Medium’s Pivots Throw Off More Publishers

Last year Medium made a big push to line up a number of high-profile publishers to migrate to its site. It was part of Medium’s ongoing balancing act between being a straight-up publishing platform a la WordPress and a publishing company with a number of brands under its umbrella. It attracted The Ringer, Film School Rejects, Think Progress and others and made a big deal of how it would handle ad sales as well as offer other attractive features to take some of the pressure off those publishers so they could stop worrying about business and keep working on content.

Earlier this year Medium’s Ev Williams announced the company was pivoting and that it would shutter many of those logistical support operations. Since then FSR – and now The Ringer – have announced they will leave Medium and go elsewhere. FSR decided to go back to WordPress while Bill Simmons’ The Ringer has opted to seek hosting and ad sales help from Vox Media.

Lots of headlines were generated as various sites talked about how and why they were choosing Medium and the future of that site seemed to be bright. But the shift in focus this year has called it into question and the doubts are only growing with each new publisher that abandons it for greener (literally in terms of dollars) pastures.

As I’ve said many times before, this is just the latest in Medium’s seemingly endless lack of ability to answer the question of exactly what it is. There’s no doubt it’s a decent publishing platform, but it’s not as powerful as WordPress or other tools. The main attraction seems to be the network and how the site handles discovery, promising to surface content to interested readers in ways that WP and others don’t. But at the same time it’s tried to be the modern version of something like Time Inc., a company that has publications in its portfolio. It’s not quite that, though, since it doesn’t have the same oversight or editorial role.

If Medium won’t provide the kind of support for big-name publishers then the best bet it can make is to continue working to attract independent writers and bloggers. For that it will continue to make the same “we’ll show off your work to friends” pitch it’s been making for years.

In that sense it’s the very culmination of the “blogging is free” mindset that has been plaguing the online world since the early days of Web 2.0. Whereas staring a WordPress or other blog brings with it a number of design and other considerations (especially if you’re a brand looking to start a corporate blog), Medium is simple: Just sign up and start publishing. There are no look and feel factors to deal with.

The problem that’s unique to Medium, especially when compared to something like WordPress, is that you’re subject to Medium’s terms and conditions. Yes, that’s true on WP as well, but with WP’s open source commitment you’re pretty safe if Automattic, which manages it, should go under. WordPress will go on because it’s embedded in a large community. Barring a bigger change in strategy, if (or when) Medium goes under then that’s just it. You will likely be able to export your posts for usage elsewhere, but that network will be gone.

The Ringer, FSR and the other publications that are exiting Medium have found that a company that can’t decide between being a platform and a publisher is committed to no one who chooses either option. Medium once more faces a moment where it has to decide what it is and wants to be before any path forward can be taken.

Studios Embrace Celebration Days for Marketing

My latest on The Drum covers the recent trend of celebration days being used to promote upcoming releases, particularly big tentpole franchise movies:

Recently, though, those studio marketing teams have focused efforts on some sort of “Day” that helps to promote the movie as well. These events usually have a few things in common: They take place in or around Los Angeles, they’re streamed live on YouTube, Facebook or both, they involve some sort of big stunt involving the cast and activities for those who are watching from elsewhere around the world.

The idea is to celebrate the property that has a movie about to hit theaters. The studios want to turn the upcoming release into something so huge it must be celebrated. By doing so they hope to create fan buzz and excitement as well as entertainment industry press coverage, all of which combines to more awareness and, hopefully, interest for the movie being promoted. These “Days” are stunts just like those pulled off by countless consumer products brands over the years when they have, to much fanfare, bought William Shatner’s kidney stone, announced Barbie had broken up with Ken and many, many more.

Source: Making a ‘day’ of movie marketing efforts | The Drum

Movie Marketing Madness: Wonder Woman

She made a big impression in the less than 15 minutes of screentime she had in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice but now Wonder Woman is finally getting a feature film of her very own. This week’s new release is, of course, in the same “cinematic universe” as BvS and was teased in that movie, as Bruce Wayne’s path crossed with that of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) as they were both searching for a photo of her from World War I, though for different reasons.

Diana’s solo movie – the first solo movie for a female superhero from either DC or Marvel – takes us back to that era. It begins with her as a young girl, the daughter of Queen Hipolyta of Themyscira, a hidden island of women. Completely cut off from the world, one day a fighter pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Evans Pratt Pine) crashes near the island and tells Diana and the others of the war that’s raging and threatening to envelop the entire planet. Moved by a need to protect the innocent and punish the guilty, Diana agrees to take the unprecedented step of leaving the island and going out into the world of men.

The Posters

The first one-sheet was debuted on social media by Gadot and shows Wonder Woman in her classic garb. She’s standing in front of flames, as if she’s on a battlefield somewhere, sword in hand and lasso visible. “Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.” we’re told, offering character attributes to sell the audience on who she is. Overall it’s a solid first effort and simply the existence of bright colors tells us the movie will be set apart from her appearance in Batman v Superman, which was massively desaturated.

A series of promotional posters followed that and came out around the same time as the second trailer, showing Diana in various action shots, wielding her sword, shield or gauntlets in the middle of battle. Each one has a different descriptive term, either “Courage,” “Power” or “Wonder.” They’re amazing.

The next one kept up the usage of bright, sharp colors. This time Diana is shown taking a knee on a bright beach with a sunset providing the colors in the background. “Wonder” adorns this one as well.

Another poster – likely the theatrical version – has another action shot of Wonder Woman moving with sword in hand. This one, unlike the others, finally adds Steve Trevor to the campaign, which was inevitable with Pine in the role. More followed that again showed Diana in full action mode, one with her lasso whipping around her and another with her lifting a friggin’ tank over her head.

A triptych of IMAX posters showed off General Antiope, Diana and Queen Hippolyta, each placed in front of a golden background. These are incredibly striking.

The Trailers

The first trailer, which also debuted at Comic-Con, opens with Diana finding Trevor on the beach and being in awe of him simply because he’s a man. Her mother warns her to be careful as it becomes clear she’s following him back into the world. She explains she was created by Zeus and from there on out it’s a series of action sequences as she joins in to fight World War I.

It’s…well, it’s pretty great. Gadot looks like she absolutely owns the role, getting Diana’s grace and power down pat and presenting a funny movie as well. And the action looks amazing here, especially that shot of her turning aside a howitzer shell with her shield. It’s a great introduction to the character and a promise of a satisfying movie to come.

The second trailer starts out with Diana in the modern day before we flashback to WW I as she sees Trevor crash into the ocean around Paradise Island and saves him. After a tragedy she agrees to join him back to the world of man to help fight the war. That means everything from protecting him to taking on a room full of bad guys herself to storming out of a trench to take the fight to the enemy. There’s plenty of action on display here as Wonder Woman kicks all sorts of hinder to do what she feels is necessary.

It’s a good second effort that shows off the action and visuals of the movie as well as offering a bit more about the story and plot. If there’s a quibble here it’s with the amount of time Pine’s Steve Trevor gets. I get that he’s a big star these days, but this almost sells the movie as a story where they’re operating on equal levels, with the same attention paid to both characters. If that’s true that’s…problematic, particularly for the first solo female superhero movie.

The next trailer is even better than the first. it starts out with a young Diana being shown a sword she may never be worthy to wield before a montage of clips of her training and suddenly discovering a power she didn’t know she had. When she finds Trevor on the beach she’s exposed to and decides to get out into the real world where she becomes deeply involved in WW I, taking on armies and individuals and fighting for justice and all that is good. Far less of Trevor in this one, which is good.

The final trailer hits many of the same beats, as we see a young Diana being told that fighting isn’t what makes someone a hero. Her determination to do the right thing is shown in footage from her in battle, clearly having defied her mother’s wishes. She’s moved to join that battle in an effort to save the world from the evil that’s growing and so takes her weapons and sets out, though her introduction into society is a bit tricky.

Online and Social

The official website, built on Tumblr, opens by playing the final trailer, which you should absolutely watch again. Once you close that you see, as with the sites for other movies, it keeps the content menu along the very top. On the splash page, which features an action shot of Diana marching through a WWI battlefield, are prompts to Get Tickets, Watch Trailer, get info about the “Soundtrack” or explore some “Games and Features.”

That last section has a few things going on. First is a link to download the DC Legends mobile game. Then there’s Rise of the Warrior, a casual online 8-bit looking game that has you controlling Wonder Woman as she walks through battle. Finally, Show Your Warrior, which lets you design a set of gauntlets and then take or upload a picture to have your creations shared to the photo, which can then be shared elsewhere.

Back to the main site, “About the film” overemphasizes the mentions of all the cast and crew but only devotes a small amount of space to a story synopsis. After that is “The Art of Wonder,” which is devoted to fan art inspired by the movie specifically but also the character in genera, much of which is pulled from social media hashtags or a submission form here.

“Partners” includes information on the companies who have signed on to help promote the movie. There’s another link to the “Soundtrack” site and then links to the movie’s profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you scroll down the site you can see all the posts, including GIFs, videos and more, that have been published to the Tumblr blog.

Also on Facebook, Warner Bros. was one of the first to play around with the Camera Masks newly available there (similar to Snapchat Filters), this one allowing fans to place Wonder Woman’s tiara on their own heads.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV commercials started running a little over a month out from release that took various tacks toward presenting the movie. Some sold it as a straightforward action movie, some as a funnier action comedy, some played up the mythological story of her creation and some drew very explicit lines between this and the rest of the Justice League franchise characters. All featured, though, the character tearing through the kind of action we usually see only men tackle but also highlighted Diana’s heart and compassion.

DC and WB used the series premiere of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” to help promote the movie by airing a special immediately afterward that included the first look at footage from the movie along with new looks at Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Later help from the TV landscape came with a fun commercial featuring the cast of “Supergirl” that aired during that show a couple weeks out from the movie’s release.

DC also made sure Wonder Woman was the focal point of its Free Comic Book Day offerings, with both a reprint of the “Wonder Woman: Year One” kickoff issue and a DC Super Hero Girls story featuring the character. Later on DC announced “Wonder Woman Day” on June 3rd with events at retailers and other locations as well as online activities and two variant cover issues available for free at stores to hook readers on those books.

The final trailer was used as an ad on Twitter by both Nickelodeon and WB to show off an appearance by the cast (more on this below) during the Kid’s Choice Awards.

There was also, of course, a significant merchandising push as exclusive products were placed at Walmart, Hot Topic and elsewhere alongside the usual bevy of widely-available toys, apparel and more.

There were also plenty of promotional partners to help give the movie an extra boost:

  • Stewart-Hass Racing/NASCAR, where driver Danica Patrick has been driving a car decked out in Wonder Woman colors and themes for the last few weeks. That exposure led to it being, according to data from analytics technology firm Amobee, the brand most associated with the movie in the month or so leading up to release.
  • Cold Stone Creamery, which offered a couple movie-themed creations in stores.
  • Dr. Pepper, which created collector edition cans featuring Wonder Woman and ran quite a bit of online advertising in support of that effort.
  • National CineMedia, but the details are unclear.
  • Orville Redenbacher, which put trailers for the movie in the Blippar app along with popcorn recipes. It also had a site that let you take an augmented reality-powered selfie with Wonder Woman.
  • PayPal, which ran a giveaway for users along with the ability to send a Wonder Woman greeting card along with whatever money you’re transferring.
  • Pinkberry, which offered its own movie-themed frozen tasty treat.
  • ThinkThin, which offered co-branded packaging and supported that through on-site content and other efforts. That partnership caused some controversy and chin-wagging, though, since many questioned (rightfully) whether diet bars are a good partner for a character that’s often all about acceptance and empowerment, not changing who you are to please others.
  • Tyson, which offered Fandango-powered movie rewards when you purchased select items at Walmart.
  • Hot Topic, which offered an exclusive collection of apparel from Her Universe.

A number of other consumer brands, particularly apparel and fashion companies, also got in on the action to various degrees.

There was also a lot of online advertising done. Social media ads used the trailers, online banners used the key art and video advertising used the trailers and TV spots. Outdoor advertising used the key art. It was a significant spend.

Eventually the extent to which Warner Bros. was or wasn’t marketing the movie to the level it could came under examination with a post by Shana O’Neil at Blastr that called out a lack of advertising and apparent lackluster support in other areas from the studio. That led to a lot of conversations about the box office viability of a female superhero and had people (including myself) comparing the marketing to that of other DC/WB movies.

A few things happened after that. Not only was there another trailer released but the advertising portion of the campaign finally kicked off. Whether or not that was a reaction to this criticism or if the timing was purely coincidental is unclear, but there was at least a PR response, with stories like this being placed that pointed out the ad spending on Wonder Woman was higher at this point in the campaign than it was for Suicide Squad. That may have been true, but Squad benefitted from a lot of press coverage due especially to Jared Leto’s eccentric on-set antics.

Media and Publicity

The first bit of real publicity came when Gadot shared an official still of her in character on Twitter at the same time shooting was said to begin on the movie. A few months later the first real promotional image from the movie was released showing Diana, Hippolyta and other Amazons. It’s a pretty cool picture. Wonder Woman’s role in Batman v Superman gave the creative team on her solo movie a chance to talk about making that and what audiences could expect when it hit theaters almost a year later.

Shortly after that a CinemaCon presentation showed off footage and had execs talking about Diana’s place in the DC Cinematic Universe. And later on props and costumes, along with various planned consumer goods, were on display at the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas.

Just before Comic-Con, where the movie was announced as one of Warner Bros.’ theatrical offerings being highlighted, an official synopsis as well as some details on the story were released. That was met with some criticism because 1) The story was credited to Zack Snyder and 2) The credits included no women writers. Also just before SDCC there was a big feature in Entertainment Weekly that featured a raft of new stills, an interview with Gadot where she talked about the character, working with a female director and lots more.

At Comic-Con the movie was a big deal, of course, doing its own promotion and drafting off the overall celebration of Wonder Woman’s 75th anniversary. So it got a special EW cover for convention goers, a display of costumes from the movie at the DC Comics booth (which also hosted a cast appearance and signing), at big Hall H panel and more.

Unfortunately it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Not only did the movie’s image not benefit from the poor performance of Suicide Squad last year but it was included as part of an anonymous letter written by a former WB staffer who took the studio to task on multiple levels. As the writer railed against execs for rewarding failure and not knowing how to make or market a superhero movie to save their lives she also hinted that internal rumblings already pegged Wonder Woman as a mess. Jenkins came out quickly after that to deny such rumors, saying it was part of someone just wanting to stir things up for their own agenda.

The movie had a major presence at New York Comic-Con 2016, with costumes from the movie being displayed at the DC Comics booth there, a ceremony unveiling USPS stamps commemorating the character’s 75th anniversary, DC Collectibles showing off their movie statues and a panel devoted to the character featuring current talent on Wonder Woman titles and more.

DC co-pub Jim Lee drew a new picture of Wonder Woman for Variety’s “Power Women” issue that featured an interview with Gadot where she talked about taking on such an iconic role, DC Entertainment’s Diane Nelson talking about what made Gadot such a perfect choice for the role and more.

Wonder Woman was also named an honorary United Nations ambassador, largely due to her being a positive role model for young women around the world. Some people took issue with that on the grounds that her costume over-sexualized her and that was the wrong message to send, complaints that led the U.N. to drop her from that role just two months later.

A few press beats toward the end of 2016 kept things going, from a feature about how 2017 was going to be the character’s big year to the continued release of new stills showing off key moments from the movie and an interview with Jenkins. The final trailer debuted during the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards and was introduced by the whole cast along with a big group of singing and dancing extras dressed up like Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor.

Just a few months out from release Jenkins along with DC’s Geoff Johns appeared at WonderCon and brought footage to show off to fans in attendance there, footage that apparently went over very well.

EW’s summer movie preview issue contained a look at some concept art from production alongside comments from Johns and more information. A later EW cover story provided a last minute press push with Gadot talking about how of course Wonder Woman is a feminist, writer Allan Heinberg talking about the movie’s influences and more.

The campaign also made good use of Lynda Carter, the star of the 1970s “Wonder Woman” TV show. She showed up at all the panels, screenings and elsewhere to put her stamp of approval on the movie and talk about her history with the character, the way she’s always viewed Wonder Woman and much more

In the last month there have been interviews with just about everyone, from another feature on Gadot, comments from Robin Wright, Jenkins talking about the movie’s stylistic influences and how there aren’t really any deleted or missing scenes and lots more. The whole cast also did the talk show rounds, with Gadot showing up on “The Tonight Show,” “Conan,” “Ellen” and elsewhere. Pine, Wright and Nelson also did their fair share and the whole cast took over “Good Morning America” and made other early morning show appearances as well.


First off, let’s address the elephant in the room: It’s hard to argue that Warner Bros. hasn’t put its full efforts into promoting Wonder Woman, both through paid and earned media. There are some details you can take issue with and, again, it doesn’t have quite the scope of something like Suicide Squad but that’s largely because you don’t have 11 other characters to spread the spotlight across, nor do you have Jared Leto earning headlines with his borderline sociopathy.

I would go so far as to say Wonder Woman has received some of the studio’s best efforts or late. That’s especially true in the posters, all of which have been incredible. That element of the campaign more than anything else has presented a vibrant, inspirational hero that isn’t dark or depressing like Batman or, oddly, Superman. The trailers have been really good along those same lines as well, showing off the performance of Gadot, who nails both the action and the comedy.

Some parts of the campaign over-emphasize Pine, I think, though I understand you can’t cast an actor with his awareness and not put him in the trailers. Notably, though, the place he’s missing from the most is the poster aspect of the marketing.

Taken as a whole, the campaign has gotten just the kind of support across most channels that any other superhero movie, particularly one featuring a solo hero and not a full team, has received. Like I said there are some points where the counter-point could be successfully argued, but the big picture is one that shows the studio believes in the movie and is putting the money and effort into making it successful, not underplaying or trying to sabotage it.

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After the Campaign: The LEGO Batman Movie

When I reviewed the marketing campaign for The LEGO Batman Movie back in February I concluded that, despite whatever shortcomings the marketing might have, it was selling a fun movie. It was clear that the movie was going to be fast-paced, with rapid-fire jokes coming that would keep the audience engaged with the effects and the humor, even if the story itself wasn’t all that substantive. That is more or less exactly what the movie delivered.

The story, such as it is, follows Batman as he deals with just how amazing and awesome he is. As voiced by Will Arnett (who also pulled this duty for The LEGO Movie a couple years ago) he’s an egomaniac who refuses to partner with anyone and is convinced his way is always the right way. Through a series of circumstances revolving around his ongoing conflict with The Joker he winds up adopting a young boy and eventually begins to realize the power that comes with having friends, family and colleagues.

Really this is just the rough outline of a movie. There’s so little substance to the story it’s practically translucent. But it keeps moving so fast – literally, the camera movements look like it’s been attached to a ferret that’s running through a series of tubes – that it’s hard to catch up with just how ridiculous the whole endeavor is.

That’s not to say it’s not without charms. Arnett nails the character, which is a bit surprising as what worked well in small doses in The LEGO Movie could have quickly become annoying and over the top. And the jokes that play off previous incarnations of Batman as well as the character’s history in general all work.

Again, the main feature of the movie is that it keeps throwing new things at you, either visually or verbally. It’s designed for the shortest of short attention spans and keeps explaining things to the audience time and time again just in case you missed it the first seven or eight times. But it’s funny, with many genuine laughs that come from a clever script combined with Arnett’s spot-on delivery. There’s a lot here for fans of Batman in general and the LEGO franchise in particular.

Movie Marketing Madness: Band Aid

Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) have felt the spark go out of their marriage in the new movie Band Aid, also written and directed by Lister-Jones. They aren’t intimate with each other, find they don’t enjoy spending time with the other person and always seem to be on the verge of a fight. When they’re not fighting they’re just kind of tolerating each other and wind up making various passive-aggressive digs at their partner. They still love each other, but they can’t quite remember why.

One day Anna decides the therapy they need is to start a band. They’ll channel their aggression and fights into songs instead of letting it all creep out into their daily lives. With the help of Dave (Fred Armisen), a neighbor who plays drums, the band begins to come together and Anna and Ben find they’re enjoying each other’s company more than they have in a long while. It’s not all sunshine and roses, though, as the arrangement surfaces other problems lingering beneath the surface.

The Posters

The first and only poster looks – deliberately I’m guessing – like it could be a Talking Heads album cover. Disjointed blocks of color shade a photo of the three main characters, two of them holding instruments that hint that they’re part of a band. The movie’s attitude and humor are conveyed through the “Misery loves accompaniment” copy toward the bottom of the one-sheet.

The Trailers

We get insights into the relationship between Anna and Ben as the first trailer opens. Basically they have issues they’re trying to work on and aren’t feeling the passion, so Anna throws out the idea of starting a band as a way to channel their aggression. A neighbor joins them to play drums in the band and we see they are just sharing their fights on stage. The problems they face aren’t going to go away quickly, though, but they keep things going.

It looks funny and charming and the chemistry between Jones and Pally is great as they lob insights and passive aggressive commentary, along with some love, at each other. The trailer hints at but doesn’t promise a happy ending of sorts, though how accurate that turns out to be remains to be seen.

Online and Social

There’s not much to the official website IFC gave the movie. It’s just a single page that has a prompt to watch the trailer, a list of the cast and crew, a brief synopsis of the story and the poster to view and download. The studio did also give it some support on its own Twitter and Facebook pages.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here that I’m aware of.

Media and Publicity

The first bit of publicity came when it was announced the movie would have its official premiere at Sundance 2017. Some news kept coming out about how Lister-Jones hired an all-female crew to work on the movie, which kept positive sentiment going. A clip was released just before its Sundance debut and Lister-Jones spoke about making the movie and what it meant to have it play at the festival. IFC eventually picked the film up for distribution.

Jones talked about how she made the decision to finally direct a feature, what it was she was trying to convey with the story and how she worked to assemble and all-female production crew for the film. Lister-Jones also got a really nice profile that talked about her film history, her sitcom experience and her life trying to balance a love of music and a love of acting and writing.


There have been countless movies not just in the last few years but going back further than that chronicling the problems white people have and the problems white married people have in particular. It’s always about emotions and dealing with them and never feeling quite fulfilled by life. So on that count there’s not much original going on with this campaign, which shows it’s largely another exercise in showing otherwise comfortable people who expect every moment to be magical, otherwise they rage against the ennui.

The main selling point, then, is Lister-Jones. The campaign promises a unique sense of humor and story and that’s all from her. She’s the central focus of the campaign, from the trailers through the press and publicity, and it’s great to see a woman completely taking the reins like this. If you’re on board with that then you’ll be on board with the movie as a whole. The story looks sweet and, for all its issues, is a lot more original than most of what’s circulating around the indie film circuit these days.

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Advertisers Can’t Avoid Politics, Just Need to Ride it Out

PRWeek reports on the findings of a new study that seem to tell marketers to stay away from politics in their message crafting. According to the study, 58% of consumers say they dislike brands getting political with their ads another marketing efforts. The same study says that brands are more willing to speak out on societal and political topics because of the current environment, specifically since Pres. Trump’s inauguration this past January.

There are some numbers in the story about who is more or less likely to buy from a brand that takes a stand on various issues, from LGBTQ to abortion to immigration and everything else.

Those numbers bring into stark relief one glaring fact: Everything is, in some manner, political. While the (very bad) Pepsi ad from a couple months ago with Kendall Jenner solving racism with soft drinks was certainly an overt political statement, so too are Chipotle’s quirky animated videos, at least if you want them to be. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about adverting on racist or otherwise offensive videos and websites, which is a tacit endorsement of those messages, just as removing them from running there is an overt rejections of them. With explicit or implicit, those are still stances being taken.

But is is taking a political stance to include a bi-racial couple in your fast food chain ad? It it political to not? Is it political to just show a white cis male? Is it political if the actor is a trans woman but it’s not referenced in the copy or dialogue?

The reality is all of that is political. All media, including advertising and marketing, is a Rorschach Test that the entire audience projects their opinions and notions on to. Big flashy missteps like Pepsi’s will come to the attention of masses of people. But there are countless other instances where an ad will come under fire because it goes too far in advancing one agenda or not advancing another far enough. If you doubt this, you’re invited to visit the YouTube comments section for roughly any TV commercial. It’s a cesspool of people who believe the inclusion of a bi-racial couple is leading to the downfall of Christian America or who believe that because it was a heterosexual couple it’s not progressive enough.

That means it’s a no-win situation for brand marketers. In this day and age every stance is a political one. There’s no neutral ground. The best you can hope for is to stay on-message and sell your products or make your pitch as effectively as you can while trying to walk a tightrope that’s moving, invisible, and impossible to feel under your feet. You’ll never appease or appeal to everyone or address a truly all-inclusive point of view. All you can hope is to eventually be seen as being on the right side of cultural history and not infect too much repetitional damage along the way.

MMM Recap: Baywatch, Pirates of the Caribbean, War Machine


There’s some good stuff here. The trailers are fairly funny and sell a movie that is just the sort of action comedy that audiences seem to be looking for in recent years. The plot isn’t super-important and is used sparingly, just as an occasional hook to explain why Johnson and Efron are dressing in drag, why they’re chasing people across the beach and so on. The focus is instead on those two leads and the clashing dynamic between them along with in-jokes for anyone who may have watched the original series or who knows it through subsequent pop culture references.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Putting all that aside, as difficult as it may be, the movie being sold here is basically the same one that’s been sold to us three times previously. But Chris, you’re asking, this is the fifth movie? Yeah, I know. But the marketing of the original was so genuinely unexpected and fun that I’m only really considering the campaigns for the increasingly bloated and ridiculously conceived sequels. This sells more of the same, just a thrill ride with some amusing characters that has more ludicrous twists and turns than a drunk riding a scooter through the Alps. The campaign sells a good time at the theater, but it also hints at a mess that takes itself far too seriously even while it asks the audience to laugh at the goings-on.

War Machine

This looks like it could be pretty fun. The campaign as a whole sets the movie up as a satire based on recent events in the vein of Wag The Dog and other stories that throw shade at the combination of politics and the military. That’s not to say war is funny – that’s not the point of the marketing here – but it wants to weigh in on the absurdity of not just war in general but also the specific war America has been fighting for going on two decades with no end in sight.

Flashback MMM: Star Wars

I wasn’t planning to write about Star Wars this week. There was another movie I had in mind to jump back and take a look back at the movie for and I had an angle in mind and everything. But over the last week I’ve seen so much celebration of this being the 40th anniversary of Star Wars – now officially referred to as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – that the pull to go back and revisit this classic that’s defined much of my life proved too great to resist.

Yes, as I said, it’s been 40 years since the first Star Wars movie was released in theaters. I won’t waste time or space recapping how the movie was just kind of a middling sci-fi title before it came out. And I don’t need to rehash the plot about a farm boy that is drawn into a larger world of mystery, magic and rebellion on the path to embracing his destiny. We all know what the movie is about and why it’s become such a cultural touchstone, despite (or because of) its B-movie origins.

The challenge in looking back at portions of the marketing for this 1977 classic is that I’ve watched it roughly 5,392 times over the last 40 years. The first time, according to my parents, was when they took me to the York Theater in Elmhurst, IL (then a single-screen second-run house) when I was just a few years old. Because I wasn’t even two when it first came out, I’ve always assumed that screening came during one of its releases in subsequent years, either ’78 or ’79. Since then I’ve seen it on VHS (it was my go-to movie on days when I was home sick from school) and recently on DVD, as well as when it came back to theaters 20 years ago in Special Edition form.

That means it’s hard to judge the trailers and other components objectively. I love this movie. It’s part of my DNA. I’ve explored the Expanded Universe (New and Original Formulas) in depth. But I will make an effort for my art.

Luke and Leia Like You’ll Never See Them Again

The poster, specifically the A poster that we all know and love, is a wonderful bit of artwork from the Brothers Hildebrandt that captures the spirit of the movie even if it makes a couple choices that in retrospect are questionable. It sports the famous “triangle” design that pairs Luke and Leia, he standing defiantly at the top of a rock, his hands over his head holding a lightsaber that’s flaring in all directions. Leia is just off to his side, looking voluptuous and holding a blaster as her space gown blows in the wind. The design decides to up the “superhero” angle showing his bulging chest muscles through his open tunic and she’s very sexualized in her own way with a low-cut outfit that also shows plenty of leg. The droids are off to the side, though as recently pointed out they were a late addition by comic artist Nick Cardy and weren’t part of the original design.

Looming in the background is Vader, who as we’ll see wasn’t an otherwise big part of the marketing, but who here is shown as an evil presence that is seeing everything. That’s a very mysterious image, with his shiny black visage personifying darkness and danger. The Death Star is in the upper left, a swarm of starfighters racing toward it, an image that hints at the rebellious conflict that forms the crux of the conflict faced by the characters. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” is in the corner, copy that would set up the entire universe and become perhaps the most well-known marketing copy in the history of movies. It also serves here to tell audiences that this isn’t a futuristic story like Logan’s Run or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but a “historical” story that is set in the past of some other culture, not our own future.

A Billion Years in the Making

The teaser begins by promising this is a story that may be happening right now elsewhere in the universe. It name-drops director George Lucas and ties him to American Graffiti, before beginning to divulge some of the story and settings. We’re told that this is an adventure involving a boy, a girl and a universe and that it’s a “sprawling space saga or rebellion and romance.” There are shots of many of the exotic aliens and other characters that audiences would encounter in theaters ranging from Tusken Raiders to the inhabitants of the Mos Eisley cantina. Along the way, we’re also shown droids, laser swords and more that make it clear a whole world has been created that’s unlike anything else.

The trailer lays out the story in a bit more linear fashion. It introduces us to Luke Skywalker, a humble young man who’s about to have his world turned upside down, along with Han, Leia, Ben and the rest of the main cast. It’s short but is heavy on laser blasts, space battles and other adventures.

Looking at both of the trailers, they’re not trying to set up what we now call an expanded universe or mythology. It’s simply selling an epic space adventure. There are no references to The Force – though that would get more play in the theatrical re-release trailer – or anything else that would make this more magical. There isn’t even much screen time given to Darth Vader, the character that would inspire countless Halloween costumes and help convince George McFly to talk to Elaine. It’s…subtle. Subdued. The movie is certainly big, but it’s sold as being more focused on the personal adventures of the main character of Han, Leia and Luke than anything else.

Taking off my “let’s pretend I haven’t watched this movie so much I wore out two VHS copies” hat, it’s amazing how the campaign undersells some of the key points that have made this movie so memorable. There’s so very little dialogue, and while the was never the movie’s strongest point there are so many classic lines that have been repeated endlessly over the last 40 years it’s surprising to see that that missing. As I said, Vader is a big missing presence from much of the campaign. And The Force is almost completely absent.

What was sold was…kind of the movie Lucas set out to make. It’s positioned here as a matinee adventure in the vein of Flash Gordon and other old outer space tales, without much that nods to any aspirations to cinematic greatness or, as I said, any hints as to there being more to the story than what’s on display here. This campaign, coupled with the publicity and eventual word of mouth that came out of a release that saw it open on just 32 screens opening weekend, obviously worked, positioning Star Wars as a must-see for everyone, regardless of age, gender or other differences.

Movie Marketing Madness: War Machine

Political satire comes to Netflix with this week’s new release War Machine. Brad Pitt stars as Gen. Glen McMahon, a thinly-veiled version of the real-life Gen. Stanley McChrystal. McMahon is the latest in a series of generals tasked with managing the seemingly never-ending war in Afghanistan, sent there to win the conflict and protect those in the country.

The reality is, though, that expectations are all over the place. He wants to win, but is unclear about what winning looks like exactly. Politicians are tired of dealing with this albatross and bureaucrats just want the damn thing managed and closed out quietly. While McMahon has a can-do spirit and lots of enthusiasm, he doesn’t have the tools or the resources necessary to affect change. And the efforts of an investigative journalist may just bring his whole career, not to mention his efforts in-country, crashing down.

The Posters

The poster – yes, Netflix created one – has Pitt at the front of a group of soldiers, he and them all decked out in camo uniforms. Everyone’s got kind of a befuddled or goofy look on their face or is in a silly pose, helping to sell this as a comedy. “We’re gonna liberate the sh** out of you” reads the copy at the top, reinforcing the darkly humorous attitude of the movie.

The Trailers

The first trailer clearly establishes this as a dark comedy, showing everyone questioning an unseen military official in various ways and for various reasons. Some soldiers talk about the troubles they’re having until finally we meet McChrystal and his cavalier attitude about things.

The second trailer is a little less obtuse, starting off with McMahon giving a speech to the troops about how you can’t kill the very population they’re meant to protect. But when we start flashing back to his being recruited for the job we see he’s just seen as a banner holder, someone to finally get the U.S. out of Afghanistan without any further delay. Others, though, just want it done whatever the end result.

This still looks like a darkly comic take on America’s longest running war. Pitt looks pretty funny and it almost reminds me of the kind of satire that used to be regularly featured in HBO’s original films of the late 80s/early 90s. That’s a compliment.

The second trailer shows Gen. McMahon’s attitude and approach to superiors as he feigns connection issues to get out of a conversation with the Vice President. We again are told he’s there to win, not just to manage the chaos. His soldiers tell him about the problems they have with the locals and his own approach is sometimes a bit clueless and brash. The overall message here is even more clearly that this is a dark comedy about a war that’s being mishandled by people who don’t know what the goal is, much less how to achieve it, and that the generals in charge are being put in an impossible situation.

Online and Social

Still no website here. The movie got limited support, mostly around the release of new trailers, on Netflix’s social accounts but didn’t get profiles of its own.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here either.

Media and Publicity

A first-look photo appeared in EW’s summer movie preview along with comments promising a crazy story.

The movie was pegged as one of those that’s representative of the new crop of movies that present war as being both darkly funny and deeply poignant. With so many ethical and procedural boundaries constantly being crossed or questioned, and with America still fighting wars it began 15 or more years ago, it’s only natural that these movies change tone from what we saw 30 years or more in the past.


This looks like it could be pretty fun. The campaign as a whole sets the movie up as a satire based on recent events in the vein of Wag The Dog and other stories that throw shade at the combination of politics and the military. That’s not to say war is funny – that’s not the point of the marketing here – but it wants to weigh in on the absurdity of not just war in general but also the specific war America has been fighting for going on two decades with no end in sight.

Notable is Pitt, who’s a big name for a Netflix original movie. That’s likely why this movie, unlike other releases from the service, has received a relatively large campaign with three trailers and a poster. For Netflix, that’s huge. And Pitt’s performance is at the center of it. I’ve always liked the actor when he disappears fully into a character and this seems to be an example of that. He plays the general straight, letting the dialogue and situations get the laughs while he’s taking it seriously. That performance, even more than the story, makes up the largest value proposition for the audience.

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Can Success Simply Be Seeing Your Ideas Still In Use?

There have been many moments in the last year that I haven’t exactly felt like a success. It’s hard for me to do any sort of self-examination lately and think “Yeah, this is going great and I’m at the top of my game.” That’s not to say that I’m not generally positive about how things are working out – I still haven’t found a full-time position but am getting more and more interesting freelance projects – but when I think about the word “success” it doesn’t feel applicable in the moment.

That’s largely because if you’re using the yardstick for that term that was in place when I was being raised, I’m nowhere near the top. When I was a kid people like my parents, grandparents and most of the adults I knew worked for the same company for 30+ years, the husbands/fathers provided most if not all of the income and supported their families in a comfortable lifestyle. Work meant a job meant you were a success, even if you weren’t a high-powered executive.

I thought, in my previous job, that I was somewhat successful. The programs I was running went well and I had a seat at most of the tables I was interested in within the company. Mainly my success was measured by the clients I was handling. I never wanted, in the moment, to take credit for what I was doing. If the programs I managed were successful and going well, I considered that successful. Losing a client or, ultimately, being let go from the company felt like the opposite of success.

Recently I was looking at the social media accounts for a client I haven’t worked with in almost a year and a half. The company had decided to search for a new agency partner and evaluate options, not because of problems with my or the team’s work but just because they wanted to get some new perspectives and see what’s out there. That hit me hard and served up a sizable blow to my ego, despite the decision to part ways being mostly mutual. I worried that it was a referendum on my work, that the paths I had helped lead them down over four-plus years were being questioned and that they regretted working with me in the first place. Yes, this was taking it a bit over-the-top, but that’s how my brain works.

When I was taking a look at those accounts I saw some things that were obviously being done differently than what I and my team had been executing. I saw tactics I did and didn’t like and could divine a shift in priorities and direction. Some made sense, some didn’t, but I’m not privy to the current mindset and strategy and so will assume what they’re doing now makes sense at this moment.

There were other tactics and ideas, though, that were still in place from my tenure. Those obviously still worked and were resonating with the audience. And I realized that a little bit of me, a small part of my thinking, is still in there. I made an impact. Those were good ideas that have stood the test of time and survived changes in strategy and prioritization. Not everything I’d done or proposed had been tossed aside. I’d done something that lasted. It was doubly satisfying because at least one of those tactics still in use was something I’d just kind of started doing, without lots of strategic meetings and Powerpoint presentations. I’d just done something I thought was fun and unique and there it is, five years after I first did it and a year-and-a-half since I last managed the program.

That’s counting as a win today. It may be as small as a hashtag or the way certain types of posts have consistent, evergreen slots in an editorial calendar, but it is, in some manner, my legacy. When I look at that and other efforts I can find some solace in the persistence of those executions and, even if no one else cares, point to it as a success.