Movie Marketing Madness: Alien: Covenant

A couple years ago Prometheus sought to resurrect the world of Alien but did so by serving as a prequel to the story we’ve known so well for the last 40 or so years. It also took a very different approach to the story, seeking to document humanity’s first contact with the deadly Xenomorphs, but only as a consequence of their search for the species that created humanity to begin with. It was less a sci-fi action movie than it was a philosophical think-piece on what it means to be human that contained random fragments of story that tied it to the Alien movies that have become part of genre and cinematica canon.

The somewhat sly approach 20th Century Fox took in selling Prometheus is thrown out the window for this week’s Alien: Covenant, beginning with the fact that the name “Alien” actually appears in the title. That makes it much more overtly part of the franchise because it’s labeled as such for all to see. The story picks up years after the events of Prometheus as the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship that’s tasked with setting up a human outpost on a faraway planet. What they find, though, are the remnants of the previous story and the dangers that were uncovered then and will now cause problems for a whole new group of explorers.

The Posters

The first poster boiled things down to the most simple element, with the half-hidden face of an alien appearing out of the darkness and the direction to “Run” as the only copy outside of the date. It gets the message across that the franchise is back, which is all it needs to do.

The next tells the audience to “Hide” with an image of an alien egg that’s clearly designed to evoke memories of the poster for the 1979 original film. Anyone who’s seen Prometheus will recognize this egg as just one from the hive that was discovered in that movie, so it’s working hard to create connective material.

The next ups the creepiness factor, showing something akin to a relief sculpture that depicts an attack on the engineers seen in Prometheus by the xenomorphs, the latter smothering and hugging the faces of the former. It’s dramatic and stark. Two more showed grainy images of someone being attacked, with one saying “Hide” and another “Scream.”

The Trailers

The first red-band trailer opens up with someone running through a ship and someone not being let out of a room because it will let the infection out, at which point we see an alien cutting through someone’s back. Cut to David from Prometheus and a group of others on a ship traveling to and landing on a forbidding plant where they don’t know what to expect. Soon the facehugger start jumping, ships start exploding and the screaming begins.

That’s about it. There are nods to the story of Prometheus here and there but what the trailer is clearly selling is the connective material between that movie and the classic Alien franchise. It’s trying to match the tone of the former while setting up the story of the latter and it looks scary and interesting and I’m on board.

The official trailer starts off with a shot of a happy crew on its way into space. The idea that this is a colonization mission made up of couples is explained and the ship arrives on the distant planet but questions quickly crop up. We see a ship that looks just like the one that escaped the carnage in Prometheus and the team discovers the alien eggs, which is when the carnage starts. From there on out it’s lots of running and shooting and trying not to die as the xenomorphs do their best to take out everyone.

It’s tight and fun. Most of all, I’m struck by how it isn’t *just* about the visuals of the movie but works hard to explain the story to the audience. Again, there’s work being done to connect all the previous movies to each other while also selling something that will be a thrill ride in and of itself. It’s clearly, based on what’s on display here, more of a straightforward action story and less of a cultural drama than Prometheus was.

Online and Social

There’s a cropped version of the final key art at the top of the official website, showing the engineers and xenomorphs locked in struggle in that stark black-and-white image. Below that we get the usual Fox stripe of prompts to watch the trailer or get tickets along with links to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Below that the first section of actual content is “Videos” which is where you can watch the trailers as well as many of the promotional videos that were released over the course of the last few months inducing clips and more. “About” just has a short synopsis along with the cast and crew list.

Some of the key art can be found in the “Posters” section, after which you can sign up for email updates. The site pretty much ends with “Social Updates” that are pulled from Twitter and elsewhere and more links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

https://www.alienuniverse.com/

The movie as also one of the launch partners for Facebook’s new camera masks, which allow users to add some movie-themed element to their photos in the same way Snapchat filers work.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A series of three TV spots debuted first that were differently themed but which all presented short takes on the story, asking fans to either run, hide or pray and giving different approaches to selling the action and the overall look and feel. More TV spots like this one start out by selling a pretty peaceful time being had before the hunting and attacking begins.

To celebrate the overall Alien franchise Fox again announced plans to mark Alien Day on 4/26 with a live stream of happenings involving cast members and others from the Fox lot along with various activities and calls to action for fans looking to participate. The Alien Universe site was part of that, acting as a hub for Alien Day activities and more.

As with other recent big-screen sci-fi movies, there was a virtual reality experience created. This one, dubbed “In Utero” promised not just to be an advertising stunt but as a wholly unique media opportunity as it took Oculus users inside the bloodstream of a human being, putting them in the place of a Xenomorph spore that’s infecting its host before bursting forth.

  • AMD, which launched a campaign dubbed “Meet Walter” that played out like it was really introducing us to a new product that would be available soon. So the website prompted you to reserve your model today and offers more information about the latest version. There’s also a video that shows Walter being created in, again, a video that’s akin to other product introduction videos and a poster designed to look like a magazine ad of sorts.
  • Audi, which created a short video showing how its lunar quattro was an important part of the crew’s mission. That took viewers to a page with even more information on the vehicle, which has a future as part of an actual planned mission to the moon.
  • Reebok, which created the “Alien Stomper” shoe and ran some ads to promote them, using a classic line from Aliens to do so.

Outdoor and online ads were also in plentiful supply that used elements of the key art to sell this as an Alien franchise entry. Trailers and other videos were used for social ads as well.

Media and Publicity

The movie went through a couple different name changes well in advance of release as

Well before the movie had even begun promotion Scott was making statements about how this series wouldn’t actually get directly to the Alien series of movies for another few installments yet. Scott would keep talking and spilling various plot details, offering tidbits about what the audience could expect.

The movie would go through a number of name changes as various branding was bandied about including both Alien and Prometheus titles. Eventually the final name was settled on at the same time a synopsis was released that spilled some of the story’s details. Scott would keep talking, including statements that this was definitely the first installment in a new trilogy.

Lots of press was generated when a first look still was shared on the Alien franchise’s Facebook page, a steady stream of which would follow. Fassbender later made comments about how this was going to be much scarier than Prometheus while retaining that movie’s scope. The first official still came via EW’s 2017 preview and showed Fassbender’s robot at the piano, which only added to the mystery of the story.

The official marketing really kicked off with a quick one-two punch release of a cast photo and a four-minute prologue showing the cast getting ready for cryo-sleep by throwing one last party before they drift off. Later on another prologue dubbed “The Crossing” showed what happened to the survivors at the end of Prometheus and where they went next to help keep connecting the two movies.

Scott and some of the cast showed up at SXSW to show off about 20 minutes of the movie, talking about the story and setting the expectation that it upends much of the Alien mythology as fans have known it for almost 40 years. A bit later on a series of “crew messages” like this one were released to help people get to know the characters a bit better and in some cases give us further glimpses at previously-unseen footage. Further first-look images also kept hitting to offer fresh opportunities for buzz and commentary.

In terms of press, duties were fulfilled by stars Danny McBride, Michael Fassbender and others as well as director Ridley Scott, mostly talking about being part of the Alien franchise, working on a movie as high-stakes as this and more.

Overall

As I alluded to in the opening, the major thing this movie has going for it is that it’s being sold clearly and specifically as an entry in the Alien franchise. While it was openly acknowledged during the marketing of Prometheus that yes, it was a prequel to the 1979 original, that it wasn’t in the title may have caused some marketplace confusion. That movie didn’t do poorly at the box-office or with critics, but it could have done better, and the inclusion of “Alien” in front of a syntactical-descriptive colon.

The movie actually being sold in the campaign is…yeah, it’s an Alien movie. It looks like it, it feels like it and there are plenty of xenomorphs running around and bursting out of chests to remind you that’s what’s happening here. There’s a deliberate effort here to walk the line between the overly-existential story of Prometheus and the more straight-forward action and terror of the older movies in the series that I think works well. That action and terror comes to the forefront the deeper you get into the marketing. It might not completely work to convert skeptics turned off by the last movie, but it works hard to do so.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

Movie Marketing Madness: Snatched

While she’d certainly had small parts before, 2015’s Trainwreck really announced Amy Schumer’s accession from her TV show to the big screen. Now she’s a regular presence and this week she’s back in the comedy Snatched. Schumer stars as Emily, a woman who has been dumped by her boyfriend just before they were supposed to leave on vacation. Not wanting to completely lose out, Emily opts to invite her mother Linda (Goldie Hawn) to join her.

At first, the only problem Emily has is that her mother is smothering and overprotective but this is an opportunity to work through their differences. Things take a turn, though, when the two are kidnapped and held hostage by local criminals. The two must now not only get along but work together to escape and get back to civilization.

The Posters

The first and only poster shows Schumer and a heavily-photoshopped Hawn – this isn’t age-shaming, she’s been airbrushed to look as much like her daughter Kate Hudson as possible – leaning into each other, with copy explaining “This is the closest they’ve been in years.” Both appear slightly dirty and disheveled, showing that they’re living rough for some reason and hints at the dynamic between the two.

The Trailers

The first trailer out of the gate was a red-band version that starts off as Emily is dumped by her boyfriend because his band is getting too popular and he wants to..umm…enjoy the side benefits. They were about to take a trip to South America and so to salvage things she convinces her mom to go with her. Her mom can’t help being a bit of a stick in the mud and while she eventually loosens up, the two wind up being kidnapped by some form of criminals. The rest of the trailer is about them trying to escape and the hijinks that ensue while doing so.

Schumer looks like Schumer, a somewhat inappropriate person who has a ton of self-confidence. It’s great to see Hawn back in action, though, giving it her all as the mom to the kind of character she would have played much more broadly 30 years ago. The story is…whatever, unfortunately. It’s too bad all these comedies feel like they need some big crime-laden plot to act as the crutch for the humor. Not everything needs to be so high-concept.

A green-band version was released at the same time that hits many of the same beats, just with a few changes here and there.

The second trailer skips some of the establishing shots and gets right to the mother/daughter dynamic on vacation. They’re quickly kidnapped and that’s where the hilarity begins as they try and escape and get back to the real world.

It’s just as funny as the first one, with some different shadings around the edges.

A third hit many of the same notes, just slightly rearranged. The focus is still on the dynamic between Schumer and Hawn, though, which is good.

Online and Social

I think it’s a little odd that the top of the official website just features the title treatment, not a photo of Schumer, Hawn or both. Have to wonder what the strategic thinking is there. On the stripe below that are buttons to watch the trailer or get tickets along with links to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Moving down the page, the first section of material is “Videos,” which is where you can watch all the trailers, some clips, TV spots and more. Keep scrolling down and the “About” section will offer you a synopsis and cast and crew list.

There are five stills in the “Gallery” and just the one poster in the “Posters” section. “KLOVEUBYE” is a promotion for a movie-themed keyboard app for your phone that allows you to choose from a number of conversation starter texts or send pictures or GIFs from the movie to someone you’re chatting with.

There’s a section with all the companies that have signed on as promotional partners and then finally the “Social Updates” section that pulls in updates from the movie’s Twitter account. There are additional links to that Twitter account as well as Facebook and Instagram.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one take the core elements of the trailers and put them in a shorter running time. It plays up the mother/daughter dynamic and show it to be a pretty funny movie filled with deadpan comedy and lots of outrageous situations.

There were also some promotional partners on the movie, including:

  • Moovit, which added theaters showing Snatched to its app and otherwise made it easy for people to find public transportation options to go see it.
  • Ruelala, which offered some movie-inspired fashions and gave the movie plenty of social and other promotion.
  • Schofferhofer, which offered a sweeps giving the winner a trip to L.A. to tour the Fox studios.
  • Palm Beach Tan, which offered a sweeps awarding the winner a tropical vacation for two.
  • Blurb, which offered a sweeps with a hometown screening of the movie and $2,000 to put toward a vacation as well as other prizes.

Online and outdoor ads used the key art to drive interest as awareness while social media ads used the trailer and TV spots to do likewise.

Media and Publicity

The movie received plenty of press during production, mostly for the fact that this was Hawn’s first movie in 15 years. That continued through the release of the first stills.

A big cover story in Entertainment Weekly constituted one of the bigger pops for the movie, offering interviews with Hawn and Schumer about working together, the former’s long absence from the screen and more.

Hawn got a long-overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that helped cement, so to speak, her return to the big-screen.

Both Schumer and Hawn also did the usual talk-show and other press rounds to talk up the movie, comment on Hawn’s return to movies and lots more. The pair appeared at the recent “MTV Movie and TV Awards” to make one last appeal to that demographic as well.

Overall

The movie looks…not great. The idea that you can’t have laughs without some high-concept scenario is an unfortunate trend that weighs down otherwise funny ideas and this looks like it falls into that trap. There’s nothing particularly “funny” about what’s presented here, we’re just supposed to laugh because of the people involved and because we’re being told it’s a comedy. But take out a few lines and reactions and you have a variation on Taken and that’s not particularly light-hearted.

That means the best part of the campaign is Hawn. All the focus on her returning to the big screen and the appreciation of her career and talents that’s reemerged in the press is wonderful to see and should remind everyone what a comedic force she was and still is. The main draw here, unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Schumer and her style of comedy is the chance to see Hawn in action, and that may not be a strong enough call to action to make a big impact in theaters.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

Flashback MMM: Alien

This past Wednesday was #AlienDay, a day 20th Century Fox designated to celebrate the legacy of the franchise that started with 1979’s Ridley Scott-directed horror classic and which continues with the upcoming release of Alien: Covenant. It’s a publicity stunt, to be sure, and involved live events on the Fox lot with the cast of the upcoming movie and lots more. Unlike many current similar movies, Alien was not intended as the first in a series of movies. Indeed it was seven years before James Cameron directed the more action-oriented sequel.

The original Alien is, unlike most of its sequels, more concerned with tension and terror than with dramatic fights featuring huge robotic exoskeletons and the creepy crawly alpha predators that lurk in the far reaches of space. Sigourney Weaver stars as Ripley, one member of the crew of the Nostromo, a merchant ship that picks up a distress call emanating from a nearby moon. When they land to investigate they find the ship has been infiltrated by an alien lifeform that isn’t content to destroy but needs the people aboard the Nostromo to propagate and, hopefully, spread to other planets.

The theatrical poster has become so iconic it’s easy to overlook just how much is going on with its design. The title treatment is the lowest-key part of the poster, appearing in simple block letters at the top. The main element is in the middle, the rocky egg that is starting to split, a strange green light emanating from inside and a foggy smoke pouring out. “In space no one can hear you scream” we’re told in the copy that’s just below that. Finally, at the bottom, we see another soft green light just breaking over the horizon of a strange, hatched groundwork that’s clearly meant to look foreign or otherworldly.

It’s a great example of showing just enough to titillate or entice the audience without needing to show off the actual alien that will be hunting the human crew members. In fact not only is there little to nothing shown, there’s very little about the story here, but in a good way. It’s all about the suggestion of danger, of something that’s about to emerge. That’s very different – and much more effective – than those that just don’t show anything about the movie but also don’t leave any room for the audience to imagine what’s happening or what’s next.

The trailer starts off with a full 50 seconds of tracking shots that alternate between covering an alien terrain of some kind and showing the egg, all as the title is slowly unveiled. That helps to establish a sense of mystery as the audience is left wondering where we are and what’s going on with that egg, which eventually starts cracking as the same green light we saw on the trailer comes out. After it cracks we shift to footage from the movie, though there’s no clear story outlined other than “survival.” We see the cast of the Nostromo running through the ship, convulsing for unknown reasons and just trying to not die.

There are no names given here, no characters explained or backstories offered. There’s no synopsis of the story or other insights into what’s happening for the audience to latch on to. That all means it’s being sold as a horror film, not necessarily a science-fiction story. The H.R. Giger-inspired designs are shown prominently throughout the second half of the trailer, again giving people a clear sense that this is a dark, foreign place we’re visiting.

All in all The campaign was much more about selling a mystery and a horror film than anything else. While the series eventually veered into straightforward sci-fi (with the exception of Alien 3, the David Fincher-directed installment that reintroduced a sense of tension), taking the approach of hinting at and alluding to instead of showing outright. What’s unseen is often more terrifying than what’s shown, and the marketing for this 1979 classic embraces that wholeheartedly.

Movie Marketing Madness: Logan

logan_ver5Wolverine is back in the new movie Logan, the character’s third solo outing and star Hugh Jackman’s eighth time as the amnesiac Canadian killing machine. This time around we’re flying into the future, a time when mutants are disappearing from the population as no new ones have been born in decades. Logan has retired from the life of the X-Men and is living out his days along the southern U.S. border, picking up odd jobs and taking care of an aged Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and just trying to be left alone.

That becomes complicated when he’s approached by a mysterious woman who tells him she needs his help caring for a young girl named Laura. She’s being hunted by a dangerous group with their own agenda, but Logan may have a connection to her that no one is fully aware of. All of this is complicated by the fact that Logan’s miraculous healing powers are diminished, meaning he’s more vulnerable to danger and violence than ever before.

The Posters

The first teaser poster signaled to fans what the movie was going to be about, which is some variation on the “Old Man Logan” story. It shows a child’s hand reaching up and grasping the age-worn hand of Logan, with his claws unsheathed and exposed.

The next poster kept up the idea of this being a very solitary, dark story by showing Logan walking toward the camera, with claws extended and a sunset behind him turning the clouds and sky all shades of orange.

Another poster featured an extreme close-up of the aged, weary Logan we’ll be watching in the movie. So it’s just him staring straight ahead into the camera, claws out so we can be sure what we’re watching is a Wolverine movie.

The IMAX-specific poster is pretty cool. It’s meant to look like a 1970’s grind house era one-sheet, featuring an artistic, drawn look at all the characters, the main heroes at the top and the army of bad guys who are chasing them toward the bottom. Adding to the effect are artificial creases in the image, as if the poster had been folded up over and over for shipping and storage.

In a pretty cool move, a series of posters was commissioned by Fox by various comic artists, with the resulting work displayed in theaters across the country.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens with a conversation between Logan and Charles, who are discussing how there are no more mutants in the world. We see shots of an older, battle-scarred Logan who appears to be all on his own. He’s a bit slower and isn’t healing. Charles introduces him to a young girl who’s described as being “very much like” Logan. Then things kick up a bit, with a group of men in dark vans who are after something, presumably the girl since she’s shown in handcuffs a couple different times and it’s clear the relationship between her and Logan will form the crux of the story.

In addition to the connection between Logan and the girl (which comics fans can likely guess at) the movie is being sold as not just the end of a saga but also a road trip movie with Logan and Charles. Their relationship was always core to the original X-Men movie series, so wrapping it up with that makes a lot of sense. Overall the tone is one of hopelessness, of being at the end of a road. That this is Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine isn’t stated in the trailer, but it’s clear we’re wrapping things up.

The second trailer opens with the young girl we’ve seen before stealing from a convenience store in a very aggressive manner before Logan removes her from the situation. We see him talking with Xavier before a group of bad men come for the girl and see she’s able to take care of herself. The rest of the trailer is about the dynamic between the three of them as they’re hunted and fighting back.

It shows a movie that’s light on special effects and heavy on drama and character, which is nice to see. There’s not much thematically that’s different here from the first spot, it just goes a bit deeper into the story and the connection between Logan and the girl. It also had a fun moment where Logan is reading an X-Men comic, presumably something created in-world to fictionalize the story of the characters who had made such an impression on society.

Online and Social

The official website opens with that key art of Logan walking away from the sunset, which would be a good metaphor for the story itself it was reversed. But, you know, you can’t not show Jackman’s face. There are prompts below that to watch the trailer, get tickets or follow the movie on Facebook or Twitter.

Scroll down – or use the content menu at the top – and the first section is “Videos.” There you can view the trailers, a couple of clips that were released as well as a few “viral” videos that we’ll get into a bit more below.

“Battle Scars” is a very cool feature. Images of both Logan and X-23 feature hot spots. As you hold down the mouse on any part of the image you get a look at each character’s musculature. But if you pause on a spot you get an X-ray look at their metal skeletons. And if you hold on any of the demarcated spots you get a pop-up explaining the significant damage they’ve sustained to that part of their body. It’s pretty neat and gives you an idea of what kind of damage they’ve sustained.

A brief synopsis and a cast and crew list along with a link to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles, can be found in “About.” Two one-sheets are featured in “Posters.”

After that it’s more or less housekeeping. “Sign up” lets you opt-in to email updates and “Social Updates” has items from the movie’s Twitter and other social feeds.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The TV campaign kicked off with a Super Bowl commercial that featured mostly footage we’ve already seen.

More spots kept rolling out that offered additional looks at the story. Many featured footage already seen in the trailers, particularly the convenience store encounter with X-23, and a few offered more overt statements connecting Logan and the mysterious girl, connections that could be considered spoilers for those looking to be surprised while watching the movie.

More spots kept rolling out that offered additional looks at the story. Many featured footage already seen in the trailers, particularly the convenience store encounter with X-23, and a few offered more overt statements connecting Logan and the mysterious girl, connections that could be considered spoilers for those looking to be surprised while watching the movie.

Online and social ads drove traffic to the website as well as ticket sales. Outdoor ads also used the key art to show that Logan was back and much different than we’ve seen him before.

Media and Publicity

While there was plenty of coverage of production, the first real news came when the movie’s title and some plot points were revealed, causing all sorts of additional speculation and commentary. Further press would reveal major characters, villains and more.

Jackman, according to Mangold, was so determined to take the character out on a violent, gritty note that the actor took a pay cut to convince the studio to allow an R rating, something that was partly needed because studios are still wary of R-rated commercial features bringing in as much as their non-restricted brethren.

A couple of strange videos were released that were designed to get people talking and provide some background into the characters of the movie. One, “Sunseeker,” showed Logan driving a limousine while we heard a voicemail he was leaving for someone he wanted to buy a boat from. The other, “laura.mov,” was made to look like hidden camera footage that had been leaked out from the facility that was turning the young girl into X-23, offering a glimpse at her transformation and powers.

logan-pic

Word leaked out that the studio was less than thrilled with the dark tone the movie was taking. Indeed some balked intensely at the gritty violent approach to the character that ran in contrast to the sarcastic wise-ass that had been shown in early films.

One of the central themes of the publicity campaign was that this was Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine and that the story wrapped up the character in a grimly satisfying way. That was hit most strongly in a feature interview with Jackman where he talked about his 17 year history as Logan and his career in general. Mangold too kept talking about how he got away with creating a movie that stood in such stark contrast to other superhero fare for its violent tone and how nervous the studio was to spend money on something that may fall well outside of audience expectations.

Overall

You certainly can’t accuse the campaign here of not being aligned around a common theme. The consistent hints or outright invocations of this being the last time Jackman takes on the role of Logan. That’s creating a sense of intensity and limited availability around the movie and the event that is meant to spark some urgency in the minds of the audience. It’s more than just another super hero movie, it’s your last chance to see an actor play a character he’s become synonymous with and has positioned himself as iconic in the minds of the public.

Let’s come back to that one point, that this is more than just a super hero movie. Throughout the campaign, for as much as there have been points that show Logan engaged in hero-like activities, it’s been clearly communicated that we’re not watching the normal comic book movie here; we’re watching a gritty, violent action story with a morally ambiguous character at its center. It’s being sold less like another installment of the X-Men extended franchise and more like the kind of thing Clint Eastwood would have made in the 1960s. Just like with Deadpool this time last year, the promise here is it’s something audiences have never seen before.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

Movie Marketing Madness: A Cure For Wellness

cure_for_wellness_ver2In A Cure for Wellness, Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart, a young executive with a large company whose CEO has gone missing. So Lockhart is dispatched to the spa resort in the Swiss Alps where he the CEO had gone but who hasn’t been heard from since. The spa is reported to be the sort that provides very specific cures for those who can afford to take this kind of approach and visit this sort of location.

When Lockhart arrives at the mysterious spa, though, he finds things aren’t exactly as simple as he’d been lead to believe. Not only is retrieving the elusive executive harder than he anticipated, but so is simply leaving. On his way out he’s involved in a major accident that sends him back to the clinic where he’s subjected to the “cure” that’s touted there. What he finds is that the “cure” may be anything but and it becomes a struggle to get out before he loses his mind and possibly his life.

The Posters

cure_for_wellnessThe first poster – which also sported a “motion” version – only hints at the surreal nature of the story with its visual of woman floating, suspended in an blue apothecary bottle. The rest is all white space, hinting at isolation or other problems to come.

That sense of danger and something being not quite right is amped up on the second poster. This one shows a young woman (presumably the same one from above) looking out over the edge of an old-fashioned bathtub that’s filled with snakes or eels or some sort of slimy, wriggling creature. She doesn’t look panicked, though, just as if she’s resigned to her fate. It’s pretty creepy.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer begins with Lockhart in some sort of sensory-deprivation tank, about to be sealed in. The rest of the running time is remarkably non-linear, bouncing between establishing shots showing how remote the clinic is and some of the mind-bending and stomach-churning treatments being administered there. The pounding music builds to a crescendo as more insanity is uncovered with every jump-cut.

It’s not about establishing any sort of story, though we get the basic outlines that Lockhart is our eyes into this clinic as someone who is trying to uncover the mysteries it holds. The use of a cover of The Ramones’ “I Want To Be Sedated” is a nice touch, lending an air of mystery to the footage. Again, there’s not much here in terms of laying out the plot, it’s just about creating a feel for the audience to latch on to.

The first official trailer starts out with narration about how there’s a sickness in humanity. We see that’s coming from the letter someone has written and a young executive is dispatched to investigate the state of mind of the sender. He’s a patient at a “wellness center” that has a lot of mystery surrounding it. When Lockhart tries to leave he falls victim to an accident that keeps him at the facility, where he continues to uncover one shady activity after another, all centered around the “cure” that’s promised but never really delivered. The intensity continues to ramp up throughout until it all comes to a crashing halt.

It certainly does sell the movie as a creepy one. It’s all about setting up the mystery and promising that the answers will be slowly unveiled as Lockhart tries to get to the bottom of things. There’s plenty of story here that shows just how deep the conspiracy at the facility runs but overall it’s about showing off the dark tone of the story that features all kinds of torture-level therapies that are part of the unconventional cure being offered.

Online and Social

The official website extends the unusual, disconcerting visuals from the trailer. When it loads there’s an image of a woman spinning in the water with the copy “There is a cure” overlaid.

At the bottom of the page there’s a prompt to “Begin treatment” by selecting Water, Air or Earth. Click one of them and a calming narration begins that encourages you to meditate in a way that’s specific to that element.

In the upper right there are a few more items including the trailer and links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot was run around the turn of the new year and was themed thusly, positioning the cure of the movie as just the kind of thing to get the new year off on the right foot. It’s plenty creepy but doesn’t go too far into the story, likely just the result of the short run time.

Further TV spots, including one that aired during the Super Bowl, kept amping up the creepiness while laying out the bare outlines of the story. Social ads were run that used the trailer and TV spots to build awareness and interest and drive ticket sales.

Media and Publicity

There doesn’t appear to have been a huge press push for the movie. DeHaan and Verbinski did the rounds of interviews where they talked about the scariness of the movie, the way they tried to break some boundaries in the horror genre and so on but that’s about it. Most of the press coverage seems to have come from the release of new marketing materials like trailers, key art and so on.

The biggest pop came right toward the end, with the revelation that Fox had created a host of “fake news” sites that had outrageous headlines, many of which were tied to the universe of the movie.

Overall

What strikes me about the campaign is that there’s precious little attention paid to the story itself. There’s no synopsis on the website, there’s no copy or other hints on the posters and even the full trailer doesn’t go too in-depth on what exactly is going on. Instead the focus is on the visuals and the tone of the movie, the whole thing tinged with that soft, watery green that makes you feel vaguely uncomfortable and uneasy. The focus is clearly on the eels that are part of the cure and other aspects to make the audience feel curious and a bit queasy, not on laying out the story completely.

And there really is a consistent brand visual style for the campaign, with that dirty green color infusing everything as well as the overall gothic style of the visuals, copy fonts and more. It all combines to create a marketing effort that at times plays like a psychological drama and at others like some sort of body horror thriller. There’s an emphasis on Verbinski and his personal directorial brand, which counts on audiences knowing his body of work as a whole, specifically the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but that’s a big bet.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

Movie Marketing Madness: Hidden Figures

hidden-figures-poster-2It’s funny how in 13 episodes of “From the Earth to the Moon,” the HBO mini-series that chronicled the NASA program that built a space program from nothing to landing men repeatedly on the moon (and more) I don’t remember hearing or seeing anything about the groundbreaking role played by a group of black women in achieving that nie-impossible goal. But that’s exactly the story that’s being told in the new movie Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.

The three play Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson (respectively), three incredibly talented women who are recruited into NASA at the height of the space race to help with land a man on the moon. Their experience with complicated, cutting edge math – they’re referred to as human “computers” – is essential to making that happen since no one knows just what the problem that needs to be solved is. So new points of view are necessary. But this being America in the 1960s, the three face pushback from many fronts because of both their gender and their race.

The Posters

hidden_figuresThe first poster, debuting around the same time as the first trailer, lets you know exactly what you’re in for. All three of the leads are seen striding toward the camera, confident and fearless, a NASA symbol on the floor under their feet. It’s clear they’re walking through some sort of hanger or other complex and a rocket can be seen launching in the background. So between all of that and the period wardrobe the three are wearing the one-sheet does a good job of establishing both the premise and the setting, especially when you factor in the copy, which reads “Meet the women you don’t know, behind the mission you do. It’s great.

A few character posters were next, showing the three main characters who each got their own inspirational phrase that spoke to gender, race or courage. This is a great way to show off each of the lead actresses and reinforce the themes of the story in the minds of the audience.

The theatrical poster tells us “Genius has no race. Strength has no gender. Courage has no limit.” That all sums up the themes of the movie pretty darn well. It’s paired with photos of the three leads as well as smaller pictures of supporting players like Jim Parsons, Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst.

The Trailers

The first trailer immediately introduces us to Katherine as a young child as we’re told, along with her parents, that she has an extraordinary capability for math and calculations. Fast forward to her as an adult as she, Dorothy and Mary have car trouble on their way to NASA, leading to a police officer dropping some casual racism about that particular situation. That kind of attitude – that not only are they women but black women – is continued throughout the trailer as we see them encounter one white man-made roadblock to being taken seriously after another, despite them being part of the team that’s trying to put a man on the moon in the very near future. They deal with all of that as well as other societal expectation about a woman’s place in the world as they try to be taken seriously and get what’s due them.

It’s a pretty good trailer, leaning heavily not just on the drama of trying to get a space program (literally) off the ground but also the place society in the U.S. was in at the time, which was not friendly to black women as a whole, especially not those who worked to rise to a station traditionally seen as exclusively for white men. The performances all look strong but the real draw here is the struggle and the opportunity to see, as we’re told repeatedly, a story many of us had never heard of before.

The next trailer seems a bit tighter, even as it retains the same basic structure. We skip, though, the parts about Katherine’s childhood and skip right to the women breaking down on their way to NASA. We then see much of the same material, as Katherine in particular aims to break down the divides and barriers that are simply part of society in 1961 to get the same treatment as her white male colleagues and be seen as an equal.

Again, this one seems to be a bit more linear and coherent, not trying to cram quite so much into the running time and instead focusing on the core story of one person’s attempts to do her job and contribute to something historic. If anything, this one seems more interested in the space program elements of the story, but the central idea is still one of equality.

Online and Social

The movie gets the usual Fox official website treatment, starting off with a cropped banner of the key art and links to watch the trailer, buy tickets or follow the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

“Videos” has both trailers, a few clips and lots of behind-the-scenes and other featurettes featuring the story behind the movie as well as spotlights on the cast and crew. The “About” section that’s next has a brief story synopsis as well as cast and crew lists along with more links to the movie’s social profiles, including an Instagram page.

The “Featured Content” section has links to find out more about the soundtrack album for the film and more, including to a site called “Future Katherine Johnsons,” an ode to the real life person played by Henson. It’s a program that’s done in partnership with Black Girls Code and designed to unlock the enormous potential that lies in young black women, exposing them to the possibilities in STEM-related fields. Getting women into STEM is also the point of a program from IBM honoring the women who served as NASA’s computers and the future geniuses who are and should be inspired by them and other trailblazers.

The site finishes up with a “Gallery” of stills, a carousel of the two posters and then a section with links to news about the movie and its cast.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one started airing in advance of release, laying out the story of black women’s role in achieving one of this country’s milestone moments and the struggles they faced while doing so.

There have been some social ads run using the trailers and other videos and it’s safe to assume outdoor and more online ads have been run as well. In terms of promotional partners, it looks like the major ones were the two mentioned above involving Black Girls Code and IBM.

Media and Publicity

Right after the trailer was released it was announced the movie would have its official debut at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Henson talked a bit here about how she approached the role, which reunited her with math, something she was legitimately scared of because it brought back memories of her past education. That was followed by a big feature that focused on the real women whose stories are being told and talked about the struggles they went through just to do their jobs and the role they played in a huge part of this country’s history.

hidden-figures-pic

Spencer’s role and how she got it was the focus of interviews like this one where she talked about being an African-American woman in Hollywood and what that means for the parts she’s offered and accepts. Of course there was lots of talk about about Henson and Spencer getting awards nominations when the time came, which helped add to a mountain of positive buzz and word of mouth around the movie.

The cast continued talking about the movie, the historical significance of the story and the characters they play in press interviews throughout the campaign.

Overall

I honestly feel like this movie couldn’t be more 2016 if it tried. At least the marketing campaign couldn’t. It’s all about how women of color have been removed from the narrative of one of the country’s – hell, mankind’s – greatest achievements. If “men get all the credit for something women were an integral part of” doesn’t sum up this past year I’m not sure what does. So the campaign has worked not only to tell people there’s an important story here, but it’s one that’s likely repeated daily as men talk over their female colleagues and mansplain what’s it’s “actually” about. For that reason, the movie is likely to become a lightning rod as one group claims the story as their own and the other complains how it downplays the contributions of white men. I’m guessing the phrase “white genocide” may even come up in one or two Facebook comments.

All that aside, it’s a good campaign that does shine a light on a story few of us know about but which deserves to be more widely known. It dips into shiny maudlin territory a bit here and there as it presents that story, but that’s a small complaint and it’s more than balanced out by the performances on display.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

Movie Marketing Madness: Why Him

why_himIt’s time to meet the boyfriend in the new comedy Why Him?. Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally play Ned and Barb Fleming, a married couple who have been invited by their daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) to meet her boyfriend Laird (James Franco), some kind of internet billionaire who’s just as eccentric as Hollywood thinks such characters are.

Stephanie and her family visit Laird at his palatial estate and find him as confusing as she finds him charming and lovable. Laird tells Ned he intends to ask Stephanie to marry him, but Ned isn’t hearing it and at best won’t approve. So Laird sets out to win him and the rest of the family over, with predictably zany results.

The Posters

There were two posters that tried to set up the choice Stephanie is making, so one features Deutch with Cranston as he embraces her in a protective fatherly hug and one with Franco as he embraces her in a more…suggestive manner. Both feature the copy “Of all the guys his daughter could have chosen…” which is meant to lead into the title at the bottom.

The theatrical poster is just a variation on that, this time with Cranston putting his body between that of Deutch and Franco, positioning that is meant to convey the basic story conceit. The same copy is here and all of them are sporting the same outfits as on the other posters, so it was obviously part of the same shoot. And it features the same plain white background and lack of any other design elements, meaning they’re not even trying to add any visual pizazz to this element of the campaign.

The Trailers

The first trailer, a red-band edition, starts out with Ned setting things up by narrating how a father’s supposed to protect and nurture his baby girl until she’s ready to face the world on her own. Then he meets her boyfriend Laird, a hedonistic billionaire with no filter between his brain and mouth. There’s one uncomfortable situation after another until Laird says he intends to propose to Stephie, asking for Ned’s blessing and promising to win him over between now and then to secure it. Ned is, of course, not on board with any of this and promised to kibosh those plans.

It’s funny enough. We’ve seen this movie before in a number of iterations and they’re all generally pleasant enough. The main selling point here is the conflict between Cranston and Franco, which looks like it works mainly because of what a pro Cranston is and what a “go all in on whatever I’m doing” actor Franco is. So they’re both committed in their own way to the premise, it looks like, which is what will sell the movie more than anything else.

The second red-band trailer lays out much the same story, of Ned talking about how precious his baby girl is. That sets up the trip to meet Laird, who’s again presented as someone with no filter. We get the general idea that he’s going propose to Stephie on Christmas but Ned, of course, if not on board with this plan or anything else Laird has in mind for her.

There’s a bunch of new jokes here, usually involving a party in the main room and the mishaps inherent in having a big tank of water with a taxidermied moose in it. So the point here is to keep selling it as an outrageous comedy, though there’s a bit more of a sense of the pranks Ned and Laird engage in to one-up each other here.

Online and Social

A banner featuring the key art is at the top of the official website, following Fox’s usual site design guidelines. Below that there’s a prompt to watch the trailer as well as links to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Keep moving down the page and you can first buy tickets — either individually or through Atom Tickets — and t hen watch the green band trailer, though the other trailers are nowhere to be found on the site.

There’s the usual “About” section that has a brief synopsis and a list of cast and crew. The “Poster” section just has one of the versions, the one with all three characters on it.

The “Gallery” has a half-dozen production stills to view and download. Then you can sign up for email updates about the movie and from Fox in general. The last section of the site is the usual “Social Updates” that pull in posts from the movie’s profiles.

There’s also “Laird’s Tattoo Shop” that asks you to take or upload a picture that you can then mess around with a bit as it becomes a tattoo on Laird’s back.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A number of TV spots were run that basically played like shorter versions of the trailer, laying out the outlines of the story and showing what audiences can expect in terms of humor and characters. Cranston’s dad is shown as a curmudgeon, Franco as an eccentric lunatic and so on.

why-him-pic

There was also a special spot featuring Cranston and Franco that was launched to promote Movember, the annual event where men don’t shave their facial hair to raise money for cancer research. More promo videos featuring the two of them talking to the camera followed.

Media and Publicity

Cranston made a bunch of TV and press appearances and did interviews where he talked about dipping into R-rated humor, how he would react to someone like Laird coming to date his daughter and so on. Nothing too huge and most times the conversation quickly turned from this movie to topics like Breaking Bad. Likewise Franco’s appearances often involved asking him about Freaks & Geeks and other previous projects.

Overall

The campaign really tries to amp up the raunchy humor of the story, making it clear at every possible turn that there are gross jokes throughout the story. But what it doesn’t do very well is actually sell a funny movie. You have to find a steady diet of these kinds of things funny in order to find the movie attractive at all, otherwise there’s nothing much here to latch on to. The posters are bland, the trailers look like they’re devoid of any visual style and so on.

The main attraction is the interplay between Cranston and Franco and that’s everywhere in the campaign. That’s not enough, though, to actually make the case to see the movie. More than that, the story basically comes down to a father wanting to own the sexuality of his daughter. That’s not a new story — it’s actually incredibly old — but it’s still surprising to see it so clearly on display in the marketing of a major motion picture in 2016.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

Movie Marketing Madness: Assassin’s Creed

assassins_creed_ver3The new movie Assassin’s Creed is a big-budget adaptation of the popular video game of the same name. The movie follows Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), a lifelong criminal who’s one day recruited (in the loosest sense of the word) by a mysterious company called Abstergo Industries. They want him because of his ties to his ancestor Aguilar, a 15th century member of a secret group of Spanish assassins.

Abstergo Industries has technology called the Animus Project that will allow Lynch to experience the memories of his ancestor in a visceral, physical way. So it’s not just that that the memories are plugged into his brain, it’s that he moves and acts along with those memories. But the “why” behind his recruitment and Abstergo’s goals eventually become clear while Lynch gains, through the Animus Project, the knowledge and skills to take on the assassin’s long-time enemies, the Knights Templar.

The Posters

The first poster sets up the basic value proposition of the movie, showing Fassbender’s character jumping off a roof and soaring through the sky. There’s nothing much more here, it’s just about showing off the look of the movie and making sure the audience knows that it’s coming soon.

The next poster shows the duality of Fassbender’s character, with him in the present day on the right and him decked out in the robes and weapons of the assassins on the left, the Spanish city in the background. “Your destiny is in your blood” we’re told at the top.

One more again is more concerned with the franchise than with Fassbender, showing Aguilar standing at the top of a huge church spire, poised and looking ready for a dive to the streets below.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with Callum waking up and being told he was executed yesterday, meaning he no longer exists. He’s been revived by people who want him to tap into the memories and experiences of his centuries-dead ancestor, meaning he’s transported in mind and body back to the Spanish Inquisition. Why? Doesn’t matter. To do what? Doesn’t matter. The entire rest of the trailer is devoted to killer action sequences that just show off the visuals of the movie. 

It does what it needs to do by setting up the premise and letting fans of the game franchise know that it follows (presumably) the structure of that game. There’s no story here, just setup, which may be a symptom of this just being a teaser or it may be indicative of the movie as a whole.

We meet Callum in the second trailer as he’s recruited for a special project because of his bloodline, specifically an ancestor who five centuries ago was a famed assassin. A secret group wants him to go back with the help of a machine that lets him live in that period and…you know what, it’s not at all clear. He’s basically asked to run around during the time of the Spanish Inquisition and kill people, but the motivation or purpose is completely missing.

I mean it looks cool enough. But the lack of any sort of purpose or motivation is really lacking and notable. There are some cool visuals but this is being marketed straight to fans of the video game (who presumably already know the basic story outlines) as well as those who just want flashy visuals and aren’t turned off by the fact that we don’t know why anyone is doing what they’re doing.

A third trailer starts off a bit differently, with some exposition about the “Apple of Eden,” an object that removes dissent from people’s minds. A shadowy group with shadowy motives wants it, or wants it back. Enter Callum, the last descendent of a race of assassins who’s recruited to enter the life of his ancestor from the time of the Spanish Inquisition and retrieve the item. But he and others in the same program decide to break the rules and go rogue.

This is the first time the movie’s Macguffin, the Apple of Eden, has been mentioned in the campaign by my reckoning and it helps explain things a bit for those of us not versed in the game franchise’s mythology. So it helps on that front. The rest looks roughly the same as characters perform ridiculous stunts and combat moves with ease.

Online and Social

The banner image at the top of the official website shows Aguilar in assassin’s garb leaping off a roof just like in the key art. Below that there are buttons to buy tickets, watch the trailer or click through to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

The “Videos” section is remarkably well-stocked, not just featuring trailers but also TV spots, clips as well as lots of original featurettes with the cast and crew and more. The “About” section has a story synopsis as well as lists of the cast and crew members.

After a section asking you to sign up for email updates there’s “Posters,” which has all three of the U.S. posters. There are 11 production stills in the “Gallery.”

The “Featured Content” section has links to Kernel, a site that curates perks and exclusives for pop culture, but the exclusives for this movie have already expired as well as a link to the movie’s Instagram account. Finally there’s a link to a website for Abstergo Industries, but while there’s a list of cities over on the right there there’s no links there or other information. The only thing to do on the site is sign up for updates in the upper right corner.

Back to the AC site, the next section is “Social Content,” which just pulls in updates from the movie’s social profiles. Lastly there’s a list of the movie’s promotional “Partners.”

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one started running about two months out from release, showing Callum being recruited into the program that sends him into the lives of his ancestors. There’s a surprising amount of story here as it’s not just about showing off the visuals of the movie, though there’s still plenty of that, even in a 30 second spot.

TV ads were so pervasive the movie hit the top of the studio spending charts.

Plenty of online advertising was done as well, including on social networks, particularly around the release of new trailers.

Among the movie’s promotional partners are:

  • Carl’s Jr.: No details
  • Mercedes Benz: No details
  • Lootcrate: Offered an exclusive Aguilar figure in an upcoming box.
  • Gamestop: No details, but considering the movie’s origins it makes sense.
  • AMD: Created a VR experience based on the movie that’s available for Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and Facebook Live as well as in select theaters.
  • Hot Topic: Offered its usual mix of licensed merchandise.
  • Seagate: No details
  • Pop Secret: No details
  • Family Tree DNA: Offered a special deal for those who want to find out more about their ancestry, a partnership that makes sense giving the movie’s story.  
  • Supra: Created a special movie-themed line of shoes.
  • Arizona Iced Tea: Created co-branded packaging and offered a sweepstakes to win a themed trip to Los Angeles.
  • Spencer’s: No details, but I’m guessing there was licensed merch at stores.
  • HyperX: Offered a sweeps to win a trip to Tokyo along with other freebies.

Media and Publicity

The first official look at the movie came via an image of Fassbender as Callum Lynch, an image that looks pretty much ripped directly from the source game’s key art, despite this being a wholly original character.

A “viral” campaign was kicked off in late 2015 with a tweet that showed business cards for Abstergo Industries, an entity that’s tied to the story. That led people to discover a company website that had a signup form to get updates.

More photos from the film would come out later, some in EW and some in Empire, with the EW photos including an interview with Fassbender where he admitted to never having played the games the movie is based on as if that’s some sort of prerequisite.

A big chunk of the discussion about the movie in advance of release was about the time setting, leading to studio execs defending the decision to set the movie primarily in the present, including Ubisoft’s head of theatrical speaking at E3 about it. Later on EW covered how the movie would feature characters from the video game, which seems like the most obvious news story ever.

assassins-creed-pic

There was also a VR experience for Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR as well as within Facebook’s immersive video.

Fassbender, as the lead in the movie, did the talk-show rounds and other press appearances.

Overall

There’s some good stuff here. The whole campaign works hard to walk the line between selling the movie as a general sci-fi fantasy movie about a cool time-travel type character who kicks butt and part of the overall Assassin’s Creed mythology. So it’s trying to appeal to both long-term fans of that game franchise and people who may have heard about it but never got into that particular part of geekery. If there’s a problem with the campaign it’s that much of it leans a bit too hard in the former direction, making it somewhat inaccessible to the general audience.

That’s not too much of a problem, though, since especially toward the end the campaign evened out and became more appealing to the masses. While the story remains a bit confusing and hard to follow – it’s never really a focus of the marketing push – it sells a big spectacle of a story that is meant to appeal to action movie fans. There are individual elements that are a bit confusing – why hide Fassbender so much on the posters, why are so many missing details on the promo partner activations – but overall it’s a generally fine campaign for the launch of what the studio obviously hopes will become a new franchise.

Click here to get more Movie Marketing Madness. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

Movie Marketing Madness: Rules Don’t Apply

rules_dont_apply_ver2Howard Hughes remains an enigmatic figure in the world of Hollywood and American society in general, though whether his mystique is relevant to today’s generation of young people is an open question. Hughes, as played by Warren Beatty, is the central figure of this week’s new release Rules Don’t Apply, which was written and directed by Beatty as well. The story is set in 1958 and Hughes has summoned his latest ingénue, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) out to Los Angeles to get her career underway.

Mabrey is met at the airport by one of Hughes’ drivers, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich). The two are immediately attracted to one another. But their budding relationship is complicated by a number of factors, ranging from Hughes’ prohibition on employees fraternizing with talent, Mabrey’s devout Baptist religious beliefs and that Forbes is engaged to his childhood sweetheart. All three central characters, though, begin to realize that the rules they once felt bound by don’t apply (hence the title) to them and that they should do what they like.

The Posters

rules_dont_applyThe first poster cuts a very “classic Hollywood” type of look. Collins and Ehrenreich are on either side of the design, looking vaguely toward each other and into the middle distance, their photos washed out a bit of sepia tinge. Cutting between them, walking toward the camera with his face down and obscured by a fedora is Beatty as Hawks, clearly showing that there’s some sort of love triangle in play in the story here. Above Beatty is the full cast list, which is impressive, and at the bottom of the one-sheet we get Beatty’s filmmaking credits as a way to bolster the image of this movie.

One more poster came out to sell the movie as a Hollywood romance. So Frank and Marla are shown in the center, embracing and gazing into each other’s eyes as young lovers do. Palm trees, spotlights, hills and the “Hollywood” sign are in the background to help set the location and the shimmering image of Hughes, his face obscured by a fedora, looms over everything like an angry, vengeful god looking down disdainfully at his creation.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens as Hughes is testifying in front of Congress about his long-gestating plane project. We soon meet Frank, a driver who works for Hughes as part of his movie interests. Frank meets Marla and the two of them form a connection, which runs counter to her religious beliefs and his terms of employment, to say nothing of the fact that he’s engaged. Soon her convictions start to fall by the wayside as she keeps flirting with Frank and becomes involved in some way with Hughes, leading to a love triangle of sorts.

It’s not bad, but it hearkens back to an earlier kind of filmmaking that…well…seems very much in line with Beatty’s output from previous in his career. There’s a lot of Bugsy and other echoes in here just in terms of style, approach, look and feel. Collins and Ehrenreich are the big draws here since it’s clear their story is going to form the crux of the story, but Broderick looks like he gives a fun, loose performance and Beatty is, well, doing his thing.

The second trailer excludes Beatty’s performance as Hughes from much of the narrative, focusing 80% of its runtime to the relationship between Frank and Marla. We see them meet and flirt and get to know each other. There are some of the same scenes we saw in the previous version but this one is much more laser-focused on that pair, with Hughes only popping in every now again, like he’s a supporting character in their story.

You have to wonder how the studio was feeling about the movie based on the dramatic shift in tone between the two. The first one was positioning this as Beatty’s big return to the screen and as a potential award contender. This one though is selling the movie as a period relationship drama. That’s an interesting about face and it makes me think the studio was concerned it wasn’t going to play to a younger audience. While most of the cast is over 60, it seems, the focus here is on the romance that has more potential to appeal to a crowd without grandkids.

A third trailer took a very different tack, selling the movie as an examination of the quirks of Howard Hughes more than anything else. He’s presented throughout the trailer as kind of a goofball, though an affable one, who doesn’t want to interact with people directly, hires body doubles and is in search of ice cream. We see the lives of Frank and Marla, but here they’re just his chauffeur and an actress he’s hired, not part of any forbidden romance.

It’s alright, but wow is it different in tone than what’s come before. There are three distinct ways the movie is being sold, just on display here. That doesn’t bode particularly well.

The increasingly odd trailer campaign continued with a “music only” trailer just about two weeks before release that had footage from the movie playing while we listened to Collins’ singing the title song.

Online and Social

The key art from the teaser poster is used at the top of the official website, just above a prompt to watch the trailer and links to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles. Scroll down a bit and you can get tickets, including through the Atom Tickets app that is all about coordinating group movie outings.

Scroll down and the first section of actual content is “Videos” and lets you watch the trailers, some TV spots and a variety of featurettes and interviews. That’s followed by a “For Your Consideration” section that lists all the award nominations the studio would like be up for this season.

An “About” section has a story synopsis along with the cast and crew credits. The “Posters” section has both one-sheets and the “Gallery” has a few pics you can scroll through and download if you like.

You can get to know the characters in the story a bit more with the “Star Map” graphic that’s next. It presents a map of Hollywood including some of its sites and with the characters from the movie along the edges. It’s a cool idea but it would have been better with some interactive elements to it.

Finally, “Social Updates” has posts pulled in from the movie’s social network profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Lots of TV commercials like this one were produced. Like the trailers, some focused more on the love story between Frank and Marcia while others looked more at Hughes and his eccentricities. They all conveyed the general tone of being set in Hollywood’s Golden Age and involving Hughes and his empire, in all its forms.

Given the star power involved it’s safe to assume there was plenty of online and outdoor advertising done as well.

Media and Publicity

While the movie suffered from some poor word-of-mouth during production, the first real publicity for the movie came in the form of an interview with Beatty and a couple of first look stills here, with the actor/director talking about this movie, his long career and more.

The movie got a nice boost when it was selected as the opening film for this year’s AFI Fest.

With this being Beatty’s big return to the director’s chair it’s only natural that angle be the focus in the press. So a big Variety cover story hit that point, talking to the writer/star/director about the Hollywood system he came of age in, what he’s hoping to prove this time out and his relationship with the material. It also included an interview with Collins about working with Beatty and what she learned about Hughes on the set.

rules-dont-apply-pic

The focus continued to be on Beatty and his career as a whole, the time he took off from movies and more right up to the movie’s opening.

Overall

I honestly don’t know what’s going on with this campaign and I’m not entirely convinced Fox is either. The trailer component in particular has such a sense of “Well, let’s just throw all this against the wall” to it that I’m legit not sure the studio had a clear idea of what kind of movie it is it was trying to sell the audience. Sometimes it was all about the hot young stars who might be more attractive to younger audiences, sometimes it was all about Beatty and his connection to classic Hollywood. But if you encountered one or the other and not the whole campaign then you got the wrong message.

While there’s very little consistency between the elements of the campaign, this is the rare case where they work better individually than they do as a cohesive whole. So each poster is pretty good. Each trailer works in its own way. And the TV advertising approach makes sense. But if you put them all together there isn’t an overall brand approach that’s been set out. At best that’s going to be mildly annoying to the audience, at worst it will turn them away in confusion for something that’s a surer bet.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.

Movie Marketing Madness: Keeping Up With the Joneses

keeping_up_with_the_joneses_ver3Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) lead a normal, boring suburban life when we meet them in Keeping Up With the Joneses, the new comedy from director Greg Mottola. They have kids and are safely ensconced in their routine, with very few surprises or bumps in the road. That changes when a new couple, Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in across the street and the couples strike up a friendship, but the Gaffneys feel like there’s something off about their new friends.

One day while poking around, they discover the Joneses are actually international spies. From there on out Jeff and Karen are mixed up in the espionage that’s part of Tim and Natalie’s everyday lives but not so much their own. That leads to all kinds of hilarity and hijinks as the boring suburban couple try to fit into the world of undercover spycraft, with the Joneses hoping no one gets killed and the Gaffneys just hoping they make it out alive.

The Posters

keeping_up_with_the_jonesesIt’s not a great poster. It’s a quad format, with Gadot and Hamm at the top and Galifianakis and Fisher at the bottom, each character holding the tools of their trade. So for the spies it’s compact pistols while the quiet married couple sports a novelty spatula and a cupcake, respectively. The spies are identified as having a “License to kill” (which I’m surprised isn’t trademarked) and the others having a “License to chill.” It’s…no, it’s not great. I guess there were no other ideas as to how to sell this comedy so the “faces and puns” approach was taken.

A second poster was just kind of boring, without much going on. It’s meant to play up the disparity between the two couples, with Jeff and Karen on one side holding a spatula and an apple pie, respectively, while Tim and Natalie on the other side are sporting handguns, the couples separated by the title. At the top are the names of the stars while at the bottom we get the copy “They lives a normal life…until the Joneses moved in.” So it’s showing that there’s some upset to the lives of the couple on the let, but we’re not sure by what. Basically it shows the broadest possible setup of the story without giving anything in the way of specifics. It’s just about showing off the stars and promising…something.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off by introducing us to Karen and Jeff, a normal couple with normal jobs and a life that aren’t super-exciting. One day The Joneses move in across the street and are automatically captivating, largely because they’re super-stylish and capable. So X and X start spying on them and following them around, soon discovering that the Joneses are indeed spies of some sort and they get caught up in their escapades.

It’s pretty funny but also kind of a mixed bag. This may be a case where the comedy of the movie just doesn’t translate fully into trailers since everyone involved is really funny but this is not all that solid. Funny, just not as much as it should be.

Online and Social

The official website is pretty much your standard affair for a Fox release. A big version of the smiling faces of the leads greets you at the top of the page, which also has links to watch the trailer or follow the movie’s Facebook and/or Twitter profiles. Scroll down and there’s a big box encouraging you to buy tickets either directly or through the Atom Tickets app.

The “Trailer” is next and it’s just that, the one trailer. No other videos are on the site. That’s followed by an “About” section with a brief synopsis and a cast and crew list with no links or other information about the talent involved. The first quad one-sheet is in the “Poster” section and after that is a “Gallery” with just three stills.

The site finishes up with a “Social Gallery” that features a collection of updates from the movie’s Twitter profile and a prompt to sign up for the Fox email newsletter.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one started running a bit before release that played up the dichotomy between the two couples, showing the normal suburban couple and the super spies and the way their lives become mixed up. The focus here is on Karen, Fisher’s character, and her coming out of her sheltered shell to mix it up a bit.

There were also plenty of social ads run on Twitter and Facebook that used clips, some of which were pulled from the trailer and som new to the paid push, to generate awareness and interest.

Media and Publicity

There was a really good interview with both Galifianakis and Hamm where the two talked about how they’ve known each other for almost 20 years, going back to the L.A. comedy scene of the late 90s, how they both try to stretch to characters outside their comfort zone and much more.

keeping-up-with-the-joneses-pic-1

Director Greg Mottola and the cast talked about the fun they had shooting the movie, how they approached shooting in the suburbs and other topics at the movie’s premiere.

Overall

I’m not even sure what the campaign is trying to sell. Sure it’s a comedy but it’s not being sold as a particularly funny comedy, which is surprising given the talent involved. At best the movie looks mildly amusing, which isn’t exactly a strong call to action to give the audience. Overall it looks like the kind of thing that would make for a funny “SNL” skit but which might not be sustainable over the length of a feature.

What surprises me the most is that the campaign puts Galifianakis in the spotlight along with Fisher while Hamm, who’s proven himself to be a formidable comedic talent over the years, is put in the background along with Gadot, who’s pretty hot right now after stealing the last half of Batman v Superman and more. That might have made a lot of sense a few months ago, but now it seems like putting the chips on the wrong square. It might be fine, but the campaign never really comes together.

Want to get Movie Marketing Madness via email? Sign up here. Then connect with MMM on Twitter and Facebook.