If you’ve read the book on which this week’s new movie Wonder is based you’ll know what it means to have a good cry. The story follows Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy born with facial deformities who, after years of surgeries that have kept him home – and home-schooled – is about to enter fifth grade at his local public school.
Confident in who he is and supported by his mother (Julia Roberts), father (Owen Wilson) and older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie is nonetheless self-conscious about how different he is from the other kids. There are ups and downs as he seeks to make friends and be accepted by the kids – and adults – around him.
“Are you ready to meet Auggie Pullman?” we’re asked on the first poster, which shows Auggie while he’s wearing his astronaut helmet. Not only does it state clearly that it’s based on a New York Times bestseller but the blue in the background is the same shade that was used on the cover of the source novel. That’s a nice touch.
That same concept was used on a series of character posters. Each features a different actor’s name, a drawing of their head that’s done in the same style as the book cover, and the name of the character they’re playing.
The next poster shows Auggie in profile, this time the visor of his helmet open so we can see part of his face. The same blue background is used along with the same copy, this is just about giving us a slightly better look at the main character.
Another poster has “Choose kind” as its primary message, this one using the same drawing of Auggie that’s featured on the cover of the book. Another once more puts Auggie in the helmet he loves to wear but adds the dog, showing a row of school lockers in the reflection of helmet’s visor. This time we’re promised, “Auggie Pullman will change your world.”
That’s the same message conveyed on the next poster, which drops the blue background that’s been used to date for a white one. Here, Auggie is sitting, still wearing his helmet, in front of a massive globe. A couple more posters featuring either Auggie on his own with his helmet off and in his hands or getting a pep talk from his parents.
The final (?) theatrical poster disposes with the blue theme of the entire rest of the campaign and just uses one of the production stills showing Auggie walking to school with the rest of his family. It also uses a wholly different approach with the copy, asking the audience “Who gives you the courage to face the world?”
The first trailer will hit you right in the feels. We meet Auggie as he’s about to start public school for the first time, something he’s nervous about because of the way his face looks. We hear him narrating what went into the surgeries that have resulted in his situation. His parents try to reassure him and he eventually makes a real friend at school, then another.
Shut up and give me a minute while I finish ugly-crying.
The second trailer once more starts with Auggie heading to his first day at school, where he encounters some bad attitudes from his classmates despite the encouragement of his family. Eventually he makes some friends and finds his groove, getting more involved and helping to inspire other kids. The primary element of the trailer is the inclusion of a new song from singer Bea Miller.
I said give me a damn minute.
One more short trailer hit that emphasized the role of Auggie’s family and how important they are to him.
Online and Social
There’s full-screen video that plays in the background of the splash page of the movie’s official website. Auggie is there in the corner holding his helmet just as in the key art alongside the release date, the movie’s official #ChooseKind hashtag and links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Over in the opposite corner are a few activities and options, starting with the “Daily Dose of Wonder,” which opens up a Facebook Messenger conversation with the movie, though what you’re supposed to do next is unclear. It might be that you’re meant to share something inspiring, but there’s no clear call to action or anything right here. There’s also a “Portrait Creator” that lets you create your own version of a self-portrait in the style of the book’s cover. You can download the finished product as an image to share on social media, a desktop image for your phone, computer or tablet, or an avatar or cover photo for your social media profile. iMessage stickers could be downloaded and you could enter the Omaze-powered Choose Kind campaign.
Moving to the content menu at the top of the page, the first section here is “Story,” which has a brief synopsis to check out. “Videos” has a lot, from the trailers to a number of character introduction videos to some of the “Choose Kind” short films that were created and a couple of featurettes.
There are several production stills in the “Photos” section and the “Posters” section has at least most of the key art that was created. “Cast” just has stills of each of the cast in character. There’s another link to the “Portrait Creator” and then a “Partners” section.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot played much like a shorter version of the trailers, showing not much of the actual story but focusing on how strong Auggie is in the face of such adversity and how supportive his family is. More spots kept hitting the inspirational aspect of the story, showing how tough Auggie is.
For a family drama, there were a number of interesting promotional partnerships:
- Wattpad, the short/serialized fiction publishing platform, along with Tongal sponsored a short films series featuring stories that were shared there.
- GapKids launched a back-to-school campaign centered on community heroes and kids with inspiring stories that included at least one TV spot using both Tremblay and R.J. Palacio, the writer of the source book. That was also part of GapKids’ overall “Forward With” campaign of other emotional and uplifting stories and commercials.
- Roma, which created a special movie-themed rain boot as part of its overall mission to help those in need around the world have proper footwear and access to education.
- Funoogles, which created special movie-themed eyewear and accessories.
- HelloFresh, which offered a deal on its meal delivery service tied to the movie and asked recipients to send back a postcard with their stories of moments where they “chose kind.”
- City of Kindness, which launched its own Choose Kind campaign. Mayors of select cities offered tools to help citizens make good choices and some hosted local screenings, all culminating today, World Kindness Day. Cheerios and Crest offered free product to organizations working with that campaign.
The trailers and other videos were used for social media ads and the key art, along with clips from the trailers and more, were used as online ads. Outdoor advertising used that key art as well.
Media and Publicity
There was certainly coverage of casting and production, but it’s notable that one of the first big pieces of press was from Daveed Diggs (of “Hamilton” fame), who talked about how he got the role. In EW’s fall movie preview Tremblay talked about working with Roberts as well as wanting to be part of such an important emotional story.
Tremblay, Roberts and Wilson all made a variety of media appearances and gave various interviews that talked about how inspiring they found the material and how that motivated them to get involved in the project. Director Stephen Chbosky also spoke about how he wound up making the movie and how he worked with Palacino to bring Auggie’s story to the big screen.
It’s OK for me to admit that this campaign plays every heartstring that still lies within a grizzled, cynical 40+ year old exterior. That’s partly because I have read the book it’s based on, so I know how the story plays out, and partly because it’s just damn effective. It uses the talents of all involved, from Tremblay to Roberts to Wilson, to great effect to sell the movie as one that’s inspirational and touching. I’m also struck by how it’s sold as both a movie for kids and young adults who will be drawn in by the relatability of how strange and alienating fifth grade can be as well as a movie for full-on adults and parents, who will identify with all the emotions shown by Auggie’s mom and dad.
It also can’t go without stating that there’s a great branding consistency going on in most all of the campaign. The trailers all hit the same beats as the TV spots and of course the posters, for the most part, use the popularity of the book to great effect, grabbing that distinctive robin’s egg blue for much of the campaign. Where many adaptations seek to discard much of the source book’s branding (aside from a title treatment or something) this one knows how often people have seen the cover on their own bookshelves or on the racks of book sections at Target and want to draw a straight line for the audience right to the box office.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.