Sacha Baron Cohen is an acquired taste, to be sure. The comedian is so out there, so in-your-face that it’s easy to see him as a bit abrasive, if not outright offensive. We’re not talking Andrew Dice Clay here where he’s just saying terrible things in an effort to get a reaction and playing to the lowest of society’s common denominators. It’s that he seems to thrive in this new era of comedy that’s less about making you laugh than making you squirm. Borat, Ali G and other characters, with their corresponding TV shows and movies, are very much about satirizing the things about society that maybe we’re all uncomfortable with under the surface.
The Brothers Grimsby is more of a traditional comedy than something like Borat but still looks to carry the comedian’s signature humor. Cohen plays Nobby, who at a young age was split up from his brother Sebastian when they were both at an orphanage. Decades later Nobby, who’s a blue collar football fan with a girlfriend and several kids, is still looking for his brother, who unbeknownst to him has become an elite secret governmental agent. When he finally finds Sebastian, Nobby gets caught up in the world of international intrigue, assassinations and more, stumbling through one situation after another while trying to not get himself or his brother killed.
There were two U.S. domestic one-sheets that I could find.
The first looks on its surface like a traditional action movie, with one figure jumping one way and the other in another, both of them with guns blazing and an iconic London setting behind them. But the one at the top is Cohen, who is firing a gun with one hand while the other holds a pint of beer. Plus, he’s wearing a football team shirt and wearing flip-flops with socks. Copy at the top first tells us this comes “From the man who brought you Borat.” and then offers a bit of the story with the tagline “Behind every hero is an embarrassing sibling.”
I like the way it plays with elements of the action genre but with a definite comedic tone. It reminds me a lot of the over-the-top poster for the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg cop comedy The Other Guys which took a very similar tack but it still works by selling Cohen in a satire of action movies.
The next poster looks like more of a straight-up satire of the one-sheets for James Bond movies. In a sharp, stylish black-and-white image we see Cohen and Strong side-by-side. Strong is wearing a sharp suit and has his gun drawn but is looking skeptically at Cohen, who’s standing next to him also with a gun out but while wearing just a shirt and some very revealing underwear, a pot belly clearly bulging under his shirt. At the top we get the same “From the man who brought you Borat” but this time the tagline below is “MI6 has a brand new tool,” a nice play on the both the plot and the…umm…visual.
This is probably my favorite of the two since it takes a more subtle approach to the satire. Even then typeface is Bond-esque, establishing the connection that much more strongly in the minds of the audience. This was spun off into a series of posters that featured the ladies of the movie alongside Cohen, their photos obviously Photoshopped alongside his. Their names weren’t offered and no additional information about their characters was featured. Make of that what you will.
The movie’s first trailer was a red-band version. We immediately see Strong as some sort of assassin taking down targets and running through streets. He’s then introduced as the world’s greatest spy. But then we meet his brother, who is trying out a bed in a store in a completely inappropriate manner with his girlfriend.
It’s pretty funny. The transition from the setup of a serious, Transporter-type action movie to something that’s not nearly as serious works well and should work to attract fans of Cohen at the very least.
The next trailer starts out by showing us the childhood of the two brothers, which involves them being together at an orphanage only to be separated when one is adopted and the other not. Flash forward a couple decades and one is a rogue assassin and the other is a soccer rough who’s been searching for his brother. He finds him at the worst possible moment and becomes mixed up in his exploits, including getting chased by whomever it is that is out to kill Strong’s character.
This is the best of the bunch so far since it gives us more of the backstory on who these guys are and why we’re following them. Cohen – who introduced the trailer in-character as Borat on Jimmy Kimmel Live – really shines here, which is very much the point. So we see him flounder his way through trying not to be killed, which is a joke that’s hammered over and over again.
A third trailer starts out largely the same way but offers a bit more information on how Strong’s character, after being exposed, needs to hide out with his brother while they try to figure out who’s on their tail and stop them.
Yet another red-band trailer was released later on that starts out by selling it based on the audience’s affection for Cohen’s previous work, specifically Ali G and Borat. After that it’s more of the same kind of humor, though there are a few gags that very specifically earn it that red-band classification, including a couple extended versions of scenes we’ve previously seen.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website opens with the theatrical trailer. Close that and you get a splash page with the key art and a big prompt to watch the red-band trailer on a site that just redirects to the film’s “NSFW” YouTube channel, which seems like a very specific thing to setup a whole new channel for.
The “About” section has a good synopsis of the movie’s story that lays out the premise of much of the comedy “Cast & Crew” is just a list of the players both in front of and behind the camera but with no additional information, a surprising choice considering the people involved. This seems like a missed opportunity to play up the Borat connection.
“Video” just pulls up the same trailer that was on the front page. Finally there are seven stills in the “Gallery.”
The movie’s Facebook page is filled with high-engagement items like countdown photos, videos from the movie or the premiere and some promotions of Cohen’s appearances on the talk show circuit. The Twitter account was similar, but with RTs of fans who saw early screenings and had positive things to ay about the movie. The movie didn’t get its own Instagram but had to borrow space on Sony Pictures’ main feed.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV advertising kicked off with a commercial that didn’t concern itself at all with story or plot but instead just focused the antics of Cohen’s Nobby. So we see all the havoc he causes and his general cluelessness about most things without getting any of the context of him searching for or finding his lost brother or getting caught up in a spy stuff.
While I didn’t see anything myself I’m sure there was plenty of online advertising done, though I did see a handful of promoted Tweets that used the movie’s trailer and TV spots. And I bet there was outdoor advertising done in select markets as well.
Media and Publicity
Cohen made the press rounds, including an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” where he brought footage from the movie that at least was hyped as being too extreme to show on TV, though how much of that was hyperbole is unknown. Outrage continued to be a press theme as reports circulated that Sony was pressuring Cohen to cut a joke about Donald Trump getting AIDS from the movie, though the studio denied it was anything less than 100% supportive of the comedian.
Following up on what I eluded to at the beginning, your tolerance for this campaign and subsequent desire to see the movie are likely to be impacted greatly by how much you do or don’t care for Cohen. If you’ve been all on board for Borat, The Dictator and more then this will be right up your alley and it’s likely you’ll be excited for this latest outing featuring his sense of humor. If you’ve found him alienating and annoying then you’ll see his antics on display here and will probably be giving the movie a wide berth at the box-office.
The campaign sells a movie that’s a touching story of brotherly love and devotion that’s wrapped inside a spy caper because, essentially, it allows for more gags. Cohen is clearly the star here but Strong is a big part here as well, even if it seems most of his role is going to be reacting to Cohen’s antics. There seems to be a concerted effort here on the part of the marketers to make the movie timely through the inclusion of Bill Cosby jokes and comments in the press about Donald Trump gags as well. Those traditionally don’t age well so it might be that they’re playing up a small element of the movie in order to make headlines for the movie. Outside of that this is a funny campaign for a movie that, honestly, might actually seem a bit slight in the current theatrical atmosphere.