Between 2005 and 2008 I did a lot of training of people at the agency I was working for at the time on how to use RSS readers. This was when RSS was still the hot way to keep up with what was happening online as Facebook and Twitter were either not yet in existence or had yet to really break into the mainstream. People would invariably ask me what sites they should subscribe to, in which case I’d recommend some PR industry blogs and sites, some that were relevant to their specific fields and I Can Has Cheezburger. Why that last one? Because, I said, you’re going to be having a bad day and then a picture of a cat jumping in the air with the caption “INVISIBLE BICYCLE” will pop up and you’ll smile.
ICHC was a bit reason cats became the spirit animal of the internet and now a feline is poised to take a shot at box office success in Keanu. Well…not just a cat. The movie comes from the talented Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the team behind the popular “Key & Peele.” In the movie Peele plays Rell, who’s just been dumped by his girlfriend. While his cousin Clarence (Key) tries to cheer him up, it’s not until a stray kitten arrives at Rell’s door that his mood improves. One day Keanu, the cat, is stolen when a group of thugs burglarizes Rell’s place and he enlists Clarence’s help to get the cat, his only source of joy, back. Hilarity, of course, ensues as they go undercover as drug lords to get Keanu back.
The first poster hits the same kind of sense of humor as the trailer that debuted at the same time. So it shows the titular cat decked out like a gangsta, complete with a nameplate hanging from a gold chain. The only copy on it other than the promise it comes from the “Key & Peele” team is “Kitten, please.”
A series of posters were released later on that put Keanu on the one-sheets for recent movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Big Short, The Martian and The Revenant. These were funny but this was like the third movie to do something like this in recent memory so the tactic was becoming a bit tired at this point.
The theatrical poster tells you everything about the movie you need to know. Key and Peele have crazy looks on their faces and guns drawn at some off-camera foe with the titular kitten in the middle of them, sitting on their shoulders. In case it wasn’t clear the copy at the top tells us the movie comes “From the visionary minds of Key & Peele” and the the below the title treatment is the tagline “Kitten, please.”
A red-band trailer was the first one that dropped, starting us off by seeing XX has just been dumped by his girlfriend. Immediately after the titular cat enters his life but is soon stolen when his apartment is robbed. They then decide to go undercover to get him back, but being hardcore gang members isn’t exactly their forte.
It’s a really good trailer but maybe works just a little less well than the outsized reactions of people online when it debuted. We get the general outline of the plot and certainly see where most of the humor comes from. It’s hard not to see it as an extended Key & Peele sketch, which is the main hurdle this will have to overcome. All that aside, it’s still very funny and it’s clear the two are having fun with an outrageous and ridiculous premise.
A green-band version followed a month or so after the red-band that was roughly the same, just without the swear words and so on. And just before release the studio released a “kitten spoof” version that replaced the cast with cats.
Online and Social
The official website, which is built on Tumblr, opens with a modified version of the key art and offers a menu of options along the left of the site for you to find out more.
The first section there is “#Keanu,” which is actually a blog with updates including GIFs, videos, countdown images and more. After that is “Videos,” which as far as I can tell just has the red-band trailer. Likewise, the “Gallery” just has two images, which seems kind of skimpy for something bearing that label.
“Story” has a good synopsis of the story that leans heavily on the Key & Peele history of not only the stars but also the behind-the-scenes talent.
There’s a “Gangsify Your Pet” site that lets you upload a picture of your own pet and deck it out in the hat and chains we see Keanu in throughout the campaign. There are also links to a few off-domain things, including Kittens vs. Thugs, a Kitten Fashion Show and the Keanu Rap. Most of those seem to be paid placements, with the first showing up on Uproxx and the latter two on Buzzfeed’s Partners Facebook page. So the studio is promoting those paid opportunities, which is smart.
There’s a lot of fun stuff on social media. The Facebook page, Twitter profile and Instagram feed all have some cool movie parody images that put a cat in a role like Freddy from Friday the 13th, Pee-wee from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and more. The Facebook page has videos from the press tour and adoption circuit the stars were on along with countdown images and other promotional items. That shows up on Twitter too, along with RTs of fans who are anxious for the movie, media outlets promoting their interviews with the stars and more.
A number of movie-specific filters were created for the GIPHY Cam app that inserted the titular cat, let you sport its hoodie and hat and more. There was also a special Keanu filter for Snapchat on 4/20 to attract…that audience. You know the kind. The really mellow ones.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There are no promotional partners that I saw mentioned. But there was plenty of advertising done, especially on TV, though some of those spots also ran on YouTube, where the studio not only ran them as pre-roll but also promoted the trailer through paid placement. Some TV spots played it straight, just showing the ridiculous story. Others positioned it as the latest in a series of movies like Scarface, The Departed and other crime dramas.
I’m sure there were outdoor ads run as well in select markets since the two are well known so it makes a lot of sense to put their faces out there.
Media and Publicity
The first look at the movie came in Entertainment Weekly with an official still from the flick. Later on it was announced there would be a “work-in-progress” screening of the film at SXSW, something that had been much-speculated on and anticipated by a lot of people. That screening was met with mixed reactions as people agreed it was funny but that it seemed to be the same joke just repeated over and over again.
The two stars engaged on a nationwide tour of pet shelters to encourage cat adoption, which generated a good amount of press in each market they visited.
Key and Peele hitting the big screen was the main meta-narrative of the campaign, as exemplified by stories like this New York Times profile. That story allowed them to not only talk about bringing their dynamic and sense of humor to a feature film but what it took to get the movie made when it might not fit into what’s normally considered safe territory for one with only black actors in the lead. Lots more ground was covered as well.
The pair also did many of the usual press rounds, including a Reddit AMA, appearances on the late night talk shows and more. And there was plenty of press that was focused on how exactly they made a cat (or, more accurately, a series of cats) a major character with a voice of its own.
This is a really fun campaign and I like it a lot. Are there branding things I could argue with here and there? Sure, but overall there’s just such a fun spirit throughout the marketing that a lot of those concerns are wiped away because you just kind of get on board with it. While it’s not at all surprising I do think it’s super-smart that the campaign plays up the Key & Peele connection over and over again. Even if people aren’t a big fan, they’ve likely seen the Substitute Teacher sketch pop up in their Facebook feed at some point, so there’s going to be some recognition there, meaning it’s smart that this is being sold as essentially a feature-length sketch.
I also like how just self-aware the marketing is of what’s going to work with the audience. One TV spot does this well by saying Key & Peele has X million online views and cat videos have X million billion online views and this is the logical combination of both of those forces. What’s being sold here is just that, something that’s designed to move the short-form audience to a long-form piece of content, one that looks funny, a bit tongue-in-cheek and a genre mashup that has something for most audiences. Well sold.