After the Campaign: Rubber

rubber movie still

Back in 2011 in my review of the campaign for Rubber I wrote:

If there’s a complaint that has no place in reviewing this campaign it’s that the marketing takes the movie too seriously. On the contrary there’s nary a frame that’s shown or any other component that isn’t actively winking at the audience about how ridiculous this whole conceit is. That’s not to say it isn’t good – especially in terms of trying to reach the people who are into movies like Scanners and other classic horror films that have crazy concepts. They’re the ones who have latched on to the movie and who may turn it into a cult classic over a period of time.

I’m not sure if the movie has become a cult classic in the last five years but it certainly does live up to the “crazy concept” I was picking up from the campaign. In fact, the marketing didn’t even come close to doing justice to the level of insanity in the story, which deals with a sentient and homicidal tire that goes around blowing things and people up with its mind.

It’s more or less pointless to compare the marketing to the finished movie. The trailer in particular sells something that’s so disjointed and insane there’s no attempt to mislead the audience or sell the movie as something other than what it is. The only complaint along these lines I have is that there is a big chunk of the story – an entire framing device – that’s not hinted at at all in the campaign. I understand why they did that since it provides some crucial story elements and indeed much of the morbid humor that runs throughout the story, but it’s something I wasn’t expecting at all while watching it.

PNConnect Weekly Reading 6/30/16

pnconnect weekly reading

The latest PNConnect Weekly Reading is live:

News Feed FYI:

Helping Make Sure You Don’t Miss Stories from FriendsFacebook has further altered the terms of its deal with brand publishers: Facebook will be decreasing the reach of publishers’ posts while boosting those from family and friends. Brand managers should continue to temper expectations as to Facebook’s benefits.

Introducing Twitter Dashboard

Twitter has introduced Dashboard as a place for brand account management. Users can schedule Tweets, monitor related conversations and more. Most of these features are available through other CMS platforms, but it’s nice to see Twitter offering them as a native feature.

Source: PNConnect Weekly Reading 6/30/16: Here’s how I’m going to beat you. I’m going to outwork you. « PNConnect | Digital Marketing Services from Porter Novelli

Movie Marketing Madness: Our Kind of Traitor

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Spy thrillers have a history of putting the wrong person in a situation he or she can’t get out of. That’s the entire premise of many stories and movies, as someone gets caught up in a bit of espionage that they have no expertise in, history with, or interest in. But circumstances keep them at the center of events as powers clash through their shadowy agents. Think of North By Northwest and how Cary Grant’s Thornhill keeps insisting that someone has the wrong man, only to be pulled along into a world he’s out of his depth in.

Now we have Our Kind of Traitor, which mines familiar territory. Ewan McGregor plays Perry, an unassuming teacher on holiday with his girlfriend Gail (Naomie Harris) in Morocco. At dinner one night he meets Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who soon reveals he’s an accountant for the Russian mafia and he needs Perry’s help getting information to British Intelligence that could expose those who the mob has turned within the British government. In return he wants assurances his family will be brought to England and kept safe. All the while Perry keeps trying to get out but is constantly pulled back in by one situation or another until he’s in the thick of a chess match he has no experience with.

The Posters

The movie’s one poster is pretty decent, even if it does rely on some hoary tropes. The four main characters are presented in distinct parts of the design, in separate picture elements that are sized according to their role in the story. Around those picture stripes are shots of various buildings and cityscapes, so we see Big Ben in London, the Kremlin in Moscow and so on, all of which are designed to give us an idea of *where* the movie takes place and sell the idea of it being about international espionage in some manner. The title treatment, cast list and credits, which include a call out of le Carre, are in the middle, between all the photos.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with a man and woman having a drink in a restaurant somewhere in the Middle East before they’re invited to have a drink with a random Russian. Soon the Russian hands the guy a thumb drive that he says contains information that needs to be handed over to MI6. That leads to a whole series of events that gets Perry and Gail more and more deeply involved in the negotiations between the Dima and Hector as the latter asks for more and more information and evidence and the former pleads that they take care of his family.

It’s a solid trailer that sells the movie as a high-stakes action thriller. I suspect, as is the case with most Le Carre stories, it’s much more talky than what’s on display here. But the trailer shows off as many tense driving sequences, hurried negotiations and so on as possible, all presented with super-dramatic music in the background.

Online and Social

The official website for the movie doesn’t have a lot going on, but it’s on-brand visually so it’s firmly in the “good enough” camp, opening with GIFs that work like the key art above, showing moving images from the trailer.

That “Trailer” is the next section, with just the one video there. “About the Film” has a synopsis of the story and information on the movie’s pedigree, including that it’s based on a le Carre novel.

our kind of traitor pic 1

You can find out more about the talent involved in the “Cast & Crew” section then finish it all off with “Photos,” which has several stills from the movie.

There are no social profiles linked to on the website, but the movie’s Facebook page is very video heavy, with lots of posts featuring the trailer and other, shorter videos.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing that I’ve seen.

Media and Publicity

There doesn’t seem to have been a big press push, but director Susanna White and costar Damien Lewis did a few appearances or interviews to talk about the movie and how it came about.

our kind of traitor pic 2


It’s not a huge campaign but it gets the job done. If you’re attracted to this sort of movie – if you really liked Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy a few years ago and prefer your spy movies more talkative than action-packed then this will have likely found you and should have at least sold it on a decent movie to watch on home video when it comes there in a few months. There’s nothing extraordinary about the campaign, but it sells the premise well and promises a good couple hours of watching people try to clear up misunderstandings, deal with being out of their depth and more.

It does, as I mentioned when talking about the trailer, play up the action elements of the story a bit too heavily for what the movie likely delivers on. John le Carre is known more for his dry, process-oriented spy stories than for big explosions and car chases, but those don’t make for great visuals. The campaign can’t really be faulted for that since it’s largely delivering what people expect but my hunch is that reality is a lot more talking and a lot less running than we’re led to believe here. Still, a solid campaign.

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Publishers Lining Up For Medium’s Help

There was a story the other day about how 400 publications have reportedly expressed interest in going all-in on Medium, using that platform to house their site’s content and sell memberships and ads. That follows the move by a number of publications to make a similar decision a few months ago, something that heralded Medium’s official coming out as a platform and not a publisher, a question it had been struggling with for years since launch.


Now you might be tempted to think that migrating to Medium is no different than making the same move to WordPress , for instance, or Drupal But that’s very wrong.

Medium is unique in that it’s owned. It’s a “smart” platform in that it comes with its own terms of service and is subject to acting in its own self-interest. That’s very different from software like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal, which is “dumb” in that you download it and use it as you see fit, without having to rely on the platform itself to do anything. So you don’t have to conform to the whims of Automattic, the organization that manages WordPress, to use the software. (I’m discounting WordPress VIP here, but even then they just help you get up and running and manage the site, they don’t pull the rug out from under you with little warning.)

It’s understandable why publishers are looking help here. Signing on with Medium means they don’t have to worry about their web infrastructure and they get some help with ad sales, including being able to offer a membership subscription tier. That’s attractive to many in the media who don’t have the resources to build their own CMS like Buzzfeed, HuffPo and many others and who are having increasing amounts of trouble selling ads against content that reeks of viral sameness, as everyone chases the same stories. It’s similar to the mindset that has them using Facebook Instant Articles.

But the circumstances, terms and conditions for usage could – and likely will – change because, as I said, Medium is a “smart” company. They’re in it not for the good of the open web, but for themselves and their own operation. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it means that the foundation can shift under these publishers at any moment and for a reason that may not continue to be in their best interest.

This isn’t a situation where lambs are lining up to be slaughtered. It’s not that dire. But it is a case of companies lining up to put the future of their infrastructure – essential to their continued health, vitality and operation – in someone else’s hands, which is never the key to long term stability.

Facebook Announces New News Feed Cruelty for Publishers

Facebook dropped a bomb on content marketing managers this morning with the announcement of yet another change to News Feed that once again puts Page content at a disadvantage.

The update makes it clear that Facebook is going to emphasize posts from family and friends, stating that facilitating those connections is its top priority. And that emphasis is going to come at the expense of Page reach and engagement, which it admits outright, though it qualifies that with a “results may vary” note. That goes hand in hand with the “News Feed Values” post it published, where Facebook makes it clear that you control your inputs and explains how it arranges the News Feed to bring you the stories most likely to be important or informative to you. So that “you have control” message needs to come with the caveat that it’s only as much control as Facebook wants to give you.


The change is not going to be welcome by those managing content marketing programs. Reach is going to take a hit here, as it has after other updates that have hit similar themes, as will engagement since fewer people will be exposed to the content from Pages. Most importantly, referral traffic will go from negligible to non-existent. Facebook is telling publishers here that it’s no longer in the traffic-sending business, thank you very much. That’s a message that’s been behind most every move it’s made recently, from previous News Feed tweaks to the entire premise of Instant Articles. But now it’s out there overtly.

So what can publishers do? There’s honestly not much for them to do right now. They’ve neglected their infrastructure, filling it with ad scripts that have prompted the rise of ad blockers, discarded on-site comments because moderation is hard and otherwise failed to build a native, brand loyal audience. What audience they’ve maintained they’ve tried to monetize as quickly and cheaply as possible by publishing the same kinds of stories you can find on hundreds of other sites and pulling the same 12 off-kilter items from reddit’s front page.

This isn’t going to help the skepticism and general sense of “you have too much power” that advertisers and media companies already feel toward Facebook. The company literally holds their future in its hands. This is where I insert a note about how the open web doesn’t have this problem, that there are no filters on my RSS feeds and that search, while it comes with its own set of eccentricities and issues, is at least something you can adjust for and isn’t automatically blocking or subjugating an entire category of legitimate publishers.

How exactly this plays out remains to be seen. But it will be interesting to see the reports a few months from now as publishers report in to the trade press about how their traffic and engagement have cratered as a result of the new cruelty. That’s coupled with decreased reach on Instagram as they put an algorithmic feed into place that already has some influencers and creatives running for Snapchat because it doesn’t get between them and their audience. And unfortunately all those lining up for help from Medium might just be trading one self-interested platform for another and find themselves in a deeper hole than they are now since they won’t even control their own site, much less the distribution of content.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Legend of Tarzan

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I wish the Johnny Weissmueller Tarzan movies had been my first introduction to the cinematic versions of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic character. While I certainly saw at least most of them later on (I don’t think I ever caught up with Tarzan’s New York Adventures), I think the first Tarzan film I saw was Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. While I don’t remember much of the movie itself (other than some parts that were super-exciting to my pre-adolescent self), I remember it was one of those that in the mid-80s was on Cinemax or HBO pretty consistently, meaning it was good to watch on summer afternoons when there was nothing else on and nothing better to do. It’s hardly the definitive version of the character, but it did what it needed to do and I remember it being a relatively interesting take on the legend.

Now there’s another live-action version hitting screens in The Legend of Tarzan. This time around the story has Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), who was raised by apes after his parents were killed while on a jungle exploration, having acclimated to life in London after returning home, reclaiming his birthright and marrying Jane (Margot Robbie). One day, though, he’s lured back to the jungle where he was raised under false pretenses, only to find Jane has been kidnapped by a corrupt Belgian (Christoph Waltz) because…reasons. So it’s up to Tarzan to not only rescue Jane but to protect the jungle home he left decades ago from the intrusion of western civilization.

The Posters

legend of tarzan poster 1The first poster is all about the visuals, as we see Tarzan standing next to a roaring gorilla, his own eyes wide with fury (?) and some battle damage on his cheek. So we’re meant to believe this is a hard man leading a hard life in a wild environment based on this one-sheet. There’s no copy or tagline, which is a little surprising, just the title treatment and cast list.

The next poster featured both Skarsgard and Robbie walking through the jungle in the middle of a pack of apes as rain falls on all of them. The colors are all muted as they would be if it were pouring down like this in the jungle. The cast list is at the top and the words “Human. Nature.” are there, arranged and punctuated in such a way to make it clear there’s a divide between the two, presumably one that the movie will explore to some extent.

An IMAX poster placed Tarzan in the middle of a pack of gorillas, really playing up his connection to that world.

The Trailers

What the…

That was my initial reaction to the first trailer, which is kind of all over the place tonally. I get what they’re going for here as the spot tries to set up not only Tarzan’s origins as a man raised by apes but also his quest to…free Jane from the clutches of the bad guy? That’s just one story of the couple that are hinted at here, along with some sort of other story that has Tarzan in polite British society. A scene toward the end has Jackson imploring him “You’re Lord of the Apes…Taaar..zan!” which may take the cake as the best over-delivered line in recent memory.

Like I said, the tone of the trailer is all over the place. It never fully sells or completes any of the handful of storylines it presents the broad strokes of and so never really presents a compelling case for the movie. It’s all about spectacle – at least 3/4 of the shots of Tarzan are CG, not Skarsgard – and almost not at all about any kind of story or emotional connection. The primary emotion they’re going for here is “savage” but it’s all too clean to really sell that.

The next trailer starts out by showing us how baby Tarzan came to be left in the jungle and how he’s been accepted by the tribe of gorillas. Then we cut straight to how Jane has been kidnapped as a way to lure Tarzan out in the open. The rest of the trailer is full of him swinging around, rallying groups of animals and so on in an attempt to rescue her and bring vengeance on those who took her.

This one sells the movie as a straight-ahead romantic epic. It’s all about the love that drives Tarzan to do anything to rescue Jane and which keeps her confident he’ll do anything it takes to rescue her. It’s trying to appeal to two audiences here: The women who are going to be attracted by the story and the shirtless hero and the men who won’t mind the story when there’s so much cool CGI action going on.

An IMAX trailer starts out with a father doing what he can to protect his son just before he’s attacked by a group of apes. The boy winds up being fine, though, as he’s protected by some of the apes and he grows bigger and more powerful. Eventually he’s an adult and we see some of the same shots of Jane being abducted and held for him to come and rescue her.

Again, it’s not hugely different than the previously-released trailers, just a few things here and there.

One final trailer was released just days before the movie came out that has Jane explaining where Tarzan came from and how he learned to conquer the beasts he was raised with.

There’s no story here, just lots and lots of visuals and talk about how epic his adventure is. The studio really wants to sell this as a big-screen spectacle, but that’s an angle that hasn’t worked super-well this summer.

Online and Social

The Tumblr-based official website opens up and displays a version of the key art with both Skarsgard and Robbie along with some of their ape allies.

Opening up the menu in the upper right hand corner, the first section is “About” which is where you’ll find a decent story synopsis that lays out the conflict that will drive the action.

After that, the “Trailers” section has the trailers and “Videos” has…I actually don’t know because despite hitting the site on multiple days with different browsers it never loaded. So…yeah.

tarzan pic 1

The “Gallery” has eight stills from the movie. “Tumblr” takes you to the feed of stills, GIFs and other updates that have been made to the Tumblr blog.

Next is a link to the Stop Ivory campaign to halt the trade of elephant ivory where you can lean more about getting involved with the Elephant Protection Initiative.

The “Tarzan Challenge” is a series of exercises, recipes and more to help you get fit like Tarzan. Finally there’s “Partners,” which has links to the few companies who signed on to help promote the movie.

On Facebook the studio shared trailers, video featurettes, TV spots, promotional images and some motion graphics with factoids about Africa and more. Lots of live video there from the page itself as well as Vanity Fair and other partners. There’s also a cool recent 360-degree video of the African jungle from Discovery, a special video from the show “Naked and Afraid” and more. Similar stuff can be found on Twitter, which has the same marketing material and its own set of media and partner RTs and more. Instagram has photos, promotional images and short videos.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots ranged from 30 to 60 seconds and varied in their approach, sometimes emphasizing the jungle-based fighting going on and sometimes playing up the romance between Tarzan and Jane more strongly. Either way, the message here is that this is an epic story about characters you’re relatively familiar with, so come see it, preferably in IMAX.

Outdoor and online ads using the key art were also run.

In terms of cross-promotional partners:

  • Red Robin: Offered a free movie ticket with the purchase of a $25 gift card.
  • Xperia Lounge: Not sure what the connection is, but the link takes you to the site’s exclusive content and a prompt to download the app from Google Play.
  • ebay charity: Offered the chance to bid on an African safari for two along with a signed movie poster, with the proceeds going to the Elephant Protection Initiative mentioned before.

Media and Publicity

Just before the release of the first poster and trailer, a first look was offered in the form of official stills, which most everyone on the internet noted presented Skarsgard’s abs as a featured, if not starring player in the movie. As has become the norm with movies like this, some of the publicity came in the form of stories about how Skarsgard got himself into Tarzan-like shape for the role, including what his exercise and nutrition routines were. Robbie got a huge profile that allowed the actress to talk about the struggles she’s had with her career, approaching the iconic character of Jane and lots more. 

tarzan pic 3

Of course, as has been the case with other movies featuring a side of beefcake, some of the press death with how Skarsgard got in such amazing shape for the role. Skarsgard talked about how his father was a fan of the original Tarzan movies, the technical aspects of shooting the movie, character relationships and more.


Both stars also made the rounds of the talk shows to talk about the movie, stepping into such iconic roles and more.


The campaign started off on absolutely the wrong foot – that first trailer is a mess with nothing to tell the audience about anything – but it did eventually right the ship and get down to selling the movie as an epic action romance. So there are appeals here to guys who want to come see the big-screen throwdowns between man and ape and the visual effects on display and to women who want to come see a big love story about a man who will do anything to save the woman he loves. But that’s unfortunately kind of a dated story premise in an age where female characters are expected to have their own agency and take their fates into their own hands, not relying on any man to save them or prove their worth.

So not only does the whole premise of the story rest on somewhat shaky ground but it’s hard to figure out how this movie will differentiate itself from other big-screen visual-driven fantasy stories that have come and gone very quickly this year. (I’m looking at you, Huntsman.) Robbie is in many ways the bigger name right now but it’s clear it’s not her story we’re following here, it’s that of Skarsgard’s Tarzan. That makes sense, but it may not be what audiences are looking for right now. The movie looks like it takes itself super-seriously, which may actually be a factor in the wake of so much winking and nudging at the camp involved in many recent movies. (Still looking at you, Huntsman.) We’ll have to see how the audience reacts to a story about colonialism and damsels being rescued by their man that doesn’t feel especially essential right now.

After the Campaign: Finding Dory

“Just keep swimming,” we’re repeatedly told in Finding Dory, a line that was also used throughout the marketing campaign for the movie. It’s Dory’s mantra since, dealing with the short term memory loss she deals with, she’s not always sure what she’s in the middle of or what she was intending to do.

That memory loss forms the core of the movie’s plot, which is about how she finally remembers something: Her parents. As parts of the campaign alluded to, the story picks up about a year after the events of Finding Nemo as Dory begins to recall how she was separated from her parents when she was just a tiny little fish but is now getting flashes of who they are, where she came from and where they might still be.

finding dory pic 1

So she enlists Marlin and Nemo to help her set out across the ocean and find them, much like she did in the first movie. Marlin is reluctant but Nemo reminds him  that she, for all her faults, *did* just help Marlin do much the same thing to find him and so off the three of them go. In my MMM column I called out the inclusion of Nemo and his dad to extent they were as potentially being problematic but it was very much on-point.

The rest of the movie follows a pretty safe formula: Dory gets into a rough situation, thinks her quest has failed, suddenly finds a way to keep swimming and feels a renewed sense of purpose. Repeat. It’s perfect for kids, who will be constantly pushed to the edge of fear but then be pulled back because yes, everything is going to be alright.

That’s a fine message, but like other Pixar movies as well as some others, particularly those aimed at the under-12 crowd, what bugged me most is this: There’s no antagonist. Dory, like Lightning McQueen in the first Cars and Arlo in The Good Dinosaur, isn’t up against someone who’s actively working against her. The only obstacle she has to overcome is herself, her own limits and her own sense of self-doubt and self-worth. Sure, some of the characters she comes across are less than helpful at times, but no one is actively trying to stop her from reaching her parents.

The lack of an antagonist means something from a storytelling point of view. It means the story becomes a self-help book about how if you just work a little bit harder, believe in yourself a little bit more and visualize your goals, you can accomplish anything. This is all well and good, but it’s also sending kids the message that all of their problems are in their own heads and if they’re not accomplishing what they think they’re capable of, it’s their own fault. Not that that’s necessarily better or worse than a series of good-versus-evil stories that lead them to believe it’s always the fault of an outside force, but it is very much different and in-line with the kind of thinking you’ll find at many non-denominational churches, in the offices of many therapist gurus and so on.

While the movie has come in for praise for its depiction of living with a disability – a flashback involving Dory’s parents  is possibly the movie’s most touching scene, especially if you’re a parent – I can’t help but think that’s the wrong message to send. Sometimes you *need* to ask for help in order to get through a situation, you can’t just power your way through on the basis of believing that if you’re failing it’s because you don’t want it enough.

What the movie does well is keep the audience invested in Dory and her friends. She is a compelling character, whatever the faults of the story might be, and it’s impossible not to rout for her. As the campaign showed us, there’s a nice mix of emotion and humor to keep the audience balanced and moving from one thing to the next, all that with occasional dollops of tension to remind us that yes, there are stakes here. I don’t think I’d put it above the original Finding Nemo, were I to rank them against each other, but I’d have to rewatch Nemo to say for sure. In the meantime, Finding Dory is a pleasant way to spend 90 or so minutes in the theater with someone who, surprisingly for a side character who originally served as comic relief of a sort, doesn’t wear out her welcome, largely because she’s just so darn earnest about everything.

Twitter Gets in on the Sticker Action

Twitter announced yesterday that you will be able to add stickers to the photos you send on the network. These stickers then essentially become visual hashtags, where you can click through to see who else is using the same stickers you just used, something that’s meant to foster a community and more engagement since you get a sense of who else is of a like mind with you. The stickers will be rolling out over the near future.

These stickers are a move to compete with not only Facebook, which also features stickers, and Snapchat with its filters but also something like Giphy Cam, which lets people add graphics to their self-made GIFs and share them across networks. It’s all part of the move begun with Instagram’s filters, which allowed people to add some sort of customization to the photos they were sharing, taking that action to the next level and allowing for a modicum of self-expression, which increased the stickiness of the app. Twitter’s obviously hoping this will have the same effect.

It’s easy to see how Twitter could turn this into a revenue stream, since it would follow the same basic idea of Snapchat filters and Giphy Cam stickers, creating custom stickers that people could apply to their photos to help promote their new movie, lifestyle product or other item. So Warner Bros., for instance, could buy a paid sticker placement to promote Suicide Squad by allowing people to add one or more of the tattoo designs that have been a big part of the campaign to date – including tattoo parlors at SXSW and elsewhere – to their photos.

That’s similar to what they could do on Snapchat with sponsored filters, to be sure, which means it comes down to a determination in the mind of the advertising team as to where they’re best reaching the audience most efficiently for their marketing dollar. Based on who has the zeitgeist and buzz right now, Snapchat would seem to have the advantage, but Twitter has a history of luring movie studios to be first movers with their new advertising products, including landing Warner Bros. as a launch partner for Promoted Moments, used to advertise Creed.  If it were to introduce paid stickers it’s easy to see one studio or another being involved in some manner.

What’s notable is that this further isolates Instagram as being behind the curve it started. While you can still apply all sorts of filters to your photos there and while it has rolled out all sorts of new ad carousel products and more, Instagram has lagged in monetizing the photo content itself that’s shared to the network. It doesn’t offer any sort of stickers, it doesn’t offer sponsored filters or anything else that’s now become part and parcel of the social advertising space.

Twitter continues to look for new ways to make its app more sticky and increase engagement. Whether stickers will do that or not remains to be seen, but it’s certainly an addition that’s in-line with the rest of the social industry.

Movie Marketing Madness: The BFG

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If you were to pick out the definitive fiction version of where dreams come from, what would it be? The list would have to include Neil Gaiman’s landmark Sandman series, where the author takes us into The Dreaming, the fantastical universe that serves as the source of the world’s dreams, a land governed by Morpheus himself, one of the Endless. Dream’s absence from his kingdom has impacted the world and the dreaming nature of the human race. The whole series is a must-read and contemplates not only the nature of the world around us but also, at its core, shows us how dreams originate, what they mean for us and what their role in the world is.

That’s also the basic premise of The BFG, the Roald Dahl book that’s now been adapted for the big screen by director Steven Spielberg. The Big Friendly Giant (motion capture and voice by Mark Rylance) is a dream collector who harvests dreams and sends them into the heads of sleeping children. One night he encounters Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), who he takes back to his mystical land and where he explains that while he’s quite peaceful and friendly, he’s the exception to the rule as most giants like to eat children. So he has to keep her safe from the less altruistic of his kind and she has to help him not be constantly hunted by those other giants.

The Posters

the bfg poster 1The teaser poster certainly sets of a magical, wonder-filled adventure. Sophie is seen standing on the toes of a giant she’s looking up at and who we don’t even see the knees of. The colors are big and bright and setup a colorful adventure. Copy at the top name drops the “human beans” that created E.T. and reference that it comes from the author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda” to prove its fantastic bonafides.

The next poster puts the premise of the story front and center, showing Sophie being held in the hands of the The BFG, who’s looking kindly on her with a colorful collection of clouds and hills in the background. The same “human beans” copy is at the top while at the bottom we get copy telling us “The world is more giant than you can imagine. So Disney is *really* trying to setup the imagination and fantasy aspects of the story here as the main selling point.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer is narrated by Sophie, who begins by telling us all about the “witching hour” at the orphanage she’s at and all the rules for staying safe with all the things that go bump in the night. She then proceeds to violate all three of those rules and sees something – the BFG – down the street. She scurries back to bed but the trailer ends with the giant’s hand reaching through and grabbing her while Sophie says, “…and that’s where my story begins.”

It’s an OK trailer but there are some issues I have. First, this plays almost exactly like the first trailers for Pan, and we all know how that turned out. Second, I feel like we’re getting Hook-era Spielberg here, which is disappointing after the solid outing in Bridge of Spies. I don’t know…it just doesn’t come together for me, though the overall reception was pretty positive as people were hopeful over Spielberg’s return to childhood fantasy stories.

The first full trailer starts in much the same way, as Sophie talks about when the boogeyman comes out. We see a giant hand reach through the window and grab her, followed by shots of the giant moving through the streets and running through the woods, until we finally see Sophie deposited on a massive worktable. She’s in “giant country” and we get a bunch of shots of the magical land. He took her, we find out, because he could sense her lonely heart. But he’s not the only giant and the trailer ends with even more gargantuan creatures confronting the kindly workman, creatures that look much more savage and presumably violent and who suspect he has a “little pet.”

It’s a much better trailer than the first, aided greatly by the longer runtime and more room for story points to be explained. I still get a not-great vibe off of it but it looks like Rylance’s performance as the giant will indeed be pulling on everyone’s emotions.

The second full trailer starts off in the land of giants, with Sophie begging not to be eaten, something The BFG dissuades her of, showing her that instead of being mean he’s a dream catcher. Soon the less nice giants show up and Sophie must hide. The rest of the trailer seems to be about the two of them evading the nastier giants as they increasingly bond.

It’s not bad and I kind of like that this one finally skipped all the setup and just got to the action. It works a little better in that regard, though I still worry that the tone is just a bit off.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website is kind of a disappointment in how sparse it is. The key art at the top of the page is just one big clickable link to take you to Fandango to buy tickets.

After that is the second trailer, but the first is nowhere to be found, which is an oversight I think. That’s followed by a story synopsis that really does go in-depth on the story itself and includes plenty of information on the rest of the cast outside of the two leads.

There’s are some “Videos” after that including featurettes on the cast, crew and story that have some interviews with Spielberg, Rylance and others involved.


A gallery of eight stills from the movie is next and the whole things finishes off with a cast and crew list section that neither offers more information on-site nor links elsewhere.

A lot of the same featurettes along with other videos, promotional and countdown images, links to press stories and more can be found on the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles, though they’re not linked to from the official site for some odd reason. The latter also features RTs of various celebrities and others who are talking about how excited they are for the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one make the strong case for the fantasy elements of the story, including critics quotes that are presented in the giant language of the movie. It’s quite and presents the movie as a dream sequence come to life, which is kind of the point. Cute, but not the strongest appeal that could have been made.

Outdoor and online ads were also run that used the posters and other key art in various manners.

Media and Publicity

Lots of people, including Rylance, producer Kathleen Kennedy and others talked here about the look of the movie, the creation of the giant’s language, the story and more. The movie debuted out of competition at Cannes, where Spielberg had the chance to talk about working with Barnhill, his personal and professional relationship with Rylance that’s resulted in now several collaborations and more.

Rylance also talked a bit about his sudden recognition factor, working with Spielberg and the challenges of shooting motion capture work. Some of the press realized this was the first time in a while Spielberg had gone all-in on world-creation, having opted for historical reenactment in many of his recent movies. Rebecca Hall got in on the press action, talking about the movie, what it was like working with Spielberg and more.

Oscar (R) winner Mark Rylance stars as the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) in Disney's fantasy-adventure, THE BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg based on the best-selling book by Roald Dahl, which opens in theaters nationwide on July 1.

Spielberg, as part of a big Hollywood Reporter package on his career and the state of the industry, talked about his long project to bring this story to the big screen and what it was like to cast the movie. The iconic director, obviously, kept talking about the movie, his career, his directing style and lots more.


Earlier I mentioned that the first trailer gave off a vibe similar to that from the Pan campaign last year and I wish I could say that dissipates over the course of the marketing. But I can’t because it doesn’t. It all comes off as trying too hard to sell a movie that’s high on spectacle but might be missing a warm fuzzy heart, no matter how hard it plays up the kind nature of the title character or the cute, brave Sophie who helps him out. It just never really comes together in the way I think the studio is hoping for.

The campaign keeps the focus on Rylance’s BFG, which I think is the core mistake and one I’m not sure the movie as a whole makes or not. While I understand he’s the title character and that emphasizing him makes sense, his is not the emotional journey the audience is going to be invested in. That’s Sophie’s. She needs to be front and center since she’s the audience proxy in the story, discovering this big new world of giants and dreams and other amazing things at the same time we are. So relegating her to the character that gets caught up in *his* adventures rather than the other way around is, I think, the core misstep here.

To Each His Own When It Comes to Writing

As a writer, there’s nothing that simultaneously fills me with more joy and more anxiety than reading. I’m a firm believer in the maxim that if you want to write you need to read, but sometimes, I’ll admit, it just freaks me the hell out.

That’s because I’m always concerned I’m missing out on the “right” way to do something. I read a good book and think “Well that’s obviously the way to do it” and that my own writing doesn’t measure up. Same goes for a well-written blog post or other story. Seeing something that’s objectively great writing usually fills me with terror and dread and an overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

But here’s the thing: I still think writing is what I do best. That’s…it’s what I do. I’m a writer. I may not be everyone’s favorite kind of writer and my style may be one that’s uniquely suited for the online publishing boom of 15 years ago, but it’s mine. I’ve tried to write like other people but it just doesn’t work. I keep reverting to me.


What does that mean? For me it means I can’t stop letting my passion and attitude for whatever it is I’m writing about seep through into that writing. I write like I think, for better or worse. Little parenthetical jokes, random asides, lots of assuming no one sees whatever the issue is as clearly as I do…It’s all part of the same bundle.

Sometimes the main barrier to my writing process is, in fact, slowing down my brain so my fingers can keep up with what’s coming out. I’m writing in my head three paragraphs ahead of where my typing is. So why don’t I do something that might serve that situation better like start a podcast?

A big part of that is that my confidence in my speaking voice is even lower than it is in my writing style. I know I have a tendency to sound flat and affectless, so at least the written word lets the reader evaluate what I’m offering in their own internal voice.

The reality is I don’t know what I’d do without an outlet to write for, whether it’s my own or someone else’s. I’ve been doing some reevaluating of what I want to write, where I want to write it and more lately but what hasn’t changed is the core idea: I need to write. I write because I’m excited. I write because I’m depressed. I write to share my excitement. I write to share other’s excitement. It’s in my blood…it’s in my marrow. You may dig it, you may not and there are certainly writers that are better than me in specific genres and on specific topics. I’m the master of my own genre, thank you very much.

So what’s the point of all this? It’s a reminder, to me most of all, to not be depressed because someone does something differently than you. Different, no matter what the voices in your head might say, isn’t always better. It’s just…other. There’s room enough for everything and everything will find its natural level and audience. At least that’s what I’ll be repeating to myself the next time I come across a piece of writing that inspires little other than jealousy.