not okay – marketing recap

How Searchlight Pictures is selling a dark comedy of influencers and influence

Not Okay movie poster from Searchlight Pictures
Not Okay movie poster from Searchlight Pictures

Zoey Deutch plays Danni Sanders in Not Okay, arriving on Hulu this weekend from Searchlight Pictures. Sanders is an aspiring social media influencer on a trip to Paris to break out of her creative rut and attract some new followers with fresh content. Fate helps her out when a terrorist attack in the city results in her being mistaken for one of the attack’s survivors, a status that’s untrue but which helps bring her attention. But the truth is the trip was faked and the truth is hanging out there, waiting to come to light and tear down Sanders’ newfound fame.

Written and directed by Quinn Shephard, the movie costars Dylan O’Brien as Colin, the man Sanders has a crush on and Mia Isaac as Rowan, the actual survivor of a school shooting Sanders encounters in her new role as advocate for peace and love.

With all that in mind, let’s look at the campaign.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in June, 2021 with Searchlight producing, Shephard writing/directing and Deutch starring. The rest of the cast joined over the next couple months as filming began.

During production there was already a decent marketing effort underway on social media, especially TikTok, where videos were being posted showing Deutch and the rest of the cast engaging in hijinks and having fun behind the scenes. The studio was also posting behind the scenes photos, memes about influencers and more on Twitter and elsewhere.

Not all of that is directly tied to the movie, some of it is just tangentially related to themes of the story or characters. But the goal here was to create share-worthy content that’s in-line with the influencer culture of that story that fans could relate to and begin to build some buzz about.

the marketing campaign

The official campaign finally kicked off in early March with the release of a first look photo along with an interview with Shephard talking about how she worked with the film’s costume designers and stylists to mine TikTok and other social media platforms for the kinds of trendy fashions Sanders and the other characters might wear.

At the end of April the movie’s release date was moved up a week from early August to the end of July.

The teaser trailer (3.5m YouTube views) that came out at the end of June opens with a warning about how it contains an “unlikable female protagonist”, which sounds like a ridiculous thing to say until you realize it really isn’t. From there we see the consequences of Sanders’ actions before we see the actions themselves, all of which are highly questionable but which, she explains, are taken because she’s desperate to be noticed.

More memes and other trendy content was posted on social media following that, with the team jumping on each new format that popped up online.

Isaac was profiled about this and other new movies she’s in that are coming out soon. Another profile came out a little bit later that covered similar ground.

Shephard was also interviewed about casting Deutch, taking on some of the worst aspects of the extremely online culture and more. A similar interview with O’Brien had him talking about how he got involved, the limited research into the social media world he did and working with Deutch again.

The poster was released in mid-July showing Sanders in anguish, the French flag painted on her eyelid and colorful tears coming down her face.

At the same time the full trailer (1.9m YouTube views) came out. We see that Sanders is pursuing online fame in part to make up for the fact her personal and professional lives are somewhat disappointing. So she tells everyone she’s going to Paris to help her writing career and proceeds to Photoshop enough evidence to make it look like that’s what happened. When the places she’s pretending to visit are bombed, pretending to have survived the attacks is easier than telling the truth. Fame follows, but it comes with the promise/threat that things can turn bad at any moment, which they inevitably do.

Both Deutch and Shephard appeared for a Q&A following a screening of the film at the Future of Film is Female.

Two clips came out just before release, one showing Sanders trying to get writing advice from Rowan and another showing Sanders explaining her fake trip to her mother.

A pop-up event in New York City that promised some surprises along with free goodies and treats from a handful of sponsors was announced at this point and said to run throughout the weekend.

The studio put together a bunch of Spotify playlists themed to each of the major characters.

overall

Satires taking aim at social media and the lengths people will go to for online stardom aren’t exactly new, with several coming out in the last few years. But most of those focus on the lengths themselves and how outrageous they are.

The campaign here shows Not Okay may be slightly different in how it deals with the repercussions of those actions. It seems to be more about the price Sanders pays for what turns out to be a fleeting celebrity than just the wacky hijinks involved in pulling off her scam.

Of course we could ask the question of what the difference between “scam” and “hustle” is, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole.

Deutch is a consistently enjoyable actor and the campaign shows the role asks her to pull from her entire range, from energetic and funny to alone and tragic. It seems like she hasn’t quite had a breakout role to date, but this could be that.

bullet train – marketing recap

How Sony is selling an action comedy

Bullet Train movie poster from Sony Pictures
Bullet Train movie poster from Sony Pictures

David Leitch directs Bullet Train, arriving in theaters courtesy of Sony Pictures. Written by Zak Olkewicz and based on the novel by Kōtarō Isaka, Brad Pitt stars as an American assassin known only as Ladybug. Despite wanting out of the life, Ladybug agrees to one last job snatching a briefcase aboard a bullet train heading from Tokyo to Kyoto. Once aboard the train, though, Ladybug finds a cadre of other international assassins there as well, all with missions that in some way connect to his own.

Sandra Bullock costars as Maria Beetle (also the original name of the source novel), Ladybug’s handler and the voice giving him directions on the train. Zazie Beetz, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Zoey King, Brian Tyree Henry and a host of others play the other assassins or other underworld types that cross paths with Ladybug.

With Antoine Fuqua producing and projections for opening weekend in the $30m range, let’s take a look at the marketing campaign Sony has cooked up.

announcements and casting

The film was announced in June 2020 with Leitch attached to direct and Pitt starring. Others like King, Henry and Taylor-Johnson were added over the rest of that year. A release date was finally announced a year later.

Of course that casting led to some entirely justified backlash and criticism of “whitewashing” since the original novel’s characters are Japanese and almost none of the actors in this film are.

Sony gave attendees of CinemaCon in August 2021 the first look at the much-anticipated film but that was it for a while.

the marketing campaign

Sony kicked the campaign off at the end of February with a teaser video that eschews footage from the movie (for the most part) in favor of a promotional video for NSL, the company that runs the train line in the world of the film. It’s filled with beautiful, peaceful images of the Japanese countryside before finally showing a scraped and exhausted Ladybug looking out the windows as the scenery passes by.

The first trailer (20.6m YouTube views) was then released at the beginning of March. A tone is immediately established as we see Ladybug and Lemon (Henry) have a threatening but polite conversation on the quiet car of the train. There are lots of moments like that as we meet the rest of the characters Ladybug will be interacting with and fighting against, get the backstory there are lots of people after the briefcase in question and more.

The teaser poster released at the same time doesn’t show that impressive cast but instead opts for an image of a train steward standing formally alongside a seat that, upon closer inspection, has blood on it, with more found on the floor.

Johnson talked about his role in an interview conducted by fellow actor Andrew Garfield.

Leitch and Bad Bunny both appeared at 2022’s installment of CinemaCon in April to offer updates, show off some footage and promise distributors the movie was coming soon.

Empire offered first looks at some new stills along with comments from Leitch, Pitt, Henry and others in May. Bad Bunny also offered some thoughts on the movie and more in a GQ profile.

At the beginning of June a new poster came out, this one showing Ladybug looking somewhat confused or frustrated as he stands in front of all the adversaries he’s going to have to fight his way through to complete his assignment.

That was followed by the second trailer (6.7m YouTube views). This one offers the same story and vibe, but adds the context that not only does Ladybug have legendary bad luck but that he’s crossed paths with many of the others that have now congregated on the train.

Henry and Johnson appeared in character in a series of short videos aired during the NBA Finals where they ask questions of various NBA stars.

We get a cut down version of the story and characters in the first TV spot that aired at the beginning of June. That spot was also used as pre-roll online.

Taylor-Johnson was on hand during Sony’s presentation at CineEurope in June to introduce footage from the film.

It was then Pitt’s turn for a GQ feature interview where he talked about not only this film but his career to date and some of the other recent projects he’s been involved in as a producer.

Fandango then unveiled a series of character posters, each of which has some sort of symbol or other item relevant to that character in the background.

Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat users could search for movie stickers to add to their content. Twitter emojis were also introduced.

As July began more TV spots rolled out that offered variations on the trailers or which went a little deeper in introducing one of the other characters in the story.

News also came that the movie was scheduled for August’s Locarno Film Festival.

King was then interviewed about the training she did for this and other recent films as well as the experience of working with Pitt.

The international press and publicity tour then kicked off in France, where Pitt and others were in attendance. Additional stops included Berlin, London and elsewhere. During this tour Sony made extensive use of YouTube’s #Shorts format to show off clips of the cast dancing around and having a good time. Pitt’s fashion choices would become the subject of not just one but two feature stories.

Henry and Johnson are back in a video announcing tickets going on sale in mid-July. They also showed up on an IMAX video explaining how watching a movie on your phone is a sub-par experience compared to theaters.

The IMAX-exclusive poster uses the style of Japanese paintings to show Ladybug looking out over the scenery as the train rushes through the title treatment. AMC Theaters’ poster shows him standing at the end of a train car with a handful of bad dudes waiting for him. The poster from ScreenX shifts to a landscape perspective to show Ladybug running down the top of the train with Momonga in pursuit.

Because NFTs are still a thing there were some of those as well. Nifty’s introduced a collection of them while an exclusive NFT of Momonga was offered to those purchasing advance tickets of large-format screenings.

Back in the world of real things, Tumi promoted its rugged aluminum briefcase that is the MacGuffin of the movie.

Manga artist Hiro Mashima offered his own takes on the character posters previously released.

The first (and at this point only) clip released shows a slightly extended take on the quiet car fight between Lemon and Ladybug.

overall

There’s a lot of fun stuff here, helped out by an entertaining and talented cast with Pitt out in front. My tolerance for Pitt varies from one film to the next, but here he’s at his most enjoyable with what looks like a loose performance matching the tone and vibe of the story. It helps that he has talented comic talents like Henry, King and others to play off, of course.

Of note is how often the campaign invokes Leitch as “The director of Deadpool 2” in an effort to amp up his credentials when it comes to action comedy. Not only that, but it’s an attempt to tie this movie into something the audience has already seen and largely enjoyed, bringing it closer to being a somewhat known quantity and therefore not as big a risk of entertainment dollars.

the gray man – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold an action-thriller with an A-list cast

The Gray Man movie poster from Netflix
The Gray Man movie poster from Netflix

The Gray Man arrives on Netflix this week with the hopes the movie will kick off a franchise based on the novels of the same name by Mark Greaney. The talent behind the film certainly helps make that case.

Ryan Gosling plays a CIA mercenary known only as Sierra Six. When Six discovers a handful of secrets the agency wanted to remain hidden he goes on the run, hunted by fellow CIA operative Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) along with others. But Six has the help of a handful of people, including sympathetic agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) and others. Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Alfre Woodard and others also star.

Adding to that, the movie is directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the brothers behind the last two Avengers movies as well as the previous Netflix original Extraction.

announcements and casting

Other studios have been working on a version of the film for over a decade, but the Russos became involved in 2015 as screenwriters.

It wasn’t until July, 2020, though that Netflix announced the movie was going into production with the Russos now directing and Evans and Gosling attached to star. de Armas joined in December of that year, with others cast in early 2021.

Henwick talked briefly about the project while promoting other things in 2021.

Netflix shared a handful of stills in late April to give people their first real look at the film.

Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview.

the marketing campaign

In early May Empire featured Gosling and Evans on the cover of its Summer Preview issue. Both, as well as the Russos, were interviewed in the issue about what attracted them to the project, what their character’s motivations within the story are, the process of filming and more. That issue also revealed Netflix already had two related projects – a sequel and a Lloyd Hanson-focused prequel – being written in anticipation of the first movie proving a success.

A series of characters posters came out in mid-May featuring the main cast, each with some foreign skyline behind them. The orange and blue color scheme creates a sense of dark mystery, as if they’re hiding from the light.

The first trailer (14.8m YouTube views) came out later in May. it starts by helpfully establishing that Sierra Six is “The Gray Man,” an unofficial operative for off-the-books missions. Why he goes rogue is unclear, but Hansen is soon on his trail, an assignment he considers to be a lot of fun given Six’s reputation in the clandestine world. There’s lots of gunfights, a few car chases, and Six referring to Hansen’s “trash stache”, so it’s filled with both action and humor.

Netflix quickly released a video of the Russos talking about that trailer and breaking down how it was assembled and how it is designed to get the audience’s interest.

The company also began offering “Lloyd’s Trash Stache,” a fake mustache inspired by Evans’ look, in its online store.

Six fights his way through a hallway of bad guys before being confronted by Lloyd in the first clip.

The Russos then participated in an interview about the movie for Netflix’s Geeked Week in mid-June.

Another set of character posters showed off the rest of the impressive cast.

The theatrical poster features, surprisingly, only Sierra Six, who is seen kind of blowing away as the outline of his form becomes less defined from left to right. It’s not bad, but not showing either of the other two lead characters is an interesting choice, even if Six is the title character.

The movie’s premiere event was held in mid-July, just ahead of release, with most of the filmmakers and cast in attendance. While there Gosling and the Russos made it clear the “trash stache” line is an accurate representation of their thoughts while the directors shared their love of working with Evans and more.

An interview with the Russos had them talking about the long process of getting this movie made, what it was like to work with Netflix again and some of their thoughts on Marvel’s future along with some other projects they’ve been involved in.

A behind-the-scenes featurette came out a week before the movie’s release that had everyone talking about their characters, the story and the epic nature of the action that audiences will experience. That was followed by a video of the Russos showing off their production offices, but that was less about this film than it was a walk down memory lane of their various Avengers and Captain America movies.

Tag Heuer partnered with Netflix on a campaign for the company’s Carrera watch, which Gosling apparently wears in the film. That campaign included banner ads featuring Gosling.

Tag Heuer / The Gray Man banner ad
Tag Heuer / The Gray Man banner ad

Those in San Diego this week for Comic-Con can take part in The Gray Man Training Program, an experiential set-up recreating the tram sequence from the film, asking participants to try and get through the obstacle course in one piece. The Netflix booth on Friday will also be promoting the film.

overall

There are two points of primary focus in the campaign Netflix put together:

  • The “trash stache.” It is admittedly a great line and, after causing waves when it was part of the first trailer, was fully embraced by everyone. It came up in numerous interviews, featurettes and more. When a product is created for something as random as this you know it’s achieved a certain level of popularity.
  • The Russos themselves. This is another example of how directors in many instances are used as brand proxies when the movies themselves aren’t part of a franchise or based on wildly popular existing IP. Half the elements of the campaign above are just the directing brothers, whether it’s their experience working with Marvel Studios, their love of Chris Evans or something else the audience is expected to relate to.

While there’s lots of fun action and humor featured in the marketing, there’s also no consistent brand identity that’s been established, which may be even more noticeable if/when additional films are being sold to the public.

There’s also the unfortunate coincidence (?) of Gosling’s press tour for this movie being overshadowed by the recently released pictures of him as Ken in the upcoming Barbie movie. Those pics are so over-the-top and meme-worthy they became a frequent topic of interviews with Gosling at the expense of The Gray Man.

nope – marketing recap

How Universal has sold another smart horror film.

Nope movie poster from Universal Studios
Nope movie poster from Universal Studios

Writer/director Jordan Peele returns with Nope, new in theaters this weekend. The movie stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as OJ and Emerald Haywood, siblings who work the family farm with their father Otis Sr. (Keith David). When Otis Sr. is killed by a mysterious object that falls from the sky, the brother and sister enlist the help of a tech salesman (Brandon Perea) and a documentary filmmaker (Michael Wincott) to help prove the existence of UFOs.

Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Wrenn Schmidt and others also star in the film, which is projected to earn $45-55 million in its opening weekend.

Peele’s films always feature intriguing campaigns, so let’s take a look at how this one has been sold.

the marketing campaign

Universal announced the movie – then untitled – and gave it a 2022 release date in November of 2020. Palmer and Kaluuya were cast in February of 2021, with Yeun joining a month later.

The first poster came out in late July, serving also as the official announcement of the film’s title. Suitably ominous, it shows a small town nestled in a valley of hills, a small cloud hovering overhead. In a twist, that cloud has a string of flags tailing from it, as if it swallowed up event decorations somehow.

The release of the first trailer was teased in early February of this year with a spot that set the stage by using footage from Get Out and Us to establish Peele’s bonafides before offering a brief glimpse at the new movie.

That trailer (23m YouTube views) was released on Super Bowl Sunday and starts off with Emerald and OJ shooting a commercial for their horse training ranch. One night strange things start happening in the area around their ranch that have them and the other locals nervous and constantly looking toward the sky. What it is isn’t shown or even hinted at, but it clearly has the potential to cause lots of problems.

A commercial that cut down the trailer and teased audiences to go find it for even more aired during the Super Bowl as well, indicating Universal feels the mix of sci-fi/horror and Peele’s popularity had the potential to bring in a mass audience.

Another poster showing a horse and other objects being lifted into the night sky came out in early March.

A new still of Kaluuya accompanied a suitably vague interview with Peele, the director trying to sell the premise of the film without getting into specifics of the story.

Peele appeared on stage to talk about the movie when Universal showed off footage as part of its presentation at CinemaCon in April 2022. Later on, in June, it was among the movies Universal put on display to attendees of CineEurope.

Basketball star Steph Curry starred in a commercial that aired during the beginning of the NBA Playoffs.

In early June a featurette was released that starts off with Peele admitting the script he wrote then felt like it was going to be more than he could handle as a director, assembling a team to help him realize the vision. That’s about it for background, though, as it then just shows some of the finished footage along with behind-the-scenes shots.

The second trailer (13.8m YouTube views), which debuted in early June exclusively on Twitter Movies, starts off with Otis Sr. being killed by falling debris, prompting his kids to try and prove the existence of something strange happening in the clouds. They enlist the help of both Torres and Hoist in their quest, but things don’t go as smoothly as they hope. There’s a shot of a classic UFO at the end, but who knows how that fits in with the context of the story.

Another commercial puts shots of all the characters saying “nope,” “oh hell no” or some variation thereof to a catchy beat to show how they react to the danger they’re now confronted with. Additional spots, some of which wound up being used for online promos and pre-roll ads, arranged footage in slightly different ways to make the movie look alternatively terrifying, kind of funny or a mix of the two.

The IMAX logo appears reflected in the eye of a horse on an exclusive poster for that format that also touts how the film was shot with the company’s own cameras.

Peele’s talents as a writer, director and collaborator are all touted by the cast and crew in another featurette that focuses on the technical aspects of shooting what is a bigger production than his previous efforts. One more has Kaluuya and Palmer, along with Peele, talking about how the dynamic between the siblings plays a huge part in the structure of the story.

An extended commercial aired during the BET Awards broadcast at the end of June, this one again rearranging footage previously shown into something new to hit a specific vibe.

A UFO beams up a horse while flowers hover in the sky on the Dolby Cinemas poster, this one featuring a design looking like stitching on a pair of jeans.

At the beginning of July Peele shared the website for Jupiter’s Claim, the old west theme park seen in the trailers and commercials, that’s filled with easter eggs about the film’s story. Around that same time news broke that Jupiter’s Claim was scheduled to become a permanent part of Universal’s backlot tour, with the addition opening the same day the movie hits theaters.

The process of shooting with IMAX cameras was the subject of another featurette that once again covered how ambitious the project was for Peele and how he enlisted cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema to help him figure out how to pull it off.

An interview with Peele had him talking about being part of the Black Horror genre and how he wanted to do something more with this movie to help it still be part of that while not being exploitative.

Kaluuya collaborated with fashion designer Jide Osifeso on an exclusive line of movie-inspired apparel.

Around the same time, people were invited to check out the virtual reality experience created by Horizon Worlds for Oculus. People who did so were given access later on to an exclusive clip from the film.

Media appearances began at this point, mid-July, with Peele on “GMA,” Yeun on “Kimmel,” Palmer on “The Tonight Show,” Kaluuya on “First We Feast” and more.

Kaluuya was the subject of a feature cover story that had him talking about how his career is going, what changes he’s making as a result of the success he’s had, reuniting with Peele and lots more.

Banner ads like the one below were run on Spotify and other websites, sending traffic to the movie’s official website where they could find out more, including how to buy tickets.

Nope movie banner ad
Nope movie banner ad

The cast and crew were all in attendance at the movie’s world premiere earlier this week, where they talked about working with Peele, the spectacle of the film and what kind of inspiration they all drew from.

SKYY Vodka introduced a new drink inspired by the movie, announced with a campaign including a TV spot featuring movie footage that then gives way to someone sipping a drink on a farmhouse porch.

Icee and Razer were also promotional partners, the former taking advantage of how their frozen drinks are prominently featured in the film (as hinted at in some of the trailers and featurettes) and the latter running a sweepstakes awarding winners autographed machines as well as other co-branded swag.

overall

You have to hand it to Peele, who appears to have created something unique and engaging. Like the director’s previous films, it seems like it has a social message accompanied by a fascinating story.

What’s even more notable is that Universal has sold it in an effective and consistent way, keeping the focus on the siblings at the core of the story while also positioning Peele as a brand in and of himself, taking advantage of the raves his earlier films have earned to give this one a sense of familiarity.

There are shades of M. Night Shyamalan here in how the film has been sold, but with one big exception: The characters are the primary selling point in this campaign, not the promise of some big twist that will leave audiences shocked. So it comes off as Shyamalan-esque but without the self-aware attributes that have become part and parcel of the marketing of that director’s films.

where the crawdads sing – marketing recap

How Sony has sold its adaptation of a best-selling novel

Where the Crawdads Sing movie poster from Sony Pictures
Where the Crawdads Sing movie poster from Sony Pictures

How The Crawdads Sing, opening this weekend in theaters, is based on the 2018 Delia Owens novel of the same name. Written by Lucy Alibar and directed by Olivia Newman, the movie stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as Catherine “Kya” Clark, a young woman who has grown up largely on her own in the wild marshes of 1950s North Carolina after being abandoned there by her parents and siblings. Solitary and suspicious by learned nature, she eventually bonds with two young men: The kind Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith), who teaches her to read and shares her love of nature and wildlife and the hunky high school quarterback Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), who manipulates Kya for his own sexual gain.

As the story reaches the end of the 1960s, Chase is found dead in the marsh with little evidence indicating who is responsible. Kya is charged for the crime but maintains her innocence as the people in town who have always viewed her with apprehension take sides.

Reese Witherspoon, who selected the book for her Hello Sunshine Book Club in late 2018, produced the film and has been central to the marketing campaign, so let’s dive in.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced in mid-2020, with Sony naming Newman as director in July. Edgar-Jones was named lead in January, 2021 at the same time the casting of Smith and Dickenson was revealed.

Production began in April, 2021, and throughout the year updates were shared of behind-the-scenes action and more, especially when Owens or Witherspoon would stop by the set.

the marketing campaign

Things kicked off in March of this year with a Vanity Fair feature including first-look stills from the movie along with comments from Newman and Witherspoon.

That was followed by the release of the first poster, which shows Kya’s face blending into the river that, in another photo, she pilots her small boat down. It’s a nice way to show her in her natural environment and communicates how Kya’s identity is the marsh and the marsh is who she is.

The first trailer (7.8m YouTube views) came out at the same time. It opens with the attorney who defends Kya (played by David Straitharn) explaining to the jury – and the audience – who she is and what her life has been like. That then gives way to more of Kya’s experiences, from having to survive on her own in the marsh to her tentative trips into town. Especially there are her relationships with Tate and Chase and how they come to shape her story.

Edgar-Jones was interviewed about how she connected with the character of Kya during the pandemic and how Owens encouraged her to make that character her own instead of worrying about how she’s presented in the book. In another interview she shared how she prepared for filming by working with the film’s art director to understand Kya’s drawing style and learned to drive a small motorboat.

A short vignette featuring comments from Jones, Witherspoon and others was released in mid-May, just before the second trailer. That trailer (5.2m YouTube views) hits many of the same beats as the first but shifts it so Kya is responsible for telling her own story. It also very clearly calls out that the film features a new song from Taylor Swift, which is played over much of the action.

Another profile of Edgar-Jones focused on her career so far and how she’s starred in a number of novel adaptations.

An exclusive clip was aired during the “MTV Awards” in early June. That was followed by another short featurette about making the movie, what the story’s about and getting Taylor Swift to contribute a song.

Sony used Pinterest (which makes a lot of sense given the female-skewing demographics of the book) to share a number of movie-inspired recipes, printable bookmarks and mobile backgrounds people could grab.

Kya and Tate have a conversation about what they are to each other in a clip released later in June.

Swift then released the full version of “Carolina” for everyone to listen to.

Fandango got an exclusive clip of the scene where Kya drives her boat through the marsh to avoid the sheriff and deputy looking for her in connection with Chase’s death. Another scene of Kya and Tate was shared by Southern Living.

The process of casting Edgar-Jones and how Newman worked with her to flesh out the character of Kya and capture the spirit of the book was covered in an interview with the two.

Newman and Owens both appeared at the Bentonville (AR) Film Festival in late June.

TV spots calling the movie “the most thrilling mystery of the summer” started airing at this point, highlighting Witherspoon’s involvement as well as the new song from Swift. Additional spots covered similar ground over the next few weeks, with some hitting slightly different aspects of the story.

A partnership with Chasing Paper offered peel-and-stick removable wallpaper designs inspired by the film and its locations.

There were more interviews with Newman and Edgar-Jones about what kind of impact they hope the movie will have both on audiences and their own careers.

Moving into July, another clip has Kya talking with her attorney about how she doesn’t hate the people in town who have looked down on her, she just wants to live her own life.

Later that month the New York premiere of the film had Edgar-Jones, Witherspoon, Newman and everyone else in attendance. Edgar-Jones also made a few appearances on “CBS Sunday Morning” and other talk shows to promote the film.

overall

Critical reception of the movie so far has not been positive, and projections have it opening to a shade over $10 million this weekend, dwarfed by what’s expected to be another big weekend for Thor: Love and Thunder.

But the latter says more about what the box-office looks like in mid-2022 than the campaign that’s sold the film. The marketing outlined above is solid, doing a nice job of appealing to women of all ages, those who made the book a best-seller and those who want to support anything Taylor Swift does. Using Witherspoon as a central element also makes a lot of sense given her name recognition and overall likability.

The reality is, though, that anything north of that $10 million would indeed qualify as a “sleeper hit” here. Looking at the movies that have scored big this year, they’re almost all driven by the turnout of male audiences, especially older men.

How it winds up performing will likely be influence as much by word of mouth from those who see the movie and wind up telling their friends how it does or doesn’t adhere to the book’s story as the campaign proper.

thor: love and thunder – marketing recap

How Marvel Studios is selling the next thunderous series installment

Thor Love and Thunder poster from Marvel Studios
Thor Love and Thunder poster from Marvel Studios

After making a big splash with the funny, creative and off-kilter Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with this week’s Thor: Love and Thunder.

Chris Hemsworth once again stars as Thor, the God of Thunder. After losing his hammer Mjolnir in the last film and going through lots of trials fighting Thanos in the Infinity War/Endgame duology, Thor is wandering around with the Guardians of the Galaxy before being summoned back to New Asgard, now established on Earth. The realm is being targeted by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who is seeking revenge on all deities for the loss of his family. To stop him he’s aided by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi) and, to his surprise, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who now wields Mjolnir under the guise of The Mighty Thor.

So there’s a lot going on there, not least of which is the return of Portman to the franchise after taking the third movie (and most of the team movies and crossovers) off for various reasons. And of course this comes out as the sixth film in “Phase Four” of the MCU, though the fact there have also been a half-dozen Disney+ series means this phase is rather over-stuffed, especially since there are several more movies and series planned.

But before all that happens, let’s take a look at how Marvel and Disney have presented this one to the public.

announcement and casting

Marvel Studios’ presentation at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 acted as the first big publicity pop for the movie. While Waititi had been announced as the returning director a week or so prior – news that came at the same time his work on Akira for Warner Bros. was said to be paused – it was at SDCC that Marvel revealed the title as well as that Portman would not only be returning but taking up Mjolnir in the story. Thompson hinted and the Kevin Fiege confirmed that Valkyrie would indeed be portrayed as LGBTQ in the film, satisfying speculation begun when Ragnorak came out.

Waititi commented on how things were progressing with pre-production and what kinds of stories he had in mind while promoting JoJo Rabbit in late 2019. That included adding to speculation the story could include the arc from the comics that had Jane Foster dealing with breast cancer, something Portman also weighed in on. Just how flexible the story was and how the final version may or may not pull points from the source material was emphasized by Waititi in a valiant attempt to manage fan expectations.

Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the writer/director of Someone Great, was brought on to help with the script in February of 2020. Several months later in November there were reports that Chris Pratt had signed on to appear in the film.

Some new details about the movie were dropped by Waititi and Ruffalo in April when they offered Covid-19 shut-ins streaming commentary of Ragnarok. A few months later Portman commented on the workout routine she was getting ready for, her anticipation at working with Waititi and living in Australia during production. Thompson made similar comments when she appeared on “Kimmel” in January 2021 while Dennings spoke about preparing for the shoot while promoting her appearance on “WandaVision.”

Bale’s casting was revealed during Disney’s December 2020 investors presentation. Crowe then broke the secret of his casting as Zeus in April 2021.

The movie, along with other upcoming MCU entries, was name-checked in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May.

Hemsworth shared a muscular pic in early June to mark the end of primary filming.

Gillan spoke briefly about the movie during the Gunpowder Milkshake publicity cycle. An interview with Waititi had him promising an absolutely insane story that audiences wouldn’t believe, continuing to speak about the movie during other stops.

Later in 2021 Thompson kept teasing the movie during her press appearances for Passing.

Giacchino was brought on to provide the movie’s score.

the marketing campaign

As more time passed there was more anxiety over when exactly the first trailer and other marketing materials would finally appear.

Those anxieties were quenched in mid-April with the release of the first trailer and poster. In fact, Marvel Studios seemed to snap back a bit at that hand-wringing, writing simply “Here it is” when the trailer was shared on Twitter and elsewhere.

That teaser starts off with shots of Thor in younger years – and sporting a very Kirby-esque costume as a teenager – running through the forest before showing he’s focused on peace at the moment as we hear about how his days as a super hero are over. After some scenes with the Guardians and shots of Valkyrie in New Asgard, it ends with a reconstructed Mjölnir flying into the hand of a now costumed Jane Foster.

The trailer also generated tons of backlash directed at Disney, largely because of one shot that was pulled directly from a comics panel while the studio has a track record of not paying comics artists or writers whose work is adapted for film or series. This seemed particularly egregious, with the panel in question essentially serving as a storyboard for the film shot.

Despite that criticism, the trailer accumulated 209 million views in the first 24 hours after release.

Just before the teaser was released, Marvel Comics put out a video explaining the backstory of Jane Foster and her relationship with Thor leading up to her assuming the title.

Waitit was interviewed about the movie and focused on how he wasn’t going to bring Portman back into the fold and not give her something to do.

The full trailer then came out in late May, debuting during the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. It opens with Korg narrating Thor’s story to a bunch of kids. But the story of Thor’s redemption hits a snag with Jane taking on the mantle, leading to an awkward reunion between the former flames. We then meet God Butcher, who will provide both heroes – all three, counting Valkyrie – with a bad guy to fight. The Guardians make a brief appearance before a scene with Zeus offers Jane and Valkyrie a moment of bonding.

Both Thors are featured on the poster released at that time with Valkyrie, God Butcher and Korg assembled around them as New Asgard provides the backdrop.

TV spots began running in early June in advance of tickets going on sale showing more of the story along with the humor and the group of heroes Thor assembles. The cast introduces some of what the audience can expect in a video announcing tickets are available now.

Character posters released at this time included one for Dude Thor and the goats that are seen in the trailers and which seem to be a major focus of everything because…they’re goats.

Those were followed by exhibitor-exclusive posters for RealD 3D (showing the company’s logo tattooed on Dude Thor’s muscled arm), Dolby Cinemas (showing the rest of the heroes springing into action while Dude Thor meditates in the center), ScreenXUSA (showing the heroes in a very neon lighting situation) and IMAX (showing the characters in kind of a dime store novel arrangement).

An extended spot showed a bit of new footage framed mostly around an inspirational speech Thor is giving to the citizens of New Asgard.

A Variety cover story on Portman had her talking about the process behind getting so physically bulked up for her role, the production challenges of making her appear a foot taller than she actually is and overall what it was like coming back to the series.

Thompson and Waititi both made late night talk show appearances to promote the film and, in the case of the latter, promise that yes, you get to see a *lot* of Hemsworth.

An interview with Hemsworth included him appearing to be open to returning to the role in future films.

Another extended spot focuses less on the threat the heroes face and more on the team Thor has assembled to take it on.

The cast and crew, as well as others from the MCU orbit, turned out for the red carpet premiere of the movie a couple weeks ago. While there they all commented on what audiences could expect while throwing quite a bit of praise at Waititi for his creative, loose energy on set.

Right after that Portman appeared on “Kimmel” to talk more about returning to the character of Jane Foster as well as debuting a new clip from the film.

A featurette delves into the history of Thor in the cinematic realm, going all the way back to Hemsworth being cast in the first film and tracking through the various sequels, Avengers movies and more.

Waititi and Hemsworth were on hand at the movie’s Australian premiere. Around that same time a profile of the director covered how he became connected with Thor in the first place, how he’s tried to bring his own sensibilities to the films and what other projects he’s currently involved in.

As release approached there were more and more TV commercials like this that covered various angles on the story, from the humor to the action and more. A longer commercial emphasized how this is the culmination of Thor’s journey to date.

More of the cast appeared on “Kimmel” to engage in various hijinks and promote the movie.

The creativity of Waititi was covered in another featurette that had the cast once more lavishing him with praise for the energy and style he brings to the production. The cast then shows up in a video where they uncover some of the toys and figures that are on store shelves now.

AMC Theaters had exclusive videos with the cast. Dolby shared an exclusive featurette with Waititi talking about the technical aspects of production.

Marvel brought some of the costumes from the movie to a display at Essence Fest in New Orleans at the beginning of July.

A joint interview with Thompson and Waititi had the two talking about Valkyrie’s journey in the two movies she’s been in and whether the character finds love in this new one.

One more premiere event happened in London just days before release.

overall

The narrative of the box office recovery should continue given the movie is projected to enjoy an opening weekend of around $150 million.

That speaks to the effectiveness of the campaign recapped above as well as to the continued desire among the audience for more sequels, franchises and so on.

But the most interesting part of the marketing push here is the focus, especially in the last few weeks, on making sure to show Waititi as much love as possible. Featurettes, commercials, feature profiles and more all have people talking about how amazing he is to work with and so on.

With all that in mind, the audience is being promised a funny, adventure-filled time at the theater, with the main message being that this is a continuation of the style found in Thor: Ragnarok, but with the addition of Portman returning to actually be part of the story this time.

Natalie Portman Disney GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Oh…and a couple of huge goats. Can’t forget about them.

minions: the rise of gru – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the latest adventure starring the little yellow meme machines.

Minions: The Rise of Gru poster from Universal Pictures
Minions: The Rise of Gru poster from Universal Pictures

In an age where properties are spun off with abandon, it’s understandable if you have a hard time figuring out which part of the franchise this week’s Minions: The Rise of Gru belongs to.

Near as I can tell, the two Minions movies are prequels to Despicable Me, with the sequels sporting the Despicable Me name. But still, it makes the kind of sense that doesn’t.

Anyway, this new movie continues the story of a young Gru (voiced by Steve Carrel) and the Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin) he already has helping him become the super villain he’s destined to be. This time Gru is about 12 years old, with aspirations to join the Vicious 6, a team of the worst villains. When his plans go awry, he’ll get into all kinds of hilarious trouble.

Voicing some of the villains Gru encounters are Michelle Yeoh, Russell Brand, Danny Trejo, Alan Arkin and others.

announcements and casting

Universal announced the movie was happening in 2017, a couple years after the successful opening of the first Minions in 2015.

The studio confirmed the film’s subtitle and gave exhibitors a first look during its CineEurope presentation in mid-2019. Carell and Coffin’s return was confirmed later that year.

the marketing campaign: 2020

A commercial aired during the Super Bowl in early February 2020 was the first official look the public got at the movie. There isn’t much of the story on display here, just the promise of lots of actions and laughs and the return of everyone’s favorite little yellow characters.

That was followed by the first trailer (36.3m YouTube views). As it opens, a young Gru is interviewing for a spot on a society of super villains only to find himself rejected. To prove himself he steals a valuable stone from those villains and with the help of the Minions he escapes. Unfortunately those same Minions have made some questionable choices and he needs to find the stone before the villains find him.

A poster introducing Otto came out at the same time. It uses a wild, tye-dyed look that would come back throughout the campaign.

In March of that year the movie became one of many delayed, in this case by a year to July, 2021, as theaters were closing down and people sheltering at home during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Scenes from the earlier films were put together with a new voiceover from Carell in a World Health Organization PSA in May, 2020, with some helpful tips and hints on staying safe during that difficult time.

Another TV spot came out in June of that year.

In September a line of apparel and other items from Verdy was revealed. That was followed in November by a line of items from Yeenjoy Bob and then a Minions-themed skateboard from The Berricks.

NBCUniversal worked to keep the Minions top-of-mind despite the delays with a holiday special in late November featuring the characters as well as others from various Illumination films.

the marketing campaign: 2021

After having some fun tweeting at various companies during the 2021 Super Bowl, another delay of another full year to the release date was announced in March of that year.

The Minions showed up with Simone Biles in an ad for the Summer Olympics in June, 2021.

A month later a movie-themed DLC for Minecraft was released that let players build cityscapes they could then navigate as young Gru, complete with Minions to follow him around and interact with.

With that new release date, a short commercial was released in December 2021 not showing much more than a few Minion hijinks but promising audiences the movie was still on its way.

Insta360 revealed a Minions-shaped camera in December as well.

the marketing campaign: 2022

That was followed by another TV spot presenting the movie more clearly as the backstory of how Gru became the super villain he would one day be.

It was then Olympics time again, with the Minions and skier Mikaela Shffrin appearing in a commercial for NBC’s coverage of the Winter games.

In March Illumination announced the movie would be the opening feature at this year’s Annecy Animation Festival.

Gru’s origin story is the central message of the next trailer (24.2m YouTube views), released at the end of March. In addition to the trouble he gets into on his way to becoming fully despicable we see more of the story, including how his antics bring him and his Minions into conflict with some other villains who don’t appreciate the competition from a youngster.

The tye-dye backdrop returns on the poster released at the same time, this one showing three of the Minions in tracksuits, one of them holding a boombox above his head.

Regal shared a pre-show video of the Minions on a roller coaster with all the usual “no texting” and “buy more candy” messages in it, along with a promotion for Regal’s loyalty program and app.

Details of the movie’s soundtrack were released in May, including the fact that the album would include Diana Ross, which set the internet ablaze with excitement. The first single – ”Turn Up the Sunshine” from Diana Ross and Tame Impala – was made available quickly after that.

More songs from the album continued coming out over the next few weeks.

Another new trailer (9.2m YouTube views) came out in early June that largely pulls footage from the previous trailers but is still cute for all the expected reasons.

A TV spot that aired during the NBA Finals doesn’t feature anything from the movie but instead has the Minions in a “SportsCenter” type environment arguing which basketball player is indeed the GOAT. Another commercial from mid-June had the Minions visiting Jurassic World, a tie-in with that movie hitting theaters.

Promotional partner commercials also started running around this time, including spots from Liberty Mutual, CarMax and others.

Another video game tie-in was announced with the Minions joining the world of Adopt Me.

To take advantage of A) Universal and B) Carrel being behind both properties, a promo video inserting the Minions into the opening of “The Office” was created.

More commercials and clips continued to be released, each showcasing a different part of the story but always featuring plenty of the mayhem the Minions are always involved in.

Andrews talked about being part of the movie when she appeared on “The Tonight Show,” with Carell stopping by the same show shortly after that.

A “yellow carpet” event was held last weekend at the TCL Chinese Theater with Carrel and others adding their hand/footprints to the cement there. That was followed a few days later by the official premiere, with the cast and filmmakers in attendance.

This past week’s episode of “American Ninja Warrior” featured a Minions-themed challenge and offered viewers an exclusive look at the movie.

overall

Projections have the movie, which currently has an unenthusiastic 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, opening in the neighborhood of $70 million this weekend.

It’s somewhat telling that the most interesting (at least from my perspective) parts of the marketing are those that have little to nothing to do with the movie. The way the Twitter account was jumping in to reply to sporting and other cultural events in the space between trailers and other materials was more inventive and engaging than those trailers or commercials.

Maybe that’s because the Minions are no longer characters but have become pop culture artifacts that can be inserted into any moment. The evolution has progressed to the point where they exist more as ideas than objects. So this movie will come and go from theaters – and then come to Peacock in about four weeks – but those moments will persist outside of their context.

Oh, and the plot is essentially the same as Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog if there were hundreds of copies of Moist running around. There, I said it.

the forgiven – marketing recap

How Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment are selling a story of class, privilege and justice.

The Forgiven movie poster from Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment
The Forgiven movie poster from Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment

The Forgiven, out this week in theaters, is based on Lawrence Osborne’s novel of the same name. Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain star as David and Jo Henninger, a married couple traveling through Morocco to attend the party being thrown by their friend Richard (Matt Smith). On their way they accidentally hit and kill a young local with their car, but continue on to the party. With the help of Richard and the local police the incident is swept under the rug, but the father of the young man eventually arrives seeking the justice authorities aren’t interested in.

Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the movie arrives with a middling 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

Fiennes was attached to star when the movie was announced in mid-2018, but Chastain replaced the previously-cast Rebecca Hall in late 2019 at the same time Caleb Landry Jones joined. Smith and others were added in late 2020, around the same time a handful of first look stills were released.

The movie’s world premiere was held at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2021. Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment partnered on a distribution deal a few months after the festival.

the marketing campaign

It wasn’t until mid-May that the first trailer (14k YouTube views) came out. Jo and David are on their way to a party when it opens, but before they get there they hit a man walking across the road. Taking him with them to avoid any police inquiries, things get dark quickly as the incident leads to a confrontation with the boy’s father, a blowing up of the relationship between David and Jo and more drama as those with power think it will protect them from the consequences of their actions.

“Everything must be faced” declares the poster released at the same time. David and Jo look out pensively from the top of the image while, below a few positive quotes from critics, the bottom shows their car pulling toward the location of the lavish party they’re attending. It doesn’t do much beyond selling the two stars in an interesting setting.

Chastain and others were in attendance at the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in mid-June.

overall

And….that’s it? No additional interviews with the cast, no cut down trailers, not even a few original photos from the premiere at Tribeca.

I never ever want to hear anyone ever again complain that Netflix is burying one of its releases with a lackluster marketing campaign, something that passed as conventional wisdom just two or three weeks ago.

It’s not that I don’t think Roadside/Vertical have faith in the movie, it’s just that they seem realistic about the film’s future and so didn’t invest a lot of additional effort.

Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a flashy non-biopic

Elvis movie poster from Warner Bros.
Elvis movie poster from Warner Bros.

If you’re familiar with the work of director Baz Luhrmann you probably know largely what can be expected from this week’s ELVIS, new in theaters. Luhrmann directs a screenplay from himself and others telling the story of rock and roll legend Elvis Presley. Austin Butler plays Presley as the action moves from his first forays into public performance through the years of super-stardom and more. Through much of that he’s managed/coached by Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, under a metric ton of prosthetics and makeup).

It’s a simple enough setup, though in the hands of a unique filmmaker like Luhrmann you can be assured there will be plenty of flashy, unconventional stylistic choices being made. The movie also stars Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge and others as the people in Presley’s life, both personal and professional.

With one of the biggest names in all of popular music history as the subject matter, the marketing should be a no-brainer, so let’s take a look at some of the decisions the studio made while selling it to the public.

announcement and casting

The movie was oddly flying under the radar until March of 2020, when production in Australia was halted after Hanks tested positive for Covid-19.

In January WB announced a delay in release.

Hanks talked about the movie and his character briefly while promoting other projects last year. Harrison Jr. also briefly commented on the movie in mid-2021 while on the publicity tour for Monster.

Warner Bros. gave CineEurope attendees a look at the movie in October 2021.

Luhrmann teased a bit of footage from the film in November of that year to make sure audiences knew he was still working on it and was trying to do the subject matter justice.

the marketing campaign phase one: a rock star is born

The first trailer (17.2m YouTube views) was released in February of this year following a tease by Luhrmann. Narrated by The Colonel, it opens with a young Elvis sneaking into a tent revival where he’s overtaken by the sound of the music and the feeling it creates. Fast forward several years and Elvis is on stage, making girls go crazy with the sound of his voice and the shake of his hips. From there on out it’s a montage of clips from throughout Elvis’ career, including his ups and downs and even a few acknowledgements of where he stood in the middle of racial upheaval in that time. But it’s mostly about the flashing camera lights, the music and other spectacle.

At the same time the first poster came out, similarly setting the visual tone for the campaign with what looks like a rhinestone belt buckle as the title treatment.

In early April Warner Bros. confirmed the movie would premiere at Cannes in May. Later that month exhibitors and others got a look at the movie when it was part of the studio’s presentation at CinemaCon.

Luhrmann posted a video in mid-April talking about the music of the movie and offering a brief preview of “Vegas” by Doja Cat, with plans for the single to be released in full in early May. It was also revealed Kacy Musgraves was covering “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

Butler, Luhrmann and others from the cast and crew were joined by Priscilla Presley at the Met Gala, everyone in their highest of fashion as the event offered a perfect venue for a movie with visuals like this. Musgraves also performed “Can’t Help…” here.

Priscilla Presley debuted an exclusive clip showing Elvis getting all the women in the audience worked up with his wiggle in early May.

A profile of Luhrmann had the director explaining why he felt moved to make this project and why it is not, and was never intended to be, a traditional biopic in structure. Butler was given a similar profile a short while later that centered on this being a star-making moment for the actor.

the marketing campaign phase two: family approval

Another positive endorsement for the movie came from Riley Keough, Elvis’ granddaughter, who not only praised the filmmaking and the story but said that watching it with her mother and grandmother had them all crying at seeing their family’s story on screen. She also said she hadn’t been interested in being part of the film since it was a little too close for her comfort.

Three new posters came out in mid-May, all of them featuring Elvis in different phases of his career, from the rockabilly sideburns to the black leather jacket to the white suit.

The second trailer (9.2m YouTube views) came out at the end of May. It opens with Elvis defying police orders to not be suggestive in his movements during a concert, of course leading to a confrontation with those officers but beginning the mythologizing of his persona. The focus here is on Elvis’ rebellious nature, which is presented as coming from a place of believing (and being told by others) that his gift is one that comes from God and that he’d be wrong to deny or hide it. Aside from that it sells the usual Luhrmann glitz and spectacle, which is the real point here.

A screening at the Cannes Film Festival cemented the positive word of mouth that had already been circulating, helped by a reported 12-minute standing ovation as the film ended. Another profile of Butler published in that period had him talking about how his body started shutting down after filming finished and how a call to Luhrmann from Denzel Washington helped him secure the role. The director also spoke about the racial elements not only of the film’s story but Elvis’ life, which he tried to put in context.

Costar Alton Mason, who plays Little Richard, was profiled about how he got into character and what it was like to work with Luhrmann.

Warner Bros. and British GQ hosted a special screening of the film in London where the cast and crew participated in a Q&A.

the marketing campaign phase three: the music

Warner Bros. released a tease of Musgraves singing “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” as the attention turned back to the music, including a performance by Diplo and Swae Lee of “Tupelo Shuffle” at the MTV Movie & TV Awards.

Butler and Luhrmann both talk about the challenges of taking on such lofty subject matter in a featurette that focused on the research and prep work they both did.

A red carpet premiere event was held in Australia in early June, a natural given Luhrmann and much of the cast hails from there. That was followed by a special screening of the film held at Graceland in mid-June with the director, stars and Presley family in attendance, another sign of the family’s endorsement of the film.

An exclusive poster from Dolby Cinemas came out at this time.

In an interview, Luhrmann revealed Harry Styles campaigned extensively for the title role but that the director was too worried Styles’ existing persona would overwhelm the character.

To help sell how Butler did his own singing in the movie Luhrmann released a video of pre-production test footage showing the actor singing and performing along with a small band.

Butler and Hanks both appeared on “GMA” to talk about the movie and Hanks received his own profile about working with Luhrmann and how things are going in his career and life in general. Butler later stopped by “The Tonight Show”.

Another special screening was held in New York City and once again was sponsored by Vogue.

That was followed by a featurette on the fashions and costume design of the film. Another had Luhrmann talking with a member of the group BLACKPINK about how she was inspired by Elvis and more.

Additional media appearances by the cast included Hanks on “The Late Show,” Olivia DeJonge (with Priscilla Presley) on “GMA,” Butler (again with Priscilla) on “20/20” and lots more.

Luhrmann and others appeared in an exclusive AMC Theaters interview video.

The Canadian premiere of the film was held last week in Toronto with DeJonge, Butler and Luhrmann in attendance.

The Presley family joined the cast and Luhrmann at the TCL Chinese Theater for a “Handprint and Footprint” ceremony.

One final trailer was released just today exclusively by Fandango MovieClips. It features a bit of new footage and a slightly different take on some story elements but fits largely with what has been seen so far. It also includes some of the praise from members of the Presley family to let audiences know this has been officially endorsed by them.

overall

As of now the movie is projected to bring in around $35 million in its first weekend, which isn’t at the same level some other recent high profile releases have grossed. Maybe that’s because this isn’t a super hero sequel, even though it’s about an artist dubbed The King for much of his career and who’s been recognized as the best-selling solo musical artist of all time.

So maybe the campaign just can’t make up the difference in generating audience interest despite Warner Bros. hanging the marketing on a few key elements:

  • Making a star out of Butler: He’s been positioned as a breakout here, someone who lost himself in becoming Presley for the camera. There have been countless profiles and other accolades for Butler, who is the lynchpin of the effort here.
  • Translating the music for a new generation: Instead of trying to sell people the Elvis originals of his recordings, the focus here has been on the more current artists that are reinterpreting and livening up those classics in a way that’s apparently meant to be palatable for younger listeners. Many of those artists have also been in attendance at various premieres and other events to help hammer home how integral they are to the finished film.
  • The Presley Family seal of approval: The studio and filmmakers want everyone to know this isn’t a hit job or critical look at the star (thought it might be less kind to Parker) and so the praise from three generations of Presley women has been used extensively in the last half of the campaign.

On top of all that I have a few questions/issues:

First: What’s the connection with Vogue that seems to be laced throughout the campaign? The publication hosted multiple events and published multiple profiles of Butler and others in the cast. It’s so constant and pervasive there has to be some kind of deal in place, but it’s never called out or acknowledged.

Second: Look at most all of the posters, trailers and other material and you’ll see “TCB” emblazoned on them, a reference to the name given to Elvis’ backing band in the 1970s. But that band is almost entirely absent from the trailers and isn’t called out in any way in other promotions. Not only that, there’s nothing about the campaign that uses “Taking care of business” as a slogan or tagline, so it’s a weird stylistic choice here.

It’s an intriguing campaign that sells Luhrmann’s vision very well and repeatedly hits a few key points but has a hard time otherwise resonating.

good luck to you, leo grande – marketing recap

How Searchlight has sold a story of discovering yourself

Good Luck To You Leo Grande movie poster from Searchlight Pictures
Good Luck To You Leo Grande movie poster from Searchlight Pictures

Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, written by Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hyde, stars Emma Thompon as Nancy Stokes, a recently widowed woman who is seeking to explore life after what turned out to be a lifeless, boring marriage. To that end, she acquires the services of a sex worker named Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) to do all the things she heard about but was never able to experience with her husband.

The movie is in theaters this weekend from Searchlight Pictures and has an impressive 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcements and casting

News of Thompson’s involvement with the project came in late 2020, with McCormick cast in the title role in early 2021, just before filming began.

First look stills came out in late May 2021.

It then was among the movies that screened at the 2022 Sundance International Film Festival.

Thompson, McCormack and Hyde were among those interviewed during Sundance about how they got involved with the project or what it was like to sign on such well-respected actors. Hyde also spoke more about handling post-production during the pandemic lockdowns.

Searchlight Pictures picked up the movie following that Sundance premiere. It then screened at Berlin where Thompson was again interviewed about the physical nature of her role and more.

the marketing campaign

Things finally got underway in mid-May with the release of the trailer (2.8m YouTube views). As it begins Nancy is greeting Leo and explaining to him all the things she’d like him to do with/to her in their time together. While there is some sex shown, what is clear is that the story has much more to do with Nancy letting go of a lifetime of inhibitions and negative thoughts with Leo’s help. It’s much more about intimacy and comfort than it is about orgasms.

At the same time the movie’s poster came out showing Nancy and Leo sitting on the floor at the end of a hotel bed, both in a state of mild undress. The slightly befuddled looks on their faces make it look like a slightly more broad comedy than the trailer, but that’s a small quibble. A couple positive quotes from festival reviews are at the top while the film’s release date is at the bottom.

The first clip that came out in early June offers an expanded look at Nancy going down her list of things to take care of with Leo.

TV commercials like this started running around the same time, with messages about how the movie is body- and sex-positive, featuring wonderful performances from both leads.

The cast and crew reassembled for a screening and Q&A at Sundance London a week or so before the movie was set to come out.

McCormick was interviewed about the process of auditioning for and getting the role as well as how he and Thompson worked to become comfortable with each other over the course of production. An interview with Thompson had her talking about getting naked in front of the camera and her experience with being offered “sexy” roles over the years.

overall

Acknowledging that everyone’s mileage will vary, I’m on board for anything Emma Thompson has done since Dead Again, so the campaign doesn’t need to work that hard to get my attention. And that’s not because of the sexual nature of the story, it’s just because Thompson is an acting marvel.

Emma Thompson Dancing GIF by Searchlight Pictures - Find & Share on GIPHY

But the campaign is still pretty good, emphasizing its sex-positive nature without feeling like it’s making a big deal about putting a 60+ year old woman in the lead, just letting Thompson own the screen as she is wont to do. And McCormick gets plenty of attention in a performance that’s garnered positive buzz and could take his career to a new level.