If there’s anything I’m an expert on (outside of social media content marketing of course) it’s the struggle of being really, really good looking. It’s something that has impacted my life in many and various ways and which I’m constantly having to deal with comments on and about. Going to Starbucks is a big deal because I’m bombarded by people taking pictures and posting them to social media, women swooning at my feet and the constant stream of calls and messages asking me to endorse a product or lend my likeness to a brand campaign. It’s exhausting.
Which brings us to Zoolander 2. The movie is a sequel to 2001’s original sleeper hit and Ben Stiller is back as clueless male model Derek Zoolander. Joining him is Owen Wilson as Hansel, his rival in the original but now a friend and ally. Once again the two are tasked with stopping a threat to the fashion industry and the world, this time facing off against Will Ferrell’s Mugatu and Kristen Wiig’s Alexanya Atoz. Time has not been kind to our heroes, though, who find themselves in the role of relics in an industry that may have left them behind.
The first teaser poster featured Stiller and Wilson as Zoolander and Hansel, both staring right past each other and at their phones as they model and take selfies. The copy “Long time no Z” is at the top while the title treatment, which here puts the “2” in type like a perfume fragrance, is at the bottom. That’s about it, but it sells the main conceit of the film, which is that these idiot are back and they have a whole new venue for their narcissism.
A second poster released at the same time took the idea of looking like a perfume ad and committed wholly to it, showing a black-and-white image of Zoolander with the same “No. 2” in fancy type but this time putting it on an actual perfume bottle. This is a little less effective than the first one, but it’s still pretty good.
The whole cast appeared for the first time on a poster that continued the “No. 2” idea. There’s not a whole lot too it outside of the cast all striking kinds of goofy and exaggerated poses.
A series of character posters was up next, first with one featuring Owen Wilson, then Penelope Cruz. Stiller was next with a poster that showed him decked out in a fur coat while holding a young husky. It’s not so much funny as meant to show him in what would be a kind of fashion spread. Then came one with Wiig, who is almost unrecognizable as Alexanya, standing there looking like she’s plotting something and with some mannequins behind her. Finally there was one for Ferrell, as Mugatu is shown pushing his way through a phalanx of cameras while holding his poodle.
A “motion poster” was released that featured most of the main characters – all but Mugatu – walking past the camera and flashing some sort of signature look.
‘The teaser trailer opens with narration by Stephen Hawking talking about the Big Bang and the beginnings of the universe and how it all lead to the creation of the human brain. When we start exploring the inside of that brain we start seeing things like cameras and hair blowers and toy monkeys and whatnot, lots of props and callbacks to the first movie. Finally we get to the core question of humanity, at which point we zoom out and see Derek as he asks, “If God exists, then why did he make ugly people?” The trailer ends with some fun interplay between Zoolander and Hawking around the movie’s title, all of which ends with Hawking calling him stupid.
I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of this. I get that it’s just a teaser, but I feel like it doesn’t do much of anything and doesn’t make a huge impression. It’s alright and certainly gets the job of awareness done, but that’s about it. That’s all it needs to do, though, so it’s all good.
The first trailer immediate sets up the new status quo Zoolander and Hansel find themselves in, which is as over-the-hill has-beens. Soon the two are recruited by an agent of Interpol to find out who’s been killing the world’s most beautiful people, something he can only do by infiltrating the world of high fashion. Then we see their old nemesis Mugatu is behind what’s been happening.
This one is pretty good but doesn’t come off as being all that great. Sure, anyone who saw the first one and has since turned it into a comedy classic will be excited by it. But it comes off as maybe a little too high concept – the first one had an espionage plot, sure, but the comedy was about how Zoolander couldn’t even handle everyday life – without enough originality since many of the jokes here are retreads from the first one. Not that I didn’t laugh here, but I’m concerned we have another Anchorman 2 here. Despite my reservations (as if they matter) the trailer was the most engaged with on Twitter following its release and it would later be announced it set a record for views of a comedy trailer in the first week of release.
The final trailer brings us back to “Relax,” the movie that featured so prominently in the first movie. A new mix of that is used over a collection of mostly footage we’ve seen before but we do get an extended look at Zoolander meeting Mugato in prison and inadvertently setting him free.
It’s good as a final sales pitch for the movie. Like I said, there isn’t a whole lot here that’s new but it shows off the movie well without going almost at all into the story. Basically what it’s selling is a return of characters we’ve previously enjoyed in slightly new situations.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website, built on Tumblr, is build to look like Zoolander’s personal site, a conceit that’s undercut by the presence of marketing materials for the movie, which breaks the suspension bridge of disbelief.
The first thing the site wants you to do, aside from “Buy Tickets,” is watch the “Trailer” again. You can change the look of the site and the background on the header by choosing one of Derek’s signature looks that are listed on the menu just below that header.
There’s an “Image Gallery” that has about a dozen stills from the movie. There’s also a “Poll” asking you to choose your favorite of Zoolander’s outfits, a “Quiz” to gauge your interest in world events and what really matters to you and a blog from Hansel that contains all his wisdom and insights. Down toward the bottom there’s a link to a “Synopsis.”
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots began running in January with a commercial that outlined the plot pretty well and played up the ridiculousness of it while focusing on this movie being a return of not only an old friend but also an old threat.
More TV commercials would hit similar themes while offering a bit more of the plot, each one hitting slightly different notes but all revolving around the same themes.
For promotional partners there were a few companies that signed on to help promote the movie:
- Fiat: Ran co-branded ads, including a commercial that had Zoolander driving a Fiat through a red light over and over again solely to have his picture taken.
- Barbie: I’m not sure if this was part of an official partnership, but Zoolander’s appearance on Barbie’s popular Instagram feed certainly seems like the kind of thing that could only happen with dollars trading hands in some manner.
- Kiehl’s: The company opened a pop-up Derek Zoolander Center For People Who Don’t Age Good in New York City that let people visit, take a Blue Steel selfie and more. The company’s anti-aging products were also provided to production. It’s not clear if Kiehl’s did any other promotions for the movie.
- Samsung: Ran a sweeps that’s now closed. Plenty of people pointed out, though, how Zoolander is using one of the company’s Galaxy phones in the trailers and some of the posters, so there was clearly a larger relationship here.
Paramount was among the first buyers of Kik’s branded GIFs, which gave users of the messaging app a selection of such GIFs to choose from when they accessed the GIF/emoji keyboard there. The studio also used Imgur to distribute some fun Valentine’s Day cards. And there were branded filters that were part of Giphy’s GiphyCam app.
There was online advertising, including on Twitter and Facebook, done as well. Those social ad buys used videos like the trailers or TV spots while the other more traditional efforts mostly used variations on the key art.
Media and Publicity
The movie effectively announced – there had been rumors prior to this, but this was the first confirmation – when Stiller and Wilson appeared in character on a Paris Fashion Week runway in early 2015. That was followed up by confirmation from Paramount that yes, this was happening. The two of them would comment more as they made talk show and other appearances over the next few months while promoting other projects.
More would pop up every now and again, including this random appearance by Zoolander with Justin Beiber to promote a charitable organization.
Unfortunately shortly after the first trailer was released there was a backlash that focused on the trans (?) character played by Benedict Cumberbatch which some took as being very cliched and offensive.
There was a big push in mid-January that continued the conceit setup in some of the early posters and went further with a series of magazine ad-style images, a commercial and an article in Vogue that put Zoolander into a fragrance campaign. That was followed by a GQ cover featuring both Zoolander and Hansel. Wiig would get in on the action too, creating a fake commercial for the beauty products her character’s company creates that’s full of…interesting pronunciations.
Stiller and various co-stars went around the world doing walk-offs and other stunts in Paris, Sydney, Rome and elsewhere. The fashion theme continued with a story covering how much that industry’s attitude toward this movie was much more friendly and welcoming than its lukewarm reception to the first installment.
Much of the press and publicity was just about having fun while trying to sell the movie. So you had Zoolander and Hansel showing up on “Saturday Night Live” to talk about Fashion Week. And Will Ferrell stopped by the “Late Show” to not talk about the movie but instead make his pitch for being the show’s new animal expert. And Stiller went on “The Tonight Show” with a fake Female Viagra ad.
I want to like this campaign. I really, really do. And there’s a lot of it that works for me. But overall I’m feeling kind of like I did during the Anchorman 2 campaign, that the studio and the talent involved are trying too hard. You can see some of the same tactics being pulled out here, with Stiller crashing real world events in character, everyone engaging in all kinds of random stunts on late night talk shows and so on. In both cases the original film was kind of an unexpected hit, especially considering how thin the premise of the stories are, and their success resulted largely from the goofy charm they exuded. Now this movie, like Anchorman 2, is being sold as some sort of culturally important moment that is out of scale with the popularity of the original installments.
What’s here sells a movie that really wants you to laugh and will trot out just about anything it needs to in order to make that happen. That includes what looks to be a substantial roster of cameos and a lot of gags about how clueless Zoolander and Hansel are. The problem is it’s hard to recapture that original feeling and too often even in the campaign it’s like everyone is too in on the joke and underlining how ridiculous the situations are a little too broadly, compared to the first one where everything just happened. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t look funny, just that the comedy looks a bit more self-aware here than in the first installment. We’ll see.