Movie Marketing Madness: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

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With so many franchise engaging in reboots, sequels, sidequels, spiritual sequels and other extensions and offshoots it can sometimes be a big difficult for people to keep the timeline straight. Ask a non-geek when the postscript scene featuring Tony Stark in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk takes place in relation to the two Iron Man movies and you’re likely to get confused looks. Ask a geek and you’ll get a 48-minute explanation of not only that but when the Frost Giants attacked in Thor and lots more. Timelines are tricky things, as anyone who’s ever gotten high with friends and tried to map out the Back to the Future sequence of events can tell you.

Which brings us to The Huntsman: Winter’s War. 2012’s Snow White and The Huntsman told a very different version of the Snow White story, with Snow being taken into the woods for her protection until a huntsman is sent by the queen to kill her, something he ultimately cannot do. This new movie is technically a prequel, setting the stage for the conflict between the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her sister Freya (Emily Blunt), but portions of the story also, it seems, happen alongside the events of the first movie since it basically shows…you know what, who cares? It’s about a bunch of fairy tale characters acting selfish and mean and heroic and it’s kind of tied to a previous fairly-successful movie. So let’s just not worry about how it’s all

The Posters

Four character posters were among the first marketing materials released, one each for the characters played by Theron, Blunt, Hemsworth and Chastain. They were each nicely color-coded as appropriate for each character’s personality (or something) and showed off something about each one. So Theron has a bunch of crows bursting from her chest, Chastain is grasping some nasty looking weapons, Blunt is surrounded by ice castles and so on. They’re OK but don’t do much more than show off the actors in way-over-stylized fashion.

Two additional posters paired the characters up, with Theron and Blunt on one and Hemsworth and Chastain on the other.

A series of motion posters followed that each highlighted one of the main characters, putting them in a setting and featuring an action that’s appropriate for that character. These are alright but do come off as a little bit cheesy, something the campaign does not need any more of.

The final theatrical poster brings all the characters together into a single image, showing Theron and Blunt in the background as the forces pulling the strings and Hemsworth and Chastain in the foreground as the players being manipulated. An icy wall is in back of the two sorceresses and an army of soldiers flanks the two warriors. It keeps the look and feel of all the previous posters, which is good, and it’s basically selling pretty people in outrageous costumes if that’s your idea of a good time at the theater. The top of the poster points out it comes “From the producer of Maleficent,” which is the latest in a series of posters to strain the phrase “tenuous connection” (interestingly enough, the previous movie’s one-sheet sold it as “From the producer of Alice in Wonderland) while at the bottom we’re told this is “The story before Snow White.

The Trailers

The first trailer – which was teased just a day or so before release –  sets up…something. But I’m not sure what. I *think* what they’re showing is that the Evil Queen (Theron) is teaming up with her sister the Ice Queen (Blunt) for…some reason. But standing against them are the Huntsman (Hemsworth) and the Warrior (Chastain) who, I’m guessing, are fighting for all that’s good and pure and right. We get lots of shots of Blunt making ice sculptures, Theron being creepily manipulative and of Chastain and Hemsworth getting sweaty, either in combat or with each other, if you know what I mean.

This certainly is a trailer for a movie that’s coming out. But the lack of coherent thought in laying out the story has me worried that there kind of isn’t any. That may just be me, though, and there’s likely a good amount of people who don’t care about small issues like that. Still, recent releases featuring questionable stories and lots of fantastical sets haven’t performed very well (I’m looking at you, Pan) so it’s hard to see this as particularly effective.

A second trailer starts out by making it clear we’re going back to the story before Snow White’s. We see what causes the conflict between the two sisters, involving the one killing the other’s newborn child. So they two spend years plotting and planning against each other.

What’s interesting is that in a story of two super-powerful women, Hemsworth’s Huntsman is presented as the one who is key to fighting an important battle. Chastain only gets a few seconds of screen time here so we can see more of Hemsworth being completely ineffectual.

A third trailer focuses on Hemsworth’s Huntsman and how he’s been trained for the role all his life. Narration explains we’re seeing a Snow White prequel story here and then sets up the conflict between the two sisters. Eventually the Hunstman is called to duty and he takes off to fight the battles he needs to, though it certainly appears there’s going to be plenty of opposition to that quest.

This continues the trend from the first movie in that with three female leads, half the trailer here is about Hemsworth’s character and his journey, not the story of the sisters who are actually directing all the pawns on the board. Putting the most generous spin possible on that, it may be because his story is where most of the hands-on action is while the rest just wave while CGI effects dance around. There are certainly less generous readings of this tactic and overall I’m left feeling this trailer sells a computer-driven mess with a very thin story at its core.

Online and Social

The movie’s website opens with full motion video showing all the major characters in scenes from the trailers. There’s a big prompt in the middle of the page to View the Trailer, which you can do if you like. And there’s a mirror-like spot over on the right that rotates through a number of different calls-to-action, from following the movie on social networks to checking out a music video and more.

If you go to the menu along the left-hand side, though, the first section of material is the “Story” where you can read a decent synopsis of the movie’s plot, such as it is.

There are about 20 stills from the movie and a half-dozen or so behind the scenes shots in the “Photos” section that’s divided thusly. All three trailers can be found in the “Videos” section.

huntsman winter pic 1

After that come a series of sections that focus on the characters themselves. These sections each show off the motion poster for that character and offers a brief description of who they are and why they’re motivated to do the things they do.

I’m a little surprised there isn’t more here. In that mirror graphic on the front page there’s  a link to Artistic Nail Design, which created a Huntsman-themed product line. And there’s the prompt to watch Halsey’s video for the movie’s signature song but that just takes you to the Tumblr page that’s not listed anywhere else and where the video itself is buried down in the updates by now.

The Facebook page was used mainly to share promotional graphics, videos and the occasional call-to-action to donate to charity for a chance to win premiere tickets and so on. Instagram has the same sort of countdown and promotional images. Twitter has all that and lots of RTs of press and other updates related to the promotional tour of the stars.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots for the movie all played up the “Get the story before the story” angle that’s been used throughout the rest of the campaign. They all split their time between the Reveena/Freya fight and the burning romance between the Huntsman and Sara, showing how the sisters are plotting against each other while the two mortals are caught in the middle. It’s all drama and high-stakes glares in the commercials, with none of the sense of humor that’s glimpsed in the trailers.

Plenty of online advertising was done that used variations on the key art and other promotional images, particularly the character posters. So banners that show all four characters or background takeovers that pit characters against each other on different sides of the page. I’m sure the key art was used for outdoor advertising as well, though I didn’t see any myself.

huntsman winter pic 3

In terms of promotional partners, the only one I was able to find was the afore-mentioned Artistic Nail Design and their movie-inspired line of nail polish. I guess the fact that movie-inspired dresses appear in Kim Kardashian’s mobile fashion game counts as a cross-promotion too.

Media and Publicity

Some of the first publicity came when the main cast all appeared on “The Today Show” and talked about making movie as well as explaining that the story made it both a prequel and sequel to the first movie as well as to Snow White itself. Later on “Today” would do a whole week’s worth of coverage of the movie including interviews with the cast, obviously the result of some NBCUniversal cross-pollination.

Theron sat down for a huge and wide-ranging interview that was ostensibly about this movie particularly but touched on her family life, the rest of her career and more. Blunt did the talk-show rounds, addressing the comparisons everyone was making between this movie and Frozen since they both feature ice queens. Hemsworh and Theron did so as well, all talking about the movie and other topics.

huntsman winter pic 2

Other press included a feature on the costumes and other details of this effects-heavy movie. There were also quite a few “inspired by” photo shoots in the press as designers showed off dresses and makeup and such that were meant to tie into the movie. And of course Hemsworth’s fitness routine was the subject of some stories. Plenty of clips were released as well to keep the conversation going.

Overall

From a marketing point of view there’s a good brand consistency on display here. The same color palate and the same look and feel is carried across all the elements, meaning if you’ve seen one part of the campaign you’d be able to identify another unbranded element as promoting the same movie. It’s clear that the appeal here is to the same crowd that made the first movie a success as well as to those who have enjoyed other flashy, fairytale-based stories like Maleficent, which is name-checked throughout the campaign.

What that campaign is selling though looks to be the equivalent of the reflection a knife makes when the sun is coming in your kitchen window. It’s shiny, sure, but it’s fleeting. The emphasis is consistently on the “Here’s the story before the story” message but there’s so little effort put into telling us what that story is. Not only does it shy away from actually referencing the preview movie but it doesn’t really tell you what’s going on in this movie other than that there are two powerful sisters who don’t like each other. Why, though? That and other questions aren’t explained at all in the marketing because the studio obviously doesn’t feel it’s necessary to getting people into the theaters. Either that or it’s not actually clear in the movie itself.

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