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Movie Marketing Madness: Ghostbusters

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There’s this notion – I think it first really came up in 1999 when the Star Wars Prequels were released – that something new that’s an extension of what you loved as a child can ruin the old things you enjoyed in said childhood. “This ruined my childhood” is the rallying cry of those who feel they can no longer enjoy a piece of popular entertainment they grew up with because a sequel, prequel, reboot, remake or other new version of that property has been released, or is going to be released, that isn’t slavishly devoted to the original.

It’s too bad that my generation in particular seems to be embracing this mindset. It’s such a victim mentality and shows how little we’ve developed emotionally that we’re still arguing over how every Star Wars movie needs to make us feel like we’re five years old again, how every Voltron adaptation needs to have certain elements to be considered real and so on. I get it…I do. These things were important to us as we were growing up and the culture has evolved with us, making sure we can by $400 replica busts of the characters we once owned $3.99 action figures of, offering us Blu-ray special editions of Saturday morning cartoons that are *not* essential and otherwise drawing upon our nostalgia for the sake of making a buck.

But this cultural warping – We’re all living in “Ready Player One,” with no culture of our own, just a constant obsession with what came three decades ago – has skewed things. It’s not only hampered the creation of a new cultural generation – my kids have little of their own, just LEGO versions of the movies I grew up with and Netflix reboots of the shows I used to watch – but babied the people who haven’t been able to move on. I’m not saying all these people are 45 year olds who still live in their parents’ basement, I’m saying that society has allowed them to maintain a state of arrested cultural development that eschews anything that infringes on their beloved touchpoints violently and with disdain for anyone who would create such seeming monstrosities or have the temerity to defend it.

Which brings us, of course, to Ghostbusters. Not a sequel to the 1984 and 1989 movies starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Ackroyd, Ernie Hudson and Sigourney Weaver, it’s also not a remake since there’s no desire to tell the same story. If anything it’s the dreaded “reboot” as it’s a straight up new movie that uses the name and the concept of the original to go in a new direction. This new movie stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon as a team of spook-hunting experts who team up to take on an spectral invasion of Manhattan.

The movie, as will be discussed below, has come in for more than a full helping of nerd rage. While the original Ghostbusters is certainly a great movie – one of my personal favorites, I’ll admit – it’s not a sacred text where any attempt to alter or otherwise interpret the idea has an effect on my immortal soul. But apparently for legions of “fans” who have spent the last 20 years buying replica props off eBay the movie is sacrosanct and should never be spoiled by hands other than those of the original creators.

One suspects, though, that the “burn it all down” attitude would be somewhat muted if this reboot has been handled by, say, the Key and Peele team as opposed to not just a largely female cast (even the role of the secretary has been gender-swapped and is now played by Chris Hemsworth) as well as a female writer. And if the director had been someone other than Paul Feig, who’s known for his support for funny women, they’d probably be more on board. Neither of those is the case, though, and so we embark into a look at the campaign for a movie that has a lot of hills to climb just to be allowed to succeed or fail on its own merits, many more than most movies starring and made by men.

The Posters

Four very cool character one-sheets kicked off the poster campaign, with one for each of the ladies. These posters were largely black-and-white but for one element that offered a pop of color. On one it was a proton pack, on another it was the Ghostbusters patch and so on. This was a great way to get things started and marked, really, the first salvo in the official marketing.

The first teaser poster is just that: A teasing announcement that the movie is coming. So the familiar Ghostbusters logo is the primary element on the one-sheet along with “Who you gonna call?” and the release date.

A final theatrical poster put all four leads, plus Hemsworth, in front of the new Ecto-1, all looking tough and ready for action with the classic logo in the background.

The Trailers

The first trailer – which was teased a couple weeks before it came out – is all kinds of awesome. It starts by evoking the past, noting how 30 years ago four scientists saved the world, before introducing us to the new team as they encounter a ghost for seemingly the first time. We soon get some more explanation as to who they all are and what role they play on the team, which Patty later joins to bring some New York savvy to the organization as well as a car she’s borrowed from her uncle. There’s a bit of the story here as it’s explained that the ghosts can possess humans and someone is increasing their power, but it’s mostly about showing off the new team.

So there are a few things going on here. First of all, the character introductions are handled pretty well, giving us an idea of the personalities and backgrounds of each one. Second, the humor here is obviously going to be as dry as the desert, which isn’t surprising given Feig’s general approach. I really think things are presented here as well as they can be. And while there isn’t much story here that’s alright since it’s just a first trailer. There’s enough to let you know this isn’t just a shot-for-shot remake of the first movie but is coming at it with its’ own style.

The one thing that’s surprising is the bit at the beginning that goes back and overtly references the first movie. Since we know through various comments in the press that this isn’t tied to that movie it seems odd to work so hard to call back to it for anything other than nostalgia’s sake. That’s not a huge problem, just a choice I’m not entirely sure about if the goal here is to really set this up as its own thing.

There were, somewhat predictably, some strong reactions online to the trailer. Some of those were from the ignorant misogynists who had real problems with a movie starring women being part of a franchise started by men and so on. These are easily ignored because they’re idiots. Harder to ignore were the problems some people pointed out with Jones’ character being not only the one non-scientist/technician in the group but also a somewhat stereotypical example of “sass.” That one’s more easily understood but some people were willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, saying maybe underestimating Patty’s skills are part of the story.

All that didn’t stop the trailer from racking up 24 million views in the first 24 hours of release. Later on, though, it was reported that it had become the most-disliked trailer in YouTube history, with a completely disproportionate like-to-dislike ratio showing that yes, this was the result of a group of butthurt fanboys who were purposely downvoting the movie,

The second trailer drops us into the team investigating a case and talking about how they’re the only ones who can do what needs to be done to combat the paranormal threat. We get more shots of the team talking about how someone is amplifying the spooks and specters, we see Kevin turn evil and lots more.

It works on about the same levels as the first one, but makes some overt – and sometimes odd – callbacks to the original movie. Not only does the original theme song show up but we get Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and a line about “mass hysteria” that’s delivered in the office of the city’s mayor. Not to say that hurts the trailer but it seems like it’s doing nothing to create its own identity with the exception of Leslie Jones, who looks like she’s the star in the same way Kate McKinnon was the breakout of the first trailer.

A bit was made in the press about how this trailer debuted not on YouTube but on Twitter and Facebook natively, which was seen as a reaction to the unfortunate misogyny the first trailer fell victim to. There’s something to that but it does kind of ignore that the first trailer

Online and Social

Are you kidding me with this website? There’s so little going on here it’s like the site for a low-tier independent film that’s getting Amazon-powered distribution after receiving decent, but not great, buzz at Sundance.

The header is a carousel that alternates between the four teaser character posters and quotes from Murray, Ackroyd and Ivan Reitman about how much they’re supporting and looking forward to this new movie. The studio obviously feels it needs to get the original movie’s talent to endorse the new one as a way to get crybaby fanboys to maybe consider seeing it, but it also has the effect of not letting the new movie stand on its own. By bringing them into the formal campaign, not just as part of a press effort, it’s admitting that there’s almost no faith in the new movie to exist without the explicit approval of the original creators and does more to make people think of the first movie than this new one.

Next there’s a “Gallery” that not only has stills from the new movie but also the previous two. That’s followed by “About” which has a lackluster synopsis and then a “Cast & Crew” section that just lists the names of those involved in either capacity without any links or other information.

Ghostbusters-2016

You have to go into the Menu on the left of the page in order to access the social networks, which have been promoting this movie for sure but which are also for the franchise as a whole. But that’s where you can find the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles, which have been sharing promotional images and updates, RTing fan excitement and media stories and generally trying to put on a as much of a brave face as it can, despite the absolute garbage that’s coming in the comments and replies.

The first trailer contained a hidden URL to a website that had all kinds of background information on the tech these new Ghostbusters would be using, with featurettes that go into how they were created and more.

Oddly, a press release and accompanying video for The Proton Pack touts it as coming from not only Sony but also Jillian Holzmann and Egon Spengler, which implies some sort of actual connection between this movie and the preview franchise entries. But that had been previously dismissed by the filmmakers, creating a sense of confusion among fans and others watching the campaign.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one introduce us to the team and show that they’re facing off against some major supernatural powers. Other commercials took different approaches but they all sell the movie as being very funny and a lot of fun.

The studio bought a couple sponsored Snapchat filters, one each for the front and rear cameras, that allowed you to either bust a ghost or be slimed, depending on what mood you were in.

  • Hi-C: Announced early on, before any other partnerships or marketing had begun, that they would be bringing back the Ecto Cooler flavor, which was basically green-tinted orange drink with Slimer on the packaging. That would also be supported by co-branded packaging and advertising.
  • Madam Tussauds unveiled a VR installation that took participants into an immersive experience where they become a Ghostbuster.
  • NBA: Ran co-branded ads during the Finals and which featured different players depending on where audiences were watching the game. The effort was, as was widely reported, part of a specific advertising play to reach men because we’re such delicate creatures when it comes to female-starring movies.
  • Lyft: Offered “Ghost Mode” in five cities in the U.S., allowing people to choose the Ecto-1 for their ride, which came stocked with Ecto-Cooler and movie-themed Twinkies and other snacks.

Close to release, a story about Sony’s challenges in selling the movie pointed out that many of the promotional partners featured exclusively men, without much footage of the movie itself or shots of the characters, making it seem like those companies were steering away from the “girls are icky” backlash that accompanied the movie.

Lots of online ads, particularly on social networks like Twitter and Facebook, were run throughout the campaign that included trailers, TV spots and other videos. And plenty of outdoor advertising was done on billboards, buses and other locations using any and all elements of the key art but also, interesting, emphasizing the logo as opposed to shots of the cast.

Media and Publicity

Outside of the buzz that was generated every time Feig or someone from the cast shared a picture on social media the movie got a big publicity boost when it was announced Bill Murray would have some sort of cameo in the movie, joining Dan Ackroyd in doing so. But Murray’s inclusion was notable because he’d long been the holdout in the planning of a third movie. So him signing on was seen as a seal of approval for the film which, it turns, out, is exactly how he intended it.

Rumors began to circulate in early October that Sony was working on an animated Ghostbusters film, something that would likely exist in this “expanded universe” the studio seemed intent on creating for the franchise.

More news about additional cameos from the original cast would continue to give pubs a reason to talk about the movie. But one notable omission from that news was Rick Moranis wouldn’t be coming back, a fact he addressed himself in a rare interview where he said simply that the idea of doing a small bit as a call-back to the original movies didn’t interest him, an ideal that seems to guide much of his life.

The first real official still from the movie was released to a Ghostbusters fansite in a smart and savvy move to hit hardcore fans and give them something exclusive. Another photo would debut in EW that showed the team on their way to or from some action. Later on costar Michael K. Williams dished on his role a bit and confirmed that yes, Slimer was coming back for this installment.

ghostbusters pic 3

Much of the online vitriol came into focus in this interview with screenwriter Kate Dippold, who was on the receiving end of much of that hatred. She also talked about getting aced by Feig to write the movie, what it was like to adjust to kind of seasoned improv performers who make up the cast and staying true to the spirit of the original movie while still doing something original herself.

The movie marked Administrative Professional’s Day with a short featurette about Kevin, Hemsworth’s character, and how clueless but pretty he is.

Sony announced that the original Ghostbusters would be coming back to theaters about a month before this new movie. Ostensibly this was to take advantage of the marketing for the new movie and get people excited for the franchise in general. In execution, though, this comes off as the study having no confidence in the new version and wanting to appease those butthurt fanboys mentioned earlier by assuring them that no, this original movie wasn’t going to be thrown down the Memory Hole. Far from helping the new version, this seems as if it could serve as a release valve and take people who were excited for it and give them something else which scratches that itch and is familiar. My opinion is that this is the studio tying both hands behind the new movie’s back before sending it out to fight.

Of course the online hatred that the movie’s marketing was greeted with became news fodder in and of itself, with stories talking about how it was stirring a pot of gender politics in a weird year anyway and how Sony has plowed ahead as planned (i don’t quite buy that) in the face of such obviously biased and irrational criticism.

The cast also made plenty of press appearances, sometimes as a group and sometimes on their own. That included showing up alongside the surviving cast of the original movies on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Ghostbusters Day, the official holiday declared on the anniversary of the first movie’s release, a day that included lots of other activities around the country at theaters and elsewhere. That Kimmel booking included all kinds of appearances by both casts, both planned and unplanned, into a significant late-night press push. What was most surprising was that Murray in particular seemed a willing participant, right there in the thick of things and with a smile on his face. Surprising considering his years of conflicted relationship with the series over the years.

Feig kept talking again and again about how his movie was for everyone and how little time he had for anyone referring to it as a “chick flick” or were otherwise dismissing it with overly sexist comments and feedback. The four leading ladies got individual covers on a recent issue of Elle, part of a feature story on the movie and the women of comedy.

The pushback against ignorant fanboys hit its peak with this New York Times story, with Feig and the whole cast talking about taking on the franchise, the benefits of an all-female cast and lots more. Feig was also interviewed by Wired about the online backlash, casting the movie and more.

Some of the late-cycle publicity introduced us to the new gadgets in the movie, including new versions of the proton packs, traps and more. There was also some attention paid to the real-life MIT scientists who consulted on the movie in order to ground at least most of the science in reality. Finally, all four leads plus Feig also made the rounds of late night, morning and daytime talk shows to hype the movie and try to build some excitement.

Overall

ghostbusters_ver5Even among critics who are absolutely not in the “don’t mess with my childhood” camp, there’s been a fair amount of backlash toward this campaign. Many people haven’t found the trailers funny (with the exception of McKinnon, who was pegged as the breakout star as soon as she winked in that first spot) and have called them out for having problems. Others didn’t like the posters, calling them too dark and not doing enough to show off the cast.

All of these criticism are valid. While I agree with the poster comment – the print and outdoor campaign is one where the studio seems to be doing everything it can to not show that this stars a bunch of women, opting for the logo whenever possible over a cast shot – I disagree with the critiques of the trailers. I find them funny, on-brand and full of a sense of humor I want to see more of. It’s so hard to sell comedy that’s not gag-based (think the broad Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and other movies…even Keanu fell into this group) but one that’s more subtle and story-based. That’s a problem the original movie had as well, with a trailer that’s not funny almost at all, but instead presents a sci-fi movie that might be kind of amusing. By comparison, these trailers are a laugh riot.

I don’t have much more to say about the website; it’s awful and should never be spoken of again. But the press push is solid, even if so much of it became analytical of itself, talking about the backlash and then the push back to the backlash.

So it comes down to this: The campaign is really good. If it had leaned into the situation it was in and ditched some of the ties to the original cast and movie it would have risen to a higher level, but I understand why the studio felt it had to do what it did, even if I disagree. The push is solid on many levels and is at its best when it’s ignoring the haters and ignorant know-nothings who have already written it off and instead shows off the best asset it, or any other movie, could ask for: A talented group of actors and filmmakers who want to do something fun.

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