Grandparents, Holidays and Gender Roles In Two Recent Comedies

You don’t have to be paying super-close attention to notice that two current comedy sequels, one in theaters now and one coming this week, have presented the same basic value proposition to the audience:

Variation on original premise + grandparents + Christmas = hilarity

What occurred to me as I watched the most recent trailer for one of them is that while the overall message is very similar between the two, there’s a big difference in how that formula plays out based on the genders of the leads.

For Women, Family Is Embarrassing But Friends Accepting

In the marketing of A Bad Moms Christmas, we see how Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) deal with the arrival of their mothers by retreating as a unit. Amy’s mom doesn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to go all out at the holidays, even if it means being miserable herself. Kiki’s mom is clingy and thinks she and her daughter are more peers than anything, smothering her with attention. Carla’s mom is just a wild and irresponsible spirit who she tires of quickly.

So the trailers show how the three friends take off as a group, checking out from the mayhem of the season and avoiding the judgment and passive-aggressive commentary of their mothers. They go drinking and shopping and indulge in a bit of selfish fun. They bond and find strength in a group of supportive friends.

For Men, Family Only Brings Out the Competitive Nature

By the time the first movie ended, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and Brad (Will Ferrell) had learned to accept each other in their unusual family situation. That seems to be where Daddy’s Home 2 picks up as they prepare for Christmas as an extended group. Joining them and complicating the situation are both men’s fathers. Brad’s is just as goofy and overly-emotional as he is while Dusty’s dad is another alpha male with chiseled good looks, flawless style and an aura of pure testosterone.

The presence of these two fathers has the effect of rekindling the rivalry between Brad and Dusty. Brad can’t help who he is while Dusty wants to impress his father, dismissing Brad’s more humanistic approach in favor of confrontational solutions to the problem, dismissal of emotions and so on. It’s all dead butch.

Gender Stereotypes Help Sell Movies?

For as much as society has shifted toward a perspective where gender roles are largely unfortunate holdovers from less enlightened times, it seems they’re still welcome and active in the selling of mainstream comedies.

Not only does the arrival of parental figures bring out behavior that’s stereotypical of each gender, but any behavior that runs counter to that is played for laughs. In Moms, Carla’s overt sexualization of the stripper she’s crushing on is meant to be funny because women acting like that is just not normal. In Home, Brad’s more feminine approach to problem-solving and teaching life skills are meant to be mocked because it’s so…girly…not nearly the masculine ideal displayed by Dusty and his father.

All that was considered not only fine but desirable when it came time to put together the pitch to the audience to see both movies. Even if the movies themselves offer slightly different or more nuanced takes (not likely based on all available evidence), that was deemed the strongest marketing approach.

Maybe we haven’t evolved as much as we like to think we have in our thinking. At the very least, there’s a percentage of the audience that’s seen as significant enough that taking these approaches gives the movies a chance at success. The next time you or someone on TV is railing against the liberal elites in Hollywood who are indoctrinating your children, keep these two examples of very conservative, old-fashioned mindsets in mind.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Bad Moms Christmas – Marketing Recap

Having made a bigger-than-expected splash when they reclaimed the everyday, the three harried women at the heart of last year’s Bad Moms are back with A Bad Moms Christmas. Kiki (Kristen Bell), Amy (Mila Kunis) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) are throwing off the shackles of society’s expectations around mounting the perfect family holiday and taking it easy, enjoying it themselves for a change.

There’s one big monkey wrench that’s been thrown in these plans: The unexpected arrival of their own mothers. Kiki’s mom (Cheryl Hines), Carla’s mom (Susan Sarandon) and Amy’s mom (Christine Baranski) all show up with their own expectations and complicate things for their daughters in one way or another. Hilarity ensues.

The Posters

The first poster was very similar to one for the first movie, but this one has the three ladies grinding on and dancing all around a department store Santa.

A series of three posters paired each of the moms we already know alongside their own moms, most of the younger ones looking less than thrilled with this arrangement.

That was followed by another version that adds the moms of the moms.

The Trailers

Oy, with this trailer. It seems no one learned any big, long-lasting lessons from the first movie since the moms are back and feeling just as unappreciated as ever as Christmas gets closer. There’s more kvetching about the stress everyone is feeling and how badly they’re treated by their families. So they decide to “take Christmas back” which involves sitting out on a lot of the expected activities and traditions. Things are complicated by the arrival of *their* moms.

Alright, fine. Since the first one seemed to work for so many people it’s safe to assume that wrapping this one in tinsel will achieve roughly the same effect. Why not.

Another trailer shows just how miserable the moms are during Christmas, frustrated by their kids and the hectic schedules. Then things get worse when their mothers show up and begin the judging and the uncomfortable closeness and more. So the three rebel and go off on their own wacky, drunken adventures. There’s an extended scene involving an anal waxing and that’s all she wrote.

Green-band versions of both trailers were also released to appeal to more general audiences.

Online and Social

The first trailer plays when the official website loads up if you’re interested in watching that. The key art of the girls giving Santa a lap dance is featured on the front page. While there’s a traditional “Get Tickets” button on the page there’s also “Plan Your Night” prompt that encourages you to make this a group event. That section includes not just the option to buy tickets but to send themed invitations to all your friends as well as cocktail recipes and event planning guides.

At the top of the page is where most of the site’s content lives. That starts with links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest profiles, the latter of which features tips on delegating holiday work, taking time for yourself and more that’s in-line with the point of the movie.

“Videos” has all of the trailers. “About” has a quick synopsis and the cast and crew list. “Gallery” has about a half-dozen production stills. Finally, “Partners” has information on the companies who have signed up for promotional support.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV advertising kicked off in earnest a couple weeks out from release, with some focusing on outrageousness, some on the family relationships and some just on the cast that’s been brought together. Regardless of the specifics, all make it clear that there’s plenty of bad behavior on display as the moms go all out to enjoy some time to themselves. Digital spots like this one hit the same themes as have been seen before.

Online ads used short video clips to drive ticket sales and the release of each trailer was accompanied by paid promotion on social networks.

Promotional partners for the movie included the following companies:

  • Febreeze, though I couldn’t find any connection or campaign aside from the fact that Kathryn Hahn did an ad for the brand that aired during this past Super Bowl.
  • Yoplait, which ran a sweepstakes on Facebook and Instagram awarding movie tickets.
  • Stroke of Beauty, which created a movie-themed makeup kit that was available through evine (another listed partner) and given away through a sweeps.
  • Old Navy, which ran a sweeps awarding a private group screening of the movie and more.
  • Amazon Alexa, though I can’t find details on that partnership.
  • UrbanSitter, which ran a sweeps awarding not only movie tickets but gift cards for babysitting services.

Media and Publicity

The directors talked about they wanted to create mothers that would clash but still appear appropriate for each of the moms and the drama and humor that results from putting all these characters together.

Around the same time the TV advertising began STX released a few videos like this that had an expert mixologist sharing movie-themed cocktail recipes to make to help you get through the holidays.

Acknowledging that the original shouldn’t have been as much of a hit as it was, an interview with all three leads covered how quickly the sequel came together, how excited they all were to jump back and more.

The actresses playing the moms of the moms all sat down for a group interview where they talked about working with their on-screen daughters, their experience in general and more.

Overall

If you found the campaign for the first one funny or charming or relatable, odds are good you’ll be on board for this sequel as well. There’s nothing all that new or innovative going on, all the characters are the same and dealing with the same issues they were in the first movie, only with the additional stress of living up to a mother’s expectations. Not a single one of the actresses here isn’t extremely talented and likable, so it comes down to whether you’re interested in the story and tone, which is more a question of individual taste.

The main call to action is to come out as a group for something holiday-themed. The campaign is using Christmas as a chance to amp-up the emotional stakes for everyone and hopefully create something that’s just as relatable, if not more so, for the audience. There’s a nice effort to create some movie-themed experiences like the cocktail recipes and party tips that may or may not be widely useful but they certainly are appropriate to the story.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.