Selling Sonic The Hedgehog

My latest post at The Hollywood Reporter is a recap of the marketing campaign for Sonic The Hedgehog.

…the promo campaign for the film stumbled almost immediately out of the gate, as fans were disappointed in the first looks Paramount offered of the title character. That lead to delays to make changes and a marketing push that had to work top regain audience interest and approval.

You can read the whole thing here.

Selling Gemini Man

My latest post at The Hollywood Reporter is a recap of the marketing campaign for Gemini Man.

Like 2016’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the marketing of Gemini Man has been dominated by discussions of the technical aspects of how the movie was shot in 3D 4K with a frame rate 120 frames per second. And also, this time, talk centered on how a wholly computer-generated twentysomething Will Smith was created.

You can read the whole thing here.

Selling Bumblebee

My latest movie marketing recap is up at The Hollywood Reporter.

After five features with Michael Bay directing big freaking robots and increasingly over-the-top stories, Paramount takes its Transformers franchise in a new direction with this week’s Bumblebee.

via Character-Driven ‘Bumblebee’ Marks New Direction for ‘Transformers’ Series | Hollywood Reporter

Movie Marketing Madness: Transformers: The Last Knight

[downs entire whiskey sour]

Well, the Transformers are back, once more in the hands of director Michael Bay. It’s been 10 years since he first brought the big freaking robots to the big screen, with this being the fifth film in the franchise. Now the Bayhem is unleashed once again in Transformers: The Last Knight, which once more stars Mark Wahlberg and once more features a lot of human beings acting like they matter at all as massive robot warriors decide the best possible place in the universe for them to work out their issues is our planet MARS IS RIGHT THERE GO SOMEWHERE WITHOUT ALL THE CULVER’S, YOU JERKS.

Anyway, this time around there’s yet another plot contrivance to set humans and Cybertronians against each other. Optimus Prime has disappeared but now seems to be back and this time is evil or something. There’s a bigger threat coming toward the planet so it’s up to Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager, Oxford professor Laura Haddock (Vivian Wembley) and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) to unravel the secret history of Transformers on Earth in order to save humanity from the latest world-killing threat.

The Posters

“Rethink your heroes” we’re told on the first poster, which shows a sword-wielding Optimus Prime standing along a rocky beach as something massive looms in the background, including both sea and air.

A series of character posters were released by Bay on his Twitter that featured many of the main characters, some old, some new. The caption he used when posting them contained some kind of explanation of who they are and what they’re after in the movie. These aren’t bad.

Another poster told the audience the main conflict of the movie was going to be between Prime and Bumblebee, with the former seen looming over the latter as if he’s preparing the killing blow. That’s amplified by copy that reads “For one to live the other must die.”

Another poster plays into the theme from elsewhere in the campaign that the Transformers have been on Earth for a long, long time, by putting one at the forefront of a group of WWII soldiers storming a Nazi headquarters. “Every legend hides a secret” we’re told at the top and it’s called out at the bottom that this was filmed with IMAX cameras, a direct appeal to the tech-heads that are going to be interested in spectacle more than anything.

Black and white character posters started to come out that highlighted the various robots and humans that are in the middle of the story, all with a different descriptive word associated with them.

An IMAX poster put Prime in the middle of the design with not only the looming…whatever in the background but also a huge three-headed dragon for a moment of “what the hell.” I know some of the campaign has shown footage of Transformers fighting with knights and so on, but dragons? Where the hell is this coming from? Seems out of left-field.

One final poster brings the whole cast together, including the humans. They actual actors are arrayed just above Stonehenge, which is shooting a while space laser into the sky. Looming over them are Prime and Bumblebee on opposite sides of that space laster, setting up the conflict between them once more.

The Trailers

There’s not much story in the first teaser trailer. Burton narrates and offers some exposition about a timeless fight that’s been raging. He intones that Optimus Prime has left and asks the question of why the Transformers keep coming to Earth. After that, though, it’s all about Big F***ing Robot action. We see Prime is back, but he doesn’t seem to be acting like himself. Throughout the trailer there’s something – maybe Unicron? – that’s huge and moving toward the planet and is clearly a threat.

God bless Hopkins for doing what he can with what he’s given. His narration is meant to add some dramatic import to the trailer, but that can’t overcome the senseless action and unexplained chaos on display. This looks like exactly the same kind of movie as the previous four installments, which is just what the studio thinks people want.

The first full trailer is somewhat less concerned with the Big F***ing Robots and more with the humans who are around them. It presents a world that’s very different from what we might expect, with humans and robots coexisting in some ways and at odds in others. It almost presents Decepticons as an occupying force and some humans as the militaristic resistance. It focuses on Izzy, a young girl who’s living rough and surviving on her own. She narrates and encourages everyone to “fight like a girl” as we see some of the fighting against our new robot overlords. Izzy is the center of attention throughout, though.

There’s no bigger mythology being played into or hinted at here. It’s actually kind of an overt plea to young girls who may not have been targeted in the campaigns for earlier movies. We get some story hints, particularly with that “Enemy” sign featuring Prime’s face and the fact that everyone seems to live in bombed-out buildings.

The official trailer starts off in the past as we see Transformers in the world 1,000 years ago in castles with kings and knights. We then cut to Optimus Prime having an odd confrontation with his maker. Next it’s Yeager talking to Izzy about what he’d say to his daughter if she were there. After that it’s about Sir Edmund warning that it’s up to a couple of everyday humans to turn the tide of history and stop the persistent threat of the Transformers on Earth. Scenes of chaos raining down on the world are followed by defiant speeches about not giving up and continuing the fight. Prime then intones that the Earth must die for his world to live, meaning we’re in conquest territory here.

OK, fine. The whole idea of Prime being the bad guy here seems really odd and as with most of Bay’s movies the ambitions toward something epic and transformative (sorry) are greater than the actual execution. It’s being sold as yet another entry in the franchise and on that front it succeeds just fine.

Online and Social

Prime’s grizzled visage glares out at you from the front page of the official website, which mostly just has the usual information and a Get Tickets button on it. Remarkably non-cluttered for a movie whose entire visual aesthetic is “busy.”

Moving to the content menu at the top of the page, the first section is “Story,” which lays out the basic idea in the broadest possible terms. There’s a decent chance this is the actual script. After that the “Characters” section has the character posters mentioned above, each with a button to share that image on either Facebook or Twitter.

The “Gallery” has one of the posters along with a handful of stills and some behind-the-scenes production shots of Bay at work just so we remember who the real star of the movie is. “Videos” has the trailers, a couple TV spots and a featurette.

There’s a section for the promotional “Partners” and then “Social” is a drop-down with links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A short TV spot appeared to have kicked off the advertising campaign showing some of the biggest, most explosive elements from the first trailer, including using the “Rethink your heroes” copy that’s interspersed throughout those shots.

A TV spot aired during the Super Bowl that featured more of Hopkins’ intellectual talking about why the Transformers keep coming to Earth and Prime talking about meeting his maker. Future commercials showed off the action and humor of the movie and some were focused intently on continuing to build up the idea that the Transformers have been here throughout history, secretly protecting Earth and participating in major world events.

The debut of movie merchandise in stores was accompanied by a campaign dubbed “Reveal Your Shield” that encouraged fans to identify as Autobots or Decepticons.

In terms of cross-promotional partners, here are some of the companies that helped promote the latest entry in the franchise:

  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which created TV ads that took a throwback approach, featuring kids playing with Transformers action figures that are helped in their battle by the company.
  • Maaco, which launched a cross-promotional campaign including a TV spot directed by Bay himself.
  • Schick, which offers a limited edition Transformers-themed handle when you signed up for their subscription shave product service and created other movie-branded products.
  • Sonic Drive-In, which put movie toys in their Wacky Pack kids meals and ran a sweeps offering a hometown screening of the movie and other prizes.
  • Valvoline, which ran some co-branded ads and created “Valvotron,” a new Transformer action figure sporting the company’s logo that was given away to select customers.
  • Crush, which gave away a free movie ticket with the purchase of any three of their four movie-branded cans of REM’s favorite soda.
  • Tasty Kake, which created a quiz to see if you were an Autobot or Decepticon that entered you into a sweeps. That went along with co-branded product packaging.
  • Cat, which offered behind-the-scenes exclusive material and the chance to win exclusive merchandise.

Online and outdoor ads were plentiful, all using variations on the key art, mostly of the close-up of Prime staring at the camera.

Media and Publicity

A first look at the movie’s new villain was teased ahead of time with a series of cryptic messages and really kicked off the publicity campaign outside of news and announcements about the title and filming. Speculation about the movie and its story continued with the release of a banner showing Optimus Prime taking on some sort of dragon.

A small amount of new footage was seen before the first trailer was released in this promotional video celebrating 10 years of collaboration between Bay and IMAX, which has been used for all of the movies in the franchise. The studio also held a fan event at IMAX theaters that showed off footage from the movie as a way to generate some buzz in advance of release.

A short promotional video was released that was structured to appear like it was examining old photos from throughout history from battles and other events that include giant robots. Hot Rod was officially unveiled in a first look photo that appeared in EW’s summer movie preview along with background information on that character’s history. It also included comments from Bay about the extent he went to create monuments to blow up. A clip as well as a humorous promo involving Prime trying to learn a London accent were released during the MTV Movie and TV Awards.

As the final press push was happening and both Bay and Wahlberg were making the media and TV rounds they each signalled this would be the last Transformers movie for both of them. If you’re keeping count, that’s the first such declaration for Wahlberg and at least the third for Bay and he always comes back.


Oof, there’s a lot to digest here. The story that’s being sold completely upends all the mythology of the previous Transformers movies to an extent that defies credulity unless I’ve missed something massive in the first three entries (I’ve yet to see the fourth) that hints a centuries-long presence on Earth. But honestly, does that even matter? They found a new way to create some new robots that look kind of cool and which are visually indistinguishable (my major complaint with these films) as the rest. It doesn’t matter what the story is, just come see Michael Bay light some fuses and ask a Josh Duhamel to look up at and interact with something that will be inserted digitally later.

As much as the generic designs make many of the robots indistinguishable from one another within the movie, the similarity in tone and feel of the marketing for these movies makes them virtually indistinguishable from one another. They all feature the same shots of landscapes blowing up and humans scattering, of someone warning of dire consequences should the bad guys win and so on. It’s all about selling metallic imagery with no sense of the motivations of anyone, just vague dialogue about the consequences of such and such happening.

The one interesting thing to watch is whether the fifth installment of this series will suffer the same sort of franchise fatigue that’s tanked recent installments of Smurfs and other IP as well as legacy sequels including Independence Day. This isn’t a reboot or remake and it’s only been a couple years since the last Transformers, but still: Audience preferences seem to have shifted recently. So while it’s likely this will do just fine, there’s a chance it could tank and bring the house of metal cards Paramount and Bay have built crashing down.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Baywatch

There was a running joke on “Friends” which had Joey and Chandler enjoying “Baywatch” at its most basic level: The lifeguards running along the beach. Even when they weren’t living in the same apartment, it was appointment television and “always keep them running” was the advice they had for the show. That was a key part of the show’s appeal along with ridiculous plots and…no, that’s about it.

Now that low-premise syndicated hallmark of the late-80s and early-90s is back and on the big screen in, of course, Baywatch. Dwayne Johnson stars as Mitch Buchannon, the head of a premiere lifeguard team in Miami. To raise the team’s profile, the higher-ups bring in a former Olympian with lots of mass appeal named Matt Brody. The two have very different approaches and styles. They find they have to work together when they, along with the rest of the team, uncover a massive criminal organization that’s angling to expand into the bay and decide to stop them when the police can’t.

The Posters

The first posters for the movie were a series of character-centric ones that showed the cast in their swimwear but wearing winter clothing as well while standing in a wintry scene. In case you were wondering if sexism was still alive, the guys get jackets but the women just get boots and maybe a stocking cap. Can’t have anything hiding their figures, after all. The copy that appears along with them reads “Don’t worry, Summer is coming.” Those were also released as motion posters.

A series of theatrical posters came later that all used variations on a theme, putting Johnson and Efron in the forefront and the rest of the cast, or at least Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach, who play Summer and CJ respectively, in the background. One also includes Priyanka Chopra, who’s become more well known because of her role on “Quantico,” which is a nice addition.

All of these make the same basic value proposition, that the movie is all about sand and surf and the personality conflict between Johnson and Efron.

The Trailers

The first trailer, teased ahead of its release of course, is actually kind of fun. Mitch starts out by narrating how his rescue team is the best of the best and we see him in action along with some of the brand’s iconic “slow motion running” sequences. We find out the department is in trouble an so brings in a celebrity to raise its profile. Brody’s style conflicts with Mitch’s, leading to tension between the two. They eventually find evidence of large-scale criminal activity on the beach and so have to work together to investigate and bring the operation down.

It’s pretty funny. The studio is selling it, at least here, as being in the same comedic vein as something like 21 Jump Street but it works. Johnson and Efron play well off each other, with lots of jokes about their differing approaches to things. And I’m sorry but the last gag about Brody not being able to take offense at “you people” is maybe the funniest line reading I’ve seen in quite a while.

The next trailer starts off with a sense of how tied the Baywatch team is to the beach they protect. Matt Brody is brought on to provide a PR bump for the fading brand, but he’s as reluctant to work with them as they are with him. Eventually a crisis on the beach means they have to investigate illegal activity, which leads them to go undercover, hide in a morgue and get into further shenanigans.

It’s just as goofy and fun as the first trailer, continuing to highlight the tension between Johnson and Efron. There are different hijinks on display here and the fact that it ha some cut-off curse words wants to give it a bit of an edge. Ultimately, though, it comes down to the interplay between the two stars, particularly the touchy and out-of-his element Olympics athlete who doesn’t really think a bunch of lifeguards should be investigating crimes.

A final red-band trailer came out just weeks before release that’s super-light on story, setting up the bare minimum of character sketches, and instead focused solely on the comedy and action the movie is promising audiences. Because it’s a restricted trailer that involves lots of cursing and sex jokes.

Online and Social

The official website opens with one of the trailers in a pop-up, which you can close or watch as you see fit. The only material that appears on the front page are prompts to watch the trailer again and get tickets along with links to the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles for the movie. There’s also a big button over in the top left for “Partners” that lets you find out which companies got involved in the marketing effort.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV advertising kicked off with a Super Bowl spot that featured some of the same gags as the first trailer and basically was meant to show audiences that this is a humorous take on the brand. Further TV ads took the same basic approach, showing off the cast and the conflict between those who want to protect the beach and those who just want to be a lifeguard.

Outdoor billboard ads used the same character poster art and “Summer is coming” copy.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

Media and Publicity

Before the formal marketing and publicity cycle began there was plenty of conversation that was spurred by photos and other updates shared on social media by the stars. The release of images from the movie continued to be a key part of the movie’s early promotional cycle.

As the release got closer the press activity ramped up, with The Rock making comments promising that the movie was dirtier and raunchier than you could imagine and more. This new movie also provided an opportunity for the producers and creators of the original TV show to revisit its history and the problems that plagued it while marveling that it’s now becoming a movie.

A lengthy profile of Johnson showed the actor at his most human, engaging in casual conversations and showing off his private gym while sharing anecdotes. It also contained an off-hand remark about the possibility of him running for office that spurred thousands of headlines.

In the final weeks before release most of the cast, including Johnson, Efron and others, hit the talk show circuit to talk about the movie, the Baywatch brand and more.


There’s some good stuff here. The trailers are fairly funny and sell a movie that is just the sort of action comedy that audiences seem to be looking for in recent years. The plot isn’t super-important and is used sparingly, just as an occasional hook to explain why Johnson and Efron are dressing in drag, why they’re chasing people across the beach and so on. The focus is instead on those two leads and the clashing dynamic between them along with in-jokes for anyone who may have watched the original series or who knows it through subsequent pop culture references.

That all means there’s a nice consistency to the campaign, even if it does wind up being so shallow it doubles as, if you’ll excuse the analogy, the toddler splash zone at your local pool. It makes the thinnest possible argument for seeing this movie, counting on the fact that Johnson and Efron are more or less likable personalities that the audience generally enjoys and this puts them together. The late-campaign push to remind everyone that the movie is as raunchy as possible seems to indicate some amount of panic about how that insubstantial appeal was resonating.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Silence

silenceA crisis of – and a search for – faith drives the story in Silence, the new movie from director Martin Scorsese. The movie follows two 17th century Jesuit priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garppe (Adam Driver) who are told one day that their mentor Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has committed apostasy – that he denied God while on his mission on feudal Japan. The two can’t believe someone who taught them the faith would do such a thing and so resolve to travel there themselves to find him.

That’s a problem though since Ferreira has not only gone missing but Christianity, at the time, was illegal in Japan. So when Rodrigues and Garppe get there they attempt to preach to the people around them but are opposed at almost every turn. They persevere but wind up facing a crisis of faith themselves after so many trials. The story is based on a 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo.

The Posters

The first and only poster sets the tone more than anything else. A cloudy white background is broken up by the slightly fuzzy image of Neeson, who appears to be some sort of monk or priest. The title treatment appears in his torso but his translucent lower half shows Garfield and Driver making their way out of or along a coastline, with their dress showing this clearly takes place far in the past.

The Trailers

We open in the trailer with Rodrigues talking about his mission to spread God’s Word to all creatures. He and Garrpe are given a mission, to go and find out what happened to Ferreira, who has gone rouge and denounced God while on a mission in Japan. So the two priests undertake the journey themselves, but find that their welcome there is less than friendly as they face persecution and temptation from all sides. There are all kinds of scenes here of them trying to spread the Gospel but encountering groups and individuals who are not receptive to their message or their presence, all of which culminates with Rodrigues questioning his own faith.

I love how Scorsese gets outside his comfort zone and that’s exactly what this looks like. The trailer is frantic and fast-paced, showing a thrilling period drama about a crisis of faith. There’s not much Neeson here as the focus is on Garfield and to a lesser extent Driver, but it’s clear there will be plenty of tension and drama in the story.

Online and Social

A version of the key art graces the home page of the movie’s official website. There’s a big prompt to watch the trailer again in the middle of the page, just above a rotating carousel of quotes from critics praising the movie. At the top there’s a button to buy tickets alongside links to the movie’s Facebook page as well as the Twitter and Instagram profiles for Paramount.

Moving over to the content menu along the top of the page, the first section there is “Synopsis,” where you can read a decent write-up of the movie’s story. The “Cast & Filmmakers” section is the best such section I’ve seen in a while, with actual information about the actors and filmmakers so you can read more about their histories.

There’s just the one trailer in the “Videos” section. “Photos” has a baker’s dozen stills from the movie. Finally, “Press & Accolades” has some pull quotes from early reviews praising the movie as a way to extend the powerful word of mouth that’s already accumulated.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There’s been no TV advertising that I’ve been able to find. A few online ads ran that used the key art and drove traffic to the official site.

Media and Publicity

The first look at the movie came via an official still released to Entertainment Weekly showing Wilson and Johnson engaged in some sort of hijinks. Another still followed several months later as part of a new wave of publicity that teased the movie was imminent.

A good amount of buzz was garnered when a brief preview was shown at a Paramount corporate press event, giving journalists a first look at footage.

The real publicity cycle for the movie didn’t really kick off, though, until this massive New York Times feature was run. That included the background of Scorsese’s involvement with the story and his desire over almost 30 years to make the movie, the director’s personal involvement with the subject matter and his history with the Catholic Church and lots more. This was the big public coming out moment for a movie that had, until that point, largely flown under the radar of many outside the group that was in on the latest buzz and updates.


Appropriately, it was announced the first public screening of the movie would happen at the Vatican for an audience of Jesuit priests and other figures.

A big feature interview with Scorsese came after the rest of the campaign had begun that talked on the director’s history with the project, his passion for the story and its themes as well as personal details about his life and career. 


The main theme of the campaign is that his is Scorsese’s passion project, one that’s taken him decades to get off the ground. That was particularly prominent in the press push for the movie but also gets mentioned in the official synopsis on the website. That’s meant the focus can be squarely on the legendary director and provides an easy hook for the press to talk about not just this movie but also his entire career, which is much more interesting for the movie geeks currently making up much of the media.

Outside of that the movie seems like a throwback to the kind of epics that were made back in the early 90s. It reminds me of something like The Last Emperor and other movies in the grand scope yet intimate scale of the story. It’s a small campaign but that’s a result of the marketing only really kicking off about two months ago, meaning it’s all been compressed into a tight timeframe. Still, what’s sold looks like a moving drama from one of cinema’s most iconic filmmakers.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Fences

fences“How has my life turned out?” is the core question in the story of Fences, the new movie directed by and starring Denzel Washington. The movie is based on the stage play of the same name by August Wilson about Troy (Washington), a former Negro League player who now works as a garbage collector in the Pittsburgh of the 1950s. He lives there with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and son Cory (Jovan Adepo).

Cory is a budding athlete himself and is on the cusp of leaving for college on a sports scholarship. But he’s butting heads with his old man, who is of the old school where you don’t show a lot of love or other emotions. That’s not only causing problems with his son but also his wife as a lifetime of unfulfilled dreams begins to reach critical mass. So he’s dealing with the race issues that were inherent in the era as well as the consequences of a life that he feels is incomplete.

The Posters

There’s no copy or anything that hints at the story or plot on the one-sheet, just the faces of Washington and Davis as they look at something off-camera in the way parents do when they’re watching their kid play at something. It’s black-and-white and so really captures the lived-in feel of the characters, something emphasized by the cheap wooden fence that’s visible in the background. It’s simple and effective, selling the movie based on our appreciation of the skills of those two actors and the promise that watching them together will be something special.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer is an emotional gut-punch. The centerpiece is a conversation between Troy and Cory, as the boy asks his father why he never liked him. The answer is a long speech by Troy about how everything he does is for his son and to not only teach him how to be a man but to take care of him and show him how to take care of himself one day and give him the opportunities he never had. Through all that we see scenes from throughout the rest of the movie as Troy goes to work, deals with neighbors and others, is happy or sad and everything inbetween. Finally Rose chimes in and reminds Troy that he’s not alone in all this, that she’s been standing there with him.

It’s so good, I would seriously just watch 90 minutes more of Washington monologuing. Wow.

The second trailer works on the same emotional level. This one is more focused on showing off Troy’s dreams and aspirations, none of which have come to pass over the course of his life. That’s framed by Cory’s growing up and getting ready to leave the house, hopefully for something better than his old man has. So while he’s searching for validation he’s never going to get, Troy is dealing with the fact that this is all there is to his life. Rose too is accepting of how this is as good as her life will be.

There’s so much drama between the three characters and this trailer, I’m sure, only shows a small fraction of it. Unlike other movies where the trailer shows much of what you need to know about the movie’s story this one only hints at everything that’s in store in the full movie. It’s only teasing the depths of the drama that will be plumbed.

Online and Social

The second trailer begins playing when you load the movie’s official website and it’s absolutely worth rewatching. Unfortunately there’s not much else going on here once you close the trailer, just another prompt to watch the trailer and one to open an “About the Film” section that doesn’t have any information on the movie, just the talent involved in making it. There are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some TV advertising was done like this extended spot that are basically a condensed version of the trailers, showing the conflict in Troy’s life and the tension is causes between him and the rest of his family.

A few online ads were run as well using variations on the key art.

Media and Publicity

The first look at the movie came via Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview, while more first look photos later appeared in The Hollywood Reporter. Later on Washington talked about how important it was for a black director to take on this story and the reverence with which he approached the source material.

The movie, particularly the performances of the two leads, almost immediately became seen as award contenders. Later on a series of features in THR interviewed Washington and Davis where they talked about adapting the play, the timeliness of the story and other important topics.

More buzz for the movie came in the form of awards and nominations for Davis and Washington in particular. The cast also did a couple screenings and appearances at colleges to talk about the themes of the movie.


Let’s be honest, the main draw here are the performances of Davis and Washington. That’s not surprising given that this is based on a play, where the actors and the lines are so prominent. And it makes it not surprising that the campaign would place the emphasis so strongly on those performances. That’s why you see both trailers starting off or entirely focused on dialogues or monologues from one of those two.

The movie that’s being sold looks incredibly powerful. It’s a story about long-delayed dreams, unfulfilled potential, what you owe the generation after yours and how all that relates to race told by some of the best of today’s working actors. It’s a vital story in this time in history and it’s one that will hopefully continue to garner not more awards consideration but also an audience to see that story told.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Office Christmas Party

office_christmas_partyThe office holiday party is a legendary thing, both for how much fun employees can have and the potential for problems in having that much fun at an office-sponsored open bar. Now that’s coming to life in the outrageous new comedy Office Christmas Party starring Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston and T.J. Miller among others.

Miller plays the manager of the Chicago branch of a larger company that’s run by his sister, played by Aniston. When Miller says he’s throwing a big office party she’s not thrilled but agrees, contingent on him signing an important new client (played by Courtney B. Vance). What starts out as a pretty standard shindig, though, turns into an epic night of debauchery that winds up including half of Chicago, enough alcohol to displace all of Lake Michigan and at least one live reindeer.

The Posters

The first teaser poster shows the results of a night of debauchery with a shot of a corporate conference room that has people lying around passed out and in various states of undress. Liquor bottles and cups, as well as articles of clothing, are strewn about the table and floor and a half-burned Christmas tree stands aside a broken window that Santa Claus is looking out of.

Character posters followed that showed off different members of the cast, with their name highlighted in green from among the cluster of names at the top. All show just how crazy things are going to get.

Another set of posters featured illustrations of people passed out on an office floor, a reindeer drinking out of a toilet, a guy photocopying his butt and more poor office behavior with the movie’s branding and that warning that “Party like your job depends on it.” These are funny but it’s an odd choice to hide the cast like this.

The Trailers

We open in the first trailer with narration from the morning after the party, as XXXX reflects back on how innocent is all sounded even as we see footage showing it wasn’t innocent at all. Flashback to the morning previous, when there’s a disagreement between the sibling owners of the company as to whether there’s going to be a party or not. Of course there is and things get out of control fast as people swing from the ceiling and engage in general debauchery.

It’s a pretty funny trailer. Bateman gets a lot of screentime but it’s also clearly Miller’s movie as he’s the one in charge of the antics at the party. Overall, though, this sells an outrageous story of getting loaded and making bad decisions on the company dime.

We start off in the second trailer by getting more background on Carol, who’s not thrilled with the office’s performance and is on the verge of shutting it down. She makes Clay a deal that if he can land a big account the office will be safe and decides inviting the potential client to the Christmas party is the best way to do that. From there on out it’s wackiness and hijinks as the party gets underway and quickly gets out of hand.

Miller and Aniston are really the stars here, playing off each other really well with their sibling dynamic. There are a lot of the same party-centric jokes the first trailer had but it all works really well here.

A third trailer was a b it shorter and featured more of McKinnon and the other coworkers. There’s less focus on the story here and more on showing the scale of the madness that’s underway once the party really gets out of hand.

Online and Social

When the official website opens you get to watch the second trailer, which is still funny. Close that and you’ll see the rest of the site isn’t super-robust.

Starting in the upper left corner of the page there’s a prompt to “Plan Your Party.” That takes you to a new page where the call-to-action is to create a group event for you and your coworkers to see the movie. That comes with Facebook cover photos, customizable flyers to put up in the office and information on arranging to buy a group of tickets.

Back to the main site, in the upper right there’s the “Indoor Sleigh Ride” online game that plays off one of the key scenes from the trailer where Miller’s character tries to ride a sled down a staircase.

Finally, there are links to the movie’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages as well as a section dedicated to the movie’s promotional “Partners.”

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A number of TV spots were created that featured short clips from the movie. Minimal story and background here, it’s more about just showing something funny featuring Miller, Aniston, Bateman, McKinnon and others.

In terms of promotional partners, the movie had a few lined up:

  • TipsyElves: Created a series of movie-themed ugly sweaters and offered a free movie ticket with each purchase.
  • Blowfish for Hangovers: The hangover cure offered two free tickets for purchasing each set of 50 tablets. It also offered the chance to win a private screening for you and 49 of your least-offendable office mates.
  • Blaze Pizza: Win free pizza when you share your outrageous office Christmas party story on social media.
  • Elite: Created a series of movie-themed digital invitations to send to your guests to get them to come to the movie with you.
  • Blo Dry Bar: Another chance to win a hometown screening of the movie by showing off your best hair flip along with your coworkers.

I’m sure there were online ads that used key art and video and that same artwork was, I assume, used on outdoor billboards as well.

Media and Publicity

The publicity for the movie really kicked off with an interview in EW’s Fall Movie Preview where the cast talked about the story, the characters, working with each other and more as they tried to position it as a raunchy movie that still has a lot of emotion and heart. Most of the cast talked later on about working together, how much of a pain T.J. Miller is and other such topics.


The movie got a nice push when it scored a cover story in EW where the stars and filmmakers talked about the craziness of making the movie, the way the tried to not make a traditional Christmas story and so on. Bateman and other members of the cast also made appearances on the talk show circuit to make sure people knew the film was coming their way. 


It’s kind of remarkable how much of the campaign is explicitly working to sell tickets. Sure, that’s the goal of every movie marketing campaign but here’s there are several elements – specifically the website and all the promotional partners’ efforts – that are designed to get people to want to see the movie, usually in a large group. The thinking seems to be that these groups will see the movie and then carry the good news of the movie’s humor far and wide as they encourage others to turn out.

As for the movie itself, it looks pretty darn funny. It’s hard to deny the level of talent involved here, including Olivia Munn. Aniston is actually a huge part of the campaign, selling her involvement as a key part of the story and the humor, despite her apparent position in the story as the wet blanket looking to tamp down everyone’s fun. This is being sold as a big old good time, filled with every bad or crazy story you heard from a friend about this one holiday party they once went to, with the inappropriateness turned up to 11. Let’s see if it connects with an audience looking for a stupid comedy filled with bad behavior.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Allied

alliedSet in war-torn 1942, the new movie Allied is all about who you can trust and for how long. The movie stars Brad Pitt as Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence officer stationed in North Africa. There he meets Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter on a mission that takes him behind enemy lines. The two begin a relationship there but are parted, only to reunite later in London, where they rekindle the romance and eventually get married and start a family.

Things get complicated, though, when Vatan’s superiors come to him and reveal their belief that Beauséjour is actually a German spy. He’s asked to kill her or be suspected of being a spy himself and both of them executed by the powers that be. Vatan isn’t convinced, of course, though the accusations do raise suspicions in his mind. Still, he’s sure of the innocence of his wife and so sets out on a quest to clear her name and find out what’s behind the charges.

The Posters

The one-sheet for the movie is trying so hard to sell this as a sexy spy thriller. So Pitt and Cotillard are shown leaning toward each other for a kiss, both of them dressed as if they’re at a dinner party, a sense that’s compounded by her holding a champagne glass in one hand. The title treatment and credits which include calling this out as coming from the director of Forrest Gump, Cast Away and Flight, are at the top of the design, while at the bottom we’re warned “The enemy is listening.” There’s nothing here that specifically hints that one of them may be the enemy referenced there, but it does establish that there will be some sort of intrigue going on around the romance that is the key element of the poster.

The Trailers

The movie’s story isn’t super-clear in the first teaser trailer. But what we do get are that Vatan and Beausejour are spies of some kind during World War II, operating in an environment that’s always dangerous and where the potential for a double-cross is always high. It mixes war footage with scenes of the two characters sharing moments of stolen passion, even if those happen to come while on a mission of some kind.

In what was one of the year’s more crass marketing moves, Paramount dropped a new 60-second trailer on the same day news broke that Pitt’s longtime wife/girlfriend Angelina Jolie had filed for divorce, reportedly because of an on-set affair he had with Cotillard. While I’m usually a fan of tying marketing efforts to current events in some manner, this seemed to step over the line as the studio tried to take advantage of how everyone was already talking about the pair of stars by reminding everyone they had a new movie together coming out soon. Perhaps this struck me the wrong way because the two stars in the movie were the subject of the press speculation, meaning the studio was implicitly at best condoning those rumors or at worst confirming them. This just seemed…icky.

The next full trailer starts off with Vatan and Beausejour engaging in some kick-ass spy stuff, shooting up a room full of Nazis before going off to their hideout. They eventually fall in love and get married. But then she’s accused of being a spy and things get awkward as he alternately believes the story and tries to disprove it.

The real star of the movie appears to be the green screen, which is on full and obvious display. The movie’s being sold as an epic period romance and it’s not bad on that front, but there’s no apparent hook other than the star power of Pitt and Cotillard, which may not be enough.

Online and Social

There’s not much going on over at the movie’s official website. It opens with the second trailer but once that’s done playing and you see the front page there isn’t much in the way of content. It just has the one page, with links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles for the movie along with prompts to watch the trailer again and buy tickets.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were a handful of TV spots run that played up various elements of the story, some focusing more on the romance some focusing on the espionage and intrigue. All of them, though, made it clear there’s a game afoot that’s being played between Pitt and Cotillard during war time, which was the central message.

Plenty of online advertising was done as well, including ads on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks to help raise awareness and interest in the movie. While I haven’t seen them I think it’s safe to assume a good amount of outdoor advertising was done as well, considering the talent involved.

Media and Publicity

The movie was barely in production when the first footage was shown at Paramount’s CinemaCon presentation, which coincided with the studio setting a release date.

The first look at the movie came via People and shared a still of Cotillard and Pitt at an outdoor cafe. Things went pretty dark for a while after that, likely because of the issues surrounding Pitt and the dissolution of his marriage, which included momentary charges of child abuse being investigated.


They only substantially picked back up at the movie’s premiere, where Pitt and Cotillard talked about the movie and what drew them to the story. That was followed by appearances on the late night and morning talk shows by both of the lead actors.


It’s hard to judge this campaign based solely on the merits of the marketing collateral that was created for it. That’s largely because the movie was for a good chunk of time overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the two stars, something that took up everyone’s attention and kind of sucked the wind out of the campaign for a while.

Moving outside that, though, the campaign still doesn’t present anything particularly compelling. This seems like the kind of movie that’s going to fall under the radar of most moviegoers, whether they were turned off by the aforementioned pseudo-scandal involving talent or just because there are bigger movies on both sides of the spectrum vying for attention. There are smaller movies that have received more buzz and bigger movies that are dominating more headlines, meaning this middle-of-the-road period action romance simply wasn’t marketed effectively enough to turn awareness into interest.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Arrival

arrival_ver16We’re back to alien visitation at theaters with the new release Arrival, the latest movie from director Denis Villeneuve. The movie stars Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a high-profile linguist who’s recruited by the U.S. military after the arrival of a series of mysterious alien craft around the world. Those visitors have begun trying to communicate, but their language is completely incomprehensible to most everyone and so they decide they need professional help.

Aiding her is Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who acts as her assistant and liaison with the military, personified here by by Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) and Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg). They all want to know what the aliens are saying before it’s too late and largely for their own reasons. So it becomes a race against time to translate their language and divine their intentions, with Banks leading the charge.

The Posters

The first round of teaser posters was released right after the first trailer hit. They show the alien ship hovering over various locations around the globe, in some cases a recognizable major city, in others just a generic location like a desert, over the ocean in the middle of a group of aircraft carriers and so on. The idea here is to show that the titular arrival is planet-wide and is impacting everyone everywhere, not just in the one location where the story actually takes place.

The theatrical one-sheet took a very traditional approach, featuring the big floating head of Adams hovering over Renner and Whitaker. The alien ship is off to the side, shown hovering over the landscape as a few military helicopters swarm it. Oddly, there’s no copy or tagline on the poster, just the names of the cast, the credentials of Villeneuve and the credit block. Still, it presents the scope of the movie and it’s easy to get the basic premise that the characters on the right must deal with the situation on the left.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer starts off with Banks playing with her kids because we need to establish that she has a family she’s fighting for. She’s quickly whisked off by the military and given a hasty briefing by the team on their way to the site of an alien ship. As they prep her to enter the ship they explain what’s going on, telling her that the ship opens every 18 hours to allow visitors as part of a whole routine.

It’s a decent teaser that lays out the basic idea of the movie – that aliens have arrived and Banks is an expert on language who’s being recruited because of her knowledge of greetings and translations. We don’t get a shot of the aliens themselves, something that’s likely being held for a later trailer. But this is a good first outing that establishes the rough outline of the story.

The second trailer starts off roughly the same, with Banks seeing the news of alien ships landing on Earth. She meets her team that will join her and they all make their way into the alien ship. When nothing happens Banks decides she needs to take off her hazmat suit, which leads to actual contact. As tensions around the world rise, the pressure on her to translate their message for the world and make sure our own words and actions aren’t being misunderstood rises.

What’s being sold here is the modern version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a story that’s more about trying to establish the baseline for communications as opposed to shoot outs and peace brigades and everything else. It looks tense and pulse-pounding as opposed to thrilling and action-packed, the very antithesis of the modern alien movie. Basically it’s everything Independence Day: Resurgence wasn’t.

The final trailer is short – just a minute long – but gets the point across. We start with Banks recounting the day the aliens arrived before we see her recruited by the military for her translation skills. The rest is largely pulled from footage we’ve already seen in the previous trailers as we go from first contact to misunderstanding to panicked actions to avert a showdown.

It’s still a good trailer, despite the short runtime, and gets the point across. This almost seems like simple reinforcement, not a wholly original case being made. That’s unusual for a non-franchise movie but the lack of new footage on display here speaks to the studio’s desire to maintain the mystery behind the story.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website starts with that short final trailer. When you close that trailer and get to the front page you…can watch the trailer. That’s the only prompt on the page aside from a few links at the bottom to view  the credits and register for updates. Seriously, that’s it. The only other links on the site are those to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles for the movie.

It’s linked to if you scroll down Twitter but nowhere on the site, but you can visit this microsite to create your own portrait in the style of the alien’s language.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV advertising with spots like this was pretty pervasive. Spots generally tried to distill the story down to 30 seconds, showing Banks being recruited, her making first contact with the aliens and then the drama that builds in the race to decode their language. They all set the movie up as a very dramatic, pulse-pounding thriller.

Plenty of online advertising was done well in advance of release, mostly using footage from the trailers involving either Adams’ recruitment to the project or shots of her and the rest of the team in their hazmat suits. A series of video ads were run on YouTube in the days before release that used just a couple of the same

Media and Publicity

The first real buzz around the movie came out of its presentation by the studio at CinemaCon, where the first footage was shown and the stars appeared and spoke. Several months later the movie was given an official release date along with a name change from its previous “Story of Your Life” moniker.

It was quite a while then before the first official still from the movie was released, showing Adams and Renner as they take in the spectacle of the alien ship.

The movie was among those which debuted or otherwise screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. At the movie’s Venice premiere the stars and director were interviewed a bit about the direction of the story, their own thoughts and hopes for what might happen if aliens were to visit and more. The movie was also among those selected for the Telluride Film Festival.


Around the time of the Toronto appearance director Villeneuve was interviewed his experiences making the movie, his sci-fi influences and more. It was also one of two powerhouse performances at the festival by Adams, who emerged as the centerpiece of a lot of narratives during the festival for her understated and impressive acting and who kept talking about her role and the approach to the character Villeneuve encouraged her to take. Adams and the rest of the cast also made comments about the story at the movie’s premiere.


What’s not really captured here is the incredibly positive word of mouth that’s been generated by the festival and other screenings to date. That all has contributed to a great sense of anticipation among the informed movie fan for the movie, with critics and others singing its praises and stoking the fires among the general public and helping the campaign out by providing a steady supply of quotes and praise to choose from.

As for the marketing itself, it all seems to be working together to create a slick, stylish brand identity for the movie. Everything here is crisp and clean, presenting an adult thriller that’s geared for the adult and discerning audience. There’s little pandering here to the unwashed masses. Many have drawn the connection between this and previous movies like Interstellar and Gravity and it’s very much in that vein, an art film for grownups that’s dressed up like a big-budget alien movie. It’s more about the themes of the story, though, a message that comes through clearly in the campaign.

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