Movie Marketing Madness: Fair Game

Stories about the abuse of power are almost always interesting. But they tend to take one of two directions: Either they focus on those who are doing the abusing and how they’re ultimately brought down by their hubris or they look specifically at the investigation into what they’ve done and how they’re ultimately brought down by their hubris. Few, though, look at what impact the abuses perpetrated have on the victims of that abuse. They might be mentioned or a poor widow who had her house taken from her shown briefly, but that’s about it.

The new movie Fair Game is all about how the abuse impacts the lives of the victims. The movie tells the real-life (though obviously with embellishment) story of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative who was outed by the administration of George W. Bush in apparent retaliation for her husband, Joe Wilson, daring to question the validity of their justifications to go to war with Iraq. Naomi Watts plays Plame while Sean Penn stars as Wilson in the film, which is based on Plame’s book of the same name.

The Posters

The movie’s first poster is pretty typical of a political drama in that there’s lots of shaded, muted colors and everyone looks very serious. Watts is shown most clearly here walking toward the camera with a stylish yet intimidating outfit on and a look on her face that’s all business. In the background over her shoulder is Penn, who’s obscured slightly, a choice that may reflect his character’s role as an instigator or thing or otherwise as a largely behind-the-scenes actor.

The only teases as to the story are the standard “Inspired by true events” disclaimer and the “Wife. Mother. Spy.” copy at the bottom that spell out the simultaneous yet seemingly disparate roles Watts’ character holds in her life.

A second poster didn’t change the design all that much from the first. Both actors are closer to the camera and the CIA logo seems to be more prominently displayed but that’s about it. The copy remains the same and the overall look and feel remains. But this does appear to be more traditional the moving the actors closer to the camera increases the sense of immediacy, which adds to the drama that the audience can then expect.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out like any traditional spy thriller. At first Watts’ character is shown as a loving mother and wife but then she’s in a car promising an Iraqi safety as long as he stays in the car. Soon the drama shifts to the more political, though, as we see Penn intone that a question of nuclear material sales is not really believable. That embraces the White House, who then decide they need to “change the story” by outing her as a CIA operative, something that has not only personal implications but also professional as it endangers people in the field. By this time, though, the damage has already been done and she’s feeling the pressure, which she then says she’s not going to fold under.

It’s a high-pressure trailer that acts more like an action movie with its fast cuts and pounding music instead of a more staid political drama. Can’t fault it for that and it certainly makes the movie appear as an intelligent thriller but it will remain to be seen if it manages to overcome the problems that have sunk other intelligent thrillers in the last couple years.


The movie’s official website loads and immediately begins playing the trailer in a video player that also lets you choose to watch a TV spot, both of which are also found in the first content section, which of course is “Videos.”

The next two areas are all about connecting the audience with the movie. “Reviews” contains the same sort of pull quotes that can be found in the TV spot and “Theaters” lets the visitor know where they can find the movie, hopefully near them.

The “Timeline” section is pretty cool and is exactly the sort of thing I like to see for historical movies such as this. It takes you through the real life of Valerie Plame beginning in April, 2001 and including links to read Wilson’s actual New York Times op-ed and other supporting documents and news stories.

The “Gallery” has eight stills from the film and “Synopsis” has a two-paragraph overview of the movie’s story.

There’s also a section to “Speak Up” that includes everything from a stream of Twitter updates of mentions of the movie to an area where you can join the nuclear nonproliferation advocacy group near you. It also includes video of news interviews with Plame and archived news coverage about the scandal around her outing in the press.

Much of the content from that site is what greets you when you visit the movie’s Facebook page, which also includes the same Timeline feature in addition to a Wall of updates and a collection of photos and more.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A bit of TV advertising was done, including the creation of a spot that mostly mimics the trailer but adds on a voice-over narration about how these people, Plame and Wilson, are taking on the highest halls of power. It also tries, using a couple quotes from a review or two, to position it as being in the same vein as The Bourne Identity and so we get lots of shots from the movie’s handful of action sequences. It’s a pretty good spot, but audiences are more likely to encounter a procedural drama than a movie filled with chases through the streets of Baghdad.

Media and Publicity

The film’s publicity effort received a strong start when positive buzz about it emerged from the debut screening at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie was described by some as Liman’s strongest effort despite whatever weaknesses there might be in the material itself. Though as some people pointed out (Los Angeles Times, 5/20/10) the talky nature of the movie might make it a tough sell to audiences. The one missing component from the Cannes effort, one that was consistently pointed out, was that Penn was not in attendance. While the official reason given was that he was testifying before Congress, the feeling was that he was just reluctant to go through the motions.

Aside from a few early reviews and other buzz, there was little outside of stories like how well Watts got to know the woman she was portraying (Los Angeles Times, 10/24/10) and such, including how she toughened up a bit for the role (Boston Herald, 11/1/10).

There were also even updated profiles of Plame herself (Interview Magazine, 10/10) that talk about how her life has evolved and what her feelings are about a movie being made of a particularly traumatic part of her life. Liman got in front of the press as well, talking about his aspirations for the movie (Philadelphia Daily News, 9/2/10) and how he hopes it will serve as an easily consumable public record of the events it chronicles for the audience.


It’s a tightly constructed campaign that has a lot of nice brand consistency running through it, meaning the trailer, poster and TV spots all have a singular look and feel that makes them pretty recognizable wherever the viewer might be coming across them.

I’m a bit surprised there wasn’t more press about the movie considering the source material, which would have allowed for a nice hook of revisiting the story from several years ago. Perhaps there was little interest in doing that given the current political climate.

Regardless, the campaign gels nicely. It will likely resonate most with an audience that was the most disgusted by the real life events that took place and offended by the blatant political maneuvering that was done. It’s almost like a documentary in that regard in that it’s unlikely, I think, to find an audience outside those already predisposed to assuming the worst tricks were possible from the previous resident of the White House.