Jack Sparrow, as played by Johnny Depp, is back in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the latest entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. In the movie Sparrow is being hunted by Captain Salazar, a ghostly remnant of a long-dead naval officer who was killed in a fight with a ship on which Sparrow served as a young pirate. Salazar, of course, holds a fairly large grudge and so once he’s released from the Devil Triangle prison he’s been trapped in is determined to hunt down not just Sparrow but all pirates and kill them.
Sparrow is obviously against this plan and so sets out to find the legendary Trident of Poseidon, a mythical artifact that, according to legend, grants its wielder total control over the seas. He can’t do it alone, though, and so winds up teaming with an astronomer named Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) and a young sailor named Henry (Brenton Thwaites). Along they way they’ll once again also encounter Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and other old friends.
The first teaser poster, released around the same time as the first trailer, is ais a variation on the theme that’s been carried throughout the series, showing a skull and crossbones in front of a map of some sort. The main point of differentiation here, as it has been on the posters for the previous movies, is the color of the rags of the garments that adorn the skull.
Next was a poster that let everyone know Captain Jack was back. It’s a black-and-white extreme close-up of Depp, his heart and tattoos visible, with the title “Dead Men Tell No Tales” written across his face.
A pretty theatrical-looking poster showed up next showing Captain Jack and the rest of the cast arrayed around the poster, with a spectral ship in the background behind Barbosa and a pair of ghost sharks, which seem to be the key focal point of the campaign, at the bottom of the design. This is a pretty standard look and feel here, just a collection of medium-distance shots of the main actors in various poses and no additional copy.
A series of character posters didn’t add much to our understanding of the story or anything else but did allow the marketing team to show off all the cool designs and effects the filmmakers conjured up for the new and returning cast. Another poster was the first confirmation that Sir Paul McCartney would appear as a pirate in the movie. It’s the same style as the other character sheets and there’s likely no reason his character should get such prominent display, but it made for a nice positive publicity pop.
An IMAX poster rearranged all the characters and other elements, showing Bardem’s rotting, disintegrating face looming in the background while returning stars Depp and Rush are in the forefront along with the two newcomers. The ghost ship as well as the undead sharks that have come to be featured heavily in the marketing are also shown.
Jack Sparrow is a wanted man in the first trailer. It starts out with a spectral force taking over a ship manned by British officers, who are all cut down by their ghostly invaders. Captain Salazar confronts an unnamed young man in the ship’s brig and tells him to find Sparrow and bring him to him.
It’s all mood and music here, nothing of substance. Depp is entirely absent (likely, I have to think, a result of his recent legal troubles), though his Sparrow still is obviously driving the action and motivations of the other characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is – or is close to – the opening of the movie in how it sets up the action. Also, let’s all feel vaguely sorry for Bardem.
The first official trailer introduces us more fully to Captain Salazar and explains both his hatred of pirates and his obsession with Jack Sparrow. Some warnings follow of a dead man searching the seas for Sparrow and he’s as non-plussed as ever. Salazar enlists Barbossa in his quest and then we’re off on the adventure.
For a full trailer there’s still not a lot of substance here. It gets to the action pretty quickly, moving past anything but the barest outlines of the story and plot. that should tell you everything about the movie it’s promoting, or at least everything you need to know about what the studio thinks the audience wants.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website gets the standard Disney web treatment, with a huge version of the key art appearing at the top of the site. Scroll down and there’s a big “Get Tickets” prompt.
There’s a selection of “Videos” directly below all that, including trailers, first look featurettes and more. After that is the “Story” synopsis that gives you a brief insight into the plot and what new and old characters will be seen. Just below that are most of the character posters that also show many of the main players.
An “Activity Packet” that can be downloaded is up next, with mazes, puzzles and more that will entertain younger kids who are into pirates. The “Gallery” has 10 stills from the movie that show off scenes we’ve generally already seen in the trailers. That’s followed by the “Credits” that lists the actors and crew and finally there are links to some of the movie’s promotional partner companies.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The paid campaign kicked off with a Super Bowl spot that hinted, largely thanks to the usage of a Johnny Cash song as the music, at a darker tone for this entry. There’s not much of the linear story here but it’s clear that everyone is after Sparrow for their own reasons. He himself isn’t seen until the very end, though. More TV spots followed that played up the hijinks of the movie while loosely conveying the story and characters. Some features more or less of Sparrow, particularly as the campaign wound toward its close, but all sold it as an action comedy of sorts.
As far as promotional partners, there were a few that decided to wade into the movie’s waters:
- Dave & Busters: Put three movie-themed games in locations.
- Bay: Put up can auction for movie props and promotional swag, with proceeds going to the American Red Cross.
- HSN: Offered exclusive jewelry and other products that were based on the movie.
- Lorac: Created a line of beauty products inspired by the movie.
- Pirate’s Booty: Put movie branding on their bags of snacks.
- Red Robin: Offered a free movie ticket with the purchase of a $25 gift card.
- Verizon: No specific details, but the phone company has a long history of promotions for the Pirates franchise and sponsored the movie’s red carpet premiere.
There were online and outdoor ads as well, though some noted that Depp was conspicuously absent from many of the billboards
Media and Publicity
As he’s done with other Disney movies, Depp got personally involved, surprising riders of the original theme park ride by reciting lines from the movie and generally shocking them that suddenly a real live Jack Sparrow was swinging his sword at them.
Unfortunately the movie is coming out amidst a cycle of bad press for Depp. Not only has he been accused of spousal abuse by his ex-wife but there have been a bevy of recent story about his eccentric money spending, his lavish lifestyle and more. Basically his character is under scrutiny from multiple angles and none of them make him look all that great.
Most of the cast did some press duty, from Scodelario and Thwaites to Rush and Bardem and even Depp, though to a more limited extent.
I’m pretty sure if Disney could have figured out a way to sell this movie without putting Depp on the signage or send him out to the press, it would have. The actor has had a troubled past couple of years with lots of negative press that has seriously impacted his public persona, not to mention the fact that he’s not nearly the all-encompassing box-office powerhouse he’s sometimes said to be. Basically if he’s not playing Jack Sparrow his audience appeal is limited, and the very serious things he’s alleged to have done aren’t helping. That doesn’t seem to be stopping Hollywood from casting him, but that’s Hollywood. “Toxic” is only applied to women, be they actresses over 40 or directors who just don’t seem to be right for high-profile films even with a solid history of smaller successes behind them.
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.