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Movie Marketing Madness: Assassin’s Creed

assassins_creed_ver3The new movie Assassin’s Creed is a big-budget adaptation of the popular video game of the same name. The movie follows Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a lifelong criminal who’s one day recruited (in the loosest sense of the word) by a mysterious company called Abstergo Industries. They want him because of his ties to his ancestor Aguilar, a 15th century member of a secret group of Spanish assassins.

Abstergo Industries has technology called the Animus Project that will allow Lynch to experience the memories of his ancestor in a visceral, physical way. So it’s not just that that the memories are plugged into his brain, it’s that he moves and acts along with those memories. But the “why” behind his recruitment and Abstergo’s goals eventually become clear while Lynch gains, through the Animus Project, the knowledge and skills to take on the assassin’s long-time enemies, the Knights Templar.

The Posters

The first poster sets up the basic value proposition of the movie, showing Fassbender’s character jumping off a roof and soaring through the sky. There’s nothing much more here, it’s just about showing off the look of the movie and making sure the audience knows that it’s coming soon.

The next poster shows the duality of Fassbender’s character, with him in the present day on the right and him decked out in the robes and weapons of the assassins on the left, the Spanish city in the background. “Your destiny is in your blood” we’re told at the top.

One more again is more concerned with the franchise than with Fassbender, showing Aguilar standing at the top of a huge church spire, poised and looking ready for a dive to the streets below.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with Callum waking up and being told he was executed yesterday, meaning he no longer exists. He’s been revived by people who want him to tap into the memories and experiences of his centuries-dead ancestor, meaning he’s transported in mind and body back to the Spanish Inquisition. Why? Doesn’t matter. To do what? Doesn’t matter. The entire rest of the trailer is devoted to killer action sequences that just show off the visuals of the movie. 

It does what it needs to do by setting up the premise and letting fans of the game franchise know that it follows (presumably) the structure of that game. There’s no story here, just setup, which may be a symptom of this just being a teaser or it may be indicative of the movie as a whole.

We meet Callum in the second trailer as he’s recruited for a special project because of his bloodline, specifically an ancestor who five centuries ago was a famed assassin. A secret group wants him to go back with the help of a machine that lets him live in that period and…you know what, it’s not at all clear. He’s basically asked to run around during the time of the Spanish Inquisition and kill people, but the motivation or purpose is completely missing.

I mean it looks cool enough. But the lack of any sort of purpose or motivation is really lacking and notable. There are some cool visuals but this is being marketed straight to fans of the video game (who presumably already know the basic story outlines) as well as those who just want flashy visuals and aren’t turned off by the fact that we don’t know why anyone is doing what they’re doing.

A third trailer starts off a bit differently, with some exposition about the “Apple of Eden,” an object that removes dissent from people’s minds. A shadowy group with shadowy motives wants it, or wants it back. Enter Callum, the last descendent of a race of assassins who’s recruited to enter the life of his ancestor from the time of the Spanish Inquisition and retrieve the item. But he and others in the same program decide to break the rules and go rogue.

This is the first time the movie’s Macguffin, the Apple of Eden, has been mentioned in the campaign by my reckoning and it helps explain things a bit for those of us not versed in the game franchise’s mythology. So it helps on that front. The rest looks roughly the same as characters perform ridiculous stunts and combat moves with ease.

Online and Social

The banner image at the top of the official website shows Aguilar in assassin’s garb leaping off a roof just like in the key art. Below that there are buttons to buy tickets, watch the trailer or click through to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

The “Videos” section is remarkably well-stocked, not just featuring trailers but also TV spots, clips as well as lots of original featurettes with the cast and crew and more. The “About” section has a story synopsis as well as lists of the cast and crew members.

After a section asking you to sign up for email updates there’s “Posters,” which has all three of the U.S. posters. There are 11 production stills in the “Gallery.”

The “Featured Content” section has links to Kernel, a site that curates perks and exclusives for pop culture, but the exclusives for this movie have already expired as well as a link to the movie’s Instagram account. Finally there’s a link to a website for Abstergo Industries, but while there’s a list of cities over on the right there there’s no links there or other information. The only thing to do on the site is sign up for updates in the upper right corner.

Back to the AC site, the next section is “Social Content,” which just pulls in updates from the movie’s social profiles. Lastly there’s a list of the movie’s promotional “Partners.”

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one started running about two months out from release, showing Callum being recruited into the program that sends him into the lives of his ancestors. There’s a surprising amount of story here as it’s not just about showing off the visuals of the movie, though there’s still plenty of that, even in a 30 second spot.

TV ads were so pervasive the movie hit the top of the studio spending charts.

Plenty of online advertising was done as well, including on social networks, particularly around the release of new trailers.

Among the movie’s promotional partners are:

  • Carl’s Jr.: No details
  • Mercedes Benz: No details
  • Lootcrate: Offered an exclusive Aguilar figure in an upcoming box.
  • Gamestop: No details, but considering the movie’s origins it makes sense.
  • AMD: Created a VR experience based on the movie that’s available for Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and Facebook Live as well as in select theaters.
  • Hot Topic: Offered its usual mix of licensed merchandise.
  • Seagate: No details
  • Pop Secret: No details
  • Family Tree DNA: Offered a special deal for those who want to find out more about their ancestry, a partnership that makes sense giving the movie’s story.  
  • Supra: Created a special movie-themed line of shoes.
  • Arizona Iced Tea: Created co-branded packaging and offered a sweepstakes to win a themed trip to Los Angeles.
  • Spencer’s: No details, but I’m guessing there was licensed merch at stores.
  • HyperX: Offered a sweeps to win a trip to Tokyo along with other freebies.

Media and Publicity

The first official look at the movie came via an image of Fassbender as Callum Lynch, an image that looks pretty much ripped directly from the source game’s key art, despite this being a wholly original character.

A “viral” campaign was kicked off in late 2015 with a tweet that showed business cards for Abstergo Industries, an entity that’s tied to the story. That led people to discover a company website that had a signup form to get updates.

More photos from the film would come out later, some in EW and some in Empire, with the EW photos including an interview with Fassbender where he admitted to never having played the games the movie is based on as if that’s some sort of prerequisite.

A big chunk of the discussion about the movie in advance of release was about the time setting, leading to studio execs defending the decision to set the movie primarily in the present, including Ubisoft’s head of theatrical speaking at E3 about it. Later on EW covered how the movie would feature characters from the video game, which seems like the most obvious news story ever.

assassins-creed-pic

There was also a VR experience for Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR as well as within Facebook’s immersive video.

Fassbender, as the lead in the movie, did the talk-show rounds and other press appearances.

Overall

There’s some good stuff here. The whole campaign works hard to walk the line between selling the movie as a general sci-fi fantasy movie about a cool time-travel type character who kicks butt and part of the overall Assassin’s Creed mythology. So it’s trying to appeal to both long-term fans of that game franchise and people who may have heard about it but never got into that particular part of geekery. If there’s a problem with the campaign it’s that much of it leans a bit too hard in the former direction, making it somewhat inaccessible to the general audience.

That’s not too much of a problem, though, since especially toward the end the campaign evened out and became more appealing to the masses. While the story remains a bit confusing and hard to follow – it’s never really a focus of the marketing push – it sells a big spectacle of a story that is meant to appeal to action movie fans. There are individual elements that are a bit confusing – why hide Fassbender so much on the posters, why are so many missing details on the promo partner activations – but overall it’s a generally fine campaign for the launch of what the studio obviously hopes will become a new franchise.

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