Director David Ayer reunites with his Suicide Squad star Will Smith in the new Netflix-original movie Bright. In the movie, Smith plays Daryl Ward, a police officer in an alternate world where mythical creatures like elves, orcs and others coexist alongside humans and have since forever. Now, Ward is the first human cop to be paired with an orc, Jakoby (Joel Edgerton).
While they’re still learning how to get along they discover the existence of a magic wand, a powerful magical weapon that can do whatever the wielder wishes. There are various very bad people – and plenty of others – trying to get their hands on the wand but it’s up to Ward and Jakoby to keep it out of dangerous hands and make sure it can’t do any more harm.
The single one-sheet sells the movie with imagery that’s common to the “buddy cop” genre and indeed looks like it’s promising Bad Boys and Orcs. Ward and Jakoby are positioned in stereotypical cop poses as scenes of police action mixes with bright lights that are meant to imply magic of some sort. Ayer’s previous movies are name-dropped at the top of the poster. This is a design we’ve seen plenty of times before for various movies and shows so it’s very much meant to be familiar, with the inclusion of a mythical creature offering a bit of the unexpected.
The first teaser, which debuted during the Oscars broadcast, starts off looking like an ordinary police movie. But then we see an orc with a shotgun and things get increasingly weird, showing that Ward and his partner live in a world populated by fantasy characters and that they’re out to stop something before it gets worse.
The first full trailer was shown off at Comic-Con and immediately introduces us to the world where humans live with various magical creatures. Ward isn’t a fan of those creatures but is a cop, so it’s his job to try and protect everyone. He’s reluctantly paired with an orc named Nick and the two start trying to get along. Soon they’re called to a crime scene where they discover a magic wand, which is a powerful weapon that’s coveted by everyone, including other cops. Ward and Nick find themselves going up against everyone to keep it safe, working to get over their issues and count on each other as they do their job.
It’s kind of funny and certainly action-filled, giving the audience a good look at the movie’s visual aesthetic. Smith is giving his usual performance of a character who’s talented but cocky, which is fine. The message to the audience is they’re getting a sci-fi buddy cop action comedy, like Lethal Weapon but with fairies.
Some of that prologue is skipped in the next trailer, which uses a debriefing the two partners are part of to lay out the story about how they encounter a magic wand and set out to protect it from malevolent forces. There’s lots of action and humor as it works to sell an effects-driven action movie worthy of the big screen. Notably, it ends with the promise that the soundtrack is coming a little over a month before the movie is released.
The final trailer starts off showing Ward and Jakoby still not getting along before they’re summoned to a crime scene where they wind up discovering someone has summoned a magic wand that soon becomes what everyone is after. The whole world is in danger, Ward warns as we see one action sequence after another of magical happenings.
Online and Social
The lack of official, standalone website is common for Netflix, which is focused on driving traffic to its own site, so that’s not surprising. While the company has occasionally created the occasional social network profile, this time around there were Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages where videos, photos and other promotional updates were shared.
The Instagram page is particularly interesting in how the team took advantage of the three-across layout on the web to use each individual image to make up a section of a whole poster. That’s a neat execution showing a level of planning and forethought that’s not super-common.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Usually there isn’t much in the way of paid promotion when it comes to a Netflix original movie. This is a very different situation as the company has really opened up the checkbook for a pretty substantial ad campaign. That’s included online ads that use the key art of Smith and Edgerton in their traditional “cop” poses, several metric tons of pre-roll ads on YouTube that have used either the full trailer or one of several 30-second spots, paid placement on Spotify to promote the soundtrack and lots more. I wouldn’t be surprised to find there were billboards (at least in L.A. and New York) and other outdoor ads as well. It’s clear the company is pulling out all the stops to promote what it feels is its first real mainstream action comedy, something that’s 100% on par with any theatrical release.
Media and Publicity
Everyone’s interest was piqued when it was reported Netflix was among the top bidders for the movie, something that would be hugely notable considering the level of talent involved.
A short video announced Netflix would be bringing the movie’s publicity machine to San Diego Comic-Con this year. The cast and crew brought the full trailer along with more to Comic-Con, where Ayer talked about the artistic freedom provided by Netflix and everyone else talked about how fun it was to shoot the movie and so on.
Smith kept talking about the artistic freedom Netflix allowed for and the social themes the story covers. And he brought his usual charm and charisma to the talk show circuit to talk about the movie and make sure everyone knew they needed a Netflix account to watch it.
Netflix launched a phone hotline that offered information on the movie, including where and when to watch it, which is kind of a neat stunt. It also used clips to create a fake PSA about the dangers of a magic wand and how to avoid doing unintended damage with it.
Just a week or so before release, Netflix sent a swarm of orcs onto the streets of New York City to hit the subway and promote the film.
As I’ve alluded to a number of times, the marketing effort put forth by Netflix is well above the usual scope of the campaigns mounted for its original films. That was true of the push for Mudbound last month as well and shows the company realizes that in order to support and continue to attract the big name talent it will rely on to compete against the major studios it needs to spend marketing dollars.
Not only will that feed the egos of the filmmakers and actors responsible but doing so increases the reach of the movie’s message and awareness. Current subscribers will be encouraged to maintain membership to keep access and others will consider signing up because high-quality original content that’s on-par with what they’d find at theaters can be a powerful market differentiator.
That being said, the campaign here is kind of a mixed bag. Yes, it looks like just the kind of high-concept action comedy you’d see elsewhere, but that’s not always a good thing. Ayer’s reputation isn’t super-solid in the wake of the mess that was Suicide Squad and it seems at least some of the comments made about artistic freedom are a subtweet of Warner Bros., which reportedly meddled with Squad without his involvement.
The marketing certainly isn’t going to appeal to everyone, just as it wouldn’t if we were talking about a theatrical release. It’s geared toward fans of Smith’s as well as genre fans and the kind of person who would want to play a deeply immersive video game with a similar premise as the movie. It sometimes looks silly, or as if it’s taking itself too seriously. That will turn some people off but it won’t matter to others, drawn in by the idea and the convenience of watching a movie featuring this level of talent from the comfort of their own home.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.