Movie Marketing Madness – Bridge of Spies

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

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

The Posters

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

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

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

The Trailers

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

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

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

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

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

Online and Social

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

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

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

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

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

Advertising and Cross Promotions

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

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

Media and Publicity

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

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

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

Overall

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

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