Universal is hoping audiences want something charming and familiar – with music they love – as the holiday season begins.
Last Christmas has an impressive pedigree. Not only does it star Emilia Clarke and thirst object Henry Goulding, but the movie was written by Emma Thompson and directed by comedy powerhouse Paul Feig. Not just that, but as the title would suggest – and the campaign emphasizes – it pulls inspiration from the music of George Michael and Wham!.
Clarke stars as Kate, a young woman who never quite lives up to her responsibilities and rarely wants to be accountable for her actions. Prickly and sarcastic, Kate is getting by working at a Christmas shop as an elf. One day she meets Tom (Goulding), a guy who seems too good to be true. Despite her efforts to push him away and warn him she’s a disaster, he sticks around and the two develop feelings for each other.
That plot is as paper thin as they come, but Thompson’s script offers secrets that when revealed could spell trouble for the couple. So the appeal is in the execution then, as some serious behind-the-screens talent helps some popular actors channel all their charm into a story we’ve likely seen before.
Audience interest is moderate, with a projected $17 million or so opening weekend for a movie that’s been sold in as non-offensive a manner as possible.
Familiar London landmarks are lit up and positioned behind Kate and Tom on what seems to be the only domestic one sheet (by marketing agency LA) from August. The two snuggle on a bench in the foreground, clearly establishing this as a romantic comedy. The holiday setting is communicated both through the lights and the copy “It’s a
wonderful life.” Both Feig and Thompson are name-dropped along with the fact that the movie will feature Michael’s music.
Kate is in the middle of another crisis as the trailer (10.2 million views on YouTube), which debuted in August, opens, the kind of thing that often happens to her because she’s self-involved and careless. Her family isn’t thrilled with her choices, including working at a year-round Christmas shop. That job brings her into contact with Tom, who she then keeps running into to the point it stops being a coincidence. We find out Kate has chronic health problems she uses as a reason to not connect with people. When she finally takes Tom’s advice to be nicer it has positive repercussions on the rest of her life.
Online and Social
The standard ticket-centric format is applied to the movie’s official website, but this one adds in the trailer, which autoplays at the top of the middle column. I’m pretty sure that just makes it worse, since it’s literally shoehorning one of the most important parts of the campaign into the page, which is otherwise solely devoted to commerce.
Advertising and Publicity
Feig, Thompson and Golding all appeared along with the first trailer at CinemaCon to begin the process of building buzz and wooing industry executives. Another extended preview was offered at CineEurope a couple months after that.
Promotional partners for the movie include:
Magnolia Bakery, which offered its Hot Cocoa Cupcake in conjunction with a shoutout of the movie.
Kendra Scott, which offered a collection of movie-inspired jewelry.
Tipsy Elves, which put the movie’s key art on a collection of its Christmas and holiday sweaters and more. The items don’t seem to be themed to the movie itself, just all brought under its banner.
A paid promotion with Hannah Hart had Golding and Clarke appearing on her YouTube channel to decorate some Christmas cookies.
Spots like this were used online and presumably on TV as well that broke the trailer down to its essential elements.
The cast and crew came out for the “gray carpet” premiere in New York last week.
Official movie merchandise along with special editions of the soundtrack were available on the website for George Michael’s music.
Media and Press
A first look photo showing Golding and Clarke was released in July. A month later Golding appeared on “The Tonight Show” to debut the first trailer. Around that time Feig revealed the movie would feature a previously unreleased song from the album Michael was working on at the time he passed away, adding a big incentive for fans to see the film.
Thompson talked about getting Michael’s permission to use his music in the film before he passed away. She also shared her inspiration for the story, including her actual thoughts on the song whose title is used here. Clarke also made some late night appearances to talk about being the “anti” female rom-com lead and more.
If there’s anything to take issue with in the campaign, it’s that it seems to have puttered out in recent months. While Clarke, Thompson and Golding did interviews and such, it seems like there should have been at least one more trailer and a series of other spots to keep the drumbeat going right up until release. That not happening may indicate there’s little to the movie beyond what’s seen in the trailer. Given the talent behind the camera – not to mention in front of it – that’s surprising.
Maybe it’s just because of the title song, but the whole campaign presents a movie that’s as immediately familiar as when your local radio station switches over to just Christmas music every November. You know exactly what to expect and that’s kind of comforting. The selling point here then becomes not only Michael’s name recognition but also the idea that audiences will be charmed and entertained but probably not challenged very much should they choose to head to theaters to see it.
Universal is also probably hoping it can take advantage of being first to market with an overtly Christmas-related film. The field will be much more crowded next week when Noelle debuts on the new Disney+ streaming service and Netflix begins to release the first of its series of Christmas originals, not to mention Hallmark Channel’s lineup. Whether or not it can break through based on the brand identity afforded by the association with Michael’s music remains to be seen.
Picking Up the Spare
An interview with Feig had him talking about how Thompson approached him with the project and why he was initially reluctant to sign on.