UglyDolls – Marketing Recap

uglydolls poster19The popular brand of plush and plastic toys comes to the big screen in this week’s UglyDolls. In the movie the UglyDolls are basically factory defects who find themselves all sent to the same place where they establish a society that celebrates differences, embraces imperfections and allows everyone to feel important.

One day Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) decides to venture outside of the city and finds the town of Perfection, where all the toys are perfect and where no variance from the norm is allowed. The residents of Perfection have no problem finding children to love them because they’re perfect, where as the UglyDolls struggle because of how they look.

The Posters

“Things are about to get ugly” we’re warned on the teaser poster, which features the main characters standing top of the title treatment. A bit more of the story is at least hinted at on the next poster, which has them standing with their backs to the camera as they look up at an arch with “Institute of Perfection” etched into it. We get a plush doll pun in the form of “Sew it begins.”

One set of characters features each of the Uglys against a brightly colored backdrop, with their name as well as the name of the star providing its voice prominently displayed. This encouraged audiences to “Show ‘em what you’re made of.”

The second set of character posters takes a different approach, promising audiences the movie is “The movie musical event of the year,” a key message adopted in the campaign as a whole because of the pedigree of the voice cast.

All the main characters are assembled on the theatrical poster in mostly the same poses they take on their individual one-sheets, meaning it’s just a drag-and-drop design job on display here.

The Trailers

The first trailer came out in November of last year and was focused primarily on making sure everyone knew the movie featured an all star voice lineup. Introductions to some of the characters as well as the world the characters inhabit are offered as well, but it’s mainly about the music, only offering a look at Perfection at the very end. That emphasis on the music was reinforced when a “Sing Along” version of the trailer was released a short while later.

The second trailer from March sets up an Island of Misfit Toys situation, with Uglyville being where those toys who are imperfect are sent to live and revel in their status. Moxie, we see, still believes she’ll find a kid to love her and sets out to lead a group of others on a journey to the “Big World.” The residents of Perfection are less than welcoming, though, even as Moxie tells everyone their flaws are what makes them unique and wonderful.

Later that month the final trailer was released that focused on the world of Perfection and the flawless toys who live there. The UglyDolls refuse to be put down, though, once more making it clear that “broken is beautiful” and they can be wonderful in their own way. One more short trailer from just a week ago ignores the story entirely and just sells the movie as a big musical good time for anyone who might be feeling judged because they’re different.

Online and Social

In addition to the usual collection of marketing materials, the movie’s official website has sections for you to “Meet the UglyDolls” where visitors can find out more and an area with online activities for the younger audiences to enjoy.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A 30-second commercial was aired during the “Puppy Bowl” broadcast in March. National Pancake Day was celebrated with a short video showing you how to make character-shaped pancakes. Another commercial promised the movie would be the “biggest musical event of doll-time.”

A short TV-spot like video was featured in a Promoted Tweet in mid-April.

Partners for the movie included:

  • Little, Brown, which published a series of tie-in books featuring the various characters.
  • The Ad Council, which used the characters in a cobranded commercial encouraging parents to make sure they’ve installed their infant car seats correctly.
  • Hybrid Apparel, though there’s nothing about the partnership on the company’s site. Presumably it added movie-themed merchandise to its offerings.
  • Cold Stone Creamery, which added two character-themed flavors to its menu.
  • Hardees/Carl’s Jr., which added movie-based items to its kids meals.
  • Pinkberry, which added a character-themed recipe to its menu and ran a sweepstakes awarding tickets to see the movie.
  • Original Sprout, which ran a sweepstakes awarding a movie prize pack.

All sorts of additional commercials came out in the last two weeks that keep presenting the colorful, inspiring message of the movie.

Media and Publicity

All the characters were introduced in a promotional video that tied each one to the musician/actor providing their voice.

The prospects for the movie were so high that months before it came out STX Entertainment revealed a deal with China’s Alibaba to expand the brand in other media and products.

After being featured prominently in all the trailer and commercials, Clarkson’s “Broken & Beautiful” got an official video released in March that had the movie’s characters bouncing around with the lyrics to the song. A bit later on Clarkson performed that song as part of STX’s presentation to exhibitors and others at CinemaCon and then again on “The Tonight Show.”

Featurettes focused on the recording of “Broken and Beautiful” by Clarkson and “The Ugly Truth” by Joe Jonas. STX also released a sizzle reel of highlights from the movie’s “felt carpet” premiere. That event also allowed the other music acts and stars featured in the movie to talk about what brought them on board the project.

The story of how a relatively obscure speciality toy brand came to the big screen was covered here.

Clarkson was interviewed about this being her return to movies after some less-than-stellar early attempts.


I hope there’s some sort of decent, affirming message in the movie as a whole because what’s on display in the campaign isn’t great. Basically it shows the UglyDolls are relegated to what amounts to a segregated community because that’s the only place they can be free from the judgement of the perfect people without defects or flaws. That’s…not a great message.

Aside from that, the campaign works so hard to sell this as a big musical adventure it’s questionable if there’s even a script. With a voice cast pulled from the ranks of top musical talent that’s not hugely surprising, but the studio is working hard to recreate the magic of what happened a couple years ago with Trolls and Justin Timberlake’s breakout hit from that soundtrack. Not sure if it’s going to pay off as the pitch here is a bit muddled and there may not be a clearly defined audience for this one.

Picking Up the Spare

Monae talked more about her character and the movie’s story 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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