Movie Marketing Madness: Split

split_ver2The kidnapping of three girls is at the heart of the story of Split, the new movie from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. Those three friends are taken to a hiding place where no one will be able to find them. But they’re being held by a man they sometimes know as Dennis (James McAvoy), whose intentions and motives for taking and holding them are unclear.

Complicating matters is that Dennis suffers from extreme split personalities, with as many as 23 personas living inside of him. Some of them are nicer than others, ranging from a child-like personality to that of a kindly old woman. The girls try to find one that will help them escape, but all seem to know that it’s important they stay where they are, but why no one knows.

The Posters

There’s not much to the first teaser poster. It’s just the title and Shyamalan’s name, meaning there’s the expectation his name alone will be enough to bring people to the theater.

The second poster focused on McAvoy’s Kevin, showing a closeup of him so we could see his crazy eyes, with the image shattered like the glass of a frame that’s been broken to help symbolize the fractured personalities. Those personalities are also the focus of the copy, which promises a 24th persona is about to be unleashed from within him.

The next one uses the same copy but this time shows Kevin far off from the camera, with a number of shadows looming on the floor in front of him including three normal sized one and one huge, monstrous figure. We’re meant to connect that with the copy about another personality that’s about to break free.

A final version takes a slightly more artistic approach, showing a silhouette of David’s profile, with a crack running down the middle of him that smaller figures are trying to crawl out of. The same copy is used but this one makes things a bit more figurative and less explicit, making it the most interesting of the bunch.

The Trailers

The first trailer is creepy as all get out. It opens with the camera, obviously from someone’s point of view, approaching a man in a mall parking lot or garage who’s loading bags into his car trunk. We cut then to the inside of the car, where three girls are waiting for the dad to get in. But it’s someone else and when they question him he knocks them out. They awake in a murder bunker, being told that they’re there for an important reason. Later they see what they think is someone else but is actually Kevin in women’s clothing, having let that personality take over. As the trailer goes on we see more of Kevin’s split personalities, which are explained to us thanks to some exposition from a psychiatrist who seems to be treating – or at least studying – him. We find out the girls are there for “The Beast,” an unseen creature who may or may not be real but is definitely a threat to the girls in the here and now.

I actually kind of like this a lot. You can see where the twists are going to be based on the plot but not too much is explained outright in the trailer itself. The real treat is McAvoy, though, who cycles through the different personalities effortlessly and seems to be having a lot of fun letting different characters out for different reasons. If there’s a strong attraction in the trailer, it’s him.

A second trailer is much more concerned with Kevin’s psychosis than the first trailer was. We get the same setup of the girls being kidnapped but from there on out the focus is largely on Kevin and the various personalities vying for dominance in his mind. We hear constantly how disturbed he is and then get a similar payoff of the girls being prepared for something nasty and terrible.

There’s a way that this trailer hints at the big reveal that the first trailer didn’t at all. Not saying what’s shown here is actually what happens, but there are clues dropped that all add up to one possible direction. Other than that it’s just as strong an effort as the first one.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website is built on Tumblr and starts off by playing the second trailer as soon as it loads. At the top of the page are links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles that were created for the movie.

There are just two actual sections of content on the site. First is “About” which is where you can read a decent synopsis of the movie’s story. Second is the “Gallery” of production stills to scroll through and take a look at the movie.

Scroll down the page and there’s all sorts of content that’s been posted to the Tumblr blog. You can sort through those a bit with the “Videos,” “Images” and GIFs” tabs that are available.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A few TV spots were run that did what they could to spoil the movie’s big twist. They play like shortened versions of the trailer, showing off some of the personalities rattling around in Dennis’ head for the most part, using the kidnapping of the girls only loosely. It’s all about McAvoy’s performance more than anything.

Those TV spots and trailers were used as social ads on Twitter and Facebook while key art was used for other online advertising. It’s an easy guess that outdoor ads were run as well.

Media and Publicity

The movie made its first public appearance at Fantastic Fest where it racked up near-universal accolades for the terrifying story, with many people calling it a return to form for Shyamalan.

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Shyamalan sat for a number of interviews to talk about the story of the movie, why he made it and more. There seemed to be a narrative that this was the final piece of a comeback for the director after a few years of flops and critically-lambasted movies. Similarly, McAvoy did the rounds to talk about working with the director and how he got into a role that demanded such quick turns in order to play all the personalities without dipping into parody.

Overall

Shyamalan is obviously at the center of the campaign, almost as much as McAvoy is. While the director hasn’t exactly been consistent since The Sixth Sense brought him into the spotlight with its twist ending, he still has a ton of mainstream audience name recognition, which is why that name and his previous work is plastered all over the assets for this movie. How that will or won’t work depends on whether or not you associate his name more with Unbreakable or The Happening, but it’s a card the studio would have been silly to not play and so it weighed the odds and made it happen.

The movie that’s being sold here is definitely a drama that has a number of twists. There’s certainly a big one involving “the beast” that’s referenced throughout that isn’t really addressed (though it kind of is) but other smaller ones about the breadth of Kevin’s personality disorder are clearly on display. That promises the audience that the usual Shyamalan twists and turns will be coming their way, so head to the theaters to see what happens. It’s a lot of setup and a lot of mystery that’s being shown off in the campaign, meaning it’s up to the movie to deliver on the promise being made.

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Movie Marketing Madness: X-Men: Apocalypse

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Despite pre-dating the first Iron Man movie by eight years and The Avengers by 12, the first expansion of the X-Men Cinematic Universe didn’t really come until earlier this year with Deadpool. Sure, there was a solo Wolverine movie in 2009, but considering the first two X-Men team movies were glorified Wolverine solo stories, that wasn’t much of a stretch. Instead of expanding through solo movies, the X-Men universe has instead mucked around with time and continuity, introducing new characters and situations by looking backward and traveling through time to shake things up. That’s allowed 20th Century Fox to bring in new casts to keep the franchise fresh in a different way than Marvel Studios has.

Now we have the final movie in a second trilogy of movies featuring Marvel’s Merry Band of Mutants, X-Men: Apocalypse. Picking up the thread started in X-Men: First Class and continued in X-Men: Days of Future Past, this new story introduces one of the team’s most formidable foes, the titular Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac. He is the world’s first mutant, having been birthed in the times of ancient Egypt and is seemingly immortal, emerging throughout history to bring mayhem to civilization from time to time. Now he’s back to end things for good, recruiting a team of Horsemen, fellow mutants that will clash with Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his team of heroes.

The Posters

A motion poster was released as a way to tease the upcoming trailer debut that showed the X symbol half-charred by fire and smoldering. That hinted that once again, not all is well for the team of mutants and that they’re very existence as a team is in question.

The first actual one-sheet came out the same time the trailer was released. It shows Apocalypse holding a disintegrating skull in his hand in a very Hamlet-like pose. You expect him to intone about poor Yorik at any moment. At the top the copy intones that “Only the strong will survive” so they’re not being subtle in setting up a story where the stakes are supposed to be very high and where not everyone will make it out alive. Note also the much darker tone on Apocalypse, something that’s in contrast to the bright purple look that was shown in the first publicity stills and which led to so much criticism of the character’s look.

A stark banner poster was released that showed the villains of the story. Apocalypse looms large in the background and in front of him are his Four Horseman; Angel, Psylocke, Magneto and Storm. At the bottom, in case we were unclear, is the word “Destroy” so it’s obviously telling the audience this is not the side we’ll be rooting for in the movie. A similar poster was created for the good guys, this time with Prof. X in the background and the team arrayed around the notably-placed Mystique, which may signal her role in the story and certainly signals Jennifer Lawrence’s current place in Hollywood.

A series of four very arty-looking posters were released that showed the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, each surrounded by some scene of destruction and with a representation of a horse in the background just to reinforce the connection.

An IMAX poster was fairly uninspired in terms of design, just showing all the main characters arranged in no particular order as they all look off into the middle distance and wave their hands around in a way that’s appropriate with the powers of their character.

The Trailers

The first trailer is all about introducing us to the cast of mutants, both those we know and those we don’t, as well as those who look different than we remember them. We open with Jean Grey having a nightmare about the end of the world before we start to hear Apocalypse start to talk about his history and what his mission is. And we hear that he has handful of helpers on that mission. We never get a good look at the big guy himself, but we see most everyone else, including Storm, Archangel, Mystique and the rest of the characters. The only one notably missing is Wolverine. The trailer ends with the big reveal of a now bald Xavier wearing a suit and tie and sitting in his wheelchair.

It’s an OK trailer, but as many people pointed out when it was released, this series seems to have a problem with trailers and this is no exception. It wants to show us a lot, but then it keeps pulling back. There’s plenty of story that’s hinted at here and we see where the allegiances of many of the characters lie. And we hear over and over again about how powerful the bad guys are and that “this is war.” It never quite fires on all eight cylinders, though.That’s a minor gripe since the look and feel of the movie here seem great, it just doesn’t really flow in a convincing way.

The first full trailer shows a confrontation between Erik and Charles where they’re having the precursor to a conversation we’ve seen them have in the first X-Men movie, which is kind of neat. That moves into essentially the origin story of Apocalypse, who later makes his sales pitch for power to the four who will act as his horsemen. Things get very dark as the heroes realize they’re the only ones standing between the bad guys and the end of the world. Mystique gives a rousing speech about how they all need to come together but the trailer ends on a down note as things do not look like they’re going well for the good guys.

It’s a better trailer than the first and the callbacks to the earlier movie work pretty well since it continues establishing the relationship between those two characters. The origin of Apocalypse is clearly meant to help those not already familiar with the character establish some baseline so they don’t feel intimidated by the backstory. And I don’t think there’s anything more they could do to position Jennifer Lawrence as being important to the movie.

The final trailer starts off with Xavier saying things are better, a statement Mystique does not agree with. We get the same exposition about Apocalypse before seeing a new moment between Xavier and Magneto, where the former implores the latter to not join the big bad. It becomes clear that Xavier is taken, which is why Mystique needs to come back and lead the team. There are a few new and nice character moments, including one with Quicksilver, before we’re back to shots from the climactic fight scene and more rousing speeches and terrible threats. The trailer ends with a tease of Wolverine joining the fight as we see his trademark claws popping out.

It’s good and definitely shows off a bit more of the emotional elements of the movie. It’s clear someone at Fox was tired of holding Wolverine back from the campaign, which is why he’s teased right at the end.

Online and Social

The official website opens with a banner that recreates some of the key art showing the heroes and villains arrayed in front of the camera, Xavier grabbing an invisible boob while Apocalypse looms in the background. A menu bar below that encourages visitors to Watch the Trailer, visit the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles or add the movie’s release to their online calendar, which is a nice call-to-action I always like to see even if I don’t imagine it’s widely used.

Scroll down and the next thing you can do is enter your location to buy tickets.

Below that is “Videos” where you can watch the trailers, clips and featurettes. That’s followed by an “About” section that has a story synopsis and a cast and crew list, though there’s no details on the cast.

The “Emojis” section takes you to a Giphy profile that has a bunch of animated emojis as well as a collection of GIFs you can either download or share to your social networks as you see fit.

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“Featured Content” has some cool stuff, starting with a link to a few 80s-style arcade games that let you play casual games that resembled Pac-Man and other classics, but with mutant twists on the activities. Also there are links to order the score, view photos from the London fan premiere screening and a nice timeline of Apocalypse’s activities throughout history that shows the casualties he’s inflicted at various events.

All the companies that got on board with cross-promotions are listed in the “Partners” section.

You can view and download the movies’ posters and stills in the “Posters” and “Gallery” sections that round out the site.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The movie’s advertising started off with a Super Bowl commercial that shows the different sides of the mutants in conflict with each other and Apocalypse executing his plan. That’s about it. It’s a good commercial that, like most of the spots during the game, just wanted to sell the audience a big adventure more than a deep, complicated plot.

Among the movies promoted during the game, this one saw the most Facebook engagement. The movie was one of the few to also explicitly call out a Facebook URL in the ad.

Plenty of additional TV advertising done with 15- and 30-second spots showing off footage that was largely already seen in the trailers but with a new shot here and there. Later spots included some key positive quotes from early reviews.

The film’s promotional partners include companies like:

  • M&M’s: The candy brand put their own characters in X-Men costumes as part of special movie-branded packaging that was accompanied by retail displays. There were also co-branded TV and in-theater spots created and run.
  • Coldwell Banker: In an interesting promotion, the real-estate company ran a co-branded campaign that put Xavier’s mansion up for sale, creating a a video listing for the property, a virtual tour and more.
  • Right Guard: Offered an online quiz testing with X-Men character you are that offered a trip for two to Las Vegas as well as free movie tickets on specific products.
  • Red Robin: Offered movie tickets when you used a special loyalty card.
  • Hanes: Created special movie-themed products and packaging and ran a giveaway of a Magneto collector’s edition helmet.
  • Visa: Not sure what the deal here was.
  • EDX: Took the “education” element of the X-Men mythos and used it to offer free online courses, including some recommended by various X-Men characters. Also ran a sweeps awarding a trip to NYC including time with a special effects artist to transform you into your favorite character.
  • FYE: Just standard product promotion in addition to a sweeps.
  • Swatch: Offered exclusive watch loops and ticket giveaways the weekend prior to the movie’s release.
  • Supra: No details I could find on their site or on Facebook.
  • Crunch Fitness: Created a “Survival of the Fittest” movie-themed workout class and ran a sweeps awarding a trip to the pyramids of Mexico.
  • Giant Snacks: Movie-themed packaging that promoted the movie and a sweeps awarding a trip to the movie’s Montreal Stunt Experience.

Theater standees were created and displayed that showed the huge cast of the movie, particularly the actually huge Apocalypse, who towers over the other characters. A good amount of online ads were run as well, ranging from full site takeovers to banners that used key art and motion video and more. There were also plenty of social ads, with posts on Twitter and Facebook that featured video and encouraged people to visit the site or buy tickets.

There was also a 24-hour ad campaign run on Snapchat that offered branded filters that let you change your look to that of your favorite character. Ads also let people buy tickets directly from the app, a first for Snapchat. Unfortunately Snapchat bumped one of the most popular filters to make room for this, which honked off a lot of people and meant this didn’t go over quite as well as Fox was likely hoping.

Media and Publicity

Publicity for the movie – aside from first looks from Singer and others during production – really kicked off around the time of San Diego Comic-Con 2015. The cast assembled there for a feature panel and discussion of the movie and at the same time EW debuted (7/15/15) the first look at Wilde as Psyloche, Isaac as Apocalypse and Fassbender in his new Magneto costume.

Right around the same time the first trailer was released Marvel announced a new X-Men crossover event titled “Apocalypse Wars,” which featured the movie’s villain getting in the way of the X-Men’s plans to save mutantkind through time travel tricks. That was a nice way to draft off the buzz from the trailer with some comic-centric news and potentially give people an entry point into the comics world.

Later on EW would release some concept art from the movie to keep the conversation going. That was followed a few months later by a big Empire Magazine feature that included nine variant covers, with different members of the cast on each one. More stills were released in Empire later on, including some that had everybody talking because for the first time in an X-Men movie the characters appeared in something approximating their comic book costumes.

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A neat little feature video took kind of an ARG approach, looking like a TV commercial for a special news report on “En Sabah Nur,” purported to be the world’s first mutant and possibly a figure who has loomed large in many historical events. It was narrated by George Takai and played off how the existence of mutants had come to the world’s attention a decade earlier.

Singer talked, in this interview, about his history with the X-Men franchise and the need to amp up the threat in this movie and the history they tried to draw for Apocalypse as he goes up against the mutant heroes. It also included comments from Sophie Turner about her turn as Jean Grey. And later he also talked about the potential new direction this movie opens up for the franchise, or at least some of the characters. Sheridan also got a chance to talk about taking up Cyclops’ goggles. Turner talked more about taking on the character of Jean Gray closer to release.

Just a month or so out from release the movie got the full-court press from Entertainment Weekly, which put out four variant collectors covers and included a bunch of exclusive photos, interviews and other features about the movie.

The movie also got a super-weird and totally off-brand mock TV spot that featured Jubilee selling Xavier’s University as a first-rate school. The spot was basically an excuse to make something that looked it had been pulled from a 1980s VHS tape and which would have aired during “Circus of the Stars” but it’s completely of a different tone than the entire rest of the campaign. It’s also not part of a bigger ARG so it comes off as really goofy and out-of-place.

Overall

It’s a pretty massive campaign that, like the marketing for Batman v Superman, I’m guessing pulls mostly from the final 45 minutes of the movie that includes the climactic showdown between the heroes and Apocalypse and his Horsemen. In its own way the movie is selling it as the third “heroes vs heroes” showdown of the year since, with the exception of Magneto, those Horsemen are characters that are traditionally on the side of the good guys: Storm, Angel and Psyloche. That’s why so much of the trailers and clips feature the two sides facing off. It fits in with this year’s comic cinematic narrative, intentionally or not. But it’s certainly being sold in a way to play on that theme.

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The movie as a whole doesn’t look like a lot of fun, which is a big shift from both the first X-Men in 2000 and even 2011’s First Class, which at least had a bouncy kind of rhythm to it. Instead, with the exception of that one light moment with Quicksilver talking about his dad being Magneto, this looks super-serious, with the stakes being incredibly high and lots of speeches about responsibility and duty to save the world. The X franchise has never been a ton of laughs (Deadpool being the notable exception) but this kicks that up a notch by selling a story that might be a tough slog with few lighter moments.

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