There was a running joke on “Friends” which had Joey and Chandler enjoying “Baywatch” at its most basic level: The lifeguards running along the beach. Even when they weren’t living in the same apartment, it was appointment television and “always keep them running” was the advice they had for the show. That was a key part of the show’s appeal along with ridiculous plots and…no, that’s about it.
Now that low-premise syndicated hallmark of the late-80s and early-90s is back and on the big screen in, of course, Baywatch. Dwayne Johnson stars as Mitch Buchannon, the head of a premiere lifeguard team in Miami. To raise the team’s profile, the higher-ups bring in a former Olympian with lots of mass appeal named Matt Brody. The two have very different approaches and styles. They find they have to work together when they, along with the rest of the team, uncover a massive criminal organization that’s angling to expand into the bay and decide to stop them when the police can’t.
The first posters for the movie were a series of character-centric ones that showed the cast in their swimwear but wearing winter clothing as well while standing in a wintry scene. In case you were wondering if sexism was still alive, the guys get jackets but the women just get boots and maybe a stocking cap. Can’t have anything hiding their figures, after all. The copy that appears along with them reads “Don’t worry, Summer is coming.” Those were also released as motion posters.
A series of theatrical posters came later that all used variations on a theme, putting Johnson and Efron in the forefront and the rest of the cast, or at least Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach, who play Summer and CJ respectively, in the background. One also includes Priyanka Chopra, who’s become more well known because of her role on “Quantico,” which is a nice addition.
All of these make the same basic value proposition, that the movie is all about sand and surf and the personality conflict between Johnson and Efron.
The first trailer, teased ahead of its release of course, is actually kind of fun. Mitch starts out by narrating how his rescue team is the best of the best and we see him in action along with some of the brand’s iconic “slow motion running” sequences. We find out the department is in trouble an so brings in a celebrity to raise its profile. Brody’s style conflicts with Mitch’s, leading to tension between the two. They eventually find evidence of large-scale criminal activity on the beach and so have to work together to investigate and bring the operation down.
It’s pretty funny. The studio is selling it, at least here, as being in the same comedic vein as something like 21 Jump Street but it works. Johnson and Efron play well off each other, with lots of jokes about their differing approaches to things. And I’m sorry but the last gag about Brody not being able to take offense at “you people” is maybe the funniest line reading I’ve seen in quite a while.
The next trailer starts off with a sense of how tied the Baywatch team is to the beach they protect. Matt Brody is brought on to provide a PR bump for the fading brand, but he’s as reluctant to work with them as they are with him. Eventually a crisis on the beach means they have to investigate illegal activity, which leads them to go undercover, hide in a morgue and get into further shenanigans.
It’s just as goofy and fun as the first trailer, continuing to highlight the tension between Johnson and Efron. There are different hijinks on display here and the fact that it ha some cut-off curse words wants to give it a bit of an edge. Ultimately, though, it comes down to the interplay between the two stars, particularly the touchy and out-of-his element Olympics athlete who doesn’t really think a bunch of lifeguards should be investigating crimes.
A final red-band trailer came out just weeks before release that’s super-light on story, setting up the bare minimum of character sketches, and instead focused solely on the comedy and action the movie is promising audiences. Because it’s a restricted trailer that involves lots of cursing and sex jokes.
Online and Social
The official website opens with one of the trailers in a pop-up, which you can close or watch as you see fit. The only material that appears on the front page are prompts to watch the trailer again and get tickets along with links to the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles for the movie. There’s also a big button over in the top left for “Partners” that lets you find out which companies got involved in the marketing effort.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV advertising kicked off with a Super Bowl spot that featured some of the same gags as the first trailer and basically was meant to show audiences that this is a humorous take on the brand. Further TV ads took the same basic approach, showing off the cast and the conflict between those who want to protect the beach and those who just want to be a lifeguard.
Outdoor billboard ads used the same character poster art and “Summer is coming” copy.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
- UnderArmour, which created a whole line of movie-inspired activewear.
- Mastercraft, which offered free movie tickets.
- TipsyElves, which had its own movie-themed swimwear.
- Crunch Fitness, which offered a sweeps awarding a VIP Miami Beach trip.
- Coast, which offered an array of prizes in its own sweeps.
- Artistic Nail Design, which created a handful of movie-themed nail color shades.
Media and Publicity
Before the formal marketing and publicity cycle began there was plenty of conversation that was spurred by photos and other updates shared on social media by the stars. The release of images from the movie continued to be a key part of the movie’s early promotional cycle.
As the release got closer the press activity ramped up, with The Rock making comments promising that the movie was dirtier and raunchier than you could imagine and more. This new movie also provided an opportunity for the producers and creators of the original TV show to revisit its history and the problems that plagued it while marveling that it’s now becoming a movie.
A lengthy profile of Johnson showed the actor at his most human, engaging in casual conversations and showing off his private gym while sharing anecdotes. It also contained an off-hand remark about the possibility of him running for office that spurred thousands of headlines.
In the final weeks before release most of the cast, including Johnson, Efron and others, hit the talk show circuit to talk about the movie, the Baywatch brand and more.
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.
That all means there’s a nice consistency to the campaign, even if it does wind up being so shallow it doubles as, if you’ll excuse the analogy, the toddler splash zone at your local pool. It makes the thinnest possible argument for seeing this movie, counting on the fact that Johnson and Efron are more or less likable personalities that the audience generally enjoys and this puts them together. The late-campaign push to remind everyone that the movie is as raunchy as possible seems to indicate some amount of panic about how that insubstantial appeal was resonating.