It took a long while but I finally figured out the kind of movie I don’t mind Adam Sandler in: The ones where I can’t see him. While I’ve enjoyed his turns in Punch Drunk Love and Funny People my favorite Sandler performance it turns out is in the first Hotel Transylvania. At least when he’s animated you can’t see how little effort he’s putting into his role. Plus, I thought the movie was at least mostly entertaining. It never took itself too seriously but wasn’t so painfully filled with as many jokes for adults as for kids, something that too often weighs down what should be a pure play kids movie.
And now it’s getting a sequel. Hotel Transylvania 2 picks up the story from the first one, with Dracula’s (Sandler) hotel now catering to both humans and monsters alike. That’s largely because his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) has married a human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) and they have a kid. But Dracula fears that exposure to the human world will lure Mavis and his grandson away from him, so he sets out to bring out the kid’s monstrous nature so she will stay with him at the hotel. Not only do Dracula’s friends get involved in the effort but they also enlist the help of Dracula’s own father Vlad (Mel Brooks).
The teaser poster showed Dracula, Mavis, Frankenstein and the rest of the gang just striding toward the camera like this was some sort of heist caper. Below them is the tagline “Drac’s pack is back” along with the release date.
It’s alright but it’s relatively uninspired, even for a teaser whose only job is to implant awareness of the movie’s basic existence into the audience’s consciousness. It’s just a white background and the characters along with a small bit of copy. There’s no design or anything else at work here, it’s representative of minimal effort being allocated. So it does it’s job, but it’s not putting in any overtime.
The next one is only slightly better. This one lines up all the primary characters, this time including Mavis’ son, from front to back in order of height, each one looking over the shoulders of the one in front of them. Still not great, but better.
The theatrical poster takes the “monsters walking toward the camera” conceit of the first teaser, switches around the order they’re walking in and plops in a background behind them showing the titular hotel. Joining them this time are the kids, including Drac’s grandson and the three wolf cubs that were a part of the first movie. The emphasis on the kids is underlined by the copy “They’re back to raise a little terror” which, in case you missed it, has a nice double meaning.
There were also some character banners created that singled out each character, placed them on a solid color background and…not much else. But this kind of thing is more or less a prerequisite for movies aimed at kids, a check box to be filled.
The teaser trailer was really just an extended scene from the movie. Dracula is determined to show his friends that his grandson is indeed a vampire and can fly. So he takes him to the top of a tall rickety tower and throws him off, kind of like someone throwing a kid in the pool to teach them how to swim. But after he does so and the kid keeps falling it becomes clear that this isn’t happening so Drac swoops down to save him, at which point the tower topples over catches on fire (for no discernable reason), sending Frankenstein running through all kinds of wooden structures, all of which also catch on fire.
It kind of works, dammit. I want to be all cynical about it but I just can’t. And even if I were, I’d have to admit that it at least achieves the goals it’s meant to. It sets up the return of these characters, introduces the grandson, lays out the central point of tension in the story (is the kid part monster or not) and is pretty funny. It does everything it needs to do to raise awareness in the target audience. It also makes clear that the humor here won’t exactly be subtle, but it doesn’t really need to be, does it.
The theatrical trailer doubles down on story, showing more clearly how Mavis wants to move somewhere safer for her son, something that doesn’t sit well with Dracula. So he and his monster buddies do what they can to bring out the monster in the kid, unfortunately to no effect. We get a brief glimpse of Vlad but mostly it’s about showing the hijinks and crazy stunts the monsters engage in to try and prove the kid has a little vampire in him.
The extra running time and additional context here don’t help. While there are still just two or three elements that are focused on it feels like the trailer is trying to do too much for some reason. It feels crowded. Maybe it’s some of the throwaway gags involving the hotel staff or the extended scene that opens the trailer, but this one doesn’t flow all that well for me. The target audience isn’t likely to notice whatever nits I’m deciding to pick here so I can’t say it’s ineffective, it just feels a bit off for me.
Online and Social
Let’s start off with the official website which, as seems to be the norm these days, is built on Tumblr. There’s a big prompt next to the picture of the primary cast of monsters encouraging you to “Watch the Trailer” that, when clicked, brings up the theatrical trailer. Going back to that cast montage, when you click on one of their images – or the images of any character throughout the site – it will play a small audio snippet of dialogue from that character.
At the top of the page there’s menu that starts off with “Story,” which is a brief synopsis that – likely because of the movie’s demographic target – doesn’t get into cast and crew filmographies and previous credits.
“Videos” is actually nicely stocked with both trailers as well as a three-part “Making of the Teaser Trailer” that goes into the character and other designs of the sequence that’s featured in that trailer. There’s also a few video interviews with folks within Sony that are moderately interesting. Finally “Fun & Games” has some cute casual games and other activities like a branded photo bomb tool that are fun if you’re really into the movie’s characters.
Scrolling down on the page you can sort the updates on the blog by “GIFs,” “Memes,” “Photos,” “Videos,” “Activities,” “Mobile” and “Fan Art.”
“GIFs,” “Memes” and “Photos” are pretty self-explanatory. “Videos” here does not contain the same trailer and featurettes that were available above but instead are shorter clips and snippets from the movie. So just short little things like Johnny running through the hotel, Mavis dancing and so on. Cute, but non-essential.
There are recipes for monster-themed pastries and more along with art projects and so on in “Activities.” The “Mobile” section prompts visitors to check out and use the Monster Photo Bomb tool as well as download one or both of a couple GIF and emoji keyboards that have movie-branded material. There are also calls-to-action to follow the movie’s profiles on Pinterest and Snapchat. “Fan Art” is a collection of fan art based on the movie that’s been curated from Tumblr, Instagram and elsewhere.
Moving off-domain, the film’s Facebook page is a pretty standard affair, particularly for a movie that’s aimed mostly at kids. That means it’s light on news about the movie, instead focusing on large, bright (and therefore hopefully engaging) images, short videos, quick activities like “Make your own vampire name) and things like that. There’s an emphasis on both “buy tickets now” prompts and visuals that mark occasions like back to school, Grandparent’s Day and so on, so it’s clear that this page is meant for the younger parts of Facebook’s user base.
The Twitter profile is more of the same, with the occasional Retweet from Sandler or another of the film’s stars thrown in. There are a few more “real-time” posts for trailers or clips debuting during an episode of a TV show and character appearances at a zoo, but for the most part it’s just the same images, prompts and such. Same goes for Instagram.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There were, of course, a number of TV commercials ran. While most hit many of the same beats as the trailers, they were packaged a bit differently and thematically. So this one uses “back to school” as the theme to put footage in and around.
Others were more traditional, like this one.
Man, does the marketing team love that scene of the monster having toilet problems. But hey, you go with what works.
The studio signed vocal group Fifth Harmony to do a new song for the movie. The group would also take part in other promotional events like Twitter chats and so on.
The movie hooked up with Goodwill for a co-branded campaign (Brand Channel, 9/23/15)encouraging people to go check out their local Goodwill stores for all their Halloween costume needs. The emphasis there was not only on finding cheap clothes but also supporting the store in its efforts to provide jobs and more in the communities it operates in. The campaign involved TV and radio ads as well as in-store events at select locations.
Media and Publicity
Outside of the pops that would come when new marketing materials would hit there wasn’t even a lot of press about the movie. Director Genndy Tartakovsky did a few interviews like this one (Tech Times, 9/23/15) that talked about not just this film but the animation landscape as a whole. And there was some press around Fifth Harmony’s involvement (Music Times, 8/27/15) but that’s about it. It’s not surprising considering this is a kid’s movie that doesn’t exactly offer the same editorial angles as some of the award-contenders coming out this season, but it’s still awfully quiet out there.
The word I keep coming back to is “appropriate.” This is a very appropriate campaign for the target audience. The trailers play up the familiar while also offering something new – the particular trick for sequels – and are fun and engaging. And the online components, from the Tumblr site to the social networks are all made up of material that’s pretty well designed to attract and engage that same audience. There’s almost nothing here for adults (unless, like me, they genuinely enjoyed the first one) but that’s alright since it’s not adults that are going to make or break the film’s box office success. I like this one a lot from a strategic point of view as I feel it meets most of the assumed goals.