Movie Marketing Madness: Transformers: The Last Knight

[downs entire whiskey sour]

Well, the Transformers are back, once more in the hands of director Michael Bay. It’s been 10 years since he first brought the big freaking robots to the big screen, with this being the fifth film in the franchise. Now the Bayhem is unleashed once again in Transformers: The Last Knight, which once more stars Mark Wahlberg and once more features a lot of human beings acting like they matter at all as massive robot warriors decide the best possible place in the universe for them to work out their issues is our planet MARS IS RIGHT THERE GO SOMEWHERE WITHOUT ALL THE CULVER’S, YOU JERKS.

Anyway, this time around there’s yet another plot contrivance to set humans and Cybertronians against each other. Optimus Prime has disappeared but now seems to be back and this time is evil or something. There’s a bigger threat coming toward the planet so it’s up to Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager, Oxford professor Laura Haddock (Vivian Wembley) and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) to unravel the secret history of Transformers on Earth in order to save humanity from the latest world-killing threat.

The Posters

“Rethink your heroes” we’re told on the first poster, which shows a sword-wielding Optimus Prime standing along a rocky beach as something massive looms in the background, including both sea and air.

A series of character posters were released by Bay on his Twitter that featured many of the main characters, some old, some new. The caption he used when posting them contained some kind of explanation of who they are and what they’re after in the movie. These aren’t bad.

Another poster told the audience the main conflict of the movie was going to be between Prime and Bumblebee, with the former seen looming over the latter as if he’s preparing the killing blow. That’s amplified by copy that reads “For one to live the other must die.”

Another poster plays into the theme from elsewhere in the campaign that the Transformers have been on Earth for a long, long time, by putting one at the forefront of a group of WWII soldiers storming a Nazi headquarters. “Every legend hides a secret” we’re told at the top and it’s called out at the bottom that this was filmed with IMAX cameras, a direct appeal to the tech-heads that are going to be interested in spectacle more than anything.

Black and white character posters started to come out that highlighted the various robots and humans that are in the middle of the story, all with a different descriptive word associated with them.

An IMAX poster put Prime in the middle of the design with not only the looming…whatever in the background but also a huge three-headed dragon for a moment of “what the hell.” I know some of the campaign has shown footage of Transformers fighting with knights and so on, but dragons? Where the hell is this coming from? Seems out of left-field.

One final poster brings the whole cast together, including the humans. They actual actors are arrayed just above Stonehenge, which is shooting a while space laser into the sky. Looming over them are Prime and Bumblebee on opposite sides of that space laster, setting up the conflict between them once more.

The Trailers

There’s not much story in the first teaser trailer. Burton narrates and offers some exposition about a timeless fight that’s been raging. He intones that Optimus Prime has left and asks the question of why the Transformers keep coming to Earth. After that, though, it’s all about Big F***ing Robot action. We see Prime is back, but he doesn’t seem to be acting like himself. Throughout the trailer there’s something – maybe Unicron? – that’s huge and moving toward the planet and is clearly a threat.

God bless Hopkins for doing what he can with what he’s given. His narration is meant to add some dramatic import to the trailer, but that can’t overcome the senseless action and unexplained chaos on display. This looks like exactly the same kind of movie as the previous four installments, which is just what the studio thinks people want.

The first full trailer is somewhat less concerned with the Big F***ing Robots and more with the humans who are around them. It presents a world that’s very different from what we might expect, with humans and robots coexisting in some ways and at odds in others. It almost presents Decepticons as an occupying force and some humans as the militaristic resistance. It focuses on Izzy, a young girl who’s living rough and surviving on her own. She narrates and encourages everyone to “fight like a girl” as we see some of the fighting against our new robot overlords. Izzy is the center of attention throughout, though.

There’s no bigger mythology being played into or hinted at here. It’s actually kind of an overt plea to young girls who may not have been targeted in the campaigns for earlier movies. We get some story hints, particularly with that “Enemy” sign featuring Prime’s face and the fact that everyone seems to live in bombed-out buildings.

The official trailer starts off in the past as we see Transformers in the world 1,000 years ago in castles with kings and knights. We then cut to Optimus Prime having an odd confrontation with his maker. Next it’s Yeager talking to Izzy about what he’d say to his daughter if she were there. After that it’s about Sir Edmund warning that it’s up to a couple of everyday humans to turn the tide of history and stop the persistent threat of the Transformers on Earth. Scenes of chaos raining down on the world are followed by defiant speeches about not giving up and continuing the fight. Prime then intones that the Earth must die for his world to live, meaning we’re in conquest territory here.

OK, fine. The whole idea of Prime being the bad guy here seems really odd and as with most of Bay’s movies the ambitions toward something epic and transformative (sorry) are greater than the actual execution. It’s being sold as yet another entry in the franchise and on that front it succeeds just fine.

Online and Social

Prime’s grizzled visage glares out at you from the front page of the official website, which mostly just has the usual information and a Get Tickets button on it. Remarkably non-cluttered for a movie whose entire visual aesthetic is “busy.”

Moving to the content menu at the top of the page, the first section is “Story,” which lays out the basic idea in the broadest possible terms. There’s a decent chance this is the actual script. After that the “Characters” section has the character posters mentioned above, each with a button to share that image on either Facebook or Twitter.

The “Gallery” has one of the posters along with a handful of stills and some behind-the-scenes production shots of Bay at work just so we remember who the real star of the movie is. “Videos” has the trailers, a couple TV spots and a featurette.

There’s a section for the promotional “Partners” and then “Social” is a drop-down with links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A short TV spot appeared to have kicked off the advertising campaign showing some of the biggest, most explosive elements from the first trailer, including using the “Rethink your heroes” copy that’s interspersed throughout those shots.

A TV spot aired during the Super Bowl that featured more of Hopkins’ intellectual talking about why the Transformers keep coming to Earth and Prime talking about meeting his maker. Future commercials showed off the action and humor of the movie and some were focused intently on continuing to build up the idea that the Transformers have been here throughout history, secretly protecting Earth and participating in major world events.

The debut of movie merchandise in stores was accompanied by a campaign dubbed “Reveal Your Shield” that encouraged fans to identify as Autobots or Decepticons.

In terms of cross-promotional partners, here are some of the companies that helped promote the latest entry in the franchise:

  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which created TV ads that took a throwback approach, featuring kids playing with Transformers action figures that are helped in their battle by the company.
  • Maaco, which launched a cross-promotional campaign including a TV spot directed by Bay himself.
  • Schick, which offers a limited edition Transformers-themed handle when you signed up for their subscription shave product service and created other movie-branded products.
  • Sonic Drive-In, which put movie toys in their Wacky Pack kids meals and ran a sweeps offering a hometown screening of the movie and other prizes.
  • Valvoline, which ran some co-branded ads and created “Valvotron,” a new Transformer action figure sporting the company’s logo that was given away to select customers.
  • Crush, which gave away a free movie ticket with the purchase of any three of their four movie-branded cans of REM’s favorite soda.
  • Tasty Kake, which created a quiz to see if you were an Autobot or Decepticon that entered you into a sweeps. That went along with co-branded product packaging.
  • Cat, which offered behind-the-scenes exclusive material and the chance to win exclusive merchandise.

Online and outdoor ads were plentiful, all using variations on the key art, mostly of the close-up of Prime staring at the camera.

Media and Publicity

A first look at the movie’s new villain was teased ahead of time with a series of cryptic messages and really kicked off the publicity campaign outside of news and announcements about the title and filming. Speculation about the movie and its story continued with the release of a banner showing Optimus Prime taking on some sort of dragon.

A small amount of new footage was seen before the first trailer was released in this promotional video celebrating 10 years of collaboration between Bay and IMAX, which has been used for all of the movies in the franchise. The studio also held a fan event at IMAX theaters that showed off footage from the movie as a way to generate some buzz in advance of release.

A short promotional video was released that was structured to appear like it was examining old photos from throughout history from battles and other events that include giant robots. Hot Rod was officially unveiled in a first look photo that appeared in EW’s summer movie preview along with background information on that character’s history. It also included comments from Bay about the extent he went to create monuments to blow up. A clip as well as a humorous promo involving Prime trying to learn a London accent were released during the MTV Movie and TV Awards.

As the final press push was happening and both Bay and Wahlberg were making the media and TV rounds they each signalled this would be the last Transformers movie for both of them. If you’re keeping count, that’s the first such declaration for Wahlberg and at least the third for Bay and he always comes back.

Overall

Oof, there’s a lot to digest here. The story that’s being sold completely upends all the mythology of the previous Transformers movies to an extent that defies credulity unless I’ve missed something massive in the first three entries (I’ve yet to see the fourth) that hints a centuries-long presence on Earth. But honestly, does that even matter? They found a new way to create some new robots that look kind of cool and which are visually indistinguishable (my major complaint with these films) as the rest. It doesn’t matter what the story is, just come see Michael Bay light some fuses and ask a Josh Duhamel to look up at and interact with something that will be inserted digitally later.

As much as the generic designs make many of the robots indistinguishable from one another within the movie, the similarity in tone and feel of the marketing for these movies makes them virtually indistinguishable from one another. They all feature the same shots of landscapes blowing up and humans scattering, of someone warning of dire consequences should the bad guys win and so on. It’s all about selling metallic imagery with no sense of the motivations of anyone, just vague dialogue about the consequences of such and such happening.

The one interesting thing to watch is whether the fifth installment of this series will suffer the same sort of franchise fatigue that’s tanked recent installments of Smurfs and other IP as well as legacy sequels including Independence Day. This isn’t a reboot or remake and it’s only been a couple years since the last Transformers, but still: Audience preferences seem to have shifted recently. So while it’s likely this will do just fine, there’s a chance it could tank and bring the house of metal cards Paramount and Bay have built crashing down.

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Instagram Introduces Celebrity Disclosure Tools, But Could Do More

Instagram is introducing a new system for celebrities and other influencers to clearly mark posts for which they’ve been paid as sponsored posts. The way it works is similar to a recent change by Facebook that involves tagging the sponsoring brand and adding the required disclosure.

This seems to be alright and it certainly makes sense for Instagram to follow the lead of corporate owner Facebook. But with so much discussion about how influencers of various stripes aren’t doing everything they need to be doing to meet disclosure guidelines, I’m surprised they didn’t take it further and adopt a different approach.

Specifically, I’m thinking here of something like Facebook Mentions, the app rolled out a couple years ago that was specially meant for celebrities, allowing them to post and interact in a different, more manageable environment than the main Facebook app. It was meant to provide different tools and engagement options that were designed for these power users to take more control of their fan interactions.

So what if Instagram introduced something similar? A separate app available only to select verified users could be specifically for their sponsored posts and automatically add the disclosure statement – a hashtag or whatever else – to those posts. It would take the process completely out of the person’s hands and put it in without them having to do so manually. Instagram could work with various regulatory agencies to make sure that it meets standards. There could even be additional features like the ability to add enhanced links or something like that to make the app even more attractive.

Of course, adoption would still be an issue. Support from the big influencer marketing hook-up agencies, the ones that connect brands with people looking to monetize their social following, would certainly help. That’s especially true if they made use of the app a requirement for people to participate in campaigns being managed.

Basically, I see this as a good first step but there’s more than can be done to really bring some order to this industry. By removing it as a manual action that needs to be actively taken each and every time, something like what I’ve proposed here could bring required disclosure closer to 100%, far from where it is now.

Movie Marketing Madness: Cars 3

When we meet back up with Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) in Cars 3, he’s at a crossroads, so to speak, in his career as a racer. A new generation of cars has come up while he’s been on the circuit that is faster, sleeker and surer of their abilities. Just as he and his contemporaries took over from the cars of Doc Hudson’s era, a crop of cocky young upstarts is now ready to push McQueen to the background.

He’s not quite ready to give up, though, and is determined to not quit until it’s on his own terms and in his own time. To stay at the top of his game he finds he needs the help of not just his old friends but also a technician who can help push just a little bit harder and get a little more out his efforts to stay relevant until he feels it’s time to hang up his racing stripes.

The Posters

The first poster hit the same tone as the first teaser trailer, showing McQueen in some serious danger. It actually shows him flying through the air upside down as sparks fill the space between him and the pavement, speaking to the danger that he faces in the story.

Another one came later that continued the theme of hiding things, showing McQueen and some of the other racers from ground-level so you can’t see everything, especially with the water that’s being splashed up obscuring things a bit.

A handful of character posters didn’t share anyone’s names but did show off McQueen and a couple of the other new cars that are featured in the story.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer is kind of darkly disturbing. We see a race going on, with McQueen in the lead. But then we hear an announcer say he’s “fading fast” before the screen goes dark, only to reveal him flying out of control through the air as it fades back in. “From this moment, everything will change” the title card reads, hinting at big changes in the status quo of our favorite cars.

Another teaser keeps up the “next generation” theme to show that McQueen faces some serious competition. That leads into more talk about how he might be past his prime but that doesn’t mean he has to give up. More teases of footage showing Lightning undergoing some other training follows, but there’s still no real sense of the story here.

Finally more of the story is explained in the official trailer. We start off by seeing that McQueen is being pitched on becoming a franchise, part of the plan to capitalize after his fading racing career comes to an end. He’s facing irrelevance, in part because of the emergence of a new racer that’s setting all sorts of new records. So he goes back and trains for the new challenges he faces, with all the usual friends in tow and with the attitude that it’s not about “the stuff” that comes with it, it’s just about the racing for him.

It’s great that we’re finally getting a look at the full story and the conflict that will drive the action of the story. It’s exactly what you’d expect as the third installment of this series.

The next – and final – trailer finally lays out the full story for the audience. The focus as it starts is on Jackson Storm, the latest contender to McQueen’s throne. With the racing world changing around him he needs a new approach in order to compete and preserve his legacy and so gets a whole new training team and regimen. Talk of retirement looms but McQueen is determined not to quit but to come up with an approach that keeps him in the game on his own terms.

One more short trailer for that is all about seizing the opportunities given to you, not being too afraid to fail.

Online and Social

You get the usual Disney design when you open the movie’s official website, with a still and title treatment at the top of the page. One thing notable about Disney’s sites is they include ads, in this case a banner at the top that wants you to buy Mattel licensed toy cars based on the movie’s characters.

Anyway, the first section of content is “Video” and is well-stocked with the trailers as well as older animated shorts that debuted around the time of the second movie and in the years between releases. These mostly feature Mater and the rest of the Radiator Springs residents and were meant to just be fun little brand extensions, nothing that’s tied to this or any other movie in the franchise.

Below that there’s a link to find out more about the “Road to the Races,” a nationwide tour featuring life-size versions of the movie’s three main characters that went to 27 cities across the country. That tour is just about done, having run from mid-March through the end of June.

Keep scrolling down the site and you’ll find lots more content that’s generic to the Cars franchise, not specific to this movie. That includes games, stills, character bios and more.

If you want movie-specific information you’ll have to use the menu at the top of the page. After “Videos” the next section there is “Games & Activities” which is where you can play some games, download some iMessage sticker packs and more. “Galleries” then has stills from this movie as well as albums from the previous films.

After that, the site devolves once more into generalities, with prompts to buy all the movies in the Cars franchise, visit the “Store” to buy merch and ultimately visit the “Parks.”

They aren’t linked to on the official site but there are also Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts for the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

An extended TV spot expanded on the teaser trailer and showed more of the story, including the up and down arc of McQueen’s journey. It offers quite a look at what’s going and what will happen to him and some of the other characters, though there don’t appear to be any of the old friends like Mater or anyone else from the earlier movies on display here.

A number of promotional partners joined in the marketing fun, including:

  • AutoTrader, which debuted the first in a series of spots during broadcasts of the NBA Playoffs that used the variety of cars in the movie to highlight the variety of cars available on the website.
  • Waze, which gave users the ability to change their own appearance in the app to resemble McQueen or Storm or change the voice that offers directions to one of these two characters. The app will also remind people the movie is coming out.
  • NASCAR, which aired commercials during the race broadcasts and engaged in a lot of co-branded activities at various racetracks and other events.

Outdoor ads with the key art and online ads, including social media units using the video, were also run heavily across the web.

Media and Publicity

A piece in USA Today gave us a first look not only at Lightning McQueen but also at Ramirez, the new character being introduced in the movie along with other details. During the publicity cycle for Finding Dory, Pixar’s John Lassater talked about this movie as well and what McQueen’s journey in this installment was going to be.

Later on a look at some of the movie’s new characters, along with descriptions of who they are and what their story is, continued to keep people talking about it.

John Lasseter made an appearance along with a life size Lightning McQueen at the Detroit Auto Show.

There was also a focus on the role played by Jude Brownbill, an animator on previous Pixar films who was promoted to directing animator on this movie. She also played a large part in developing the new character Cruz Ramirez, a female car we’ve seen in the trailers and who helps train McQueen.

Wilson, Fillion and others from the cast also made various TV and other press appearances on talk shows and elsewhere to talk about jumping back into this world and these characters.

Overall

I know who the Cars movies are aimed at in general. Boys love toy cars and that was the main conceit of the first movie and why the franchise keeps selling tie-in toys between movies or when the movies themselves aren’t that great. And the filmmakers have done what they can to make the stories as appealing as they can to girls as well, not wanting to draw too many clear gender stereotype lines around who is and isn’t invited to the theater.

But I’m struggling with who this movie specifically is aimed at attracting. A child who was five years old in 2006 when the first movie came out is 15 or 16 now and…are they contemplating their own mortality. I get that characters have to evolve, but this seems more at someone my age than either current 3-8 year olds or those who have grown up with the franchise. It just seems a little…dark. I’m sure it will be life-affirming and all that in the end, but from the mysterious teasers showing McQueen getting into a massive accident to those that explained the story of his chapter apparently coming to an end, this just seems like an oddly-toned campaign. Disney seems to be counting heavily on franchise-familiarity here and that might not be enough.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Rough Night

“Childhood friends reuniting as adults” is a pretty well-worn genre, particularly since The Big Chill. Another entry into this field comes with this week’s Rough Night, starring Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz, Kate McKinnon and Ilana Glazer. Four of them are long-time friends from college (with the addition of McKinnon’s Pippa) who are getting together for a wild weekend in Miami before Jess (Johansson) gets married and settles down.

Things start off great but take a turn when the stripper they’ve hired for a night’s entertainment is accidentally killed. So they engage in a series of highly-ridiculous antics to not only cover up that death but to keep the party going, determined not to let a little manslaughter stop them from continuing on with the festivities.

The Posters

The first posters were a collection of character images. Each one shows just the torso of the character, each with the actor’s name at the top and then “is a/the” that leads into the pageant-like sash they wear, each one sporting a different description. So Johansson is “better off wed” to signify she’s the bride-to-be, McKinnon is the “party down under” with a jar of vegemite tucked into a pocket to make sure everyone gets she’s Australian.

Another series of posters was basically the same idea, just with the camera pulled out to actually show the faces and full bodies of the actors.

What I’m guessing is the theatrical poster finally brings all five women together, the whole group looking toward the camera, aghast and worried about the body whose feet appear at the bottom. Only Johansson is big enough to make it above the title and below that we’re told “The hangover will be the least of their problems.” I have to think the use of “The hangover” isn’t accidental but meant to, at some level, invoke the movie of the same name and create a connection in the minds of the audience that similar drunken hijinks will be engaged in here.

Another take on this design arrays the supporting cast around a perplexed-looking Johansson. This one makes it clear it’s “From the writers of Broad City” so you can see where the appeal is going. A final poster puts all the ladies together having a great old time against the neon lights of Miami but asks “What’s your alibi?” which makes it clear there’s something not-right going on.

The Trailers

The first red-band trailer immediately makes it clear that we’re about to embark on a bachelorette weekend with a group of old friends. All of them are reuniting for the first time in a while and we catch up with them. As soon as they’re in Miami the party starts and each one lets loose in her own way. It all culminates back at the house they’re staying in when the stripper shows up. Things get out of hand though and he winds up…dead. They immediately panic and do all the wrong things to deal with their enhanced situation. The rest of the trailer shows them bouncing around town, determined to not let the death ruin their weekend.

It’s pretty funny and it’s great to see Johansson letting loose in a comedy like this. But let’s be honest, Bell and McKinnon are the real stars here, the former for her over-enthusiastic nature and willingness to do all the drugs and the latter simply for the faces she makes in reaction to the events around her.

Another red-band trailer shows the outrageous antics the group gets into while out partying, including drugs and other bad decisions that lead to death the stripper, which leads to them trying to cover up that death and getting into even more trouble.

A green-band trailer starts off with the ladies while they were still in college showing they have a history of crazy partying before catching up with them in present day. After that it’s largely the same beats and jokes we’ve seen before, just without all the cursing and drug use.

Online and Social

This is the first time in a long time I remember an official website throwing up an age-gate, asking you to verify you’re over 17 years of age. After you clear that hurdle the second red-band trailer pops up.

Close that and you’re greeted with images of the five main ladies which, when you click on them, bring up short videos introducing you to the various characters. There are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles in the upper right. Along the side of the page are prompts to enter a sweeps to win a trip to Miami and to get tickets.

Moving to the content menu across the top of the page, the “Trailer” link once more brings up the second restricted trailer. “About” has a short synopsis of the story. Oddly, the “Gallery” doesn’t show any stills, just some of the various character poster series that were released. Finally, “Cast and Crew” just has a list of the names of those involved.

With the amount of drug usage in particular that’s on display, especially in those short character introduction videos, it’s understandable why that age restriction is on the front page.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one lay out the premise of a wild bachelorette weekend that takes a dark turn. It plays up the idea that these friends are going all-in on having a lawless party filled with dead bodies and lots of drinking.

Outdoor ads and online ads used various versions of the key art to highlight the five actresses who are starring in the ensemble here. Social media ads took the videos as they were released to drum up awareness and ticket sales.

Media and Publicity

Right before the first trailer debuted the movie got a new title, changing from “Rock That Body” to the current label, seemingly to make it as generic as possible.

A big feature popped about a week before release on director Lucia Aniello, specifically on how she’s the first female director in 20 years to helm an R-rated comedy of any sort. That seems just as notable a milestone as Patty Jenkins’ accomplishment helming Wonder Woman, covered extensively in the last couple weeks. That story covers how she got the story, how she got the movie made and lots more.

With such an A-list cast it was natural, of course, for them to go out and do the press rounds both in print and on TV to talk about the good time they had on the set, the craziness of the story and other related topics.

Overall

It’s a lazy journalistic angle to view this through the lens of the male-starring movies that have come before. That hasn’t stopped plenty of people from saying “Oh, it’s a female Hangover” and positioning it as such, of course. It’s just that it does the movie a disservice, particularly given the fact that the director is just as much a groundbreaker here as the story that generated so many headlines in the past month around Wonder Woman.

Which leaves us with the movie itself. It looks funny enough, though I question why it’s necessary to go so hard in the “drug-fueled” paint with a concept like this. The trailers in particular sell a movie that’s one-half “hilarious girl’s night out” and one-half “let’s dispose of the dead guy.” That can lead to a bit of an emotional disconnect in some parts of the campaign, but if you give in and go with it there’s potentially a good time in store here.

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Movie Marketing Madness: The Mummy

Universal is trying once more to revitalize its catalog of classic monsters with this week’s The Mummy. No, this isn’t a straight reboot of the 90’s film series starring Brendan Frasier and eventually The Rock. It’s a new story starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe and others that brings the franchise into the present day and ups the action by presenting a threat not just to the heroes at the center of the conflict but also the world as a whole.

In this week’s release Cruise plays Nick Morton, a…something (none of the trailers or plot synopses make this clear) who makes the tragic mistake of disturbing the sarcophagus of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian figure who wielded dark powers to…destroy the world? He winds up being integral to her plans even as, with the help of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Crowe), he tries to foil those plans.

Deep breath, everyone.

The Posters

The first poster takes its cue from the first teaser, which features a massive action set piece set inside a cargo plane. This image shows that same interior, with the mummy’s sarcophagus strapped down to the floor. The bigger world that the movie is setting up is teased in the copy “Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters,” which is also a line that’s featured in that first trailer.

The second effort is a close-up of Ahmanet featuring her freaky eyes and the language and characters that are embossed on her cheek. This is meant to give it a spooky, otherworldly feel.

The third one pulls the camera out to show more of Ahmanet’s face (specifically both cheeks) as it looms of the London skyline which is being eaten away by some sort of force. Cruise is standing over it all as well, looking kind of powerless and just sort of taking it all in. He looks like he’s watching a crab walk along the beach, not like there’s any urgency to his character or actions.

Two IMAX posters play up the scope of the story, one showing Cruise repelling down past the massive sarcophagus that incites the story, the other showing him standing heroically as the ancient warrior looms in the background above a city that’s being destroyed by a red swarm. They’re not that interesting visually but they do work to establish that this is a big supernatural story that’s being sold.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out by throwing us into the middle of the story, it seems. So Morton and others are escorting the sarcophagus home on a military transport before it’s taken down by a magical swarm of bats. Halsey escapes the plane but Morton goes down with it and dies, but that doesn’t last. After he’s brought back to life we hear from Jekyll that he’s now part of a larger world of magical mysteries. That includes the now reincarnated Princess Ahmanet, who’s out to reclaim what was taken from her millennia ago and which involves…destroying the world or something.

The trailer was only half about selling this movie, for which very little story elements are shown. Instead it’s focused on selling yet another movie of Tom Cruise running away from swarms of things and trying to prove to everyone that he knows what’s going on. It’s also really concerned with establishing Crowe’s Jekyll as the cornerstone of an expanded horror creature universe, promising the audience that this is just the first chapter in a much larger story.

The second trailer starts with the discovery extraction of the mummy from its resting place, an adventure that was fairly perilous in and of itself. We get some backstory on Ahmanet before we find out that the unwitting archeologists have caused that old evil to be unleashed upon the modern world. There’s a connection between her and Morton that’s being exploited so Ahmanet can return to power and take over the world. He tries to foil her at every turn but it doesn’t look good.

At least this explains more of the story. It still looks like Mission Impossible: Ghost Squad but it should appease fans of big budget effects-laden blockbusters as well as those who are enjoying Cruise’s late-career action turn.

The third trailer opens with a condensed version of the same plane crash sequence we’ve seen before. We find out Jack survived because he’d been cursed and is now being exposed to a magical world he’s not ready for. He’s connected to the mummy he awakened and becomes part of her plan in some way and…

You know what I’m out. There’s such an overt effort here to sell a mythology that’s completely undeserved and foreign that the entire thing collapses under its own weight. Instead of simply selling an action-packed supernatural thriller with Tom Cruise, it’s selling a bloated series of set pieces strung together with long-winded exposition about a backstory that we have no context for. No.

Online and Social

The final trailer loads when you pull up the movie’s official website. After closing that it displays full-screen silent video featuring footage seen in the trailers. Down in the lower left are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr profiles along with a link to the Prodigium, the mysterious organization Cruise’s character is introduced to and invited to become part of.

That site starts with an informational video of the organization and then allows you to take a virtual tour of the facility, either fully within the browser or via VR.

Back to the main site, the first section in the drop down menu of content is “About” which is long on name-dropping Cruise and the rest of the talent but short on adding any new information or context to the story.

The “Gallery” has a decent collection of some of the posters and some stills that have been released. “Videos” has the three trailers and the Inside Look featurette.

“Partners” lists the two companies that have signed on for promotional support while “30 Rock VR” has information on the VR experience that’s being hosted in New York City that takes people inside the plane stunt that’s been a central focus in the campaign.

Finally there’s another prompt to get tickets and then one to find out about the Dark Universe the studio is trying to launch with this movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

One of the first TV efforts was a co-branded spot that ran on ESPN during the NBA Playoffs, featuring basketball stars all turning to watch the news as reports of an attack in London are breaking. Those reports show Ahmanet and her supernatural conjurings before it cuts to the movie’s title and release date. More traditional spots that highlighted parts of the story and showcased the massive action came later in the campaign.

Promotional partners for the movie included

  • Saks Fifth Avenue, which created movie-inspired window displays showing off some of the props and costumes.
  • Mac Cosmetics, which provided tips on how to look like an ancient Egyptian princess and offered the products to do so.

Outdoor and online ads used the key art of Cruise and Boutella’s characters while social media ads used the trailers and other videos.

Media and Publicity

At the same time the first trailer was released, director Alex Kurtzman talked about the story, how he wanted to subvert the audience’s expectations about a Tom Cruise movie, directing a fight sequence between Cruise and Crowe and more. More first look photos, including this one from EW, followed.

The studio created a VR experience at SXSW earlier this year that took viewers inside the plane sequence that was featured so prominently in the first trailer. That same stunt continued to be the focus of much of the press, with Kurtzman talking at CinemaCon about the 64 takes necessary to fully capture it.

A stream of exclusive new images like this kept the conversation at a medium boil in between big pops in the campaign. One appeared in EW’s summer movie preview along with an interview with Boutella where she talked about her character, the research she did for the movie and more.

A behind-the-scenes featurette introduced us to the Prodigium organization that is lead by Crowe’s Dr. Jeykll, making it clear that it will act as the focal point of an expanded universe dealing with monsters and other phenomena. Around the same time Universal held “The Mummy Day” with a massive 75-foot sarcophagus looming over an event attended by Cruise that invited fans to come out and hopefully get excited for the upcoming movie.

The overt efforts to sell this as an essential launch of a larger world became even more ham-handed with the announcement Bride of Frankenstein would be the next movie in the series, coming in 2019. That was accompanied by photos of Cruise and Crowe alongside Johnny Depp, who would play The Invisible Man and Javier Bardem, would would tackle Frankenstein’s Monster. It was all put under the “Dark Universe” umbrella branding that included Universal’s classic horror movies as well as those to come.

Cruise of course made the media rounds, talking about this movie as well as other upcoming projects. Crowe also did some press work in the weeks leading up to release.

Overall

Bela Lugosi: They don’t want the classic horror films anymore. Today it’s all giant bugs. Giant spiders, giant grasshoppers… Who would believe such nonsense?

Ed Wood: The old ones were much spookier, they had castles and full moons…

Bela Lugosi: They were mythic. They had a poetry to them.

Edward D. Wood, Jr.: Yes.

Bela Lugosi: And you know what else? The women… the women preferred the traditional monsters.

Edward D. Wood, Jr.: The women? Huh?

Bela Lugosi: The pure horror, it both repels, and attracts them, because in their collective unconsiousness, they have the agony of childbirth. The blood. The blood is horror.

Edward D. Wood, Jr.: You know, I never thought of that.

Bela Lugosi: Take my word for it. If you want to make out with a young lady, take her to see “Dracula”.

I can’t get this scene from Ed Wood out of my head as I try to sum up a campaign that’s done everything it can to make the movie as unappealing as possible, at least to me. I’m a huge fan of the original Universal monster movies but what I remember from them is the sense of brooding terror, of looming danger around every corner. The stakes were low – Dracula was only ever a threat to those within his reach and The Mummy didn’t have world domination in mind – but that made it more real because it warned you not to cross those characters.

There’s nothing about this campaign that presents an attractive alternative for those looking to head to the box office this weekend aside from Cruise’s star power. The story on display is threadbare and incoherent, the characters all some level of incompetence masked as mystery.

No motivation for anyone’s actions, no sense of who anyone is or why they’re acting as they are is offered at any point in the marketing with the exception of the villain’s desire to end the world as we know it. Substitute her sandstorm with a sky beam and you have any superhero movie from the last 10 years.

Not only that, but the ham handed way Universal is trying to launch a franchise just makes no sense and becomes more of a deterrent than anything else. It makes no sense (particularly since it just tried to do this a few years ago with Dracula Untold) since it publicly commits them to a big project it may not be able to deliver on if this movie flops or underperforms. Working to establish that “bigger world” took up a lot of the campaign’s breathing room, meaning this release in and of itself didn’t have that space to sell itself, it needed to sell the franchise. That’s a mistake not even Marvel has made.

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The Big Change That Impacted Client Facebook Growth and Engagement

A recent post by the social media content management system Buffer chronicles how they increased their Facebook engagement significantly by decreasing post volume. They cut down the number of posts published and saw reach, engagement and other metrics go up.

Years ago – early 2012, I believe – I had a similar experience with a program I was working on. The multiple Facebook pages I managed with my team were seeing engagement that was alright, but there was so much news coming out that we felt pressured to publish it all to one or more of those pages. So we were publishing every hour or so to one page in particular and 10 times or more to some other pages.

I knew something wasn’t right and so began digging into the metrics for those pages. I wasn’t so much concerned, at least not at first, with engagement. Instead I looked specifically at Likes and Unlikes. Pulling up six months of data I compared the number of posts each day to the number of New Likes and the number of New Unlikes for the page on that day.

There was a direct correlation that appeared almost immediately that the more we published the more people left the page. We were turning them off. That was confirmed when I looked at the comments and other engagement and saw high post volume lead to low engagement and comments that called out how they didn’t like seeing so many posts. Fan attention was being abused.

So I looked more carefully at the numbers and began to establish guidelines that would eventually be encoded into the program’s official style guide. I laid out that X page could get Y number of posts per day before the tipping point between New Likes and New Unlikes was reached. It was clear that any more than that and we’d start to again lose fans at a high rate. We may still net out with fan growth, but it wouldn’t be as good as it could be if we published less. Those ceilings were created for the dozen pages being managed.

It wasn’t as simple as that, though. There were still client stakeholders who were focused on using all available platforms to promote every possible message. First we needed to convince our main client contact of the wisdom of our proposed approach and only then, after we had made some adjustments and crafted our pitch, were we able to convey this new strategy and have it understood and accepted by all. It’s another example of why having an internal champion is so important for agencies.

With all the talk about playing to algorithms and the ever-shifting guidance Facebook and other platforms provide about how best to achieve organic reach, there are a number of things you, as a content program manager, can do today to effect change. Dig into the numbers a bit and you may find solutions that are easy to implement and will result in wins of some level or another.

It also reinforces a point I make consistently: While the internet is lousy with studies and reports about when the best time to post to Facebook or Twitter is or how often you should do so, the best guidance will come from looking at your own numbers. General best practices are fine, but they can’t replace the insights to be gained by looking internally, not at something overly generic.

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 DCComics.com 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.

Overall

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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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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Movie Marketing Madness: Everything, Everything

Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg) is seriously ill in the new young adult tearjerker Everything, Everything. Her immune system is so compromised she can’t go outside but must remain indoors in a controlled and disease-free environment lest she is exposed to something her body can’t handle. Turns out that list includes Olly Bright (Nick Robinson), a cute boy who moves in next door.

The two strike up a flirtation that’s carried out via texting and longing glances through pane glass windows. Eventually, things progress to the point they always do and Maddy realizes she’s only living a fraction of a life and Olly might be key to unlocking the rest of it. So despite everyone’s warnings, the two set off to explore the ocean she desperately wants to see and begin to act on the passion that’s been building between the two teens.

The Posters

The poster shows off the dynamic of the relationship between the two characters as they attempt to touch each other through the plate glass door, her looking at their hands almost connecting and him looking at her. At the top we’re reminded this is based on a popular book and toward the bottom, the movie’s story is summed up in the copy “Risk everything….for love.” The flowery title treatment is a nice indication of the fragrant, colorful world that sits outside Maddy’s grasp.

The next poster frames the would-be lovers in an array of flowers and other whimsical drawings. It’s not great, but I think they were going for an idea of doodling the world she’s never able to experience that just doesn’t quite pay off.

The Trailers

The trailer starts out by introducing us to Maddy’s situation, which is that she’s chronically sick and has been kept inside by her mother her entire life. One day Olly moves in next door and the two start flirting through the window and via text. The budding romance leads her to adventure more into the outdoors with him at her side, defying her worried mother but trying to live life to the fullest for the days she has.

There’s a lot going on here, mostly in how it tries to just hit all the young adult tropes. This is like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl with the focus on how the guy is helping the girl be all she can before she dies. It looks like it will be full of heavy-handed emotional moments, which is just what the audience likely wants.

The second trailer hits many of the same emotional beats as the first one but is less concerned with selling the movie as presenting it as a showcase for some new music by current popular singers. It even starts with the name of the song and the artist like an old-school music video.

Online and Social

Of course the official website is built on Tumblr, this is a movie that’s trying to reach teens and tweens. When you load the site the trailer pops up and plays. Once you close it the splash page has the flowery title treatment along with links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. Below there’s a carousel with prompts to “Snap to Unlock” exclusive content, get information on buying tickets or “Create Your Own Everything, Everything.” That opens up a new site that encourages you to connect with one of your existing social networks, at which point it pulls photos from that profile to create a collage similar to what’s seen in the movie, complete with title treatment in the middle. That collage can, of course, then be shared on your network of choice.

Back to the main site, if you just want to scroll down the page you can see all kinds of videos and photos that have been posted to the Tumblr blog.

The first section of content in the menu in the upper left is “Trailers,” where you can watch all three trailers. “Story” has a decent synopsis that in and of itself reads like a young adult novel. The “Gallery” unfortunately throws a 404 error. It’s meant to link to the photos that have been uploaded to the blog but looks like they got the link wrong in some way so there’s nothing there.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

While I can’t find any TV spots it’s hard to believe there weren’t a bunch run, specifically on networks frequented by the demographic the studio is clearly aiming for. The trailers were used for ads on YouTube, Twitter and elsewhere and I’m sure there were other paid executions happening, just nothing that made any news or crossed my radar.

Media and Publicity

Nicola Yoon, the author of the source book, spoke about what it was like having her work adapted and being on the movie set as it was filming. She also commented on the casting and how important having a cast that wasn’t all-white was to her.

After that the next major pop was a big feature interview of Stenberg where she talked about the story, the relationship that’s at the center of it and more. That story also exclusively debuted an “emoji trailer” that was meant to resonate with the teens. Throughout the campaign, Stenberg would talk more, sometimes about her history of working with female directors and diversity, sometimes about social media and the activism she’s engaged in, all at the same time promoting the movie.

The movie got a big boost when a first clip debuted during the MTV Movie and TV Awards that showed the budding, frustrated romance between the two characters.

Overall

Let’s just stipulate right at the outset that I am not the target audience for this movie. There couldn’t be anything about this campaign that interests me less. It’s…not my thing. But, I’m aware enough to know what’s being put on display here is likely attractive to the teens and tweens being targeted and who might need a break from the computer-generated superheroes to go get their cry on at the local theater. The story of frustrated and slightly forbidden teen romance has been around for centuries, if not longer, and this plays right into that idea effectively.

From one element to the other, the campaign has a nice consistent tone and feel, helped largely by the repeated use of that flowery design applied to the title treatment. The entire push is designed to pluck every single emotional heartstring the audience might have, showing longing glances and dreaming and promises to take each other away from it all. The movie is essentially being sold as an updated version of Rapunzel or other similar stories where the gallant prince comes to save the princess who’s been locked away in the tower by her over-protective father and show her there’s more to life than what she knows. With Snapchat.

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Movie Marketing Madness: The Dinner

Politics and family dynamics form the core story at the heart of The Dinner, getting a limited release this week. The movie stars Richard Gere as Stan Lohman, a congressman who’s beginning a campaign for governor with the support of his wife Claire (Rebecca Hall). Those ambitions are threatened by the actions of their 16-year-old son, who along with his cousin, have committed a crime that’s drawn national headlines but to which they haven’t yet been tied. The connection would, of course, derail Lohman’s plans.

To discuss the matter the couple plan a dinner with Stan’s estranged brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife Katelyn (Laura Linney). Over the course of the meal, the four must navigate their own family history while deciding on what next steps to take: Disclose the truth and derail Stan’s planned governorship while also sending their children to jail or keep the truth buried, allowing everyone’s life to go on uninterrupted?

The Posters

The primary poster uses a familiar design, the five vertical stripes down the length of the design. Four of the five stripes feature a different member of the cast, going from Gere to Linney to Hall to Coogan. The fifth, in the middle, has the title, cast list, and a note about how it’s based on a best-selling novel. In between some of them is copy asking “How far would you go…to protect your children. Each photo has a background of a tastefully-lit restaurant, with ornate lights and classic wooden wall features, helping to establish the setting. All that combines to convey the message that the movie is about making hard choices but takes place primarily in a high-end dining establishment.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out with introductions to the main characters, including a candidate for governor and his brother, who’s resentful of the former’s success and style. Stan has called for a dinner with the two of them and their wives to discuss a family matter, which we find out involves a crime that was committed by the sons of both couples. Stan wants the truth, which has been covered up, to come out but that isn’t an opinion that’s shared by everyone at the table. The drama amps up from there.

It’s alright, selling a variation on the white people’s problems that are the theme of so many movies. There may be some real digging into issues here, but the trailer just sells what amounts to an emotional dinner conversation. The stakes of that conversation are hinted at a bit but there are also a few side stories that slip in there that aren’t fully explained. Again, it’s good at selling an important family decision-making dinner, but it may not go far enough in showing off just what’s happening to pull all these people together.

Online and Social

Scenes from the trailer play in the background of the front page of the movie’s official website. Amidst all that is the title and a reminder of the release date. Down in the lower left are both a link to the movie’s Facebook page and a quiz to find out what the amount you tip restaurant servers says about you as a person. That only works when you visit the prompted URL on your smartphone, though.

Back to the top of the page, which is where there’s a content menu to go through. First, there is “Synopsis, which lays out who the characters are and what the moral dilemma they’ll be wrestling with is. After that, the “Cast” section basically recreates the poster art as it associates the actor with the character they play.

“Press” presents a few positive critical pull quotes alongside some photos from the movie. There are seven stills in the “Gallery” section. “Novel” then has information on the source novel (which is set in Amsterdam, it seems) and links to find out more about author Herman Koch’s other works. Finally, you can watch the “Trailer” again.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing that I’ve seen. There may have been some online or social advertising done but if so it didn’t make my radar, nor was I made aware of it.

Media and Publicity

The cast and crew appeared at the Berlin Film Festival along with the movie to talk about shooting, the story and more, including Linney talking about working with Gere, the family-driven elements of the movie and more.

It also later appeared at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it again accumulated positive word of mouth and reviews. There Chloe Sevigny talked about the chance to work with Gere, Coogan admitted his Richard Gere impression in The Trip may have helped his casting and the rest of the cast generally commented on things.

This movie, like Norman which came out a few weeks ago, became part of a narrative of Gere’s career comeback after a bit of time out of the spotlight.

Overall

There’s some good stuff in here as the campaign sells a pivotal moment in the lives of the characters we’re following, as well as the lives of their children. Everyone will be impacted by what transpires here and we’re promised a tense drama that shows otherwise good people making hard choices to follow, for one reason or another, the path they feel is best. The conflict, then, comes from how what one person sees as the most sensible and correct course of action for themselves and their children. It may suffer a bit from being yet another “white people with money try and figure out how to stay out of trouble” story, but that can’t be held against the marketing fully.

In terms of visuals, everything here is pulling from the same color palate. It’s all browns and yellows, whether the action is taking place in a bedroom or the restaurant where the confrontation happens. That gives the whole campaign a nice sense of visual consistency that works in its favor. The focus on Gere and the rest of the cast also works nicely to sell a character-driven story featuring a high-caliber collection of actors.

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