2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was considered a big bet for Marvel, potentially the first substantial under-performing entry in the Cinematic Universe the company had built since 2008. That was largely because it was being put together with a far less serious tone than other movies, thanks largely to the casting of Chris Pratt in the starring role as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, a human who travels through space with his pirate friends, and the hiring of James Gunn to direct. Gunn had a reputation as a darkly funny writer/director and the combination was meant to bring a lighter tone to Marvel’s first movie not set on Earth.

Needless to say the movie was a big hit and now we’re here on the cusp of the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2., the name a play on the soundtrack that was a big part of the appeal of the first movie. The story catches up with Star-Lord and the team that was assembled in the first movie, including Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Details aren’t super-important, but the team continues to get into one adventure after another, this time in the process of trying to find Peter’s mysterious father. Wackiness ensues as they try to save the universe in their own dysfunctional way.

The Posters

The teaser poster is…well…it’s kind of awesome. A black-and-white shot that looks like it could be for a Gap jeans ad, it has all the main characters just kind of chillaxing against a wall, looking like they’re hanging out and waiting for Aerosmith tickets to go on sale. It’s cool, it’s stylish and it makes a great first impression.

A fun one-sheet followed the release of the first official trailer. It looks like a cassette carrier, the kind of thing people of my generation used to have in their car to bring along music to listen to. One each box spine is the name of one of the characters, with the actor’s name on the left hand side. Curiously, Kurt Russell’s tape is in backwards, meaning we don’t see the name of the character he’s playing. That’s kind of cool. Finally, just to remind everyone he’s in the movie, Baby Groot is popping out of the lower left corner.

The theatrical poster is insane and great. It’s bright and colorful, showing all the characters (in order of priority of course) in various battle poses and a massive wormhole or something in the background. That’s all there is to it and it’s amazing.

An IMAX poster gave almost everyone a purple hue, assembling the cast in the middle with a massive light source behind them, the whole thing being held up by Baby Groot, of course.

A series of color-coded posters featured individual shots of the whole cast and kind of looked like game cards a la Magic: The Gathering or other series.

The Trailers

The first teaser starts off with some familiar sounding tunes playing as we see shots of Gamorra running through some forest planet, Star-Lord flying the ship and more. Eventually we see Peter and Drax sharing a bonding moment that ends awkwardly before the title treatment pops up. But it ends with a shot of Rocket and Baby Groot looking like they’re still up to no good.

It’s a good first effort that got everyone talking. It’s notable that this wasn’t actually presented as an official trailer but was posted by James Gunn as something to tide fans over until the first trailer was released.

When the first teaser trailer did debut, after Gunn made comments about the expectations he felt he had to live up to, it was clear the studio knew what people loved about the first movie. So save for a bit of a montage of clips it opens with a scene between Rocket and Baby Groot that’s pretty funny and which comes back to play later on. After that it’s all about big, epic space action, with Drax stabbing an alien, Star Lord piloting a ship and so on. It all ends by introducing Mantis as she reveals something very embarrassing bout two members of the team.

It’s pretty great. Like I said, the studio is playing up the elements of the first movie the audience reacted to most strongly. There’s even another shot of Rocket and Groot machine-gunning a room of bad guys, this time with Groot on Rocket’s shoulder. It’s funny, it’s action-packed and it works. That teaser quickly became the most popular trailer on YouTube.

I could try to describe what’s going on in the first official trailer, which debuted during “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” but that would be more or less pointless. We see all the characters going on crazy missions, cracking wise and saving the universe. There’s something about a group that wants to purge fear from the universe or some such but that’s secondary to the mayhem the heroes are involved in and their constant bickering. It all ends, though, with the reveal of Peter’s father emerging from his own ship.

The insanity is definitely amped up here since the story doesn’t have to waste time on character introductions and team-building. It’s insane and promises the audience more of that they loved the first time out.

Online and Social

The official website opens with a recreation of that wild, brightly colored key art. There are links to Marvel Studios’ social profiles over in the upper right corner and the content menu is on the right, presented as cassette case spines in the same way that another bit of poster art showed the character names.

First is “Get Tickets,” which is exactly what you think it is. After that “Story” provides a *very* brief synopsis of the plot that basically boils down to “Yes, all the characters are here.” along with the usual list of cast, producers and others involved.

“Cast and Characters” offers little bios of each character to remind you who they are and what their motivations might be. All the trailers as well as a few other spots are in the “Videos” section if you want to watch any of those again, which is recommended. A handful of still as well as a few of the posters are found in the “Photos” section and it ends with “Partners,” listing the companies who are engaging in promotions of their own.

Even though they’re not linked to on the site, the movie also has Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles.

The movie as also one of the launch partners for Facebook’s new camera masks, which allow users to add some movie-themed element to their photos in the same way Snapchat filers work.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first paid ad for the movie was a Super Bowl commercial that featured all the big outer-space adventure audiences were sure to expect from the movie. it also fully introduced Mantis to the team and contained lots of laughs. More TV spots followed shortly thereafter, many of them also receiving paid promotion on Twitter and Facebook.

When it came to cross-promotional partners there were:

  • M&Ms, which created co-branded ads featuring their popular character as well as a call-to-action to see the movie in theaters. It, along with sister brand Skittles, also ran a sweeps that awarded winners movie cash that could be used on tickets.
  • Dairy Queen, which also launched co-branded ads that promoted its new “Awesome Mix Blizzard” which was tied to the movie.
  • Doritos, which offered packaging that was not only movie-branded but also an actual music player that had a few of the songs from the soundtrack.
  • Ford, which produced movie-themed ads promoting their EcoSport model that featured, of course, Groot. There was also a limited-run comic featuring all the characters that was “presented by” the car company.
  • Geico, which had Groot and the Gecko team up in an ad to talk about how they each save things, by it money or the galaxy.
  • Yoplait, which supported their co-branded packaging with ads that had kids calling out which character they wanted to be.
  • Hanes, which created co-branded ads that promoted its FreshIQ underwear technology as being essential to keeping your cool while saving the galaxy.
  • Synchrony Bank, though nothing about this can be found on the bank’s website.
  • Screen Vision Media, not for anything specific but I’m sure GotGV2 ads were a big part of the company’s pre-show entertainment.
  • Tour Georgia, again not for anything specific but as part of the state’s overall attempt to use its status as Marvel’s favorite filming location to lure more tourism dollars.

Of course it also got some help from corporate parent Disney, which redesigned one of its theme park rides to be movie-themed.

Online ads were pervasive, either using the key art or video clips depending on the outlet. Those were seen on random websites, social platforms, YouTube and elsewhere.

Media and Publicity

Outside of set reports and cast updates, the first real publicity-type news was official confirmation that the movie would have a presence at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. That included a big panel in Hall H with the cast that revealed lots of fun details, including Russell’s role, showed some new footage and generally had fun with the audience in keeping with the movie’s spirit.

Gunn kept talking from time to time about the movie, how much more freedom he had on this one compared to the first and other related topics. And he was interviewed as to why he was the best person to take on this material, what role he plays in the marketing of his movies and more.

As with the first movie, there was plenty of press around the movie’s soundtrack, something Gunn said he was intimidated over putting together. And he kept being a focal point of the publicity as he continued talking about how he approached the story, how much personal investment he has in the series and more.

Pratt, Rooker and the rest of the cast made the talk show rounds plenty, both to debut trailers early in the marketing cycle and in the last week or so leading up to release.

Overall

There aren’t a whole lot of surprises in the campaign, which is to be expected. The core message here is that, as is the case with many sequels, the things you liked most about the first movie (the soundtrack, Groot, Drax’s blunt style) are back and better than ever. Baby Groot is front and center throughout the marketing, especially in terms of the cross-promotions from corporate partners, promising to provide a fair amount of comic relief to the story and providing a nice non-human face for the campaign. Basically if you’re not on board with Baby Groot hijinks you probably won’t enjoy the movie very much. I don’t think that will be a problem, though.

For all the talk of spoilers – Gunn himself came out the other day and told people to not worry about them, everyone will still enjoy the movie – there’s precious little in the marketing about the story. There’s just the ill-defined golden alien army that the team finds itself up against and the search for and encounter with Peter’s father but that’s about it. What motivates that alien army? What’s gone into the search for the missing dad? None of that matters here because the studio believes you’ll be more enticed to come back by visuals of Drax jumping at a massive alien, Gamora firing a massive shoulder-mounted rifle and more.

It’s hard to argue with that strategy. The balance being sought is between comedy and action to sell it as a worthy companion to the first movie. If you feel like you’ve already seen this second installment that’s a feature of the campaign, not a bug. While the dynamic between the characters might be more evolved than it was in the trailers and other marketing of the first movie, you should feel that it’s as familiar and predictable a good time for you and your family as slipping in the DVD/Blu-ray of the 2014 movie.

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