The Prom – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a flashy, glitzy feel-good story.

The Prom, directed by TV impresario Ryan Murphy, is a star-studded romp about defying small-minded attitudes with the help of a handful of massive celebrities. Adapted from a hit stage musical, the movie stars Jo Ellen Pellman as Emma Nolan, a high schooler who has been informed that the PTA, headed by Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington), will not allow her to attend the prom with her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), who just also happens to be Mrs. Greene’s daughter.

When Emma’s situation makes the news it catches the attention of a handful of Broadway stars who are looking to get themselves out of a professional rut. So Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), Barry Glickman (James Corden), Angie Dickenson (Nicole Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) all head to small-town Indiana hoping to find career salvation but wind up experiencing quite a bit more.

The movie itself has received middling reviews, but Netflix gave it a flashy campaign in keeping with the subject matter.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency L.A.) came out in September and immediately makes the showbiz-nature of the story clear by presenting both the title and the names of the cast in big neon letters, like a sign placed on top of a building. You don’t get a lot of story information here but you get a lot of background on the rest of the movie, so it works pretty well.

A series of character posters, each with the face of that actor and another thing to celebrate named, came out in November.

“Everyone deserves a chance to celebrate” the audience is told on the next poster, released later in November. This one shows Emma and Alyssa holding hands while walking toward the school building, clearly on their way to a dance. A second poster uses the same aesthetic, but turns the couple around so they’re standing triumphantly facing the camera.

The final poster has the adults in the cast walking down the downtown of the town where the action takes place, all looking like they’re having a great time with all the neon and glitz they’re wearing.

The Trailers

The trailer (1.3 million views on YouTube), released toward the end of October, is the very definition of glitzy. You get the basics of the story – that a bunch of Broadway superstars has come to a small Indiana town to support a young woman who is being denied the right to go to the prom with her girlfriend – but that’s just there in the service of showing off the big musical productions. There’s so much glitter, so many sequins and so much choreography it’s…well…it’s just impressive.

The final trailer (1.4 million views on YouTube) came out just a few weeks ago, opening with Emma logging into her computer to tell her story. That prompts the cadre of actors to take up Emma’s cause as their own, heading to Indiana to make a splash. There are ups and downs, of course, but ultimately the stars decide to stage a prom themselves, resulting in more than a few heartwarming musical numbers.

Online and Social

No website, of course, but the movie also seems to have received limited support on Netflix’s brand social channels because the company has been busy promoting Mank as well as its lineup of holiday films.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie was announced back in April of 2019. After it was picked up by Netflix a release date was finally announced in mid-September.

A full clip of Kidman performing one of the film’s key musical numbers came out earlier this week.

Media and Press

The cast and crew were all part of a THR cover story where they talked about making the movie, what the story meant to them and more. That included a spotlight on DeBose, mentioning this as one of a couple high-profile projects she’s recently involved in.

Many members of the cast were quoted talking about this movie in a feature story on the latest wave of Hollywood’s attempt to make musicals an ongoing genre again.

Murphy praised his cast and celebrated the timeliness of the story in an interview.

DeBose was interviewed about how her cultural heritage and other factors played into this and other roles. Another interview with Murphy had him talking about assembling the cast and making the movie.

In terms of talk show appearances, Rannells showed up on “The Tonight Show” while Streep appeared on “The Late Show.”

Overall

You certainly can’t accuse the campaign of not knowing what it’s selling. That bright, shimmery pink and purple brand identity is carried across every element of the marketing, creating a consistent experience for the audience no matter where they encounter it.

What is slightly disappointing, though, is that in serving so much glitter the marketing never really settles into the story. You have to dig through several layers of musical fluff to get to what the film is actually about, and much of the drama that’s conveyed in the official synopsis isn’t communicated within the campaign itself. That includes big contradictions, such as how Washington’s character is shown in the trailer to be the antagonist who doesn’t want to let her daughter celebrate but on the posters is smiling and having a grand old time along with everyone else.

In the end it’s a mixed bag, but maybe I too don’t understand the concept of zazz.

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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