Movie Marketing Madness: Trolls

trollsThe characters who inhabit the new movie Trolls are ridiculously happy almost all the time. They are upbeat and optimistic, which comes from the top down. Their leader Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) is the happiest of the bunch, which has lead Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) to take himself out of the village. Branch isn’t quite as upbeat and peppy as his comrades and so has taken his skepticism and retreated to a heavily secured bunker where he can be grumpy on his own.

One day Poppy and Branch have to come together when the Bergens, a race of big, unhappy creatures that are the natural enemies of the trolls, attack the village and capture many of them. So the two dispositionally-mismatched trolls have to work together to try and free them, engaging in a road trip of sorts to enlist some other creatures as allies to help them in that effort. That means much of the humor comes from the clash between Poppy’s sunny outlook and Branch’s bleaker point of view, along with the adventures and interesting characters they encounter on their journies.

The Posters

The first poster is all about selling the movie as a bright, psychedelically colorful affair. A rainbow of colors forms the background, which upon closer inspection is made out of hair. Kendrick and Timberlake’s names appear at the top and the title is in the middle with a tiny troll peeking his or her eyes out of the “O” in the name.


The only other poster efforts appear to be a series of banners that each show the name of the actor doing the voice work with that character peeking over the bottom, only the tops of their faces visible. They’re brightly colored and certainly serve to reinforce the branding of the movie, but that’s about it.

The Trailers

The first trailer teases something about the trolls needing to rebuild their civilization, at least that’s what we’re told via narration. Other than that it’s just about watching the characters dance around and look cute. The only other hint as to a story is when some creature appears and snatches one because it is, we’re told, delicious.

The first full trailer starts out by introducing us to Branch, who’s a bit more depressed and ready for the worst circumstances than Poppy and the rest of the trolls. When they’re attacked by a Bergen who kidnaps almost everyone, it’s up to the two of them and the characters they encounter along the way to save the day.

So it seems much of the movie’s humor will come from the contrast between Branch and Poppy’s outlooks and dispositions as well as the usual tendency for these movies to include poop jokes of some form or another. It’s not a terrible trailer, but it looks like an acid trip that tripped out on acid and fell in a rainbow. Or something like that.

The third trailer was a bit unique in that it focused on the music, especially the role it plays in the story. It features some new footage as well as stuff we’ve seen before, but is especially about talking head interviews with Timberlake and Kendrick talking about the music.

Online and Social

There’s a school of thought that landing pages should feature a simple design and one or two clear calls to action. The official website for Trolls does not adhere to that thinking. Where to start…

Thankfully most of the dozen things that are scattered around the front page are also organized in the menu at the top. So let’s start with “Movie.” There you can find the trailer, clips, music videos and more. There’s also an About section with an over-the-top promotional description of the movie and a Cast & Crew section where you can see who’s voicing what characters and learn more about them. Finally, a Gallery is sold as being able to turn your frown upside down with its collection of stills.

“Watch” is another way to watch all those trailer, clips, featurettes and other videos. You can meet all the characters, both the trolls and the Bergens, in the “Explore” section.

There are online and mobile games along with other activities like Trollify Yourself and art projects in the “Play” section. “Shop” takes you to an online store where you can purchase Trolls shirts, dolls and the soundtrack. Finally, “Social” pulls in posts from the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts as well as those of Timberlake and other stars and displays them all. Those social accounts, as well as additional profiles for Dreamworks Animation, are also found at the bottom of the page.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Plenty of TV spots like this one were released that distill the plot down to its most basic elements of the Bergen kidnapping all the trolls and Branch and Poppy working together to rescue them. The primary purpose of the spot is to remind everyone that the Justin Timberlake song they’ve been hearing nonstop for the last five months is connected with the movie and that they should come see it based largely on that.

TV ads were so pervasive the movie topped the spending charts a couple weeks out from release.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

There were plenty of licensing partners as well. Radio ads and outdoor billboard were created and run as well the latter featuring the key art from the first poster. 

Media and Publicity

The publicity campaign kicked off when the stars revealed on their personal Twitter accounts the character they would be voicing. Amusingly, not everyone was a fan of this execution.

The movie had a big promotional presence at Cannes, though it wasn’t screening there. That included appearances by Jeffrey Katzenberg and a performance by Kendrick and Timberlake of “True Colors,” which is featured in the movie. Around the same time, Timberlake released his first single from the movie’s soundtrack, which was notable since it was his first piece of new music in a few years.  

This is just one of the projects Kendrick has released recently and so was mentioned in a big profile of her that talked about the state of her career but only fleetingly touched on Trolls.


The director and stars talked at the movie’s premiere about how they wanted it to be a light and uplifting antidote to the gloom of reality, particularly the current election cycle. And he made other comments about how they developed the look and feel of the movie and its characters.

Both Kendrick and Timberlake made the late-night talk show rounds at various times to engage in hijinks and sketches and promote the movie.


Yes, the movie that’s on display here is clearly aimed at those under the age of 10. There’s no disputing that at all. But that doesn’t mean the effort isn’t working. While it might seem a bit less extensive than other kids animated features because of the lack of 17 character posters, there are still enough elements here to get everyone’s attention. And as I said, the biggest part of the marketing has been that Timberlake song that you now can’t get out of your head since I brought it up. It’s been all over Top 40 radio for the better part of 2016, so all the campaign had to do was draw the connection between it and the movie to immediately gain some awareness.

The campaign is consistent from one element to the next, that’s for sure. Everything is presented in the brightest possible colors and with the peppiest possible music, with very few deviations from that approach. The two stars, Kendrick and Timberlake, have been front and center throughout, either in the press or introducing trailers, which allows the marketing to play off their inherent likability and appeal to their fanbases. It’s a solid campaign that knows what it’s selling and gets the job done.

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Movie Marketing Madness: The Light Between Oceans


light_between_oceans_ver3“Who is the best person to raise a child” is the central question for the story in The Light Between the Oceans. The movie stars Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander as Tom and Isabelle, a married couple who manage a lighthouse off the Australian coast following World War I. One day this childless couple find a baby stranded in a raft that washes up in front of their house and decide, assuming the child’s parents were killed in an accident at sea, to take her in as their own.

One day, though, the situation begins to fall apart. While visiting elsewhere they meet Hannah (Rachel Weisz), a woman who seems to have some sort of connection with the baby Tom and Isabelle found years prior. As that becomes more and more clear what that connection is, though there’s little to expose the reality of what they did. So it’s up to Tom and Isabelle to struggle with what the right thing to do is and how that will impact their lives, Lucy’s life and Hannah’s life.

The Posters

light_between_oceansThe first poster sets the movie up as a Nicholas Sparks-esque romance, showing Vikander and Fassbender with their foreheads pressed up against each others’, clearly in the midst of an intimate, romantic moment. The colors are faded and you can see the ocean in the background, which kind of establishes the setting. In between the two stars and above the title treatment we’re told “Love demands everything,” again reinforcing the romance angle and ignoring anything about a mysterious abandoned baby.

The theatrical one-sheet pulls the camera out to show the two lovers frolicking – that’s the only word I can use – in the ocean together. The title treatment is much larger here and the same copy point is used. Again, it’s just selling the movie as an epic love story, which appears to only be the foundation of these characters and not the primary plot motivation.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens on a lovely sunset over the ocean and we see Thomas and Isabelle writing love letters to one another. After their declarations of love we see she suffers a miscarriage but later find a baby that’s been abandoned on a raft that comes up to their home on the seashore. They make the decision to raise the baby as her own but one day the meet a woman who claims her sister and brother-in-law lost a baby at sea. Thomas wants to admit the situation but she doesn’t want to give up the child they’ve raised as their own for years.

Oy, the emotions. This one hits all the heartstrings as it tells the story of a mother who just wants to maintain what she feels is the status quo after a tragedy and miracle that healed her family. This looks like it will not only tell a gripping story about the characters as they are but also get into what makes a family and what it takes to be happy.

Online and Social

So interestingly there doesn’t seem to be any sort of official owned website for the movie. The URL, which is included in TV spots and other videos, redirects to this video, which seems to be an extended TV spot. There were, though, Facebook and Twitter profiles where the studio shared videos, images and more. There’s more going on on Twitter, which has links to recently-released clips and other updates than there is on Facebook, which just has a handful of updates in the last few months.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one tried to distill the story down to a 30 second runtime and doesn’t really do it justice. It sells the story about the baby’s fate but doesn’t establish the loving relationship between Tom and Isabelle almost at all, meaning it’s missing out on what feels like half the movie. Or at least it’s missing some important foundational work.

There were also extensive online ads run on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and, I’m assuming, other sites. Those ads either pointed to the trailer or TV spots or the key art to try and sell tickets.

Media and Publicity

A couple of first-look stills featuring Vikander and Fassbender were released well in advance of release. The two stars talked here about not only making the movie but also how filming it lead to them becoming a real-life couple.


There were other stories as well, mostly hitting the same notes about adapting the best-selling book to the screen, the two stars working together and falling in love in real life and more.


There are two distinct stories being sold here by two distinct elements of the campaign: The posters and publicity are very much selling the love story, the wonderful life that Tom and Isabelle have together and how passionately they’re in love with one another. Then there’s the trailers and TV spots that are selling partly that but mostly the drama around finding the abandoned baby and the decision as to what to do about that situation.

Aside from the story elements, there’s still a big focus on the performances of Vikander and Fassbender. They’re both obviously front and center in the campaign, which is asking the audience to buy into their on- and off-screen romance as a main component to building interest in the movie. That makes some sense, but it also has the risk of being over-sold, particularly with the emphasis it’s received here. Let’s see if it connects with target audience or gets passed by.


Movie Marketing Madness: Kung Fu Panda 3

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kung_fu_panda_three_ver3Many of us strive to be something more than what we are now. We look up to heroes and try to emulate them, whether that’s in the realm of sports, an academic field or just within our own homes and families. The Kung Fu Panda movies have been about just that, following Po (voiced by Jack Black) as he lived his dream to become a kung fu master and join the Furious Five. The movies have been about wish fulfillment as we watched a lowly, misfit panda go on to achieve great things and become a hero in his own right, all without losing core parts of his goofy, fun-loving personality.

Now Po and the rest of the gang are back in Kung Fu Panda 3. This time the story gets personal for our favorite panda as one aspect of the story that has been strung through the previous films finally gets addressed: The fate of Po’s family and the rest of panda-kind. As soon as a long-lost family member resurfaces so does a new threat that threatens all of China as it carves its way through all the kung fu masters. So it falls to Po and his village of peaceful pandas to defend against what seems to be an unstoppable evil.

The Posters

kung_fu_panda_threeThe first poster immediately tells the audience that yes, this new movie will feature the same sense of humor as the previous installments. Po is suspended between two pillars eating dumplings while a group of horrified pandas look up into a buffalo shot.

The second poster continues the theme of Po being among the village of pandas, but this time he’s more artfully balancing on a pillar while a group of cubs are climbing on him. This time the gathered crowd looks more amazed than terrified.

That’s actually it in what seems to be an abridged poster campaign. There’s nothing about the story here other than that it involves Po being in a village of his own kind. But no hints as to conflict or even the more emotional elements of the story are hinted at on either version. Instead they just want to tell the audience the movie is coming out and assume that will be enough to draw people in.

The Trailers

The first trailer was dedicated to setting up the return of the characters. So it stars with a training sequence involving Po and the rest of the animals. But then we see his “greatest challenge” awaits. So he has an encounter with an older panda who says he lost his son years ago and they have a conversation that none of the onlookers can believe is actually happening because yeah, the relationship is obvious.

It’s an alright first entry that certainly does the job of evoking what it is audiences like about the franchise while also slightly introducing at least one element of the story in this new entry.

The second trailer starts out with Po asking Shifu a question, which leads to Po going on a journey of self-discovery. We see the “I’m looking for my son” scene again, but this time with a different ending (so the first trailer was lying). His dad takes him to a panda village in the mountains. But a new threat is emerging that threatens Po’s newly-found family so it falls on him to teach them all how to fight. Po and the villain have a final confrontation, which goes exactly as you expect.

This one is a bit better at showing the full story of the movie and so works pretty well. Again, if you find Dreamworks’ brand of humor amusing this will appeal to you. If you have low tolerance to puns, though, this may not be your cup of tea.

The third trailer starts off with Po being told it’s time for him to take the next step on his journey, a step that’s necessary for him to fulfill his destiny. We get the shots of him meeting his dad and finding the panda village before we meet the bad guy again. He teaches the pandas to defend themselves, despite the problems in doing so before the final conflict.

It’s not bad but it doesn’t really cover any new ground from the previous spots. That’s alright though since the idea here is just to sell people something they’re familiar with, not to get overly clever with the marketing.

Online and Social

The content on the front page of the movie’s official website is displayed to try and get people to click on various things but it’s also available easily in the four content sections that are included in the menu at the top of the page.

“Watch” has all the trailers as well as clips, interviews with the cast and more, including a walk-through of the movie-based Minecraft skin and mini-games.

“Play” has more information about that Minecraft World and how to get the game and play it. There are casual games that you can play on the site (some are from the previous movies) and downloadable art projects to get too. Finally, the section has downloadable media including GIFs and posters.

kung_fu_panda_three pic 1

Find out all about the characters from the entire series in “Characters.” Bios for each animal has a brief description of who they are, what their fighting style is and a gallery of images featuring them.

Finally “News” pulls in updates from the movie’s Facebook page – the only off-site profile for the movie itself – as well as Dreamworks Animation’s Twitter, Instagram and YouTube profiles.

Advertising and Social

The first TV spot for the movie debuted just a few days before the release of Star Wars and had a little bit of fun with that, having Po’s father say “I am your father” while breathing heavily from climbing the stairs. It’s a nice little play on what was at the time dominating the media landscape.

DreamworksTV launched a tie-in web-series hosted by Mei Mei, the panda voiced by Kate Hudson, that was helping to promote the movie to the young audience on that YouTube channel.

The film got promotional support from website development platform Wix, who ran co-branded ads starring characters from the movie in commercials, including one that will air during the Super Bowl and which is part of a bigger promotional push featuring Po and the rest of the favorites from the movie.

Media and Publicity

Unfortunately one of the first real bits of news about the movie was when it was announced Kate Hudson would be replacing Rebel Wilson as the voice of a character. That raised a number of questions since swapping out voice talent just months from production is pretty unusual when it comes to animated movies.

J.K. Simmons talked to EW shortly before release about being a fan of the first two movies, which is what prompted him to accept this role, and how he wanted to make the villain he voices scary without turning off the kids in the audience.

kung_fu_panda_three pic 2

Black, Hudson and other stars also made the rounds of the morning and late night talk shows to promote the movie and engage in various stunts.


It’s a nice little campaign for a movie that has a lot of goodwill built up before it’s even released. The Kung Fu Panda franchise is seen by many as being at least one of Dreamworks’ best, if not the best outright. That explains why the posters only needed to raise audience awareness and not go too heavy into plot territory. The trailers hit the story a bit more squarely but even there the focus is on not just the humor but also creating a sense of familiarity in the audience that yes, this is more of what you already like.

The campaign promises just that: a return to familiar ground, albeit with a few new twists. I’m guessing the tone and feel of the film won’t be drastically dissimilar from that of the first movie. It’s not like this is the Godfather series. But that’s exactly what the audience wants. If the marketing can convince people that this is a safe bet for late January then people who haven’t had a decent all-ages movie to go to in a while should turn out in droves.

Movie Marketing Madness – Bridge of Spies

bridge_of_spiesI grew up in the later years of the Cold War. In the late 1970s and then into the 80s the kids I grew up with knew what the Cold War was and that it was still, for lack of a better term, being waged. But while it was still something we were living there was also the knowledge that by that time the worst of it was behind us. Sure, the Soviet Union could still level us all in a matter of moments with their arsenal of nuclear weapons, but it wasn’t as likely as it was 10 or 15 years before that.

It’s exactly that time that provides the setting for Bridge of Spies, the new movie from director Steven Spielberg and star Tom Hanks. Taking place in 1960, it’s the story of a historic moment in the Cold War. The U.S. had captured a Russian spy operating in New York City. But at the same time the Russians had shot down a U.S. U2 reconnaissance plane and captured the pilot. So the two sides set out to swap prisoners, with lawyer James B. Donovan (Hanks) tasked with negotiating the deal. That doesn’t make him very popular in a country and at a time when anti-Soviet fervor was at its peak. But Donovan is determined to do his job while navigating the tricky field of international politics.

The Posters

Surprisingly there’s just one theatrical poster for the movie. I say “surprisingly” because while it’s not unusual for the more “prestige” movies to have a single or just a couple one-sheets, this *is* a Spielberg/Hanks joint, so I would have expected at least two or three.

That aside, this is a pretty good poster, if a bit heavy-handed. Hanks’ face is featured in the center of the design, positioned between the Soviet and U.S. flags, making it clear that he’s caught between these two super powers. The movie’s title is essentially on his left cheek, with the tagline “In the shadow of war, one man showed the world what we stand for” just below that.

I like it, but I feel like the way everything is positioned combined with the grainy black and white that’s used for Hanks’ face (which I understand since it allows the flag colors to pop better) just seems like it’s leaning a little hard into the “Hanks Will Protect America” direction of populist appeal.

The Trailers

The first trailer sets the stage first before getting to the movie. So it’s explained that this is the middle of the Cold War, an era that doesn’t involve soldiers and guns but information. Then we move into the film’s main conflict as we see first the Soviet spy apprehended and then the U2 pilot shot down. Hanks is recruited to negotiate the exchange, a task he’s hesitant to take on but after doing so zealously defends even as his own reputation – not to mention the physical safety of his family – is threatened. Then the drama really ramps up as Hanks is swept from one location to the next, offering him ample opportunities to make speeches and exchange sardonic dialogue as he faces threats from all around him.

It’s a good trailer, mostly in that it very concisely and effectively conveys the major components of the movie. We see where Hanks’ lawyer is going to fit into the story, what that story is and what the problems he will face are. The trailer makes it clear the talent both in front of and behind the camera, which makes sense. If there’s anything to criticize, it’s that it may use quick cuts and swelling music to amp up the drama to a level out of proportion to what’s in the actual movie. That remains to be seen, though.

The second trailer cuts to the chase much more quickly, opening with the shooting down of the U2 plane and the exposition that a swap of assets needs to be arranged. While there’s a bit of the same footage from the first trailer there are two big additions or changes.

First, there’s an extended scene with Hanks being asked to provide government officials with details of what his client has said, a request Hanks refused to comply with because it violates basic rights. Then at the end while we see a montage of other clips, the Russian spy (Mark Rylance) recounts a story of a man from his youth who refused to not stand up to border guards who were assaulting him.

This one may work just a bit better than the first simply because it doesn’t have the time to devolve into maudlin over-reaching drama like that first one. It’s a bit tighter and the better for it.

Online and Social

The official website for the film is a sparse, if nicely put together affair.

After opening, the site wants to show you the first trailer. That’s also the only thing you’ll find in the “Video” section, which is the first item in the menu in the top left corner of the page but which you can also find just by scrolling down. Next is the “Gallery” but there are just four stills there.

“About the Film” has a very brief synopsis of the movie while “Cast and Crew” has very brief write-ups on the major players involved in the movie. I’m disappointed this or another section didn’t have more information on the real people being portrayed since that’s always helpful and welcome for true stories like this.


Moving off-domain, the Facebook page has regular updates on media appearances by Hanks and Spielberg, links to interviews on news sites, frequent calls to buy tickets and plenty of photos and short videos to keep people engaged. Twitter has the same kind of information and updates, though as usual with more Retweets of fans and talent to make it a bit more of an immediate experience.

The studio only managed to post to the movie’s Google+ page twice, which makes me wonder why they even kept the link to it on the official site.

Advertising and Cross Promotions

The TV spots that were created and run hit similar themes as the trailers, just more compact. So they play up the slamming fists, the drama of windows being shot out and so on to put as much tension as possible in the short running time. Part of this is a function of the format, part of it is to present the movie as being as exciting and pulse-pounding as possible, certainly not as a slower drama that’s all about negotiating across tables and Cold War politics.

There’s also been quite a bit of online advertising done, as I’ve seen banner and other ads all over the web, most all of them using either the key art or video that’s pulled from the trailers.

Media and Publicity

With two big names like Hanks and Spielberg involved there was bound to be a ton of publicity, including a Q&A with both of them where they talked about the movie in general as well as the film industry in general and how it’s catering to different audiences – or at least needs to, considering how well TV is currently doing so. The two would make the TV rounds in the weeks leading up to release, appearing on late night and early morning programs to talk about the movie, the real life events that inspired it and lots more.


One of the consistent themes of the press coverage is how much Spielberg likes telling these historical stories, this time focusing on the Cold War where in the past he’s looked at World War II, the colonial slave trade and other eras. And the director would talk about his process for breaking the story of a movie and finding that essential element that he could connect with to truly make the story his own.

Of course this is just a smattering of the press, but it’s representative of most of the major themes the coverage would take.


I’m actually a little surprised this campaign feels so small. Just one poster, a website that doesn’t do very much…it just kind of feels not half-hearted but like they couldn’t figure out how to really blow it out. I get that this is awards season and this isn’t a kids movie with a half-dozen colorful characters, but I still kind of thought there would be…more.

But what there is is very well put together. It’s not unexpected that the tone of the campaign would come off as a bit overly earnest considering the subject matter and the players involved. Everything about the campaign makes it clear this is VERY IMPORTANT and that what we’re being asked to watch is PROFOUNDLY MEANINGFUL. But we would have gotten that anyway, it didn’t need to open up the last few stops to make that point. Still, for the people in the audience who are fans of Hanks or Spielberg or just like rousing patriotic stories, this should be an easy sell.