The High Note – Marketing Recap

How Focus Features is selling its story of showbiz dreams.

high note poster 2

The story of The High Note seems to come at music stardom from two ends of the timeline. On the one end Grace (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a massive star who continues to make a living performing the hits from her successful career and whose management wants her to keep on down that road. She, meanwhile, wants to keep growing and putting out new material.

On the other end is Maggie (Dakota Johnson), Grace’s personal assistant who has aspirations of becoming a songwriter and producer in her own right. Stressed by Grace’s constant needs and the frustrations of her own stifled ambitions, Maggie just tries to get through each day. Eventually she and Grace begin to become more entwined in each other’s lives, finding that each isn’t quite what the other expected.

Focus Features’ campaign has emphasized the story’s music industry setting, especially the talents of Ellis Ross in the lead.

The Posters

high note poster

Maggie and Grace stand side-by-side on the first poster (by marketing agency Arsonel), released in February. L.A.’s famous Capital Records building is seen in the circular frame, as are a couple palm trees and the members of the supporting cast. It seems the designers here were going for a look like an old Bill Graham-esque concert poster but couldn’t quite commit to the conceit.

The same basic design is used on May’s second poster, but this time the circle is surrounded by some bright stage lights at the bottom instead of a peaceful Los Angeles scene.

The Trailers

Maggie, we see in March’s first trailer (6 million views on YouTube), is an overworked and underappreciated for music superstar Grace. She keeps Grace’s schedule and everything else but is kept just out of the limelight. When Grace wants to record a new album instead of resting on her laurels as her managers want her to, Maggie sees an opportunity to write and produce as she’s always wanted to. Despite some resistance, the two women eventually team up to revitalize Grace’s career and realize Maggie’s ambition, which brings the two of them together.

What was essentially the same trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube) was rereleased in early May, coinciding with the news of the movie’s revised distribution details.

Online and Social

There are pics, videos and more on the movie’s official website, which at the top makes sure to link to all the VOD platforms audiences will be able to purchase the film on later this week. There are also bios of the cast as well as director Nisha Ganatra

Advertising and Promotions.

Before the movie’s promotional campaign really kicked off, news broke that Focus was taking off the theatrical release schedule and would be making it available through premium VOD platforms in late May, about three weeks after it was originally planned.

An audio track for the song “Love Myself” came out a couple weeks ago while one for “Stop For A Minute” hit YouTube just last week.

At the same time a number of clips were released. One shows Grace wanting to discuss her show, another shows Maggie getting a pep talk from her friend while she talks about her crush. Grace and Maggie discuss the singer’s stalled creative ambitions in a third while the two go over Grace’s hectic schedule in another.

the high note online ad

Online ads used variations on the film’s key art to drive traffic to the website specifically for the on-demand audience.

More clips showed Grace urgently needing Maggie’s help for a non-urgent matter and Maggie sharing her musical aspirations with her friend.

A special at-home watch part was set for this Friday to get people to tune in for a communal event.

Media and Press

Ellis Ross was the central figure in the movie’s press campaign, including lots of interviews that focused on her playing a musical superstar given she’s the real life daughter of Diana Ross, something she was understandably reluctant to do.


While the animated features that have gone straight to VOD over the last couple months have gotten lots of attention, this is the kind of movie that is much more likely to follow that path not just during a theater-closing pandemic but going forward as well. It’s the kind of mid-grade star vehicle that has, over the last few years, not performed well theatrically but has been sought by streaming companies who want to build out their libraries.

Premium VOD offers a middle ground, one where the studio retains control but doesn’t have the pressure of theatrical box-office looming over its head. Not saying these conversations won’t be difficult, but this seems like a perfect example of the middle-ground type of movie that has been lost in the shuffle of late.

That being said, the campaign supports just that kind of release. It doesn’t seem like it would generate a huge amount of interest in driving people to theaters, but it might convince people to buy it to watch this weekend as they remain indoors. It looks funny and uplifting and enjoyable, which is exactly the kind of film that is more likely to do well at home.

Picking Up the Spare

There were more interviews with Ellis Ross about living out her pop dreams, the concerns she had taking on the role and more

Johnson appeared on “Kimmel” to discuss the film as well. 

The movie’s costume designer talked about creating the look of the characters. 

Another clip showed Grace performing while a featurette covered the themes of the story. Some of the movie’s locations were included in an installment of Focus’ “Reel Destinations” series. Ross also appeared in an installment of the studio’s “My First Gig” series. 


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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