Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 11/7/18

Interesting findings here that longer headlines on branded content have higher click-through rates. Perhaps because they’re more effective at quickly drawing the reader into the story?

Google is deprecating old RSS feeds from Google News next month, taking a convoluted approach that involves discarding the old but offering new feeds without setting up redirects or other accommodations for those subscribed.

Polls are the new big thing as Facebook follows Instagram with a feature allowing people to post polls using GIFs across desktop and mobile platforms.

Twitter has responded to the constant calls for better enforcement of its terms of service by clarifying the rules around what will get your account suspended or banned. Actual application of those guidelines continues to be spotty, though.

Hard to argue with the conclusion that the DNAinfo/Gothamist situation show that not only will local news not scale to the level needed for large companies to view it as successful (even if it is in the black financially) but it’s also too vital to leave in the hands of profit-motivated individuals or entities. Even national news is under fire from advertisers who are considered coverage of unpleasant issues hurts ratings and are threatening to pull their ads if it doesn’t change.

All brands will have access to Sponsored Messages on Facebook Messenger later this year. Yay?

More people are worried any regulations of tech companies resulting from the current focus on foreign manipulation of democracy through social media will go too far. I have to laugh at the comment about needing to expand our worldview beyond the self-selected media bubble it’s easy to create given our president almost daily reacts to one cable almost exclusively.

It’s kind of hard to fathom the implications of a potential Disney acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Putting aside the control over IP, the consolidation of control over a bigger percentage of media production and distribution – specifically news dissemination – is frightening, especially given the recent example noted above.

Even beyond what it produces itself, such a combined entity has potential repercussions for the press. Disney reportedly shut out the Los Angeles Times from press screenings as punishment for a negative report on its theme park business, a dangerous stifling of the free press. In response four critics associations announced Disney films would not be eligible for their annual awards as long as the policy is in place, seemingly creating enough public pressure that just today Disney relented and lifted the ban.

Twitter has rolled out 280-character updates to its entire user base, meaning…well…nothing, really.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Video is Everywhere, But Time and Money are Finite

Last week the news outlet Mic became the latest player to join the trend of laying off staff as part of a (clears throat) pivot to video. [genuflects] As Peter Kafka notes at Recode, there are a few common factors publishers cite when doing so, the biggest being the desire to tap into the pool of ad dollars everyone things is shifting from TV to the web but which hasn’t yet.

It’s not just publishers, though. Reddit last week announced a native video feature and LinkedIn has introduced video creation with select users as we speak. Facebook recently launched Watch, a portal for original entertainment programming meant to lure creators away from YouTube, which has its own original content things in Red. Snapchat has just announced it has plans to do likewise in the near future. In short, as eMarketer sums up, there’s a massive movement on all fronts to get more and more of the video marketplace, capturing more of the audience’s attention and the advertising dollars that hopefully follow.

Apple has put aside $1 billion it plans to spend on original entertainment content, reportedly interested in making as many as 10 prestige shows a year. Netflix plans to spend $7 billion on original content in 2018 to continue seeding its streaming service with attractive programming that lures people away from HBO. Amazon and Hulu are doing likewise, as is Crackle and a number of other services.

And all that doesn’t even get into the shift by media companies to create their own OTT subscription streaming services. Disney has one in the works which is why they announced they will be pulling much of their library from Netflix, with recent surveys saying 19% of Netflix subscribers would cancel their accounts as a result and about a third of Millennials saying they’d sign up for Disney’s service. CBS has their own service coming and is stocking it with original content like a new “Star Trek” series.

It’s About Attention

Put aside for a second the idea that more than a small fraction of people are going to subscribe to more than one or two of these streaming services. That’s a whole other question that has been discussed by others who have pointed out that once you subscribe to three of the available options you’ve undone whatever savings seen by cutting the cord on cable. Suffice it to say I doubt those surveys mentioned above, particularly the one saying 19% of Netflix customers will ditch the service because they can’t watch Disney movies.

No, the dollars issue doesn’t interest me as much as the question of attention. To my mind, people will make the decision on which services they want to subscribe to based on the amount of attention they have to give more than the dollars they have to spend. So the choice to not subscribe to YouTube Red has less to do with the cost than it does the fact that all of someone’s time is already taken up by Netflix and Hulu. They’ll bypass the videos they see on LinkedIn because they spend so much time watching what’s posted to Facebook, where Watch shows are already seeing some success due likely to the preferential treatment they’re given in the News Feed. They’ll forego Snapchat’s productions because they’ve prioritized Apple’s original shows.

Video Is About Right Now

The main problem with video is that it’s immediate. Text stories and blog posts can be easily saved for later without much impact. But video demands your attention right now, lest you miss out on something important. Not only that but unlike audio, including podcasts, it’s not something you can catch up on effortlessly while in the car or otherwise occupied. If you’re not watching it, you’re missing out.

There are already too many options for people to pay attention to, and the list is only going to grow from here. Eventually, there will be a shakeout and some players will fall by the wayside as winners emerge, chosen by the priorities people give to what deserves their attention just as much as what deserves their cash.

For the time being, though, all these companies and others will be chasing those online advertising budgets, hoping to wind up at the top of the pile. Meanwhile, the audience will be choosing where to place their monetary and attention-based bets, influenced by costs, the influence of their own network of friends and more.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Movie Marketing Madness: Cars 3

When we meet back up with Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) in Cars 3, he’s at a crossroads, so to speak, in his career as a racer. A new generation of cars has come up while he’s been on the circuit that is faster, sleeker and surer of their abilities. Just as he and his contemporaries took over from the cars of Doc Hudson’s era, a crop of cocky young upstarts is now ready to push McQueen to the background.

He’s not quite ready to give up, though, and is determined to not quit until it’s on his own terms and in his own time. To stay at the top of his game he finds he needs the help of not just his old friends but also a technician who can help push just a little bit harder and get a little more out his efforts to stay relevant until he feels it’s time to hang up his racing stripes.

The Posters

The first poster hit the same tone as the first teaser trailer, showing McQueen in some serious danger. It actually shows him flying through the air upside down as sparks fill the space between him and the pavement, speaking to the danger that he faces in the story.

Another one came later that continued the theme of hiding things, showing McQueen and some of the other racers from ground-level so you can’t see everything, especially with the water that’s being splashed up obscuring things a bit.

A handful of character posters didn’t share anyone’s names but did show off McQueen and a couple of the other new cars that are featured in the story.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer is kind of darkly disturbing. We see a race going on, with McQueen in the lead. But then we hear an announcer say he’s “fading fast” before the screen goes dark, only to reveal him flying out of control through the air as it fades back in. “From this moment, everything will change” the title card reads, hinting at big changes in the status quo of our favorite cars.

Another teaser keeps up the “next generation” theme to show that McQueen faces some serious competition. That leads into more talk about how he might be past his prime but that doesn’t mean he has to give up. More teases of footage showing Lightning undergoing some other training follows, but there’s still no real sense of the story here.

Finally more of the story is explained in the official trailer. We start off by seeing that McQueen is being pitched on becoming a franchise, part of the plan to capitalize after his fading racing career comes to an end. He’s facing irrelevance, in part because of the emergence of a new racer that’s setting all sorts of new records. So he goes back and trains for the new challenges he faces, with all the usual friends in tow and with the attitude that it’s not about “the stuff” that comes with it, it’s just about the racing for him.

It’s great that we’re finally getting a look at the full story and the conflict that will drive the action of the story. It’s exactly what you’d expect as the third installment of this series.

The next – and final – trailer finally lays out the full story for the audience. The focus as it starts is on Jackson Storm, the latest contender to McQueen’s throne. With the racing world changing around him he needs a new approach in order to compete and preserve his legacy and so gets a whole new training team and regimen. Talk of retirement looms but McQueen is determined not to quit but to come up with an approach that keeps him in the game on his own terms.

One more short trailer for that is all about seizing the opportunities given to you, not being too afraid to fail.

Online and Social

You get the usual Disney design when you open the movie’s official website, with a still and title treatment at the top of the page. One thing notable about Disney’s sites is they include ads, in this case a banner at the top that wants you to buy Mattel licensed toy cars based on the movie’s characters.

Anyway, the first section of content is “Video” and is well-stocked with the trailers as well as older animated shorts that debuted around the time of the second movie and in the years between releases. These mostly feature Mater and the rest of the Radiator Springs residents and were meant to just be fun little brand extensions, nothing that’s tied to this or any other movie in the franchise.

Below that there’s a link to find out more about the “Road to the Races,” a nationwide tour featuring life-size versions of the movie’s three main characters that went to 27 cities across the country. That tour is just about done, having run from mid-March through the end of June.

Keep scrolling down the site and you’ll find lots more content that’s generic to the Cars franchise, not specific to this movie. That includes games, stills, character bios and more.

If you want movie-specific information you’ll have to use the menu at the top of the page. After “Videos” the next section there is “Games & Activities” which is where you can play some games, download some iMessage sticker packs and more. “Galleries” then has stills from this movie as well as albums from the previous films.

After that, the site devolves once more into generalities, with prompts to buy all the movies in the Cars franchise, visit the “Store” to buy merch and ultimately visit the “Parks.”

They aren’t linked to on the official site but there are also Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts for the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

An extended TV spot expanded on the teaser trailer and showed more of the story, including the up and down arc of McQueen’s journey. It offers quite a look at what’s going and what will happen to him and some of the other characters, though there don’t appear to be any of the old friends like Mater or anyone else from the earlier movies on display here.

A number of promotional partners joined in the marketing fun, including:

  • AutoTrader, which debuted the first in a series of spots during broadcasts of the NBA Playoffs that used the variety of cars in the movie to highlight the variety of cars available on the website.
  • Waze, which gave users the ability to change their own appearance in the app to resemble McQueen or Storm or change the voice that offers directions to one of these two characters. The app will also remind people the movie is coming out.
  • NASCAR, which aired commercials during the race broadcasts and engaged in a lot of co-branded activities at various racetracks and other events.

Outdoor ads with the key art and online ads, including social media units using the video, were also run heavily across the web.

Media and Publicity

A piece in USA Today gave us a first look not only at Lightning McQueen but also at Ramirez, the new character being introduced in the movie along with other details. During the publicity cycle for Finding Dory, Pixar’s John Lassater talked about this movie as well and what McQueen’s journey in this installment was going to be.

Later on a look at some of the movie’s new characters, along with descriptions of who they are and what their story is, continued to keep people talking about it.

John Lasseter made an appearance along with a life size Lightning McQueen at the Detroit Auto Show.

There was also a focus on the role played by Jude Brownbill, an animator on previous Pixar films who was promoted to directing animator on this movie. She also played a large part in developing the new character Cruz Ramirez, a female car we’ve seen in the trailers and who helps train McQueen.

Wilson, Fillion and others from the cast also made various TV and other press appearances on talk shows and elsewhere to talk about jumping back into this world and these characters.

Overall

I know who the Cars movies are aimed at in general. Boys love toy cars and that was the main conceit of the first movie and why the franchise keeps selling tie-in toys between movies or when the movies themselves aren’t that great. And the filmmakers have done what they can to make the stories as appealing as they can to girls as well, not wanting to draw too many clear gender stereotype lines around who is and isn’t invited to the theater.

But I’m struggling with who this movie specifically is aimed at attracting. A child who was five years old in 2006 when the first movie came out is 15 or 16 now and…are they contemplating their own mortality. I get that characters have to evolve, but this seems more at someone my age than either current 3-8 year olds or those who have grown up with the franchise. It just seems a little…dark. I’m sure it will be life-affirming and all that in the end, but from the mysterious teasers showing McQueen getting into a massive accident to those that explained the story of his chapter apparently coming to an end, this just seems like an oddly-toned campaign. Disney seems to be counting heavily on franchise-familiarity here and that might not be enough.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Jack Sparrow, as played by Johnny Depp, is back in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the latest entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. In the movie Sparrow is being hunted by Captain Salazar, a ghostly remnant of a long-dead naval officer who was killed in a fight with a ship on which Sparrow served as a young pirate. Salazar, of course, holds a fairly large grudge and so once he’s released from the Devil Triangle prison he’s been trapped in is determined to hunt down not just Sparrow but all pirates and kill them.

Sparrow is obviously against this plan and so sets out to find the legendary Trident of Poseidon, a mythical artifact that, according to legend, grants its wielder total control over the seas. He can’t do it alone, though, and so winds up teaming with an astronomer named Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) and a young sailor named Henry (Brenton Thwaites). Along they way they’ll once again also encounter Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and other old friends.

The Posters

The first teaser poster, released around the same time as the first trailer, is ais a variation on the theme that’s been carried throughout the series, showing a skull and crossbones in front of a map of some sort. The main point of differentiation here, as it has been on the posters for the previous movies, is the color of the rags of the garments that adorn the skull.

Next was a poster that let everyone know Captain Jack was back. It’s a black-and-white extreme close-up of Depp, his heart and tattoos visible, with the title “Dead Men Tell No Tales” written across his face.

A pretty theatrical-looking poster showed up next showing Captain Jack and the rest of the cast arrayed around the poster, with a spectral ship in the background behind Barbosa and a pair of ghost sharks, which seem to be the key focal point of the campaign, at the bottom of the design. This is a pretty standard look and feel here, just a collection of medium-distance shots of the main actors in various poses and no additional copy.

A series of character posters didn’t add much to our understanding of the story or anything else but did allow the marketing team to show off all the cool designs and effects the filmmakers conjured up for the new and returning cast. Another poster was the first confirmation that Sir Paul McCartney would appear as a pirate in the movie. It’s the same style as the other character sheets and there’s likely no reason his character should get such prominent display, but it made for a nice positive publicity pop.

An IMAX poster rearranged all the characters and other elements, showing Bardem’s rotting, disintegrating face looming in the background while returning stars Depp and Rush are in the forefront along with the two newcomers. The ghost ship as well as the undead sharks that have come to be featured heavily in the marketing are also shown.

The Trailers

Jack Sparrow is a wanted man in the first trailer. It starts out with a spectral force taking over a ship manned by British officers, who are all cut down by their ghostly invaders. Captain Salazar confronts an unnamed young man in the ship’s brig and tells him to find Sparrow and bring him to him.

It’s all mood and music here, nothing of substance. Depp is entirely absent (likely, I have to think, a result of his recent legal troubles), though his Sparrow still is obviously driving the action and motivations of the other characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is – or is close to – the opening of the movie in how it sets up the action. Also, let’s all feel vaguely sorry for Bardem.

The first official trailer introduces us more fully to Captain Salazar and explains both his hatred of pirates and his obsession with Jack Sparrow. Some warnings follow of a dead man searching the seas for Sparrow and he’s as non-plussed as ever. Salazar enlists Barbossa in his quest and then we’re off on the adventure.

For a full trailer there’s still not a lot of substance here. It gets to the action pretty quickly, moving past anything but the barest outlines of the story and plot. that should tell you everything about the movie it’s promoting, or at least everything you need to know about what the studio thinks the audience wants.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website gets the standard Disney web treatment, with a huge version of the key art appearing at the top of the site. Scroll down and there’s a big “Get Tickets” prompt.

There’s a selection of “Videos” directly below all that, including trailers, first look featurettes and more. After that is the “Story” synopsis that gives you a brief insight into the plot and what new and old characters will be seen. Just below that are most of the character posters that also show many of the main players.

An “Activity Packet” that can be downloaded is up next, with mazes, puzzles and more that will entertain younger kids who are into pirates. The “Gallery” has 10 stills from the movie that show off scenes we’ve generally already seen in the trailers. That’s followed by the “Credits” that lists the actors and crew and finally there are links to some of the movie’s promotional partner companies.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The paid campaign kicked off with a Super Bowl spot that hinted, largely thanks to the usage of a Johnny Cash song as the music, at a darker tone for this entry. There’s not much of the linear story here but it’s clear that everyone is after Sparrow for their own reasons. He himself isn’t seen until the very end, though. More TV spots followed that played up the hijinks of the movie while loosely conveying the story and characters. Some features more or less of Sparrow, particularly as the campaign wound toward its close, but all sold it as an action comedy of sorts.

As far as promotional partners, there were a few that decided to wade into the movie’s waters:

  • Dave & Busters: Put three movie-themed games in locations.
  • Bay: Put up can auction for movie props and promotional swag, with proceeds going to the American Red Cross.
  • HSN: Offered exclusive jewelry and other products that were based on the movie.
  • Lorac: Created a line of beauty products inspired by the movie.
  • Pirate’s Booty: Put movie branding on their bags of snacks.
  • Red Robin: Offered a free movie ticket with the purchase of a $25 gift card.
  • Verizon: No specific details, but the phone company has a long history of promotions for the Pirates franchise and sponsored the movie’s red carpet premiere.

There were online and outdoor ads as well, though some noted that Depp was conspicuously absent from many of the billboards

Media and Publicity

As he’s done with other Disney movies, Depp got personally involved, surprising riders of the original theme park ride by reciting lines from the movie and generally shocking them that suddenly a real live Jack Sparrow was swinging his sword at them.

Unfortunately the movie is coming out amidst a cycle of bad press for Depp. Not only has he been accused of spousal abuse by his ex-wife but there have been a bevy of recent story about his eccentric money spending, his lavish lifestyle and more. Basically his character is under scrutiny from multiple angles and none of them make him look all that great.

Most of the cast did some press duty, from Scodelario and Thwaites to Rush and Bardem and even Depp, though to a more limited extent.

Overall

I’m pretty sure if Disney could have figured out a way to sell this movie without putting Depp on the signage or send him out to the press, it would have. The actor has had a troubled past couple of years with lots of negative press that has seriously impacted his public persona, not to mention the fact that he’s not nearly the all-encompassing box-office powerhouse he’s sometimes said to be. Basically if he’s not playing Jack Sparrow his audience appeal is limited, and the very serious things he’s alleged to have done aren’t helping. That doesn’t seem to be stopping Hollywood from casting him, but that’s Hollywood. “Toxic” is only applied to women, be they actresses over 40 or directors who just don’t seem to be right for high-profile films even with a solid history of smaller successes behind them.

Putting all that aside, as difficult as it may be, the movie being sold here is basically the same one that’s been sold to us three times previously. But Chris, you’re asking, this is the fifth movie? Yeah, I know. But the marketing of the original was so genuinely unexpected and fun that I’m only really considering the campaigns for the increasingly bloated and ridiculously conceived sequels. This sells more of the same, just a thrill ride with some amusing characters that has more ludicrous twists and turns than a drunk riding a scooter through the Alps. The campaign sells a good time at the theater, but it also hints at a mess that takes itself far too seriously even while it asks the audience to laugh at the goings-on.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was considered a big bet for Marvel, potentially the first substantial under-performing entry in the Cinematic Universe the company had built since 2008. That was largely because it was being put together with a far less serious tone than other movies, thanks largely to the casting of Chris Pratt in the starring role as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, a human who travels through space with his pirate friends, and the hiring of James Gunn to direct. Gunn had a reputation as a darkly funny writer/director and the combination was meant to bring a lighter tone to Marvel’s first movie not set on Earth.

Needless to say the movie was a big hit and now we’re here on the cusp of the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2., the name a play on the soundtrack that was a big part of the appeal of the first movie. The story catches up with Star-Lord and the team that was assembled in the first movie, including Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). Details aren’t super-important, but the team continues to get into one adventure after another, this time in the process of trying to find Peter’s mysterious father. Wackiness ensues as they try to save the universe in their own dysfunctional way.

The Posters

The teaser poster is…well…it’s kind of awesome. A black-and-white shot that looks like it could be for a Gap jeans ad, it has all the main characters just kind of chillaxing against a wall, looking like they’re hanging out and waiting for Aerosmith tickets to go on sale. It’s cool, it’s stylish and it makes a great first impression.

A fun one-sheet followed the release of the first official trailer. It looks like a cassette carrier, the kind of thing people of my generation used to have in their car to bring along music to listen to. One each box spine is the name of one of the characters, with the actor’s name on the left hand side. Curiously, Kurt Russell’s tape is in backwards, meaning we don’t see the name of the character he’s playing. That’s kind of cool. Finally, just to remind everyone he’s in the movie, Baby Groot is popping out of the lower left corner.

The theatrical poster is insane and great. It’s bright and colorful, showing all the characters (in order of priority of course) in various battle poses and a massive wormhole or something in the background. That’s all there is to it and it’s amazing.

An IMAX poster gave almost everyone a purple hue, assembling the cast in the middle with a massive light source behind them, the whole thing being held up by Baby Groot, of course.

A series of color-coded posters featured individual shots of the whole cast and kind of looked like game cards a la Magic: The Gathering or other series.

The Trailers

The first teaser starts off with some familiar sounding tunes playing as we see shots of Gamorra running through some forest planet, Star-Lord flying the ship and more. Eventually we see Peter and Drax sharing a bonding moment that ends awkwardly before the title treatment pops up. But it ends with a shot of Rocket and Baby Groot looking like they’re still up to no good.

It’s a good first effort that got everyone talking. It’s notable that this wasn’t actually presented as an official trailer but was posted by James Gunn as something to tide fans over until the first trailer was released.

When the first teaser trailer did debut, after Gunn made comments about the expectations he felt he had to live up to, it was clear the studio knew what people loved about the first movie. So save for a bit of a montage of clips it opens with a scene between Rocket and Baby Groot that’s pretty funny and which comes back to play later on. After that it’s all about big, epic space action, with Drax stabbing an alien, Star Lord piloting a ship and so on. It all ends by introducing Mantis as she reveals something very embarrassing bout two members of the team.

It’s pretty great. Like I said, the studio is playing up the elements of the first movie the audience reacted to most strongly. There’s even another shot of Rocket and Groot machine-gunning a room of bad guys, this time with Groot on Rocket’s shoulder. It’s funny, it’s action-packed and it works. That teaser quickly became the most popular trailer on YouTube.

I could try to describe what’s going on in the first official trailer, which debuted during “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” but that would be more or less pointless. We see all the characters going on crazy missions, cracking wise and saving the universe. There’s something about a group that wants to purge fear from the universe or some such but that’s secondary to the mayhem the heroes are involved in and their constant bickering. It all ends, though, with the reveal of Peter’s father emerging from his own ship.

The insanity is definitely amped up here since the story doesn’t have to waste time on character introductions and team-building. It’s insane and promises the audience more of that they loved the first time out.

Online and Social

The official website opens with a recreation of that wild, brightly colored key art. There are links to Marvel Studios’ social profiles over in the upper right corner and the content menu is on the right, presented as cassette case spines in the same way that another bit of poster art showed the character names.

First is “Get Tickets,” which is exactly what you think it is. After that “Story” provides a *very* brief synopsis of the plot that basically boils down to “Yes, all the characters are here.” along with the usual list of cast, producers and others involved.

“Cast and Characters” offers little bios of each character to remind you who they are and what their motivations might be. All the trailers as well as a few other spots are in the “Videos” section if you want to watch any of those again, which is recommended. A handful of still as well as a few of the posters are found in the “Photos” section and it ends with “Partners,” listing the companies who are engaging in promotions of their own.

Even though they’re not linked to on the site, the movie also has Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles.

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

The first paid ad for the movie was a Super Bowl commercial that featured all the big outer-space adventure audiences were sure to expect from the movie. it also fully introduced Mantis to the team and contained lots of laughs. More TV spots followed shortly thereafter, many of them also receiving paid promotion on Twitter and Facebook.

When it came to cross-promotional partners there were:

  • M&Ms, which created co-branded ads featuring their popular character as well as a call-to-action to see the movie in theaters. It, along with sister brand Skittles, also ran a sweeps that awarded winners movie cash that could be used on tickets.
  • Dairy Queen, which also launched co-branded ads that promoted its new “Awesome Mix Blizzard” which was tied to the movie.
  • Doritos, which offered packaging that was not only movie-branded but also an actual music player that had a few of the songs from the soundtrack.
  • Ford, which produced movie-themed ads promoting their EcoSport model that featured, of course, Groot. There was also a limited-run comic featuring all the characters that was “presented by” the car company.
  • Geico, which had Groot and the Gecko team up in an ad to talk about how they each save things, by it money or the galaxy.
  • Yoplait, which supported their co-branded packaging with ads that had kids calling out which character they wanted to be.
  • Hanes, which created co-branded ads that promoted its FreshIQ underwear technology as being essential to keeping your cool while saving the galaxy.
  • Synchrony Bank, though nothing about this can be found on the bank’s website.
  • Screen Vision Media, not for anything specific but I’m sure GotGV2 ads were a big part of the company’s pre-show entertainment.
  • Tour Georgia, again not for anything specific but as part of the state’s overall attempt to use its status as Marvel’s favorite filming location to lure more tourism dollars.

Of course it also got some help from corporate parent Disney, which redesigned one of its theme park rides to be movie-themed.

Online ads were pervasive, either using the key art or video clips depending on the outlet. Those were seen on random websites, social platforms, YouTube and elsewhere.

Media and Publicity

Outside of set reports and cast updates, the first real publicity-type news was official confirmation that the movie would have a presence at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. That included a big panel in Hall H with the cast that revealed lots of fun details, including Russell’s role, showed some new footage and generally had fun with the audience in keeping with the movie’s spirit.

Gunn kept talking from time to time about the movie, how much more freedom he had on this one compared to the first and other related topics. And he was interviewed as to why he was the best person to take on this material, what role he plays in the marketing of his movies and more.

As with the first movie, there was plenty of press around the movie’s soundtrack, something Gunn said he was intimidated over putting together. And he kept being a focal point of the publicity as he continued talking about how he approached the story, how much personal investment he has in the series and more.

Pratt, Rooker and the rest of the cast made the talk show rounds plenty, both to debut trailers early in the marketing cycle and in the last week or so leading up to release.

Overall

There aren’t a whole lot of surprises in the campaign, which is to be expected. The core message here is that, as is the case with many sequels, the things you liked most about the first movie (the soundtrack, Groot, Drax’s blunt style) are back and better than ever. Baby Groot is front and center throughout the marketing, especially in terms of the cross-promotions from corporate partners, promising to provide a fair amount of comic relief to the story and providing a nice non-human face for the campaign. Basically if you’re not on board with Baby Groot hijinks you probably won’t enjoy the movie very much. I don’t think that will be a problem, though.

For all the talk of spoilers – Gunn himself came out the other day and told people to not worry about them, everyone will still enjoy the movie – there’s precious little in the marketing about the story. There’s just the ill-defined golden alien army that the team finds itself up against and the search for and encounter with Peter’s father but that’s about it. What motivates that alien army? What’s gone into the search for the missing dad? None of that matters here because the studio believes you’ll be more enticed to come back by visuals of Drax jumping at a massive alien, Gamora firing a massive shoulder-mounted rifle and more.

It’s hard to argue with that strategy. The balance being sought is between comedy and action to sell it as a worthy companion to the first movie. If you feel like you’ve already seen this second installment that’s a feature of the campaign, not a bug. While the dynamic between the characters might be more evolved than it was in the trailers and other marketing of the first movie, you should feel that it’s as familiar and predictable a good time for you and your family as slipping in the DVD/Blu-ray of the 2014 movie.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast is back in theaters, this time as a live-action feature that ostensibly remakes the 1991 animated classic. The movie follows the same basic premise as the original, as well as the fairy tale both are based on. One day Belle (Emma Watson), who’s a beloved young woman in her small village, finds her father (Kevin Kline) has disappeared. She tracks him down to a mysterious nearby castle and finds he’s been imprisoned by Beast (Dan Stevens), a strange animalistic man who lives there.

She agrees to take her father’s place in the prison but begins to identify with Beast. Soon she finds out he’s living under a curse that can only be broken by finding love. She finds this via the enchanted objects that live in the castle and serve Beast, the anthropomorphic teacup, candle holder and more. Eventually, of course, she falls in love with him and dance in the ballroom and everything else in a story many of us know by heart. So let’s see if no one can market live-action remakes like Gaston.

The Posters

The first teaser poster recreated an iconic image from the original movie, with a single rose suspended under a glass jar, snow caked on the windows and towers in the background. This is all about brand awareness and letting people know this is a remake of a movie they already love.

The next poster was focused mostly on selling the fairytale aspect of the story. So we see Belle and the Beast dancing in the middle of the design, ornate windows in the background and the sparkle of light coming from above shining all around them. No copy or tagline, just the names of the cast at the top and the title treatment followed by the credits block at the bottom.

A theatrical one-sheet shows us the ensemble cast the movie sports, with Belle and the Beast at the top as the primary figures and the rest of the characters, including those that are turned into cutlery as part of the story, still in their human forms because you don’t cast Ian Mckellen and Emma Thompson and then not feature them in the campaign in some form or another.

A triptych poster split up the individual elements from the theatrical poster into three segments, which were then recombined to create something larger. It’s mostly the same images on display, just spread out a bit and with some new background material added in to pad things.

One more poster cut to the chase and gave the audience what they were looking for, a live-action recreation of the iconic scene of Belle and the Beast dancing in the ballroom, her in her flowing yellow gown and him in his blue overcoat. It’s meant to amp up the sense of something magical and to make sure everyone knows that yes, this scene will be in the movie so don’t worry and buy a ticket or 20 please.

A slew of character posters were up next and made sure everyone got their time in the spotlight. Each poster is ornately framed and shows the castle in the background. For those characters who are transformed into something else, those other versions are shown in the corner or elsewhere in the design. These are all meant to keep up the theme of this being a storybook romance type of story, still slavishly devoted to recreating the original. There were also motion poster versions of these.

The Trailers

There’s not much to the first teaser trailer. It focuses on a sweeping tour of the castle, featuring real life versions of the sets from the animated classic until a set of claws tears a family portrait. Two unseen characters react to a door opening and it ends with Belle shown leaning down and looking at the rose under glass as the familiar theme music plays.

It’s a good first effort, designed to sell the movie to the hordes of people who loved the animated film and who have fond memories of it.

The first full trailer is much more focused on setting up the story. Basically it does exactly what it needs to do, which is show the audience that this is a live-action remake of the animated original. So it hits all the story beats and shots you’d expect, from the rose losing its petals to Belle and the Beast dancing to the talking china and so on. Nothing all that unexpected here, nor does there need to be.

This will make a gazillion dollars.

A final trailer laid out almost the entirety of the first two-thirds of the movie, showing Belle’s life in her home village to her encounter with the Beast and the rest of the residents of his castle, all the way through their developing relationship and romance. It also features more Gaston, which is much needed because no one stars in trailers like Gaston.

This will make a gazillion dollars.

Online and Social

When the official site (which has the notable URL inclusion of “2017”) loads you see a big recreation of the key art featuring a big “Get Tickets” button.

There’s no navigation menu so you just scroll down and come across the trailer, which is followed by a plot synopsis that goes into pretty good detail and features the credits of everyone involved.

Keeping going and you’ll find all the motion character posters. That’s followed by a section devoted to the Disney Store, showing off all the movie-themed merchandise you can buy.

A photo gallery of nine stills, including one behind the scenes shot, is next. And then there’s a section with the logos of the companies who signed on as promotional partners. A few videos including clips, interviews with the cast and more finish off the site.

They’re not linked on the website but there’s were Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles for the movie as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first extended TV spot aired around Christmas and played like a mini-trailer, showing Belle discovering Beast as well as the other inhabitants of the castle and their journey to falling in love in a magical setting.

More TV spots like this one opted to focus on those other characters, with only a bit about the Belle/Beast romance. And another one that aired during the Golden Globes awards ceremony was focused on the visuals and gave the audience the first real listen at Belle singing. There was less of an emphasis on the Beast and more on the magical world Belle finds herself in in a spot that aired during the Oscars broadcast.

Disney exercised some corporate synergy when a couple of the movie’s stars hosted a special edition of “The Bachelor” on ABC to promote the upcoming release.

Lots of online ads used the key art and social ads used videos and more. Plenty of outdoor artwork promoted the movie as well.

There were also a number of companies looking to get some of their own bounce off the movie:

  • Gelish: The nail polish company offered a movie-themed collection of hues.
  • HomeAway: A sweeps offering the chance to say at Duns Castle with 20 guests.
  • HSN: Offered a collection of apparel, home goods and more inspired by the movie.
  • Kohl’s: Similarly offered exclusive items and carried other merchandise.
  • Le Creuset: Created a selection of movie-themed cookware.
  • Luxe Bloom: Was the “official flower” of the movie, which is actually a decent idea given the story.
  • Williams Sonoma: Offered tips on how to throw a movie-themed party.
  • Twinning: Put some of their tea flavors in movie-branded packaging.
  • Neutrogena: Offered tips on how to get Belle’s look and put products in movie-branded packages.
  • Morgan Taylor: Another set of movie-themed nail polish colors.
  • Microsoft: No details I can find on this partnership.

Media and Publicity

While there’d been plenty of buzz during production, the first major publicity shot was in the form of an EW cover story that showed off the first good looks at Belle, The Beast and the movie’s feel and tone in general as well as interviews with the cast.

A couple months out from release Watson started doing more interviews, starting with comments about how she’d been approached to star in Disney’s live-action Cinderella a couple years ago but passed and was glad she had since it would have precluded her playing Belle.

Another EW cover story followed just a few weeks out from release, but it was just one small part of the overall publicity and press that was being done for the movie that had Evans, Watson, Gad and the rest of the cast going all over the place. Later press would reveal that Gad’s character is the first explicitly gay character Disney has put on film. That came with the totally-expected backlash from religious fundamentalists who likely have no problem with movies featuring mass murder and adultery but who draw the line and homesexuals on screen.

Wringing-of-hands also followed a Vanity Fair feature on Watson on her career to date, a feature that included one photo (out of a dozen that had her covered head-to-toe) showing her breasts. Concern trolls cried out about how that meant she wasn’t really a feminist, a claim she quickly countered by stating feminism means defining for yourself what you want to do, not having that dictated to you.

Overall

To say there’s a reliance on nostalgia in the campaign would be a massive understatement. Everything here is designed to let the audience know that if they loved the 1991 animated classic this new movie offers exactly the same thing, just in live-action form. Though with this much CGI, “live-action” is a carefully-applied term. The trailers and posters in particular have gone out of their way to present the audience with the promise that this is a surefire way to see something familiar, albeit in a new way.

All that being said, there’s some good stuff going on here. Watson looks like she’s using all those years learning how to act against a greenscreen and with non-existent costars to good use. It’s kind of a high-profile cast to be lending voice work, but that’s the Disney promise. If you want to get wrapped up in a fairy tale and just give into the romantic majesty, this campaign assures you that it’s a good way to spend about two hours in theaters.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_ver5The Rebel Alliance is back on the big-screen in this week’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The story (don’t call it a Prequel) is set just before the events of 1977’s A New Hope, the original Star Wars story, and tells the stories of how the plans to the Death Star wind up in the hands of the Rebels at the beginning of that movie.

Rogue One stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, a young woman who has had a troubled life. When the Rebels get wind of a dangerous new space station-sized weapon the Empire is building they recruit Jyn to assemble and lead a small team of specialists and fighters to infiltrate an Imperial installation and steal the plans to that weapon. That team includes Rebel Intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and others, a specialized team that’s small and nimble enough to hopefully get in and out undetected.

One of the reasons Jyn is selected for this assignment is that she has ties to the Death Star itself. Specifically, she’s the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a scientist who was forcibly recruited by the Empire while Jyn was still a young girl to help build the super weapon. He was brought in by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the Empire’s director of special projects and an imposing figure in the government’s hierarchy. He’s the adversary Jyn and her team go up against, the one getting in their way at every turn. He’s also facing internal struggles of his own, namely those that come from the Emperor’s right-hand man Darth Vader.

The Posters

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_ver2The first teaser poster debuted at Star Wars Celebration earlier this year and was given to attendees there. It shows the battle on Scarif that’s shown in the the first trailer, with Rebel troops fending off a squad of Stormtroopers who are invading the beach the Rebels are holding. X-Wings swoop through the sky but looming large in the background is the Death Star, nicely placing it in the center of the story’s focus since it’s around it that everyone’s actions revolve.

The theatrical poster – released the day before the final trailer to help hype that up a bit – is great, notably taking a different visual style from the previous movies to help set it apart from the Saga entries. Jyn dominates the image, looming large over the assembled Rebel team below her. Behind her is the Death Star, with Vader’s face visible in the structure. Interestingly, the image of the Death Star also bleeds into Jyn’s face and body, perhaps a nod to her familial role in its construction. Down at the very bottom are the oppositional Imperials, with AT-ATs and Stormtroopers working their way toward a beach as we’ve seen in the trailers.

A series of posters featured most of the main cast, showing a close-up that also featured the Death Star plans overlaid, like they’re being projected onto their faces.

A fantastic-looking IMAX poster took a much more artistic approach, assembling the group of Rebels in a V formation that we see is made up of X-Wings flying across the equator of the Death Star. It’s pretty cool looking and makes the audience look twice to see what they’re looking at, which is a good goal to have. That was followed by another one-sheet showing a Rebel helmet lying in the water as Stormtroopers advanced in the distance, an image that seemed pulled straight out of Saving Private Ryan. This one specifically called out to see the movie in a Dolby theater.

The Trailers

The first trailer – which debuted on Good Morning America, because synergy – immediately introduces us to Jyn Erso, a young woman who has some problems with authority. “I rebel,” she says. She’s given an assignment to uncover “a major weapons test” and find out how to destroy it, which we see is the Death Star, shown as the super-laser is lowered into place. She accepts the mission and the rest of the trailer shows the kind of adventures she and her team will be getting into and some of the other characters she’ll come across on those adventures.

It’s a pretty great trailer. Not only do we get a clear message that Jones is the star and Jyn is the main character here, which is great. It also clearly establishes the timeframe of the story, from the gritty, ground-level view of the Yavin 4 base to the AT-ATs to the Death Star itself to a young Mon Mothma giving Jyn her orders. There are some great glimpses at the bad guys too, from Ben Mendelson’s Krennic to the OG Stormtroopers hitting the ground. It’s action-packed, filled with cool visuals and scale and more and is everything a teaser trailer for a movie like this should be.

The next trailer debuted during the Summer Olympics, giving it another big spotlight. This one starts with an intonation about how the Empire is spreading throughout the galaxy. After we’re once again introduced to Jyn and told how dangerous she is we once more here about how the Empire is developing a new weapon that the Rebels would very much like to destroy. From there on out the focus is more on the team that’s assembled, with establishing shots for each of the main characters that provide a bit of motivation for their activity with the Rebellion. At the very end we get what everyone was waiting for, the first actual look at Darth Vader in the movie, which is just as cool as it sounds.

It’s a good trailer but probably not as good as the first. While there’s less story, there is more of a focus on providing some sort of context for the rest of the characters who we’ll be following as they try and take on the Empire. That comes, unfortunately, at the expense of screentime for Jones as Jyn, but those are the breaks I suppose. The Vader reveal is handled pretty well and isn’t as clunky as it could be so it’s a solid second effort.

The final trailer takes a much more linear story approach instead of just showing off cool bits from throughout the movie. We meet Jyn as a young girl as her father vows to protect her, which he does by being taken by Krennic. Then we cut to her grown up and in the custody of the Empire before she’s rescued by Andor and his crew. She’s needed because her father, it’s explained, may have vital information about the Death Star that’s being built. Jyn signs on to help and the team assembles itself, followed by shots of ground battles, space battles involving X-Wings and lots more action.

There are a couple good shots of Vader in here, along with more showing AT-STs, Mendelson chewing scenery as Krennic and lots more. It’s not all that remarkable but it’s a solid outing that ends lots of general mystery surrounding the story and lays it all out for audiences.

One more trailer came out about a month before release that hit many of the same notes as what had come before, but with a bit more K-2S0 action and other small moments added in. We still get the gist that we’re watching the small group of Rebels who are out to steal the Death Star plans and the overall feel that this is a war movie more than anything else.

Online and Social

The Rogue One official website opens with full-screen video that pulls clips from the trailers and shows off all the primary good guys and bad guys.

Scrolling down the page the first content section is “Videos” and has all the trailers, featurettes and sizzle reels, video from the movie’s red carpet premiere and more. After that the “Gallery” has over 50 stills from the film.

“Story” contains a brief synopsis of the movie’s plot. Finally, “Downloads” has some wallpapers you can download to your PC.

Over on the left of the page there’s a prompt to explore an Imperial intelligence document. Open that up and you get 3D schematics of the Death Star’s super laser that you can explore and dive into more deeply to learn how it works. That’s a cool touch.

rogue-one-pic-1

Much of that same content can also be found on the film page on StarWars.com. The same videos and stills are there but that page also features Databank entries on the characters, ships and planets that are featured in the movie. There’s also a gallery of posts about Rogue One that are curated from the official Star Wars blog.

At the very bottom are links to the official Star Wars Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and other social profiles. Those pages have been used to share all kinds of news throughout the publicity cycle and are evergreen for the franchise as a whole.

On mobile, there was a special Rogue One-themed iMessage sticker pack featuring characters from the movie along with cute little sayings. And the official Star Wars app continued to share all sorts of updates and offer exclusive movie-specific material.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot appeared in mid-summer, much earlier than normal, even for a movie this huge. No new footage made it into the spot, which focused on the Rebels and their struggle instead of the whole Death Star angle. It’s sold here as more of a story of a personal character journey, not a huge epic, which is a nice change of pace. Later TV commercials mirrored the changing nature and tone of the trailers.

Of course the movie had a ton of promotional partners, including:

  • Duracell: Created co-branded TV spots that played up the toys you can power with Duracell products and showed them being used at a children’s hospital. These spots were also run on social networks as paid posts.
  • Nissan: The car company sensed a perfect tie-in opportunity to promote its Rogue compact SUV, launching a campaign that involved a series of TV spots, sweepstakes and other activations. The company also created an actual Rogue One Limited Edition version of the vehicle featuring movie branding.
  • Gillette: In addition to co-branded packaging, the company ran a full campaign that included TV spots and an informational website that had background on the spot and the movie as a whole. That TV commercial was also used on Twitter in a paid Tweet.
  • Verizon: The wireless carrier worked with Lucasfilm and ILM to create Rogue One: Recon, a VR experience available exclusively in Verizon stores that took viewers inside the cockpit of an X-Wing whose pilot, along with his wingman, stumbles across the Death Star.
  • General Mills: Co-branded packaging offered a free movie ticket with qualifying purchases was supported by a TV spot taking place in a grocery store.
  • Uber: Announced a promotion that showed available town cars as X-Wings or other ships and offered exclusive movie content within the app.

The studio also partnered for major social media events with Twitter and National CineMedia to make sure anyone who didn’t already know about the movie had the problem corrected.

Billboard ads used key art and the image of Stormtroopers wading through the coastline, which has been one of the go-to images for the whole campaign.

Media and Publicity

Aside from cast and crew announcements the first big bit of publicity and buzz-building was when a cast photo was released along with news principal photography had begun.

Much later on there was a lot of conversation centered around reports of extensive reshoots, rumored to be because Disney execs were unhappy with the tone of the movie’s first cut. Those turned out to be, as they often are, overstatements and lots of fearmongering and nothing that was outside of what had already been planned and anticipated for a movie of this size.

The first real bit of press came in the form of a cover story in Entertainment Weekly that revealed all sorts of new details about the story, characters and lots more, including how Darth Vader would be returning to the franchise.

Shortly after that the movie was obviously a big part of Star Wars Celebration earlier this year, where the whole cast and crew appeared and revealed various parts of the story, the filmmaking process and more. Attendees were shown an exclusive trailer that never did leak online but the rest of us got a sizzle reel focusing on the filmmaking but also showing off lots of new material and hinting at plenty more.

Another series of stories in EW continued to flesh out the story and provide more background on the characters, including Edwards talking about the role Jedha plays in the story, Tudyk sharing the backstory to the droid he voices and Whitaker providing even more details about his character’s connection to Darth Vader. Jones also talked about the importance of having a female hero in this universe.

Edwards, as part of a big cover story in Empire Magazine, talked about the meaning behind the movie’s title along with more reveals of what would be happening.

The next big wave of press came with the revealing of various toy lines. The biggest bang in this was a short stop-animation video that used everything from action figures to LEGOs to POP figures to tell the story of the Rebels trying to snatch the Death Star plans.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Diego Luna) Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFL

A big feature on Jones touched on her career to date, the role taking a part in Star Wars plays in that, and the fact that this comes at a time when she has several roles, all of different size and in  different kinds of movies, coming out. Another similar feature continued the narrative that this was Jones’ breakout year.

One of the biggest narratives to come out of the movie’s press push was about how female fans were making the movie their own in a way that The Force Awakens laid the groundwork for but which is now in full effect. The presence of Jyn as *the* main character along with other women in the story has pushed that segment of the fanbase into overdrive, which of course has created some levels of pushback from the butt-hurt fanboy section of the world. That doesn’t diminish the awesomeness on display here, though.

About a month out from release, EW ran a substantial cover story on the movie that revealed new details on the story, featured some new photos and had interviews with Jones and others in the cast about their characters. Around the same time, executive producer Kathleen Kennedy talked about this movie’s role in the franchise, the potential for what’s next and more about the Star Wars Universe in general.

It was just Jones in the spotlight. Knoll also got his share of press, with this profile about his role in the story’s genesis and his career with the Star Wars universe. And Luna and the rest of the cast each received their own profiles like this one along with consistent accolades from the fans who were anticipating the movie not just because it was Star Wars but also because of the inclusive and interesting cast. And Tudyk got his turn as well, where he was able to talk about improving on the set and otherwise performing as K-2SO.

Because this is the era we live in there had to be some politically-themed controversy around the movie. Not only was this attacked by Men’s Rights Activists because it was the second movie in a row to feature a female lead character but rumors circulated that the movie’s writers had changed the story in some way to specifically attack (gag) President-Elect Donald Trump (gag). That led Disney chief Bob Iger to come out and specifically deny those rumors, saying there was nothing political about Star Wars, which is of course ridiculous. But there’s nothing, it seems, about this movie that speaks to our current political climate. In fact, it says more about the people making those claims that they see a story about idealistic grassroots organizations taking down totalitarian regimes and think it applies to Trump et al than anything else.

Overall

A few months ago I wrote about how Rogue One faced some marketing challenges that were unique to the Star Wars franchise, notably the truncated timeline it was operating on due to last year’s release of The Force Awakens. The fact that the campaign didn’t start until March or April of this year is pretty unusual in this day of big blockbusters whose marketing sometimes kicks off up to a year and a half before release.

It’s interesting how the campaign has differed from other legacy sequels from earlier this year. Unlike campaigns for Independence Day: Resurgence, Zoolander 2 and others there’s no overt playing to the previous movies going on here. Sure, Darth Vader shows up here and there and the entire thing is all about nostalgia for the backstory behind A New Hope’s opening crawl. But there’s nothing here that is specifically meant to invoke some exact sequence from Episode IV or any of the other movies. It’s about selling a return to the past via something wholly unique, not just a collection of slightly modified bits that echo what we’ve seen before.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Ben Mendelsohn) Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFL

What’s notable about the campaign is that it started off with a very different tone than it ended up with. That first teaser trailer was all about setting this up as Jyn Erso’s story and followed her arc from recruitment to infiltration and that’s where the focus of the rest of the campaign at the outset was. But overtime it became more and more about the team as a whole, starting to sell it as a wary movie in the Star Wars Universe and less as something specifically about Erso. Whether that’s because they wanted to broaden the scope to be more inclusive of the whole story or because of concerns among some that a female-centric Star Wars story wouldn’t sell as well remains unclear. While Jyn was never relegated to the background there’s certainly a first-half/second-half difference on display. Even her role in the campaign changed, from an outsider to the leader who delivers inspiring speeches and motivates the troops.

Still, this is a really good campaign. There’s a lot of good stuff going on here, primarily the posters and trailers that have consistently weaved in specific themes like Jyn’s propensity to rebel or the fact that the story revolves around the Death Star plans. Now it just remains to be seen whether audiences have the desire to revisit the galaxy far, far away once more.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Moana

moana_ver4The Disney Princess lineup gets a much-needed bit of ethnic diversity with this week’s new release of Moana. The title character (voiced by newcomer Auliʻi Cravalho) is an adventure-seeking girl who’s growing restless cooped up on the island where she lives with her family and other families who have been there for generations. One day she’s called upon to save her people and so sets out across the sea that’s been calling to her all her life.

To complete her quest she seeks to enlist the aid of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), but convincing him to join her is an adventure in itself. Once he’s on board, though, the two face an increasing number of dangers including giant monsters and a raft of other threats that want to keep them from succeeding in their mission. Add to that the two have very different approaches – she’s serious and goal-minded while he’s full of himself and bound on achieving glory – and you have the makings of a fun but thrilling Disney adventure.

The Posters

moanaThe first poster for the movie definitely sold the spectacle and visuals of the movie, showing the father and daughter riding a small boat on the wide, bright blue ocean. “The ocean is calling” is the only copy other than the title, telling people that there’s some sort of journey, likely of self-discovery, that will be told in the movie.

The next poster more clearly shows off both Maui and Moana, both of whom are standing on a small patch of beach sand with massive waves cresting and swirling around them, which sets up the location for the story. The movie is tagged as coming from creators of both Zootopia and Frozen to give it some cred with the kiddos. Overall this continues the trend of this movie being sold with bright, flashy visuals that certainly play up Maui but also make it clear Moana is the star, signaled here by her standing slightly in front of him, posed defiantly with her animal sidekicks at her side.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer begins by introducing us to the fantastic feats accomplished by the demigod Maui, which are amazing, if he does say so himself. We watch him reenacting all kinds of accomplishments and soon see he’s doing so for the benefit of his teenage daughter, who gives him a look between disgust and confusion that’s unique to teenage daughters. After that it’s all about the visuals as we see Maui and Moana sailing, fishing and more and get a chance to really see how gorgeous the movie is going to look.

The other big element of the teaser is not only the voice talent but the involvement of Lin-Manuel Miranda, he of Hamilton fame. Put all that together and you have a nice trailer that shows off, as everyone pointed out, the first Disney Princess of Polynesian descent, which is pretty notable.

The first full trailer starts out by introducing us to the peaceful island Moana calls home and the grave threat looming over it. A hero must travel and find Maui to defeat the monster and Moana is that hero. Of course their first meeting isn’t as smooth as anyone might have thought, but eventually she convinces him to join her, especially after she shows off the special connection she has with the sea. After that it’s all wacky hijinks and monster battles, though of course there’s plenty of room for the cute but ferocious little coconut creatures, some jokes involved Moana’s chicken sidekick and more.

This looks like it could be…really good. Both characters are given time to shine here and while there’s the usual amounts of Disney cuteness and humor, it’s hard to get past the charm that comes off the trailer. A lot of that is because of Johnson’s line readings, which isn’t surprising. It’s fast-paced and funny and is just sold really well by this trailer. I’m now hooked.

Online and Social

There’s not a whole lot going on over at the movie’s official website as it’s built in the same template Disney has been using for a while for their movie sites.

The key art at the top also is a link that takes you to a site to buy tickets. After that is a section of various videos, including the trailer, clips, featurettes and interviews and more. Then there’s a synopsis that outlines the story and mentions the talent involved.

Links to the important social networks – the movie only has a Facebook page and the Twitter and Instagram links are for Disney Animation – are next followed by a rotating series of character images. The usual Disney Animation activity and information packets are next and finally there’s a cast and crew list.

Advertising and Cross-Promotion

The TV spots opened up with an extended promo airing during the recent Olympics. The commercial’s main focus is to introduce the lava monster that will be the antagonist to the story but is more focused on the reluctant partnership between Maui and Moana. The former is not thrilled to have a partner but she’s persistent in wanting to accompany him.

Online and social ads drove ticket sales as well as views of the trailers and other videos. There was plenty of outdoor advertising as well that used the key art of Moana and Maui to show off the characters and setting.

Media and Publicity

Well in advance of its release the movie would start building buzz by giving audiences at Disney’s 2015 D23 conference a first look at footage and bringing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson out to talk about his role.

Things would then go quiet until late 2015 when it was announced that a native Hawaiian had been cast as the film’s titular lead character, a young girl. This was a smart move as many movies have come under fire recently for casting Caucasian actors or actresses to play a character who’s decidedly not Caucasian, or at least not of the same ethnic background as the character. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but doing so helped head off the same backlash those other movies have come in for.

Later on a Disney Channel promo for the movie would offer the first look at footage in advance of the release of a trailer and other marketing materials. The movie did have a presence at San Diego Comic-Con, where the directors and other crew talked about why they chose Maui to be in the story, what sort of research went into the story and more.

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There was a special screening of the movie at AFI Fest, helping it get in front of a high-profile audience. Then there was a big feature that focused on the development of Moana’s look, particularly how he’s rendered in this movie as being much larger and more muscular than in traditional narratives. That didn’t sit well with natives who call Moana their own since they felt it perpetuated stereotypes, but the Disney team justified it as being necessary to the story.

Overall

Disney’s put together quite a nice campaign here, one that hits all the beats it needs to in order to appeal to all audiences. It has a female protagonist, which is great and which will appeal to girls and others while the presence of The Rock should appeal to…well…the entire audience. Add in the heavily-touted presence of Lin-Manuel Miranda and you have, before you even get to the story or do any graphic design work, a campaign that checks off a lot of boxes based on talent alone.

That’s not to discount, though, the nicely brand consistent campaign that has been assembled here. Everything, all the elements of the campaign, shares that bright and colorful look that’s seen on the posters and just keeps going. It’s impossible to not get the clear message that this is a sea-going adventure being sold, one that involves a strong, tough-minded young girl and her demigod sidekick. It looks fun and vibrant and hopefully provides a bit of emotional uplifting that’s much-needed these days.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Doctor Strange

doctor_strange_ver3After almost a decade of superheroes with advanced technology suits of armor, enhanced powers due to government experiments and even a trip out into the far reaches of space, Marvel Studios takes us into the world of the supernatural with this week’s Doctor Strange. The movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, a renowned surgeon whose career is ruined in a car accident. Despondent, he goes searching for a second chance by learning the ancient mystical arts as a way to heal his hands and reclaim his life.

His training comes at the hands of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a master who has unlocked the secrets of that world. She’s aided by Wong (Benedict Wong) and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) both of whom become allies of Strange’s as he continues enhancing his skills. But Strange and his comrades are tasked with protecting the world from the attacks of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who’s determined to wreak havoc and destroy the world or whatever it is villains do when they’re at work. Let’s see how Marvel and Disney are selling this strange tale.

The Posters

Two posters debuted around the same time as the first trailer. The first shows Strange from behind, dressed in his iconic cape and looking out through the symbol-strewn window of his Sanctum Sanctorum. The second shows him straight on as he casts some sort of spell or hex directly at the camera.

The one is meant to tease the audience with the look of the character while the other delivers it almost fully, at least from the chest up. So they achieve two different goals, teasing the general audience and then appealing to the fans to allay any concerns about the outfit the character will be sporting in the movie.

A special banner featuring the title character was released just before San Diego Comic-Con that was very arty and in keeping with the kind of artwork that had been produced for other Marvel movies being promoted at the convention.

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Another poster was revealed at San Diego Comic-Con along with lots of other materials. This one shows Strange striding purposefully toward the camera, walking out of a mystical portal from some other place and into a scene of buildings and roads that are folding in on themselves in ways that aren’t natural and shouldn’t happen. That sense of wonder and mystery is reinforced with the copy at the bottom telling us “The impossibilities are endless.”

A series of character posters came next, one for Strange and each of his compatriots as well as one for Mikkelsen’s bad guy. Each one is set against the reality-bending scene of New York that was seen in the trailers in the background. This is all about world-building through the shots of the characters and brand reinforcement through the rest of the visuals.

A very cool black-light poster was created specifically to be given out to attendees of IMAX screenings. Also on the IMAX front was a poster specifically to promote screenings in that format. It shows Strange looking off to the side so we can see inside his mind, visualized here through circles that have the supporting cast in it. The same trippy scenes are shown in the background to continue that theme.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer starts out showing Strange in a car accident, followed by the juxtaposition of shots of him doing his job as a traditional doctor and searching for meaning after the accident. Eventually he encounters The Ancient One, who addresses his disbelief of all that chakra mumbo-jumbo and begins to show him the mystical world that exists along with ours. She does so by shoving his astral self out of his body and sending him on various mind trips, with Strange eventually pleading for her to teach him. The trailer mostly shows Strange in civilian clothing but ends with a shadowy shot of him walking up a staircase with his trademark cape.

It’s not bad, selling the movie very much as another origin story. We get quite a few shots of Swinton as The Ancient One along with fleeting glimpses of McAdams as well as Ejiofor as Mordo. It’s also pretty heavy on presenting it as a story of personal growth and self-awareness, with a super hero bent.

The second trailer, which debuted at the same time the movie was being promoted at San Diego Comic-Con, offers a much better look at the story. It starts out with Strange in his previous life as a surgeon and we see the accident and its effect on his hands. Aimless, Strange travels to Tibet where he encounters The Ancient One, who begins to open his eyes to the larger reality of the world, which leads to lots of footage of cityscapes folding in on themselves and so on. We eventually meet the adversary and see that the forces of light and protection are gearing up for a big battle against the forces of darkness. It all ends with Strange being given the Wifi password, which is a nice little touch.

It’s a solid spot but it plays like Inception mixed with Morpheus explaining The Matrix to Neo. Cumberbatch looks like he does what he can as he and the rest of the cast are mostly asked to walk across and in front of green screens, but he brings the necessary gravitas to the role, even if that same role will ask him to dramatically flip a cape around and run through New York City streets.

Online and Social

The official website takes a bit of time to load and when it does the screen fills with motion video. At the top of the page there are a few sections of content lists, starting with a “Gallery” where you can view a dozen or so stills from the movie.

After that there’s a “Synopsis” that offers a decent story recap and finally there’s “Partners” where you can find out about the companies that have helped to promote the movie in some way. There are also big buttons there to buy tickets or watch the trailer. Moving down to the lower left of the screen, there are links to the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

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Once you’ve done all that you can “Meet Doctor Strange” as the prompt in the middle of the homepage wants you to. That takes on a journey through Strange’s story, from successful surgeon to student of the supernatural to master of the mystic arts.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

At the same time as the release of the trailer post-Comic-Con, Marvel ran ads on Twitter using that trailer in one of Twitter’s quick-response ad units that included a button encouraging fans to Tweet about the movie easily right from their timeline. Ads were also run on YouTube to boost visibility and views of the Comic-Con trailer. Social and YouTube ads ran pretty consistently over the next few months, with general online banners and other ads ramping up in the last month or so before release.

TV spots like this one started running over a month before release. While there were several variations in the TV campaign, most all focused on this being an origin story, showing Strange’s journey from medical doctor to someone who battles with the mystic arts. The reality-bending visuals were on full display as we see cities collapsing in on themselves and lots of fire and other elements being thrown about by everyone.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Honor: The mobile phone company sought to use the movie as a big public awareness opportunity, providing product for the production and running a sizable co-branded ad campaign to support that.
  • Google: The doctor’s Sanctum Sanctorum was added to Google Maps, where people left tongue-in-cheek reviews of the services he offers.
  • Lamborghini: Provided cars for production – it’s what Strange drives before the accident – and made an appearance at the movie’s premiere.
  • Microsoft: No details I could find, but the link on the movie’s website goes to the Surface Pro 4, so I’m guessing Strange is a Surface user.
  • Yakult: The maker of probiotic drinks did some co-branded advertising to promote the movie and the drink.
  • Skype: Again, no details I could find on exactly what the deal here was.
  • Philips: Used the movie to promote its Norelco shaving products which, based on this TV spot, show up in the movie as Strange transforms his look.
  • Synchrony Bank: I’m not even sure what was going on here, but sure, why not. The financial institution also promoted a STEM-based competition specifically aimed at girls in high school.

Marvel also took the opportunity to add the Doctor Strange character to its lineup of mobile and online video games.

More Twitter ads were run in the week leading up to release, but a lot of them were promoting Doctor Strange-themed costumes for dogs and used the hashtag “#DogterStrange” which is amusing but I have to wonder what the ROI on that campaign was.

Media and Publicity

The movie’s publicity campaign kicked off with a cover story and feature in Entertainment Weekly that provided the first official look at Cumberbatch as the title character. That feature also included other details on and comments about other characters, including McAdams’ mysterious surgeon, the casting of Swinton as The Ancient One and more. Unfortunately that came with some backlash against the “whitewashing” of The Ancient One, traditionally an older Chinese man but now a white woman. It was something that, after the release of the first trailer, Marvel finally had to address, though their statement just set off more firework.

As part of a whole Marvel invasion of the show, Cumberbatch was announced as a guest on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” where he was said to debut the first teaser trailer.

Much of the speculation around the movie was about who Mikkelson was playing, a role that was revealed at the same time it was announced a comic prequel would explain who he was and what his motivations are.

The movie was obviously a big part of Marvel’s Hall H presence at San Diego Comic-Con this year with the cast and crew appearing to debut a new trailer and poster and otherwise showing off just a few months’ out from release. Cumberbatch also made some fans happy when he popped up in a line and took pictures with them and more.

Cumberbatch later talked quite about, as in this story, how he decided to sign on to the MCU, what his take on the character will be like and what an experience seeing footage from the movie for the first time was like.

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There was also news that Dan Harmon, he of “Community” fame, was brought on board to do some last-minute writing of additional scenes that would be shot after principle photography was over.

At various times, especially after a set visit involving numerous press outlets, the cast and crew talked about developing characters whose allegiances would change over time, creating the magnificent set pieces and much more.

An interview with Cumberbatch along with a series of new photos were part of a cover story in Entertainment Weekly for an issue that was devoted to super hero power rankings and more.

Overall

The challenge for Marvel and Disney here is that Strange is a lesser known character to be sure. But he has to be better known than Rocket Raccoon or Star Lord, having shown up in various cartoons and other media over the years much more frequently than those outer space outlaws. Plus, Cumberbatch has scads of name recognition among the general entertainment fan world, something that’s been supplemented by the impressive media push.

The biggest asset that’s been amplified by the campaign is that this is once again an origin story, something that’s been in relatively short supply in the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last couple years. Not only that, but it’s basically being sold as the same movie as Batman Begins from back in 2005, with an entitled white guy going to Asia for spiritual guidance and purpose. That’s not a bad, thing, it’s smart for the movie to make it clear this is a new hero we’re following, providing for a new franchise audiences can latch on to.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Queen of Katwe

queen_of_katwe_ver2It’s a common theme in movies that sports or other activities can change someone’s life or circumstances. That’s the premise behind the new Disney movie Queen of Katwe. Based on a true story, Madina Nalwanga plays Phiona, a young girl growing up in the slums of Katwe, Uganda. She, like many of those around her, is struggling along with her family, including her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) both for basic survival and to go to school to hopefully rise out of her situation and make something of her life. 

One day she’s introduced to the game of chess by her teacher Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) and a whole new world is opened up to her. She takes to the game as if she’s been studying all her life, quickly besting everyone around her. Katende encourages her to make the most of her talents and so Phiona is off not just to regional championships but also other matches around the world, where she quickly proves her skills and becomes an inspiration to everyone back home as well as those she meets along her journey.

The Posters

queen_of_katweThe movie’s first poster is just wonderful. We see the top of Nalwanga’s head as she’s looking down toward the ground. Arranged on the top of her head are chess pieces and various other things that are presumably part of her culture and life, things like clothespins, crops and more. It’s simple, a bit artistic and sells the nature of the story really well.

The next poster was much more in line with the “Inspiring Live-Action Disney Movie” genre to which it belongs. To that end it shows the faces of the three leads, all looking vaguely off-camera and off in the distance against a burnt sienna background meant to invoke a sunset on a hot, hazy day. Just visible in the background are the outlines of the buildings of the village they come from and looking to leave. In front of that is the silhouette of Phiona walking along a series of chess pieces like they’re stairs.

It’s an interesting study in contrasts between the two posters. The first one revels in the heritage of the characters whose stories are being told, filled with parts of their lives and other elements that make it seem very unique. The second looks like a variation on the one-sheet for the Disney’s The Kid, a Bruce Willis vehicle from 2000 no one remembers, or the poster for Million Dollar Arm from a few years ago. In other words, it’s about as generically “inspiring” as you could possibly get.

The Trailers

The main trailer introduces us to Phiona, who dreams of big things in her small, poor village in Uganda. When she goes to school one day she meets the teacher Robert who introduces her to chess. Encouraged by him and her mother and the others in her village she goes on to become a champion in her country and beyond.

This one is all about setting the mood and tone for the movie. Yes, it’s a variation on the “chess is a metaphor for life” theme, something that’s reinforced by some of Oyelowo’s dialogue, but that doesn’t stop is from genuinely bringing a tear to the eye. It’s an emotional story and that comes through loud and clear.

Online and Social

You get a nice big version of the key art when you load the official website for the movie. Scrolling down the page a bit and you’re able to view the trailer, which is totally worth rewatching.

After that is a collection of “Videos” that includes an Alicia Keys music video, featurettes on the story and cast and more. A lengthy synopsis follows and provides a great amount of detail as to the story and the characters whose arcs we’ll be following.

That’s about it for the site, though there’s a Facebook page that offers more videos and photos to help raise awareness of the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The TV spots, like this one, took varying approaches to selling the movie. Some just used dialogue and scenes from the movie to sell it using a similar arc to the actual story, others were more contrived, adding traditional trailer-type dialogue to the footage and using that to explain the emotional journey of the characters for the audience. You can likely guess which works better.

I haven’t seen any online advertising, but it’s safe to assume Disney has done at least some, as well as some outdoor billboard, to support the movie’s release.

Media and Publicity

The first officially released still from the movie showed Nyong’o alongside Nawanga.

Nyong’o talked quite a bit about how she got involved in the project, how the script she first read made her cry and more.

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The movie was among those which debuted or otherwise screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.

Nyong’o came back to talk more about her connection with Nair and how she connected with the character and got to know who she was and how she would live, talk and so on.

Overall

There’s a good movie that’s being sold here, even if the marketing is filled with the kind of uplifting Disney cliches that threaten to wear it down and shave off all the rough edges. This is a Mira Nair film, after all, and it can’t all be soft lighting and inspiring music swells. But if there are still gritty elements to the story, which should legitimately have them, they aren’t super-evident in this campaign.

What is on display are the actors. I can’t think of another campaign in recent memory that seems to be so focused on the actors involved, even other indie dramas. Both Nyong’o and Oyelowo are well represented here, as is newcomer Nalwanga. The marketing not only wants to sell us an inspiring true story but it wants to do so by highlighting the performances of the actors involved, most of whom have racked up critical accolades and box-office success. They’re positioned as the main reason to see the movie, which makes a lot of sense.

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