Study: People Don’t Remember Who’s Sharing News On Social Networks

A new study is out from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford showing news readers who rely on social media for updates don’t remember the media outlet that shared that news. That’s bad news for media, especially as Facebook and other platforms consistently seek new ways to host the news themselves and act as the media’s native publishing platform, not just a distribution tool. Facebook wants to sell subscriptions, let Pages create special super-fan groups and more.

I’ve been beating the drum for a while now that the biggest danger to media companies presented by social media is that it’s disconnecting readers/viewers from the brands that are actually producing the news. “I saw a story on Facebook…” is how everyone prefaces their stories, not “I saw a story The Washington Post shared on Facebook…” Eventually – and the numbers in that story certainly point in this direction – those brands become completely irrelevant. This is part of why “fake news” has become such a problem in recent years, because there’s no discernment between outlets when it all comes through the same filter.

Everything Facebook in particular has rolled out in recent years has moved toward that end. They want to be a media publisher but want to sidestep the accompanying accountability because someone else is actually creating the stories. They’ve sold publishers on Instant Articles, native videos and other features, dangling the ad revenue it knows no one can turn down as well as other monetary incentives for first movers that are pulled away as soon as some level of critical mass is reached.

Media companies have always survived and thrived based on their brand awareness and reputation. Here in Chicago I grew up knowing the Tribune was staunchly conservative as it tried to reach a national audience while the Sun-Times was more liberal, more focused on Chicago area readers and always backing up the Democratic Machine. Things may have shifted a bit over the years, but the point is that these outlets were well known and you could select which kind of news coverage you wanted. It wasn’t all thrown together into a blender where the brands become irrelevant.

There’s no quick fix to right the ship of media outlets that have become dependent on the (ever-decreasing) traffic Facebook sends them organically or on the trickle of shared ad revenue Instant Articles promises them. At least they’ve owned their subscription database, but now Facebook wants access to that as well.

Reputations are built on brand awareness. Without that awareness and recognition, which now seems to be fading quickly, media companies will have precious little to look forward to.

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.

Facebook Offers Subscriptions As the Latest Way to Disrupt Media

According to a report in Digiday, Facebook is making its next move against the media establishment. This time around they want to test paid subscriptions for publications that would put some kind of metered paywall or other pay gate around all or some of the content published through Instant Articles. Publishers would maintain control over setting the price point and retain user information.

It’s hard to fathom how bad an idea this would be for publishers who are already questioning the value of Instant Articles specifically and Facebook’s domination of the media world in general. The timing is even more odd considering it comes at the same time there’s news newspapers are looking to Congress to protect them from looming threats from Google and Facebook.

There are several reasons a paywall on Facebook makes little to no sense:

That’s Now How Facebook Works

Facebook’s News Feed algorithm is meant to stagger what you see. You’ll get an update from a friend from an hour ago followed by something from a relative from three days ago followed by an ad for a page your friends like and so on. It’s meant to highlight information you may find interesting or engaging, not necessarily news stories displayed in a timely manner. While Facebook has put its thumb on the scale to get Instant Articles more exposure – and subsequently higher engagement and views – publishers can’t rely on that. The network has changed the rules before and isn’t known for doing so in ways that benefit publishers long term.

Subscriptions Are a Poor Call To Action

Remember that the key to the success Instant Articles has seen is that the load times are faster because, again, Facebook controls that. But if the call to action after clicking an Instant Articles post is to subscribe, that is going to turn off someone just casually scrolling for new updates. If they’re not already a subscriber to the publication in question, what’s the incentive to do so? Is someone really going to take the time to fill out their payment and registration information on the train?

It Depends On Posts Actually Appearing

In order to even potentially take the step of subscribing, people first need to see the post on Facebook. But with Page reach dropping like a coconut, how many people does that translate to? How much will publishers be told they need to pony up in advertising dollars to increase the audience reach? The ROI here could be low as spend only slightly less in advertising on Facebook than what they’re making in subscriptions.

There’s No Way This Won’t Be Used Against Publishers In the Near Future

Name me a time Facebook hasn’t used the data it’s accumulated from previous “experiments” that have involved willing media partners and not eventually used the resulting data to make changes that benefit not the publisher but Facebook itself. I can’t think of one. Every time Facebook rolls out a new product like this they say it’s about helping the media industry but it always winds up turning Facebook into a place for the audience to go *instead* of the website for that publisher. There’s no reason to believe that won’t be true here as well. The story states publishers will keep audience data, but that data will come from Facebook, who will surely use it for their own purposes as well.

Wall Street Journal Shutters Blogs Because Niche Reach Has Evolved

Over the holiday weekend news broke that The Wall Street Journal would be shutting down eight blogs dedicated to specific verticals and topics. The newspaper’s editors cited the changing audience and constantly evolving technology that has made the blogs largely redundant.

The key point in the story for me is this: The Twitter accounts created for those verticals will remain, even as the blogs are shattered, though thankfully the blogs will remain up as archives, so all that content isn’t being completely discarded.

Those social media accounts remaining active is the biggest indicator of how the media world has evolved. As with The New York Times and other publications who have condensed their blogs, the focus isn’t on abandoning niche verticals. It’s just that the blogs aren’t always the best way to reach the appropriate and relevant audience in 2017. Running a blog devoted to a specific topic is time-consuming and requires a good deal of commitment. With publishing tools having changed greatly over the last decade, those blogs don’t need to be totally separate from the rest of the site on either the back or front end.

Even more specifically, for the reader, the way to follow niche topics has evolved. In the mid-2000s, when WSJ was launching these blogs, people would subscribe to the RSS feed, other blogs would link to posts as they shared their own perspective on a bit of news and so on. The link economy was thriving, powered by Bloglines, Google Reader, Blogger, WordPress, TypePad and other tools.

Now we’re living in a social media world, the unexpected result of the Web 2.0 revolution that’s less about links and comments and more about RTs, click-throughs, viral sharing on Facebook and other success metrics. Facebook Instant Articles, Flipboard, Medium, Apple News and other tools that take the media consumption out of the hands of the media company that’s produced the content are all angling for domination.

But on social, niches still thrive. You may not want to follow the WSJ’s main account as it’s not relevant or important to you. But the Law Blog’s Twitter is, so you can continue to derive value from it. And the WSJ publishers realize that and will keep it going to share thematically appropriate content to an interested and engaged audience. Social media, not a blog network, is now the most important way for big media to reach people. And that reach often isn’t about scale, it’s about engagement. Email is the same way, as more and more sites offer increasingly thinly-sliced topical newsletters for people to subscribe to.

This is all similar to what I wrote about in 2015 when a string of website closures took a couple great film sites off the internet or at least closed them down. At the time I posited that the Twitter accounts for those sites could remain active, publishing links and commentary that was still in line with the brand identity of those sites and sharing new posts on other sites from its former staff writers and editors. The audience was still there and was obviously interested, so why not find someone willing to keep managing it and keep providing value?

There’s still very much a place for full blogs on niche topics. Blogging allows for all the context that social media doesn’t. But what WSJ – which wasn’t the first major publisher to make this move and certainly won’t be the last – is doing isn’t about devaluing blogs as a format. It’s just an acknowledgment that the same kind of coverage is now possible within the bigger site structure. Also, that the niche audience is receiving their information through different channels and platforms than they were a decade ago. So it’s not about an ending, it’s just about changing to meet the times.

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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