Movie Marketing Madness: Salt

salt posterHere’s an admission that I need to make right upfront: I don’t think Angelina Jolie is the sexiest, most beautiful woman in the world. Oh she’s pretty enough, but I’ve never found her that attractive and give most stories that sing her praises as such a hearty rolling of the eyes. But my “type” has never really been this sort of hyper-sexualized woman. Let’s put it this way: Have you seen the movie The Truth About Cats and Dogs? Yeah, I was the one guy who did who was more attracted to Janeane Garofalo than Uma Thurman. So there’s that.

But it seems I’m in a significant minority in my position, with Jolie continuing to be seen as the embodiment of female perfection. Part of that has been her athleticism, which has made her one of the few bankable female action stars working today.

The latest movie to let her show off those skills is Salt. In the film she plays a CIA agent who suddenly comes under suspicion of being a Russian spy tasked with assassinating the President of the United States. Apparently unable to prove her innocence through conventional methods she goes on the run in an attempt to find proof that will exonerate her. In pursuit are her partner, played by Liev Schreiber and the lead investigator on the case, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in what’s basically the same role Tommy Lee Jones played in The Fugitive of someone who doesn’t care about guilt or innocence, he just wants to catch Salt.

The Posters

One of the first teaser posters featured Jolie staring intently at the camera while wearing a dark black wig, all the better to heighten the sultry feel of her glare. The movie’s title is imposed over her face while the “Who is Salt?” copy is below. So it’s clear that this aspect of the campaign, at least, has chosen to just go with Jolie being the hook for the movie and the most sure-fire way to get people in to the theater along with a little bit of mystery.

The second poster…wait…there was no second poster? For a major action tentpole starring Angelina Jolie? Honestly I’m just dumbfounded here.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens with a Russian spy being interrogated by the CIA, including Salt. He comes bearing tidings of a Russian agent who’s planning to assassinate the President. But the name he gives them is hers, which sets up the rest of the trailer, which plays out like a variation on The Fugitive as she bolts and tries to prove her innocence.. Schreiber’s character, a friend of Salt’s, wants to help her but Ejiofor simply wants to catch her so they can conduct their own investigation.

The trailer contains multiple action set-pieces, including Salt jumping off a bridge, knocking out the cops who have her in custody and veering a cab off another bridge and generally kicking ass. So it’s clear this is being sold on the notion that Jolie is one of the few actresses out there currently who the audience can believe as an action hero.

A second trailer opens with Salt in custody and escaping but then rewinds to the same interrogation of the Russian spy. We then see that she goes home and finds things amiss before running. Again we see that the two agents on her tail – Schreiber and Ejiofor – have different agendas and reasons for wanting to bring her back home.

This one ends with not only the movie’s official site URL but also the Twitter handle which it encourages people to follow for updates.

Online

The movie’s official website starts off subtly enough, with the main landing page just being a prompt to Enter the Site that contains clips from the trailer, a widget to find showtimes near you, the option to share what you’re doing with your social network friends and an invitation to Play the Day X Exists game, which we’ll get into more later.

Once you do Enter the Site, the first bit of information in the sidebar menu is The Salt Dossier, which basically moves you through the outline of the movie’s plot with a combination of biographical information on the characters and clips from the film. It also hints at the “Day X” program that forms the online game. At the end of it you’re prompted to play the “Day X Exists” game, or play the more generic Salt Game either online or through a mobile app.

Moving to the more traditional content, “The Story” is a pretty simple one-paragraph overview of the film’s plot that ends with the tagline that’s being used everywhere, “Who is Salt?”

The “Cast and Filmmakers” section contains no information on the people in either of those categories, just a headshot of the actors. You know, in case we forgot what Angelina Jolie looked like.

There are a whopping five stills in the  “Gallery” and it’s appropriate that the next section is just labeled “Video” since there’s only one video – the second trailer – there.

“Downloads” has five Wallpapers and two Twitter Skins if you’d like to show off your love of Jolie that way.

“Mobile” has the iPhone/iPad game for the movie, as well as an invitation to get exclusive content from the film delivered to your iPhone by installing the WiMO app and the scanning a QR code with it.

Finally there are sections for the movie’s online game and the Day X Exists game.

The very last section is “Partners,” a list that’s limited to Visa and Royal Purple, a maker of synthetic motor oil.

There was an online game created called Day X Exists that enlisted the player in a series of spy missions that were loosely tied to the movie’s story. Basically the game has each participant participating in the search for Salt to try to bring her back for questioning, which is the same idea most of the characters in the movie have.

The movie’s Facebook page and Twitter profile are filled with promotional updates with new clips, photos and links to the appearances Jolie and others were making in support of the movie as well as healthy prompting to play the Day X Exists game.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The TV spots run for the movie more or less retain the basic framework of the trailers, that of showing how Salt is on the run because of some misunderstanding over whether or not she’s a Russian spy. Most of the conventions used in the trailers are re-used here, with the emphasis placed on the action sequences and showing Jolie putting on or taking off her disguises.

Despite her obvious presence in the rest of the campaign Jolie was oddly missing from the outdoor ads, which chose to focus on the mysterious “Who is Salt?” idea to hook the audience and not a women who’s continually named one of the most gorgeous on the planet. Yeah, I don’t know either.

There was no information on the websites for either of the two partners the movie’s page mentions of what those partnerships entailed. The Royal Purple site had a trailer and poster but that’s about it.

Media and Publicity

There was even some publicity and news stories around the Day X Exists game that came from outside the usual movie fan-boy press and blog space, as is the case with this story (New York Times, 5/16/10) that tied the emergence of games such as this into the casual and social networking-based gaming trend. It also turned some people into mainstream film fans (AdAge, 6/3/10) where they usually favor more refined selections.

Other press stories focused on how, as I said before, Jolie is one of the few female stars who can believably star in an action movie (Hollywood Reporter, 7/14/10) and how Jolie came to star in a movie that originally was meant as a vehicle for Tom Cruise (Hollywood Reporter, 7/20/10). The latter was actually a revisiting of some of the movie’s first press, which talked about how powerful Jolie was that should actually change the gender or a main character.

Overall

Well I guess it’s alright. But for a movie of this caliber I kind of expect more. I mean…only one poster? A couple of trailers that are 85 percent the same footage? A website that can’t bother with a write-up of the main actor’s careers? Is this cost cutting in action at the studios or is it assumed that actually running a campaign may wind up discouraging people who aren’t just going to be beaten into submission by the constant running of TV spots?

I feel like the only winners in this campaign – and it remains to be seen how the movie itself does – are the folks who designed the Day X Exists game. It seems like massive amounts of the campaign’s attention are turned to promote that at the expense of directly marketing the movie, hoping that getting people engaged with the game will have a spillover effect. That’s probably not a sure bet since it’s relatively easy to play a game off and on without thinking too much about what property it might be supporting.

So we have hear a much more full-throated effort for the game than for the movie itself. Which seems backwards.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 7/22/10 – The movie’s cast and crew made a brief appearance at Comic-Con 2010, just hours before the film was scheduled to open in theaters and probably too late to significantly impact the word-of-mouth around it.
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