Movie Marketing Madness: Puss in Boots

(Brief programming note: Yeah, this came out last week. But I was 85% of the way done with it and just had it on my calendar wrong so have decided to break a rule and publish it anyway. Take any complaints up with the management.)

There’s a real danger when you’re trying to spin off a character from one franchise into their own. Mostly that comes from the notion that a character who has worked in a supporting role can manage to hold the audience’s attention all on their own, without the others there to help them along with that. Taking a secondary character and giving them their own story always contains an element of risk that it will be the equivalent of when a drummer from a band that’s broken up tries to put out a solo record. No one wants to be that guy.

But here we are looking at Puss in Boots, the new movie starring the character of the same name, a character that’s been a supporting player in the last three Shrek movies at various levels. Voiced by Antonio Bandaras, the new film sees him starring in his own adventure. Along with him in his solo outing – something involving gold at the top of a beanstalk – are a female cat that has her own eyes on that gold (voiced by Salma Hayek) and a whole new batch of fairy tale type characters. But while there might be a lot of similar themes when compared to the Skrek films this one seems to be less about pop culture references that are already dated and more about telling a funny story. Let’s see how that plays out in the actual campaign.

The Posters

The first teaser poster just shows Puss from the back, his sword drawn and his eyes darting behind him toward the camera. It’s a little dark, something that is obviously meant to convey mystery, and features one of the character’s signature catchphrases, “Beg for mercy” at the bottom.

The second one-sheet isn’t all that much more informative, just showing Puss walking toward the camera this time with a fireball coming behind him as he walks majestically toward us.

After that a motion poster was released that had Puss standing heroically until a small dot of light appeared on the street in front of him, taunting him until he gives in and pounces on it before finally recovering his composure and standing back upright. That’s a scene that’s essentially pulled right from the second trailer so is already likely to be familiar to audiences.

The next one kept that same heroic stride but moved Puss to a village street, flanked by the supporting characters including Humpty Dumpty, the female cat that he encounters along with a few villagers. Not all that different but its primary purpose seems to be to finally show off the film’s look and feel, appealing to people who will recognize that look and feel from the Shrek movies.

The third poster goes back to showing Puss solo, with him standing in profile to the camera as the copy says “Looking good never looked so good.” It’s funny on the same level the others are should work to bring people’s interest around but it’s not terribly original or interesting.

The Trailers

The main purpose of the first teaser trailer is simply to announce to the audience that the character is back and starring in his own feature. So we see him strutting down a village street casting off his cloak, throwing away his sword and so on before jumping in his signature way onto a rock and announcing that all he needs is his boots. That’s about the extent of it and it’s not even clear whether this footage is in the movie or was created especially for the trailer, which is kind of what it seems like.

The next theatrical trailer starts off by making it clear that we’re looking at the backstory to the characters here, learning where the legend began. Then we start to get into the plot, which involves some vague threat that’s now possessed by a wizard or someone and which could destroy the world. Enlisting the help of Humpty Dumpty, Puss is teamed with a female cat adventurer who’s his equal not only in talent but also in attitude and it’s that dynamic as well as the promise of lots of thrilling carriage chases that the audience is asked to see the movie based on. It’s kind of funny and entertaining if you were a fan of the Shrek series though this seems far less referential of current culture and old fairy tales than those movies, at least based on this trailer.

A third trailer starts off with Puss intimidating some folks in a small tavern before we get to more scenes from the film. There’s not really a narrative here until halfway through, when we see he’s after a treasure hidden in a castle in the sky. We see some of those he goes up against and some of the dangers he encounters. All in all it kind of adds up to the most effective – at least the most all-around entertaining – of the trailers that were released.

Online

The official site opens with a few stills from the movie interspersed with some quotes from critic’s positive reviews of the movie. You can watch the trailer there or you can enter the site. Let’s do the latter.

First dealing with the main menu options at the bottom the first section there is “Video” and there you’ll see both trailers as well as a big old link to the movie’s YouTube channel, which has a bunch of additional video.

“Characters” lets you read a brief description of each of the main characters as well as view pictures of them.

Links to the various apps that are either directly or as a result of a cross-promotional deal designed to market the movie are found in “Mobile.” Next is “Games” has a buck of casual-type games you can play as well as a Coloring Book to download and information on the console-based game.

“Partners” has information on the companies that have been good enough to sign on to help out in promoting the film. And finally “Downloads” has all sorts of stuff – from Ringtones to Twitter Skins to printable craft projects – that you can grab.

There’s lots to do on the movie’s Facebook page as well, though a good amount of it is just ported over content from the official site. But there’s enough here that it doesn’t feel like a tossed-off effort but like the folks behind it were really going for something here.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The studio created a mock commercial featuring the title character promoting “No Pants Pants” that had a little bit of extra dialogue and then a lot of footage that was pulled straight from the trailer. Another spot cast Puss as “the most interesting cat in the world,” a take on the popular beer commercials and then another had him doing his own version of the Old Spice guy.

There was some outdoor advertising done as well as I saw some bus ads that had Puss preening and asking if it was hot out or if it was just him, a line made all the funnier because they started appearing in Chicago in October, a time when the word “hot” is rarely used in relation to the weather.

The movie got a tie-in with the popular mobile game Fruit Ninja, where the title character was inserted into a new level of the game of trying to slash fruit while avoiding falling bombs.

HP and Intel were both on board as promotional partners as well as they are with most all Dreamworks Animation films since they’re the studio’s technology partners. In addition to that there were tie-ins from McDonald’s (Happy Meals), Friskies, Sun-Maid, Avacados from Mexico, Great Day Farms (all co-branded packaging), Save Mart Supermarkets and Marsh grocers (free movie ticket with $15 of qualifying purchases).

Media and Publicity

The movie was one of several brought by Paramount to the CinemaCon trade show, where it apparently (Hollywood Reporter, 3/29/11) got some decent reactions from the theater owners in attendance.

Some more press came later (Los Angeles Times, 9/4/11) on that focused on the involvement of Guillermo del Toro, who came in and helped the other filmmakers shape the story a little bit and work out some plot points they were stuck on.

Overall

I like this campaign a lot. That’s mostly because it seems to have been created with the mindset of not just playing off the audience’s fondness of Shrek (something I think declined with each subsequent installment) but by presenting a product that appeared to stand on its own and was more or less an original item. So everything has a fresh sort of energy that’s no longer dependent on us finding Mike Myers’ Scottish accent amusing or not.

As much as that there’s a good consistency to the brand positioning here that helps the audience feel comfortable with all the different components of the campaign, which come together nicely into a single whole. I was really expecting to not like this at all but it won me over more than I was anticipating.

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