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Movie Marketing Madness: Alien: Covenant

A couple years ago Prometheus sought to resurrect the world of Alien but did so by serving as a prequel to the story we’ve known so well for the last 40 or so years. It also took a very different approach to the story, seeking to document humanity’s first contact with the deadly Xenomorphs, but only as a consequence of their search for the species that created humanity to begin with. It was less a sci-fi action movie than it was a philosophical think-piece on what it means to be human that contained random fragments of story that tied it to the Alien movies that have become part of genre and cinematica canon.

The somewhat sly approach 20th Century Fox took in selling Prometheus is thrown out the window for this week’s Alien: Covenant, beginning with the fact that the name “Alien” actually appears in the title. That makes it much more overtly part of the franchise because it’s labeled as such for all to see. The story picks up years after the events of Prometheus as the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship that’s tasked with setting up a human outpost on a faraway planet. What they find, though, are the remnants of the previous story and the dangers that were uncovered then and will now cause problems for a whole new group of explorers.

The Posters

The first poster boiled things down to the most simple element, with the half-hidden face of an alien appearing out of the darkness and the direction to “Run” as the only copy outside of the date. It gets the message across that the franchise is back, which is all it needs to do.

The next tells the audience to “Hide” with an image of an alien egg that’s clearly designed to evoke memories of the poster for the 1979 original film. Anyone who’s seen Prometheus will recognize this egg as just one from the hive that was discovered in that movie, so it’s working hard to create connective material.

The next ups the creepiness factor, showing something akin to a relief sculpture that depicts an attack on the engineers seen in Prometheus by the xenomorphs, the latter smothering and hugging the faces of the former. It’s dramatic and stark. Two more showed grainy images of someone being attacked, with one saying “Hide” and another “Scream.”

The Trailers

The first red-band trailer opens up with someone running through a ship and someone not being let out of a room because it will let the infection out, at which point we see an alien cutting through someone’s back. Cut to David from Prometheus and a group of others on a ship traveling to and landing on a forbidding plant where they don’t know what to expect. Soon the facehugger start jumping, ships start exploding and the screaming begins.

That’s about it. There are nods to the story of Prometheus here and there but what the trailer is clearly selling is the connective material between that movie and the classic Alien franchise. It’s trying to match the tone of the former while setting up the story of the latter and it looks scary and interesting and I’m on board.

The official trailer starts off with a shot of a happy crew on its way into space. The idea that this is a colonization mission made up of couples is explained and the ship arrives on the distant planet but questions quickly crop up. We see a ship that looks just like the one that escaped the carnage in Prometheus and the team discovers the alien eggs, which is when the carnage starts. From there on out it’s lots of running and shooting and trying not to die as the xenomorphs do their best to take out everyone.

It’s tight and fun. Most of all, I’m struck by how it isn’t *just* about the visuals of the movie but works hard to explain the story to the audience. Again, there’s work being done to connect all the previous movies to each other while also selling something that will be a thrill ride in and of itself. It’s clearly, based on what’s on display here, more of a straightforward action story and less of a cultural drama than Prometheus was.

Online and Social

There’s a cropped version of the final key art at the top of the official website, showing the engineers and xenomorphs locked in struggle in that stark black-and-white image. Below that we get the usual Fox stripe of prompts to watch the trailer or get tickets along with links to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Below that the first section of actual content is “Videos” which is where you can watch the trailers as well as many of the promotional videos that were released over the course of the last few months inducing clips and more. “About” just has a short synopsis along with the cast and crew list.

Some of the key art can be found in the “Posters” section, after which you can sign up for email updates. The site pretty much ends with “Social Updates” that are pulled from Twitter and elsewhere and more links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

https://www.alienuniverse.com/

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

A series of three TV spots debuted first that were differently themed but which all presented short takes on the story, asking fans to either run, hide or pray and giving different approaches to selling the action and the overall look and feel. More TV spots like this one start out by selling a pretty peaceful time being had before the hunting and attacking begins.

To celebrate the overall Alien franchise Fox again announced plans to mark Alien Day on 4/26 with a live stream of happenings involving cast members and others from the Fox lot along with various activities and calls to action for fans looking to participate. The Alien Universe site was part of that, acting as a hub for Alien Day activities and more.

As with other recent big-screen sci-fi movies, there was a virtual reality experience created. This one, dubbed “In Utero” promised not just to be an advertising stunt but as a wholly unique media opportunity as it took Oculus users inside the bloodstream of a human being, putting them in the place of a Xenomorph spore that’s infecting its host before bursting forth.

  • AMD, which launched a campaign dubbed “Meet Walter” that played out like it was really introducing us to a new product that would be available soon. So the website prompted you to reserve your model today and offers more information about the latest version. There’s also a video that shows Walter being created in, again, a video that’s akin to other product introduction videos and a poster designed to look like a magazine ad of sorts.
  • Audi, which created a short video showing how its lunar quattro was an important part of the crew’s mission. That took viewers to a page with even more information on the vehicle, which has a future as part of an actual planned mission to the moon.
  • Reebok, which created the “Alien Stomper” shoe and ran some ads to promote them, using a classic line from Aliens to do so.

Outdoor and online ads were also in plentiful supply that used elements of the key art to sell this as an Alien franchise entry. Trailers and other videos were used for social ads as well.

Media and Publicity

The movie went through a couple different name changes well in advance of release as

Well before the movie had even begun promotion Scott was making statements about how this series wouldn’t actually get directly to the Alien series of movies for another few installments yet. Scott would keep talking and spilling various plot details, offering tidbits about what the audience could expect.

The movie would go through a number of name changes as various branding was bandied about including both Alien and Prometheus titles. Eventually the final name was settled on at the same time a synopsis was released that spilled some of the story’s details. Scott would keep talking, including statements that this was definitely the first installment in a new trilogy.

Lots of press was generated when a first look still was shared on the Alien franchise’s Facebook page, a steady stream of which would follow. Fassbender later made comments about how this was going to be much scarier than Prometheus while retaining that movie’s scope. The first official still came via EW’s 2017 preview and showed Fassbender’s robot at the piano, which only added to the mystery of the story.

The official marketing really kicked off with a quick one-two punch release of a cast photo and a four-minute prologue showing the cast getting ready for cryo-sleep by throwing one last party before they drift off. Later on another prologue dubbed “The Crossing” showed what happened to the survivors at the end of Prometheus and where they went next to help keep connecting the two movies.

Scott and some of the cast showed up at SXSW to show off about 20 minutes of the movie, talking about the story and setting the expectation that it upends much of the Alien mythology as fans have known it for almost 40 years. A bit later on a series of “crew messages” like this one were released to help people get to know the characters a bit better and in some cases give us further glimpses at previously-unseen footage. Further first-look images also kept hitting to offer fresh opportunities for buzz and commentary.

In terms of press, duties were fulfilled by stars Danny McBride, Michael Fassbender and others as well as director Ridley Scott, mostly talking about being part of the Alien franchise, working on a movie as high-stakes as this and more.

Overall

As I alluded to in the opening, the major thing this movie has going for it is that it’s being sold clearly and specifically as an entry in the Alien franchise. While it was openly acknowledged during the marketing of Prometheus that yes, it was a prequel to the 1979 original, that it wasn’t in the title may have caused some marketplace confusion. That movie didn’t do poorly at the box-office or with critics, but it could have done better, and the inclusion of “Alien” in front of a syntactical-descriptive colon.

The movie actually being sold in the campaign is…yeah, it’s an Alien movie. It looks like it, it feels like it and there are plenty of xenomorphs running around and bursting out of chests to remind you that’s what’s happening here. There’s a deliberate effort here to walk the line between the overly-existential story of Prometheus and the more straight-forward action and terror of the older movies in the series that I think works well. That action and terror comes to the forefront the deeper you get into the marketing. It might not completely work to convert skeptics turned off by the last movie, but it works hard to do so.

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