Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), feels the draw of music on his soul in the new Disney/Pixar release Coco. He idolizes his late ancestor, the famous singer and actor Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) but has to keep his passion secret because his grandmother and others strictly forbid music in their house and lives on any level.
One day while visiting Cruz’s local memorial Miguel suddenly finds himself transported to the mysterious Land of the Dead, where he’s the only living soul around. He has to enlist the help of both his ancestors and a friendly skeleton named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) to make his way out and back to the living world before he becomes a permanent resident of the afterlife.
The first poster is concerned primarily with establishing the setting, showing Miguel’s pet dog against a wall adorned with the title treatment. The guitar that informs the story sits propped against the wall and patting the dog’s head is a skeletal hand. A few paper cutouts depicting various scenes provide some clues as to the story in a nice, subtle way.
The next poster shows the young boy walking down the street, his beloved guitar hanging off his back and his dog by his side. The dog is looking behind them at their reflection in a puddle that shows the spirit world they’ll come to visit, a couple of skeletal residents of that world visible there. It’s still super-colorful, keeping up the brand identity established earlier but does more here to hint that there’s something a bit spooky lurking in the story as well. Interestingly there are no other Pixar movies name-dropped here.
The theatrical poster puts the whole cast around the guitar that’s central to the story. The land of the living is on one side while the land of the dead is on the other, showing the two settings of the story.
Another shows Miguel and the skeletal musician he befriends in the Land of the Dead walking along a brightly-colored bridge, the rest of the characters in the background.
The first trailer starts off by showing us that Miguel is a big fan of singer/actor Ernesto de la Cruz, watching his old show in a room dedicated to his idol. He travels to a shrine to the later actor and steals the guitar that is still there. Playing it transports him to the land of the dead. That’s about all that’s offered here, as the implications of doing so or what Miguel is searching for aren’t explained in this first look.
A short released a bit after that called “Dante’s Lunch” introduced us a bit more to the dog in the movie as he has some unfortunate experiences with a bone he’s trying to gnaw on.
The second trailer starts off by focusing on the supernatural, talking about how the dead come back to our world once a year, but that Miguel is going to be the first to go in the other direction. From there on out it’s about his confusion and sense of wonder at being among all these skeletons, ghosts and other souls of the departed.
The next trailer starts of with Miguel needing to hide his love of music due to his family’s history. He’s transported to the Land of the Dead, where he meets the deceased members of his family who, along with others, help him navigate this strange place and find his famous great-grandfather before he’s stuck there forever. It’s bright and colorful and sells the movie well, showing off the fantastic visuals it offers the audience.
The final trailer, released just a few weeks before the movie hit theaters, has Miguel making nice with his family as they prepare for the Day of the Dead. He needs to hide his artistic tendencies and eventually winds up in the Land of the Dead, where he has to escape and embrace who he is before it’s too late. “Nothing is more important than family” is the theme here that’s hit repeatedly.
Online and Social
The colorful key art sits atop the movie’s official website, showing Miguel and Dante exploring the colorful Land of the Dead. Scroll down and you can watch the final trailer, which is something you really should do.
There’s a brief synopsis that’s followed by a series of videos featuring various Disney talent talking about the movie, interviewing its actors, sharing set visits and more. The site ends with an extensive list of promotional partner companies.
They are unlisted on the hub site but there were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles created for the film as well.
A virtual reality experience was announced, including a trailer, at Facebook’s recent Oculus Connect developer event, allowing players to explore the Land of the Dead that’s featured in the movie. More details on that execution were revealed when it was finally released to widespread acclaim.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot positioned the movie as exploring the one world Pixar hasn’t gone to yet, namely the land beyond the veil of death. It’s part of the studio’s usual approach, which is to tie each movie into as many of its previous films as possible.
There were a number of promotional partners for the film, including:
- Ancestry.com, which had directors Adrien Molina and Lee Unkrich along with producer Darla Anderson explore their own family tree using the site’s DNA test and archive of records. It also created a portal where you could trace Miguel’s family and begin the process of finding your own ancestors. It also published posts like this on its blog that talked specifically about Mexican heritage, mentioning the movie as it did so. The effort was supported by TV ads including this commercial. The company was mentioned frequently on the movie’s social media accounts, with various promotions and sponsored featurettes offered.
- National CineMedia, which made Coco the first movie to receive promotion via Noovie, its new pre-show segment from. Specifically, the Backlot segment of the package was used by Disney (a premiere studio sponsor) to show a real dog going on adventures around the Pixar studios.
- Airbnb, which launched a campaign including this TV spot that used the journey Miguel goes on in the film to inspire people to use the site to book their own Mexican vacations.
- Chatbooks, which offered a customizable family photo album featuring illustrations from the movie.
- Guitar Center, which partnered with guitar maker Cordoba to offer a series of instruments inspired by the movie and featuring designs like those seen in the film.
- Herdez, which offered a free movie ticket with the purchase of select items.
- Purple, which ran a co-branded TV spot that seems to be the extent of the tie-in other than the use of the phrase “your tired bones.”
- Southwest Airlines which reskinned a 737 with movie branding.
- Subway, which offered backpack clips featuring characters from the film in its kids meals.
- SunRype, which ran a sweeps awarding movie tickets and other prizes.
Online and social ads used elements from the key art as well as either the full trailer, TV spots or other video clips. I’m sure there were plenty of outdoor ads that also used parts of the key art to make a bright, colorful impression on the audience.
Media and Publicity
EW provided the first look at the movie along with a few brief comments from director Lee Unkrich. While casting news isn’t usually part of the publicity activity I cover here, the announcement of an all-Latino cast was notable enough and generated enough coverage and discussion for me to make an exception.
A later edition of Entertainment Weekly had a couple interviews and stories about the movie, including an interview with Bernal about the skeleton he plays and how he worked to bring some heart to the character and how the Land of the Dead’s design and structure was inspired by Pixar’s work for Monsters, Inc.
Just days before release the reputation of the entire Pixar operation came under fire when chief John Lasseter suddenly stepped down amid reports there was a known culture of sexual harassment at the studio, with him at the center. That’s a big hit for an operation that’s part of the family-friendly Disney operation and one that could impact the perception of Pixar’s future films, including this one.
Pixar has put together another great effort that sells the movie as an adventure rooted in one specific culture but accessible to anyone. The extent to which the story is laid out varies from one element to the next but that’s not too surprising considering the visuals and tone are just as important in making the case to the audience as that story, sometimes even more so.
More than that, there’s a wonderful branding that flows throughout the campaign. From the colors to the title treatment, no matter where you encounter an element of the marketing it’s clearly tied to the movie. That’s the strongest thing the push has going for it, especially since it’s the rare Pixar film that’s about a human character, meaning it can’t tap into the same emotional tactics used on other movies.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.