Movie Marketing Madness: The Tourist

We’ve all, at one time or another, been mistaken for someone else at some point. Sometimes it’s as innocuous as someone tapping us on the shoulder at the mall because they think we look like their friend. Other times the misunderstanding is not only on a grander scale but has more dire and serious consequences.

The new movie The Tourist tells just such a story. Johnny Depp plays Frank, an American tourist traveling through Europe who one day, while riding by train, encounters Elise (Angelina Jolie) and what begins as a simple romantic flirtation eventually becomes more than that.

They not only become more romantically entangled Frank also finds him increasingly the subject of some odd attention, particularly in the form of people trying to kill him. They – everyone ranging from the police to a group of criminals – think he’s someone they’ve been looking for, someone who stole something both parties are trying to find. So it’s up to Frank to prove he’s not this other person while at the same time trying to figure out why Elise is involved in this bit of espionage herself.

The Posters

The movie’s first poster is a rather uninspired affair. The two actors are shown in extreme close-up, with Depp looking more or less straight at the camera and Jolie looking over her shoulder, probably so we can see her hair and get a look at just how far her lips jut out from the rest of her face. Down below the title is a small shot of Big Ben (look kids…Big Ben, Parliament) something that’s there solely to show where the story takes place.

The copy at the top, “It all started when he met a woman,” is probably the best thing about the poster since it’s the only element that has a slight sense of humor. Other than that it’s just a couple of big faces and a lot of white space, which doesn’t come off so much as simple and minimalistic as it does just kind of…uninteresting.

The second poster uses the same image of the two stars but changes what is surrounding it a bit. This time the copy at the top reads “The perfect trip, the perfect trap,” which doesn’t quite set anything about the story up other than to explain that there’s going to be some sort of intrigue going on between these two characters.

Below that photo on this version is, instead of an outline of Big Ben, a shot of Jolie and Depp on a boat cruising the canals of Venice. It’s a little more engaging for the viewer than the previous one and comes off as slightly more exotic largely by virtue of it being Not Just England, which I’m thinking many Americans don’t exactly think of as being mysterious and romantic.

Neither one-sheet, though, is all that visually engaging and don’t take any effort to do any explaining or setup, instead opting for the notion that the audience will come simply because of the stars involved.

The Trailers

The first trailer makes the simple case to the audience that this is a tight thriller that features a couple of the biggest movie stars currently around.

Yeah, I just flashed back to the Knight and Day trailer too.

We start out by meeting the two main characters the same moment they meet each other. She approached him on a train and they begin chatting, with an air of mystery surrounding her and her interactions with him. Pretty soon he’s joining her on borate rides and more but eventually things get weird as men begin to come after him with guns. Seems he’s been mistaken for a high-end thief and some very important people on both sides of the law want to get him. So he has to figure out what the mystery is at the same time he’s trying to elude the various parties looking to capture him.

Jolie and Depp both are at their most charming here, though Depp’s accent seems to be somewhat muddled and shifts between a basic American sound and something a little more English.

What the plot is isn’t super clear, something about stolen money, but honestly that’s just the Macguffin that is meant to keep the action moving along.

A second and much shorter trailer – about half the time at just a minute – turns the wattage up on the adventure and goes not at all in to the character set up that the first one did. There’s still plenty of explanations about how Depp’s character is out of his element and not the man that so many people are trying to chase, but it dispenses with any of the reasons why anything is happening. Basically where the first trailer tried to sell the movie as a character drama with some action elements this one just wants to sell it as a straight action movie with the witty one-liners.

Online

The movie’s official website opens with just a few options, most of which deal with sharing the site on social networks or registering for updates. There is also a link to a contest being run with Brightkite that encourages people to take a picture of themselves standing in front of an outdoor ad or poster and submit it to win a trip to Venice.

Once you enter the site the first content area is “About the Film” which is where you’ll find a Synopsis and Cast & Crew and Filmmakers profiles that don’t actually contain any bios or other information. It’s just their names, with nothing about the people there. I’ve seen this on a number of other high-profile releases and, while we may not need this reminder of their achievements, it is at this point standard practice to include them. So their absence is notable.

There’s just the first Trailer under “Trailer.” “Photo Gallery” has just nine stills from the film. Finally “Downloads” has some Wallpapers, IM Icons and even a Twitter Skin for you to add to your profile.

Also on the site is the “Escape From Venice” game that lets you navigate the waters of Venice and a Puzzle that asks you to correctly arrange a chopped up still from the movie.

The movie’s Facebook page has updates, photos, videos and more and the same sort of status updates, as well as a decent amount of conversation, can be found on the dedicated Twitter profile.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some TV advertising was done that was very similar to that second trailer, positioning the movie as an action movie filled with exotic locations and some sort of mystery – though what that mystery is isn’t laid out – with very beautiful people.

Outdoor ads were run as well that featured the same sort of art as one of the posters, with the two leads looking at each other as their giant heads floated above the city.

Media and Publicity

Jolie was understandably a major focus of the publicity campaign, with profiles in Vogue (December, 2010) and elsewhere that looked at her career as well as, of course, her personal live.

Much of the rest of the press coverage focused on the fact that the movie was just packed to the gills with glamour (Reuters, 12/6/10) between Depp and Jolie, glamour that seems to be the central component of the marketing campaign and which the studio is obviously counting on as being what primarily draws the audience (MSNBC, 12/5/10) to the movie.

Overall

It’s hard to get excited about this campaign from a solely marketing perspective. As stated just above, the campaign by and large seems to ignore anything about the movie itself that might be interesting in favor of selling the film as a sort of long-form video version of People magazine. It’s all about attracting people to come and look at the beautiful people walking amidst beautiful locations with little beyond that.

What there is is alright but ultimately betrays a sort of paper-thin substance. The posters don’t have much to say and the trailer seems interested in giving the audience only the barest of plot threads in favor of shots showing how beautiful the stars here are. And there’s not much to the website or advertising that adds anything more meaty to the campaign. It’s telling also that the press was so focused on the flash of it all and the stars themselves instead of the movie. This is a brief respite of mindless celebrity-driven entertainment in what’s otherwise a more serious slate of films here at the end of the year.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 12/09/10 – John Horn at the LAT talks about how the movie with its slower pace and only small doses of action or comedy represents a departure for the two stars. That’s interesting since the campaign seems then to have emphasized most, if not all, of both those attributes in an attempt to sell it to an audience expecting them from the stars.

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.