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Movie Marketing Madness: The Nice Guys

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Can I confess something? I’ve been watching a lot of “The Rockford Files” episodes lately. The show is perfect for Sunday night catching up on RSS and email for its light attitude, lack of binding narrative (meaning there’s no season-long conspiracy to uncover) and just a heck of a lot of fun. Even more than that it’s a great example of the private detective genre, one that provides a lot of flexibility in terms of story – you can plug in just about any situation – and that allows for lots of charm and humor to come through, something that played to star James Garner’s strengths. It set me up for a lifelong love of that format of story.

Which brings up to The Nice Guys. Written and directed by Shane Black, the movie stars Ryan Gosling as a Holland March, a private detective hired to investigate the murder of a porn actress. The trail leads to him to the a local official’s daughter who has gone missing, likely because of efforts by the mob to enter more of the L.A. market. It also winds up getting him teamed up with Jack Healy (Russell Crowe), another P.I. who has a more hands-on “punch first” approach to the job. The clashing styles of the two and the constant stream of twists and unexpected difficulties add up to a difficult investigation and lots of laughs.

The Posters

The first poster does a lot to set up the tone and story of the movie with a relatively simple image. The title treatment in the background looks like the sign on a 70’s nightclub so that, along with the wide collars on the jackets and shirts worn by Crowe and Gosling, gives us the setting and time period. And the look on Gosling’s face along with the “Nice pair” copy makes it clear we’re dealing with a comedy here.

The next poster isn’t that much different than the first, but it doesn’t need to be. Crowe and Gosling are just a bit closer to the camera, the former looking tough and the latter looking a little befuddled. A similar 70s-esque background is used here along with the title treatment, creating the sense that this is not only a comedy but that this image should be gracing the cover of an 8-track tape.

A couple of character posters were up next, with Gosling being labeled “Charmed and Dangerous” and Crowe “Locked and Loaded.” More character posters followed that took the same approach to show off Basinger, Qualley and the rest of the supporting cast.

The Trailers

A red-band trailer was the first out of the gate. We quickly meet Crowe’s Jackson Healey, a professional tough guy, as he goes to break the arm of Gosling’s Holland March, a two-bit private investigator. After Healey does his thing the two are brought back together when Healey is hired to find a missing girl. What follows is one insane buddy-comedy gag after another as the two try to navigate whatever it is that Cecilia has gotten herself into without getting themselves or her – or March’s young daughter – killed.  

There’s so much verve and pop in this trailer it’s irresistible. It fizzles with tons of energy and humor. A lot of that is just because we don’t usually get to see Gosling and Crowe be funny but they’re obviously quite capable of doing so. It’s a great trailer.

The second trailer continues to sell the movie based largely on tone and attitude. If anything there’s less story here, though we do get the basic premise that March and Healy have to work together to find a politician’s missing daughter. Beyond that it’s just about the gags and the vibe, which is pretty attractive.

A short but very cool retro trailer was released that added a swinging 79s soundtrack and put a filter on it that made it look like 70s film stock. Add in an over-the-top narrator and you have something that’s pretty fun.

One final trailer opens with the bathroom scene as Healy recruits March to help with an investigation. We get some of the same scenes we’ve seen before along with a bit of new stuff, including extended versions of what we’ve seen previously.

It’s mostly about making sure we all know that the movie will have Shane Black’s unique sense of humor and timing and selling a funny buddy cop flick with Gosling and Crowe. And it works on all those fronts.

Online and Social

The official website opens up with a recreation of the key art showing Gosling and Crowe alongside a call-to-action to get tickets and a rotating series of positive critic quotes.

The first content section is “Photos,” with about a half dozen stills from the movie and one behind-the-scenes shot showing Gosling chatting with Black and Joel Silver. All the trailers, including the flashback versions are in the “Videos” section.

“Story” has a very short synopsis of the movie’s story. After that is a fun “Game” that lets you punch out the bad guys while trying to avoid punching the good guys and their fiends.

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You can upload a photo or take one from your computer’s camera in “70’s Filter” and have a movie-themed filter applied to it, then share it on the social network of your choice. “Nice Ride” lets you explore the Los Angeles of the 1970s, when the movie is set, and get a sense of the real grittiness of the city. It not only features facts about famous locations around the city but also commentary by the main character about some local landmarks.

In kind of a fun execution the studio setup a telephone hotline (and website to promote it) for The Nice Guys’ private investigator service, complete with TV commercial. Calling the hotline let you leave a voicemail and be entered into a sweeps to get a ticket to a screening.

There’s some fun stuff on the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, including countdown images, featurettes and other marketing materials, all of which try to sell the same sense of humor and attitude that has been shown in the trailers and other assets.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There was a lot of TV advertising done with that played mostly like miniature versions of the trailers, selling the sense of humor of the movie and playing up the chemistry between Crowe and Gosling. This extended spot was essentially a trailer but if you cut that down a bit you have a good sense of how the TV campaign played out.

Online ads used the key art of the two stars and I’m sure the posters and other materials were repurposed as outdoor ads as well.

No cross-promotional partners that I could find, not surprising for a period movie like this.

Media and Publicity

The first publicity for the movie came in the form of a still in People that showed Gosling and Crowe looking very, very groovy in their 70s attire.

In a nice little move a series of videos were created showing Crowe and Gosling participating in “couples therapy” sessions where they worked out their issues before they engaged in the press tour for the movie. It’s hilarious and really plays on the chemistry the two have, with Gosling playing on the mounds of unofficial merchandise bearing his likeness and Crowe playing the humorless hardass.

 

Margaret Qualley, who plays the girl Crowe and Gosling are after, talked a bit in the press about how she got words of encouragement from her costars. And Crowe and Gosling themselves sat down for a big joint interview where they talked about what it was like to work together, what attracted them to the project when neither is primarily known for comedy and more.

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Indeed much of the publicity was done with both Russell and Gosling together, including TV talk show appearances. Black got his turn, though, in an interview that touched on not just this new movie but his history as a hot Hollywood player in the 90s, his time as a cautionary tale about the excesses of drug and alcohol abuse and more.

Another set of funny videos was released that included the two stars being berated by producer Joel Silver for not doing enough to promote the movie on social media.

Overall

As I’ve said a few different times above, the campaign is hinged on the sense of humor of the script and the interplay and chemistry between Crowe and Russell. Not only is that the the emphasis of the trailers and other marketing assets but it’s something the publicity phase hammered home as well through the series of videos and press interviews that had the stars appearing together.

So what’s being sold here is an attitude, a vibe that looks to be unlike most anything that’s in theaters right now. That has potential benefits – it can stand out in a crowded marketplace and present a clear alternative for adults who need a break from comic book hero-on-hero violence – or it can come off as so foreign and unfamiliar that it fails to connect with that audience. We’ll have to see which way it goes but based on the word-of-mouth that’s been generated by the marketing I’d be surprised if this doesn’t become at least a modest hit.

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