads” has a Desktop wallpaper of the movie’s key art and a half dozen IM icons.

In an effort to get people to watch the trailer again and actually engage with it, a “Game” was developed that prompted people to shoot at the trailer in order to stay alive. Graphics appeared on the screen showing what actions to take and if you didn’t your screen became more and more cracked until you died. It’s an interesting concept and one that I could see being used in other ways for specific elements of other campaigns.

The movie’s Facebook page has lots of updates on the movie’s publicity tour and other information as well as an app for people to add to their profile involving a quiz asking how well they know their friends. A Twitter profile also kept people up to date on the movie’s happenings.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

No cross-promotions or partners to speak of, though there was an extensive TV and online advertising campaign run that I saw. The TV spots all played out like mini trailers and put the spotlight on what a sexy, action filled time the movie was going to be for everyone. Online ads used video elements where they could and generally otherwise recreated the poster key art.

Media and Publicity

Since it was one of the few original movies on this summer release schedule – meaning it’s not a sequel, remake or obvious franchise kick-off – the very fact that it got made became a news story (New York Times, 4/14/10) in and of itself. If you read the story you’ll see the finished product only barely resembles the original pitch or any of its subsequent iterations and might actually be the better for it.

Cruise revisited one of his best recent roles, that of Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder, in promotions for the 2010 MTV Movie Awards that had the character on the set of Risky Business and making the decision that a scene would work better if a much younger Tom Cruise lost the pants before sliding on the floor to the sounds of “Old Time Rock & Roll.” There were more as well, including one of Grossman chiding the stars of Twilight and so on.

Diaz tried to create a little bit of buzz by using some slang for male genitalia and the lengths she’s gone to in order to secure some in Playboy. The less said about this the better.

There were also two weak attempts at creating viral videos for the movie and generate some some word-of-mouth. One involved showing rehearsal footage featuring Cruise and Diaz and the other, released right around the time of the World Cup, showed them playing soccer on the set. The latter was particularly egregious because of the badly CGI’d soccer ball in the video.

To kick-start what seemed to be a general lack of word-of-mouth and compensate for what was see to be weak tracking, Fox ran a series of early sneaks of the movie around the country the weekend before the official opening, a tactic that seems to have resulted in generally positive buzz. Though whether it was enough to get people out remained to be seen.


I’m conflicted about this. The trailers are an awful lot of fun and, as I stated in the introduction, certainly bring the charm needed to sell the audience on the idea that an action romance starring these two actors would be a good time at the theater. So that element of the campaign along with the derivatives such as the TV spots work pretty well.

But then there’s the issue of there being just one poster – and one that nowhere shows the faces of these two stars – and a website that contains almost nothing. Those are two big, gaping holes in the campaign. While there doesn’t seem to be mass public confusion about who stars in the movie, it’s helpful to remember that marketing campaigns are as much about assuaging the egos of those involved as anything else so it seems unusual that the two stars wouldn’t be front and center on a one-sheet. So ultimately the campaign comes off as odd because of those missing pieces.


  • 06/28/10: Fox co-marketing chief Tony Sella falls on the sword for the movie’s disappointing box-office but defends his star-less posters and bi-polar advertising push.

Back in business

MMM was down for the better part of the weekend but now we’re up and running. Some themes got broken in the transfer to a new host but that can get sorted out in the next couple days. Sorry if you hit the site and saw nothing in the interim.


Movie Marketing Madness: The Killer Inside Me

Noir is so hard to do right. Too many current filmmakers think all you need to be “noir” is a set design with lots of shadows and allusions to art deco design aesthetics. But true noir is built in to the story, which is usually filled with characters with questionable motivations and dark secrets that never fully come to light, if they’re even part of the plot of this particular story. It’s not a look, it’s an attitude.

Based on a book of the same name by writer Jim Thompson, who often wrote about just such shady characters who treat everyone around them badly, The Killer Inside Me stars Casey Affleck as a small-town Texas sheriff who has a seemingly normal life with his wife (Kate Hudson) and steady job as the town’s law enforcement. But a trip to run a prostitute who’s just moved into town (Jessica Alba) begins to bring out some dark aspects of his character that wind up having painful repercussions for those around him.

The Posters

The poster is certainly…provocative. A collection of blurred, hazy images of the three lead actors, including Alba in more or less her underwear, with their names and the title scrawled in what seems to be chalk. It’s a pretty effective effort at creating an atmosphere for the movie, though there’s little indication as to the plot aside from the name of the movie. The killer could be inside any of these characters since they all look pretty shady and like they’re looking out for themselves. The easy assumption, then, is that Affleck is going to crack under the pressure of dealing with these two women, but again that’s not spelled out explicitly, just left for the audience to assume.

Still, it certainly succeeds at creating the tone of a noir-type film and since that, in addition to showing off Alba in her underwear, is it primary task it succeeds.

The Trailers

The trailer extends the tone started in the poster while making the story a bit more clear. We’re introduced to Affleck’s deputy, who’s sent on the mission of running Alba’s prostitute out of the nice, clean Texas town they’re in. But when Alba assaults him things get physical between them, leading to the two beginning an affair that eventually drives a wedge between him and his wife.

Then, for a reason that’s not entirely clear, things get even weirder and lead to the deputy committing murder, perhaps to cover up his affair. The end of the trailer has a home exploding and Affleck pointing more than one gun at more than one person as the dialogue begins to expose the fact that he’s taking a turn to the dark side.

It’s a nicely-paced trailer that, up until the shift in the middle, is pretty clear about laying out the characters and their intentions. That shift comes suddenly and, while that’s fine, there’s little explanation for the transition. So it winds up coming off a little confusing, though with the psychological thriller nature of the spot that’s more or less forgiven.


As with most IFC releases, the official website – a page on the IFC site – is a bit sparse. The banner at the top promotes the movie’s availability not only in theaters tomorrow but also on-demand, a model that has worked for IFC and a handful of other smaller distributors.

Below the Trailer can be found as well as a small Photo Gallery. The Cast and Crew are listed to the left while a Synopsis is in the middle well of the page just above a couple of quotes from early reviews of the movie.

Unfortunately that’s about it. Not unexpected but a tad disappointing if you’re searching for information about the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

I actually have seen a couple of online ads for the movie, banners on film-buff sites such as IndieWire that recreate the poster key art. Nothing, though, in the way of TV support or cross-promotions, which actually would have been weird considering the movie’s period setting and extremely violent subject matter.

Media and Publicity

The movie generated some press and other buzz from a couple of festival screenings, notably one at Tribeca (Filmmaker Magazine, 4/30/10) and one at Sundance (Hollywood Reporter, 1/30/10), where it was picked up by IFC.

Coming out of Sundance and in the months afterward much of the discussions of the movie were on the topic of what was perceived to be its extreme violence, specifically the violence perpetrated against women. Winterbottom was apparently accosted by one woman in the Sundance audience, leading him to have to defend his film as not advocating that violence but being a product of his faithfulness to the book and being so gruesome because we’re not seeing reality but instead through the eyes of Affleck’s sociopath characters.

Outside of that, though, there were some stories (New York Times, 6/3/10) that simply dealt with the movie being the latest – and potentially one of the most successful – adaptation of a Thompson book.


A nice tidy campaign for a movie whose story seems to be anything but. The trailer is more than decent, despite the shaky transition halfway through and the poster is stylized and very cool. Both of those components compliment each other quite nicely to create a distinct visual mood for the movie that should resonate with people always on look out for a decent noirish mystery. That cohesiveness falls apart on the website, which is a symptom of the limitations of it being a page on the IFC site, but there’s not a lot to do about that.

It remains to be seen whether the film’s word-of-mouth reputation that’s been built as the result of those festival screenings will perk interest or turn people away. It will probably wind up being a little of both and even out in the end, but at least it can’t be said the movie hasn’t provoked strong emotions, which is more or less what art is supposed to do.

Movie Marketing Madness: Toy Story 3

toy_story_three_ver10Has it really been 11 years since we last visited Andy’s toys?

As hard as it is to believe that’s the length of time since the release of Toy Story 2, which came out in 1999. Perhaps contributing to the notion that it doesn’t seem as if it’s been that long is that not only has Pixar maintained a consistent presence at the top of the artistic ladder but that the original and its sequel remain so fresh even watching them now for the umpteenth time. The stories of Buzz, Woody and the rest of the gang in Andy’s bedroom continue to resonate because they’re simple but powerful tales told well, with an appreciation for elements such as character and story and not just a desire to make a buck as quickly and easily as possible.

So now comes Toy Story 3. While up to this point the Toy Story franchise is the only property Pixar has revisited for sequels it’s not going to be the last. Additional installments of Cars and Monsters, Inc are among the production studio’s upcoming movies, pushing more original films to a couple years out.

The story for the new movie catches us up with Andy and his family, appropriately, 11 years after the last one. Andy is now about to head off to college, his little sister is more grown-up and everyone’s going through that awkward shift to young adulthood. Caught in the middle then are the toys that we’ve come to know and love from the previous movies. With Andy getting older and about to move out of the house for the first time their fate is uncertain and, through a series of events, they actually wind up being donated to a neighborhood daycare center. But these are ANDY’S TOYS and so are not content to live out their lives being played with by a group of rambunctious toddlers and so seek to escape and return to their rightful owner.

Along the way we meet a whole new batch of toy characters who already live at Sunnyside, characters that range from a seemingly fatherly teddy bear to one who has been made specifically for Barbie. But these toys aren’t as welcoming as they first appear to be and cause problems for our familiar heroes, who also must deal with the fact that the owner they seek so desperately to return has gotten older and find a new place in that new and unfamiliar world.

Let’s take a look at how, after so long an absence, Disney/Pixar has been selling this new return to a familiar batch of characters.

The Posters

The first teaser poster was debuted at Disney’s D23 expo in 2009 and, while it’s not much, it is the first to sport the “No toy gets left behind” copy, hinting that the plot of this movie would once again revolve around an adventure to rescue one of the characters we’ve come to know in the first two movies.

A series of posters was next out of the gate, each featuring one of the main characters from the series interacting with the “3” logo. Rex, Oink, Buzz, Woody, Jessie, Slinky and Potato Head all get solo one-sheets with the same black background which creates a nice, uncluttered way to present the fact that all the favorites from the previous two movies are returning in this installment.

Later posters were designed to introduce some of the new characters in this installment. Peas-in-a-Pod, Ken, Lots-o-Huggin’ Bear and all the other toys that populate the day care center our main characters find themselves exiled to. There was later a single image that brought all the new characters together with Buzz and Woody under the movie’s title.

After that came a series of posters that featured the whole cast. The first was a colorful, fun design that placed all the characters, new and old, in a hodge-podge arrangement that almost seemed like the camera was looking in to a toy box with all the characters once again focused around the same big “3” that’s been the central consistent component of the previous teaser one-sheets.

Finally, a poster was released that placed the returning characters in front of a cardboard box that’s been tipped over. Everyone looks alternatively shocked and curious and this is obviously taken from the moment they’re first dropped off at Sunnyside daycare. The copy of “The Breakout Comedy of the Summer” nicely includes the nod to the fact that much of the campaign has focused on the escape from Sunnyside as well as promoting it as a comedy to all audiences.

The Trailers

The movie’s first teaser trailer basically parades the movie’s cast in front of the camera before everyone comes back with a title treatment made out of toys, only to have Woody’s DIY version upstaged by Buzz’s high-tech version. There’s not much to it, but it is charming and achieves the main goal of letting the audience know that there’s a new movie coming out and that the whole cast is back.

The first “real” trailer starts off basically where we last left these characters. Andy is playing with Buzz, Woddy and the others in his bedroom and we then see a montage of clips that show he, unlike those toys, is growing up. That culminates with a now college-aged Andy looking at the toys of his childhood and then walking out of the room, clearly leaving his past behind.

We then see that the entire gang has been donated to a local childcare or kindergarten room, something that doesn’t sit well with them. An escape plan then has unexpected results when a “reset” of a broken Buzz leads to him defaulting to his Spanish-language settings and seeming to forget his past.

This teaser is effective at setting the mood of the movie and explaining its basic story points, but there’s still a ton going on that’s now shown and I’m guessing there’s little to nothing here from the last half of the film. So there’s still a lot left to the imagination and the lack of nice, tidy bow put on the ending might be odd to some segments of the audience who need everything spelled out for them. But for the rest of us this is all we need.

What I didn’t catch until my third viewing of the trailer is that there’s no “nostalgia/credibility reel” at the beginning of the spot. By that I mean there’s no invocation of Pixar’s previous films like there have been with their other recent releases. That’s probably because this movie *is* part of an existing franchise and so there’s no need, as in the case of WALL-E, Ratatouille and others, to make the Pixar tradition a de facto franchise for the audience to latch on to and feel comfortable with.

That lack of Pixar’s credentials is not the case in the second full trailer. We start off once again with Andy preparing to go to college and selecting which toys are discarded, which are saved and which are brought with him. As his car drives down the street we see on the street, on signs along the road and in the car window that this movie comes from the studio that brought us Finding Nemo, WALL-E and Up.

This one, though, doesn’t linger on the sentimental aspect but instead gets into the action. The toys find themselves at a local daycare center amid hundreds of others, an environment far different from Andy’s bedroom where they were treated with care and love. Here they are on unfamiliar ground and there may even be something sinister in the minds of the toys who are already there.

This trailer is a little more action-packed and exciting and certainly seems to be designed more for the kids in the audience, where the previous one seemed to be geared more toward adults who would latch on to the nostalgic yearnings it conveyed.

Three internet-only spots were created that had weird vibes and were obviously meant to appeal to older audiences. One had Buzz and Woody taunting each other over IM chat, one kind of spoofed movies like Paranormal Activity and one used something like the pacing of a car commercial. Kind of an off-kilter – and off-brand – way to start off the advertising for the movie.


The official website opens with a rotating stream of quotes from early reviews of the movie, all of which proclaim it an instant classic for the entire family, before giving way to one of the TV spots. At the bottom of the page there’s a button to enter the “Great Escape Giveaway” but other than that this is one of the cleanest, most uncluttered movie home pages I’ve seen in quite a while.

When you Enter the Site, the cast of characters is arrayed in front of you and, as you mouse over each of them, you’re prompted to “Visit” that character. Doing so takes you to information about that character as well as Games, a 360-degree view of its design as well as Video clips, a Gallery of images, Downloads and more that are all specific to the toy you’re viewing.

That same functionality is found under the “Characters” selection on the main navigation menu to the left.

Next on that menu is “The Movies,” which has information not only about this newest entry but also the two predecessors as well and this is where most of what’s traditionally found on a movie website is found. The Synopsis gives a brief explanation of the movie’s story. The News section is filled with promotional videos, mostly from Disney’s kid correspondents, talking about the film which are actually kind of cool since some go into how the Pixar animators used real dancers to help choreograph sequences in the movie and such.

The Gallery has 30 stills from the movie and the Posters section has all 24 promotional one-sheets, including the ones that have Buzz and Woody surrounded by the new characters, which are filled in one-by-one on successive images. All of these items are fully downloadable because unlike most studios, Disney realizes that if you give people official high-quality alternatives that’s what they’ll choose.

Filmakers has information on the three principal folks behind the scenes and Cast has the names of the actors next to the characters they voice but when you click through you’re taken back to that character’s profile.

Moving on, the “Games” section collects all the character-specific games that are under their individual profiles and includes a number of others that involve the whole or parts of the whole gang.

“Videos” is chock full of content that ranges from all the trailers to some TV spots to “Meet…” videos for the new characters and more behind the scenes videos. It’s really a great collection of content and, again, shows how Pixar/Disney is trying to make this site as friendly for people looking for information about the movie as possible.

Along those same lines is “Activities” which is where the kids in the audience will find lots of stuff to do, ranging from creating their own comic to assembling their custom toy to printing out coloring pages and more to take offline.

“Sweepstakes” collects a few, obviously, sweepstakes that folks can enter for various prizes. “Video Games” is a promotion for the console games based on the movie. “Live Events” has information on things such as Disney on Ice that come to your town and extend the Disney brand.

“Parks” is where you’ll find out how the Toy Story franchise has come to inhabit various parts of the Disney theme park experience. (Disclosure: Disney Parks is a Voce client.) “Products” tells you what kind of books and other material has been created that ties in to the new movie.

Finally, “Preschool” takes you to a Toy Story section of the Disney Preschool site with more games and printable activities for the under 4 set.

A series of online videos were made that were much better than the internet-only spots from earlier in the campaign. The first was made to look like a vintage commercial for Lots-o-Huggin’ Bear that had been converted from a disintegrating VHS tape. This provided some background on when the toy was created in the movie’s world and is basically funny and entertaining, which is a good thing.

The retro kept coming with a “Groovin’ With Ken” video of an interview with the iconic toy from the mid-70’s, with Ken talking about what a great life he leads despite the fact that on his own box his name is so much smaller than Barbie’s. Ken was also the star of a series of “Ken’s Dating Tips” videos that showed all the doll’s secrets to remaining popular with the ladies.

In advance of the movie Disney rolled out a new application (New York Times, 6/1/10) for Facebook that allowed people to buy tickets to Toy Story 3 without leaving the network, as well as sending a status update to your friends that you’ve done so.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The resurgence of the movie also brought with it a resurgence of the toy line, with lots of new additions – mainly in the form of new characters from this latest installment – and variations on the classic characters hitting shelves after debuting at this year’s Toy Fair trade show. While the Toy Story name as an actual toy line hasn’t really gone away over the years there was definitely an uptick in the year leading up to this latest movie.

Those toys got the spotlight from Toy’s R Us (MediaPost, 6/1/10), who created special Toy Story promotional spaces in their stores and setup a section of their website and put some of the aliens form the movie all over the site. Visitors who click three of them on the site will unlock exclusive content. Those who buy $25 of Toy Story merchandise in stores will receive a voucher for a movie ticket.

Energizer batteries also wanted to give out free movie tickets to see Toy Story 3 or any other Disney movie to those who bought three packages of batteries.

Insurance provider Aflac created a co-branded spot (MediaPost, 5/18/10) featuring the company’s spokes-duck, who is placed in the daycare center with the movie’s characters to reinforce Aflac’s message of reliability in tough times. The spot was run across TV networks as well as in-theaters through the National CineMedia network. A series of print ads were created and Aflac also put movie imagery on their No. 99 car for its appearance at the June 20th NASCAR race in California.

Pull-Ups took the opportunity afforded by the movie to remind people that it was the only training pants brand with Disney characters on them.

On the food front there was Sara Lee, who got their own page on the Disney website to promote their whole grains healthy food with recipes, games and more. Kellogg also got involved with a promotion on boxes of their products that encouraged users to collect secret codes they could redeem for various movie-themed prizes.

Far more philanthropically minded was a partnership with the Toys for Tots organization that placed displays in 24 cities across the country where people could donate toys throughout the month of June.

The movie’s characters got used – in an indirect way since you never see them on screen – in one of Google’s “Search Story” videos. The video showed searches being changed all over the place as the toys had one panicked conversation after another with each other, a conversation that was culled from audio bits from throughout the three movies.

There’s also been plenty of traditional advertising done. A number of TV spots were created and have been running in the lead-up to the movie, most of which take the same basic idea of the trailers and created abridged variations on those themes. So some focus on the escape plot, some focus more on the daycare center and some on the emotional upheaval of Andy leaving for college and deciding the future of his toys. They all work in and of themselves.

The character-specific posters also were repurposed as  billboards and other outdoor ads, creating a striking visual of just the character and the number “3” on a sea of black. Minimalistic and to the point, these also worked at alerting the audience that there was a new movie on the way.

Media and Publicity

The Pixar crew did make an appearance at Comic-Con 2009 to not only drop the news that Michael Keaton would be joining the cast as Ken but also to talk about the re-release of the first two Toy Story movies in 3D, a tactic being taken on in part to get people back to thinking about the franchise before this third installment hits theaters. That re-release got its own trailer, with the characters all of a sudden discovering just how exciting it is that they’re now appearing in 3D, a trailer that’s pretty fun in its own right for how it plays with the concept of something being 2D. There was also an internet-only trailer and a  TV spot that had similar fun with the idea of these characters appearing in three dimensions.

The movie was one of those brought by Disney to its D23 fan convention in September, 2009, an appearance that included a showing of a new trailer to the Disney faithful in attendance and which was followed up by the release of a new teaser poster.

The full film was later screened at ShoWest 2010 (Hollywood Reporter, 2/17/10) for theater owners and other exhibition executives.

Then Disney embarked on kind of a variation of the “Demand It” fad that’s sweeping Hollywood. The studio announced it would take the first 65 minutes – about half – of the movie to college campuses to screen what it was calling a “Cliffhanger Edition” of the film that was designed to get college kids, who were likely seven to 10 years old when the last movie came out, interested (New York Times, 5/1/10) in this latest installment. Hopefully, the strategy seemed to be thinking, giving them such an extended look at the new movie would get their interest up enough that they’d later buy tickets to the whole thing. That effort was promoted with flyers being up on college campuses asking if people would like to start working for Pizza Planet, the kiddie restaurant that’s been featured in previous movies.

The movie got lots of other publicity, including high-profile looks at some of the new characters that would be featured in this installment (New York Times, 6/11/10) and more. It also began to be looked to as the savior of the summer (New York Times, 6/14/10) as the box-office to that point was less than magnificent overall.


What a fun campaign. I’m serious, it’s a fun campaign. There are a couple missteps, namely the internet-only trailers that were created but that may be more me just not quite getting it than that there’s anything actually wrong with them since most people seemed to lap them up.

Aside from that, though there’s a remarkable brand consistency between the all the elements of the campaign that goes behind logos and other actual marketing considerations and is centered mostly, again, around the idea of this being fun. The posters, the trailers and especially the website are all fun and get the audience engaged.

Actually I should qualify that last statement and say the campaign gets the audiences – plural – engaged since this is very much a case of different marketing components appealing to different audiences. While the website is almost solely a kids-focused affair the trailers are meant to appeal more to the grown-ups and young adults, the ones who are either the same age as Andy and whom Disney/Pixar is hoping will revisit this latest entry or who the studio is hoping will once again bring their kids, who have probably only watched the originals on DVD.

Luckily the campaign works on all those levels, providing adults a movie that simultaneously is a known quantity but also – especially in the wake of movies like WALL-E and Up – promises the genuinely moving emotional impact that Pixar has become known for. Largely because those two movies were such artistic successes it’s also safe for college-age kids, the ones who were toddlers when the first movie came out, who have a bit of air cover when they suggest going to see this new entry. That’s been helped tremendously by the college-screening effort, which was kind of brilliant in terms of reaching this segment of the audience.

Without the sense that this is a chance to revisit beloved – and they truly are – characters in a new story, though, all the tactics in the world aren’t going to save this campaign. Luckily it has that in spades.


  • 06/16/10: The movie was advertised by Disney/Pixar in Twitter’s new advertising format, which inserts a topic which is legitimately trending but has yet to hit the big time into the “Trending Topics” that appear on the home screen.
  • 06/21/10: JoBlo reminds us that a third Toy Story movie was at one point slated to be a direct-to-video sequel and was basically a bargaining tool between Disney and Pixar before the two merged operations more fully and officially.
  • 01/09/11: Disney/Pixar ran a huge ad campaign in an attempt to secure the movie a Best Picture Academy Award, though whether or not that effort was largely symbolic or not was up for discussion.
  • 02/17/11: I’m not sure social media played any sort of outsized role in the marketing of this movie but that’s the focus of this story.