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Movie Marketing Madness: Captain America: Civil War

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One of the central conceits of most superhero stories is that no one talks to each other. Most issues could be addressed simply if X asked Y why they were acting like that the other day or if Y immediately came into a room and said “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe Bad Guy was mind-controlling me, that’s why I went on a completely out-of-character rampage yesterday.” Those kind of simple explanations and conversations take all the tension out of a situation, which is why they’re not loved by writers since writing in this genre relies on tension not just between the heroes and villains but between the heroes themselves. After all, anyone can turn evil at any moment, so teammates are always on-guard to make sure someone doesn’t fall to the dark side.

Coming to theaters a couple months after the last superhero slugfest Batman v Superman is Captain America: Civil War. The third entry in the Captain America series, this one is based loosely on the 2006 “Civil War” miniseries from Marvel, the movie follows up the events not only of the last Cap solo movie but also from Avengers: Age of Ultron and the rest of the Marvel Universe movies. The public and government have grown wary of having powerful, unregulated people with powers and so a movement is set afoot to register the heroes and bring them under the military’s authority. That doesn’t sit well with Captain America (Chris Evans), who doesn’t want to be subject to people with their own agendas but Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a proponent. With each one recruiting a team of likeminded heroes, they square off in a showdown for the future of autonomous costumed adventuring.  

The Posters

The first poster highlights the showdown that’s at the core of the story, putting Cap and Tony Stark on opposite sides of the poster staring angrily at each other. The star from Cap’s shield is overlaid on that, focusing the image, which also has red and blue on either side to further demarcate the opposing points of view the characters have.

Two additional posters were released shortly after that. One shows Captain America standing defiantly with Iron Man’s reflection visible in his shield. The other shows Cap hiding behind that shield as Iron Man hits him with repulsor blasts. Both sport the “Divided we fall” copy, making it clear, as if it weren’t obvious, that these two are seriously at odds with each other.

A series of posters were released later on that featured headshots of the members of Team Cap, including Ant-Man, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Hawkeye, Bucky and Cap himself.

A similar set of posters for Team Iron Man hit just a couple days later that showed off Tony, Vision, War Machine, Black Widow and Black Panther.

The theatrical one-sheet finally brings it all home, pitting Team Cap one side against Team Iron Man on the other. “United we stand. Divided we fall” is the copy at the bottom and the whole thing is put against the same kind of image of Cap’s shield as the other posters.

An IMAX poster arrayed all the characters around what looks like the design of Cap’s shield, Steve facing one way and Tony the other. The other heroes are divided accordingly. It’s fancy and looks very spiffy but doesn’t really add anything to the overall picture of the movie’s marketing. Two final posters were released just a little over a week before release that once again put the two conflicting teams on opposite sides, with Cap and his friends on one poster and Tony and his allies on the other, staring each other down if you put them together the right way.

 

The Trailers

The first trailer debuted on Jimmy Kimmel Live when Evans and Downey stopped by more or less at the last minute (I have my theories as to why). We start out with the same scene, albeit expanded, we saw at the end of Ant-Man as Cap goes to a chained Bucky to…get his help and save him from people coming to kill him. Then Gen. Ross explains the Registration Act to Cap and others and it becomes clear his friendly with Bucky is going to be an inciting incident. Iron Man comes in to try and explain the situation to him and Cap assembles his team to take on Tony and his. The trailer ends with Cap explaining Bucky is his friend, to which Tony replies simply “So was I.”

It’s not bad and is filled with fan-service moments, particularly that final shot of Bucky and Cap tag-teaming Iron Man. The basic outline of the story is explained as we see what it is that’s drawing a line between Tony and Steve. The shots of their teams is kind of great, especially the couple of brief looks at Black Panther. Of course the same story issues are here as there were in the comic version of Civil War, but if you’ve accepted that then you’ll be fine here.

The timing of the trailer was a little questionable since it was expected to debut closer to – or even with – the new Star Wars movie. But that became such a target for other big trailer releases it was speculated that it purposely avoided that slot so as to not get lumped in with a bunch of other new trailers.

The second trailer delivered more of the same before giving the audience the money shot they’d been waiting for. Captain America is heard at the outset talking about how sometimes people die, no matter how hard the heroes try to save them. But Gen. Ross says people have had enough of the disasters the Avengers and other heroes have been involved in. Tony’s on-board with handing over authority but Cap can’t stand by and wait to be told when he can or can’t help. Hence the conflict. There’s chasing and fighting and we see that War Machine has what seems to be a big problem. A couple great shots of Black Panther in action and I love the one of Ant-Man riding one of Hawkeye’s arrows mixed in with Iron Man and Cap going at it again and again. It all ends with the big reveal, as Tony says he’s done and calls in “Underoos!,” at which point Spider-Man swings in, snags Cap’s shield with his webs and announces himself with a “Hey everyone.”  

It’s a good trailer but, look, it doesn’t really matter. That last shot had everyone searching for whether tickets were already on sale.

Online and Social

When you open the official website you get a recreation of the key art featuring Tony and Steve engaged in a staring contest. But that’s…about it. You can watch the second trailer, buy tickets or view a handful of pictures in the “Photo Gallery” but nothing else. There’s no section here for promotional partners or anything else that’s usually found on these sites. But there’s a reason for that, or at least kind of a reason.

At the top of the site is the navigation menu for Marvel.com, which hosts this page. There you can dig into “Characters,” “Comics” and more that take you into the entirety of the Marvel Universe, not just the specifics of this movie. So the studio/publisher is counting you already being largely familiar with the characters they want you to watch and want you to either find out more about their comics origins or explore other multimedia extensions.

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Still, the biggest omission I’m surprised by is the lack of a Partners page. You’d think the studio would want to give those companies an official shout-out on the main page.

The movie’s long-running Facebook page has been sharing GIFs, videos and other promotional updates for the release for a long while in addition to trailers and more. Same goes for the Twitter profile.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The TV ad campaign kicked off with a Super Bowl commercial that features almost no dialogue but just has a bunch of scenes showing the conflict between Team Cap and Team Iron Man over chants of “Divided we fall.” It’s pretty good and played well to the audience, showing off the spectacle of the movie more than anything else. By basically being a silent video it’s perfect for watching out of the corner of your eye while chatting with friends at a party.

According to data from Networked Insights, the movie’s Super Bowl spot garnered the most brand mentions of the movies advertised during the game.

Lots more TV spots would roll out over the course of the campaign, with many of them introducing small little tidbits of new information about the movie and the character, like this one that gave Spider-Man a bit more screen time and a couple lines. Most just sold the spectacle of the movie and the conflict that’s at the core of the story.

The movie also got some custom Twitter emojis that were tied to whose team you pledge your allegiance to.

There were plenty of cross-promotional partners, most notably National Academy of Sciences, with whom Marvel/Disney launched a program designed to get submissions on world-changing tech and other ideas from girls, who could send in their pitches, five of which would be picked for a big presentation, with the final “winning” girl getting an internship at Marvel Studios. This was a nice touch for many reasons, notably how prevalent the conversation around female representation in the pop culture world has been in recent years.

In addition to that the list of partner companies included:

  • Pizza Hut: Created a content hub on their site that offered exclusive videos and stills, with content being unlocked as you order pizzas. A sweeps encouraging people to choose their side in the battle was also available and the whole thing was supported by TV spots and other paid promotions.
  • Audi: A TV spot featuring footage from the movie shows a family avoiding the big hero showdown by taking the side streets in their Audi. The carmaker also has plenty of on-screen time as both Tony Stark and Captain America will drive Audis.
  • Skittles: Co-branded packaging, with different packages featuring one of the two teams. The snack brand also ran online ads that featured the characters and the product.

Media and Publicity

Shortly after the release of the first trailer and posters the publicity campaign kicked off in a big way with an Entertainment Weekly cover story that went into the conflict that drives a wedge between Cap and Iron Man, introduces us to and gives the first good look at Black Panther and more.

Because the movie is coming out the year of Captain America’s 75th anniversary as a character it benefitted from plenty of tie-ins on that front. That includes an ABC special celebrating that anniversary which included the news that yes, Steve Rogers would be taking up the Cap mantle once again in the very near future.

One of the focal points of the publicity was Spider-Man since it was announced he would appear in the movie, the character’s first entry into the official, Marvel Studios-controlled Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only that but it would yet another reboot of the character, with Tom Holland taking over the role in a way that would reportedly set the stage for him to bounce between Marvel’s movies and Sony’s next attempt at a Spidey franchise. What Spider-Man’s role is in the story was kept under wraps for a long time so as not to spoil anything.

Marvel latched onto “#FriendsDay,” a holiday totally made-up by Facebook to celebrate it’s 12 anniversary, by creating a video along the lines of those being shared by others that showed some of Cap’s friends and their adventures. The video ends with a picture of Steve and Tony that is then torn in half to show the fracture in their friendship. It’s a good execution.

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A big cover story in Empire featured a cover recreating the comic cover artwork from the namesake series and which included cast interviews, set photos and more. Evans and Downey Jr. appeared with an exclusive new trailer at the Kids’ Choice Awards to sell the movie to that crowd.

The Russo Brothers talked about the movie, particularly Spider-Man’s role in the story, in an interview with Collider. The stars later appeared with a new sneak peek of the movie at the MTV Movie Awards.

The stars also all were slated to appear on two episodes of “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” with Team Cap on one night and Team Iron Man on another. Around the same time a big cover story in Entertainment Weekly popped that had a big photo gallery, interviews with the cast and lots more.

The movie provided another occasion to reevaluate the careers of the Russo Brothers and how they came from much smaller projects like “Arrested Development” and “Community” before bringing the skills they honed there to the Captain America franchise.

Marvel revived the WHIH fake news channel starring Leslie Bibb’s reporter who was introduced in the first Iron Man movie to talk about the events leading up to the new film’s story.

Overall

There were comments in the press, particularly early on in the press cycle while parts were being cast and revelations made about who was or wasn’t going to appear in the movie, about how this was still going to be a Captain America and not an unofficial Avengers movie. But that’s not at all how the movie is being sold. There are a few glimpses of Crossbones and Baron Zemo, both villains that it would make sense for Cap to square off against on his own and who seem to have some role here. But overall the focus of the campaign is on showing the audience that this is as much an Iron Man movie featuring the whole cast of past and present Avengers as anything else.

In fact the weight of their presence here makes the case that the entire movie will feature Cap and Iron Man facing off with their respective teams. There’s no solo Captain America adventure on display at all here. With a couple fleeting examples there’s not even any hints as to the continuation of the story from Winter Soldier, the previous entry in the Cap series. It’s solely presented as the next chapter in a story that’s taken place in the first two Avengers movies.

That’s not to say that it’s not being sold well. Everything an existing fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs to see is on display here, from the characters to the snappy dialogue to the action sequences and especially things like Spider-Man, Ant-Man riding Hawkeye’s arrow and more. The campaign sells a bright and shiny collection of fight scenes that stands in stark contrast to the dour and gloomy campaign for Batman v Superman. Marvel and Disney clearly want to sell it on that premise and, between that and playing up RDJ’s role in the movie they’re sticking with what works and hoping this isn’t the moment the foundation supporting their movies gives way.

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