Movie Marketing Madness: How To Be A Latin Lover

Let’s just be honest and admit that some people have few, if any, real-world survival skills. That’s not the case, though, for Maximo (Eugenio Derbez), the main character in the new movie How To Be A Latin Lover. Directed by Ken Marino, the movie is about Maximo, who early on in life discovered he had the ability to woo rich older women from whom he could mooch a luxurious lifestyle and a life of ease and relaxation.

That situation is upset when the older woman he’s been with for 25 years kicks him out and Maximo doesn’t know how to make it in the world. He tries moving in with his sister Sara (Salma Hayek) and nephew Hugo (Raphael Alejandro), but still needs to get a job. While he tries to return to his lothario ways, he finds that’s not so easy with a quarter century in the rear-view mirror. That readjustment to the real world is where the movie will find, it seems, much of its humor.

The Posters

The first poster wasn’t all that great, it was just a parody of one of the posters for Fifty Shades Darker, this time with a latin gentleman standing behind an older lady wearing the kind of mask that was featured in the marketing for that film. Another appeared later that parodied La La Land.

There’s not much to the theatrical poster. It just shows Derbez as the title character standing there holding a rose in his mouth and wearing nothing but a Speedo, pointing to the audience. The paunch of his belly shows we’re in satire territory here, aided by the copy “Watch and learn.” The rest of the cast appears in small photos below the title.

The Trailers

First up is a teaser trailer that opens with Maximo and Sara as children talking about what they want to be when they grow up, with Maximo pegging early on he wants to live a life of luxury. Some shots of that lifestyle are followed by Sara hitting him repeatedly for various reasons before we’re introduced to some of the supporting cast, including Rob Lowe and Kristen Bell. It all ends with Maximo beginning to instruct his nephew in the art of seduction.

This doesn’t work very well. The story isn’t presented all that clearly, the jokes aren’t given any chance to really breathe or land for the audience. You get the basic sense of what’s going on but it’s not the most effective teaser I’ve seen.

We meet a young Maximo in the first trailer as a young man looking for an older woman to mooch off of. Fast forward a number of years and he’s still living in her house and taking advantage of her wealth. When she throws him to the curb he has to get out and support himself. Instead of doing that, though, he moves in with his sister and nephew, where he gets into all kinds of trouble. Eventually he sets his sights on a new sugar momma, but he’s grown a bit rusty over the years even as he tries to teach his nephew how to woo a girl he likes.

It’s pretty funny and you can see Marino’s influence on the comedy here. It plays quite broadly but still looks pretty funny overall. It’s much better than the teaser in that the story is clearly on display and the jokes are given a bit of room to move around. Much more attractive movie on display here, even if the sense of humor still seems a bit off-kilter.

Online and Social

OK, I’m a little confused as to the movie’s online strategy. The official site features a modified version of the key art, with Derbez in his banana hammock and the smaller shots of the supporting cast. There’s a button in the top left to get tickets and beating heart graphic encourages you to watch the trailer. Below the cast photos are links to the movie’s Facebook and Instagram profiles as well as the studio’s Twitter. But there’s no other information about the movie.

If you click the “Get Tickets” button that site offers a bit more content, with a section of “Videos” that contains both trailers, some featurettes, a few clips from the publicity tour and more. There’s also a “Synopsis” that helps lay out the story of the movie. Also linked to from the main page is a Lionsgate publicity page that has the main trailer, both posters and fact sheets in both English and Spanish.

All that adds up to an odd and disparate strategy that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

If there’s been any TV advertising done I can’t find it. Some outdoor ads were placed, though, that used the key art to try and sell the movie as a sexy comedy. The message was hard to convey, though, since the tone of the movie doesn’t appear to be all that straightforward and easy to sell.

Media and Publicity

Derbez and Halek both made the media rounds in the weeks leading up to release, speaking to the press, appearing on late night talk shows and more. They talked about making the movie, working with each other and Marino and more.

What’s notable if you look at the Twitter profile for Pantelion Films is that there was a significant push into the Spanish-language media world. Both stars did lots of interviews for those outlets, either in print or on TV.


There are several things going on here that are of note. First off, the website strategy continues to make little sense to me. I’m not sure why the videos and other information aren’t on the official site but are relegated to the tickets site. And why push the posters to the Lionsgate page? That misstep is offset by the approach to the Spanish-language media, which makes a ton of sense considering stars and that much of the movie’s dialogue seems to be in Spanish. So that’s a smart play to an important demographic.

The movie as a whole looks funny in an offbeat, slightly low key kind of way. That’s not unexpected considering Marino’s comedic history, especially with The State and as a collaborator of David Wain whose movies can generally best be described as “offbeat, slightly low key.” There’s certainly a funny movie being sold here, but it’s honestly going to be hard to sell a movie that’s half in Spanish and which doesn’t feature a big, mainstream name (other than Hayek) in the cast to the audience that keeps going to see The Fate of the Furious.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Power Rangers

Because everything old needs to be new again, this week sees the big-screen return of Power Rangers. Based on the “classic” Japanese import TV show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” the movie acts as an origin story for the team, following a group of misfit teenagers who stumble upon a mysterious ship and unlocking amazing powers via suits that allow them to do incredible things and access animalistic ships called “Zords.”

It turns out, though, that it’s not all fun and games and their emergence as Power Rangers attracts the attention of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a villain who’s out to destroy all Rangers. So it’s up to the five Power Rangers, with the help of the artificial intelligence Zordon (Bryan Cranston) who’s been tasked to train them, to stop her and protect the planet.

The Posters

The first teaser poster is surprisingly not bad, though it doesn’t show very much. The five people who will make up the team are seen at the bottom, standing on or around a car on a starry night. The stars, you’ll notice, make up a lightning bolt and have the tagline “Together we are more” in there.

Following that a series of character posters were released that showed each individual member of the team, their name on the left side, with a color-coded lightning bolt across their face to identify them by color as well.

Another set of character posters shows all five characters fully in costume, with streaks making it look like they’ve zoomed in from the side.

The next one-sheet was the first element of the campaign to show off the zords in any way, showing them emerging from a fog-drenched hillside. Only the yellow zord is clearly visible, with the rest obscured, but it began to show something more than just the uniforms and the teenage angst of the characters, so it’s something.

The theatrical poster showed off all the visuals for the movie, with all the Rangers themselves as well as their Zords running into battle with “It’s Morphin Time” as the copy across the top. This looks like a comic book cover with the relatively generic “everyone charging in the same direction” theme.

A couple more posters kept showing off various looks at the team and their Zords, either featuring copy declaring “It’s Morphin Time” or “Together we are more.”

A series of four individual posters were created as exclusives for different theater chains. All of them feature the team in some configuration, usually with the lightening bolt running down the middle of the design.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out by setting up a scenario like The Breakfast Club, as a bunch of misfits are assigned Saturday detention. After some setup about their character traits a group of them go out at night and discover a strange ship or object in the side of a valley. They expose themselves to the ship’s power and find out the next day that they have powers of their own, which we see them explore and test. Then things start to shift as we see one of them threatened by Rita Repulsa before the team assembles and begins to get their costumes.

It’s silly, of course, but if you go with it and accept that it is what it is it will work for you. This is very much a teaser since we don’t actually see the Rangers in action. So it’s being sold as an origin story here, meaning it’s going to be like 45 minutes or more before there’s any actual Power Rangers in the Power Rangers movie.

The second trailer starts off by quickly introducing us to the people that will make up the team as they discover something mysterious and being to develop powers. They get a crash course in getting Power Rangers but then we see Rita as she looks to exact her revenge, which prompts the kids to fully embrace their powers. From there on out it’s footage of a massive battle involving the Zords.

This one at least shows off more of the comically-bad punching and fighting that was a hallmark of the show as well as the other familiar elements. There’s more of a clear look at the Zords, the costumes and more here, it’s not just a story of teen angst. Sure, it looks terrible, but so was the show.

Another short trailer showed off lots of Rita but otherwise didn’t deviate too far from footage and ideas that had been introduced in earlier trailer. The main component here is a “Snap to unlock” call to action.

Online and Social

There’s a lot going on when the official website loads. On the left is a prompt to watch the last short trailer, with a button at the top encouraging you to “GIF this video,” which takes you to a separate site where you can select one of the trailers and then use a tool to create GIFs of various length that can be shared on Twitter, Tumblr or other platforms.

Over on the right of the page there are lots of other things for you to do. At the top it wants you to download the mobile app and offers more information on what’s available when you click that prompt. then you can “Discover Your Color,” which has you take a personality quiz to find out which Ranger color you’re best suited for.

“See the Final Poster” is exactly what you think it is. “Unlock Ranger Twitter Emojis” wants you to choose a color and Tweet out a branded emoji of that Ranger. The “VR Fan Experience” section has information on a live event in VR. You can register to be alerted with the “Power Rangers: Legacy Wars” game becomes available.

The studio created a website for the newspaper of the high school the Rangers are part of. The Roar profiled different students, specifically those featured in the movie, and included other information specifically geared toward the younger audience.

Lionsgate also created a chat bot that took on the persona of Alpha 5 and which was available across most chat messenger platforms that took the audience through training and into the story of the movie.

There’s a section for the “Posters” and one for “Photos” as well as a link to click to unlock an exclusive Snapchat lens. The only thing that’s left in the menu at the top of the page that’s not replicated in the main site navigation is a “Synopsis” that offers the barest of outlines as to the movie’s story. Down at the bottom of the page there are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles as well as another prompt to connect on Snapchat.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots kept showing off the uniforms and other visuals for the movie and kept the focus on how this is a band of misfits and screw-ups that’s been brought together to fight off an evil threat. It also contains the same “Snap to Unlock” prompt that was seen in the final trailer.

  • Qualcomm: The studio partnered with the tech company to bring a virtual reality experience to CES 2017 that would let people take control of one of the Zords from the movie.
  • Pancake House: The chain created a handful of character-themed pancakes.

Media and Publicity

Outside of casting and such the first real bit of publicity came in the form of an official cast photo that was released shortly after production had begun. A while after that a first look at Banks as Rita Repulsa was released that was much-derided, showing we haven’t learned anything about not judging costumes from out-of-context stills. That was followed a bit later by a first look at the Power Rangers themselves and their shiny new suits, something that prompted a bunch of “Nope” comments from the press and fans.

Just before release news broke that the Yellow Ranger played by Becky G. was gay, marking the first real big-screen gay super hero. That got lots of press and conversation because it was a pretty big moment.

Cranston, Banks and some of the rest of the cast hit the press and talk shows to promote the movie.


This whole campaign wants you to “snap to unlock” so bad it’s a little embarrassing. That, as much as “see the movie this Friday” is the core message of the campaign, at least based on the strength and frequency of the call to action that’s included throughout the marketing. It’s a message that’s designed to appeal to a younger audience that is less likely to be moved by any feelings of nostalgia and more by feeling the movie is relevant to their interests. That’s also why the main message of the movie is less about fighting big monsters as it is about finding yourself and coming into your own.

Despite all that the campaign never really conveys any real sense of fun or adventure, which is surprising for a movie like this. It feels a lot like the way the Transformers’ first big-screen outing was sold back in 2007, with a campaign that ostensibly is meant to sell something that’s fun and taps into nostalgia but which instead feels like kind of a downer. It’s easy to see this falling through the cracks as it fails to appeal to the generation that *does* have warm, nostalgic feelings for this franchise as well as those who are too young to fit into that group and don’t see any great reason to go out of their way to see the movie.

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Movie Marketing Madness: John Wick Chapter 2

john_wick_chapter_two_ver4John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was reluctantly pulled back into the life of a professional assassin in 2014’s self-titled movie. After exacting a measure of revenge for the death of his dog and the theft of his car he seemed to if not ride off into the sunset at least be once more done with the life. That’s not to be, though, as he’s once more called on to utilize his particular set of skills in John Wick Chapter 2, out this week.

The story picks up just a week after the events of the first movie. Wick is asked to help a former associate who’s trying to make a power move in the underworld of assassins and, bound by a blood oath, he once more suits up and arms himself to carve a bloody path through the endless supply of henchmen and lower level mobsters who dare to cross his path. All that while making sure everyone knows he doesn’t want to do this, it’s just what he needs to do.

The Posters

The first poster is just the marketing team having fun with fans. All it shows is Wick being fit for a suit, a pair of hands holding a tape measure against his arm while in his other hand he’s holding a gun. “Bulletproof” is the only copy on the poster aside from the release date.

The second shows the overwhelming odds Wick is up against. He’s in the middle of the image and coming at him from all angles are hands with guns pointed directly at him, though he looks unconcerned about it all, which conveys the character’s cool, unshakeable nature.

Another poster came along that shows Wick in the thick of the action, his face bloodied but still intent as he grips a pistol. There’s not much else here, but it shows that the story will be just as violently intense as the first.

One more poster took a slightly more artistic turn. We see a small figure of Wick, smoke rising from him and his gun, standing on top of massive text reading “Relit,” a reference to the character’s fuse being set off once more. The bright red background really sets this out from the pack and provides a big, bold effort that is meant to get people talking. Another one shows a side-shot of Wick with a fuse running up his tie, as if it’s about to go off. One more has Wick taking aim at his own name.

A final group of posters took mostly another artistic approach. One looks like a comic book cover, with Wick’s face obscured by shadows as he leans over his gun. Another featured what looked like a pencil drawing of Wick, his dog, his car and some scenes in the background that hint at the movie’s international locations. Finally, there’s one that just has him taking aim at the audience with his pistol, the barrel making the “o” of “Two.” All three feature the “Reloaded” copy. I have to wonder how that last one made it past the MPAA since it has a long-standing rule about directly threatening the audience.

The Trailers

The first trailer, which was teased just before its New York Comic-Con debut, starts off showing Wick getting fitted for a suit and outfitted with weaponry, setting a winking tone. From there on out Wick attends a party where he has business and plenty of conflicts. The rest of the trailer is just a collection of action sequences with Wick taking down various bad guys in violent fashion.

It’s not clear what the driving conflict here is. We see someone being escorted around by a cadre of armed tough guys but what exactly the beef is between her and Vick isn’t explained. But the inclusion of a scene between Reeves and Laurence Fishburne at the end is a nice touch.

The official trailer starts off with Wick trying to put the violent chapter of his life back in storage one more time, until someone firebombs his house. Someone has taken out a contract on his life, apparently in retaliation for something Wick has done. That’s about it for the story, though, as most all of the run-time is devoted to one fight sequence after another, each one more huge and all-encompassing than the last.

There’s humor, there’s gunplay, there’s Reeves deadpanning his way through one thing after another. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a sequel trailer, promising fans more of what they liked about the first movie, only more of it.

Online and Social

The official website opens on an image of a bloodied and weary-looking Wick, the same photo that’s used on one of the posters, before it gives way to full-screen video of clips from the trailers. The site appears to be built on Tumblr so there’s a “follow” prompt in the upper right. Toward the bottom of the page are links to enter a sweepstakes or to find out about the John Wick VR experience that was announced late in 2015 and which you can pre-order now.

Below that there’s a box that rotates between promotion of one of the trailers and a link to the new issue of Continental Quarterly, purporting to be the official magazine of the assassin’s hotel that’s featured in the movies. There are stories in there that profile various aspects of Wick himself as well as some of the other characters we’ll meet in this installment. That’s a fun conceit and I get what they’re going for but it doesn’t quite commit to actually looking like a magazine so gets points off for not going all-in on a site that doesn’t just look like a movie promotion.

Moving to the content menu in the upper left, the first section there is “Trailers & Videos,” which is where you can watch both trailers, some TV spots, a few clips and a featurette. After that there’s a “Synopsis” that shares the barest of ideas about what motivates Wick back into action.

“Cast” just has images of the main players along with, in some cases, a GIF or image that can be shared to social channels. Then “Gallery and Posters” has a bunch of stills as well as some of the posters. Finally, “Social” has GIFs and images that have been posted to the Tumblr blog that can be shared on various platforms.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one began airing about a month ago and played like shorter versions of the trailer. Much of the setup is skipped in favor of, smartly, getting to the shootouts and violence as quickly as possible.

Two Super Bowl spots were also aired, both of which emphasized the fast-paced visuals and action Wick finds himself in the middle of, with very little attention paid to the story or anything else. It’s all about the attitude and the gunplay.

Right around the time of the second trailer, Dynamite announced it would publish a comic based on the movie series that would tell further tales of Wick.

It’s safe to assume plenty of online and outdoor advertising was done as well.

Media and Publicity

While anticipation was certainly high already, the first real talkable moment came Lionsgate debuted the first footage from the movie and had Reeves appear on stage during the studio’s CinemaCon presentation. The movie later got some love at New York Comic-Con, where the first trailer was debuted while the cast and crew talked about making the sequel to the unexpected hit and offered more information on the story, setting and more.


Further publicity about the movie included a still of Reeves and Fishburne together along with the expected nod to this being a reunion of the two Matrix costars. Reeves kept talking to the press about how much he enjoys this role and would be happy to revisit it for a third movie, conveying the message that this is as much fun for him to make as it is for the audience to watch.


The thing that made the first movie such a hit was that it was fun. It was ridiculous and remarkably low-concept but a fully-committed performance by Reeves in particular helped sell it to a crowd that wanted a mindless escape of a movie. So the campaign here has been wise to hit many of those same notes, presenting this as a continuation of the same, almost a remake more than a sequel. Lionsgate just wants people to come out and so are presenting the least challenging message to the public, a strategy I can’t really argue with.

That theme of “Wick is back” is the central tenet of the campaign. Everything hits that note over and over again, from the trailers to the 57 posters that were released. That seems like a winning strategy to me, with the value proposition being that this is once again a mindless escape from the world around them.

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Movie Marketing Madness: La La Land

la_la_land_ver4Hollywood loves stories about Los Angeles. There are countless movies about the city and the entertainment industry that always wind up being big hits with the those in the business and critics. Joining that list this week is La La Land, the new movie from writer/director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) and starring the ridiculously good-looking pair of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

La La Land is a love story but it’s also a completely original musical. Stone plays Mia, an actress who’s struggling to secure her big break. One day she meets Sebastian (Gosling), a piano player who gets by playing in bars but dreams of opening a jazz club of his own. The two bump into each other several times and finally form a romantic relationship. But that love affair is threatened when their careers actually start to take off and the struggles that brought them together now threaten what has been a magical romance.

The Posters

The first poster is kind of great. Designed to look like a record cover from the early 1940s or so, it shows Stone and Gosling in a passionate embrace while in one of the vertical stripes next to them you see the L.A. Observatory, an easy way to establish the location of the story. At the top along with the actor’s names is a call-out about the key song (which we’ll see is also in the first trailer), enhancing the LP artwork feel of the one-sheet.

A second poster was just as good and also looks like something you found in your mom’s record collection. This one shows Gosling and Stone walking across a room, both decked out in nice outfits, the picture tinged heavily with a blue that stripes across the neutral background that’s seen at the top and the bottom. Even the rating and the “In Theaters” copy at the bottom looks like what on a record would say “In Stereo” or something.

A special poster for the movie’s appearance at the Venice Film Festival was also released. It’s not as interesting thematically as the first two but still sells the overall appeal of the movie pretty well, showing Gosling and Stone dancing on a hill top, the lights of Los Angeles below a dark night’s sky. “Here’s to the fools who dream” the copy at the top tells us.

The theatrical poster foregoes the artistic stylings of the earlier one-sheets in favor of a simple image of Gosling and Stone, shown from behind while staring out over the nighttime skyline of Los Angeles. Or at least it would be a simple image if it weren’t for the fact that all the negative space on the poster is taken up by accolades from critics, turning what should have continued the magical look and feel of the poster campaign into a cluttered mess.

The Trailers

The first trailer is all about setting the mood for the movie while revealing as little as possible about the story. Essentially a short music video, we get lots of shots of Gosling and Stone as the dance around each other, gaze across rooms at each other and otherwise engage in this storybook romance. So they’re at nightclubs, dancing in the streets and more.

Again, there’s not much about the story on display here but it’s still pretty great. It definitely establishes the setting of Los Angeles, presenting it as a place where literally anything can happen, most of it magical and romantic. The time period here is kind of iffy as we’re shown modern cars but a vibe that’s definitely more out of the 1940s or 50s than the 21st century. That’s not a bad thing, it’s part of the movie’s charm, it seems.

Another trailer came out a bit later that took the same approach but this time featured Stone singing about the mess they’ve made, with the same kind of shots that present a version of Los Angeles that seems to exist in all time periods, from the 1940s to the present, at the same time.

The official trailer starts off at a disappointing audition Mia is at, but we soon see her wandering into the piano bar Sebastian plays at. The two catch each other’s eyes just as we see him get fired and we’re off to the races. What follows is lots of them walking around and talking in the cutest way possible interspersed with shots of them dancing. There are scenes of them struggling with their careers, him going toward opening his own club, she trying to be an actress. More dancing, more walking around L.A. and it all ends in a big musical number, of course.

It works really hard to be just as charming and magical as the first couple spots while also adding more of the story into the mix. That comes through very well without getting in the way of the sweepingly epic scope the movie is trying to take with this very intimate story. Gosling and Stone has loads of chemistry (they should at this point, having worked together so often) and that really comes through here, helping sell the whole package.

Online and Social

Video from the trailers plays full-screen when you load the movie’s official website, which also starts playing some of the music from the soundtrack. That soundtrack is an important part of the movie’s overall brand with its selection of original music, which is evident from how there’s a big button encouraging people to buy the album on either physical or digital media at the bottom of the page. There are graphics touting the movie’s RottenTomatoes score along with Venice and Toronto festival wins and a couple of positive critical quotes around the title treatment. There are also links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

The menu of content at the top starts with “Videos,” which is where you can (and should) watch all three trailers along with featurettes on the production of the movie and the music in the film. “Synopsis” has a pretty good recap of the story along with some of the credits for those involved.

That’s expanded on slightly in the “Cast & Filmmakers” section. There’s not additional information for the Filmmakers section but in the Cast area when you click on one of the names a picture of that actor in character comes up. Finally, “Gallery” has a handful of production stills along with a single behind-the-scenes photo.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

I’ll hand it to the TV campaign, it didn’t try to hide much about what had already made the movie a word-of-mouth superstar. TV spots like this one made it clear it’s filled with singing and dancing, all of that serving a story of an epic, magical romance between two struggling entertainers.

The studio kept those spots coming throughout the last month or so leading up to release, with each one hitting slightly different notes but all of them selling this as a big-screen musical romance in the classic tradition but with plenty of modern twists. There were variations on that theme, but most all sold that basic approach.

TV spots and trailers were used in social media ads on Twitter and other networks. Other online ads used the key art or videos to drive ticket sales and outdoor billboards used the key art or image of Stone and Gosling dancing with the L.A. cityscape in the background.

Media and Publicity

A first look photo showing Stone and Gosling mid-dance appeared in EW. The movie was part of Fox Searchlight’s portion of Fox’s CinemaCon presentation, where the first footage debuted, which had everyone online oolong and aaaahing as they talked about the tone and visuals of that footage.

That premiere at Venice came off very well, earning the movie plenty of buzz and positive word of mouth. While there Chazzelle talked about why he’s so attracted to musicals, Stone talked about the story’s overt hopefulness and joy and more. The music continued to be a focus of the press, with composer Justin Hurwitz talking about creating the music that was so central to the story.

The movie was also among those selected for the Telluride Film Festival. Everyone came out of Toronto even more in love with the movie than they were already, culminating with Stone winning an award for her performance in the film.


Chazzelle talked extensively here about the long and sometimes tortured path the movie took to production as it was put into turnaround, had actors sign on and then drop out and ultimately just faced the challenge of being an original musical. Also covered is the working relationship between Stone and Gosling, since this is their third time out together inside of five years.


“Charming” is a word that’s hard not to use when describing this campaign. Everything here is designed to charm the audience, from the relationship between Mia and Sebastian to the plucky, upbeat music and the audacious dance sequences that are on display throughout the push. It’s all designed to seem completely unironic and sincere, sold as an antidote to the cynical world around us and the upsetting news we see almost daily. It just wants us to smile and enjoy the singing and dancing.

The entire campaign is meant to evoke a timeless nature. The throwback images that were used in early posters and the way the trailers make you think the movie could take place this year or in 1961 all creates a sense that the story exists out of time to some extent, reinforcing the slight nostalgia-esque approach to the marketing. Add to all that the almost universally positive word of mouth that’s resulted from festival screenings and the love the soundtrack has received and you have a campaign that’s…yeah, it’s ridiculously charming

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Movie Marketing Madness: Hacksaw Ridge

hacksaw_ridge_ver2Army Medic Desmond T. Doss refused to pick up a weapon during World War II, citing his religious beliefs as his reason to become a conscientious objector, someone who will not actually take up arms because of some deeply-held moral or ethical belief. Now his story is being told in the new movie Hacksaw Ridge. Doss is played here by Andrew Garfield as we follow him from being drafted from his small town through the Battle of Okinawa and his eventual receiving of the Medal of Honor, becoming the first conscientious objector to be so commended.

The movie comes from director Mel Gibson and, of course, the movie’s story is not as simple as it seems. While on the surface it’s a war movie, nothing is that simple anymore and it can’t be viewed outside of the potential point of view it might have for us on the events of today. So this story of someone refusing, on account of his religion, to take up arms against the enemy but still working tirelessly and heroically to save lives of scores of his friends, is going to have to be viewed in light of not just where we were but where we are.

The Posters

hacksaw_ridgeThe first poster is concerned mostly with showing the setting. So we get a shot from behind of Garfield running across a battlefield, with copy saying “When the order came to retreat, one man stayed.” So it’s clear we’re watching a story of unique heroism. This also tells the audience this is based on a true story and comes from the filmmaker behind The Passion of the Christ and Braveheart, though Gibson’s name isn’t pronounced on the poster.

The next one is actually pretty decent, featuring a photo-realistic painted look to the image of Garfield hoisting one of his comrades on his shoulders to show that he’s a healer, not a fighter. “One of the greatest heroes in American history never fired a bullet” says the copy toward the bottom of the poster, which is some sentence structure I’ll take minor issue with. Again, we get Gibson’s credits at the top and the promise that this is based on a true story along with the title treatment.

The Trailers

The first and only trailer, out-of-place introduction aside, opens with Doss preparing to leave his hometown sweetheart to go to war because, as people in movies often do, he can’t sit still while others die. Once he’s in boot camp, though, he refuses to touch a weapon since he doesn’t believe in killing, only healing and helping. That attitude not only brings him into conflict with his fellow recruits, who haze him violently for being a coward, but also leads to charges being brought against him. Ultimately it’s decided he can be unarmed if he wants but he’s still going into war. Quickly, though, his do-no-harm attitude wins the admiration of his fellow soldiers as he shows plenty of bravery on the field, saving people from imminent danger and healing their wounds as best he can.

It’s a touching trailer that, if you can look past Garfield’s accent, pulls on all the emotional heartstrings you’d expect it to. We get the shots of him with his girl, who makes him promise to come home. We get the shot of him yelling in frustration on the battlefield and so on. There’s a lot of paint-by-numbers here, to be honest. But it still presents a movie that might be more than just an interesting side story we’ve never heard before and actually tell something important about war and the soldiers who fight it. Granted, that’s reading a lot into this trailer, but the potential is there.

Online and Social

When you load the official website for the movie you get a version of the key art that also shows a big button encouraging you to watch the trailer again. In the upper right corner are links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles that have connected the movie with fans on those platforms.

The main content menu is over to the left and starts with “Story,” which has an alright synopsis of the movie and characters that focuses on the actual movie and not the producers and other behind-the-scenes movers and shakers. “Cast & Filmmakers” has the names, characters and stills of the major players on both sides of the camera, but just that without any further bios or links to deepen the content.


The “Gallery” has a number of stills in it you can view and download, most all of them featuring Garfield. Same goes for “Posters” which is where you can find both one-sheets. The “Trailer” section just has the one trailer.

The last section is pretty interesting. It’s called “Testimonials” but doesn’t actually have any content. Instead it opens a Google Form asking the visitor to share whether Doss’s story has inspired them or a veteran they know. There’s a disclaimer asking you to allow them to use your story in future marketing, but there are no details about what they might be.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were two distinct forks to the paid TV campaign. Some commercials like this make it clear that Doss is a pacifist who will not be engaging in hostilities. It doesn’t go too in-depth on the full story but doesn’t hide the anti-war – or at least anti-violence – message of the movie. There were others, though, that presented it as a straightforward war movie, often compared to Saving Private Ryan, without explaining anything about Doss’s pacifist perspective or anything else. So it’s hoping that some people will be attracted by the message while others by the sheer spectacle on display.

I’m sure there were online ads and outdoor billboards run as well. Some social advertising was done too to promote the trailer and other videos.

Media and Publicity

While the movie was debuting at the Venice International Film Festival – to mostly positive reviews and buzz – Gibson and Garfield talked about making the movie, with Gibson admitting he prefers at this point to be directing and Garfield talking about how he feels Doss is an example we can still learn from today.

The narrative also emerged, largely exemplified by this story, that this was part of Gibson’s comeback in Hollywood after a decade of being on the sidelines after his unfortunate anti-Semitic rant that went viral in the news. He’s starred in a couple well-received movies recently as well, but this is his big welcome back, it seems.

Garfield made some of the late night and other talk show rounds to talk about the movie, working with Gibson and more.


It’s hard to get a sense of the scale of the actual movie from the campaign. This seems like a big release and an important movie. But there’s only one trailer, a mismatched TV campaign and a press push that was kind of light for what seems like it should be an awards contender. It just seems like there should have been more. And there certainly should have been something on the official site that offered a bit more background on Doss, considering his story is so important.

The movie itself is a bit of a mixed bag. It seems on some level, even taking out the bifurcated TV campaign, to be caught between selling it as a war movie and an emotional story of a pacifist. While it may have elements of both in it, there are distinct parts of the campaign that sell the movie in different ways. That may lead to some marketplace confusion or at least make the audience, when paired with the continued public perception of Gibson, question whether or not it’s worth their money and time.

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Movie Marketing Madness: American Pastoral

american_pastoral_ver3Ewan McGregor stars in and makes his directorial debut with this week’s American Pastoral. Set in the late 1960s, McGregor plays Swede Levov, an upstanding local businessman with deep ties to his quiet suburban neighborhood alongside his wife Dawn (Jennifer Connelly). That status quo is upset, though, through the actions of their daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning), who has become radicalized into the politics of the era as she’s gotten older.

One day Merry goes missing after committing a crime that shatters the small town they all live in, threatening the family’s reputation among their friends and others. With her on the run, Swede goes to try and track her down. But her actions have shaken things up and altered his view of the world, which is going through one social shift after another.

The Posters

american_pastoralThe first poster turns the perspective of the viewer to the side, showing the scene of a burning house set against an otherwise serene setting. The photo is muted and washed out with the exception of the fire that’s erupting from the roof of the house, which creates a sharp visual contrast that helps draw the eye. In addition to the cast names and the mention of it being based on a Philip Roth novel, we’re told this is “A radically ordinary story,” which certainly creates a sense of mystery thanks to the unique turn of phrase.

The theatrical poster features the big faces of McGregor and Connelly looking kind of toward the camera, a horizontal strip obscuring their mouths and showing Fanning’s eyes, which I’m sure is symbolic of the story. There’s no copy here but it does show the symbols for the various festivals and events the movie has screened at.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens with a literal bang, as a small shop explodes shortly after the storekeeper puts the flag out in front. We see Seymour in happier times with his young daughter before shots of her older and obviously a disappointment to Seymour and Dawn. That’s likely because of her involvement in some kind of radical movement that’s probably responsible for that explosion and other violent acts. So shots her up to no good are interspersed with Seymour and Dawn trying to do something about it.

It’s a sparse trailer that offers only the barest threads of the story, and then only through visuals since a slow version of “Mad World” is used for the 17th time in a trailer this year alone. But what’s on display is very strong, showing an emotional story about a family who’s dealing with something they never expected to and which is hard for them in many ways.

Online and Social

When you load the official website you see the key art on the front page, with the credits to the side above two big call-to-action buttons, one to watch the trailer and one to buy tickets. Down toward the bottom of the page are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles where the studio has been sharing promotional images, trailers and other assets.

After all that, there’s a menu at the top where you can find most of the site’s content.

It begins with the “Synopsis” where you can read a pretty good and in-depth recap of the movie’s story. After that the “Cast & Filmmakers” section is pretty sparse, with just a shot of the actor from the movie along with their name as well as that of their character.


The “Trailer” section just the one trailer. Finally, the “Gallery” has a number of stills from production and then “Posters” has the two posters you can view and download.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

At least one TV spot was produced and run by Lionsgate. The movie being sold here is very much a family drama, with only a few little hints at the politics and radical actions that drive some of the actions. The focus here is on the hunt for the missing daughter as it sells the audience on a stoic family dynamic set in the Nixon era.

No online ads I’ve seen, not anything outdoors, but it’s safe to assume something has been done in advance of release.

Media and Publicity

The movie was among those which debuted or otherwise screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. The screenings didn’t generate much in the way of positive word-of-mouth, with most critics mixed or lackluster about it. Still, McGregor had the opportunity to talk up the movie and about his directorial process, something the rest of the cast praised for its collaborative qualities.

At the movie’s premiere McGregor talked about how he came to sit in the director’s chair and Connelly talked about the unique emotional angles required for her role. The circumstances that lead to him taking on directing duties continued to be the focus of much of the press.


There’s quite a bit to like about the campaign from a brand consistency perspective. Everything is brown and muted, like your grandmother’s living room. It *feels* like it comes from the era it takes place in, with the heavy fabrics and lack of emotions. That’s going to come off as off-putting to many in the audience who prefer their stories and characters to be a bit more effusive, but it just seems right here and that feeling is conveyed throughout the campaign.

As for the movie itself, what’s being sold here is a story that isn’t immediately coherent. If you’ve just watched the trailers or seen the posters you may not be able to get a sense of what has happened and what drives the characters and actions. There’s little here that shows how the daughter is connected to the violence that has upset her family and her town unless you know what to look for. So outside of the visuals and the names involved it may be hard for audiences to find a clear value proposition to latch on to.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

middle_school_the_worst_years_of_my_life_ver4When teenager Rafe Katchadorian (Griffen Gluck) starts at a new junior high he’s not quite ready for what greets him in the new movie Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. Used to a certain degree of freedom and expression he’s instead surrounded by a school whose administration doesn’t allow much of anything. No self-expression, no creativity, no nothing that wreaks of individuality or chaos. That doesn’t go over well with Rafe and he enlists a group of new friends who have also had it with the rules in place to help him launch a rebellion.

The group embarks on a series of escalating extreme pranks meant to upset the applecart at every opportunity. They’re determined to break every rule in the school, much to the consternation of Rafe’s mom (Lauren Graham) and especially to the upset of the school’s principal (Andrew Daly). Only through chaos, though, will the students prevail and so, with their goal of changing the rules by breaking them in mind, hilarity and hijinks ensue. The movie is based on the series of popular young adult books.

The Posters

middle_school_the_worst_years_of_my_life_ver3The first poster sets up the story pretty well. Principal Dwight and Rafe are shown against a backdrop of a wall of lockers, the latter walking away from the former, who looks scolding and ready to reprimand the latter. Bright pop-art type illustrations are coming out of Rafe’s head that show all kinds of destruction than antics that he’s thinking of. More than that those illustrations show him to be very creative, which is the primary point of contrast and conflict between the two. That’s underlined by the copy “Rules aren’t for everyone.”

The same copy point adorns the theatrical poster, which arrays all the main characters in the classic flying V formation, with Rafe at the point closest to the camera and the kids and adults who factor into the story fanning out from there. Again, the design around them features the kind of creative drawings that are meant to come from Rafe’s imagination and they’re on display here to show the audience what he’s got going on in his head.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer starts out by introducing us to the overly strict principal and then Rafe, the new kid at school. The two don’t hit is off as Principal Dwight has a lot of rules for conduct at the school, rules that Rafe is determined to undermine. So the entire rest of the trailer is devoted to the pranks he pulls to take on the system.

There’s nothing hugely innovative here. It’s obviously of the same family tree as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and countless Nickelodeon or Disney Channel original films, just with a slightly larger scope than the latter. It’s all about kids sticking it to the man, so it’s going to be hugely popular with the 12-year old and under set.

The next trailer introduces to Rafe as he’s about to start a new school, something he’s not thrilled about. He’s got a sister who’s annoying and his mom has an awful boyfriend, all of that topped off by being at a school with way too many rules. After falling afoul of those rules he rallies a bunch of other kids and begins to fight back with prank after prank.

It’s a little better than the first trailer since it makes the characters a bit more understandable. But the main thing here is the animated interludes, which are just great. If the movie as a whole plays as offbeat as this trailer it could be a lot of fun.

More of the same in the third trailer. Some different shading here and there but largely the same vibe and overall pitch.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website very much mimics the look and feel of the one-sheets, which is nice. So the front page has a series of modules that contains much of the content of the site.

The first section (working clockwise from the upper left) is “Watch Videos” where you can find two of the trailers and a version called “Read Along” that is a bit shorter but adds some fun animation to the footage. Then there’s a section that you can click on to view tear-away versions of some of the rules of the school.

“About” has a short synopsis of the movie’s plot that establishes the main conflict between Rafe and the principal. “Meet the Characters” doesn’t have much information, just a series of photos of the characters that you can cycle through. Skip past the big module in the middle that encourages you to watch the “Trailer” and you come to the “Photo Gallery” that actually opens up a new section containing several production stills.

There’s a “Sketch Book” feature that lets you color in one of a series of drawings (meant to mimic Rafe’s notebook) and save it if you want to to your hard drive where it can be shared. I’m surprised there’s no native sharing button there. “Get Tickets” is self-explanatory. The photo of a set of lockers will pop up a random series of things on your screen when you click on those lockers. Finally there’s a section called “The Book” that links to an outside page with information on the source book and where to buy it.

Along the top menu there are only two sections that aren’t replicated elsewhere: First is “Chatter” which takes you to a dashboard of social posts from the cast and crew, as well as the movie’s official Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels. Then there’s “Partners” where you can find out about the companies that have helped to promote the movie.  

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one condensed the story down to under a minute, skipping much of the setup of the story and getting straight to the pranks Rafe and his friends pull to buck the rules. So there are a lot of the same gags that are in the trailer, just fewer and more cut down.

Safe to assume at least some online ads were run as well and likely even some outdoor billboards placed to raise awareness.

There were also a number of promotional partners that joined the marketing push:

  • Langers – There’s nothing on the site, but you can apparently get a movie-themed bag with purchase of select items.
  • Frixion – Nothing additional on the brand site, though the partnership makes sense given the story’s focus on creativity.
  • Boys & Girls Club of America – Nothing on the organization’s site.
  • Skylanders – You could get two tickets to the movie with a purchase of an Imaginators starter kit.
  • AYSO – No information about the partnership on the official site.

Media and Publicity

Author James Patterson, the writer of the source material, as well as the rest of the cast appeared on “The Today Show” to talk about the movie, the story and more. Patterson also talked about how this was his favorite among the adaptations of his work (which are plentiful) and how he wanted the story to encourage kids to read more.


Outside of that and a few other quotes and appearances, much of the press for the movie was simply around the release of marketing materials.


You’d be forgiven you got some serious Diary of a Wimpy Kid vibes from the campaign. There’s a lot here that’s cribbed from those movies, which makes sense given they’re aiming for the same audience of pre-teens who don’t expect much from their movies, they just want something that’s not a cartoon but still isn’t a full-fledged adult movie. That’s an important audience to appeal to and this does so pretty effectively.

As I mentioned, there’s some decent brand consistency to the marketing, which is good to see. But to the above point, it hits on the areas that are going to resonate most with the target audience, which are defying authority, coming into your own identity and causing some innocent fun at the expense of the adults around them. So it works, assuming you’re in that target demographic. If not, this may not look like a ton of fun.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Deepwater Horizon

deepwater_horizon_ver8The last 40 years have seen an untold number of man-made ecological disasters of all sizes and impacts. One of the biggest of the last several years is when an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico suffered a major disaster and spilled billions of gallons of oil into the sea, a story that’s now been dramatized in Deepwater Horizon. Set on the eponymous rig, the movie stars Mark Wahlberg as Mike Williams, a worker on the rig when it explodes and who, by virtue of him having a wife (played by Kate Hudson) and young daughter at home that he’s trying to get back to, provides the emotional core of the story.

Also on the rig during the tragedy are Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and others who will fight to contain the damage and save the people who are on the rig as it descends into flames and disaster. The movie comes from director Peter Berg, who has built a reputation in the last decade or so as a solid, dependable filmmaker who turns out movies that might not be hugely inventive but which always have a strong emotional appeal and relatable characters.

The Posters

The first poster is mostly concerned with establishing the setting. So using an image that’s largely familiar to many in the audience we see an oil rig in the middle of the ocean that’s on fire, which is sending up a huge plume of black smoke. Just above the title is the copy “When faced with our darkest hour, hope is not a tactic,” something that makes sure the audience knows it’s going to get a very personal story, not just a recounting of the facts of this disaster. While he’s not name-dropped, Berg is referenced below the title with “From the director of Lone Survivor,” which was a surprise hit recently.

A series of character posters showing the actors in stark black-and-white with oil dripping off their faces were released next up, hammering home the point that this movie is about a group of characters trying to get out of some sort of industrial accident with only their will to survive to help them.

Two more posters tried to establish the setting for the movie. One just showed the oil rig on fire and falling into the sea, the other pulls the camera farther back a bit so it’s shot from above and we see Wahlberg’s torso and dirt-covered face as he looks down at the burning rig like some sort of higher being, the smoke from the fire blending into his upper body. Both are alright and are sure to make an impression when people walk by them in the movie theater lobby but there’s nothing overly unique about the design and the latter gets a little silly in the way it positions Wahlberg. But they establish for the audience what the story is, with the second one providing the promise that yes, we’re watching it from that guy’s point of view.

Four more posters came out that appeared to be specifically for the IMAX release. They all featured the basic image of looking at a cross-section of the earth, with the rig at the top and a long line going down to the field of oil being drilled into. One is much more understated than the other, which is more dramatic and artistic. These are probably the best of the batch because they try to convey something about the story and its setting, not content to just use a close-up of the cast’s faces.

The Trailers

The first trailer is filled with every single cliche of this genre of movie. We start out with Williams at the breakfast table with his precocious daughter, who’s doing a report on his job, and his beautiful adoring wife, who’s happy to rub her foot on his leg in a very sexy way. This scene is interspersed with shots from the rig itself, where strange noises and ominous readings portend something bad that’s about to happen. As the daughter’s explanation of his job continues we see her narration match the looming danger on the rig, culminating in a massive explosion that sets the whole thing on fire.

It’s just…not great. I feel like we’ve seen this movie countless times before and there’s nothing here to present anything new. It asks us to care about Williams based on his connection with his family, but it’s all so generalized that I just can’t.

The second trailer starts out with more shots of domestic bliss before Williams gets on the oil rig and we get casual introductions to the crew intercut with scenes of the machinery working as it should. Soon alarms start ringing and things start flying all over as explosions rip through the rig. Lots of shots of fire going through hallways and such along with lots of dialogue about how no, they’re all making it through this.

I still don’t care for the mover emotional way the studio is selling the movie, but I get why they’re doing it. A moving story about a father trying to save his crew and get back to his loving wife and daughter is easier to sell than one about emergency systems being enacted after mechanical failure.

Online and Social

The official website takes a while to load (at least on a Chromebook) and features full-screen video and music from the score. There’s a bit of text the briefly explains the plot on the front page and in the upper corner is a call-to-action to text a number to donate to victims of the recent flooding in Louisiana, which is a nice touch considering that’s largely the same area that was impacted by this disaster years ago. That CTA rotates with quotes from early reviews of the movie. There are links in the bottom corner of the page to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.


“Synopsis” is the first section of content on the site, but the actual synopsis that’s there isn’t all that great, providing the barest of overviews of the story while making sure to mention all the producers and production companies that were involved. The “Cast and Filmmakers” section gives you the names and pictures of the main cast and crew but there’s no links or extended bios for them. The images of the cast are the same ones that were used for some of the character posters mentioned above.

There are just five stills in the “Gallery” that can’t be downloaded. And “Videos” just has the two trailers. Other than the big “Buy Tickets” button at the top that’s about it for the web presence, unfortunately.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Not surprising for a movie of this scale there was a lot of TV advertising done, with spots like this one that highlighted both aspects of the story, the emotional journey of Mike as he tries to survive and get back to his family and the overall spectacle of the disaster that is affecting the rig.

Online and outdoor ads used several variations on the key art, both the main poster and the character one-sheets.

Media and Publicity

A batch of stills formed the first bit of real publicity for the movie outside of casting and a shit in directors that happened before filming started.

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

While Wahlberg and Peter Berg did some Facebook Live videos here and there it doesn’t look like anyone did the TV talk show rounds, at least not before today.

Most of the focus of the press campaign was around the truth behind the movie, with the cast and crew presenting this not as exploitation of tragedy but as a way to celebrate the heroism of the everyday workers who saved their friends and have suffered stress in the intervening years. The movie was also called out for being something unusual these days: a big budget production that didn’t involve super heroes, wizards or other pre-existing IP.


The studio gave this a really nice campaign that’s consistent across most of the key elements of the push. Over and over again we’re shown shots of oil-soaked workers who are battling against heavy odds to try and make it out alive and save their coworkers. Themes of sacrifice and hard work are pervasive throughout the campaign, selling the movie almost like a Band of Brothers-type story of men who are out to not just trying to get out alive but make sure their friends do as well.

This was what might be referred to as a mid-sized campaign, even if the budget was substantial. It’s certainly bigger than something that’s a pure indie movie like last week’s Miss Stevens but it’s not as big as the marketing pushes for franchise entries. It seems to have decent word of mouth buzz going for it that, combined with the advertising that will generate awareness there’s a good chance it pulls in decent numbers this weekend, tapping into a desire to see feel-good stories on the big screen.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Hell or High Water

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Banks have reputations that are less than stellar. They are, to most people, necessary evils, especially if you want do anything that involves large amounts of money, often money they don’t actually have. Want to buy a car? Talk to the bank. Want to buy a house? Talk to the bank. They are usually the only option if people want to reach beyond their means but that relationship comes with a power shift as the bank is actually the owner of whatever it is you’re trying to buy, only giving you access as long as you keep making payments. If that fails there’s little mercy available, to the bank you’re just a number. Dislike of banks runs the spectrum depending on your circumstances and how deep you’re in to them.

That’s the basic premise of the new movie Hell or High Water. Brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively) are faced with the proposition of losing their family’s West Texas family farm. Unable to meet the payments put in place by the bank, they become desperate and decide to begin robbing banks to get the money. Eventually their actions attract the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), who investigates the robberies and hunts down who’s responsible. He finds himself stymied, though, since while the banks certainly want the perpetrators caught the average citizen holds their own grudge against the bank and is in no hurry to help out.

The Posters

The movie’s poster has a washed out, desaturated tone to it as it shows Pine and Foster walking through the Texas grass, guns in one hand and money (presumably) in a bag in the other. Looming over them like Mustafa in the clouds is Bridges, clearly indicating that he’s watching them and probably chasing them. Below the title treatment we’re told “Justice isn’t a crime.”

It’s a solid one-sheet that establishes the premise of the movie pretty well. There’s nothing hugely innovative or notable here but it presents a premise and a cast that’s relatable and recognizable by most audiences, which is what it needs to do.

The Trailers

The first trailer begins by laying out the premise of the story, which is that Toby and Tanner’s mother is being stalked by a bank that wants to foreclose on her land. So the two decide to raise the money by robbing banks. That puts a Texas Ranger on their trail. As he gets closer, the stakes for their crime wave get higher as they get resistance from customers and get more and more desperate to maintain their activity and reach their goal.

The trailer is heavy on atmosphere, seeming to glory in the Texas heat and the sweat and grime on the faces of both Pine and Foster. Those two form the emotional core of the movie based on what we see here as it’s sold as an emotional but violent story of brothers willing to do anything for each other and their family.

A second trailer wasn’t too dissimilar from the first. A few new shots but the same overall structure and construction to how it presents the movie’s story.

The third trailer opted to present the movie not so much as a heist drama but as one about financial fraud and other problems. So it’s less about the “keeping mom’s land” angle and more about exacting some measure of revenge, however illegal, on the banks that are responsible for the inequality and problems the citizens face. No one here has much sympathy for the banks.

This is probably the best of the three. Or at least it’s better than the largely duplicative second trailer, presenting different aspects of the story than what was on display in the first trailer and offering a new angle on the movie.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website is well done for a smaller movie, featuring a version of the key art as the background along with prompts to buy tickets and a couple encouragements to watch the trailer.

You can guess how much word-of-mouth is going to be important to the campaign by the fact that “Reviews” is the first section of content in the navigation menu at the top of the page. That’s where you’ll find nicely-formatted pull quotes from early reviews of the movie, though unfortunately there’s no links to the full stories.

The way “Story” is laid out is pretty cool. Basically you keep scrolling down the page quotes from the characters appear that explain what’s going on. That’s a neat usage of this kind of layout that I haven’t seen before. Eventually you get to a full Synopsis that explains the plot more fully, but I like the idea of explaining things only through slowly revealed dialogue.

hell-or-high-water pic 1

That’s followed by “Cast & Crew” where you can view bios and film histories on the major actors as well as the director and writer. Finally, “Videos” has all three trailers.

On social networks the movie had profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were TV spots run that condensed the trailer down to 30 seconds, laying out the basics of the “brothers stealing from the banks that are ruining them” story and showing off the dry, arid Texas landscapes on which that story will unfold. Pine, Foster and Bridges all get about equal screen time, which makes sense.

Not aware of anything online or outdoors, though I wouldn’t be surprised if next week, when the movie expands to more theaters, more general advertising was done.

Media and Publicity

One early press story called out a diner scene in the movie in particular and said it would go on to rank among the top scenes set in that particular locale. Pine talked close to release about how he became attached to the movie, beginning with his desire to do something that might be a bit unexpected for him and out of his normal comfort zone. 

hell-or-high-water pic 2

Bridges also got in on the press action, with a few interviews like this one where he talked about the story, getting to know a real Texas Ranger as part of his research and more.


At one point this movie looked pretty disposable, like it was just going to be a mid-level whatever kind of release that had nothing going on other than catching Chris Pine needing a paycheck between Star Trek and Wonder Woman. It looked like the kind of thing that would eventually have one sad little VHS copy on the Blockbuster Video shelf that would get picked up a couple times a week but never be rented because no one had ever heard of it.

Somewhere around the second trailer, though, that started to turn and it became more and more interesting as the story came more into focus. Foster’s performance came more to the forefront and the dynamic between him and Pine was more clear and the campaign started to show audiences what the movie was trying to say, what it’s message was. If the audience caught that message it could be enough to turn out some specialty box office success.

Movie Marketing Madness: Nerve

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The rise of “casual games” came at the same time people were beginning to get faster internet access at home. Suddenly you weren’t just beholden to the extremes of either the low-rent Minesweeper or the high-end experience of Myst or other games that required multiple CDs and a doctorate in literature to play. These kinds of games – playing golf or go-karts or some such like that online – presaged the kinds of app-based games we now take for granted. But those app games morphed as well to become multiplayer experiences as we could suddenly play games with friends and challenge each other to show how good we were at chess, Scrabble or countless other games involving leaderboards.

The new movie Nerve is kind of about the next evolution of that concept, one where people aren’t just the players but also the pawns being moved around the board. Nerve is the name of a massively popular mobile game where you can either watch or play. One night Vee (Emma Roberts) is out with her friends and to prove to them that she’s not uptight she agrees to play Nerve, which opens her up to a series of crowdsourced dares from those who are watching. As part of the game she hooks up with Ian (Dave Franco) and the two of them become a pair in the game, inseparable because their success depends on sticking together. But what starts out as prankish fun gets very dark very quickly as it becomes obvious the watchers guiding their actions are giving into their dark sides.

The Posters

Two initial posters showed the faces of Franco and Roberts as if looking from the opposite side of the screen they’re engaging with. So the title treatment and the actors’ name is backwards. You see them making a selection between being a “Watcher” or “Player,” each one choosing “Player.” They’re good in the way the light on their faces setup the technology aspect of the story and we see the choice that defines the story and sets it in motion.

A half-dozen posters came next that weren’t about the main characters but instead showed a bunch of random people engaging in dares that, presumably, come from the Nerve community. All have “We Dare You” or some other text on them and all ask if you’re a player or a watcher. So it’s like they’re advertisements for the app itself and not the movie, with the latter interpretation being one only we, the audience on the other side of the fourth wall, are privy to.

Another batch of posters came out after that hitting a similar theme but this time making the action the player is being dared to do more explicit, both offering it as text with “Accept” and “Reject” options available and showing the character engaging in that dangerous or illegal activity. These continues the bright neon look of the other posters, extending the brand identity further and making them all nicely complementary to each other.

The theatrical one-sheet positions Roberts’ and Franco’s faces on either side of the title, with lots of neon lens flare and other effects giving the whole thing a vaguely futuristic look and feel. You can see them riding a motorcycle together in the middle there, which hints at some sort of fast-paced action that will unfold in the story. At the bottom is, once again, the “We dare you” copy that tells the audience some serious stuff will be going on here.

The Trailers

Things start off pretty simply in the first trailer, with a narrator explaining the premise of Nerve, that it’s like Truth Or Dare but without the truth. Vee is pressured by her friends to give it a try since they feel she’s too uptight and the games begin, with Vee  accepting the challenge to kiss a stranger, who winds up being Ian. Soon the watchers are giving them joint tasks but we start to get the sense that things aren’t as benign as they might appear. The watchers have stolen their identity and their money and the only way to reclaim it all is to finish the game, which may involve one of them not making it out alive.

I get what the filmmakers are going for here by presenting what seems to be a cautionary tale of anonymous people on the internet prodding people to be stupid for the lulz, but it might be a bit heavy-handed for that. Instead what this works best as is just a breezy goofy story about a couple young people who get caught up in something beyond what they were expecting. In other words, the cyber cautionary tale isn’t as interesting as just the idea of daring a couple people to do stupid stuff.

Online and Social

When you load the official website you’re greeted with a voice explaining what Nerve is and asking if you’re a watcher or a player. Those options are also available at the bottom of the main page. Choose “Watcher” and the trailer pops up. Choose “Player” and you’re taken to a prompt to download the Nerve app, which apparently displays videos from the “community” showing them engaging in all sorts of dangerous stunts, though there’s a disclaimer further down the site making it clear those people are professionals and that the ordinary person should not imitate them.

Back to the main site, the first section there is “Videos” which has the trailer and a few TV spots. “Posters” has most but not all the posters that were created for the movie, all but the middle batch that don’t feature either of the stars.

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The “Gallery” has a half-dozen or so branded stills that are formatted just perfectly for sharing on Instagram. Finally, the “Story” section has a short synopsis of the dangerous game Vee gets herself into.

Similarly, the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and obviously Instagram profile are all filled with square-formatted photos and videos, some just counting down to release some touting the thrill ride early audiences have gotten from the movie and more. There’s also plenty of promotion of the app and site, particularly to sell tickets.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one played up various aspects of the movie’s story. Some focused solely on the relationship between Vee and Ian, some on the creepily mysterious nature of the people behind the dares they’re given, some on just the pure action and adrenaline of the story.

The studio also engaged in some sponsored content advertising, running this story on Mashable that purported to be an inside look at the app.

Postmates worked with the studio to offer free virtual reality viewers that could be ordered and which worked with the NERVE app, allowing people to view as a player or watcher. The studio also worked with an actual VR lab to create an immersive experience that takes viewers inside the stunts and dares of the characters.

Media and Publicity

It was announced just before the convention started that the movie would get a first look sneak screening at San Diego Comic-Con.That screening went pretty well, but wasn’t enough to result in a significant bounce in the word-of-mouth.

The movie became the focal point for a story on other films that have taken characters shoulder-deep into a game of some sort.

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Writer Jessica Sharzer talked in this interview about her background, her history writing “American Horror Story” and more about her screenwriting approach and how she crafted the story of these two young people on the run as part of a multiplayer game.


This is the rare movie that feels precisely of this moment in time. It’s not too far in the past to look irrelevant, like an adult trying to look hip by using slang that fell out of fashion two years ago and not of the future, like it’s trying sooooo hard to look prescient and is just making stuff up in the hope that it will come off as predictive of the next hot trends or of some terrible tragedy it’s trying to warn us of. Instead – and recent events around Pokemon Go, which have been wisely latched on to by both the press and the marketing team, have helped with this – it feels like this is us 15 minutes from now. That’s a hard trick to pull off.

To do all that the campaign has adopted a consistent look and feel that adopts some of the tropes the audience associates with “futuristic” like all the neon and other aesthetics and incorporates them into selling a story that’s based on technology. Nerve the game is sold here as something like what Anonymous would be if it decided to really use its power as a source of anarchy. Or if Reddit as a whole really went for the lulz by just messing with people for fun. In other words, the movie’s being sold as something wholly plausible that may just be around the corner, which a fun kind of sci-fi tightrope to walk.