Warner Bros. has had its work cut out for it in putting together a marketing push for Blade Runner 2049 on a number of fronts.
First, it’s a sequel to what has long been considered one of the greatest standalone science fiction movies of all time. 1982’s Blade Runner is just about perfect as it is, despite all the different version and edits that have muddied the waters over the years. It’s moody and tense, with deep, rich characters living a fully-realized world and a story that contains not only deep details but also overarching mysteries that have driven countless conversations and arguments.
Second, it’s another in a long line of “legacy sequels” a format that hasn’t fared well in the last couple years. Audiences, it seems, just aren’t that interested in catching up with Derek Zoolander, the various characters of Independence Day and other movies. They want something that’s both new and familiar and these offerings, which often simply remake the original but with different characters, haven’t caught fire.
So it’s into this market that WB releases Blade Runner 2049. As the title suggests, the story has moved forward 30 years from the 2019 setting of the original. Society is balanced on the brink of collapse, a situation that could be further destabilized when K (Ryan Gosling), an LAPD officer, discovers a secret tied to the history of Replicants, the “more human than human” constructs first created by the Tyrell Corporation and now manufactured by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). K’s investigation opens a lot of boxes people would rather stay closed. To help him he seeks out the legendary Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford), now living the life of a recluse.
The first poster wasn’t much more than a title treatment. In the background though is a starry sky, with a few trees or other figures visible in the dark of the night. Surely this hints at something, right?
Two character posters were released next, one showing Deckard walking through a dusty, barren environment and the other showing K walking through the fog next to his police vehicle. Neither offers machine the way of hints as to the story and both recreate looks first seen in the teaser trailer but still, any new looks at this movie were welcome.
Two versions of a theatrical one-sheet were released, one that featured a standard photo collage of the main characters, the left side of the image with Gosling red and fiery, the right side with Ford blue and colder. A slight variation on that added some digital billboards to the backgrounds on both sides and smudged the photos a bit to make it look more artistic.
The hot/cold dichotomy of the characters was continued on a couple character posters featuring the two leads. An IMAX-specific poster used the same hot and cold sides of the design but eliminated the secondary characters, just focusing on IMAX and the two leads. That layout also appeared in a motion poster.
A series of banners combined a number of character posters into a single image, with the title spread out across the whole thing. Some featured just the main five actors/characters, others an additional five supporting characters.
The “Announcement” trailer starts off with a bit of dialogue from the original over new footage of the same L.A. we saw in the first movie before cutting to a scene of K walking through some sort of desert, past a fallen monument and into an abandoned building. Now there’s new dialog from Deckard as the camera shows him emerging from the shadows, his gun drawn and pointed at K.
Holy cow. Whatever concerns I had about this movie have been completely erased. It has a mood, it has a style and it has more. While my guess is this overplays Ford’s role in the picture a bit, what else are you going to do to market this movie?
We’re immediately thrown into the environment of the story in the full trailer, which starts out showing Wallace talking about how he’s working as fast as he can to create a disposable workforce. Lt. Joshi talks about the war that’s inevitable if the two opposing sides realize there’s no wall. K finds and confronts Deckard and the two spend at least some of the time working together, evading the people who are after them like they’re trying to find out the truth of something. Lots of shots of the overall look and feel of the movie, along with music that sounds like an updated version of the iconic Vangelis-penned theme from the original and some vague story hints round things out.
It’s pretty darn effective. Gosling is stoic and on-point in a story that looks like it takes his role as a police officer and turns him into a rule-breaking vigilante of sorts. Ford’s role looks very specific and I’m still not convinced he’s in more than 30 minutes of the movie. Indeed his appearance may actually be a look at the finale of the movie. Outside of all that there are lots of lines about bubbling conflicts, secrets being uncovered and so on. One thing that jumped out at me is that the Atari symbol on the billboard, something that was seen in the original movie, shows that the filmmakers are staying true to that timeline and not trying to “update” it based on the real world.
The second trailer offers a bit more information about the story. Officer K starts out by confronting what seems to be a rogue Replicant before he goes on to search for Deckard and learn more about the history of the Replicants. It’s clear, though, that there are powerful people who don’t want Deckard found and certain secrets revealed. When he does find Deckard the two go on the run while various forces around them seek to bring them in for their own reasons.
Yep, still on board. It’s a solid trailer where the only real issue I have is that some scenes can be interpreted as containing major story revelations. Still, I’m not going to nitpick about that because it’s very, very cool.
Online and Social
The “hot/cold” key art appears at the top of the Tumblr-hosted official website with prompts to watch the trailer and get tickets prominently displayed. There’s also a button toward the bottom of the front page with the “Road to 2049,” an animated timeline that covers the events of the first movie as well as what’s transpired in the 30 years between movies. That includes some of what’s seen in a series of short films produced by different filmmakers which is covered more below.
The first content section in the menu is “Story,” which offers a very brief Synopsis that tells you little about the actual story details but does explain what sets K on a search for Deckard. “Partners” just has the information on Johnnie Walker’s movie-branded whiskey, which, again, is covered more below.
If you scroll down the site you’ll encounter lots of GIFs, images and videos, all of which can be sorted in the “Gallery” menu.
They’re not linked anywhere I can see on the site, but there were also Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles for the movie as well.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Two TV spots started off the paid television campaign, one that asked a handful of questions and one that offered a few answers. Both continued the trend of selling the movie based on a combination of dark, edgy visuals and the promise of a mystery that needs to be unlocked. Another extended TV spot shows that Officer K is being tasked with erasing Deckard from the world while also making it more clear that Wallace is searching for him as well.
There were a few promotional partner companies who signed on, including:
- Atari, which made special hats that included their own speakers to really bring the gaming experience fully into your ears.
- Johnnie Walker, which offered a limited special edition whiskey in a custom bottle to mark the drink’s inclusion in the movie.
The shorter of those character poster compilations mentioned above, along with two banners that show either K or Deckard walking toward their vehicle of choice, were likely used as outdoor billboards.
Various videos, including this “Plan” TV spot, were used over the course of the last few weeks before release as ads on Twitter and Facebook.
Warner Bros. became one of the first companies to use Snapchat’s new paid 3-D World Lenses ad unit, creating a virtual flying car from the movie that could be overlaid onto the real world.
Media and Publicity
The publicity cycle started with a one-two punch, first the announcement of the movie’s title and then the news of a VR experience, though that release focused more on the technology than the potential story.
The stars talked about the movie for a while in advance of the actual publicity campaign while they were promoting other projects. That included comments by Gosling while he was touting La La Land that Ford isn’t in the movie as much as people might expect or hope.
Shortly after the first trailer dropped there was a bit of a press push featuring an EW cover for its’ 2017 preview issue that included interviews with Gosling and other members of the cast as well as a couple first-look photos. There was also a similar feature in Empire. The second trailer debuted at the end of a cast Q&A with Ford and Gosling.
Villeneuve spoke fairly often about how conscious he was of the shoes he was stepping into and how he had to come to terms with the possibility he might fall on his face with the movie.
To mark the 35th anniversary of the first movie’s release a new featurette was released that contained quite a bit of new footage and provided a bit more detail about this movie and its story.
Everyone involved, including Villeneuve and Gosling, kept talking about how they wanted to remain true to the sequel’s roots, how unbelievable it was to be involved in something like this and more.
The movie got a big push at San Diego Comic-Con, with a panel featuring the movie’s stars and director. On the show floor fans could wait in line for a VR experience and walk through a life-size replica of a street scene from the movie. At the panel and elsewhere Ford, Gosling and Villeneuve all talked about the movie, with Ford sharing how he got back into the role of Deckard and a timeline showing the audience some of the major replicant-related events have transpired since the end of the first movie.
A little over a month before release a short film titled “2036: Nexus Dawn” was released that filled in some of the gaps between 2019 and 2049. That continued with “2048: Nowhere to Run” and then with “Black Out 2022,” a short anime that garnered lots of attention for its stylish look and feel.
Villeneuve kept reiterating how much he didn’t want to just copy the original but bring something new and fresh and essential to the sequel while still committing to the continuation of the overall aesthetic that first movie created.
The famously grouchy and tight-lipped Ford was the subject of a Vanity Fair cover story that touched on his career, his attitude toward the business, what made him sign on for this sequel and more, including the story of how he accidentally punched Gosling in the face while shooting an action sequence.
Just before release, it became clear that the visual style of the movie would be a major selling point, a focus reinforced by stories like this that specifically covered the design of the costumes.
Ford and Gosling, in particular, did a number of other media interviews and appearances, often talking about an infamous on-set incident where Ford accidentally punched his co-star during a stunt sequence as well as the return of the older star to yet another role from early in his career. That also includes Gosling hosting “Saturday Night Live” the weekend before release, reminding everyone he’s a pretty gifted comedian.
The core question here has to be this: Does the campaign overcome the legitimate and serious concerns a generation of fans has that this sequel is going to tarnish, disrespect or diminish the original? Is a continuation of the story even necessary after so many years of it living on its own, with only a few easily-forgotten spinoffs popping up here and there?
Based on WB has put together here, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Not only does the marketing itself sell a movie that’s a stylish, colorful sci-fi noir, but it’s reinforced the idea that the filmmakers wanted to remain consistent with the iconic look and feel of the original, a point made over and over again in the publicity efforts.
I can only speak for myself, but the campaign has worn down whatever resistance I initially felt for the idea of a sequel, which first seemed to me like cynical move to wring more value from an IP that was just sitting on the shelf, sadly unmonetized. Unlike other “legacy sequel” campaigns, it hasn’t used the promise a return to old and familiar characters as its central value proposition, though the prominent role of Deckard in the marketing and Ford in the publicity certainly takes that approach.
Instead, it’s more about selling the audience on the idea of following up with the repercussions of the events of the first movie and seeing what impact they had on the world the movies are set in. While I might have some issues with the short films that fill in story gaps, those are minor compared to how anxious I am to see what a new set of characters and filmmakers can make of the Blade Runner concept.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.