Movie Marketing Madness: Unknown

We rely greatly in this life on people believing we are who we say we are. Rarely do you meet someone in everyday life who doesn’t buy it when you shake their hand and introduce yourself. It’s only when you need to complete some sort of official transaction that we need to provide some sort of identification or otherwise have a third party vouch on our behalf that we are who we say we are.

Unknown is about a man who loses that most basic of possessions, his identity. While visiting Berlin Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife (January Jones) are in a cab accident. When he awakens days later he finds that no one in the hospital knows what his name is and his wife isn’t around. When he tracks her down she also claims not to know who he is and, most disturbingly, finds another man (Aidan Quinn) is walking around with his name. So Dr. Harris (the real one) must investigate who it is that’s behind the conspiracy to make him disappear.

The Posters

On the movie’s first poster you’ll see (an extraordinarily artificially slimmed down) Neeson with gun in hand staring determinedly toward the camera, gun in hand. Across his mid-section is a strip with a few shots of Jones and an image of the car crash that begins the story proper along with a numbers and words that seem to have been scratched onto a wall or otherwise scrawled somewhere.

The poster is very much designed to sell the movie as being in the same in the same vein as Neeson’s Taken, which proved pretty popular with audiences a couple years ago. So the thinking here is to tell the audience that this movie also features Neeson as a grim loner who’s out to find something. And the “Take back your life” copy on the one-sheet tells us exactly what it is he’s looking to find.

The second poster goes more for a close-up of Neeson, who looks no less intense but this time we get to see him looking a little more haggard, like he’s been on the hunt for a couple days already. The same copy is just to the right of his head and the photo of his head is actually slightly distorted by the words. I think that’s supposed to convey that he’s being erased or something but how well that is actually communicated is open for interpretation.

The Trailers

As all such movies do, the trailer starts off by showing Neeson and Jones as a happily married couple before they get in a car accident and goes in to a coma for four days. But when he comes out of it and seeks his wife out he finds she doesn’t recognize him and there’s someone else out there with his name. So begins a chase through Berlin to find the truth even as he’s frustrated at most every turn.

It’s a completely serviceable trailer that lays out the movie as being appealing to a mainstream audience, especially those who made Taken such a big hit. Neeson is playing the same sort of grizzled, determined character here and he does it well enough. While the trailer manages not to spoil things it’s pretty predictable how the third act here plays out based on what’s shown.


The movie’s official website opens by playing the trailer. In the background there’s full-screen video that can’t be stopped apparently and it comes off as awfully distracting if you’re trying to do other things on the site.

The first section of content is the “Synopsis,” which gives a brief overview of the story as well as the mandatory cast and crew credits. After that is “Cast and & Filmmakers,” which has extended bios and career histories of those involved in the making of the movie as well as the option to download some PDF Production Notes.

“Videos” should be singular since all that’s there is the trailer. “Photos” has a dozen or so stills from the movie as well as a few behind-the-scenes shots but is only navigable in full-screen mode and you can’t download the photos or view thumbnails. “Downloads” has both Posters, a couple of Wallpapers and four Buddy Icons to grab if you want.

You’ll find links to the websites that have run contests and such in the “Promos and Sweepstakes” section and you can buy tickets in “Tickets and Showtimes.”

“Identity Crisis” takes you to a Facebook app game that asks you to identify as many of your Facebook friends as possible in under a minute or, as it says, their identities will be lost forever.

The movie’s Facebook page has that game – it’s actually the opening tab – as well as a Wall of publicity updates and discussion, photos, videos and other information.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A series of TV spots were produced that all took varying angles on laying out the plot for the audience. Most of them wasted little time before literally cutting to the chase and showing Neeson running around trying to gather the evidence needed to prove he is who he says he is. They’re nicely paced and don’t get bogged down in lots of conspiracy-oriented plot details, selling the movie as another thinking-person’s sort of action movie, which is what Neeson seems to be primarily doing the last few years.

Media and Publicity

Some of the press revolved around Jones and how this was her first stab at an action movie (Los Angeles Times, 1/16/11) and how she approached the role.

That’s about it, though. This obviously isn’t getting a huge press push.


The summer of 2011 is going to be filled with talk of “franchises” as movies like Captain America, Harry Potter and others are released. And while this movie on its own is a completely original production and not part of a known property the marketing for Unknown has done its best to sell it as part of the “Liam Neeson as lone vigilante” genre that’s emerged over the last couple of years.

It does a decent job of making that case with posters and a trailer that are likely to interest at least some people in the audience who are looking for an adult thriller that might actually have a few interesting twists and turns in it. What’s a little surprising here is that there appears, by my reckoning, to be very little information from the third act in the campaign, meaning the marketers are actually letting the audience be a tad surprised by not spelling every little plot turn out for them.