black adam – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a change in the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe

Black Adam movie poster from Warner Bros.
Black Adam movie poster from Warner Bros.

Black Adam, in theaters this weekend, is ostensibly the 11th film in the DC Extended Universe of movies that began with 2013’s Man of Steel, though you’d need a protractor and slide rule to actually make all those movies fit together into a cohesive narrative. And that’s without trying to figure in one-off projects and TV/streaming series.

The movie stars Dwayne Johnson as Teth-Adam / Black Adam, a slave boy from the city of Kahndaq five thousand years ago who, after his father is killed for angering the king, is given the power of the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou, who played the character in 2019’s Shazam!) before being imprisoned. When he’s woken in the present day by those searching for the same mystical artifact the ancient king was after he goes on a rampage that draws the attention of the Justice Society of America, who go after Adam. Alliances shift but Adam resists the call to become a hero, even if he is not quite a villain.

As the above implies, Black Adam is connected to the hero Shazam, though Zachary Levi (who played the hero in his own 2019 movie) doesn’t appear here. Viola Davis, though, is back as Amanda Waller, who calls in the JSA composed of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan). Sarah Shahi plays Adrianna Tomaz, the modern day researcher who awakens and eventually befriends Adam.

The movie is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and seems inspired by various elements of Black Adam’s backstory from both DC’s Post-Crisis and New 52 eras. So let’s say the magic word and take a look at how the movie’s been sold to the public.

long road to adam

Johnson has been trying to get this movie made for years, constantly talking it up on his social media profiles and saying the script is amazing and so on. He officially announced he was playing Black Adam in 2014 after speculation he may play either that character or Shazam.

His bravado was muted somewhat by the 2019 release of Shazam!, in which he wasn’t featured, but later that year it was announced director Jaume Collett-Serra had come aboard, perhaps breathing new life into things.

In October of 2019 Johnson Tweeted an announcement that production would finally begin in July of 2020 and then shared the news of an official release date. An interview from that time also had him hinting that the movie would include the Justice Society of America. Johnson confirmed in April his belief that production would begin at the end of summer, despite most things being shut down because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Centino was added to the cast as Atom Smasher in July, 2020.

dc fandome 2020 makes things instagram official

The lineup of DC’s “Fandome” virtual event in August 2020 included Johnson, fueling speculation he might offer a first glimpse at this movie. That speculation proved accurate when Johnson started sharing first looks at the design of Black Adam on social media, leading up to the Fandome panel where he and others shared more information – including that he would be butting heads with members of the Justice Society – and debuted a sizzle reel of animated concept art with Johnson narration added.

More JSA-related news came a month or so later when Hodge was cast as Hawkman. Brosnan and Mirren were added to the cast in March, 2021.

Pandemic-related production and other delays prompted WB to take the movie off its schedule in October, 2020, leaving it off the calendar at that point.

It was added back to the release calendar in March, 2021. At that time Johnson shared a video of a big outdoor display in New York City that revealed the film’s planned July, 2022 date. That announcement was also aired on TBS during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

A number of interviews like this with Collett-Serra had him teasing what he was taking away from his experience filming Jungle Cruise and applying to this film, including working with Johnson and developing cutting edge special effects. During the Jungle Cruise press cycle Johnson was also frequently asked about this movie, saying it was the hardest production he’s been a part of to date and offering other vague teases.

continuing adventures in pre-marketing

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

A year after those first official looks, fans were promised another tease of the movie during DC’s 2021 installment of Fandome. That came in the form of a video showing Adam’s first appearance in the film, though his full look still isn’t seen clearly. Garcia later commented on how the movie wouldn’t pull any punches with the character or story. An interview with Johnson had him sharing how the initial costume had too much padding for his liking.

In March 2022 the movie’s release date was moved back three months to late October, reportedly because of a VFX backlog plaguing the entire industry that meant the effect just wouldn’t be ready for the July release date.

Despite that delay, that same month DC announced a new Black Adam comics series from writer Christopher Priest and artist Rafa Sandoval scheduled to debut in June. A trailer for the series was released a bit later.

At CinemaCon in April both Centineo and Swindell were in attendance to give executives and journalists a look at the first trailer.

Some new looks at character designs were offered a little while later when the movie’s Funko POP! Figures were revealed.

marketing finally says the magic word

Things more officially got underway in early June with the release of the first poster, which shows Adam in profile with the copy “The world needed a hero. It got Black Adam.” helping to set the tone of the story.

That was followed by the first full trailer. We get a little bit of Adam’s history going back centuries. In the present, Adam has embraced the powers he has, which brings him into conflict with the heroes we then see, including Atom Smasher, Hawkman and Dr. Fate. Whether or not Adam is a hero is up to him, Dr. Fate intones.

It’s not a bad trailer, but there are several questions it generates, including whether the heroes we see here exist at the same time as those in the Justice League universe, whether Johnson is capable of playing anything other than a variation on his own persona and more.

Just after the first trailer debuted DC announced one-shot comics offering introductions and backgrounds on characters like Cyclone, Dr. Fate, Hawkman and Atom Smasher.

WB made this movie a centerpiece of its Hall H presentation at San Diego Comic-Con in July. Johnson appeared there in costume to introduce a new “sneak peak” that doesn’t expand too much on the earlier trailer but does feature a few new shots. The rest of the main cast along with Collet-Serra, who had previously clarified the movie does *not* include either Shazam or Superman.

As part of its SDCC coverage, EW debuted a new image of Johnson in costume along with comments from Collet-Serra about the characters in the story and more. The cast was also interviewed at Comic-Con by AMC Theaters.

Vanity Fair debuted a number of new stills along with an interview with Johnson about the character’s moral philosophy and how that unique take on an anti-hero is what has drawn him to Adam for a long time.

There was a massive tie-in promotion in early September with the Los Angeles Rams that included the players sporting the film’s branding, Johnson appearing in promos and other videos and the second trailer debuting during the game’s broadcast.

That trailer (22.6m YouTube views) begins with the same history lesson from the first one and shows a lot of the same bits about Adam’s journey and how he isn’t a hero. It’s primary focused on the showdown between Adam and the Justice Society, though we continue to hear how Adam isn’t necessarily a bad guy, just one who refuses to yield or bow before anyone, which brings him into conflict with the heroes.

That emphasis on the JSA is reinforced by their appearance on a new poster that came out at the same time as the trailer and by the character posters that include members of the team along with Adam himself.

The next Vanity Fair profile was of Centino, who gushed about the opportunity to work with the veteran actors in the cast.

The next one-sheet features Black Adam sitting on his throne looking somber and serious while the copy declares “The time of heroes is over.”

“There’s no one on this planet that can stop me” Black Adam declares in a TV spot from mid-September that features more of his fight with the JSA as well as dialogue making it clear Adam is willing to cross lines heroes can’t. Another extended spot hits many of the same notes but ties his story into the broader legacy of heroes and villains on Earth.

The IMAX, 4DX and Dolby Cinemas exclusive posters both feature slight variations on the JSA assembled around Adam.

A global press tour with Johnson and others from the cast and crew kicked off at the beginning of October and took them to screenings and events in New York, London, Mexico City and elsewhere.

Swindell was interviewed in October about making the movie and the process of undergoing so much physical training for the role.

Warner Bros. put street teams around New York Comic-Con giving out tickets to the world premiere screening that ended the above-mentioned press tour.

While the cast was in New York City Centino promoted the movie in an appearance on “The Tonight Show” while Hodge and Brosnan showed up on “GMA.” Brosnan also appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night”. Johnson confirmed a much-anticipated cameo by another DC character when he promoted the film on “The Tonight Show”.

A Black Adam skin and powers were added to Fortnite. The character was also added to the Injustice 2 mobile game.

An extended clip of Adam being awakened by Intergang and tearing through the over-matched mercenaries was released just before the premiere.

A partnership with EVgo gave those using the company’s charging stations a $5 Fandango promo code they could use when buying tickets for this movie. Circle K Stores also offered a Fandango code to those who engaged with the company on Twitter.

At the premiere Johnson weighed in on whether he would consider taking an advisory position in the development of future DC projects and talked more along with the rest of the cast about the long road involved in bringing this movie to fruition and more.

HBO Max offered an exclusive featurette about Black Adam’s moral gray area and how that impacts the other characters as well as the world the story is set in. Rotten Tomatoes also had an exclusive featurette focusing on the costumes of the characters.

DC shared an interview between Johnson and Echo Kellum, who has appeared in a few DC TV series.

overall

Projections have the movie bringing in about $75 million in its opening weekend, which would be a good start for a title like this that has more than a few question marks around it.

The campaign is, as such things tend to be, almost completely driven by Johnson’s personality and will. What seems like half the social media updates from the official movie account are reposts or shares from Johnson’s profile and that’s on top of him spending the better part of the last two decades simply forcing this movie into existence through public statements in addition to whatever behind-the-scenes politicking he’s been doing at the studio.

A decent single brand identity has been created around Black Adam’s defining character traits, namely his willingness to go to dark places, his repeated assurances he’s not a hero and his belief he’s the new major power in the world. Those have been repeated time and again across marketing elements.

What sticks out, though, is how most of the trailers, TV spots and other clips seem to draw most of their footage from the same 15 minutes of the movie, especially Adam’s slugfest with the JSA. That’s fine in and of itself but it also indicates there’s a lot of the movie that’s still unseen by the general public. Such things aren’t uncommon with movies like this, but it seems especially prevalent here.

One Night In Miami – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios sold a fictional story involving some of the 20th century’s most important individuals.

The new movie One Night In Miami, the directorial debut for Regina King, is one of my favorite kinds of stories, the hypothetical confluence of several historical individuals. In this case the movie focuses on the fictional meeting of Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) at a Miami hotel room in early 1964. The four men, some with their wives, take the opportunity of their meeting to discuss their various roles in the civil rights movement as well as the rest of what’s happening in the early 60s.

With an all-star cast and a well-regarded actor making her first foray behind the camera, the movie has a lot going for it in this unusual awards season. As such, Amazon Studios has mounted a campaign pulling heavily from history, even if the events of the film itself are largely fictitious.

The Posters

Released in mid-November, the first poster (by marketing agency The Refinery) presents a very simple message to the audience by showcasing the four leads, all standing in front of the Miami hotel where most of the action takes place. It’s a very good, simple poster that highlights the movie’s main selling point, which is the cast and the characters they play.

Character posters showcasing the four leads came out in early January.

The Trailers

The first trailer (9.7 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-November and opens by immediately establishing the premise, that the film follows what happens when four icons of the civil rights movement and the 20th century as a whole come together one night following a fight between Ali and Sonny Liston. There’s lots of scenes of the four of them engaged in deep discussions, thoughtful prayer, righteous outrage and more, basically presenting the film as a showcase for the performances from the four leads.

A second trailer (131k views on YouTube) came out earlier in January and takes a bit more in-depth approach, offering the same value proposition to the audience but showing more details about the conversations that happen between the four men and what sort of dynamic is in play. It also notably differs in that it uses Odom Jr. ‘s performance of a couple of Cooke’s songs as the background music instead of something more contemporary.

Online and Social

There were standalone social profiles for the film that ran through part of last year, but which were eventually shuttered in advance of the new year. Amazon Studios did support it substantially on its brand social accounts, though.

Advertising and Promotions

Amazon Studios acquired the film in July, 2020. Shortly thereafter it was announced in the lineup for the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival. Its debut was scheduled for the Venice Film Festival in mid-September. That screening generated such positive word of mouth it seemed to jump right into Oscar contention, specifically for King.

It was then announced as the closing night feature for the Hamptons Film Festival and added to October’s London Film Festival. In September it was announced it would close the Montclair Film Festival while news later added it to AFI Fest. Reichart and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuk were awarded the Golden Key Award at the Key West Film Festival.

A clip released in September, about the same time as the festival screenings, shows many of the main characters coming together for a big night out.

Eventually a release plan was announced, with the plan being for the movie to open in limited theaters on Christmas Day before being available via Amazon Prime streaming three weeks later.

EW debuted footage of Odom Jr. performing Sam Cooke’s “Speak Now” and another clip shows the main characters heading out for the night as Malcolm X reflects on the danger he’s in from many hostile parties.

Online ads used the key art to link to Amazon Video’s play page for the movie. The studio also sponsored a playlist of R&B tunes on Spotify.

Media and Press

Some of the first publicity for the movie came in an extended profile of King where she talked about making her directorial debut and lots more. Later on she offered a first look at the film along with comments about her experience making it and more.

During the Venice festival King was interviewed about the relevancy of the story, dealing with such iconic historic figures and more. She also talked about how she sees the film’s fate greatly impacting what kind of opportunities black women are given as filmmakers in the future. In another interview she discussed how she and the cast kept going during the Covid-19 pandemic, driven largely by the desire to get this story out there immediately.

The topic of so many well known real life individuals came up in another interview with King, a later interview with Ben-Adir and another one with Odom Jr. and Hodge.

She joined many members of the cast for a conversation about the timeliness of the story and got a feature profile of her own later in the year.

Screenwriter Kemp Powers got a substantial profile that focused on his part in making this film as well as Soul, also coming out in the same time period. He talked more about adapting the play for the screen here and later received another feature profile about his career to date.

King also offered more thoughts on why she was a good fit for this project and once again about what it was like to direct for the first time.

An interview with Ben-Adir had him talking about the research he did to play Malcolm X and how King was instrumental to that process. He went even more in-depth on that process in another feature profile.

Of course King not only commented on this movie but also on the race-related happenings in the current world when she appeared on “Kimmel.” She also had to weigh in on criticisms of Ben-Adir, a British actor, playing a well-known American figure like X.

Overall

It’s quite a good campaign, one that’s rooted in the performances of Odom Jrl, Goree, Ben-Adir and Jim Brown. All four of them are the real selling point to the public here, with those who are a bit more in-the-weeds also getting plenty of reminders of King’s involvement. Also good to see is the attention given to Kemp, who is having a moment with a number of projects hitting right about now.

This is, I think, the perfect example of the kind of movie that benefits from a streaming debut in that the opportunity cost of trying it out is so much lower than it would be in theaters. And the campaign has made the point repeatedly, to great effect.

Picking Up the Spare

Amazon released a “Meet The Characters” featurette to inform the audience who it is they’re following in the story. 

More interviews with King had her praising her production crew and speaking about the societal and political ramifications of her work on this film. There was also another profile of Hodge and an interview with Odom, who also appeared on “Kimmel.” King then appeared on “The Daily Show” and then on “PBS Newshour.”

Clemency – Marketing Recap

How NEON is selling a drama about the mental toll felt by those managing our overwhelmed prison system.

clemency posterAlfre Woodard stars in this week’s new release Clemency. She plays Bernadine Williams, a woman who for years has served as warden at a prison where death row inmates are housed and ultimately executed. In the leadup to yet another execution, Williams begins to struggle with the emotional weight of everything that’s happened on her watch and forcing her to create a stronger connection with the man about to have his fate sealed.

In a week where this is one of two movies about the realities of the criminal justice system – the other being Just Mercy – NEON has run a campaign that emphasizes Woodard’s performance as an emotionally-drained bureaucrat.

The Posters

The sole theatrical one-sheet (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) has Williams looking tired and somber against a muted blue background. The bottom half of her body is coming apart, flitting away from her in the form of black doves. It’s some heavy symbolism, designed to show how her job is chipping away at who she is, pieces represented by twisted versions of birds normally associated with peace.

The Trailers

Williams is pragmatic about needing to just do her job in the first trailer (56,000 views on YouTube), released in September. She knows some people see her as part of the problem, but she makes it clear she tries to help the men on death row who move through her prison. No one on either side of the issue understand the position she’s in or the isolation she feels doing a difficult, almost impossible thing repeatedly, but she knows someone has to.

Online and Social

NEON gives the movie a good but not great site, with the standard marketing materials along with the “Social Assets” it usually offers.

Advertising and Publicity

A first look still from the movie was released at the same time it was announced it would be screening at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The positive buzz that was built up from those screenings was significant, with many calling it the highlight of the festival before it went on to win the Grand Jury Prize. Still, it wasn’t until over a month later that it was picked up by NEON.

In late July it was announced the movie would get yet another festival screening, this time at the Toronto International Film Festival. Woodard was scheduled to be honored when the movie was shown at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Closer to release the studio hosted a handful of screenings, often accompanied by Q&As with the cast and crew, to drum up word of mouth and reach a motivated audience.

Media and Publicity

While at Sundance Chukwu was interviewed about the events that inspired the story as well as how much research she did into the prison system so that every detail was as correct as she could make it.

Hodge was interviewed about the research he did in preparing for the role, including visiting prisoners at San Quentin.

An interview with Woodard had her talking about her own research for her role as the prison’s warden and the responsibility she felt to tell an important story. She and Hodge appeared together on “The Daily Show” to talk about the movie.

Overall

Clemency is likely to get lost in the wake of other, bigger movies, but given the continued conversation about the flawed prison system in the United States – including news the Department of Justice wants to bring Federal executions back – it seems like an important addition to that discussion.

It’s just too bad there wasn’t a bigger push for the movie. While there were certainly a number of interviews recently and the decision to hold screenings with interested groups is a good one, it would have been nice if the filmmakers had been given a bit more visibility to weigh in on the story and characters.

Still, it’s hard to argue with any campaign that puts Woodard at the forefront like this, so at the end it’s a winning strategy.

Picking Up the Spare

An interview with Woodard and Hodge about the quick production schedule and their work in some emotional sequences.

How Chukwu invested herself into the story was covered in this interview.