Based on the bestselling book of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians hits theaters this week with a series of high expectations set on its shoulders. On the surface it shouldn’t be that big a deal as it’s a pretty basic story about a woman named Rachel (Constance Wu) who has been dating Nick (Henry Golding) for a while, the relationship becoming more serious. When he invites her to a family wedding overseas it comes with the promise of meeting the rest of his family and the realization he and his family are extremely loaded.
What sets the movie apart – and a theme we’ll see repeated throughout the campaign – is that the cast is made up exclusively of Asian actors and is set in that culture. It’s the first such movie since The Joy Luck Club decades ago to hold that distinction. So let’s see how Warner Bros. has been selling it.
The first poster shows Rachel and Nick in a loving embrace with a bright colorful array of animals and backgrounds behind them. It’s clear they’re in love while the copy “The only thing crazier than love…is family” hints at the conflict that will cause tensions and laughs for the couple. This is very good at establishing an overall tone for the movie and campaign.
When the trailer starts, Rachel and Nick have been dating for about a year and he thinks it’s time for her to meet the rest of his family still living in Singapore. She’s concerned because it might be expensive and awkward, leading to the revelation that she doesn’t know how well-off he and his family really are. Once there it’s clear the primary conflict will be between Rachel and Eleanor, Nick’s mom, as the two engage in a battle of wills over what is or isn’t right for Nick. Ultimately it sets up a choice for Nick as to which woman he will support and give his attention to.
This looks like a pretty standard romantic fairy tale type movie, just with a predominantly Asian-American cast. I say that as a good thing as it’s part of the overall normalization of characters who aren’t white and straight in everything. It’s being sold just as any of the dozen movies over the last 10 years just like it have been sold, with lots of pretty dresses, close ups of the lead actor’s abs, glittering locations and so on.
Online and Social
The trailer plays when you load the official website, so watch that again if you like. After that plays you get full-screen video on the splash page with a content menu at the top that includes links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
That content menu offers all the usual choices, from the “Trailer” to the “Synopsis” and so on. Nothing real unusual or otherwise of note there.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The studio gave the movie a significant advertising push around mid-July, with ads showing up on YouTube both as banners and pre-roll spots.
Fandango debuted the first TV spot, which did a good job of distilling the basic plot points into 30 seconds, selling it as a fairy tale romance. A bit posts like this were used on Twitter as promoted ads. Further TV commercials emphasized the glowing reviews the movie had already received.
The promotional partners that took part in the film’s marketing include:
- Visit Singapore, which makes a lot of sense and which amplified a lot of lifestyle-related content about the movie on its Twitter and other social media channels.
- The Knot, which also either created or shared a good amount of wedding themed material tied to the movie over the last few weeks.
- Peach and Lily, which created a movie-themed beauty kit meant to appeal specifically to its Korean customers.
- Live, Love, Polish, which created a movie-themed collection of nail polishes.
- Bag, Borrow or Steal, which offered a pair of randomly-awarded movie tickets.
Media and Publicity
The publicity for the movie kicked off in earnest with an Entertainment Weekly cover story that featured a number of interviews with the cast where they talked about working with so many other Asian-American actors and crew, how a studio note predictably asked the main character be changed to a white girl, how rare it was for the creators to see faces like theirs in media and more. Indeed, many pointed out that a couple of Asian-American leads on the cover of a major mainstream entertainment magazine was exceedingly uncommon to begin with.
Golding also weighed in on the casting conversation since his own involvement has come under scrutiny given he’s of mixed heritage, which has led some to bristle at him not being Asian enough for the role.
Right around the time the first trailer was released a profile of costar Awkwafina showed up in EW’s summer movie preview issue – and a similar one in the Los Angeles Times and another in Buzzfeed – that shared her professional history and positioned her as an up-and-coming talent. That coincided with the movie being positioned at CinemaCon as part of the diversity-filled slate WB had coming up. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio.
The pressure to get everything right – striking a balance between funny and respectful – was top of mind for screenwriter Adele Lim according to this interview. Wu was also heavily involved in the publicity for the movie, giving lots of interviews and talking about her career and experiences as an Asian-American in the entertainment industry.
Author Kevin Kwan shared his thoughts in interviews such as this about seeing his story make the leap from page to screen and talked about how comfortable he was as one of the leads in the promotional campaign for the movie.
A fashion-oriented event allowed the stars to talk about how uncommon movies with predominantly Asian casts still are, what that means to them and more. That was the theme of a statement by Constance Wu, who tied this one to Joy Luck Club, the last major release in the category. It was also the central focus of a Vanity Fair story that featured comments from the cast and crew alongside fashion shots of the cast.
That status is partly behind the substantial cover story about the movie, its stars, directors and everyone else in The Hollywood Reporter. That feature included how Netflix wanted the book to turn into a series but Kwan wanted a feature film more than anything.
An extended clip offered a good look at a key moment from the movie, where Nick invites Rachel to come with him to Singapore to attend a family wedding, something his family there isn’t super-thrilled about.
Media activity really picked up in the last couple weeks prior to release. That included two New York Times features, one on how the cast came together and what being in the film meant to them and one that continued pointing out how rare all-Asian casts are in mainstream American entertainment. Another EW story with Chu allowed him recount the development of the movie but also unfortunately mentioned how it bares an outsized burden to “prove” Asian-centric movies can succeed.
The red carpet premiere event was covered from both a style and substance angle while the cast lavished praise on their director. Around that time, Awkwafina appeared on “Kimmel” to play up her personality and the movie.
In the biggest package I’ve seen in a while, The Los Angeles Times ran profiles of essentially the entire cast and crew: Ronny Cheng, Kevin Kwan, Jimmy O. Yang, Constance Wu, Gemma Chan, Sonoya Mizuno, Ken Jeong, Jon M. Chu, Chris Pang, Awkwafine, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh and Nico Santos.
The campaign really shines, as it might be obvious, in the earned media department. The entire cast has been all over the press – and will likely continue to be so in the coming weeks – talking about how much they support each other, how much they want the movie to succeed, what it means to them and people like them and more. They have been the movie’s best advocates on a number of fronts.
That’s good because I’m a little surprised with the emphasis on the cast that there wasn’t more in the actual marketing department. Just one trailer? No character posters? I get this isn’t a super hero movie, but I would have expected something in the formal campaign that put a touch more of the spotlight on the group of actors and the characters they play. The press push counters that to some extent, but just barely.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
Just in the first early screenings the movie reportedly recouped what Warner Bros. had spent on TV advertising.
Yes, Michelle Yeoh has a long history of being incredible on film.
Quartz has some additional details on how Singapore’s tourism bureau, an official partner for the movie, is using it to draw more travelers there.
There’s a cottage industry that’s sprung up in the last week devoted to producing stories like this about how the movie differs the book. Similarly, quite a few guest essays such as this have been published to various culture sites making it clear the movie does not represent all Asian people.
Director Jon M. Chu is ready for the movie’s success to open up some doors for him. Chu’s letter to the band Coldplay asking permission to use their song “Yellow” also garnered several thousand headlines.
This is one of a few profiles I’ve seen focusing on the movie’s costume designer, which makes sense given the attention people are paying to the wardrobe sported by the characters.
One more business-oriented story that’s been approached from various angles is the makeup of the audience itself. Asian-Americans turned out in much larger numbers for this movie than others (unsurprising). That was powered by Asian-American artists who helped get the word out for opening weekend, throwing off a tracking system that not only doesn’t do well with non-white audiences but which isn’t engineered for celebrity-driven efforts that mimic “get out the vote” campaigns more than those for other movies. Both of those, as this story points out, should get the studios’ attention.
Representation is again the theme of this interview with the film’s producers.
Awkwafina out there with the reminder that there are plenty of Asian actors around the industry, it’s just that no one is casting them in meaningful roles.
Warner Bros. used a campaign of targeted Facebook and Instagram content to build buzz for the movie in advance of release to introduce the audience to characters, story elements and more.