With a predicted $23-30 million opening weekend, the true story of a race car rivalry is expected to win the weekend.
Car rivalries are probably old hat in the modern world when there are so many other things going on, but back in the day Ford aficionados did not associate with Chevy owners. You lived and died with such things and preferences were passed on through generations like eye color.
The new movie from director James Mangold uses just that kind of high-stakes rivalry as its premise. Ford v Ferrari is set in 1966 and is about just what the title implies. The Ford Motor Company – particularly owner Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) and president Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) – want to bolster their reputation by building a car that can win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That race has traditionally been dominated by cars built by international rival Ferrari.
To help coordinate the effort, Ford enlists designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who insists their best chance lies in recruiting famed driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). The two set out to build and race a car that is light years beyond what Ford currently has in production in a matter of months. Their efforts are not without incident or pushback from others who feel what they’re doing doesn’t make much, if any, sense.
Fox’s campaign has emphasized the true story of the events depicted in the film, selling it as a movie made by and for adults, a message Disney hopes will resonate with both audiences and awards voters.
There’s lots of white space on the first poster (by marketing agency LA)from late May, with Ken and Carol shown at the bottom alongside the car they collaborated on. The pair, copy on the poster explains, “took the American Dream for a ride.”
Ken and Carol are walking through the pits of a race track on the second poster (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) released in September. It’s a similarly minimalist design here, the focus remaining on the two men and the car they’re alongside.
An IMAX poster shows the two main characters in action in a different way, the pair talking around a car that’s sitting in the middle of the desert where they are presumably testing it. It’s a much different visual tone than the other two one-sheets, but it works to get the audience’s attention. Copy at the top encourages people to “Experience the ride” as an obvious play on the story. For the Dolby Cinemas poster there’s more of the cast shown in a painting that also includes two cars going against each other.
After first briefly meeting Ken in the opening of the first trailer (6.6 million views on YouTube) we transition to Shelby being recruited by Lee Ioacocca to come design and build a car for Ford that can be raced at Le Mans. Shelby says they need Ken, but he’s going to be hard to recruit and is skeptical the American company can beat Ferrari, especially in such a short period of time. There’s lots of racing and lots of bluster and bravado in the rest of the trailer as we see the efforts of Ken and Carol’s work be put to the test time and again.
The contentious history Shelby and Ken have for each other is featured at the beginning of the second trailer (9.2 million views on YouTube) released in September. After that we see Ioacocca is driven to beat Ferrari at Le Mans because the Italian carmaker insulted him, so it’s a matter of pride and ego for him. From there it’s shown to be Ken and Shelby against everyone, including those at Ford who feel they’re the wrong people for the job, but the pair are determined to develop the fastest car around and do it on their own terms and in their own way.
Online and Social
Fox’s website for the movie is nice enough, using its standard content format, but there’s nothing particularly notable about what’s there. Sadly lacking, as usual, is any context or additional information about the actual events depicted in the film.
Advertising and Publicity
Aside from general comments about the movie and updates made during production, the first real publicity effort came in April when it was included by Disney in its CinemaCon presentation, including a bit of footage. That inclusion marked one of the first times Disney was selling a title it had acquired from Fox’s list of active projects.
In July the movie was listed among those screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and was later included in the lineup of both the Telluride Film Festival and the Hamptons International Film Festival. Those festival screenings, Toronto in particular, generated a good amount of positive buzz for what many called the kind of solid, professional, well-made studio film that is getting sidelined these days in favor of franchise spectacle.
TV advertising began in early October with a “Special Look” that included most of the basic story points shared in the trailers. Additional spots singled elements of the story like the clarity that comes in racing or the determination of Ken and Shelby to overcome long odds.
An AMC Theaters exclusive featurette had Damon and Mangold talking about the real life events that inspired the film. The two also appeared in a National CineMedia-exclusive promotional video. Another featurette adds Bale to the conversation as they talk about the nature of race car driving.
News broke in mid-October that, defying some tradition, both Bale and Damon would be put forward for consideration as Best Actor in this year’s Academy Awards voting.
The first clip came out in late October showing Ken confronting Shelby about some problems with the car and the work being done. Ken flirts with his wife in a later clip while another has Ken talking to his son about “the perfect lap,” a scene glimpsed in the trailers.
Last week a new round of TV advertising kicked off with a spot that started the 10 day countdown to the film hitting theaters. Online ads used the same design elements found on the posters to drive traffic to the ticket-buying website.
IMAX released an exclusive spot that emphasized the speed of the race cars in the story.
Last week Fox held the movie’s red carpet premiere in Los Angeles, with two cars on hand for the talent to sit in for photo ops.
Media and Press
Comments from Mangold about how mid-level dramas like this were an “endangered species” accompanied a first look photo released in late May. Months later, between Toronto and Telluride, the director was interviewed about making high-level dramas and much more.
While in Toronto, Bale and Damon were interviewed about what they took away from the production Bale also talked separately about losing weight for the role, working with Damon and the state of the market for original films. The latter was also the topic of a joint interview with the stars while Damon spoke about his interactions with Bale.
Damon talked cars with Jay Leno on an episode of the host’s web series. He also showed up on “Conan.” Costar Josh Lucas promoted the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” in early November. Bale and Damon were interviewed on “CBS Sunday Morning” while Damon appeared on “Ellen” on his own.
The cast and crew spoke about production, including Bale’s weight loss following a much heftier (physically) role at the premiere. An interview with Mangold allowed him to praise the technical teams on the film and explain how they contributed to the story.
How the production team recreated classic cars no longer widely available was the subject of a feature in mid-November. The movie’s director of photography spoke about the look of the movie and framing the racing while the effort involved in recreating a historically accurate Le Mans race was covered here.
At the risk of indulging in a bit of lazy writing, Fox’s campaign for Ford v Ferrari hums along like a well-tuned engine. It never stalls or stops and it keeps you engaged and active for every turn. There’s nothing here that’s going to blow anyone’s doors off, but it is completely and utterly dependable.
Throughout the campaign, across any and all media that it could have been encountered on, there’s a clear and consistent brand identity that’s used. You see that same red, white and blue design scheme – one intended to reinforce the American v Italy nature of the story – on the posters, online ads and even in the trailers. That means audiences are reliably getting the message that this is a simple but powerful story featuring two popular actors. It conveys the setting and more time and again, just as any effective marketing effort should.