On the Basis of Sex – Marketing Recap

on the basis of sex posterSupreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a cultural phenomenon in the last few years, largely because of her status as a kickass liberal woman who has carved her own path in an effort to bring legal equality to the world. Her story has recently been told in books like “The Notorious RBG” and the documentary RBG.

Now that story is getting the feature treatment in On the Basis of Sex. Felicity Jones plays Ginsburg as an ambitious lawyer who’s just starting out in her career. She comes up against walls and barriers all over the place, though, as she seeks to argue against laws she believes to be discriminatory against genders. Armie Hammer costars as her husband Martin.

The Posters

Jones as Ginsburg wears a sensible wool dress and gloves as she stands in front of a miniature Supreme Court building, showing how she will come to dominate that venue in more ways than one. Her outfit explains the time period the story is set in but it’s a drab image that doesn’t do much to fire the imagination or inspire much passion. Honestly it’s the kind of photo you’d expect to see used in a culture magazine for a feature on a powerful female attorney.

The Trailers

We get the basic outlines of the story in the first trailer, including how Ginsburg is determined as a young woman to change the culture and address some of the gender-based inequalities that have been codified into law. She’s smart but can’t get ahead because she’s a woman. Eventually she comes across a case where the law is prejudiced against men and she decides this is what it will take to upend the whole system.

What’s notable in what is otherwise a choppy and uneven trailer is the Hammer is very much playing the kind of role usually assigned to a woman, that of the supportive partner/spouse who encourages the other to keep fighting and do what’s right. That’s…that’s big. Jones looks very good, of course, but the story overall seems a bit overdone. Also, while some people took issue with the “Neither does the word ‘Freedom.’” line at the end, the movie’s screenwriter defended its usage, saying it makes sense in the context of the full scene.

That line is still in the second trailer, which focuses on Ginsburg’s fight against those who would keep her down and in her lane, something she’s utterly unwilling to do.

Online and Social

Focus Features’ official website follows the studio’s regular online template, opening with the trailer and with a bunch of photos, bios and videos further down the page for visitors to check out and click on. There are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Jones really shines in the first TV spot from late October, with Kesha’s inspiring original song playing over footage of her as Ginsburg crusading for what she believes to be right and making friends – and enemies – along the way.

In mid-November the second trailer was used as a promoted post on Twitter, one that specifically called out the inclusion of a new Kesha song.

Focus Features partnered with a number of consumer brands on the “All Rise Now” collection of lifestyle products, the purchase of which supported the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. The site for the campaign also featured movie assets and other graphics to be shared online, though oddly Pinterest isn’t one of the default choices for doing so despite them seeming to be perfect for that platform.

Media and Publicity

The publicity campaign kicked off with the release of the first photo showing Jones as Ginsburg. The actress spoke about the process of portraying the justice when Focus Features made it part of their CinemaCon presentation, which included an early look at footage for attendees.

Jones was the subject of a Vanity Fair cover story that detailed her preparation for the role, the attention to detail paid by everyone involved, the timeliness of the story and lots more.

Pop star Kesha released her anthemic song of empowerment that’s featured in the movie in mid-September.

The movie was singled out as the AFI Film Festival’s opening night feature.

Of course one couldn’t ignore the fact that this movie was coming shortly after the widely-acclaimed release of RBG, the documentary of Ginsburg that created a lot of stir among critics and audiences. That documentary was scheduled for a series of free screenings in advance of the U.S. midterm elections, which also nicely brought the subject back up a couple months before this movie’s release date.

Jones praised Leder as a director at a Q&A about the movie and her career in general. She also spoke about Ginsburg and the challenges she’s faced in her career while accepting the Variety Award at the British Independent Film Awards.

The first clip offered an extended look at a scene from the trailer of Ginsburg making a strong impression at a formal dinner. A second showed her making it clear she expects her husband to give her some space to be herself and a third had her arguing for taking a case no one else believes in. A final one had Ginsburg testing her arguments for equality.

An interview with Jones made the odd choice of focusing on her beauty and fitness routine as opposed to the research she did to take on the role of a future Supreme Court justice.

Hammer did the media rounds in the last couple weeks, talking about how he’s now BFFs with Ginsburg herself, his experience shooting the movie and how he bonded with the cast during production. Jones got in on the action with TV and other interviews.

The true story of the cast that essentially launched Ginsburg’s legal career, the one recounted in the movie, was detailed by Smithsonian Magazine and other outlets in the last few days.


First off, it’s worth noting this is the second movie in as many years to tell the story of a seminal case in the career development of a future Supreme Court justice, though last year’s Marshall didn’t get quite this level of buzz and awareness. That’s at least in part because Thurgood Marshall is a generation removed from most modern movie audiences, so there just wasn’t the connection.

This movie’s campaign, though, makes sure the audience knows this is about a woman who is held as an idol by many right now, so it’s much more relevant message. While the details of the case she’s arguing to make her point aren’t made very clear, that’s not the point. Instead it’s about her fierce determination in the face of adversity and disbelief.

Picking Up the Spare

Another interview with Leder where she talks about the ways she understood Ginsburg’s story and another where she talks about what she found in common with the lawyer.

She, Jones and Hammer were all part of a joint conversation about digging into Ginsburg’s life along with how the way her real life husband supported her wasn’t dramatic enough for some studio execs, who wanted to see more conflict. Another similar joint interview followed. That was also the subject of a new featurette.

Cailee Spaeny, who plays Ginsburg’s daughter, was interviewed a bit later about how she approached her role and got involved.

Later on there was another profile of Leder that focused on how she was yet another example of a female director who’d been shut out of feature films for almost two decades.

More on the “All Rise” campaign for workplace equality that involved a partnership with the ACLU here.


Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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