Defining My Ethical Boundaries

(Note: This is based on one of the prompts from Robert S. Kaplan’s book What You’re Really Meant to Do.)

So last time I shared some of the ethical guidelines I’ve striven to adhere to over the years I’ve spent working and advising clients and employers. Guidelines are great, but it’s also important to know where the absolute boundaries are, the lines you won’t cross.

Just as with anything else regarding personal and business ethics, adhering to these guidelines and boundaries is going to bring you into conflict at some point or another with someone you work with. That’s inevitable. It’s not that these are bad people. Most of the time it’s just because they aren’t as well-informed as you might be on a particular issue so has a different perspective. They simply think the guardrails are in a different place. It’s therefore incumbent on subject matter experts to educate and inform, providing the background and context for why a line in the sand isn’t just a subjective, arbitrary one but is objective and immovable.

So Where Are My Own Boundaries?

When I think about the lines I’ve drawn over the years in the workplace they almost all have to do with transparency and misrepresentation. It’s been a “thing” for me in more than a few meeting and I’ve taken every opportunity to explain to the other people in the room or on the phone why it’s so important to me.

Long before the FTC was even considering guidelines around disclosure of paid sponsorships or the reviewing of free products, my coworkers and colleagues and I were pushing for anyone we worked with to be transparent about the relationship. Back when Tom Biro and I were putting together an influencer review program, we included a caveat in the contract saying that while participants were not required to write about the product on their blogs, if they did so they needed to disclose that they got it from us as part of a marketing effort.

That focus has continued over the years. Influencers or fans recruited into marketing plans needed to explain to their audience that they were getting special access or products from the company. Paid ads that were placed on the networks I was managing needed to include clear messaging flagging it as an ad. This was all before Facebook or Instagram put tools in place to formalize these disclosures.

While that commitment to disclosure has remained firm, I will admit to evolved thinking on another issue. Like many of those in my generation, I was initially strongly against any form of ghostwriting in the budding world of corporate blogging. If a post said it was coming from the CEO or CMO, it darn well better be coming from the CEO or CMO.

I’ve mellowed on that, though. Eventually, it became clear that these blog posts weren’t all that different from other C-level communications like bylined op-eds or shareholder letters which were often written by marketing teams and signed off on by their eventual “authors.” Not only am I more understanding of this being a common practice, I’ve done it myself.

What Are You Comfortable With?

It comes down to what sort of tactics you’re comfortable not only with signing off on but being held accountable for. Someone may not have a problem in theory with saying no, influencers don’t *need* to disclose how they’re being paid for creating marketing content. But when you explain how it can embarrass both the agency they work for and the client they’re working with, ultimately getting them fired for encouraging the violation of clear rules, one would hope their tune would change.

What’s been your core issue, the hill you’ve been willing to die on?

In Defense of Scheduled Social Media Posts

If you talk to the purists, the ones who frequently litter their motivational talks with terms like “authenticity” and “connection,” you may come to believe that scheduling social media posts is a cardinal sin. You can’t be authentic, the thinking goes, if you’ve scheduled posts to be published at a later time or date. Social media marketing should be immediate and anything less than that is a crime. Variations on this argument have popped up here and there ever since the first scheduling tools were introduced.

That argument is bunk.

The thinking behind it isn’t wrong. Social media should be different from the rest of your marketing to a degree. That largely comes from being one of the few forms that directly with the audience, not only through a media vendor, be it paid or earned placement. It’s also more or less the only outlet that allows for immediate feedback from that audience. Social still needs to be part of the overall marketing plans, though and should be subject both to its own and overall business goals and objectives.

There are several advantages to scheduled content, including:

  • Ensures *something* is being posted: Even the best content programs are going to want for lack of material from time to time. There were days where, even with a program that regularly posted 40 items a day across 15 social profiles, there was just no news to curate. Without those posts I’d already scheduled a couple days ago, things would have gotten awfully quiet, which would impact engagement and network growth. It also just would have looked bad.
  • Gives the team a breather: Not everyone has access to a global team of a dozen staffers who can publish in the moment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People sleep, take the weekend off and are otherwise offline. Or maybe the whole team is being pulled into a day-long meeting. Whatever the case, scheduled posts let you keep posting when the team is occupied elsewhere or enjoying the rest of their lives.
  • Allows you to resurface old content: If you’re running a decent content program you likely have a healthy repository of “evergreen” material in the archive that continues to be relevant long after it was first published. Spreading out new posts to old material is a great way to fill in those gaps where nothing new is happening and increase the ROI you see from that content’s production.
  • Lets you hit consistent beats: One of the best things I did on a couple different client programs was say “This type of post is going to always be on this day at this time.” It meant that each morning we knew exactly what was going to be published and, more importantly, the audience had the same expectation.

The important caveat here is this: It’s all flexible. If you have a post scheduled for Thursday at 2 pm because you don’t think anything interesting will be happening that day but then all kinds of news breaks, move the post. It’s simple. Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, SproutSocial and all the rest of the software that allows for scheduling will let you edit that schedule. So adjust your ed cal, change the planned time and you’re set.

With X% of your daily content cadence planned and scheduled in advance, you’re also freeing up resources to focus on filling in the remainder of your editorial calendar. The team can then work on creating new material, curating outside news and other activities.

Don’t buy into the idea that scheduling social media posts is some kind of heresy. It’s not. It’s an effective use of resources and a great way to bring consistency to your content marketing program.

How the Needs of the Industry Have Changed Over the Years

(Note: This is based on one of the prompts from Robert S. Kaplan’s book What You’re Really Meant to Do.)

I’ve been doing content marketing for over 10 years, in some form. As I’ve said on a number of “get to know you” phone calls, that’s changed a lot over the years. It used to be about blogs, RSS and wikis. Then social networks started popping up and we needed to incorporate them. Then those social networks started adding photos, then videos and so on. So the platforms that have hosted the end result of the strategy I and my colleagues would develop certainly changed over time.

The skills and mindset necessary to do the job, both on a strategic and tactical level, also changed over time. Here are a few examples of how.

Visual Thinking

When I started out, it was mostly about text. Blogs offered writers a great outlet for their skills and if you were a decent writer you could get noticed in the early days. Eventually Flickr caught on with photographers and YouTube with video producers, but before mobile prevalence adding media to either was clunky, at best, and had to be done after the fact for the most part.

Eventually, though, the rise of Instagram along with more multimedia adoption by Twitter and Facebook along with YouTube’s mobile functionality meant text wasn’t enough anymore. People clearly responded more to photos, videos and eventually GIFs and that had to become part of the thinking that went into all content creation. That became even more important as Snapchat and other messaging apps that were built almost solely around media rose to mass adoption status. It wasn’t just about the update, it was about what graphic would accompany that update.

Get Over Content Permanence

Blogs and social networks promised you the ability to build up a whole history online. You could look back days, weeks, months and years to see what you’d posted and take it all as a portfolio with you wherever you went. We trained an entire group of young people to be careful what they posted online because it was going to follow them their entire lives. There were massive debates over whether to delete posts and how to mark edited posts to draw attention to the most relevant updates.

Again, tools like Snapchat have upended what used to be the law of the land. Now these shots you’re spending hours planning and setting up are gone in a heartbeat, as soon as they’re consumed. There’s no archive to go back to. The rules and best practices around creation might be the same, but there’s no record of it after it’s sent out to the audience. It’s lost, like teardrops in the rain…

Dig Deep Into the Audience

Let’s be clear, there was never really a time when knowing nothing about the target audience was acceptable. But now the extensive nature of the metrics and insights that are available either natively on social platforms or through third-party tools means there’s no excuse to not know a lot about who it is that’s connected with you on those networks and who’s interacting with the content being published.

That’s exactly what clients expect. “I’m not sure” is a terrible answer because the numbers are right there. It means things can be planned better and content more targeted for maximum appeal. It also means you’re that much further on the hook if things don’t turn out fantastically. It’s now table stakes for anyone at any level of a content marketing program to be able to navigate Google Analytics, Facebook Insights and other tools to extract audience data.

Pay Up to Achieve Reach

Remember the halcyon days of the social web, when all you needed to succeed was good content that was search-optimized? I know I do. But those days are long gone. Search is no longer the primary way people find what they’re watching or viewing, replaced by social networks. And those networks are increasingly putting restrictor plates in the form of feed algorithms in place to decide what is “important” for people to see based on mysterious factors.

As part of that, the promise has been that if you want to escape the shackles of the restricted feed all you have to do as a publisher is open your wallet. If you don’t, you’re saying you’re happy with reaching 1-2% of the audience you spent years building up on Facebook or elsewhere, versus the 8-10% that could be yours for a few sponsorship dollars. Again, content marketing pros at all levels now need to be well versed in the paid promotion options offered by social networks so they can make appropriate recommendations to their clients.

Do you have any further thoughts? What do you think has changed the most in your job over the last few years?

Defining Core Versus Premium Content

Last week when I was taking issue with a point of view around focusing on “campaign” content at the expense of a steady content marketing cadence I used a couple terms: “Core content” and “premium content.” I offered brief explanations in that post but wanted to take the chance to offer some more in-depth definitions of what I meant with those labels.

Core Content

Core content is the meat and potatoes of any content marketing program. It may not be flashy, but it’s the foundation the program is built on. Without it, for a variety of reasons, the entire construct will come crashing down.

What’s the Cadence

Ideally, core content is being published multiple times most every day of the week. There are countless examples of best practices from various companies that say you should post on Twitter no more than X times per day, on Facebook no more than X times per week and so on as well as which time periods are best. What I’ve found over the years is that while those are fine guideposts, the best results come from digging into the metrics and adjusting your own program accordingly. If you find you get more engagement when you post twice per day on Facebook, post twice per day, assuming you have the content to support that. Don’t be beholden to general tips at the expense of your own program’s success.

Where is It Coming From

Hopefully the legwork regarding content sources has been done long before you’re having a conversation about post cadence. A full content audit of an organization will uncover what kinds of news is being shared internally (e.g. is someone putting together a recap of relevant news for their department that you can tap into), what the usual schedule of product announcements and other news is, whether you can curate news from outside sources and more. Whether it’s internally- or externally-sourced, all of it should – or at least can – feed into the content program. The determination can then be made as to when and where to share that news based on timeliness, which audiences are most likely to be interested in the story and how similar stories have fared on various platforms.

What Are the Benefits

Here’s where it’s important to remember that not all social networks are created equal. This isn’t like RSS or email, where content lands in an aggregator and is viewed by the recipient at a time of their choosing, regardless of when it was delivered. Social networks move fast and quickly disappear posts. On Twitter updates are lost to the stream, on Facebook and Instagram they have to fight their way through the algorithm and could appear hours or even days after they’re published. So an approach that includes multiple posts throughout the day provides more opportunities to reach someone at the time they’re paying attention to their social networks. Regular posting also creates more touchpoints for people to latch onto. That post from two hours ago may not have been interesting to them, but this one they just saw now is and so they’ll RT it.

Not only is relevance and engagement a major benefit of an approach that includes core content but so is audience acquisition. All those touchpoints that give people new chances to RT and amplify your message also mean they’re exposing your messaging to their own network. That means you’re reaching a new audience and potentially making some of them your own. If you’re not publishing regularly, you’re not taking advantage of organic audience acquisition.

How Is Success Reported

The metrics pulled here should be evident: Engagement, click-throughs, network growth are all basic numbers that are based just on the social aspect of the program. Digging in a little deeper, though, numbers can be reported on site visits, lead conversions and more that speak more directly to business goals like sales, leads and more. Here’s another benefit of a daily, regular, organic publishing cadence: Reaching people with specific and actionable messages that go beyond “news” and include sales, signups and lots more.

Premium Content

By way of contrast, premium content is bigger in scale. These are the big pops of more substantially content that’s been planned for a longer period of time and is generally tied to something that’s larger scale than the news that trickles out of a company regularly.

What’s the Cadence

This is largely going to depend. I’ve seen programs that have launched a premium content execution every quarter and others that save their powder for a once-a-year major event. The key point here is that everyone involved is in agreement that some upcoming moment – an industry conference, the release of a major new study, a new product announcement – is worth pulling out all the stops for.

Where is It Coming From

Most likely these moments are being sourced internally. Again, they’re going to come from Marketing, which lets you know a big campaign is coming up, or Product, which lets you know a new item is being made available or something along those lines. This is why it’s so important, when you’re setting up a program and aligning stakeholders around goals, for that conversation to involve representatives from as many different departments as possible.

What Are the Benefits

These are the moments that only have the potential to become big because of the daily work that’s been done on the core content program. It’s largely through those efforts that you have the audience that will now turn its eyeballs to these bigger moments. There are the same potential benefits – sales, conversions, engagement, time-on-site etc – but you won’t achieve any of them if the audience isn’t there. Conversely, these big pops can support the core program as more people become attached to the brand’s profile and so on. The best premium content moments, I’ve found, come along with traditional press outreach efforts that can result in industry or general coverage, increasing the benefits for the program.

How Is Success Reported

Success can be found in many of the same numbers as for core content, though there may be specific metrics you’ll want to track and report on that are dependent on what form this premium execution has taken. So if it’s a whitepaper, you’ll want to track downloads. If it’s a VR experience you’ll be tracking views. If it’s an interactive timeline you’ll be tracking site stickiness and specific engagement points. Again, though, these metrics should be agreed upon by everyone involved before launch so everyone knows what success will look like.


In most everything I’ve laid out here I’m assuming the program being run is primarily focused on organic – meaning non-paid – content. Many advocates of the campaign-centric mindset rely on paid promotion of social posts to boost the reach of the program. In my experience paying for bigger moments is fine and certainly recommended. But if you’re relying on it to achieve any sort of substantial audience reach or engagement it’s because you’re making up for not doing the hard work that’s involved in running an organic content program with a regular publishing cadence.

There are some who eschew the “core” and “premium” labels in favor of something like “Hero, hub and hygiene” but I’ve found the definitions don’t quite match up and are indicative of a different approach. Not worse, but different and not quite analogous to what I’ve laid out here. That’s a post for a different time.

Discarding Cadence for Campaigns is Shortsighted Content Strategy

There’s a guest post on the Spredfast company blog that takes the position we in the content marketing industry need to focus less on cadence and more on campaigns. Rachel Datz, the guest author, is of the opinion that emphasizing a certain number of posts on each social channel per day means content is being posted for its own sake, not as part of a bigger strategic objective. Instead, she argues, the mindset needs to be around “storytelling” but that we can only get there if we drop the daily/weekly minimum post count.

There are parts of Datz’s argument I agree with. All social strategy needs to be driven by business objectives. That might be pure engagement or audience acquisition, it might be a conversion of some kind. And she’s right that only be selecting the right channels to meet those objectives will a program succeed.

I don’t disagree that there’s much more importance now placed on making sure posts are seen than just the sheer volume of content produced. Her solution to post less frequently and pay for exposure is pretty much exactly what Facebook and Instagram want content marketers to do. It’s why those platforms have put restrictor plates on organic reach. It’s also how many social CMS platforms have been reconfigured, to lump everything into a campaign.

Campaigns are great, but my question is this: For programs that don’t have the dollars to pay for audience attention, what foundation are those campaigns meant to be built on?

The kinds of campaign Datz talks about are what I and my colleagues used to refer to as “premium content.” Those are the big spikes that come along once every two months or so that promote big events or major efforts. Those are the moments to pull out infographics, white papers and other content that is meant to draw people’s attention out of the everyday.

Without a bed of core content – the everyday small news that’s posted – those premium moments are left on their own, though. The core content, the 3x daily posting on Twitter, the daily post on Facebook etc, is what builds up that audience. That’s what makes the account a valuable one to follow.

Put it this way: If I’m not already engaging with and interested in what the company is posting every day, why am I going to be interested in those campaign stories?

Also, how does audience acquisition happen in the periods between those campaigns? While I don’t question that lots of people will find the account during the campaign periods, discounting the fallow periods and not continuing to pursue a strategy of consistent core content is shortsighted. You’re leaving people on the table, so to speak.

I’ve been responsible for a number of content programs over the last 10+ years and in every case I’ve counseled my clients to adopt a strategy of consistent daily publishing. Here’s why:

If you’re not putting messages out there you’re not giving the audience any opportunities to see your name.

If you’re not letting people see your name regularly, you’re ceding mindspace to the competition.

If you’re not putting messages out there regularly you’re not giving the audience any opportunities to amplify those messages.

If you’re not giving the audience opportunities to amplify your message, you’re not taking advantage of a significant source of organic growth.

And if you’re not publishing regularly, during different parts of the day every day, you’re ignoring big chunks of the audience.

It’s the equivalent of saying a local business should pull in the sign hanging over its storefront and only focus on TV commercials. Those are fine, but they’re not everything. It’s a mix of all many different content types, both big and small, that add up to success. Abandoning a consistent publishing cadence may be fine for brands with deep pockets who can afford to buy their way to the attention of hundreds of thousands of people, but that’s not everyone. Even for those who can afford it, the ROI is *much* different.

I’m not discounting a focus on a “storytelling” approach to content marketing, though that term gets thrown around a lot by many people who don’t understand what it really means. It’s just that needs to be one tactic in a bigger program that also includes the kind of core content that creates everyday connections and opportunities. Yes, the social marketing world is shifting, but there are ways to take advantage and reap the benefits of both approaches.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Little Hours

Religious humor is funny, at least if you’re the kind of person who can laugh at themselves to any extent. Seeking to test the boundaries of even that concept is this week’s The Little Hours. Based in part off a section of The Decameron, a 14th-century Italian collection of short stories, the movie stars Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Kate Mucuci and Molly Shannon as nuns in a convenient overseen by a priest played by Fred Armisen.

These aren’t your conventional nuns, though. Not only do they drink, swear, threaten the local farmers and have wanton sex, they…well, there’s no kicker there. They do all that. One day a young man played by Dave Franco seeks shelter in the convent, passing himself off as a deaf mute so as not to draw attention to himself. But his presence in the convent just adds another to a long list of temptations the sisters already can’t resist.

The Posters

The first poster is pretty on-point thematically. It’s meant to look like a stained-glass window and features an image of Reilly standing over the other characters like he’s a prophet or something, with everyone else dressed in the garb of a convent. It’s not all that funny, but it conveys the basic premise that the story takes place in a religious setting well, so we’ll call it a success.

Another poster took the same approach, framing all the main characters in a halo of heavenly light. This time at least the faces of the actors are more clearly shown. There’s no tagline or copy, just some positive critic’s quotes at the top.

A series of character posters put each one of the major characters within an angelic glow that’s undercut by the often horribly-inappropriate quote from them. These are pretty funny.

The Trailers

The red-band trailer that really kicked off the marketing starts off serenely enough, right up to the moment a couple nuns tell a passing farmer to fuck off. From there on out the story and characters are presented within the framing device of a priest enumerating the sins of those nuns, which are plentiful and graphic. We see scenes of the the incredibly inappropriate things that happen, which are too plentiful to describe.

I can’t believe I just saw that and I immediately need to watch it.

A green-band trailer came later that told pretty much the same story, just without the cursing and overt sexiness. There’s a bit more context about how Brie’s Allesandra wants to get married and not be a nun, but that’s about it in terms of new material.

Online and Social

The pretty simple official website is in keeping with the small scale of the release. Two big buttons in the middle of the page encourage you to either “See the Film,” which takes you down the page to the list of theaters it’s playing at now and a calendar for future expansion, or “Watch Trailer” which offers you the option of the red-band or green-band versions to enjoy.

Scroll down the site and you’ll see a story “Synopsis” that decently recaps the plot of the movie and shares some of the credits. Keep going and there are photos and short bios for the cast. Then there’s the same list of theaters it is or will be playing at, the trailers and a “Gallery” of stills. Up at the top of the page there are also links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The only paid efforts I’ve seen so far are some promoted posts on Twitter and Facebook that have used the trailers to drive ticket sales. Not surprising this would be a movie that’s hard to translate into TV spots and may not be big enough to warrant a sizable online or outdoor push.

Media and Publicity

Just before it premiered at Sundance there was a first look still released along with a brief synopsis. More photos followed just a week or so before Sundance, where it was eventually picked up for distribution.

Plaza would bring up the movie and her research for the role in various other interviews about other projects. Of course some of the publicity was pretty off the wall, including a video of Plaza smoking and discussing weed with a couple of nuns.

Plaza and others involved in production talked here about the journey the story took over years of drafting and such as well as how the shoot was largely improvisational and how the Catholic League has (predictably) gone after it.

Baena and Plaza did a joint interview where they talked more about making the movie and what it was like to adapt something like this and make it this outrageous. Franco also had a few opportunities to weigh in, especially on the love scene he had to shoot while real-life wife Brie was on-set.


I feel like this campaign is the very definition of “only going to appeal to a select group.” It’s foul-mouthed, borderline blasphemous and completely off the deep end. There’s no attempt to actually adhere to the period the story takes place in, nor is there any to make the main characters anything but wholly unlikable. It’s not a big enough campaign to reach a mass audience and a good portion of the niche it does reach will be actively turned off by some aspect of what’s on display.

On the other hand, it leans into being unlikable and accepts that as its brand identify. It’s actively and aggressively and intentionally unlikable. If you can just focus on the material and humor and not get caught up in thinking too much about it (looking at you, Catholic League), the campaign promises a raunchy good time with some of the best young comedians working today.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Baby Driver

Director Edgar Wright is back, bringing his unique cinematic storytelling sensibilities to this week’s new release Baby Driver. Far from his collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, this new movie isn’t a genre satire but instead a crime thriller with musical sensibilities. The story follows Baby (Ansel Elgort), a savant behind the wheel of a car who uses music to compensate for an incessant buzzing in his ears. Baby is in hock to Doc (Kevin Spacey), a crime boss who uses Baby as a getaway driver for his heists.

Baby is tired of the life and wants to get out. That desire only increases when he meets Debora (Lily James), a beautiful young waitress who he immediately falls in love with, and vice versa. Those plans to escape a life of aiding and abetting crime are hampered by Doc’s insistence Baby help him out with one more score. But as the plans come together it looks more and more doomed to fail and Baby must decide when and how to make his stand and make his own getaway with Debora.

The Posters

“All you need is one killer track” we’re told on the first poster. Along with the title and the cast list the main element on the poster is a car that’s tearing away as if it’s being shot out of a gun. It’s simple but it’s great, a very artistic effort that thankfully just doesn’t show the big heads of the cast.

The artistic direction of the poster campaign continued on the second one-sheet. This one is more focused on the entire cast, with images of all the major players arrayed here. The fact that this looks painted, though, in conjunction with the bright pink background and the action shot of the car on the highway at the bottom makes it much more interesting than the usual collage of photos you see. It looks like the cover to a comics trade paperback collection. The same copy point from the first poster is used here as well.

Each character gets their own poster in a cool-looking series that features a pop-art looking background and a key quote from them. These are a very cool way to show off all the big names individually while maintaining the movie’s overall brand identity of snazzy visuals.

The Trailers

We meet Baby as the trailer starts. He’s flirting with a diner waitress who’s interested in his job and he’s a bit evasive. He tells her he’s a driver but we see he actually means a getaway driver for some very unsavory people. Then we find out via some exposition why Baby is always sporting earphones and listening to music. He’s warned by various bad guys about the danger of forming any connections but also see that he can’t extricate himself from the violent criminal life he’s in the middle of.

It’s insane, the movie that’s presented here. It looks fast and funny and bright and just great. It’s not the kind of thing we might normally expect from Wright, but that’s alright since he’s made a career of defying expectations. There’s just a lot of fun stuff going on here as the characters and situations are all introduced.

The second trailer is even more focused on style and attitude, working to present the movie as the coolest cinematic choice out there. It heavily features the positive reviews it’s already received from early screenings and has the great soundtrack that’s been assembled at its core. There’s minimal story here, just vibe.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website plays the “TeKillYeh” trailer when you load it up, so settle in and watch it again as you like. Close that and you get a full-screen version of the key art of the car being shot from the gun. A big prompt to “Get Tickets” is toward the middle of the page by the title and links to the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles sit in the upper right corner.

Opening up the drop-down menu in the upper-left, the first link there is to “Trailer” which plays the same trailer that opened the site. After that is “About” which has a brief story synopsis.

You can see the talent that made the movie in the “Cast & Crew” section, but there aren’t any bios or links to dive in any deeper. “Partners” has the information on the few companies who signed up to help with promotion. Finally there’s a prompt to “Get Exclusive Content” that takes you to an email registration form.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one boiled down the story to its core elements of Baby being an extremely-talented driver who may not be on the right side of the law. There’s a bit about the romance with Deborah and it makes it clear the movie is powered by some great tunes.

When it came to promotional partners, the movie signed up:

  • Alpha Industries, which created a movie-inspired line of apparel, with jackets named after six of the movie’s main characters.
  • New Era Cap, but details on that promotion weren’t readily apparent.
  • Subaru, which is using the movie to promote its WRX model.
  • Urban Outfitters, which offered an exclusive t-shirt and vinyl version of the soundtrack.

Online ads used some version of the key art and the trailers were heavily used for social media ads that drove views and interest in ticket sales.

Media and Publicity

While there was no lack of buzz for the movie (as is expected for Wright’s features), the first official look came in EW’s 2017 preview issue along with an interview with the director. It was later announced as one of the movies that would screen at SXSW Film, a screening that went very well.

The clear sense of unique style on display in the first trailer and posters lead to a bevy of fan art from designers and other creatives who were inspired by it, leading to some nice organic word-of-mouth for a movie that isn’t a big franchise release.

There was a profile of Eiza Gonzalez, who plays one of the criminals in Doc’s crew, that talks about her career in telenovelas and other shows to date as well as how she got the role in this movie. Wright also talked about how it had been 20 years since he came up with the idea for the movie, which came to him while listening to music unsurprisingly.

Elgort of course did a bit of press, talking about how he got into the movie, his career and fame level so far, what he’d like to do next and more. And of course given the movie’s focus on music the cast was asked for their guilty pleasure songs.

That’s just a small part of the press push, though, as Wright and Elgort in particular lead up the effort to go talk about the movie, its inspirations, its music, their careers so far and related topics. Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Spacey and other members of the cast also got involved to varying degrees to play up their involvement, talk about working with Wright and so on.


There are a couple things going on with this campaign.

First, the formal marketing is almost solely focused around the music. Even when the story is being laid out or emphasized, the angle is on how that story is supported by the music that’s included on the soundtrack. Posts on social media have come with the look and feel of mixtapes and cassette singles and, as I wrote about a few weeks ago, one of the final trailers is more interested in the music than it is anything else about what might appeal to moviegoers. That angle was also heavily used in the press push.

Second, there’s the appeal of Edgar Wright himself. He has a great reputation among film geeks with his Cornetto Trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, in addition to his fabled work on and then firing from Ant Man a few years ago, something that came back up in the last bit of press interviews. His name isn’t plastered over everything, but it’s noticeable enough that if you’re prone to give his movies extra consideration, you’ll catch it.

All that adds up to what’s being sold as just a fun time at the movies. The whole campaign has that fast and loose attitude, much like the driving that’s on display. You’ll tap your toes and watch intently, just like if you’re cruising down the highway with the windows open and your own personal soundtrack blaring from your car speakers. To finish up the metaphor, the marketing hits the gas and keeps going, showing enough of the characters to make you care about their fate but also selling more legit car action than any three Fast / Furious movies combined.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Despicable Me 3

despicable_me_three_ver3Universal and Illumination are back for another go around with Despicable Me 3, the second sequel in the surprisingly successful franchise that also spun-off Minions a couple years ago. As we saw by the end of the last movie Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is now working for the good guys, having given up his life of villainy to be a better example to Margo, Edith and Agnes, the three girls he adopted in the first movie. In that fight he’s joined by his girlfriend Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig).

This time out though there are problems. After letting an 80s-themed villain slip past him he’s fired by the secret organization he’s been working for. That sets the stage for him to be reunited with Dru (also Carell), the long-lost twin brother he didn’t know he had. Dru wants Gru to embrace what turns out to be the family business of being a bad guy, but Gru isn’t sure which way he wants to go.

The Posters

Lots of white-space on the teaser poster, with Gru just popping his head up through a manhole cover and the promise of a summer release date here. It’s just about telling fans it’s coming. The next poster explains that we’re going to meet Gru’s identical twin brother and shows Gru does not appear to be thrilled by this.

A series of character posters showed the Minions clad in prison overalls and sporting various (adorable) tattoos that were, it seems, designed to show how tough and still evil they are.

The Trailers

The first trailer is primarily concerned with establishing the new villain for this movie, in this case a shoulder-pad-sporting bad guy who’s still obsessed with the 1980s. Balthazar Bratt is taking over a cargo ship, but Lucy and Gru are on the case and trying to stop him. That doesn’t go according to lan, of course, and Bratt fights with a keytar and more. Oddly, it’s not until the very end when we see the Minions pop up.

Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s certainly another Despicable Me movie. Gru, it seems, is now a full-on good guy, though he’s still a bit anti-social. Other than that it’s funny enough introducing a new villain with a schtick. And maybe the studio heard the comments about the Minions being a tad overdone in their solo movie by minimizing their role in this trailer.

The next trailer shows Gru being fired after failing to stop Bratt’s heist. That means he’s out of work and doesn’t take well to unemployment. Someone comes to find him on behalf of his twin brother, who Gru runs off to meet, only to find he’s a super-rich guy with lots of great hair. Dru wants Gru to give into his criminal heritage and help him pull off one last crime. The partnership is not without its speed bumps though, but the minions are certainly on board with more villainy.

Yeah, OK. It’s funny in its own way and explains more of the plot. The Minions are still being somewhat downplayed here, lending credence to the idea that Universal is holding them back a bit.

The final trailer starts out by explaining how it is Gru doesn’t know he has a twin brother, who when they reunite tries to lure him back into a world of crime. Nothing new or different here, just some scenes we haven’t seen before and a bit more of the Minions but otherwise it’s more of the same thematically.

Online and Social

You get full-screen video pulled from the trailer when you load up the official website. On the front page there’s a big prompt to buy tickets as well as a rotating carousel of features ranging from “Watch the Trailer” to “Pre-Order the Soundtrack” to “Create Your GIF,” which takes you to another site where you find a clip from one of the trailers and edit it into a GIF to be shared on social media. There are also links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Finally, there’s a “Partners” link at the bottom that takes you to more information on the partner companies the studio enlisted.

If you go to the drop-down menu at the left the first section is “About,” which has a decent write-up of the story. “Characters,” which is also labeled on the front page as “Meet the Good/Bad Guys,” has a small bio of the main characters, including the Minions. There are about seven stills in the “Gallery.” Finally “Videos” has the latest Pharrell Williams song along with trailers.

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 filters work.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The paid campaign kicked off with TV spots that showed Gru celebrating his return to villainy while working with his twin brother. That’s a slightly different tack than was taken in the full trailers and outlines a different story for the audience, one that doesn’t show his reluctance to return to his former life.

Outdoor and online ads used the key art of Gru and Dru along with some Minions, of course.

In terms of promotional partners, there were quite a few, particularly of the food kind.

  • 23andMe, which used the movie’s story of finding family you didn’t know you had to sell its genetic testing services. This is a bit odd for a kids movie like this.
  • Bounty, which put movie branding on some rolls of its paper towels.
  • Kellogg’s, which put put out cobranded packaging and offered movie-themed treats in select snack boxes.
  • Chiquita, which put Minions on its banana stickers (which makes sense as those are the characters’ preferred snacks” and offered a sticker book to collect all of them as part of a challenge to win more prizes.
  • Yummy Spoonfuls, which ran a contest to win prizes if you submitted a photo of your “messy eater.”
  • McDonald’s, which put Minion toys in Happy Meals, though that U.S. promotion is nothing compared to what the fast food chain did in select Asian cities.
  • Puffs, but there aren’t any details on what this promotion is.
  • CandyMania, which offered a movie-themed casual game to play.
  • TicTacs, which ran a sweepstakes awarding a trip to Hawaii.
  • Nutella, which put out co-branded packaging and offered some movie-themed recipes that let you use the product to create Minion-shaped food.

Zumba, which created official choreography featuring instructor Toni Costa that was available only in Zumba classes.  

Media and Publicity

Carell talked about how he approached playing dual characters and how he found the accent for Dru along with the challenge of playing both brothers in an interview that included a first look photo from the movie.

A first look at some of the new Minions appearing in this movie also hinted at some story points the trailers haven’t gotten around to, including that the little yellow guys are more than just disappointed Gru isn’t returning to his criminal ways but actively and openly rebelling.

despicable-me-3 pic

The cast and crew did some media touring, of course, talking about how they felt with returning to the franchise as well as offering thoughts while attending the premiere. There was also a bit of a publicity pop around Zumba’s partnership involving a well-known trainer.


So this is an interesting little case study in marketing a film. It’s the third movie in the franchise, the second sequel to the original, which was a big hit and has become very popular. And it comes after the Minions spinoff, which was successful but not exactly a critical darling. But the Minions have also become a corporate calling card for Illumination, appearing as ambassadors of a sort in the trailers for Sing, The Lorax and other movies from the production studio. So not only have we seen them in the Despicable Me movies but their brand (yes, I said it) has become powerful enough to be used as shorthand for the studio’s overall output, a reason in and of themselves for people to see the movie.

As for the campaign itself, this is the most profound example of selling the promise of “more of what you’ve already enjoyed” I’ve seen in quite a while, even after having just dived into the latest Transformers marketing. Not only does it make it clear that Gru is still Gru and the Minions are still the Minions, it seems to be sold on the concept of apologizing in some way for the second movie offering changes to the characters, making it clear that everyone’s real inclinations are still toward villainy. So come see this, the campaign promises, because everyone’s getting back into character to some extent. It’s like if there was a sequel to Leaving Las Vegas where Nicolas Cage got sober and then a third one where Elizabeth Shue introduced him to his brother, a bartender.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Okja

Set in South Korea, the latest Netflix original film Okja is also the latest movie from director Bong Joon Ho, he of Snowpiercer, The Host and more. Okja is the name given to a massive mysterious beast that looks like an elephant crossed with a manatee and a pig who is the closest companion to Mija (An Seo Hyun). The two are always together in an idyllic life being lived with Mija’s family far-removed from much of civilization.

That all comes crashing down when Okja is taken by the Miranda Corporation, owned and run by Lucy Miranda (Tilda Swinton). The company has big plans for Okja, including using it as the basis for a revolution in meat production. Mija isn’t ready to see her friend permanently disappear, though, and sets out to rescue it, variously helped and hindered by individuals who have their own reasons for wanting to see Okja freed, even if it’s only long enough for them to exploit it.

The Posters

The poster – yes, Netflix actually created and released one – hammers home the movie’s story through metaphor. Okja is shown in the shadows being led by Mija, who’s walking ahead of it holding a leash. But mounted on Okja’s back is a factory, shown pushing out smoke from the stacks. It’s meant to be a literal interpretation of how the business in the movie is aiming to be built on the back of Okja and the leap forward it represents. Copy at the top makes it clear this is “A Netflix original film” and the Cannes logo is shown as well.

Not only did the movie get a regular poster it got a series of character posters, with personality traits for each person drawn on them like a map of cuts of meat on a pig or cow.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer doesn’t explain much. It starts out with someone explaining how she’s managed to combine nature and science, but that’s about it. The other major part that’s revealed here is a brief look at Mija’s relationship with the titular beast. Again, not much here but it does do enough to create some sense of anticipation that there’s a whole world ready to be explored here.

The official trailer is much more story-centric, with Mirando talking about the scientific breakthrough the super pig represents and all the benefits it entails. All that is countered with footage of that pig in the woods with XXX until it’s recaptured by the corporation. An animal rights group comes along and promises to save Okja from the corporation, but that doesn’t go according to plan of course. Action and intrigue ensues.

Wow. That’s..unique and I really don’t know what to make of it.

In the next trailer we get even more cute shots of Okja and her friend out in the wilderness before it’s taken somewhere by people with their own agenda. She’s determined to get her pet/friend out, though, and we see some of the adventure that’s experienced along the way. It’s not much, but it’s a solid second effort that dropped just a couple weeks prior to release.

Online and Social

The movie’s only online platform is its Facebook page, which has been used to distribute various in-world videos from the Miranda Corporation, share cinemagraphs from the movie and more.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A very strange promotional item came in the form of a video message from Lucy Mirando (Blanchett) who talks about the immense benefits her company has provided. That turns dark for a moment but ultimately ends on a high note. The video debuted in what appears to have been a sponsored post on Wired that was meant to seem like actual coverage of the Mirando Corporation and its activities around the Super Pig Project. Oddly, that article was pulled from the site, though it still shows up in search, with the page throwing a “not found” error.

That to my knowledge is the only paid effort engaged in. No online ads were run that I’m aware of and certainly no TV spots have been aired.

Media and Publicity

The first look at the movie, including some storyboard concepts, came via EW along with a few details about the story. A bit later it was announced that, unlike many Netflix releases, this one would get theatrical distribution as well.

The movie was one of the handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. That caused some controversy, though, as French projectionists objected to screening a movie that would not first get a theatrical release.

That Cannes screening became something of a lightning, focusing the debate over whether Netflix is good or bad for film in general. Some, including many actors and directors with past, current or upcoming projects at Netflix, pointed out that it was financing and releasing smaller movies that studios weren’t interested in and leaving talent alone to realize their vision. The counter argument seemed to be “If it’s not on a huge screen it’s not a real movie” which confuses production for distribution and discounts that the current system keeps many filmmakers of all stripes from having their work shown anywhere. Throughout the festival, right though this film’s debut screening, various actors and others chimed in with their thoughts, resulting in lots of press and exposure.

There was a bit of publicity outside of the Cannes issue, though one has to believe that controversy only helped raised the movie’s profile in the press to the point where it became one that was worthy of coverage. That press activity included an interview with Ho where he talked about his cinematic influences as well as the intended and unintended messages of the movie. There were also a few stories about the style of Swinton’s character and how the actress got Chanel to provide a key bit of wardrobe.


Well first of all it just has to be noted that Netflix put demonstrably more effort into this movie than it usually does. That comes through with the presence of not just one but multiple posters, a Facebook page and some actual press activity, something the company doesn’t usually engage in. It’s obvious Netflix felt that with a movie of this stature, one they ultimately to the premiere film festival in the world, it had to put some serious muscle behind selling it, regardless of whether or not it was going to screen in theaters.

I just wish it were a bit more consistent in its tone and messaging. The poster tells a story of corporate exploitation, the trailers tell a story of a girl and her super-pig, the publicity hammers home the idea of vegetarianism and the odd in-world campaign makes it look like a bit of Brazil-esque surrealism. So which one is it? The best case for seeing the movie, the strongest message, comes from its festival screenings and the good word of mouth that resulted from those. Outside of that there’s little for the average moviegoer to latch onto. This might be, as some have speculated, Netflix’s first truly great movie but it’s questionable whether the campaign is going to convert many subscribers or if this is just a prestige title for the streamer to tout.

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Movie Marketing Madness: The Beguiled

Sophia Coppola returns to the director’s chair with this week’s The Beguiled. A remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page, this one features Nicole Kidman as Martha Farnsworth, the headmistress of a school for girls in Civil War-era Virginia. One day one of her students comes across a Union soldier named John McBurney (Colin Farrell) who’s been severely wounded. Martha and the girls, including Edwina and Alicia (Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, respectively), take him into tend to him and nurse him back to health.

(side note: If this sounds a lot like Sir Galahad’s brief time in the Castle Anthrax…you’re not the only one.)

Problems begin to arise almost as soon as McBurney gets his strength back. Despite strict instructions for him not to fraternize with the girls, Edwina soon becomes attached to him, believing his declarations of love. But he’s not the best, most upright guy around and has been fooling around with Alicia as well. That causes tension in the house among the girls, but that tension is directed back around at McBurney, who feels the full weight of the women he’s scorned as well as their protector.

The Posters

The first and only poster is just fantastic. Like many of the one-sheets for Coppola’s movies, “pink” is the dominant color, this time used for the title treatment that runs along the side of the design, formatted for landscape display along with the alignment of the names of the main cast and the credits. The three primary women, Dunst, Kidman and Fanning, are shown in their genteel glory, all sitting or hovering around the bed of Farrell, whose face is just out of the camera’s range. It’s a gorgeous poster that sells a lovely domestic drama with the exception of the copy, which reads “Innocent, until betrayed” that takes things in a dark direction.

The Trailers

The first trailer definitely sets an interesting tone. It opens with a Union soldier being found by a young girl. He’s brought home to the house she shares with the rest of the women in her family and the tension quickly ramps up as two of them vie for his affection, which is forbidden by their mother. A series of quick shots ends with him shouting in the background, asking what they’ve done to him.

It’s pretty great, working to create a feel that all is not what it seems here. It almost plays out like Misery at the end and shows that these aren’t helpless belles here, they’re perfectly capable not only of defending themselves but apparently taking proactive measures to right some wrongs.

The second trailer hits many of the same beats as the first, just in a slightly different way. The focus this time is on the dynamic between the women who live on the estate and how that delicate relationship is upended by the arrival of the wounded stranger. A betrayal sets things down a dark path and we see the kinds of turmoil that ensue for everyone involved until it ends, again, with Farrell yelling after the “vengeful bitches.”

Online and Social

The official website loads and begins playing the second trailer. Close that and the front page of the site offers prompts to watch the trailer again, buy tickets or subscribe to email updates. There are also links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles established for the movie.

Scroll down the page and you get the usual Focus collection of media that gives the appearance of only being marginally organized, despite the content menu on the left that shows up. So you get a mix of social updates from the cast and others, videos including the trailers and press appearances by Coppola and others, official stills, links to press interviews and lots more.

The social media push was odd enough it attracted the attention of Jason Bailey at Flavorwire, who noted the contrast between the bright pink branding and the dark, gothic tone of the movie itself.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing in the way of TV advertising that I’ve come across or been able to find. Some online advertising was done that used the key art to drive ticket sales and the trailers have been used for social media ads, but that’s the extent of the paid push as far as I know.

Media and Publicity

With such a female-centric cast and crew, that combination became a central focus of the campaign. That included comments from Dunst about how filming a sex scene is so different with a female director as opposed to a male director.

The movie was one of the handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. While at Cannes Coppola also talked about not just this movie but also why the franchise films she’s sometimes offered don’t interest her at all as well as the struggles she faces not just as an independent filmmaker but a female one to boot. The movie was one of a few Kidman appeared in at the festival, leading to a narrative in the press about the actress’s resurgence and her work ethic.

In an extended interview, Coppola talked about what attracted her to the material, the process of shooting in such a gothic environment, the styles on display, what this period piece still has to tell us today and much more. A short while later comments from Fanning appeared alongside a new photo in EW’s summer movie preview.

Coppola and the cast made the usual comments about working together, the story and more at the movie’s premiere. During an appearance on “The Late Late Show” Coppola had a bit of fun by showing off the off-camera antics the cast engaged in while still in costume.

It makes sense that this being the third movie Dunst and Coppola have made together that they’d do some joint press revolving around that fact and looking back at previous collaborations. It was also, it should be noted, the second time the director has worked with Fanning. There were other features like this one of Coppola on her own, most all of which don’t fail to mention her famous lineage.

A minor firestorm emerged in the last days before release when Coppola addressed what some were calling a disturbing commission: The excising of a slave from the original story in this new version. She explained that forthrightly, saying basically she didn’t want the only black person in a story focused on female empowerment to be a slave, as well as that if she were going to tackle that topic she wanted to do so more fully and not as a side note in a bigger story. It’s a reasonable answer and approach, though that didn’t stop some outrage as people claimed she was trying to erase mistreatment of blacks from the history of the south.


Because I can’t put it better than I already have, I’ll lift these points from my post earlier this week about the changed portrayal of gender roles from 1971 to 2017:

The entire campaign is one of female empowerment, of them holding the key to their own fates and not being beholden to the whims of any man. That’s clear in the trailers, which present Farrell’s McBurney as a secondary character at best, even if he’s an instigator of much of the story. It’s clear in the social media campaign, which has used cinemagraphic Tweets that overlay current phrases like “Get it girl” in bright colors over the dark, gothic images from the movie. Others have labeled Kidman’s Martha as the “Head Bitch in Charge.” Banner ads have proclaimed on June 23rd, “Good girls go bad.”


The female empowerment is so palpable it’s surprising a character isn’t wearing an “Ask me about my feminist agenda” t-shirt and that the movie hasn’t received wall-to-wall cable news condemnation for indoctrinating youth to believe men are all evil. The bright pink text used in ads, posters and social media posts are so stereotypically “girly” while the actions of the characters are anything but cute and adorable.

That may be over the top for some. But it’s completely on-brand for Coppola and fits stylistically into the campaigns for previous movies like Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides. And it’s absolutely in-line with where the culture is right now, as women are allowed (and encouraged) to be both simultaneously girlish, embracing all things pink and frilly, and every bit as fierce and self-protective as men have long been. That’s the strongest message the movie’s campaign offers.

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