Movie Marketing Madness: The Great Wall

great_wallMatt Damon stars in the new movie The Great Wall as William, a European mercenary traveling through early 11th century China when he and his group are attacked by some kind of monster, an attack only he and one other survive. They soon find themselves taken prisoner inside China’s Great Wall, which is controlled by a secretive and powerful army.

It soon becomes clear that the Wall and controlling army is there for one specific reason: To guard against a horde of alien monsters who attempt to invade every 60 years. The attack on William and his crew signal an attack is coming ahead of schedule. While the army that’s been assembled is mostly prepared for what’s coming, William and others enlist to help fight off this massive looming threat, joining an army that will need every resource at its disposal to defend the country and the world from the alien menace.

The Posters

The first poster is all about selling Damon’s gritty, dirty face. That’s the primary visual element on the poster as he’s shown in extreme close-up, looking off to the middle distance with a grim expression on his face. We get some stats on the size and dimensions of the actual Great Wall but then are asked “What were they trying to keep out?” leading us to believe that it’s something other than what we all learned in high school social studies.

great_wall_ver20An IMAX-specific poster took a much more artistic approach, showing a flurry of fireballs flying through the air across the countryside. What it is they’re aimed at isn’t clear but it’s clear this is a massive effort that is designed to rain down fury and destruction on the unseen threat.

There were also a huge amount of posters for a dozen of the movie’s characters that were specifically created for the Chinese market, unsurprising given the production and target market. But considering how much of the cast isn’t white (sorry, that’s just realistic) much less not Matt Damon, these would have had zero interest for the U.S. audience.

The Trailers

The first trailer is pretty damn effective. It focuses on, at first, the scale and scope of The Great Wall of China with stats and explanations about just how massive it is. Then it asks if we really know what it was built to keep out. Suddenly a creature snatches a soldier off the wall and from there on we hear Damon’s narration talk about how, after countless battles and wars, he finally has something worth fighting for. As that plays out we see footage of imperial courtrooms, fiery battlefields and more.

It’s a great teaser that plays up the mystery of what exactly the forces who built the wall did so for. It never explains what’s going on or what the monsters we see briefly actually are but it establishes that they’re dangerous and that it will take an expert warrior to bring them down.

There are more monsters and we get to them more quickly in the first full trailer, which debuted at New York Comic-Con. We get a bit more of the story about why the wall was built and why the war is being waged. It’s still Damon’s story that’s being followed as we see him offer his services to the battle and hear him talk about how he’d like to finally fight for something, even if others think it’s a suicide mission he’s signing up for.

It’s not bad but I’m increasingly not sure what kind of movie is being sold here. It looks, based on this trailer, like it wants to be both a prestige drama and a big, effects-laden monster movie. I’m not sure it can have it both ways.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website is actually a lot better than I was expecting it to be. The front page opens with some full-screen video of clips pulled from the trailer, with a big “Get Tickets” prompt at the bottom of the page followed by links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

The incredibly complex story of the movie gets boiled down to a simple synopsis in the “About” section. After that “Videos” has the two trailers but nothing else.

There’s a pretty robust “Gallery” of images, only a few of which include Damon. The last link in the content menu at the top of the site is “Share,” which loads up some buttons that allow you to share a link to the site on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one try to condense the story down to 30 seconds, explaining that the Great Wall was built to keep out a monstrous threat. There are scenes of some of those aliens and some of the spots are more explicit with explaining what they are and where they come from. But the main point is to sell the movie as a big spectacle filled with flaming arrows, fog-strewn attacks and lots of explosions.

Legendary’s comic imprint released a prequel graphic novel telling a story that takes place 50 years before the events of the movie, focusing on a young man who joins the protective detail stationed on the wall.

Online and social ads used the trailers, TV spots and key art to raise awareness and drive ticket sales. Outdoor ads used the image of Damon’s gritty face for similar purposes.

Media and Publicity

The first images for the movie were released here along with an interview with the filmmakers where they talked about the Chinese/Hollywood co-production, the sci-fi and fantasy elements of the story and much more. The first trailer was greeted with, predictably, plenty of commentary about how apparently a white guy is necessary to save China, most notably from actress Constance Wu, who was justifiably upset over the casting. Director Yimou quickly reached out to the press explaining that no, Damon’s character is not the Great White Hope of the story, that he’s one of four heroes in the movie and the only one who’s not Chinese. While this may be true, Damon’s presence as the biggest (American) star has given him an outsized presence in the marketing, leading to this assumption being pretty easy to arrive at. So even if the movie doesn’t have this problem, the marketing does.

That issue kept coming up, leading Damon to talk about how people really needed to see the whole movie before making a judgement as well as conversations elsewhere about the difference between “whitewashing,” which is having white actors play characters who either shouldn’t be or who were originally not, and the white hero narrative, which is where an enlightened white man comes in to save another ethnic group for some reason. At New York Comic-Con Damon and others kept addressing this issue as well as trying to just talk about the movie as a whole and what makes it unique and interesting. And he kept talking about it (when he really shouldn’t have), eventually blaming the whole controversy on “clickbait” as headline writers tried to present a benign issue as outlandish.



How the studio had created a massive campaign for the Chinese market was the subject of this story, which talked about the unique opportunities and challenges in selling it there. And the general theme of how important a play to the Chinese market this was continued to be the focus of the press. That continued to be a central theme as the motives of the studio, be they accurate representation at best or pandering to the Asian market at worst, for undertaking such a venture were examined.

Damon made the rounds of the talk shows both in the morning and late night to have fun, talk about the scale of the movie and keep up awareness and conversations


I don’t usually make box-office predictions, but I have a hard time imagining how this campaign has or will reach a target audience, at least in the U.S. With such an emphasis on the Chinese market, it almost seems like the studio wasn’t quite sure what to do to try and reach a U.S. audience and so by default Damon became the face of the campaign, which makes sense. But while that works on paper, we see how that has turned out poorly in terms of the public conversation.

The whole marketing effort has been focused on the spectacle but it’s conveyed very little about the actual story, which seems like part of the reason the movie doesn’t seem to be lighting very many conversations on fire. The trailers, posters and website are all concerned primarily with selling the mystery of the beasts that are attacking the Great Wall and building up the mythology behind that wonder’s construction. But the idea that the spectacle alone is going to bring people in seems off at the moment and while I’m sure the movie will succeed in China, I don’t think its’ U.S. fortunes are going to be all that great.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Jason Bourne

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Sequels, remakes, sidequels and reboots are beginning to lap each other. Hollywood is basically throwing everything against the wall as it alternatively tries to keep successful franchises going with the original stars, introduce new blood to keep things fresh, selectively acknowledge or ignore previous entries and pay homage to what’s come before even as it tries to tell new stories. Ghostbusters is a remake…kind of. Terminator Genisys picks what it wants from four previous movies and ignores the rest. Jurassic World shunts two movies to the side completely. The Force Awakens is a dance mix cover of the original, new but also completely familiar.

Now Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne in…well…Jason Bourne, the cinematic equivalent of a band giving their third album the name of the band itself. Damon, who starred in three previous movies, was absent the fourth entry, The Bourne Legacy, when the studio tried to position Jeremy Renner in a new role as the keeper of the franchise flame. But that movie failed to excite anyone and so Damon, along with director Paul Greengrass, is back as the amnesiac super soldier who once again remembers everything about the super secret spy group he was part of, only to find out that he never really knew anything. The story, which is fairly thin, is basically an excuse to take Damon to foreign countries where he can ride motorcycles in dramatic chase sequences, which is the point of these movies.

The Posters

jason_bourne_ver2The teaser poster is pretty simple. It just shows Bourne stepping out of the shadows, gun in hand and looking ready to use it. We’re told “You know his name” by the copy, which is a nice way of acknowledging that Damon is back as the titular character.

The second poster kept the same idea, only this time the picture was a closeup of Bourne’s face, not the farther-away full body shot. So there’s not a whole lot that’s going on in the poster campaign, it’s just a big old reminder that Damon is back in the franchise and won’t you come see it please? 

The Trailers

The first full trailer starts out with Bourne still hiding out but narrating that he knows exactly who he is. But he’s told that while that’s true it doesn’t mean he doesn’t know everything. The Treadstone group finds out Bourne is back in civilization, which means he’s quickly on the run again and being tracked and hunted. It’s clear from his actions that he’s upset at being lied to about why he volunteered for the job and that’s why he’s looking for answers. Most of the trailer is just him running or driving into or out of various situations either after those who can help him or away from those who are after him.

It’s a tight trailer that sells the movie as one action sequence after another. Lots of rocket launchers, high-speed chases through subways and the Las Vegas strip are on display here along with Damon’s furrowed eyebrows. Not that it’s not good, but it definitely presents the story as unfolding mostly through a series of action set pieces, with breaks for Tommy Lee Jones to act as the latest heavy who tells Bourne he won’t be finding peace anytime soon.

Online and Social

After the official website finishes loading you’re greeted with Damon’s face as the key art serves as the background for the home page.

Moving to the content menu on the left, the first section there is “About,” which has a decent story synopsis that’s heavy on talking about Damon returning to the role and the other people involved and light on any actual discussion of the story, meaning it’s either super-secret or it’s barely there.

After that the “Gallery” has about a dozen stills from the movie, which unfortunately can’t be downloaded. The “Videos” section just has the trailer and the Super Bowl TV spot that’s shared below.

jason bourne pic 1

Remember Everything” is a stand-alone site that prompts you to login with either Facebook or Instagram and promises to test to see whether you remember the kinds of things you’ve shared because, as it says, the internet sure does.

On social platforms the movie had profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all of which shared the same kind of promotional images, though the first two also had some news and press about the movie scattered in there as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first look at the movie came in a Super Bowl TV commercial that starts off by showing Bourne in action, followed by a bunch of suits once again shocked that he’s still out there. He declares he remembers everything but is quickly told that doesn’t necessarily mean he knows everything.

It’s a slick, fast-paced spot that only hints at the story – another search for hidden secrets – but is primarily concerned with telling us that Damon is back to continue Jason Bourne’s story. Despite being the debut promo for the movie it only came in second in Cision’s ranking of movie spots aired during the game. And it came in third among movies in a ranking of Facebook ad engagement.

More TV spots followed, some of which dropped serious hints as to what the conflict in this entry in the series was going to be.

There were plenty of online ads run as well, with banner ads on websites and videos, including the trailer and some TV spots, being used as promoted posts on Twitter and Facebook.

Media and Publicity

Aside from the news that the movie was happening and that Damon was coming back, the first real news about the movie came when producer Frank Marshall tweeted a photo of Damon on the first day of production. While details were still sparse on the story and plot, Damon offered a few more tidbits on where the movie finds Bourne along with a first look photo in EW toward the end of 2015.

Around the time of the Super Bowl spot debut Damon talked about where the movie would find his character and what was likely in Bourne’s future. A few months later a new trailer along with other details was shown off at Universal’s CinemaCon presentation.

jason bourne pic 2

The studio partnered with Omaze on a campaign benfitting and which had Damon freaking people out in a mall for charity.

Both Bourne and Greengrass talked about the movie and what drew them back to the franchise after each taking some time away. Damon was also the focus of a multipart GQ feature that covered his fashion, his reputation with filmmakers and costars, his career history and more.

Of course Damon made the late night talk show rounds, including visiting his nemesis Jimmy Kimmel, to promote the movie.


The central theme, in case it’s not obvious from all the materials, of the campaign is that Damon is back and we’re really kind of hoping you don’t hold that Renner-starring movie against us. That approach allows the studio to not really focus on the story – whatever there may be of one – since it’s not the attraction, Damon is. It’s all about how we’ve enjoyed his previous outings as the character and after a misguided attempt at contract negotiations went awry he’s returned and now you can enjoy another trip to the movies.

The movie itself does look fun from what’s on display here. I’ll be honest, I have a hard time keeping the three previous Damon-starring installments straight in my head since for the most part they all take place in some random gray Eastern European city and are differentiated mostly by the CIA honcho threatening Bourne and the level to which he remembers his past. So this looks like it might put a cap on the franchise by bringing it all home, though I’d be shocked if they actually wrap it up in any definitive manner. But the story is secondary: The marketing is selling Damon and its success will be determined based on whether that’s something people are looking for or not.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Martian

martian_ver2If I were to write some lengthy treatise about how Mars has long captured the imaginations of the people of Earth I’d hardly be the first person to do so. From ancient stories to popular entertainment, Mars has always been part of our mythology because, well, it’s so red and so right there when we look above us into the night sky. And outside our own moon it is, I think, the only other part of our solar system we’ve actually put machinery on. I don’t want to get too deep into armchair philosophizing since that really isn’t my field but I think it’s safe to say that when most people think of exploring outer space, what they’re often picturing is Mars.

Into that pantheon comes The Martian. Based on the 2011 novel by Andy Weir (which I just finished reading and which is a lot of fun), the story revolves around the Ares III manned mission to Mars, the third such team to explore the planet. When a catastrophic storm hits their base the entire team has to abort the mission but leaves behind Mark Watney (played here by Matt Damon), who is presumed dead but who turns out to be not. Watney must rely on his skills and the materials available to him to try and survive alone on Mars while NASA and his crew weigh the odds of his survival and plot a series of rescue attempts. The movie, like the book, switches between Watney’s point of view – told through his journal entries – and that of his crew on the Hermes ship back to Earth as well as the NASA engineers and administrators who are making decisions back home.

The Posters

martianThe movie’s first (and only?) teaser poster does what it can to get the point across. It’s an extreme close-up of Damon’s face in the helmet he dons while walking around the Martian surface. Over his face in big bold letters is “Bring Him Home” like it’s some sort of public advocacy campaign ad. The title treatment and credit block appear at the bottom of the poster.

It’s pretty effective at getting the main message across, which is that Matt Damon is starring in a movie set on Mars and that it’s basically a rescue story. There’s not a whole lot to say about the graphic design of the poster since…well..there isn’t a whole lot. It’s the same basic idea as countless posters before it, with the example that comes most readily to mind being the poster for The Social Network that had Jesse Eisenberg’s face staring at the camera and the “You Can Make…” copy over it. But again, it does what it needed to do.

The theatrical one-sheet moves Damon’s face up toward the top of the poster and shrinks it a bit, so he’s kind of looking down at the viewer. Below him you see a solitary figure – presumably him – walking away from the camera across the red landscape of Mars. The title and credits are still at the bottom but this time the other copy is at the top telling us “Help is only 140 million miles away,” which nicely underlines just how on his own Watney is.

This one is slightly better but that’s largely because the copy isn’t quite as on-the-nose. It’s still not winning any graphic design awards, but again it conveys a simple message, this time honing in more on the movie’s setting rather than just focusing on Damon as the primary selling point.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer starts out with Watney talking about mankind’s inherent desire to help those in need, those who have been abandoned in some desolate place, a situation he himself is now in. We then cut to Jeff Daniels as the NASA chief talking to the press about the aborted Ares III mission, including how Watney was killed. But we – and they – then see that nope, he’s still alive. So the rest of the trailer is about Watney doing what he can to survive until a rescue mission can be mounted, along with hints that the rest of his crew are going to go against NASA orders and mount just that attempt, which comes with risks of its own. The trailer ends with the same “Help is only 140 million miles away” copy that was seen on the theatrical poster.

It’s a pretty effective trailer that presents what amounts to a ticking clock story as Watney fights against the odds and elements to stay alive while everyone else works against the massive distance and other logistical problems to get to him. It’s clear here that Damon is in “cocky wise guy” mode, an attitude that helps keep the tone of the trailer light and not super-serious, despite the actual story elements.

The theatrical trailer hits many of the same beats, it just rearranges a few of them. We still get all the scenes of Watney trying to survive in a habitat that was only made for a couple months at most and NASA’s hand-wringing over whether or not to save him. But this one is less focused on setting up the initial parts of the story and showing more of the cool space stuff that the studio clearly feels will be the movie’s big draw.

That’s not to say it’s not effective – it is – but it’s a much different picture than the first trailer created, presenting less of a human-scale drama and more of an action picture with dramatic elements. That’s exemplified just by the opening narration, which in the first trailer was about the need to rescue your fellow human being but which here is about struggling to survive in the harshness of space.

One final trailer was released less than a month before the movie’s release. It’s not hugely different than the previous ones but that also means it’s just as effective, showing the reaction to Watney’s “death” and the discussions around whether or not it’s worth it to try and save him.

Online and Social

The official website for the movie opens with what amounts to a reproduction of the key art, showing a big version of Damon’s face right there when the site loads. As you scroll down from there the first section that appears is a call to action to buy tickets, which is a lot more direct than other sites, which seem conflicted as to how to get you to do that.

martian pic 1

The “Videos” section that’s up next is really nice. The two main trailers are there along with lots more, including the in-world clips and videos that have been released over the last few months. It starts with the “Farewell” video that is like the crew being interviewed before making their final departure to Mars and keeps going through other profiles, fictional “archive” clips and so on. It also includes a “Bring Him Home” video that takes you around the world to see how the entire planet is rallying around Watney’s survival.

Just a little over a month before release the team released a video with the internet’s favorite scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, talking about the Ares 3 mission that was about to kick off. The in-universe video goes into the (seemingly real) science that would be necessary to send a manned mission to Mars while also touching on elements that are specific to the movie like the docking station in low-Earth orbit and such.

Those are really fun and well-produced and help flesh out the world of the movie, adding in some character and world-building details that they obviously didn’t have time for in the movie or which would have just bogged things down. I’m not usually a fan of this kind of in-world execution but these are particularly well-done.

The film’s Facebook page is…alright. There are lots of big promotional images that countdown the days until release, short videos of either the cast being interviewed or of a profile of one of the characters or something like that. And obviously in the last few weeks there are plenty of galleries from red carpet premieres and so on. The Twitter profile is much the same, though with a few additional things and a bit more retweeting going on. Same goes for Instagram.

Tumblr is a bit more interesting. It has the same crew profile videos that are found on Facebook but then there are images that trace the real and imagined history of Mars exploration. So that includes real-world events like the 2012 landing of Curiosity on the planet and everything that came before that as well as “future” events like the 2026 “Resource” prospector mission. That’s a nice touch that continues the world-building we saw on the official site and gives the Ares III mission from the movie some historical context we can all understand.

There was also, which let you upload your own photo and put some text over it in the style of the teaser poster, with the final image being sharable on various social networks.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots for the movie hit the same basic beats as the trailers, showing how Watney and his team are on Mars, then have to abandon it when a storm flairs up, with Watney left behind and presumed dead. There are some that offer a bit more context in the decision by NASA not to attempt a rescue and his team defying that order, but all in all they’re just condensed versions of the trailer and work for exactly the same reasons those trailers do.

martian bingThere was a very cool promotion with Microsoft that created Bing Maps for the movie’s locations on Mars. So people could navigate the area that Watney finds himself stuck in, viewing a mix of both actual photos from Mars and clips from the film’s trailers. It also included, which challenged people to solve one of the story’s key problems with some sort of technological development like an app, software and so on. People can work with tech experts via Skype (natch, since that’s owned by Microsoft) and compete for a cash prize for the most elegant and best solution.

One of the videos on the site had Watney exercising in what turned out to be a fictional commercial for Under Armour. The company actually is a promotional partner for the film with a micro-site containing not only that video but lots more about how the the company’s products are helping to train the Ares III crew and how you can be your best with UA fitness wear.

Media and Publicity

There was plenty of press about the movie as the cast and crew did the usual rounds of the media and talk-shows and such. But honestly, the most interesting stuff came where the movie intersected with real life.

First, a little over a week ago the crew of the International Space Station got an early look (Recode, 9/20/15) at the film, which they found inspiring and not terrifying. The latter would have been my reaction since it seems the equivalent of watching Alive on an international flight.

Then most notably just days before release NASA held a press conference announcing that there is evidence water exists on Mars in some form, a finding that kind of throws off a large chunk of the story’s premise (Wired, 9/28/15). Twitter of course blew up with jokes about how this was a pretty big stunt for Fox to pull to promote the movie and the studio even got in on the action with a couple videos, one simply tagging Watney’s “Surprise!” line that’s seen into the trailer onto NASA’s official announcement and the second with Damon as Watney talking about how he wishes he’d been able to find some of that water while he was up there.

The movie also did a few screenings at recent festivals, where it gained buzz as a people-pleasing potential awards contender. There were also stories like this one (Variety, 9/28/15) that played up how the movie was all about a love of science and trying to create that same love in the audience.


If there’s a weak spot to the campaign it’s the posters. But that’s because the weak design on display on those can’t reach the same fun heights as the videos and other portions of the push, particularly the fully-fleshed out in-world videos and updates that really help to add to the movie, making the audience feel a bit primed for the story before they ever set foot in the theater. Again, usually those kinds of executions come off as more than a little wobbly, but these work really well. And thank goodness they did because with thinks like this past weekend’s Super Blood Moon and then the “water on Mars announcement,” the stage had been set for the studio to break the fourth wall a little bit, even if I still find the distribution of those assets (fictional videos on a studio website marketing a movie) to be not great.

So overall this is a strong campaign that lives and dies on the charm of the actors involved. Thankfully those in-world elements make it clear that the entire cast from Damon on down are strong and seem to be in full “be as charming as possible” mode here, so it works. The trailers present a taut drama with plenty of action elements that promise to leave audiences tense and anxious, even if everyone (not just those that have read the book) knows how things will turn out. It’s a strong campaign for an early fall people-pleaser type of release.