Earlier this week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 2020 Academy Awards. While the immediate news cycle for that has past, I still wanted to capture at least the Best Picture contenders and remember how those movies were sold to the public.
To my eternal chagrin, the single nominated title I didn’t write a marketing recap for is Parasite from director Bong Joon Ho, one of the most positively reviewed releases of 2019. There was no good reason for the oversight, it just fell during a busy week and unfortunately became one of several pieces that were jettisoned during the editorial review process.
That omission confessed to, there’s one title – Avengers: Endgame – that didn’t make the Oscar cut but did earn a Motion Picture Publicity Campaign nomination in this year’s ICG Publicist Awards and so is being included in my roundup below.
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.
It’s not surprising that Netflix would make a huge deal about being the sole distributor (except for the small theatrical run) for a new movie from Martin Scorsese, not to mention one that features a Murderer’s Row cast like this does. That campaign has sold a movie that seems pulled straight from the mid-90s in tone and subject matter, in the best possible way.
If you want a single element that sums up the tone of the campaign it has to be the resurrection of the Downfall meme. One of the odd things about that meme, which was popular online in the days before Twitter in particular offered native GIF support, was always based on the shared assumption that it was kind of alright to use something explicitly Nazi-related to share some other message. We were finding humor by coopting Nazi imagery, removing some of the power that imagery has.
What’s missing from the marketing is any sense that the nihilistic chaos and violence embraced by Arthur Fleck as he descends into madness as Joker is a commentary on anything in particular. Instead it appears to hold that chaos and violence up as a reasonable reaction to feeling like the world is holding you back. That’s a worldview eerily similar to what’s ascribed to many of the white men in the wake of mass shootings at schools, mosques, churches, homes and elsewhere.
Selling an all-female drama set in during the Civil War should be a hard task, but by selling it as a piece of modern filmmaking with whipsmart dialogue uttered by some of the most critically-praised actors in recent years is a solid way around that problem.
Really, then, what’s being sold here is a tearjerker from a reliably original writer/director and featuring a talented cast. The twists and turns of the story will be rending and affirming by turns, but it’s the journey here that is the main attraction.
What’s surprising about the campaign is that for as much as the movie has been framed in the press for the last two years as one about Manson and his cult, that real-life figure is absent from 90 percent of the trailers and other marketing materials. Instead the focus has been on Rick and how he’s fighting to keep his career above water while his loyal stunt double Cliff leans back and enjoys the ride, as confident and relaxed as Rick is unsure and fidgety.
For everyone else, what’s presented here is a Very Good war drama, something that usually resonates at the end of the calendar year to some extent. A branding focus was found early on and subsequently reinforced, creating a strong identity that is instantly familiar no matter where it’s encountered.
In an effort to overcome all those and other concerns, Marvel Studios has focused on the emotions that come with the story. Marvel is also counting on fans being on board with the story to the point they don’t mind sitting for a three-hour film. Infinity War clocked in at an already-impressive two-and-a-half hours. Endgame will push that even further, making some question whether or not studios and theaters need to reintroduce the concept of intermissions. The marketing promises there will be a lot of story packed into those three hours, including action, heartache and hopefully triumph as this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes to an end.