deep water – marketing recap

How 20th Century Studios has sold what’s described as a “sexual psychological thriller”

Deep Water movie poster
Deep Water movie poster

Adrian Lyne, who previously brought us movies like Flashdance, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal and many more, directs Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas in this week’s Deep Water from 20th Century Studios. Affleck and de Armas play Vic and Melinda Van Allen, a married couple whose relationship is nearing its end. Before they call it quits, though, they begin playing twisted mind games with each other that wind up pulling in the people around them, some of whom begin dying.

The movie is, as many have recently, skipping theaters entirely and debuting this Friday on Hulu, which has become a popular tactic for Disney with their non-franchise adult-skewing titles.

With Tracy Letts, Kristen Connelly, Lil Rel Howery and others also appearing, let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcement and casting

In development by Lyne since 2013, Affleck and de Armas were cast in mid-2019, moving production into gear. At that point Disney acquired the project as a 20th Century Studios release following the merger with Fox and others, including Howery and Letts, joined the cast.

The movie was originally scheduled for November 2020, but various Covid-related delays kept it out of theaters. It was then slated for January 2022 but last December Disney pushed it a bit farther out to the current release date. In between all that it was announced the movie would go direct to Hulu in the U.S. and to Amazon Prime for overseas audiences.

the marketing campaign

With all the delays and the general state of uncertainty that still to a large extent pervades the movie industry, it’s not wholly surprising the campaign didn’t really kick off until just a month prior to release in mid-February.

That’s when the first teaser (2.7m YouTube views) trailer came out. What looks at first like a pleasant picnic with Vic and Melinda quickly turns weird as they discuss why they’re still together until each admits there’s something wrong with them, setting the stage for what’s to come.

Both it and the first poster, released at the same time, use the tagline “The love story is never the whole story” to hint at the twists and turns the audience can expect. The one-sheet shows the couple through what looks like a steamy glass shower door to make sure and communicate there’s a sexual or at least intimate nature to what is happening.

A commercial that came out two weeks later shows Vic approaching a window while attending a party, only to see Melinda and another man outside.This adds on to what was seen in the teaser to make it clear the two are playing games with/torturing each other, possibly in an effort to spice up their marriage.

In the full trailer (2.2m YouTube views), released in the first week of March, we start off with the same picnic scene. But from there we see Melinda engaging in some overt flirting – and frequently much more than that – all in full view of Vic and his friends. It only gets more intense from there as at least one person dies, someone’s car goes off a cliff and so on as the games they are playing, all because Melinda doesn’t want to lead a boring life and Vic has no power in the situation, escalate.

The couple stare out a window seemingly happy, or at least content, on the next poster.

Some of the scenes of Melinda driving Vic crazy are used in additional commercials like this that were released over the course of the next week.

The first clip offers a look at a scene of Melinda using a grilled cheese sandwich to embarrass Vic in front of another man, but Vic knows the games she’s playing and calls her out on it.

More short commercials/ads came out, some of which focus specifically on one of the other men Melinda runs around with. There were also a couple cool graphics designed to look like text messages of Vic asking Melinda where she is and Melinda flirting with one of her other suitors.

overall

The 47% rating the movie has on Rotten Tomatoes offers a potential reason why the movie was shunted over to Hulu exclusively without even testing the theatrical waters, so to speak, but it also may represent that most unfair of yardsticks being used by critics. Namely, it’s being graded lower because it’s not as engaging or mind-blowing as Lyne’s earlier work, some of which transformed the movie industry as we know it and certainly pushed a number of 1980s/90s boundaries.

As for the campaign, it sells the kind of slightly erotic thriller that was pioneered in that era but which now is a harder sell when everything has to have an expanded cinematic universe of IP. But it looks like it might be worth a couple hours for someone who doesn’t mind Affleck and is looking for something a bit darker than Cheaper By The Dozen, the other streaming original a Disney division is releasing this week. I can’t say there’s a ton of great or super-intriguing tactics on display here, though the text message posters are pretty cool, but what’s sold here appears to be a solid double that’s worth seeing.

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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