Movie Marketing Madness: 30 Minutes or Less

How we react and behave in high pressure situations defines us to a great extent. There are varying degrees of what can be considered “high pressure” that range from periods of great stress that last months or even years to just a few moments that carry high stakes for ourselves and those around us. It’s whether we have the steely resolve to get through those situations that can decide whether we come out the other side a better person or if we come out of them at all.

The new movie 30 Minutes or Less is about just such a situation. Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is a slacker pizza delivery dude with an ordinary life that he is blissfully happy with because it entails almost no responsibility. One day he’s kidnapped by a couple of hicks (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) and told he needs to rob a bank or the bomb they’ve strapped to his chest will go off. Panicking, Nick enlists his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) to help him carry out the robbery.

The movie, while not based directly on these events, is loosely similar to the real story of a man who was blackmailed into robbing a bank for another party with a bomb strapped to his chest. But the real story has a much more tragic ending as the guy died when the blackmailers detonated the bomb.

The Posters

A pair of posters were the first ones released here, with one side showing Eisenberg and Aziz in their ski masks and the other side showing a couple of nameless and faceless guys wearing gorilla masks like they do in the first trailer. It’s alright but it’s going to come off as a little confusing, I think, for anyone who hasn’t already see that trailer since the two leads aren’t recognizable unless you know it’s them and there’s no context for the guys in gorilla masks.

The later theatrical poster wasn’t exactly what you’d call inspired. It simply shows Eisenberg and Aziz looking a little shell-shocked and nervous in front while McBride and Swardson are in the back clearly in control of the situation and looking quite cocky. It’s not the most artistic design in the world but it shows off who’s in the movie and that’s the major hook here so it’s hard to fault them based on pure practicality.

The Trailers

The first trailer, a red-band edition, starts out by introducing us to the two friends who are having a moment of falling out due to one’s actions with the other’s sister. When Nick goes later on to deliver the pizza he’s tasked with he finds himself set upon by two guys in gorilla masks who are intent not to let him go. When he is released it’s with a bomb strapped to his chest and the mandate to go rob a bank. So he goes to enlist Chet’s help and the two set about trying to execute on that plan. Of course hijinks and wackiness ensue since they’re not professional bank robbers and they’re not really getting along at the moment.

It’s a pretty funny trailer because the red-band freedoms are just used for language purposes and not to show off every crude or semi-crude moment that the movie contains. There’s still the bullet points of a story conveyed here. And as funny as Aziz is, Eisenberg actually might be funnier because he isn’t asked to do quite as much mugging to the camera.

Shortly thereafter a green-band version was released that was essentially the same trailer only with the language and other objectionable bits.

The next trailer went back to red-band land so all sorts of foul language was thrown back in. This time, though, the trailer focused much more on the overall plot and not just on selling the movie as some sort of slacker comedy. We see how the plot to have a pizza delivery driver rob the bank is hatched by the two redneck idiots and some of how they factor into the rest of the movie as well, a much larger perceived role than had been previously shown. There’s still plenty of antics from the two friends who are forced into the heist and, as I said, more of the story itself is shown so this is a good (for all intents and purposes) second entry into the trailer category.

It should be noted that the trailer ends not by promoting the movie’s official website or Facebook page or anything but instead a Twitter hashtag – #dontblowit that people should presumably use when discussing the movie. That’s interesting and all and certainly makes it clear what level of audience is being targeted by the studio, though you have to remember that anyone who uses unnecessary hashtags is ultimately going to “the special hell” reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.

Again, an all-ages version of this trailer was released shortly after the restricted one that showed many of the same scenes and jokes, only with the most offensive bits removed.


The official website loads with a list of options to choose from right off the bat. You can watch one of the Trailers, play a game or check out a couple of the movie’s social networking profiles.

The site’s navigation is laid out as if it’s a neighborhood map and when you mouse-over each area you see a location from the film and are prompted to share your visit there with your Facebook friends, something that’s so granular it’s hard to really comprehend.

The first section is “About the Film” and has a Synopsis as well as Cast and Filmmakers sections, though those just have a picture of each actor in the Cast area and just a list of those who worked on making it in the Filmmakers area. So it’s not exactly overflowing with content.

There’s just the one Trailer in the “Trailers” section, not even links to the restricted ones or any mention of them. “Downloads” has Wallpapers, Twitter Skins and Buddy Icons that echo the first poster key art. Finally the “Photo Gallery” has just 10 stills from the film with a couple behind the scenes shots mixed in.

The movie’s Facebook page has lots of updates with clips and promotional videos from the movie as well as additions to the official site and more. There’s also photos and an emphasis on asking people to pick their favorite quotes from the trailers. The Twitter feed has similar updates as well as information about some out-of-home promotions that were run in the weeks leading up to release. There was also a Tumblr blog setup that contains some video clips and lots of GIFs of scenes from the trailers that either the studio has created or which have been reblogged from others.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There was an innovative promotion with check-in service Foursquare that awarded movie-themed badges when people checked in at places like pizza shops and banks among others. Once someone earned the badge they were open to getting promos from local movie theaters and were entered into sweepstakes awarding a $3,000 prize.

Some TV spots were created that obviously played down the raunch and language in the movie but which still conveyed the extreme circumstances that are in the story but which are played comically. The emphasis here is still on all four of the primary cast members, especially Eisenberg and McBride.

Media and Publicity

One of the first publicity plays for the movie would be during the hipster-teen targeting MTV Movie Awards this year. There a new clip from the movie was shown to the TV audience in an attempt to get the young audience for that show interested.

Then came news the movie would be screening at 2011 Comic-Con since apparently it was felt the geek crowd there would overlap significantly with the people likely to find this sort of slacker comedy funny.

The fact that there are similarities between the movie’s story and a similar real life incident resulted in stories (AP, 8/7/11) about how the family of the victim in that case weren’t interested at all in the movie and naturally found it distasteful.


The trailers are, in my opinion, the strongest component of this particular campaign. That’s because they most clearly show the kind of movie that’s being sold, with the other components coming up short in various areas. The posters aren’t really able to convey anything beyond the presence of the certain actors that the audience might find amusing to watch. And the website, very surprisingly, doesn’t include anything about the age-restricted material that’s part of the campaign. I’m really shocked by that since there’s not even a mention of it outside of one prompt on the very front page, which sends people over to Facebook.

It’s obviously selling the movie to the same crowd that came out for movies like Pineapple Express but I’m not sure there’s enough of an emphasis on certain components of the story to fully appeal to that audience. It’s a decent enough campaign but it kind of comes off as a middling effort that doesn’t quite commit to one extreme to the other and I wonder how that’s going to come off to various parts of the moviegoing public.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Smurfs

There’s a whole tradition of Saturday morning cartoons that kids today just aren’t familiar with. Back in the 80’s my younger brother and I would wake around 6AM (earlier than that and the news was still one) and bounce between CBS, NBC and ABC at various times to catch the best animated shows of the era. That included, at any given time, “Snorks,” “Thundar the Barbarian,” “Pac-Man,” “The Real Ghostbusters” and countless others. If available breakfast would be cold pizza from the night before and more than likely we would be arranging our Star Wars, G.I. Joe or Transformers figures while enjoying the best (a loose description) commercial broadcasting had to offer between 6AM and 10AM.

But the rise of cable channels and the increased insistence that all children’s programming be educational soon pushed these fun, though certainly commercial, programs off the air.

One of the stalwarts was certainly “Smurfs” and the characters from that series and the preceding comic strip have now graduated to the big screen with the appropriately titled The Smurfs. The story is pretty familiar while also catering to the latest trends in semi-animated kid’s fare. While trying to escape from Gargamel (Hank Azaria), a band of Smurfs falls through a portal that dumps them into present day New York City. There they latch on to two humans (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Hays) who help to hide them while the three-apple-high visitors try to find a way back home.

The Posters

The first poster is every bit as simple as the first trailer. It just has Papa Smurf, Smurfette and the other Smurf looking away from the camera and over the cityscape of New York with the copy “Where the Smurf are we?” attempting to be clever by inserting “Smurf” in place of another word.

The next poster wasn’t a whole lot different, showing a bunch of Smurfs caught in a New York subway door and looking back at the camera. The fact that their little Smurf behinds are the main design component here should let most people know which direction the humor in the movie is coming from.

A series of character-specific one-sheets, each featuring one of the main cast of Smurfs, was released that had some sort of saying that doubled as a character description. Many of these were also later repurposed for outdoor and other advertising.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer showed almost nothing. After an introduction in the Yahoo premiere from co-star Harris, the spot starts off with narration about something big coming to our world that’s accompanied by shots of world landmarks such as the Sphinx, The Eiffel Tower and Mount Rushmore all of a sudden turning blue. Then we cut to Times Square where three little Smurf heads pop up and just as suddenly duck back down from the screen. Finally we see the three of them hanging on for dear life to the roof-top ad on top of a cab, with the ad showing the movie’s web address. It’s an extreme teaser so it’s not like much was expected and it delivers along those expectations.

The first full length trailer doesn’t go much into the plot (whatever there might be of it, mostly just telling us that the Smurfs’ arrival is heralded by lots of mysterious lights over New York City. We’re quickly introduced to the humans they latch on to. We get a couple shots of Gargamel that show Azaria might be the best thing in the movie but mostly this one is about making a bunch of jokes using the word “smurf” in place of various bodily functions. Not much to go on here but anyone who really couldn’t get enough of the Chipmunks movies will likely find this right up their alley.

The next theatrical length trailer gives the audience a bit more information. We start out in the Smurfs’ village and see their idyllic lives which are interrupted by the presence of Gargamel, who’s finally found what he’s been searching for. All the Smurfs scatter, with one group falling through some sort of rift and winding up in our world. There they cause all sorts of problems in the lives of the humans who find them but still must continue to elude their nemesis who has followed them through to this dimension as well.

In addition to a bit more about the actual story (such as it is) this trailer also shows off how “hip” and self-aware the movie is, with jokes – primarily from Harris – about how they can’t just use “smurf” as a replacement for all sorts of words or how annoying their little song is. It’s not a terrible trailer but you definitely get a sense of the movie’s attitude so your perception of it will be based on your tolerance for this stuff.


The movie’s official website opens by asking if you’d like to watch the trailer again. There are also promotions there for the Smurf Dance Party video game, the Smurf Village iPhone/iPad app and other Sony DVDs. There’s also a link to BeSmurfed, which lets you dress up a Smurf of your choice and then attach a message to the image that you can send to a friend.

Once you Enter the Site the navigation there is actually quite fun. You can access most things from the menu at the top but you can also control a Smurf and have him run or walk to the left or right to hit all those content areas as well.

First up is “Videos” which has both all three Trailers to watch and there are a whopping nine options to choose from in the “Games” section that range from regular games to quizzes that will test your Smurf knowledge and help get you informed.

“About” just has a synopsis to catch up on the plot. Then you can see what actors voice what characters in the “Cast and Crew” section but not view anything about them. Nine stills from the movie can be found in the “Gallery” and “Downloads” has Wallpapers, a Twitter Skin, a Soundboard of audio clips from the movie and Profile Pics that are really just the movie’s posters all collected.

The Facebook page for the film invites you to Like it in order to access the same sort of stuff you can find on the official site and in addition has a Wall full of publicity and marketing updates as well as various media assets. Twitter is similar with the updates.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV advertising began in earnest in mid-May with a spot that ran during the penultimate episode of the current “American Idol” season and which was, obviously, heavy on the singing components of the movie’s story. It also showed there’s a Katy Perry “inside” joke that makes me want to smack someone around quite a bit.

A couple different approaches were taken with the outdoor advertising. On the one hand there were pretty traditional ads that showed one or more of the Smurfy characters. On the other there were bus-side and other ads that looked like warning signs, letting people know the Smurfs were on the loose and not to be distracted by their cuteness, a line that’s stolen from the trailers.

One of the first bit of hype-building promotions was announced way back in December of 2008. Cosmetics company Too Faced launched a line of Smurfette-branded style products for women  to enjoy either straight-faced or in ironic fashion.

Macy’s was also an early promotional partner, announcing that Smurfs would be a big part of their 2010 Thanksgiving Day Parade and that stores would feature exclusive merchandise as well as signage for the movie.

Media and Publicity

Aside from a few “leaked” design mock-ups of the characters that had appeared now and again the first major volley in the publicity campaign was a story in USA Today (6/16/10) that gave readers an overview of what the movie’s story would be, what situations the characters would find themselves in and when the first teaser trailer could be expected. That story also included the first official publicity still from the movie, giving people their first sanctioned look at the Smurfs as they would look in the movie as well as making it clear the story took place in modern day New York City. Of course the secondary explosions around this story on various movie blogs likely dwarfed the scale of the original media hit so this definitely got people talking in advance of that trailer.

The tie-in toys and other products for the movie were also among those debuting or otherwise making a big show at the annual Toy Fair convention (Hollywood Reporter, 2/10/11).

As release neared the studio tried to get the fans involved in the marketing a bit by declaring June 25th Global Smurfs Day (New York Times, 6/12/11) and encouraging those fans to gather in cities across the country dressed as Smurfs in an effort to set a world record for such an activity.

Smurfette even took on the role of high fashion model in a spread for Harper’s Bazaar (June, 2011). And the Smurfs became the focal point of a new campaign from New York’s tourism company, which announced “Smurfs Week” with activities at retailers and other locations throughout the city.


What strikes me most about this campaign is that it’s almost 100% geared toward kids and not at all toward people of my generation who grew up with the cartoon. Unless you count by proxy as the studio seeks to make sure parents know that this movie is basically the same as Alvin & The Chipmunks from a few years ago and so, depending on your parenting decisions, suitable for the little ones.

Other than that it works so hard to be inoffensive that it winds up being just the opposite, with the only redeeming factor apparently being Azaria’s scene-chewing performance as Gargamel. There’s little here for anyone above the age of 12 to latch on to or find interesting aside from that, not even from a morbid curiosity perspective. It’s almost identical to not only Alvin but all the other recent movies featuring humans interacting with computer-animated cartoon characters and so holds little interest to anyone who knows any better.


  • 07/28/11 – NBC Universal signed on for lots of Smurfs-related promotions, inserting characters into shows on NBC and the variety of cable networks it owns and running other Smurfy stuff.
  • 07/29/11 – Apparently the movie is also the latest McDonald’s Happy Meal tie-in.
  • 07/29/11 – Christopher Campbell at Spout looks at the rampant product placement in the movie, including for what looks to be the biggest shill for New York itself.

Movie Marketing Madness: Cowboys and Aliens

Ever since 1991’s release of Unforgiven the Western movie genre has been forever altered. All of a sudden the stakes were higher, the emotions deeper and the overall gravitas just that much greater. Eastwood’s movie took a genre of film that had been a symbol for the American male ideal of stoicism and grit and showed its dark, painful underbelly. Westerns since then have also been, to varying degrees, about showing the emotional impact actions have on characters and not so much about the simple virtues of defending the weak and doing what’s right.

That’s not to say filmmakers can’t still have a little fun with the genre now and again.

Based on the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Cowboys & Aliens is a mash-up of the traditional Western with elements of science-fiction/fantasy, something you can probably get from the title alone. The story follows Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), who awakes one day to no memory of who he is or where he’s been but with a strange glowing blue gauntlet around one wrist. Stumbling in to town he eventually crosses paths with Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a wealthy rancher who more or less runs the town and who has long-lived gripes with Lonergan. As Dolarhyde is about to take him away to exact his revenge, alien ships appear in the sky. It’s eventually reasoned that these ships have something to do with the mysterious disappearances of folk in the area and may hold the key to unlocking Lonergan’s memory. Together with Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) the two rivals must work together to solve the problems that plague both men and maybe do a little good in the process.

The Posters

The first poster certainly let the audience know what it would be in for even while the specifics were still vague. A lone gunman stands in the desert with his back mostly turned to the camera, a Winchester rifle in one hand and some sort of crazy blue-glowy high-tech thingamajig wrapped around his other forearm.

It’s a nice and atmospheric teaser poster that is all about making it clear the audience that the story is a mix of two genres, Western and science-fiction. Oddly, none of the movie’s stars are listed anywhere on the one-sheet though at the top of the poster we are told this is coming from “The director of Iron Man,” so it’s clear that it’s being sold based on the public’s affinity for that movie in lieu of this being a franchise entry itself.

The second poster took the more straightforward approach of trying to sell the movie based on its stars. So Craig and Ford are front and center, this time facing the camera and looking above it into the far distance, with cowboy hats on both of them and the weird glowy gun strapped to Craig’s wrist. It too highlights the fact that this comes “From the director of Iron Man” and looks consistent with the first in how the design and colors are used as well, making it a nice second entry into the poster aspect of the campaign.

A final poster would include Wilde and for some reason opt to ditch the cowboy hats, something that results in Ford’s hair looking kind of ridiculous. It’s an odd choice that seems to be about downplaying the Western aspects of the story, but not fully since Wilde is clearly in Western garb and the two guys are still sporting old fashioned pistols. It’s the weakest of the bunch, unfortunately

The Trailers

The first trailer for the film starts out with a jolt as Craig’s character comes to in the middle of nowhere, a strange object around his wrist. When he’s accosted by a group of ruffians he dispatches them handily before heading in to town, where he encounters Wilde, who he doesn’t remember, and the law man who’s looking for him. Also looking for him is Ford and his group of men. And that’s when things get weird as what appears to be a spaceship appears in the sky and starts blowing things up.

We eventually see Craig take down one of those ships with the doohickey that he’s wearing but the rest of the trailer is a little back and forth. The action cuts between the showdown in town and what appears to be a journey Craig and Ford have to go on since we see a couple shots of them on their own.

What the trailer does well is make the audience say “Wow…that looks cool.” There’s just enough of a story to get people interested but not enough to ruin anything. And there are just enough special effects to sell the movie as an action film. Some of the story’s conflict is established and overall it’s a very effective teaser.

The second full trailer (which debuted during an episode of “American Idol”) once again opens with an amnesiac Lonergan waking up in the desert, unsure of who he is, where he comes from and what that glowing thing on his wrist is. He’s thrown in jail and Dolarhyde tries to take him, which is when the alien ships start to fly around overhead, with the mysterious glowing wristband seeming to be the only thing that can shoot them down. The ships capture some of the townsfolk and the two, along with Ella, decide to work together to try and rescue them. Finding the survivors becomes not only the primary mission but also seems to hold the key to Lonergan unlocking his memory problems and discovering who he really is. So we get lots of shots once again of fast-moving ships in the sky as horses ride along the ground and we’re told there won’t be any survivors.

This trailer has a little more story background in it but it’s still primarily about showing off the movie’s cool visuals and playing up the slick sense of humor that the film seems to have, something that’s most clearly displayed in the last sequence that’s shown. It’s fast moving and has the same sort of rock-and-roll beat that Iron Man’s first trailers did, so it’s clear that the trailers are making the same sort of appeal that those did.

A third and much shorter – just over a minute in length – trailer was released that only hinted at the mystery of the story in favor of lots of shots of alien ships, including what I think was the first look inside one of the ships as the cowboys try to find the people who have been abducted.


The movie’s official website loads with,as the primary element, an invitation to watch the TV spot that debuted during the “Spike Guys Choice Awards” (more on that later) or view some Images, Video or Downloads right from the front page here. There are also prompts down at the bottom to do all sorts of things, including play a Coke-sponsored game, download an iPhone game or the special movie-themed Hipstamatic Facebook app and more, including an invitation to check out the conversation unspooling on Socialrama, an aggregation site.

Once you go ahead and Enter the Site the first section of content (after the alien ship crashes to earth) is “About the Film” which has a pretty good synopsis in The Story, lots of information about the people involved in “Cast and Crew” and then more information you can download in the “Production Notes.”

“Videos” has both the Theatrical and Teaser trailers, the Spike TV spot exclusive as well as a few other TV Spots and a featurette to watch. There are about 15 stills in the “Gallery” from the film’s production. A collection of Buddy Icons, Wallpapers and even a Twitter Skin can be found in the “Downloads” section.

The “Games and Features” has two things: The Landscapes, Lawmen and Outlaws feature is just another way to grab some wallpapers for your desktop while “Absolution Training Grounds” is a shooting game that has you taking out various alien ships.

There was also a tie-in site launched that let people send an old-fashioned telegram for free to someone with a customized message, something that’s a nice twist on the idea of encouraging people to mention a movie to their friends and which usually takes place on social networks nowadays.

The movie’s Facebook page ports over a lot of the official site’s features to its front page along with lots of graphics promoting some of the corporate marketing partners like Coke and 7-Eleven. Outside of that there are plenty of photos and videos and marketing updates, many of which are also published to the movie’s Twitter profile.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The movie was one of the first to be pegged as being supported by a commercial during 2011’s Super Bowl, news that broke when Favreau announced on his Twitter account that he was cutting the spot.

That Super Bowl spot was pretty cool. It starts off in much the same way as the trailer, by showing Lonergan being confronted in a bar. After dispatching those who would arrest him the aliens start appearing and we see lots of ships flying overhead and snatching people up. It certainly plays up the action aspects of the film, which isn’t surprising. It’s fast-paced and all that, showing off to the broad audience that tuned in for the game a movie that looked like it was trying to live in two worlds. What’s unsure is how that then translates to audience interest.

Further TV commercials would play up the action aspects of the movie while still hinting at the missing identity story, with the first one even giving one of the first looks at the mysterious aliens that make up the movie’s title. More commercials would continue in this vein, including one that ran during the much-watched season finale of “American Idol.”

Then another, this time debuting during the SpikeTV “Guys Choice Awards” would make the movie look tougher than some of the previous had, with more footage of Craig’s character actually being the badass that everyone around him seems to think he is, something the previous trailers and spots haven’t emphasized very much.

There was quite a bit of outdoor advertising done as well, mostly with images of Craig aiming his wrist gauntlet gun, something that obviously became the most recognizable image of the campaign.

On the promotional front there was a partnership with 7-Eleven (MediaPost, 7/5/11), which developed a new “Alienade” flavor of Slurpee and offered “Wrist Blaster” cups that actually lit up with the same mysterious glowing light from the movie and featured the three main characters. The promotion there was supported with radio and other media advertising.

Coca-Cola also was a sponsor of a movie-themed augmented reality game that awarded $5,000 in gold to the winner of a related sweepstakes. And photo app Hipstamatic offered a movie-specific version to users for a limited time.

Media and Publicity

Outside of the casting news, the first bit of news came (as was the case with Iron Man 2) from director Favreau tweeting out a picture from the set, in this case an image of Craig in costume, though he’s heavily backlit so you can’t make out his face or many other details.

A fuller view of Craig in costume came when the movie appeared at Comic-Con 2010, an appearance that included director Favreau’s bringing out both Harrison Ford and Craig, neither of whom had been announced and neither of whom had been to the convention before.

The release of the first poster and trailer generated the next swell in publicity about the movie, though with that came a bit of discussion about the movie’s apparent confusion-inducing nature. It seems audiences at some screenings where the trailer was shown started laughing (New York Times, 11/30/10) while the trailer played, seemingly thinking the title “Cowboys & Aliens” meant some sort of genre-mixing spoof or comedy. That audience confusion (initially noted by Aris at AdAge) was, in some respects, expected and much of the media outreach that’s been done has been to convey the fact that there are no tongues in cheeks in the film but instead that it plays both genres as seriously as possible, something Favreau has noted in numerous interviews.

A good chunk of the movie, about 40 minutes, was screened at the 2010 installment of Harry Knowles’ Butt-Numb-A-Thon festival, where it picked up some mixed and some fantastic buzz for its look and feel as well as its performances. That screening even produced legitimate press stories (Los Angeles Times, 2/5/11) about how Favreau, Howard and others considered that screening the “Iowa caucus” for the film, especially since the property itself was coming in with pretty low public recognition in the public.

A panel for the movie was held at WonderCon (THR, 3/31/11), the little brother to the bigger Comic-Con, where Favreau held forth on the film for the assembled geeks and press and showed off about 10 minutes of the film to the assembled crowd. The cast and crew continued to talk to the press (LAT, 4/25/11) about the tone of the film, how Ford was brought into the project and more about the crossing of the genre streams. Chats between the filmmakers and the press continued when Favreau dropped in to the Hero Complex Fest and continued to establish his geek credentials.

While it was certain that the movie would have some sort of big presence at 2011 Comic-Con it was nonetheless big news when it was announced (THR, 6/13/11) that the it would have its world premiere at San Francisco.


I can’t stop thinking of the campaign for Inception from last year whenever I’m looking at the marketing for Cowboys & Aliens. In both cases the movie itself is an original story (Yes, C&A is an adaptation but it’s not a sequel, superhero movie, franchise reboot or some such like that). But also in both cases the marketing has emphasized the fact that it comes from the director of a popular franchise, thereby attempting to create some sort of familiar ground for the audience. “You liked Iron Man so you should feel right at home here” is the message that’s being conveyed by making Favreau so prominent in the campaign in various ways.

Aside from that this is a fun campaign that, even with stars like Ford and Craig, still has a long way to go to convince people it’s worth their time and money to see. Genre mash-ups are notoriously hard to pull off and can confuse moviegoers who may not be completely on board with the conceit of the film, finding not enough staples of either kind of movie to fully latch on to and writing off the whole shooting match as too confusing. While film critics might love it and completely get what it’s going for because they are down with all those conventions the average moviegoer may just want to be entertained.

That being said, I think this campaign does a decent job of making sure the focus remains squarely on the adventure components of the film’s story, making the case that regardless of what genre talk there might be that this is a fast-paced ride with a mystery at its core, something that’s more understandable to the larger audience and therefore hopefully more attractive.


  • 07/29/11 – Again we have Mashable taking a look at the use of social media in the campaign.
  • 08/02/11 – 7-Eleven was also chosen as a promotional partner for the movie’s tie-in video game.

Movie Marketing Madness: Captain America

captain america the first avenger posterVery few comic book characters have reached “icon” status. Sure there are some that are well-known and the past few years have proven that even those who hover just below the A-List can become popular among audiences who aren’t constantly evaluating whether or not X title still belongs on their pull list or if a series of creative misfires have made rendered it no longer worth regularly reading.

While he’s never been as instantly and universally popular as his Marvel Universe cohorts Spider-Man and The Hulk, Captain America is certainly an icon of the comics world. Created during the Second World War as a Nazi-smashing figure of the American fighting spirit and then revived during the 60’s as a central component of Marvel’s burgeoning character line-up, Cap has since been a character that not everyone might be completely schooled on but they are certainly aware of.

Now he’s taking his place in the cinematic version of the Marvel Universe in the new movie Captain America: The First Avenger. The movie, unlike the other films Marvel Studios has produced recently, is a period piece that rightly places Cap – first just scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – in the 1940’s. Desperate to do his part for the war but constantly turned away because he’s so undersized, Rogers is eventually recruited into a super-secret program to turn soldiers into the perfect fighting machine. But when Hydra, the science division of the Nazi army, destroys the formula and the process right after Rogers goes through it he’s left as the only one. It’s up to him, then to take down the Hydra’s leader The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and save the world.

There have been allusions and references to Cap in just about all the previous movies from Marvel (I don’t know about Thor since I haven’t seen it), including glimpses of his shield in both Iron Man movies and the prominent role the Super Soldier program played in The Incredible Hulk. But Marvel is clearly setting the table for next year’s The Avengers and the role Cap will play in it with this movie’s subtitle.

The Posters

The first poster, which debuted just days before the first TV spot ran during the Super Bowl, presented a gritty portrait of the character. Cap is standing there in the middle of the design with his head bowed and holding his shield in a moment of serious contemplation.

Across his chest is the word “Avenge,” a clear allusion to his future inclusion in the super team of that name. Dirt flies all around him as if in battle, which ties in nicely to the filmmaker’s desire to make this a war picture as much as a super hero movie.

The image is pretty similar to one originally appearing on the cover of Captain America #4 from 2005 and so is clearly meant to appeal to the comics readers in the audience.

Nowhere to be seen on this first teaser is the subtitle “The First Avenger,” though the “Avenge” here does foreshadow that. Presumably that will appear later in the campaign but on this one it’s not just downplayed but non-existent.

There was a promotional poster that was created for the crew of the movie and featured a 40’s-era type of design aesthetic. It was kind of so awesome that I almost don’t want to say too much about it for fear of getting in to a neverending rant on why this kind of cool design concept can’t be used for the actual movie marketing efforts instead of being consigned to this sort of behind the scenes promotion.

The second official poster gave us a better look at Evans as Cap. He’s right up in front of the camera looking off to the side as if evaluating some new threat, his shield taking up most of the lower half of the image space. Evans still isn’t sporting the cowl here, which makes me think that there’s something telling the studio that putting him in that mask is turning people off in some manner. There’s no other reason not to have Captain America fully decked out on the posters for the movie. Aside from that, though, this is still quite good and continues the gritty look of the first one but in more of an action sequence than before.

A final theatrical poster was released just a week before release that brought the whole cast into the picture. Cap stands there (still sans cowl) while Peggy Carter, Col. Phillips, the Howling Commandos and Bucky Barnes are arrayed around him as the Red Skull scowls in the background and explosions fly around everyone. It’s very much a traditional type of super hero one-sheet and indeed is remarkably similar to posters for other heroes like Iron Man and more but gosh darnit if it doesn’t work. It’s also nice to see the poster campaign finally catch up to the rest of the marketing in highlighting the rest of the cast, something that’s been a constant theme of the trailers and TV spots while the posters have just been focused on Cap.

The Trailers

The first full length trailer is kind of fantastic. We meet Steve Rogers as a scrawny, undersized would-be volunteer in the army who’s rejected over and over again. As we see his hard-scrabble life as the kid who’s always picked on (including getting into a fight where he grabs a garbage can cover for protection) we also hear the exposition from Jones’ officer talking about a new “super soldier” program. The footage then shifts to Rogers being put into the capsule that facilitates his transformation into the perfect soldier, including a brief shot of Howard Stark.

Finally we begin to see Captain America in action, barging into Nazi/Hydra outposts (with the Howling Commandos, which is all kinds of awesome in and of itself) and throwing his shield at the bad guys. We get a similar shot of the Red Skull as we saw in the earlier Super Bowl spot and plenty of action, especially in the last half of the trailer.

This trailer is very, very cool. it shows the look and feel of the movie (including the computer-assisted shrinking of Chris Evans) as being something that seems akin to Johnston’s The Rocketeer while also having the action ramped up a bit. It also pulls off the tricky task of selling the movie as being a pretty good straight action flick while also selling it as a fantastic comics adaptation with lots of tips to the mythology of the character. Just great stuff.

The second trailer starts with the setup as we meet Steve Rogers and see what kind of character he has as well as how he’s finally accepted in to the Army. There’s a key scene on this front where Jones’ character throws a dummy grenade in a group of recruits and Rogers jumps on it to try and save the others, a moment that tips the scales in terms of his being selected for the Super Soldier program. We then see his transformation, which is followed by Hydra destroying Erskine’s lab.

Then the action shifts into high gear as Cap starts taking the fight to Hydra and their Nazis, taking down their bases and hitting lots of them with his shield. We finally, at least in this part of the campaign, get to hear the Red Skull speak as he confronts Cap about what makes him so special, to which he replies “Nothing…I’m just a kid from Brooklyn,” a line that bookends the trailer nicely and brings it back to his humble beginnings.

If anything the trailer works even better than the first, showing a more complete and more linear story arc and really selling the all out action of the film while still very much making it a character-driven story. There are a few bad jokes in there but that’s alright.


When the official website first loads you get one of those “site lite” sort of deals. You’re prompted to watch the Trailer and view a Story synopsis. The Video section here has both trailers as well as the Super Bowl commercial and finally there’s a bit over a dozen stills in the Images section.

Finally Entering the Site things load like the beginning of a filmstrip showing some sort of military program.

The first section there is “About the Film” and there you’ll find a short Synopsis of the movie’s story as well as Cast and Filmmaker bios and Production Notes – at least those sections are listed there despite the fact that each one is currently (less than a week from release) still tagged as “Coming Soon.”

The same 14 images that were on the front page are here in the “Gallery” and the “Videos” section also just has the same three videos. “Downloads” then just has Wallpapers and Buddy Icons.

The “Experience” (which is also universally accessible via the “Dossiers” navigation on the right) has information on all the major characters and organizations in the movie, ranging from Cap himself to Hydra to the Howling Commandos.

The movie’s Facebook page has updates on publicity, promotions and marketing as well as video and photos and more.

Those watching the trailer online and then later seeing the movie could check-in to GetGlue and earn exclusive stickers. There was also an iPhone/iPad app that featured a 24-level game where Cap had to kick the hinders of Hydra agents and other baddies.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Marvel, as they’ve done with other films of theirs, created multiple lists of essential readings and other comic promotions to take advantage of how the character is (hopefully) at the top of people’s minds. There was also, as many had been predicting, a relaunch of the main Captain America title that included not only a new #1 but also the new #1 that featured the return of Steve Rogers to the shield, thereby not confusing all those new potential readers with a Cap who’s not Rogers.

The comic tie-ins also included a prequel digital book that was set in the world of the movie and filled in some of the story elements from the film, giving readers a sneak peak into that story.

There was, of course, a video game that’s being released around the same time as the movie that doesn’t necessarily share a plot or tie directly in to the film but, again, is part of the overall spotlighting of the character that’s being done across all platforms.

The first look at any actual footage from the film came when Paramount ran a 30 second commercial for it during Super Bowl XLV. It starts off by showing us skinny, scrawny Steve Rogers (what appears to be a heavily computer-modified Evans) who is then placed into a chamber and emerges a moment later much taller and much stronger. We then see him in full uniform and with his shield leading troops into battle, swinging through an enemy stronghold and more. It ends with a bit of humor as Peggy Carter proves that the shield works in a very effective way. The spot includes mention of this being our introduction to the first Avenger and, most importantly, shows that the costume looks pretty darn cool on screen and in motion, which was my and others biggest fear.

Further TV commercials would play up the transformation of Steve Rogers from a frail weakling who’s beat up in city alleyways into the super soldier who takes on the bad guys single-handedly, with some showing the transformation sequence and other just hinting at it while showing lots of footage of Cap throwing his shield at various things and otherwise plowing through the enemy ranks. More commercials would feature more character moments and even feature the first look at on-screen dialogue from the Red Skull and more.

Some TV spots such as this one would include footage of Cap being found in the modern day, frozen in a block of ice, something I didn’t think was going to make it into the movie. That’s a pretty big reveal of a pretty major part of the movie and I’m more than a little surprised it’s shown so prominently here. I had kind of assumed that if this

Out-of-home standees were placed in theaters that reproduced the movie’s key poster art.

Despite the period setting of the film there was some activity on the cross-promotion front as well.

Norton security software was on board, not only with product promotions but also with a video they produced called “Behind the Shield” that featured interviews with Evans, Johnston and some of the Marvel creators and executives talking about the character and its history, focusing of course on the creation of the shield for the movie. That video premiered on Norton’s Facebook page and required people to Like the page to view it, though how Norton thought they would convert comic/movie fans to customers I’m not sure.

Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins engaged in some retail promotions of their own, with star-shaped donuts being available at the former along with red, white and blue Coolata drinks and the latter offering lots of new tri-colored and movie-themed ice cream treats. There was also an “Unlock the Lab” feature on the Dunkin’ website that featured exclusive movie content and chances to win prizes ranging from a trip to the premiere to movie soundtracks and other swag.

Media and Publicity

While people had obviously been talking about this movie for a while – mainly about casting and costume design but also speculating as to tone and story – the reality started to kick in around Comic-Con 2010. Not only was Evans in attendance there but just prior to the convention a very cool and artistic piece of concept art was released that showed the character in battle in WWII. Also in attendance at Comic-Con was Cap’s shield from the movie, giving everyone their first real-life look at the prop and serving to get people excited when combined with the brief bit of footage that was shown as part of the movie’s panel presentation.

Also right around the time of Comic-Con director Johnston made it clear that the story was about one man’s character and his quest to remain a good person as opposed to be a “flag-waver” (Los Angeles Times, 7/21/10) who was unquestioningly patriotic but was still a guardian of America and her people. While some people read a lot in to this, it’s clear Johnston is simply saying they had to come up with a definition of the character that would fit in the movie, which doesn’t have the luxury of changing writers in six months.

In terms of mainstream press coverage, one of the first major salvos came when the first official photo of Evans wearing the uniform and carrying the shield – but still not sporting the mask – appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly (10/28/10) with more photos and an interview with the star on how he overcame his fears around taking on the role inside. This first look, of course, got picked up everywhere and discussed in countless blog posts and other stories, which is exactly what the studio was hoping for.

Early interviews with Evans would focus on how he was excited to be part of the character’s history, the obstacles he knew he’d have to be overcoming and how he’s dealt with fan reaction both positive and not-so-much about him donning the flag as well as how he saw the larger Marvel Universe playing out on film.

Entertainment Weekly continued to be a significant source of early looks at the movie, later on debuting the first decent picture of Captain America in full uniform (EW, 1/13/11), including the helmet.

Atwell also become the focus of some press, even if it was just a photo shoot (Esquire, 8/11) that emphasized how beautiful she is.

The tie-in toys and other products for the movie were also among those debuting or otherwise making a big show at the annual Toy Fair convention (Hollywood Reporter, 2/10/11), an event Evans was in attendance at to check out toy-afied version of himself and so on.

Johnston spilled quite a few details about the plot in an interview (EW, 3/3/11) that also featured the first full look at Weaving in full Red Skull garb. And he continued talking about the thematic connections the movie does and doesn’t have to Raiders of the Lost Ark (LAT, 3/29/11) and how that movie was used as an initial template when they were outlining the story.

This was one of the movies Marvel/Paramount brought to the CinemaCon trade event, showing off about 20 minutes of the movie in a couple different segments to the theater and exhibition executives in attendance.

In the wake of reactions to the first full trailer that were generally positive but which did include some skepticism as to the quality of the effects, particularly those that involved turning Evans into a scrawny youth, the actor came out and talked about how those effects had improved (LAT, 4/27/11) and that everything was looking really good and would be in great shape by release.

The movie was one of those brought to the Hero Complex Fest, where Evans was able to do some glad-handing and the second full trailer debuted to the receptive audience, which was a mix of industry players, press and comics/movie geeks.

A feature length profile of Evans (GQ, June, 2011) seemed to be more about how charming and charismatic the actor was as opposed to anything movie-related, but that was probably the goal all along since it could potentially have the effect of bringing more female attention to a comic book movie.

There was a lot of speculation and mulling done in the early days of the movie’s production that the title would be changed for international markets where the idea of someone who is 100% American cheerleader might not be such a great idea. Ultimately, though, the decision was made (New York Times, 7/3/11) to retain the full “Captain America: The First Avenger” title in all but a handful of countries where such sentiment was most virulent since brand recognition was seen as being more important than anything else.

While the movie is opening *during* Comic-Con 2011 and no panel was being planned reports began to surface (THR, 7/5/11) that there would be some sort of presence there that would likely involve Evans. Eventually it was revealed that a special Comic-Con screening of the movie hosted by Evans would be taking place so that the assembled geeks could see the movie while they were in San Diego for that event.

Shortly before Comic-Con the theme returned to Evans’ wrestling with the decision to play the character in the first place (NYT, 7/10/11) and how he got over his nerves and jumped on board.


I’ll admit right off the bat that I’m completely in the bag for this movie. During my early comic-reading years I was always a huge Avengers fan and since Cap was an integral part of that he was constantly on my radar. I never read his solo book with any regularity (outside of a brief time around ‘88/’89 or so) but always more or less knew what was going on.

So with that being said this campaign works really well for me. The posters, the trailers and everything else come together very nicely and create something that makes me want to see the movie even more than I did before.

Even more importantly there’s nothing here that is actively discouraging me from seeing the movie. So many times these movies have built in audiences like myself that are 98% likely to see the film and the only thing that is going to turn off their desire is a campaign that shows the movie just completely botches the character, even if that’s not the case in the full film. But there’s nothing here that dampens any enthusiasm and that might just be the biggest hurdle that the campaign had to clear.


  • 07/21/11 – Wired has some details on what exactly the movie’s Comic-Con promotions amounted to.
  • 07/22/11 – Both the LAT and the AP have takes on the challenges of selling this movie outside the U.S.
  • 07/22/11 – Christina Warren at Mashable goes a little overboard in trying to make the case that social media was a big part of the movie’s campaign. By that I mean “using YouTube” and “having a Facebook” page doesn’t exactly signal great marketing innovation in 2011 from my perspective.

Movie Marketing Madness: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

What’s the opposite of clearing the bar? When something or someone attempts to follow-up a great success the usual commentary is that they set the bar high the first time and now will need to clear that in order for the second thing to be seen as being as successful or innovative as the first one. But occasionally despite the financial success something might enjoy the consensus is that artistically the first entry was a piece of garbage. So it’s not like there’s a bar or hurdle to be cleared…it’s more like there’s a pile of some sort to be added to with subsequent attempts.

I’ll be the first to admit that I liked the first Transformers movie more than I had any right to. No, it wasn’t quite the same version of the story or characters that I had grown up with and yes a little LaBeouf certainly goes a long way. But the movie moved along at a good clip, took itself completely and utterly seriously and featured enough bullet points of a story that the computer-generated action sequences hung on them were more or less enjoyable. When I finally saw the sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, I found it to be almost completely incomprehensible so stopped trying after about 15 minutes and, while certainly cognizant of its shortcomings, didn’t hate it. Both movies did pretty well at the box-office even as they were – especially the second one – roundly crucified by critics.

Now we have the third entry in this franchise, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. In this entry (and again the story is almost completely irrelevant) the big effing robots are back for mayhem. This time the Autobots, still working as some sort of covert ops unit ferreting out latent Decepticons around the world, discover that the U.S. government wasn’t fully upfront with them about the history of giant robots on this planet. This comes at the same time the Decepticons rally around a new push to conquer the world. Shia LaBeouf returns as the human the Autobots are most attached to but Megan Fox is out (more on that below) and has had her role as Sam Whitwicky’s arm candy replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. The two of them, of course, get caught up in the mayhem and violence that breaks out, violence that this time is centered in Chicago, specifically North Michigan Ave. Well…I guess world domination has to start somewhere.

The Posters

The first poster for the movie tells the audience just about everything they need to know about the story. The real estate is dominated by Optimus Prime, who’s standing defiantly along North Michigan Ave. in Chicago (just south of the river at the intersection with Wacker Dr. if the perspective on the Crain’s building (the slightly curved one over his shoulder on the right) is any indication) with what appears to be a Decepticon under his feet. The two humans are standing in front of him looking into the middle distance worryingly and there are a couple of menacing constructs coming in from the sky behind him.

A second poster focused on the IMAX release of the movie and featured Prime in a similar location along Michigan Ave., though this time he’s by himself with his glowing sword thing about to strike, with one of the mysterious pod things hovering above the skyline in the background.

Character one-sheets featured Bumblebee and Optimus Prime up close and personal with the camera with enemy ships and fighters flying through the sky in the background.


Special interactive posters were released that worked in conjunction with an official movie app that first let you find what theaters these posters were located at and then unlocked exclusive augmented reality content that included a game and other experiences.

The Trailers

The first trailer was a lot like the teasers for the first movie, which showed a Martian rover encountering something huge and mechanical. This time, though, we’re taken back to 1969 and the first moon landing. Instead of being a purely scientific mission, though, we see that its true hidden purpose was to explore the wreck of a huge spaceship that had crashed on the dark side of the moon and which we eventually see still has at least one huge freaking robot occupant. The footage here is reportedly also in the movie itself unlike that used in the first movie’s teaser so this is likely some of the stage-setting that’s done in the first moments of the film.

The first theatrical length trailer starts off with something crashing on the moon as McDormand warns LaBeouf that talking about anything could lead him to be charged with treason. That’s about all the plot development as we then kick fully into battle mode as a bright beam of light ascends from the Chicago Loop and things start to blow up all over the place. Chicago is later seen with smoke rising from across the city and it’s clear that something about the Decepticon attack is different this time. We see lots of familiar faces, both human and machine, running and attacking and running and attacking. It’s good but it’s not like there are major plot points unveiled here other than the attack on the earth is pretty serious.

That theatrical trailer was repurposed for 3D promotions and could even be viewed online in 3D after buying a Hasbro unit and downloading a free app for iPhones or iPod Touches.

Just before release another trailer was released that was pretty short – just a minute in length – and was all about showing the destruction that rains down on Chicago, with lots of shots of giant robots wreaking havoc and destroying buildings. Not exactly subtle but subtlety isn’t going to put hinders in seats.


There’s all sorts of stuff going on when the official website first loads. There is (as of Tuesday evening) an invitation to watch the movie’s livestreamed premiere, a prompt to download the movie’s official iPhone app and stream the previous two movies somewhere online. There’s also a couple things relating to Linkin Park and their offering on the soundtrack; First a video of their playing at the Moscow premiere and then the news that if you pull out the Shazam app and use it during a commercial for the movie you can get a free download.

Once you enter the site the first two things that are offered, prompts to either watch the trailer or a featurette on the “wing man” stunt that is featured in the film.

The first section of content is “About” and has a very brief synopsis as well as Cast, Filmmaker and Notes sections that are still labeled as “Coming Soon” despite the fact that the movie opens in roughly 48 hours.

“Video” has the two trailers, the Super Bowl TV spot and a couple of featurettes. “Downloads” has Wallpapers and Buddy Icons and the “Gallery” has just eight stills from the movie.

The movie’s Facebook page has updates on the movie’s marketing and publicity efforts as well as lots of video and an emphasis on the recent red carpet premiere. The Twitter profile has similar updates sans all that multimedia.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first ad push came in the form of a co-branded spot with promotional partner Chevy that was aired during the 2011 Super Bowl. The spot doesn’t show any movie footage but instead appears like a local car dealership commercial that’s being filmed, only things go more than a little wrong when the car that the owner is walking around opens up and is revealed to be Bumblebee.

There was also a straight movie spot during the game. That commercial showed exactly what it needed to show, which is lots of computer-animated robots completely trashing each other on the streets of Chicago, recognizable to anyone familiar with the city or who caught all the buzz around the movie’s filming around here. The spot looks to be entirely made up of footage from the last couple of reels of the movie and is all action with no setup or anything like that. We see the returning human characters as well as Sam’s new love interest in Huntington-Whiteley but the rest is all destruction and mayhem.

More regular TV commercials would begin running a few months later, mostly showing the destruction of Chicago and the harrowing situations the human characters are put in. There were, in many of them, hints as to the back-story of the Transformers having some sort of secret history here on Earth but that’s not explored very deeply in these 30-second spots, which are more about showing the spectacle than anything else. The movie would also be among those advertised during this year’s MTV Movie Awards.

As the TV advertising progressed and release date approached the commercials would begin getting much more specific about the plot, spelling out not just the action and humor but also the idea of a global conspiracy that is leading to the Decepticon’s plans to take over the world once and for all.

Outdoor ads began being a few months before release that did little but show the audience that the movie was going to feature Optimus Prime kicking some butt and that it came out on July 1st. Later variations on the same idea shows Bumblebee and Shockwave as well. Further banners would feature other new characters whose identities weren’t immediately apparent.

Some form of partnership with NASCAR was evident with news that a couple stars from the movie would be serving as Grand Marshals at the Daytona 500, a race that would also feature the first public appearance by the modified stock cars that are featured in the film. A commercial that aired during that broadcast didn’t cut a lot of new ground in terms of footage shown compared to the Super Bowl commercial with the exception of a couple of good shots of the cars that have NASCAR paint jobs.

The robots were also again part of Chevy’s presence on the auto show circuit, with models of Bumblebee and presumably others appearing alongside their car forms. There would also be co-branded commercials run both on TV and in theaters featuring Bumblebee driving around evading his enemies. Of course the partnership with Chevrolet ran pretty deep and included the casting of the carmaker’s top cars only as good guys (THR, 6/22/11) in the movie and involved the company picking out makes and models it was looking to promote. Chevy also announced (MediaPost, 6/28/11) that it would be making and marketing a special Transformers-edition Camaro for 2012 for everyone who ever wanted to actually own Bumblebee.

Media and Publicity

While there was plenty of speculation about what robots would or wouldn’t appear in the movie, the biggest bombshell came when reports were published that Megan Fox would absolutely not be in the movie (Los Angeles Times, 5/19/10), likely the result of her public fueding with Bay during the publicity tour for the second movie. That set off a ton of speculation as to why and who would be replacing her as the love interest in the new entry.

That speculation ended when it began to be reported the Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley would be cast. While there was a significant gap between the first reports along these lines and any official announcement, confirmation of a sort did come when Victoria’s Secret itself released a video congratulating her on getting the role.

A later story covered that but also went more into what the movie’s plot would be, the first glimpse that was given along those lines. The story (USA Today, 6/11/10) revealed the plot revolved the Transformer’s role in the US/Russia space race of the 1960’s and would feature Shockwave as the main bad guy. In there Bay also promised less goofy humor, blaming some of the second film’s shortcomings on the stress of the writer’s strike from 2008, as if anyone believed there were writers on that movie.

The tie-in toys and other products for the movie were also among those debuting or otherwise making a big show at the annual Toy Fair convention (Hollywood Reporter, 2/10/11). Shortly after that there was news (Forbes, 2/17/11) of special 3D glasses that came in the form of Autobot helmets you could wear to the theater and really let your fandom show.

First looks at some of the new robots in this entry came via the press, including a glimpse at Sentinel Prime on the cover of Empire.

The press for the movie included Bay making a sort of artistic mea culpa about the quality of the second movie, which he claimed (Hollywood Reporter, 3/7/11) was due in large part to the writer’s strike that happened just prior to that film’s shooting.

Huntington-Whitley became part of the news when it was announced (THR, 3/25/11) that she was being named Female Star of Tomorrow by CinemaCon, something that really is a testament to the power of Paramount’s publicity department since not only has she not acted before but this debut outing is in a Michael Bay movie, something that’s not generally known for its level of acting prowess. She was also later put in the #1 slot on Maxim’s Hot 100 list.

The movie itself was back in the press when some extended sequences were shown to the press, producing the very sort of “this is absolutely nuts” (EW, 4/15/11) reactions that you would expect while also showing very little of the movie’s plot.

Some press was generated by virtue of the movie’s promotional partnerships, particularly the car-based ones (AdAge, 5/3/11) since it was one of several big movies to feature substantial automotive support.


It might just be me but I feel like, with the general opinion of the second installment so very, very low there was more of a press effort for this movie to generate some goodwill in the audience. That’s shown most distinctly Michael Bay’s pseudo-contrition tour, where he joined in the chorus of people calling Revenge of the Fallen a not very good movie.

Once again the campaign here is nicely laid out, with teasers to build anticipation and then payoffs that really only *feel* like payoffs but aren’t really, because with movies this simplistic it’s best to leave lots of information (including vast swaths of the supposed story) out of the campaign so as not to give anyone the impression they’re going to have to follow anything. There’s also the desire to actually get people to talk about how “cool” the movie is, so the more the campaign can keep from showing the more potential talking points there are after the fact.

Also once again it doesn’t really matter how well the campaign works or not. Simply by creating awareness there’s a substantial percentage of the general moviegoing public that will choose this movie this weekend just because it’s there. So actually judging the effectiveness of the marketing becomes an exercise in futility since it’s all about, as I said, awareness and message repetition.

Movie Marketing Madness: Green Lantern

(Disclosure: Voce has been doing some work with DC Comics of late, but much – around 90% – of this column was written before that project started. Just want to get that out there.)

There are some superheroes who are meant to go into space and some who just aren’t. If you read any of Spider-Man’s cosmic adventures you can’t help but have the feeling (often knowingly articulated by the character himself) that he’s just massively out of his depth. Characters like Spidey, Daredevil, Green Arrow and others are what are generally termed to be “street level” heroes, meaning they’re natural environments are alleyways, city streets and other areas where the ground is firmly under their feet. These are the ones who can’t fly, aren’t invulnerable and who are more suited to helping people as opposed to saving the planet.

There are others who, because of their power sets and origins, are extremely natural in space, with many of their adventures being set there. One of those is the character whose movie we are discussing today, Green Lantern. Fast-living and stubborn test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) comes upon the wreckage of an alien spacecraft with a dying purple humanoid in it. That alien bequeaths to him a power ring that transforms Jordan into a costumed warrior, the protector of the sector of space Earth inhabits and one of thousands of Green Lanterns who similarly police the rest of the galaxy. After training in how to harness his will and determination into the ring to achieve fantastic feats the newly minted Green Lantern comes back home to fight the threat of Parallax, a creature that taps into the yellow-tinted power of fear.

The movie represents DC Comics’ first foray into waters Marvel ventured into in 2008 with Iron Man, specifically those of releasing a big-screen version of what is roundly considered to be a second-tier character in their comics pantheon. Not that Green Lantern hasn’t been an integral part of the DC Universe for decades, but he’s not Superman or Batman and so is widely seen as having less name recognition outside of those who meticulously manage their pull lists each week. That may or may not be true but, again, that’s what the mindset seems to be and so that’s the environment it’s being released into. So let’s take a look at how this was sold.

The Posters

The first posters released to promote the movie hit just after Comic-Con 2010. The four images were a set and showed off four of the movie’s main characters, with the two featuring the good guys combining to form the Lantern logo and the two with the bad guys doing likewise, though note that Sinestro’s poster fades to yellow. The four also each contain one line from the famous Green Lantern slogan, a nice touch for the fans.

Around the same time the first trailer was released a new poster also debuted, this time a banner-type image that showed GL in the foreground but the rest of the Green Lantern Corps on the planet Oa, their base of operations, in the background including a huge ring that’s been carved out of stone. The poster upped the galactic ante a bit by showing the movie was more cosmic in scope.

When the movie made a publicity appearance at CinemaCon 2011 (more on that below) a new poster was released that continued the more cosmic-scale that the movie’s marketing was taking by showing Jordan standing defiantly once again on the planet Oa, looking like he’s fully embraced the hero’s role that’s been thrust upon him. A later one shows Tomar-Re in a similar setting and with a similar attitude and further posters had Kilowog, Abin Sur and Sinestro. Later on one for Hector Hammond was created that showed him looking very sinister.

A huge banner was released that showed off not only the characters already featured on posters and in the trailers but also others from the Green Lantern Corps from across the galaxy.

Finally, the theatrical poster combines many of the elements we’ve seen on previous installments and puts them in one place. All four of the major characters from the Green Lantern Corps are shown on Oa looking ready for battle, with the oath they swear just above the title. Another version showed Hal and some of his extra-terrestrial pals with their arms outstretched and rings lit up. It’s a good cap to the poster campaign and, again, sells the audience on a very cosmic adventure film.

The Trailers

The first trailer is very focused on setting up Hal Jordan the man both before he becomes the hero and as he is coming to terms with his new responsibilities. It opens with a scene of him waking up with a lovely young lady in his bed before realizing he’s late and dashing out to get the Air Force base where he’s a test pilot. Later on he’s seen deep in thought one night when a mysterious light streaks across the sky and a strange ship that’s piloted by a pink alien crashes near him. It’s then that he gets the ring that will be source of his power and from there on out we get shots of him flying (with the ring’s help) through the sky and creating various forms with the ring as he figures out just what it can do and what he’s now been called to do, which is protect the galaxy.

This first spot, as I said, seems to primarily focus on Jordan leaning about and becoming acclimated to the role that’s been thrust upon him. There are a couple of scenes that show the film’s cosmic setting, including a few brief shots of the alien world that is the home to the Green Lantern Corps one of which shows a still-good Sinestro, which is a nice touch for fans who know the story that will likely build out of that. But it’s mostly about a cocky test pilot realizing he has to know protect others and work to overcome whatever fears or uncertainties he has since, as we all know, the ring is only as good as the willpower of its bearer.

The second trailer starts out by setting up the threat that is faced by the galaxy, a threat that has commanded the attention of the entire Lantern corps. The ring comes to choose Jordan and he’s whisked off to Oa to undergo training, which we see being doled out. Then we finally get a look at the bad guys in the movie as we see Sarsgaard, his assistant and his father as he becomes the face of the evil on the Earth. At the end Jordan seems to be fully embracing his destiny as a hero, calling his allies to his side to help defend the planet.

This is a much better trailer, showing much more of the movie and the overall story. There’s less of an emphasis on Reynolds’ antics before becoming the latest Lantern recruit and more on him fighting a bad guy, which is apparently what the studio thinks the audience wants to see.

It’s important to note that this trailer came after a lot of other marketing had been done, including numerous extended TV spots, nearly 10 posters and more. So this is coming at the audience with the benefit of hindsight and with some of the lessons learned by the early parts of the campaign clearly on display here.

The next trailer, released specifically to play in front of the summer’s early 3D films, starts off by explaining the mythology of the rings and the Green Lantern Corps itself and the role they play in the universe. It then introduces Parallax and the threat it presents, eventually showing how it defeated Abin Sur and came to choose Hal Jordan as its next bearer. We then get some hots of how he wields the ring, including some of his constructs, and how epic the story is going to be. Like the one immediately before it – and to an even greater extent – this trailer sets up the story as a massive space epic.


The movie’s official website opens by playing one of the movie’s trailers but you can skip that if you so choose. There are a lot of options that hit you once you get past that but let’s stick for the time being to the Main Navigation menu that’s over to the left of the screen.

The first section there is “Videos” and there you’ll find all three trailers as well as the exclusive Wonder-Con footage that showed up at that event but, unfortunately, none of the many TV spots that were released. There are eight stills from the movie in the “Photo Gallery.”

“About the Movie” has a totally decent Synopsis of the film’s story, as well as Cast and Filmmakers biographies and filmographies and Production Notes you can download as a PDF if you want to get more information. You’ll find Buddy Icons, Posters and Wallpapers in the “Downloads” section. “Soundtrack” has snippets of the music from the movie and links to buy the album.

You’ll find links to the companies that helped promote the movie under “Partners” and some of those same companies along with other sites that ran contests in the “Sweepstakes” section.

Things begin to get more interactive with the “Take the Oath” area, where you can recite your own Green Lantern Corps oath and view the videos of others who have done likewise. The “Join the Corps” allows you to insert the headshots of you and your friends into a picture of the Corps. The “Character Creator” lets you build your own Lantern and assign them to a sector of space. “Green Lantern Combat” puts you in the Corps training regime and the “Sector Map” lets you explore the galaxy that the Corps protects.

Most of those interactive features along with sections devoted to the movie’s console game tie-in and the straight-to-DVD movie are in a rotating menu that’s on the site’s front page.

The movie’s Facebook page has updates on the publicity activities, photos, videos and more.

A number of fictional sites were developed that tie into the movie’s story in some way, shape or form. Those include Newton Astronomers, a group devoted to finding extra-terrestrial life, a blog by Dr. Waller, the character played by Angela Bassett in the film and a Green Lantern training site where you can develop your ring-handling abilities.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Two TV spots debuted right around the time the movie appeared at CinemaCon that used a lot of footage from the extended sneak that was given there. One used the same scene of Jordan learning the oath he must take while charging his ring for the first time as its central component and gets very cosmic while the other is more straight-forward action in tone. They’re both fast and well done and speak to the core target audience here, though in slightly different ways.

Later on an extended commercial that clocked in at about 90 seconds aired during an episode of “American Idol” that featured a bit of new footage and continued promising lots of cosmic-level action with more of an emphasis on that action with just a smattering of humor included here and there. Two more extended TV spots were then released, one running a full two minutes (basically a trailer, no?) and the other a single minute. They didn’t really show anything new – they setup the threat, make it clear that Hal Jordan’s call is unique and show off the very cool visuals that are in the movie – but continued to make the case for the movie as a very cosmically oriented comic book adaptation.

It’s interesting that the focus would shift to longer videos since it would presume the studio found that the more it showed people the better the reaction was, whereas maybe with shorter spots the point of the movie didn’t really come across or the audience was confused.

More traditional 30-second spots would, of course, come later, but the focus continued to be on the cosmic-reaching story that the movie contained. It would also be among the movies receiving promotional exposure during this year’s MTV Movie Awards, acting as the official sponsor of the post-show coverage.

Out-of-home advertising would be a big component as well, with billboards/outdoor ads featuring the title character all over the place and some very cool in-theater standees like this one that feature the whole array of supporting members of the Green Lantern Corps.

One of the first promotional notes to come out about the movie was news (MediaPost, 9/16/10) that it would be featured as part of a new roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure theme park in New Jersey.

A new edition of a collection of GL comics was also scheduled to come out around the time of the movie, a collection that was focused on the character’s origin and which featured an introduction written by Reynolds.

There was also a new Green Lantern cartoon that was put into production for debut in conjunction with the movie and the marketing for that series got some publicity as well, adding to the overall Lantern buzz that was happening. There was also the tie-in with the recently released “DC Universe Online” game that allowed for the character to get some extra exposure. And has been the case with many recent comic-based theatrical films an animated direct-to-DVD feature was released around the same time as the feature film, this one with Nathan Fillion (who was rumored for the live-action movie for a while) voicing Hal Jordon.

Warner Bros. also revved up some of those corporate partnerships by introducing a new Green Lantern-themes roller coaster at one of its Six Flags theme parks.

The character was used for the latest “got milk?” ad, with a milk mustache painted on and carton of milk suspended in mid-air by his ring. Part of that campaign also included a site called that put new recruits through a series of tests using either a keyboard or webcam (the latter using augmented reality technology) to see whether you were up to the challenge of being part of the Lantern Corps.

Subway was a promotional partner, launching a mobile content (MediaPost 6/3/11) that prompted people to download the SCVNGR-powered app and complete various tasks in an effort to win movie tickets. TV and other ads supported this effort and tied it to a new sandwich being offered that featured avocados, which is green.

Lipton launched a new flavor of its Brisk Iced Tea line called Brisk Green Tea with Mango Dragonfruit with newly designed bottles that featured movie imagery (MediaPost 6/9/11). The bottles also promoted a contest where people could enter to win movie tickets, comics or other prizes.

Kodak was also a partner, engaging in a number of activities including holding scavenger hunts in a number of cities across the country that rewarded people with movie swag and more.

Media and Publicity

Well before filming even started director Campbell was talking about the movie (Los Angeles Times, 1/16/10) and what sort of story it would encompass and what sort of tone it would take, specifically saying it would be an unusual sort of superhero film.

The first big wave of publicity started when the costume’s look debuted on the cover of Entertainment Weekly just prior to Comic-Con, where the movie would have a presence as well. The photo showed Reynolds in costume and coming at the reader with his power ring front and center. The reaction to this was muted since the photo appeared heavily manipulated – not a surprise since the costumer is completely CGI and not a physical outfit at all – and honestly didn’t look a whole lot better than some of the fan art that had been created around the time Reynolds was announced as the star.

The movie’s Comic-Con 2010 appearance included a panel presentation that gave fans a glimpse at some of the film’s footage and featured the cast and crew, who worked to prove their comics credibility with the crowd.

In advance of another movies starring Reynolds, Buried, the star got a loving profile overview of his career (Vanity Fair, 10/10) that included glowing comments from Lively as well as a look at the humiliation and misery he endured shooting this movie with all its high-tech features and needs.

As usual with comic book movies like this, every little clue and hint as to how certain things from the comics would be translated on screen became huge buzz generators. That ranged from the costume to the power battery, which appeared with Reynolds and Lively at the 2010 Scream Awards.

The first real look at the movie came on “Entertainment Tonight,” which previewed the about-to-be-released trailer just days before it came online.

The movie got some nice coverage when People Magazine announced Reynolds as its Sexiest Man Alive for 2010 (Associated Press, 11/17/10), something that probably brought awareness of the film to a much broader audience.

This release also served, apparently, as an opportunity for an assessment of Lively’s career to date. Specifically there was a pretty big story (New York Magazine, 1/14/11) that took the opinion that Lively was going to grow more and more into a reliable movie star – and here comes the kicker of the story – despite the fact that the “insiders” providing quotes labeled the movie as a almost surefire flop. That sort of kneecapping of a movie so far in advance of its release smells of someone who isn’t so much tied to Lively but who comes from someone with a grudge against the studio but who still wants to hire Lively in the future.

The tie-in toys and other products for the movie were also among those debuting or otherwise making a big show at the annual Toy Fair convention (Hollywood Reporter, 2/10/11).

Later on it was announced that much of the cast would be making an appearance at WonderCon, where the studio was going to be heavily promoting not only the movie but also the character in general with a number of activities throughout the event.

Reynolds also got some additional promotion when he was named Male Star of the Year (THR, 3/17/11) at CinemaCon, where a bit of the movie’s footage was shown to exhibitors. Around the same time a presence for the film was also made at WonderCon (THR, 3/31/11), the more geek-attracting convention.

The marketing campaign – or the lack thereof – became a story in and of itself in the months between the release of the first trailer (in November 2010) and the second (scheduled for May of 2011). Studio executives were finally forced to confront the deafening silence, which happened to coincide with ramped up pushes for Marvel’s Thor and Captain America movies, by admitting that things were on hold until work could be completed on more special effects shots (LAT, 3/30/11). Taking the time to fine-tune things would, the execs said, insure that fan reaction would be better to the second eventual trailer than it was to the first, when many people said the effects didn’t look quite up to par.

The campaign rebounded shortly after that, though, when extended footage – footage that was deeply steeped in the character’s mythology and therefore was geared primarily at the comic’s fans in the audience – from the movie was screened at CinemaCon 2011 (Hollywood Reporter, 3/31/11), the exhibition trade show, along with Reynold, Lively and others making an appearance on a panel for those in attendance and two new posters being unveiled.

The showing of that extended footage definitely did mark a turning point in the movie’s word-of-mouth. Where prior to that people were talking more than a little about how silly various aspects of the movie seemed or looked all of a sudden it was being taken seriously and even considered as a legitimate contender in this summer of so many comic book movies.

Continued press would focus on how the movie was very much a deep space adventure (LAT, 4/27/11) that has lots of potential for future entries because that galactic scope means the filmmakers can take the character just about everywhere.


There are two overall things that strike me as most interesting about this campaign:

First, there’s the way Warner Bros. was able to rebound after some initial missteps. Even the marketing folks involve admit in hindsight that they went out too early with the first trailer and peaks at the movie when things weren’t quite ready for public eyes. But unlike with some other comic book movies that have made the same mistake the strength of what came afterward seems to have more than compensated for that and, as I mention above, there was a palpable shift in the tone of conversations around the film after the studio took a deep breath and got things going in earnest.

Second, as I also mention above, there’s the way the focus in the marketing is squarely on the cosmic nature of the character. Where other super hero movies have been marketed with an emphasis on the Earth-bound story elements (cough, Thor, cough) this one makes no bones about how it’s a very large story told across the stars. In fact it does so largely at the expense of showing much of anything about the conflicts that presumably drive the story. So while we get plenty of shots of that yellow Parallax cloud attacking buildings and some shots of Hector Hammond twirling his proverbial mustache we don’t get how the story plays out in a linear fashion.

So aside from the very first bits there’s a really good campaign here that definitely hits vastly different notes than most super hero movies of late. That’s enough to be interesting in some new and intriguing ways and certainly work to setup a character that, all jokes aside, many people may only be peripherally aware of. It remains to be seen if that translates to box-office success but I think the studio has done just about as good a job of creating interest as they can.


  • 06/20/11 – The relationship between the movie and Mattel, which produced many of the tie-in toys and other products, gets explored in its own feature that also touches on how toy makers are becoming more adept at being entertainment companies themselves.

Movie Marketing Madness: X-Men: First Class

xmen_first_class_ver6Prequels are a tricky game. The idea, of course, is to tell a story with characters and settings that are somewhat familiar to the audience but in a new way, with some new characters and situations being added in to make it seem more wholly original. This can help provide some interesting backstory to the audience that is supposed to add to the enjoyment of those original entries. It also helps filmmakers do new things with new actors playing the roles originated by increasingly older (and therefore less demographically viable) stars. The danger, though, is that something about the prequel’s story will upset the mythology applecart and either slightly or blatantly contradict what’s been previous established.

No, I’m not going to reference the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy here, though there are plenty of examples of those movies falling into the traps mentioned above. Instead I will mention, because it’s more closely related to the movie we’re discussing today, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Among other problems the movie, which sought to tell of Logan’s early life, had a young Cyclops encountering Wolverine, Emma Frost and others as he sought to extricate himself from the Weapon X program. For continuity obsessives like myself, the movie was just a mess.

Similar problems seem to be afoot in the new movie X-Men: First Class. The movie takes us back to the 1960’s and the foundation of the mutant movement. Charles Xavier (James MacAvoy) is determined to train and educate young mutants to serve humanity. When he meets Erik Lencher (Michael Fassbender) he thinks he’s found a kindred spirit and the two begin searching for mutant teenagers to train. Xavier and Lencher help the kids come to terms with their powers but the latter has a much darker view of the human race and begins to deviate from Xavier’s utopian view, a split that’s only increased by the group’s eventual involvement in government and military activities.

Sounds like a great idea for a movie, but the continuity problems it presents for the previous trilogy of films are substantial. What remains to be seen, though, is how much the average moviegoer cares about such things and whether the movie can prove entertaining enough in and of itself to make even people like me not care why Cyclops’ brother Alex Summers – Havoc – who appears in this entry is never reference in the other movies and other problems.

The Posters

The first teaser poster for the movie was pretty simple but was also clearly identifiable as a one-sheet for an X-Men movie and did a good job of setting the location. All that’s viewable is the emblem of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters with a giant “X” in the middle and, at the bottom of the symbol, “First Class.” It’s effective in how it conveys that basic information and is unique to itself while also being reminiscent of the posters for the first couple of X-Men movies.

The next two teasers were just 17 different kinds of awful. They’re so bad in fact at first I couldn’t believe they were actually real. There are two posters here, one for Xavier and one for Lenscher. We see silhouettes of the characters they will become – the wheelchair bound Professor X and the regal and helmeted Magneto – but within their torsos (actually closer to their crotches) are the faces of how they appear in this movie. I’m not sure what the decision making process behind these two posters was but this is seriously off track in terms of presenting a slick, well-made action flick.


With those making such an impression (and I’m not even mentioning the awful Photoshop hatchet jobs that were distributed as international posters and banners) it’s no surprise not only that people would create their own posters but that those posters would be so freaking cool.

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer, which debuted just a few months ago, starts out setting the scene by juxtaposing the images Charles Xavier and Erik Lenscher we know from the first series of movies with their new incarnations here as much younger men. We then get the time set for us by seeing and hearing a speech by John F. Kennedy talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis. That leads to a montage of of the various characters, including Lawrence as Mystique, Jones turning to diamond as Emma Frost and just about everyone else. We see a couple of shots of military action along the coast of Cuba, action that the mutants are participating in as the swoop in on the Blackbird. It’s not clear what that role is but Erik lifts a submarine out of the water with his hands, which is pretty cool.

It’s a tight and intriguing trailer that, as I said, does a really good job of setting the audience’s expectations in terms of time and place. There isn’t a lot of time for performances or story to come out here but that’s not the point with this initial spot. Instead it’s about announcing to the audience that a new, previously untold story of the mutant community’s past is being told and that there are a host of new characters to latch on to as well as some returning ones.

Later on a 90 second trailer was released that featured not too terribly much in the way of new footage but did reiterate the fact that we’re seeing the origins of the leaders of the two mutant camps before they were rivals. Much of the emphasis here is on Erik/Magneto and the choices he makes to not take the path of the light side. There’s a bit of new footage shown here, including some of Banshee swooping through the sky over Cuba as well as some other battle sequences. it’s pretty good and certainly tighter than the previous one but we still don’t get much exposition aside from the theme that the two friends are going to go their separate ways in the battle to come.

The full theatrical trailer starts our in much the same way as the others, with Xavier and Lencher meeting and getting to know each other. They then assemble the team and test their powers. There’s some new stuff in here that could be called character moments, including one between Beast and Mystique and a little bit more before we once again get into the team’s involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis. It ends, then, with the seeds of the disagreement between the two leaders being sown. It’s probably the best of the trailers but still there’s only about 15% of new footage here so it’s not like it’s going on any untrod ground.

A series of character-specific trailers were created for some of the mutants, including  Havoc, Beast, Banshee (two of which were brand new to the franchise) and Mystique. Each of them showed some extended sequences from the movie that featured those characters, including some bits about how they grew comfortable with their powers. Mystique’s ends, naturally enough, with a bit hinting at the relationship between her and Magneto that we’d see more or in the later movies.


The official website for the movie opens with one of the early trailers auto-playing as a stream of updates from the official Twitter account fades in and out along the top of the page.

Down toward the bottom are the site’s content sections, the first of which is “About the Movie,” which contains a paragraph long synopsis of the movie’s story and explains that, yes, Marvel’s Merry Mutants get all up 1960’s geopolitical events in the film.

Next up is “Downloads” which has a couple of Wallpapers, some Twitter Skins and a collection of Buddy Icons to grab is you’re so inclined. It looks like there are just seven stills in the “Gallery” and just the three main trailers (but not the plethora of TV spots and character profile videos unfortunately) in “Videos.”

“Characters” is a nice section that provides a quick introduction to all the characters that make up the movie as well as an overview of their powers and this area also houses the actor filmographies and histories.

The Promotions section off to the left of the bottom navigation has links to Get Tickets, check out the X-Men Extra App and view various things on the Facebook page.

On that Facebook page there was………There was also an opportunity for people to ask some questions of the “X-Perts,” which was the cast of the movie. Questions could be submitted ahead of time and then, it was promised the cast and crew would pick some to be answered later on down the road. There were also the usual array of photos, videos (this time with the character introduction spots) and more, including a section for the Farmer’s Insurance cross-promotion we’ll read about later.

An iPad/iPhone app was also developed that took people into the setting of the movie and strongly hinted that these mutant characters played some sort of secret role in many of the defining geopolitical events of the last half of the 20th century.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

One of the first bits of advertising done for the movie was in the form of standees and floor decorations that were put in theaters and which featured the same bit “X” symbol for Xavier’s school that was on the first teaser poster.

TV commercials were also created that largely repeated the footage and overall arc of the trailer but with some new footage as well. Mostly, though, we got the same look at Xavier and Lenscher meeting, Mystique covering herself with scales and other sequences. A few of them broke that mold and included elements of the stand off over nuclear missiles as well but by and large they stayed in the mold of the trailers.

Even more spots were later released that expanded on this quite a bit, showing off the team that Xavier and Lenscher put together and getting into the national conflict that team becomes a part of. So the focus shifted from selling this as a reboot of the franchise (though elements of that continued to be worked in) to just a straight ahead action flick with super powered characters.

Some advertising was done by the movie’s promotional partners as well. Farmer’s Insurance, which had already been running a TV campaign with an instructional approach, added Beast to one of their commercials and had one of their insurance students go over to act as a target for Havok to practice on.

Media and Publicity

While various rumors and reports had circulated around the idea (most rubbish) the first concrete plans came to light with the dual announcement (Los Angeles Times, 5/4/10) of Matthew Vaughn as director and June 3, 2011 as the release target date.

That news was doubly interesting. First because Vaughn was the initial director on board X-Men: The Last Stand before he abandoned the movie just before filming over the usually vague “creative differences,” ceding that director’s chair to Brett Ratner, who proceeded to defecate over large chunks of the best parts of the franchise and piss fans off in the process. Second, that date was just over a year from when the news hit, an incredibly ambitious timeline for a movie that was probably going to be largely effects driven but which had no announced cast, script or anything else.

With such a tight timeline, being quick with casting was going to be key. While some roles were filled relatively quickly (still about a month after the film was announced) there were hiccups in the process at well that spoke to potential problems with this relaunch of a potentially lucrative franchise.

After the calendar turned to 2011 things started to pick up publicity wise, whereas the latter part of 2010 was filled mostly with more casting announcements and the occasional set photo that someone was *sure* spoiled a huge plot point.

One of the first stories was an interview with Jones (LAT, 1/4/11) about taking on the role of Emma Frost, with the actress talking about how she tried to get inside the character’s head since because of her TV commitments it was tough to get in the kind of shape that the comics always portray Frost as having. Also focusing on the female stars were stories about Lawrence and the regimen she had to endure (Hollywood Reporter, 1/19/11), including hours of being painted blue, to transform into Mystique on a daily basis.

The tight production timeline continued to be a story-point, with Vaughn commenting on how this sort of schedule – where he’s racing to finish the movie in advance of a pre-planned release date – is absolutely the opposite of what he’s used to in the independent film world where production is complete and then there’s the waiting to find a distributor. Vaughn also expressed his confidence that X-Men, by virtue of being a more well-known franchise, would be the movie to beat in a summer that was chock full of superhero films.

There was also, of course, media around the fact that this was Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise he helped launch, albeit this time in the role of producer and not director. But it’s clear that in that capacity he helped to shape the movie’s focus and tone while also holding out hope (among fans) that he’ll come back and direct another X-Men movie that would be another sequel to the original and not a step back in time or a focus on a single character.

As is increasingly the case with tentpole movies like this, the studio built up some buzz not just about the release of of new marketing materials but with the announcement that, in this case, the first trailer was about to be released (Entertainment Weekly, 2/9/11).

After the debut of the first trailer, which absolutely lit up (THR, 2/10/11)social networks and movie blogs and fan sites, Singer talked more freely (LAT, 2/10/11) about the new characters that were being introduced or slightly revamped for the film and how they related to each other.

Press continued with exclusive covers and coverage in Empire Magazine (March, 2011) and reports in that story that the studio and producers were actively working on continuations of the original trilogy in addition to the other various mutant spinoffs and solo features. There were also some very cool 60’s-retro covers featuring the cast that were created for coverage in Total Film magazine.

While she was conspicuously silent in many of the movie’s trailers the focus on Jones was primarily on her wardrobe, both in the early and late (THR, 5/26/11) publicity for the movie as the studio tried to show off how hot she was in Emma Frost’s skimpy outfits.


So basically as long as you just completely discount the poster component of this campaign it works remarkably well, right? That’s certainly how I come away feeling. The trailers are uniformly strong, as are the various TV spots and other video elements. The online elements are all interesting and provide not only entertainment but also information for the audience that might not be familiar with the new characters in this entry.

As for my question of whether or not it’s entertaining enough for me to overcome my continuity issues, it’s not quite successful on that front but I don’t know that it ever could have been. I’m always going to have problems with the fact that this version of Emma Frost contradicts the Wolverine solo movie’s and that we never get that Mystique was originally trained by Xavier. But those are my problems to bare and the campaign does make the movie look very attractive (again outside of the posters) in its own right. And as I said, the mass of people who just enjoyed the first movies aren’t likely to be as worried about these things as I am.


  • 06/01/11: No sooner do I publish this than there’s a story about some massively outdoor advertising Fox did for the movie.
  • 06/03/11: Andrew at AdAge goes more in-depth on the partnership between Farmers Insurance and the movie and how things kind of meshed nicely together.
  • 09/01/11: There was a cool outdoor ad created for the movie’s home video debut that not only included 3D holograms projected on the side of a building but also integrated Twitter and Foursquare components.

Movie Marketing Madness: Source Code

If you watch enough police or other sorts of procedural shows you’ll inevitably see a couple of folks sitting down over a computer or TV to review footage pulled from a surveillance camera at the crime scene or other place of interest. They’re looking for clues to the crime, trying to reconstruct what happened, verify someone’s alibi or garner some other sort of fact that will help in the investigation. I’m not sure how often this happens in the real world but it does make for interesting TV as people zoom in and focus on various details.

The new movie Source Code, the latest from director Duncan Jones, has a much more futuristic, science-fiction take on crime scene reconstruction. Jake Hyllenhaal stars as Colter Stevens, a soldier who is tapped to take part in the investigation into the planting of a bomb on a suburban Chicago commuter train in order to stop a larger attack that’s been threatened. To do so his mind and personality is actually placed into the body of a man who was there through some sort of elaborate process. But the man whose body he inhabits has a companion on the train, Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan). Stevens is sent back over and over again to the last eight minutes before the train explodes to find the terrorist by his superiors Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) who run the Source Code project and who want him to focus on the mission and not so much on saving Christina, which he begins to see as just as important as his primary task.

The Posters

The first poster was quite a good one. It shows Gyllenhaal running toward the camera with gun in hand as photos and snapshots, some of which contain images of Farmiga and Monaghan, surround him. They’re either falling down around him or he’s outrunning the collapse of the ground he’s running on and those behind him are falling up. It’s not super clear which but I’d guess it’s the second option since it would play in more closely with the idea that Gyllenhaal’s character is outrunning the clock, something that’s also emphasized by the “Make every second count” copy at the top?

The poster works by selling what appears to be a simple action movie that has some sort of sci-fi premise. It also makes an appeal to arthouse and specialty film audiences by mentioning below the title that this comes from the director of Moon, which had a lot of buzz around it and attracted Jones a significant following.

A very cool piece of art was created exclusively for the movie’s premiere at SXSW 2011 that almost looks like something that would have been used for a serialized magazine thriller 60 or 70 years ago. It shows a silhouetted figure walking away from the camera along a clock that’s made out of train tracks. It’s just great in how it manages to get a couple different elements of the movie’s story in an intriguing and compelling way that’s much more interesting than just throwing the star’s face above the title.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off by throwing the audience off its guard as Gyllenhaal wakes up on a commuter train apparently in someone else’s body just moments before the train blows up. We then see he’s part of a government project that puts his mind in someone’s body just moments before they die in an attempt to find who set off the bomb. He’s sent back into that situation time and time again, each time trying to build upon what he’s learned last time. Ultimately he decides to try and not only stop the bomber but also save the woman he’s been talking with each time he goes back. The tension ramps up as he attempts to defy his military handlers, who appear to be having their own troubles as well.

It’s a tightly paced trailer that works well to lay out the overall premise of the movie and get the audience invested in the characters by grounding them in the reality of the situation as it exists in that world even if it doesn’t work in ours.

From the trailer

(An exception to that statement, though, is in the shot of the Chicago skyline that’s seen at 1:09 into the trailer. The Sears Tower is to the left of the Hancock, meaning the train is coming in to the city from the east. The only problem here is that, as you may know, this means the train would be coming in from the middle of Lake Michigan. Based on where Sears is in this shot that’s either the Eisenhower or the Kennedy expressways, but it’s not either since I don’t think Metra trains run that close to either that close to the city. Also, the buildings have been rearranged so that the Aon Center is on the other side of the Hancock, so it’s not a perfect picture of the skyline either. Yes, I’m going to harp on this.)


Chicago from the west in real life

The second trailer that was released was only a minute long and so doesn’t have all the nuance that the first one did. We still get the gist of the setup but without some of the character shading, particularly from Gyllenhaal. We still get that he’s defying his superiors in trying to not only find the bomber but also save the woman he keeps meeting but that’s about it. It plays less like a truncated trailer and more like an extended TV spot so I’m not sure exactly what the target was for this particular spot.


The movie’s official website opens by playing the movie’s trailer, which you can close when you want.

There are three ways to find out about playing the “Source Code Mission” (more on this below) either by clicking the “Become part of the movie website” text, the “Enter the Source Code” button or the mobile code toward the bottom of the screen. In fact the site seems to be primarily focused on that game since it’s also what first greats you when you Enter the Site.

The “Story” section has a good overview of the movie’s plot. “Videos” has the trailer, three TV spots for the movie, an extended version of the first five minutes from the movie and a featurette that attempts to explain what the movie’s concept exactly is. Finally the “Gallery” has a half-dozen stills from the movie.

The Facebook page for the movie also emphasizes the Source Code Mission with an immediate prompt to enter and play. There’s also a “Buzz” tab that has some video and a stream of updates from Jones’ Twitter account or which mention that account or the movie. There are also some games, other videos, photos and Wall updates on the movie’s promotional activity.

There was also, as I mentioned above, an online game focused on the site Source Code Mission that got people working. The game was triggered when people scanned the Microsoft Tag (similar to a QR code) that appears at the bottom of the movie’s poster. The game was based loosely on the movie’s plot and had as its reward the chance to win a trip to SXSW 2012 if you were able to complete five tasks online.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV commercials started to run around the end of February like this one that did a decent job of setting up the stakes and the premise, showing Gyllenhaal being ripped out of the present and onto the train as it explodes over and over again. There’s some exposition from the Army officers who keep sending him back about what the Source Code is and what his mission is that should make at least some in the audience interested in checking it out. It’s certainly sold as an action flick more than anything, though I suspect the movie itself has more to say than just that. But this is mass marketing so it has to be presented in as accessible way as possible.

There were also online ads that used a combination of the poster key art and clips from the trailer in video units and outdoor advertising that, again, repurposed the poster design.

Media and Publicity

After the release of the first trailer, the next biggest push of publicity and buzz was when it was announced (Filmmaker Magazine, 12/16/10) that the movie had been chosen as the opening night feature for the 2011 SXSW Film Festival. Also at SXSW, Jones was picked to lead a panel discussion where he planned to talk about his upcoming movie.

At SXSW both Jones and Gyllenhaal were in attendance (Hollywood Reporter, 3/12/11) and watched the movie become one of the first buzz breakouts from the festival, which is more or less exactly what everyone expected to happen.

There was a definite appeal in the wake of SXSW and the release of the tag-based game by the studio to tech-based media. Unfortunately in some cases that didn’t turn out all that well, with the expectations of studios who are used to overly-fawning press running headlong into how outlets that usually cover start-ups and other technology companies operate. The odd thing is that there wasn’t anything negative in TechCrunch’s original story but apparently either it wasn’t positive enough or the studio staffer was just having an overly sensitive day.


I like 95% of this campaign, mostly in terms of the poster, trailer and publicity efforts. The one thing I don’t necessarily care for is the online component. While I think the “Mission” thing for Facebook and mobile was interesting and certainly a new way to engage audiences offline with something entertaining I just don’t think it has a low enough barrier to entry to participation to make it a truly mass-market effort. I may be missing the point but I think that, especially on the official website, the emphasizing of that over other information about the movie and its actors or crew is a missed opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that more and more campaigns will find ways to integrate mobile components like this into their attempts to reach the audience but this just doesn’t seem to be it. I’m certainly not knocking the ambition of Jones or whomever was behind this effort but I would have liked to have seen more traditional content on the website as opposed to the repeated appeals to play the same game, only to find more on the Facebook page than was there.

Quick Takes: 2/22/11

The idea of selling a movie as a mobile app is intriguing and is exactly what Warner Home Video is doing, launching apps for The Dark Knight and Inception. The apps play the movie and allow for scene selection and other functionality and go for about the same price as downloading the movie from iTunes. What’s more interesting to me is how this model might irk Apple, which recently announced it would be taking a 30% cut of in-app subscriptions from media-based apps. The company isn’t likely to movies being offered outside of both a subscription model and outside the iTunes store.

I’m surprised to not see any of the studios on the list of advertisers that are contributing to this year’s bump in ad revenue for ABC in connection with its broadcast of the Oscars awards ceremony. This is the second year that studios have been permitted to advertise within the broadcast and, given both the makeup (movie fans both hardcore and casual) and size (claimed to be the second-biggest after the Super Bowl) of the audience, I would have expected them to be all over it.

More people are buying movies via digital download in some way, shape or form and Apple’s iTunes continues to be the most popular storefront for them to do so. But those purchases aren’t completely making up in scale for the decline in physical DVD sales, which is continuing, nor is it as popular as renting movies through some form of VOD outlet. A separate but related study shows that those who are pirating movies are doing so because of convenience and because the prices being charged are higher than what they’re willing to pay, which shouldn’t be surprising finding. There should also be attention paid to how people are spending less on movies but more on other forms of digital entertainment, particularly video games, though that’s a trend that’s been growing for a couple years now.

You’ve no doubt heard about Criterion’s deal to bring its vast catalog of classic movies to Hulu and eventually move them out of the Netflix streaming offerings. But what I thought was the most interesting part of the rationale behind that move is that it partly had to do with the search capabilities of the two websites, with Hulu being preferred because their search is better and they were able to build a branded channel with all the titles in it.

Angry Birds Rio gets Super Bowl time

I mentioned the other day that Roxio, the company behind the popular mobile game Angry Birds, was partnering with 20th Century Fox on special levels of the game to promote their upcoming animated feature Rio.

The movie and its tie-in game are getting a TV commercial during this weekend’s Super Bowl XLV (Hollywood Reporter, 2/1/11). The spot is also notable for the fact that it’s the first in-game spot to include an embedded code, which will give viewers who catch it to unlock that movie-themed level, which includes a Rio sweepstakes that awards the winner a trip to the movie’s premiere in Rio de Janeiro.

While this is the first time a code has been included in a commercial airing during the Super Bowl, this isn’t the first time a coupon code of some sort has appeared in TV spots in general. The most famous example is when KFC included a code for a free sandwich in its commercials a couple years ago or so. But in most cases that’s a tactic meant to combat people fast-forwarding through the commercials on the DVRs, something that’s not really a concern during the Super Bowl.

Also on the Super Bowl front is a video report from Alan Frutkin at Adweek on what to expect during the game, though much of his report first deals with TV shows that Fox will be promoting during the broadcast.