Marketing Endings When Nothing Really Ends

war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes-hed-2017

My latest post at Adweek is about the marketing of The War For The Planet Of The Apes and Hollywood’s rule about how nothing can ever really end:

There’s an unwritten rule in Hollywood—or it may actually be written down, considering how pervasive it is—that nothing can ever end. Franchises built on existing intellectual property, whether adapted from previous media or sprung wholly on film, are the key to success, according to the big movie studios.

Not only can the marketing never tell the audience this is the last time they’ll see these characters (they may not feel it’s worth the effort), but you have to actively take the opposite approach and make every movie a small part of a bigger picture. It’s an approach perfected by Marvel Studios, and since used in the campaigns for The Mummy, King Arthur and other movies, though those efforts have largely failed to launch.

Source: How Hollywood Markets Final Chapters in a World Where Nothing Can Ever End – Adweek

Comparing Netflix’s and Amazon’s Movie Marketing Goals

My latest post on The Drum uses two recent releases to compare and contrast the approaches Amazon Studios and Netflix take in marketing their original movies:

Amazon put out The Big Sick, a slightly-fictionalized version of the real story of how Kumail Nanjiani (who plays himself) and Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan) met and how her sudden illness defined their relationship at an early point. Netflix put out Okja, the latest movie from director Joon-ho Bong that tells the story of a young girl who needs to rescue her pet super-pig from the clutches of an evil and greedy corporation.

Both movies have received positive reviews. The Big Sick has been praised for its unconventional take on romance and relationship comedies. Okja has been hailed as “the first great Netflix original movie.”

The key difference between them? Amazon, in partnership with Lionsgate, put The Big Sick in theaters before it’s available on its own streaming network. Okja, on the other hand, was made available immediately to subscribers of its streaming service. It’s that difference in release mindset that’s made Amazon, to date, somewhat more attractive to filmmakers since theatrical release is still the ultimate possible outcome.

Source: Is Amazon Studios’ marketing better than Netflix’s? It depends on the goals | The Drum

Spider-Man: Homecoming’s DIY Influencer Campaign

My latest for Adfreak covers a campaign for Spider-Man: Homecoming that enlisted a number of YouTube stars to create their own Spidey costume:

To return to that handmade concept, Sony Pictures reached out to digital content agency Portal A, which launched the Spider-Man DIY campaign. The agency was tasked by Sony to produce a video that was focused on the costume, and so Portal A recruited a number of YouTube stars, including RoxyRocksTV, AWE me, RobotUnderdog2, TechnoBuffalo and Professor Pincushion.

Those stars were brought to a special “Spidey Lab,” created by the agency, and given the job of creating their own Spider-Man suit. The five influencers were brought into the custom-built design studio at YouTube’s L.A. headquarters, stocked via a partnership with Goodwill, and given access to whatever materials they needed to bring their vision to life. At the same time, fans on Twitter were asked to submit their own custom Spider-Man suit designs using the #SpiderManDIY hashtag for a chance to win a trip to the movie’s world premiere.

Source: Spider-Man Now Has a High-Tech Suit, but This Influencer Campaign for the Movie Went Pure DIY – Adweek

Flashback MMM: Casino

“…just like De Niro in Casino.” we hear Will Ferrell’s Scott Johansen say in the trailer for The House as he considers sending a very painful message to a gambler who’s been cheating. That callback to the Martin Scorsese-directed crime drama is all the excuse I need to use it as the basis for this week’s Flashback movie marketing review.

Casino, released in 1995, was very much seen as a follow-up of sorts to 1990’s Goodfellas, with both movies not only directed by Scorsese but featuring both Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. De Niro plays Sam Rothstein, an underworld-connected entrepreneur who, with his partner Nicky (Pesci) move to Las Vegas to make their millions on the gambling scene of the mid-1970s. The two work alright together but eventually come into conflict not just over the direction of the business but over the affections of Ginger (Sharon Stone), who Sam has married but who Nicky lusts after. As should be expected, things get violent and filled with vengeance.

The movie has never been my favorite Scorsese picture, mostly because it felt like a glitzier take on Goodfellas, a lesser-than follow-up as the talent tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice. But it’s maintained a good reputation, mostly because of its epic scale and amazing visuals, for which Scorsese truly deserves credit.

The poster is designed to trade almost solely on the star power involved and evoke the previous movie from this team. The floating heads of De Niro, Pesci and Stone are all arranged against a black sky that lingers above what’s clearly the Las Vegas Strip, brightly lit at the bottom of the image. It’s simple, slick and uses the actors as the primary selling point. The slight orange glow everyone has is in keeping with the visual aesthetic of the movie itself, which is drenched in that coloring to symbolize the mix of desert sun and harsh neon Vegas is filled with and known for.

The trailer starts off with Sam talking about how good he is and how big his casino is. Standard shots of money being loaded and unloaded follow. Sam is offered his own casino operation as a reward for his loyalty and success. Nicky comes out but it’s clear his tough guy style is going to cause friction in the more refined waters of Vegas. Sam begins courting Ginger, a waitress, and marries her. Then things start to go south, particularly because of Nicky’s reckless and violent behavior. Ginger starts threatening to talk to the Feds, Nicky gets more and more unpredictable and all the time Sam wants to keep things together, asking for total trust and that people just listen to him because he knows what’s best.

Like the poster, it knows exactly what it wants the audience to take away, which is that this is a reteaming of the core players from Goodfellas but this time with the action taking place in 1970s Las Vegas. It’s filled with violence and hints at betrayal among the various thieves and mobsters, all while maintaining a flashy veneer that covers the ugly motivations and actions of the characters, much like Vegas itself.

Both of these elements work very well together, giving off the same brand look and feel and making the same basic appeal to audiences, which is that this is a high-quality movie from people you enjoy working together once more. It never explicitly name-drops Goodfellas, but it doesn’t need to, the implication is there, though the campaign still stands just fine on its own. And special shoutout to the music used in the trailer, though while the Rolling Stones song is great the fact that “Layla” isn’t heard here means a major moment in the story isn’t even mildly spoiled.

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.

Overall

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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Do Directors Matter? Not in the Marketing of Big Films

In Entertainment Weekly yesterday, Anthony Beznican ponders whether, in the wake of so many replacements on high-profile films, the era of the director is coming to an end. It may seem like a kind of click-bait, outrageous premise like the claim  that’s made every two or three years that traditional advertising is dead or some such. But Beznican has at least somewhat of a point, largely the same one that lends some credence to the similar argument that “movie stars are dead.”

The truth behind both is that these individuals are less and less important to why people see large-scale mainstream movies. They’re drawn, the logic goes, more to the franchises regardless of who is starring in them or, in this case, who’s directing them. Star Wars is bigger than any one director or any actor, so it doesn’t impact anything. That goes hand in hand with the rise of the producer as a guiding creative force as Kevin Feige, Kathleen Kennedy and others take more of a proactive role across movies that lends consistency to multiple entries in a franchise.

The secondary status being assigned to directors is evident in the marketing of some recent massive franchise entries.

Everyone in film news/gossip circles knew Gareth Edwards was directing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, even before the reports of dissatisfaction at Lucasfilm that lead to massive reshoots and reediting began to trickle out. But while his name appears on the poster, it’s nowhere to be found in the trailers. The same is even true of the trailer for Thor: Ragnorak, for which Marvel went out and signed Taika Waititi, who had an incredible reputation after directing What We Do In The Shadows and The Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Even Patti Jenkins, the first woman to helm a superhero film, didn’t rate billing in the trailer for Wonder Woman, though she’s been hailed in the industry press for setting the movie’s tone.

In all of these cases the story and the characters are more important than the people who stood behind the lens and helped make the movie. They are incidental and not seen as a relevant factor the audience will consider when deciding what to see in the theater.

Contrast that to the trailers for Dunkirk, Baby Driver or The Beguiled, all of which prominently display the names of Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright and Sofia Coppola, respectively. In all those cases the calculous by the studios says that yes, there’s enough brand recognition in the director’s name that it will result in X number more people deciding to see the movie. These are smaller films that will live and die not on how many Entertainment Weekly cover stories are secured but by the buzz that circulates among fans both online and off.

So for smaller movies calling out the director can have a great positive impact. For bigger ones it’s seen as something that can help, but that doesn’t mean if the movie flops the director won’t be the first one in line to be thrown under the bus. If Wonder Woman had failed Jenkins would have been tagged as part of the problem. Edwards was immediately criticized for the storytelling issues in Rogue One. Josh Trank was singled out as a big factor in making 2015’s Fantastic Four the muddled, incoherent mess it is, but he’s nowhere to be found in the trailer.

It’s a wonder then that directors keep signing on to these franchise pictures. They get little of the credit – with the exception of Jenkins, but that was part of a bigger press narrative – but will shoulder most of the blame. They can be replaced easily, like a lightbulb that’s gone out. Sure, it’s an easy paycheck (at least that’s how it might look) but they see little benefit from it. Joss Whedon hasn’t used his Avengers success to make a series of more personal movies but has instead gone across the aisle to help DC/WB with both Justice League and Batgirl. We can only hope Waititi, Jenkins, Colin Treverrow and others get more opportunities to tell the kind of small stories they excelled at before signing on for bigger projects.

Until something changes with the priorities Hollywood has toward the movies it makes, it’s likely directors will continue to get the fuzzy end of the lollipop when it comes to not only their treatment overall but also how they’re presented in the marketing.

The Style and Substance of Edgar Wright’s Movie Trailers

Director Edgar Wright has not only provided us with some of the funniest movies of the 15 years but some of the most visually inventive. Not content to just point a camera and have the actors be vaguely funny in front of it, Wright uses every frame available to him and combines it with whipsmart writing to create movies that don’t feel like anything else. That’s what has lead to him not only being one of the best filmmakers of the last two decades but one that hardcore film fans will clamor over at any available opportunity.

With his latest movie Baby Driver hitting theaters this weekend it’s a good opportunity to look back at the trailers for his previous four directorial efforts and see how they’ve sold his unique cinematic vision to audiences.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Just look at the visual style that’s on display as the trailer opens. Simon Pegg’s Shaun is introduced with a bit of misdirection, showing his dragging zombie-like feet before eventually revealing no, he’s just still waking up. But really, that sequence that follows tells the audience right away everything they need to know about Wright. It’s’ a quick montage of toast being topped with jam, teeth being brushed and more. When the zombie apocalypse actually kicks in the laughs ramp up but the camera cuts, musical cues and staging of both the laughs and the action make it clear this is not our usual comedy, nor is it our usual zombie flick.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Once more the first image that greets the audience in the trailer is of Pegg’s feet, though this time he plays an obsessively by-the-book police inspector. The following montage once again establishes a lot about the character, showing how he was sent away because he was too good, and what the movie is going to look like. The setting might be a quiet English village but the action is non-stop and the flashy cuts and consistently-moving camera shows there’s more going on here than in your average action comedy.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

The only movie (before Baby Driver) Wright made without collaborators Pegg and Frost didn’t mean he ditched his unique visual style, which is clear in the trailer. The same sort of super-slick look and feel is here as is the fact that he has more on his mind than just mildly-funny dialogue. True, the special effects owe greatly to the incredible look of the source comic, but it really took someone with the sensibilities of Wright to make them come to life. It very much looks like it’s on-brand for the director while also being something that’s outside his usual wheelhouse.

The World’s End (2013)

This trailer takes a slightly different tack, setting out the basic premise of a group of childhood friends who reunite to finally finish the pub crawl they started 20 years ago. Again, the quick cuts and funky visuals show that we’re dealing with someone who knows how to frame a shot. Not just that, but how to have every frame be part of the story. So we see the very unusual situation they find themselves in as they return to their hometown. Cool music accompanies and underscores the action, which is also reinforced through the little bits of dialogue that are shared.

It’s About Substance, Not Just Style

While the visuals are certainly at the forefront of the trailers for Wright’s movies, there’s more going on.

Those visuals are just what’s most easily noticed by the casual viewer. Look at what’s going on with all of these, though, and you’ll see that the visuals tell you a lot about the tone of the movie and the attitudes of the characters. Pegg’s introductions in those three movies are both immediately able to be comprehended and then surprising as those expectations are upended. Frost often plays the foil and is shown reacting in some manner to what Pegg’s characters are up to, but he also gets some of the best bits because of that.

The characters in Edgar Wright movies don’t react like similar characters in other movies would. When Ed in Shaun of the Dead sees Shaun being attacked by a zombie, he gets them to turn so he can get a picture. When the group on The World’s End finally realize there’s an alien invasion happening in their town, Gary’s suggestion is they go finish their beers.

These trailers need to convey the visual aesthetic, those unexpected character moments and the high concepts of the stories. It’s not just a zombie movie, it’s a zombie movie that’s also a relationship comedy. It’s not just a police procedural, it’s an action comedy that’s hyper-aware of how self-referential it is toward other movies.

Those outrageous concepts are part of what have attracted people of discerning tastes to Wright’s movies. The trailers for his movies – and this is certainly a trend that continues with Baby Driver – sell all of this, promising audiences an experience at the theater that’s unlike the latest lazily-named Will Ferrell or Jason Bateman comedy. There’s a lot going on in the movies and that’s all on display in the marketing for them.

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.

Overall

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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Imagining A Superman: Red Son Movie Marketing Campaign

News has been bouncing around online today that Warner Bros. is at the very least kinda sorta considering the idea of creating a feature film version of the Superman: Red Son story from the comics, hearing pitches from various directors about how they’d tackle the project.

If you’re not familiar, Red Son is what DC Comics usually refers to as an “Elseworlds” story, one that takes place in an alternate reality that’s completely separate from the main DC Universe. There’s always the potential for universes to collide, of course, and various mainstream character have bumped into this incarnation of the Man of Steel from time to time, but it’s not part of “our” world.

Everyone knows Kal El crash-landed in Kansas, U.S.A.. What Red Son, as written by Mark Millar in 2003, presupposes is: What if he didn’t? What if instead he landed in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War? Instead of being brought up to embody the spirit of small town America, where you help everyone and believe justice prevails, Kal is instead raised in Ukraine to believe in the expansion of socialism and the almighty, unquestioned power of the soviet collective.

While the comic, released in a three-issue “prestige” format, came out 14 years ago, the political winds have shifted since then. Where Russia was considered for decades as being, in general, an opponent of the U.S., now America’s ruling political party is alternatively denying collaborating on election tampering with Russian state actors or saying even if they were that’s not even a crime, man. So relations with the former Soviet Union are at an odd place in history. All of that would make a marketing campaign for the movie…well, it would be interesting to watch. Let’s do some speculating:

The Hypothetical Poster

It’s easy to imagine WB adhering fairly closely to the trade dress for the collected edition of the comics, which shows Superman standing upon a platform that’s shaped like his traditional symbol but with the Soviet hammer and sickle inside it instead of the “S” that we all know. The same symbol adorns his costume, which is now not blue, red and yellow but dark brown and red, the colors of the Soviet Union.

That might be a tad overt for the mainstream U.S. audience, though. Instead a poster might take a more mysterious approach, showing Superman largely from the rear, perhaps walking away from the camera and toward something that’s clearly Russian like the Kremlin building in Moscow. The symbol doesn’t have to be shown since, again, it would might be a bit much to swallow. So it’s going to use shadows, shading and other visual cues to sell the idea of an alternate, non-traditional Superman. It doesn’t have to explicitly sell the idea of a Soviet Superman, just one that’s not Christopher Reeve.

The Hypothetical Trailer

A teaser would take a similar approach to what I’ve outlined above for the poster, hinting and teasing the idea that this Superman isn’t who we’ve all known for 75+ years. In fact a slow-motion shot of him walking toward the Kremlin as we see more aspects of his different costume are shown could be supplemented with title cards that lay out the premise, that at the height of the Cold War a strange alien craft crashed in a rural part of the Soviet Union. The alien aboard grew up to fight not for liberty and justice, but for the forces that opposed those ideals.

A full trailer would be a bit more difficult in terms of masking the very, very Russian tone of the story. We’d have to see Kal’s craft landing on the Ukraine farm and the child being whisked off by government agents to test him. I’m imagining a montage of Kal’s strength being tested that, in my head, plays out like Drago’s training montage in Rocky IV.

This one could focus not on the political ideals of the characters but instead on the conflict between Superman and Lex Luthor, who in this story has been elected President of the United States. (This keeps getting too real.) Cut out the bits of the story that involve Luthor enlisting a Russian-trained version of Batman and using a cold, heartless characterization of Wonder Woman as bait and stick with selling it as Superman vs. Lex Luthor, the essence of any good Superman story.

OK, But Even So…

There are multiple elements of the source material that make it almost unfilmable, including Luthor creating a global American empire and curing all disease before living for 1,000 years, variations on the Green Lantern mythology, Brainiac’s involvement on both sides of the conflict and much more.

Beyond even the story logistics, though, it’s hard to see how this is successfully sold the audience. The current cinematic incarnation of Superman as played by Henry Cavill only has two movies under his belt, 2013’s Man of Steel and what amounted to a supporting role in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. He’s been completely absent from 95% of the marketing to date for Justice League, coming later this year.

So would Cavill play Red Son Superman? How would the marketing convey to the audience that this is an alternate reality and not the same DC Cinematic Universe that only really got off the ground for fans with Wonder Woman? And how would the dark, dystopian tone of Red Son go over after Wonder Woman was praised by fans and critics alike for its hopeful, optimistically-heroic tone that was such a contrast to Man of Steel, BvS or Suicide Squad?

Those are the real questions Warner Bros. would have to answer as it not only produced but eventually sold a Red Son adaptation to the mass audience. While the project is still barely, if reports are accurate, in the larval stage, they’re still hanging out there and will have to be addressed before a single frame is shot.

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.

Overall

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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