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Movie Marketing Madness: American Pastoral

american_pastoral_ver3Ewan McGregor stars in and makes his directorial debut with this week’s American Pastoral. Set in the late 1960s, McGregor plays Swede Levov, an upstanding local businessman with deep ties to his quiet suburban neighborhood alongside his wife Dawn (Jennifer Connelly). That status quo is upset, though, through the actions of their daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning), who has become radicalized into the politics of the era as she’s gotten older.

One day Merry goes missing after committing a crime that shatters the small town they all live in, threatening the family’s reputation among their friends and others. With her on the run, Swede goes to try and track her down. But her actions have shaken things up and altered his view of the world, which is going through one social shift after another.

The Posters

american_pastoralThe first poster turns the perspective of the viewer to the side, showing the scene of a burning house set against an otherwise serene setting. The photo is muted and washed out with the exception of the fire that’s erupting from the roof of the house, which creates a sharp visual contrast that helps draw the eye. In addition to the cast names and the mention of it being based on a Philip Roth novel, we’re told this is “A radically ordinary story,” which certainly creates a sense of mystery thanks to the unique turn of phrase.

The theatrical poster features the big faces of McGregor and Connelly looking kind of toward the camera, a horizontal strip obscuring their mouths and showing Fanning’s eyes, which I’m sure is symbolic of the story. There’s no copy here but it does show the symbols for the various festivals and events the movie has screened at.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens with a literal bang, as a small shop explodes shortly after the storekeeper puts the flag out in front. We see Seymour in happier times with his young daughter before shots of her older and obviously a disappointment to Seymour and Dawn. That’s likely because of her involvement in some kind of radical movement that’s probably responsible for that explosion and other violent acts. So shots her up to no good are interspersed with Seymour and Dawn trying to do something about it.

It’s a sparse trailer that offers only the barest threads of the story, and then only through visuals since a slow version of “Mad World” is used for the 17th time in a trailer this year alone. But what’s on display is very strong, showing an emotional story about a family who’s dealing with something they never expected to and which is hard for them in many ways.

Online and Social

When you load the official website you see the key art on the front page, with the credits to the side above two big call-to-action buttons, one to watch the trailer and one to buy tickets. Down toward the bottom of the page are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles where the studio has been sharing promotional images, trailers and other assets.

After all that, there’s a menu at the top where you can find most of the site’s content.

It begins with the “Synopsis” where you can read a pretty good and in-depth recap of the movie’s story. After that the “Cast & Filmmakers” section is pretty sparse, with just a shot of the actor from the movie along with their name as well as that of their character.

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The “Trailer” section just the one trailer. Finally, the “Gallery” has a number of stills from production and then “Posters” has the two posters you can view and download.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

At least one TV spot was produced and run by Lionsgate. The movie being sold here is very much a family drama, with only a few little hints at the politics and radical actions that drive some of the actions. The focus here is on the hunt for the missing daughter as it sells the audience on a stoic family dynamic set in the Nixon era.

No online ads I’ve seen, not anything outdoors, but it’s safe to assume something has been done in advance of release.

Media and Publicity

The movie was among those which debuted or otherwise screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. The screenings didn’t generate much in the way of positive word-of-mouth, with most critics mixed or lackluster about it. Still, McGregor had the opportunity to talk up the movie and about his directorial process, something the rest of the cast praised for its collaborative qualities.

At the movie’s premiere McGregor talked about how he came to sit in the director’s chair and Connelly talked about the unique emotional angles required for her role. The circumstances that lead to him taking on directing duties continued to be the focus of much of the press.

Overall

There’s quite a bit to like about the campaign from a brand consistency perspective. Everything is brown and muted, like your grandmother’s living room. It *feels* like it comes from the era it takes place in, with the heavy fabrics and lack of emotions. That’s going to come off as off-putting to many in the audience who prefer their stories and characters to be a bit more effusive, but it just seems right here and that feeling is conveyed throughout the campaign.

As for the movie itself, what’s being sold here is a story that isn’t immediately coherent. If you’ve just watched the trailers or seen the posters you may not be able to get a sense of what has happened and what drives the characters and actions. There’s little here that shows how the daughter is connected to the violence that has upset her family and her town unless you know what to look for. So outside of the visuals and the names involved it may be hard for audiences to find a clear value proposition to latch on to.

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