the tomorrow war – marketing recap

How Amazon Studios has sold its latest sci-fi action movie.

Chris Prat stars as Dan Forester in this week’s Amazon Studios release The Tomorrow War. Dan is a husband and father who retired from the military but is called back into service when time travelers from the future arrive seeking recruits for a battle against an invading alien army. Determined to save the future his young daughter will ultimately live in, Dan leaves his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and teams up with his estranged father James (J.K. Simmons) and a scientist from the future (Yvonne Strahovski).

Reviews haven’t come in yet, but the movie — the feature debut of “Robot Chicken” director Chris McKay — has received a campaign that’s focused on the sci-fi action in hopes of getting people excited.

The Posters

Dan, Muri, Charlie (Sam Richardson) and Dorian (Edwin Hodge) are locked and loaded on the first poster (by marketing agency MOCEAN), released at the end of May. In the background is a city skyline that’s crumbling from the destruction of battle while in the sky a big portal has opened up. All of that offers some context as to the story, but the generic positioning of the characters is a bit over the top.

A second poster, released in mid-June, offers the same conceit but zooms in on Dan and Muri.

The Trailers

The movie’s futuristic setting, alien enemies and overall tone were conveyed in a teaser released in late April.

About a month later the full trailer (8.1 million views on YouTube) was released. When a mysterious army appears from the future seeking help in fighting an alien invasion Dan is drafted/volunteers so his wife won’t have to go. He and the other recruits are fighting with the very existence of humanity at stake, leading to lots of dramatic posturing in addition to the usual running and fighting.

The final trailer (6.5 million views on YouTube) opens with Dan reaching out to his dad for help before setting up the premise and showing how Dan decides to leave his family to take part in the fight. From there it’s lots of shooting and running and talk about the fate of humanity and such.

Online and Social

No standalone website but in addition to the Amazon Video landing page there were social outposts like this Twitter profile.

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

Due to the massive shuffling of release dates by Paramount in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the movie’s release was moved back several months. Reports emerged in early 2021 that Skydance Media, which produced the film, was shopping it around to streaming distributors. Those reports came to fruition in early April, when Amazon acquired it and set an official release date.

A handful of first-look stills were released a few weeks later.

Pratt and screenwriter Zach Dean were interviewed together about the story, how it’s different from other alien invasion flicks, with the rest of the cast and crew also commenting on the production and other topics, including Simmons’ buff physique.

Short promos like this pulled out different aspects of the movie’s action and/or humor to present slightly different messages to the audience.

A little behind the scenes video had Pratt hamming it up for the camera and leaning more to his comedic side instead of actually offering anything substantive.

An interview with Pratt had him extolling Strahovski’s stuntwork and talking more about the production.

Amazon exercised its monopoly powers engaged in some cross-divisional promotion by putting promotions for the movie on shipping boxes used for retail delivery, the first time it’s used that medium to sell an Amazon Studios release.

More commercials emphasized how Dan’s decision to join the fight is rooted in his desire to protect his daughter.

Late night talk show appearances included both Gilpin and later Pratt on “Kimmel.”

Online ads like this used elements of the key art to drive traffic to the Amazon landing page for the movie.

this ad, of course, appeared on the Amazon-owned IMDb.com

The Pocono Raceway recently hosted a booth devoted to the movie where visitors could find out more and enter a sweepstakes for a $5,000 Amazon gift card.

Amazon scheduled a watch party on Twitch (which it owns) for this Friday. There was also one planned for Amazon Video itself.

A clip given to Fandango’s MovieClips shows the moment the time travelers arrive in the present looking for help in the war they’re fighting.

JoBlo then got an exclusive featurette with the cast and crew talking about the story and the production of the film.

It also setup “The Tomorrow War Experience” at various spots around Los Angeles where people could come find out more and see one of the alien enemies.

Overall

It’s a fine campaign, but what seems to be missing is a clear definable brand for the movie. The visual identity of the film isn’t very strong or identifiable. Even Pratt’s presence for the most part is just kind of general and not centered around something specific. That could be part of what seems to be a general lack of buzz around the release.

What does seem to be clear is that Amazon’s acquisition of the movie is part of its broader strategy of focusing more on big, tentpole-type titles. Whether or not this particular tactic supports that strategy remains to be seen, but the campaign doesn’t make a very strong case for this being a contender for people’s time and attention.

Without Remorse – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling Without Remorse.

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a movie that was originally intended to come out about 25 years ago, shortly after the release of the book it’s based on. Like most of the first several books from the prolific Clancy, the story is rooted in the generational experiences of those who came of age in the 1960s, living through the Vietnam War, America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union and other conflicts both militaristic and political.

The original book, published in 1993, follows Navy Seal John Kelly through a series of personal vendettas in the U.S. and CIA assignments in Vietnam, ending with him assuming the moniker John Clark and becoming one of the CIA’s leading clandestine operators. It was the first time Clark had been moved into the spotlight after becoming a favorite supporting character in some of Clancy’s earlier books. Clark went on to be featured in Clancy’s Rainbow Six, which served as the foundation for the popular video game series.

On the big screen, Clark was previously played by Willem Dafoe in 1995’s Clear and Present Danger and previous attempts to adapt Without Remorse have had Keanu Reeves, Tom Hardy and others attached. But this week it’s Michael B. Jordan finally bringing the character to life once again in a modernization of the story that’s similar to what Paramount Pictures did in 2014 with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, though this doesn’t seem to be connected to that Chris Pine-starring movie.

With a new, younger lead, the story has also been updated and largely changed. Clark here is already a CIA operative whose family is killed by Russian agents after he disrupts their mission in Syria. After recovering from his own wounds, Clark embarks on a vendetta against those who enabled the attackers with the help of his friend and colleague Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith).

The Posters

Released in February, the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) shows Clark armed and ready for anything while in the middle of a very dangerous situation based on the amount of bullet holes in the wall he’s hiding behind. There’s no copy about the story itself here but you can tell what kind of audience Amazon is going after by the inclusion of “From the author of Rainbow Six” toward the top.

That same appeal is made on the second poster, released earlier in April. This time it’s a close-up of a very sweaty Clark that forms the primary image, the background showing the smoke from an explosion on one side and the Kremlin on the other.

The Trailers

In November of 2019, when the movie was still on Paramount’s release schedule, Skydance released a brief teaser showing flashing video of trauma and violence projected on Clark’s face, showing the kind of past he’s dealing with and problems he has to overcome

The full trailer (7.2 million views on YouTube), teased ahead of time, finally came out in March of this year. It begins with Kelly recovering from injuries sustained when a group broke into his home and killed his family and almost him. After a few shots from his past military career as well as his happy home life we see the reign of terror he goes on to avenge his family and find out who’s responsible for his loss.

The final trailer (21.6 million views on YouTube), released in early April, offers the same basic pitch, but with the additional detail that someone on the inside is working against Clark and Greer, telling the bad guys exactly where the team will be and how to stop them.

Online and Social

No website, but Amazon did create stand-alone social media profiles for the movie and provide support on its own brand channels.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

Jordan was named CinemaCon’s “Male Star of the Year” in March of last year, when the movie was still slated for later in 2020. He was also named “Sexiest Man Alive” for 2020 by People back in November.

In April 2020, Paramount moved the movie’s release back by two weeks as it shuffled much of its schedule due to the Covid-19 outbreak. A bigger shift was announced in June, as the movie was pushed all the way to February of 2021.

A few months later in July reports emerged that Paramount was in final negotiations to sell the movie to Amazon Video, one of many titles the studio was taking off its books as the pandemic dragged on.

This one seemed different, though, because it showed a studio abandoning what was intended to be a potential franchise-starter. It was unclear if future films that may have been planned were included in the deal as well. Before that deal was finalized, Paramount took the movie off its release calendar with no context given for the change. Amazon finally acquired the title in January, adding it to its “Jack Ryan” series as another Tom Clancy property it managed.

Amazon’s Super Bowl commercial in February for Alexa didn’t explicitly sell the movie as well but, between the fact that Jordan stars as the personification of Alexa and that a bus with the film’s branding appears in the background of one scene, it certainly was meant to help.

What kind of workout the star engaged in to achieve his Navy SEAL physique was covered in this interview.

Shorter cutdowns of the trailer were used as TV spots and online promos, with these videos mostly focusing on the action and big emotions of the movie.

A featurette from early April has Jordan, Smith and others talking about updating the story from the original book, honoring the characters, the legacy of the popular video game series and more.

An interview with Solima had the director talking about bringing the story into the modern period and his overall approach to telling big action stories and more. Turner-Smith was interviewed about what drew her to the role, what it was like to film such action-heavy scenes and more.

IMDb shared a short exclusive featurette on filming some of the action sequences.

Additional interviews with Jordan included him talking about his acting process and how he felt about being a black man playing a character written as white and previously played by a white actor. There were also a couple interviews with Lauren London, who plays Clark’s ill-fated wife whose death kicks the story into gear.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Omaha Steaks, which offered a custom surf-and-turf package that people were encouraged to order in time to enjoy while watching the movie.
  • Scotch Porter, which offered an exclusive movie-themed bundle of grooming products.
  • 511 Tactical, which ran a sweepstakes for a collection of its pseudo-military gear.

Overall

Initial reviews of the movie have not been great, calling it a grim and depressing throwback to Cold War military politics, but that doesn’t necessarily come through in the campaign. It’s certainly presented as a standard action flick, but that is elevated by Jordan’s charm, especially in the press and promotional component of the marketing.

While I’m a sucker for anything Clancy-related, that this movie seems completely disconnected from any of the other recent character reboots – including Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” series – is somewhat disappointing. And though the story seems to discard a lot of aspects of Clancy’s original book that are now likely seen as problematic (prostitutes and other women are killed with abandon), fridging Clark’s wife to spur him to action isn’t exactly an improvement.

Still, this campaign will likely appeal to die-hard action fans and get some moderate interest from players of the “Rainbow Six” video game series and Jordan’s fanbase.

Coming 2 America – Marketing Recap

How Amazon is selling a much-anticipated and long-gestating comedy sequel.

To say there’s a fair amount of pent-up demand for Coming 2 America, the sequel to the 1988 original, a bonafide comedy classic, would be a significant understatement. 30+ years later, Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall return as Akeem and his friend and confidant Semmi, respectively. Akeem, having raised a family over the years, has now ascended to the throne of Zamunda but learned from his dying father (James Earl Jones) that he has a son he never knew back in America. So he and Semmi make their way back to Queens to connect with Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and, of course, engage in other hijinks.

Craig Brewer takes over directorial duties from John Landis, and the movie also stars Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, Kiki Layne, Wesley Snipes and a host of others both new and returning. With a disappointing 52% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon Studios’ campaign has sought to sell it as both familiar and new.

The Posters

The first teaser poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) came out in mid-December, simply showing Akeem looking joyfully out the window of his royal limousine with a highway sign pointing to New York seen in the reflection of the window.

In early February the theatrical poster came out, evoking the design of the original but with a lot more characters spread around the layout. In fact it looks more like the poster for an MCU or other super hero movie than a mid-level comedy. Whatever the case, it works by presenting a big-name cast, all apparently having a great time.

A first batch of character posters focusing on Akeem, Semmi, Lisa and King Jaffe.

A second batch offered looks at Akeem and Lisa’s daughters as well as Lisa’s father and Lavelle.

The third and final batch added General Izzy and others to the mix.

The Trailers

The first trailer (14.7m views on YouTube) came out in late December and immediately establishes where we’re at in terms of Akeem’s story. His dying father has informed him he has a son in America and so, despite Semmi’s reluctance, the two are once again headed back to Queens to find the now-adult boy. There are lots of new characters briefly introduced, but the centerpiece, of course, is the return of the barbershop crew as well as others played by Murphy and Hall in various amounts of makeup. It’s glorious.

The second trailer (20.6m views on YouTube), released in early February, goes a little deeper into the story but hits many of the same beats. We see a bit more of how General Izzi wants to take over Zamumda and some of the hijinks that happen once they get Akeem’s son back to the country. It’s the same basic message, just fleshed out a bit.

Online and Social

No stand-alone informational website I could find, but Amazon did create social profiles like this Twitter page for the movie to share promos and other updates.

Advertising and Publicity

The movie going into production was officially announced in early January, with Murphy returning and director Craig Brewer behind the camera, the latter of which got people’s attention in a big way. Casting news – including new and returning actors – were the focus for a while after that.

In October news came that wasn’t wholly surprising given the pandemic situation. Specifically, it was reported Paramount was finalizing a deal to sell the movie to Amazon since a theatrical release date was uncertain at best. That deal was officially sealed in November, with Amazon giving it a spring release date.

It was revealed just a couple weeks ago that Amazon planned to advertise the film during the upcoming Super Bowl. That spot is essentially a cut down version of the second trailer, pulling out some of the bigger jokes and plot points.

The soundtrack, with a new song from Bobby Sessions and Megan Thee Stallion, came out earlier this month.

Morgan, Jones and others from the cast showed up in a reworked version of the Soul Glo commercial from the original.

Amazon Studios scheduled a watch party, sponsored by Pepsi, for Friday 3/5 and encouraged the audience to get in on the action by dressing up and sharing their party lewks and plans online.

Additional promotional partners included

  • Rent The Runway, which offered a coupon code tied to the movie.
  • The Brooklyn Nets, which promoted the movie in a series of Tweets during a recent game.
  • Spotify, which created character-specific playlists to help introduce them to the audience.
  • HSTRY Clothing, which created a movie-inspired clothing collection.
  • Crown Royal, which offered a new movie-branded package designed by costume designer Ruth E. Carter.

Media and Press

Murphy continued talking about the movie while promoting Dolemite Is My Name through the end of 2019. And Layne commented briefly on it while promoting The Old Guard in mid-2020. Similarly, Jones mentioned it during an interview about other projects in October.

A handful of stills were finally released in late December, just before the trailer came out.

An interview with Fowler was part of EW’s 2021 Movie Preview, with the actor talking about how excited he was to be part of the sequel.

Ruth E. Carter was interviewed about crafting the look of the characters at about the same time she became the first Black costume designer to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

How and why the two stars came back for a sequel, something they had previously pledged not to do, became a central focus when Hall appeared on “The Late Show,” Murphy appeared on “The Tonight Show” and both of them on “Kimmel.” Fowler also talked about the movie on “The Tonight Show”

Murphy and his daughter were interviewed about the legacy of the original film and what it was like to bring the sequel to completion all these years later.

Overall

I’ll be honest when I first heard the movie was happening i was all

Coming 2 America GIF by Amazon Prime Video - Find & Share on GIPHY

But then as the trailer and other assets were released I started to be all

Coming 2 America GIF by Amazon Prime Video - Find & Share on GIPHY

Until finally I was all

Coming 2 America GIF by Amazon Prime Video - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.”

With Movies Paused, Super Bowl Ads In Question

Big Game, But What Movies Will Be Advertised?

Here’s how Jason Lynch opens his Adweek article on where CBS is in its attempts to sell commercial time during next year’s Super Bowl:

As the NFL regular season nears its halfway point, the clock is ticking for marketers to decide whether they want to be a part of Super Bowl LV, which is scheduled to air Feb. 7 on CBS.

The clock is indeed ticking. Surely some movie studios are considering whether or not to participate and air spots for their upcoming films during the broadcast. But with the Hollywood release calendar constantly in flux – including Disney’s recent removal of Free Guy and Death on the Nile from this December – and coronavirus cases hitting new highs every day, it’s nearly impossible to even guess what movies might make the cut. Heck, it’s even legitimate to ask if the game itself will happen as scheduled.

Of course that won’t stop me from engaging in a little largely unfounded speculation, broken down by studio below.

Disney et al

The King’s Man: This one has been moved around quite a bit by the studio so far, originally scheduled for November, 2019 but is now planned for February 15, 2021. If, at the end of January, that date is still locked then Disney may hope to get a bit of last-minute awareness and attention with a commercial during the game.

Raya and the Last Dragon: The game being a month out from Raya’s current release date means a spot would be hitting right as the marketing campaign was ramping up in earnest.

Black Widow: Of all of Disney’s releases in the first half of 2021 this one seems the most likely, assuming that the current 5/7/21 date holds. The game would provide a big platform for Marvel Studios to essentially relaunch the MCU, which has now been on hold since the middle of 2019.

Cruella: Disney has only stumbled once or twice with its live action remakes/adaptations in recent years, and it’s probably hoping the charm of Emma Stone in the title role makes this one a success. Those titles seem to appeal to all age groups and a Super Bowl spot would reach a broad range of demographics.

Paramount

Tomb Raider 2: The first movie wasn’t a massive blockbuster, but Paramount is in desperate need of a franchise so it was good enough to warrant a sequel. Some of the first advertising for the original happened in the 2018 NFL playoffs, so the studio might hope to tap into the audience one more time.

A Quiet Place 2: Similarly, the 2018 Super Bowl was the launching pad for TV advertising for the original movie, spots that instantly generated massive amounts of buzz for what everyone agreed looked like an intriguing concept and story.

Warner Bros.

Tom and Jerry: Even if movie theaters are still closed, it’s at least a somewhat safe bet WB keeps this on its 3/5/21 date, meaning Super Bowl spots could run that promote a Scoob!-like PVOD release.

Godzilla vs King Kong: This movie has been sporadically promoted since it was announced in late 2015, with several delays happening even before the pandemic. Assuming it’s actually happening, a commercial here would come three months before release, which isn’t unheard of for bigger titles.

In The Heights: Advertising a musical in the highest profile sporting event of the year might seem odd, but WB might hope that audiences are as enamored by musicals – especially those with a connection with Lin-Manuel Miranda – to give it a shot.

Sony

Morbius: This is just a reminder that Morbius is a movie that’s actually happening, so unless Sony decides to dump it somewhere it will likely want to promote it.

No Time To Die: This is the rare instance where the constant pushing of release dates may actually be advantageous, providing an opportunity to put commercials for it in front of a sizable audience.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife: As above, moving this to June means Sony could give this release a big platform. Such a platform might help it reach an audience that needs to be convinced to come back to the Ghostbusters franchise after the disappointing results of 2016’s Paul Feig-directed installment.

Universal Pictures

F9: If the movie is still coming out in June, it will get a Super Bowl spot. End of story. It’s not even a question.

Amazon Studios

Without Remorse: The streaming companies have for years been talking about how they want and need an blockbuster action franchise of their own but so far that’s eluded them. After grabbing this from Paramount, Amazon could want to make a huge deal about a high-profile release with a big-name star debuting on Prime Video with a commercial during the game.

Still…That’s a Lot of Money

CBS is charging $5.5 million for a 30-second spot, according to Lynch. While the studios might not have to pay that full amount, advertising during the Super Bowl would still be a big and expensive bet to make.

To make that bet worth it, the theatrical picture would have to not only be more secure it would almost have to be a mortal lock. And considering they would be making that bet at least a month or so out from release it becomes even more uncertain. Even if a vaccine is available by February, its distribution won’t be anywhere near universal, meaning there could still be closures and other restrictions in place.

A more complete picture of what studios are placing that bet and what movies they’re choosing to advertise will hopefully be more clear in the coming months.

Comparing Box-Office, Streaming and Other Movie Reporting

How much longer do we have to wait?

In the first few weeks of Hollywood’s grand experiment of circumstance, where studios take movies previously bound for theaters and release them on other platforms, there was the realization that the reporting of box-office results was going to be put on pause. Studios have, for many and various reasons, never really shared VOD numbers. And the streaming services have similarly never been forthright and transparent with their viewership information.

Because releasing that data had never been a regular feature prior to the pandemic, it wasn’t surprising it wasn’t shared in the initial months. But now it’s been several months, long enough for things to have shifted from “highly unusual” to “still not ideal but hardly the exception to the rule” and those results are still not consistently forthcoming.

Which is not to say that some numbers haven’t trickled out here and there.

As reported by Pamela McClintock at The Hollywood Reporter, Universal made a big deal of reporting numbers from its initial experiment with releasing Trolls World Tour via PVOD. Recently Netflix released another of its occasional snapshots of what’s become popular there, including recent features like Enola Holmes, Project Power and more. But because those numbers aren’t subject to any sort of third-party verification and can’t be compared to anything else, it’s nearly impossible to determine what exactly they mean.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the viewership data from Netflix – and Amazon Studios, which recently claimed massive numbers for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – are the rough equivalent of those that would come from Comscore and other sources for theatrical box office results. The question then becomes this:

If the movies are so popular, why is something like The Old Guard such a small part of the cultural conversation?

After all, if tens of millions of people have actually watched Enola Holmes, then where are the tens of thousands of GIFs being shared on Twitter? Where are the bushel loads of think-pieces? Where, in short, is the buzz that should accompany a success of that magnitude?

The answer, it seems, is in how drastically the marketing for these movies differs from those that traditionally would receive theatrical release.

First let’s look at some numbers.

According to Netflix’s statement, Enola Holmes was watched by 76 million households in its first four weeks. While we don’t know exactly what “watched” means (it could mean 10 minutes, it could mean 90 seconds, it could be the whole film), we can view it in the context of Pew’s research stating the average U.S. household consists of 2.58 people.

From there let’s be conservative and say half of those 76 million households watched the entire movie. That’s 38 million households.

Now, in order to try to create an equivalency between that and the kind of reporting we would get from a theatrical release, we take that 38 million and multiply it by 2.58 to get a little over 98 million. That 98 million, then, is the approximate number of movie tickets that would have to have been sold for the movie to perform that well if it were released in theaters.

To put that in context, Avengers: Endgame sold 94.2 million tickets in 2019, making it the highest grossing film of that year. Enola Holmes, then, would have outperformed every other movie of last year, including Frozen II, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and others.

A very different marketing pitch

Some have dismissed Netflix’s numbers – and with good reason because of the lack of transparency – because of just that kind of apples-to-apples comparison, as well as because there aren’t the same tectonic cultural shifts that accompany those major theatrical releases.

Allowances have to be made, though, for the substantial differences in how these movies are consumed. That list includes:

  • The ease of streaming something versus actually going to a theater
  • The lack of incremental cost for streaming each title
  • The lack of additional cost for each individual watching the movie

Here’s where we get into the differences in the marketing campaigns for a major theatrical release like Avengers: Endgame compared to a major Netflix release like Project Power.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcMBFSGVi1c&feature=youtu.be Avengers Endgame (screen grab) CR: Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios had to convince you that one weekend – opening weekend – was the optimal time to see the movie, lest you miss out on a major cultural moment and have the experience ruined by loose-lipped strangers online or in person. To do that it sold the film as the biggest of events, one that had to be experienced in theaters, with lots of movie stars and familiar characters. It had to be worth $10-20 per person, not including concessions, dinner, gas and time spent traveling to and from the theater.

Netflix, in contrast, just had to convince you the movie looked interesting enough to turn on when you were able. It didn’t even have to be in one sitting, and you didn’t even have to be solely paying attention to it. You just had to be sufficiently motivated by the trailer or any of the number of in-app promos it placed for the film.

That’s a much lower hurdle to clear, one that makes me inclined to more or less believe the viewing numbers it releases, especially after doing the math outlined above.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of box-office horse races (like anything else, numbers can be made to mean whatever you want them to), it would be great if Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and other streamers started putting out verified, legitimate numbers. Likewise, studios could benefit from providing 1-to-1 reporting on VOD. But it seems like we’re going in the other direction, with studios becoming less transparent in their results, not more.

In the meantime, we would all do well to keep what numbers are available in the context of the platforms they come from and adjust accordingly.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios has sold a wholly unexpected October Surprise.

It’s been 14 years since Sacha Baron Cohen brought the character of Borat to the big screen, taking the Kazakh journalist on a road trip across the United States to “investigate” what ordinary Americans were really like.

This week Amazon Studios releases Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, an appropriately awkwardly titled sequel that had long been rumored but only became reality a few short weeks ago. Once more the movie finds Borat (Cohen) – this time with daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) in tow – on a journey across America to conduct incredibly inappropriate interviews with the everyday folks, and a few well known individuals, to learn what makes them tick. This time the movie seems to have a more overt political agenda, specifically to shine a spotlight on the kind of people who wear MAGA hats and unquestioningly adore certain Dear Leaders.

The movie arrives, of course, as the U.S. presidential election cycle nears a none-too-soon merciful end. And, as we’ll see, the marketing has benefited from some last minute intersections with that cycle.

The Posters

Borat stands on October’s one and only poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) in an outfit similar to the…revealing…swimsuit he made famous in the first movie. This time, though, that outfit is a surgical mask, the kind people have been encouraged to wear for the last several months to stop the spread of Covid-19. “Wear mask. Save live.” is the message of the poster, one brought to use by the faux Kazakhstan equivalent of the U.S.’s CDC. It’s kind of brilliant.

The Trailers

A teaser (610,000 views on YouTube) released just after the news of the movie’s existence was confirmed announced the impending release of the first trailer, which happened the next day.

That trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube) shows the same sort of insanity from the original will be in this second installment as well. Borat once again is traveling to America to find out about our exotic lifestyles and this time has brought his daughter along for the antics. There’s lots of Borat goading various folks into ridiculous situations and activities, filming their reactions to his actions that are sometimes bewildered and sometimes bewildering.

Online and Social

Some of the first marketing activity took place on Twitter through a fake account purported to belong to the Republic of Kazakhstan, Borat’s home country. That account was active throughout the first presidential debate, praising Trump – including a “congratulations” message posted before the debate ended – and taking shots at Biden.

Borat himself joined Twitter shortly thereafter. Both accounts continued posting regularly over subsequent weeks, either straightforwardly promoting the film or offering Borat’s unique take on American politics and how the campaign was going.

Advertising and Promotions

Amazon made the surprise announcement in late September that the movie was coming out soon, potentially before the November 2nd presidential election. It also confirmed that the film had been filmed over the course of the last few months, including during the pandemic, largely in secret.

The same key art seen on the poster, along with short video clips, were used for different styles of online ads, all leading to Amazon’s page for the movie.

Cohen appeared in character in a Twitch livestream with a popular broadcaster. And Amazon sailed a massive inflatable Borat on a barge down the Thames in London.

A couple clips have been released showing off a small bit of what audiences can expect from this new installment. None, though, generated as much coverage and awareness of one purporting to show Rudy Giuliani – former mayor of NYC, European dictator lobbyist and current personal attorney to President Donald Trump – entering a hotel room by himself with Borat’s (fictional) 15 year old daughter. Giuliani then proceeds to stretch out on the bed and appears to put his hand down his pants before Borat comes in and stops what’s happening.

Media and Press

Cohen wrote an op-ed about the fight to save democracy and talked about aspects of filming this movie as part of that.

A substantial profile of Cohen had him talking about reviving the character of Borat specifically to draw attention to the dangers of fascism and dictatorship, both of which he felt were creeping into the U.S. over the last few years. He also shared some of the lengths he went to in order to covertly film key sequences.

The Giuliani incident, of course, dominated several news cycles and generated massive press coverage, including Giuliani’s press tour of denying doing anything wrong and labeling it as a hit job resulting from his efforts to baselessly smear the son of former Vice President Joe Biden. Of course those denials were met with responses and statements of support from Borat.

A handful of profiles of Bakalova have appeared recently, especially since her role in the film has played such an integral part of the Giuliani “incident.” She also appeared with Cohen, both of them in character, on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Amazon surprised everyone by dropping the film a day early, making it available just as the final presidential debate between Trump and Biden was beginning, making the timeliness of the story even more apparent.

Overall

The Borat Subsequent Moviefilm campaign dropping into the last month’s worth of news cycles is all like this.

Happy Sacha Baron Cohen GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Picking Up The Spare

Amazon released a Q&A with Cohen. He also continued talking about the scene with Giuliani that has gotten so much coverage. 

There was a lot of coverage of reactions from the ordinary people who became “victims” or Borat’s antics in the film. 

Super interesting that Kazakhstan is simultaneously decrying Borat as bad for tourism and using “Very nice” as its new tourism slogan to capitalize on the movie’s buzz. 

There was another profile of Bakalova, cementing her status as someone worth watching in the future. And another after that. 

Chemical Hearts – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling a YA movie about letting your guard down.

It’s hard to tell the story of a romance where one – or both – characters face some life-threatening disease or other impediment without becoming either offensive or treacly. Some succeed in walking that line more than others, with this week’s new release Chemical Hearts making its own attempt.

Lili Reinhart stars as Grace and Austin Abrams as Henry, two high school students who, as they’re about to start their senior year, are chosen to co-edit the school newspaper. The two take to it with differing amounts of enthusiasm, but a connection forms between the romantic Henry and the closed-off Grace, one that he interprets differently than she does. That leads to tension between the two friends as they have to grapple with how they feel, what they really know about the other person and how reality and perception aren’t always the same thing.

The movie has an underwhelming 58 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on the mixed reviews received to date. Amazon’s campaign for the film seeks to make a similar approach to how Netflix has sold some of its recent romcoms, but with a bit darker take on familiar material.

The Posters

It’s not clear what aspect of the story the copy on the first and only poster (by marketing agency BOND) is referring to. “Fall in love. Fall apart.” could be about the coming together and then breaking up of Grace and Henry, seen here passionately kissing in much the way real high school students don’t. Or it could be about how in order to truly fall in love with someone you have to let yourself fall apart internally. It could be both, of course, but the lack of additional details as well as a more informative image leaves the true meaning vague and undefined.

The Trailers

Henry is lamenting his unremarkable life as the first trailer (8.4 million views on YouTube), released in early August, opens. That changes for him when he meets Grace, the two of them assigned to their school’s newspaper. Grace refuses to write anything because of a previous bad experience. She has a lot of trauma that keeps her from getting close to Henry despite his best, if awkward, efforts. Those efforts also help him grow into who he feels he’s becoming, making this a good coming of age story about two outcasts who find each other at a particular moment.

Online and Social

No online presence for the film, but it did receive a bit of support on Prime Video’s Twitter account.

Advertising and Promotions

In May Amazon Studios announced the movie would premiere on Prime Video in August.

A brief clip was released in mid-July to get the conversation started. Another came out just last week showing Henry and his friends navigating the high school social scene. A third had Henry leading an editorial meeting, one that Grace is reluctant to participate in.

It’s usually the kind of thing that comes out after the movie has been released, but Amazon has already put out a video featuring the “Best Of” Reinhart’s performance in the film.

Online ads like the one below were displayed to drive traffic to Amazon’s site where people can play the movie or add it to their watchlist.

Media and Press

Reinhart expressed her desire for the movie to break her out of the box that is her “Riverdale” character and more, though appearances like this on “The Tonight Show” would include as much conversation about that show as this movie.

How this movie differed from the stereotypical YA flick was covered by director Richard Tanne, who also talked about why he wanted to get involved in this project and more. In a separate interview he tried to differentiate this from other romance films.

Another interview with Reinhart had her talking about her career as a whole and, again, how she wanted to use this movie to expand her image a bit.

Overall

One’s interest in the movie being sold here is likely dependent on one’s tolerance for watching a couple 20-something actors play high schoolers who are dealing with issues in the way teenagers absolutely don’t. That’s not a problem unique to this film, but one that plagues movies like it and TV shows that run along similar lines.

That being said, Reinhart in particular stands out here, so it’s an odd choice for her not to be more central to the campaign. Instead it’s Abrams’ Henry that’s shown here to be the audience’s main point of connection with the story, his perspective that we view the other characters and events through. That perspective isn’t as effective for a number of reasons, ranging from how he seems relatively forgettable and uninteresting to how it means the character who’s differently abled isn’t given the agency to tell their own story but instead must be filtered through the lens of someone else.

It’s a decision that means the campaign isn’t quite as effective as it otherwise could be.

My Spy – Marketing Recap

How [checks notes] Amazon Studios is selling an action comedy.

My Spy has gone through some stuff on its way to this week’s release direct to Amazon Prime.

Dave Bautista stars J.J., a CIA operative known for leaving behind more carnage and destruction than usable information. Pulled out of the field by his superiors, he’s sent on a mission with surveillance expert Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) to watch an arms dealer and his family. That becomes more complicated when that dealer’s niece Sophie (Chloe Coleman) manages to stumble upon their operation. She decides to blackmail the spies, wanting to learn what they do in exchange for not ratting them out, though she’s not aware her family is the target they’ve been tasked with.

The movie, from director Peter Segal, is the kind of “big tough guy has to deal with a small child who is more than a match for him” story Hollywood has been turning out for decades. But the path it’s taken to release has not been smooth, to say the least, and the marketing campaign has been run in fits and starts depending on A) which studio owns it at any given moment and B) what release date they have in mind.

The Posters

Sophie and J.J. are at opposite sides of the first poster from April, 2019 (by marketing agency Works Adv), separated by a thick red line in which we’re told “He’s a pro. She’s a natural.” That’s meant to explain how they approach dangerous situations and such, but it’s not super clear. Basically it’s being sold in the same way as others in a long line of “big tough guy has to deal with/take care of tiny girl” action comedies.

A second poster came out in November of last year, before the release date was once again changed. Sophie and J.J.’s faces are shown close to each other, his with a bright adhesive on his cheek. It gives off strong Curly Sue vibes, tbh.

One final poster came out just a couple weeks ago, using the same photo of J.J. and Sophie with their faces next to each other. This time there’s no tagline or other information but the fact that this is “An Amazon Original” is touted at the top.

The Trailers

J.J. isn’t very good with people, he says in the opening of the first trailer (4.4 million views on YouTube) from April 2019, but he is good at blowing things up, which makes it difficult for the agency he works for to interrogate suspects because they’re all dead. On his last chance assignment his operation is discovered by Sophie, who essentially blackmails him into teaching her how to defend herself against school mean girls. While that goes exactly as you’d expect it to she’s also teaching him how to lighten up and enjoy life a little instead of always looking for danger and calculating how to counter it.

Amazon Studios put out basically the same trailer just a day before the film hit the Prime streaming platform.

Online and Social

The website for the film has the basic marketing materials along with an introduction to the main characters but that’s about it. There were also some social profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Bautista was in attendance at CinemaCon in April 2019, part of the studio’s bigger presentation to industry executives. STX later included the movie in its CineEurope presentation to exhibitors there.

A short while later – and just a month before it was scheduled to hit theaters – the studio pulled the movie from its expected mid-August release date, promising it was still coming soon but might not be until early 2020. Publicly the reason given was to put a bit of space between this movie and Bautista’s other recent comedy Stuber, but the movie also came amidst a series of stories about troubles STX was having in the wake of some expensive and high-profile flops like Uglydolls.

In December of last year a new release date in March was finally revealed, but that wouldn’t last long.

Online ads using elements of the key art – especially the faces of Sophie and J.J. – along with short video snippets began running in late February. At the same time TV commercials began running with spots that introduced J.J. and Sophie and their bond, the deal they cut after she discovers his operation and other elements of the story. Some of those, particularly shorter spots, were also used as pre-roll and social media ads.

The first clip, released in March, shows J.J. making it clear to his new partner Bobbi that his personal things are not to be touched. It’s meant to show how tough he is.

An entire wave of commercials – over a half-dozen – were released before the movie was pushed another month, from March to April, to try and take advantage of the opening provided by No Time To Die moving to later in the year.

In April, STX sold the movie to Amazon Studios, which didn’t immediately announce a new release date, but it was clear the existing plan (such as it was) was being discarded. It was mid-June before Amazon announced a Prime-exclusive release date just two weeks out.

TV spots also used online were released in the last few days.

Online ads used the key art to drive people directly to Prime where people could start streaming the movie.

There was also behind-the-scenes featurette put out recently that has all the major players talking about having fun on set and so on.

Media and Publicity

Bautista and Coleman engaged in a few interviews, but not many and it kind of seems like Amazon was keeping a lid on this to some extent.

Overall

The campaign is pleasant enough, especially for a movie that will be available in homes immediately, not requiring the commitment involved in going to a theater, even putting aside the current closures and other problems relating to that experience.

It’s really just offering audiences the same kind of experience previously provided by Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dwayne Johnson and other strong men, that watching them realize all their muscles and combat training aren’t enough to deal with a 10 year old child is inherently hilarious.

There might be issues with the film itself, just as there have been with those other similar movies, but the campaign doesn’t build it up any more than that.

Troop Zero – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling a period piece about gender equality and seizing the opportunity to make an intergalactic impression.

troop zero poster 2Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace) is a young woman with dreams of doing something big in the new movie from Amazon Studios, Troop Zero. Christmas is a girl who doesn’t fit in and doesn’t have a lot of friends, so joining the Birdie Scouts (roughly the Girl Scouts) seems like an unusual step for her. Despite that, she aspires to do so because she’s learned one group will be chosen to record a message on the Golden Record being shot into space with the next probe.

When she finds the group is less than welcoming to her, she decides to form her own troop and enlists misfits like her to make a play at the competition. In doing so she finally makes some important and lasting friendships while also showing everyone who’s doubted that she – and girls in general – can do anything they want.

The movie has been sold with a simple but charming campaign that highlights the 70s-setting of the story and the quirky nature of the main characters.

The Posters

troop zero posterThe first poster (by marketing agency cold open) came out out in January of last year, just as the movie was screening at Sundance. It doesn’t show much but manages to convey a lot, offering a picture of a bunch of girls in scouting uniforms leaning out the windows of an old bus, clearly on their way to some sort of camping or other getaway. “Show the universe who you truly are” reads the copy at the top.

The second poster (by marketing agency LA) shows most of the main characters strolling down a wooded nature path toward the camera. It uses the same tagline and offers a better look at the overall film, but the placement of the people on the path is so obviously artificial, with the scale clearly off between them and the trees they’re walking past.

The Trailers

Christmas is an unusual girl, we see in December’s first trailer (3.8 million views on YouTube), one who dreams of outer space and worries the adults around her. When she finds out members of a local scout troop might have their voices recorded on a record being launched by NASA on an upcoming mission, she decides to join up but finds the other girls aren’t exactly welcoming. So she recruits other local misfits to create their own troop, getting into plenty of hijinks while upending social norms of the late 70s.

Online and Social

Advertising and Promotions

After a successful debut at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Amazon acquired the film’s distribution rights. It wasn’t until November that it was given a January release date on Amazon Prime, part of the company’s shift away from substantial theatrical releases.

A featurette came out December that had the filmmakers – including directing team Bert & Bertie – and members of the cast talking about the story and what its message is.

Amazon brought a movie-themed float to the Rose Parade earlier this month, with the cast and crew speaking to the volunteers that helped build the float and more.

The studio partnered with a New York City craft studio to sponsor a night where kids could come in and make their own movie-inspired projects.

Advance screenings with key target audiences were held at the MIT Museum, the Smithsonian and other locations.

Everyone turned out for the premiere red carpet earlier this week.

Media 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.

Davis spoke about how this was an unusual kind of role for her while the movie was appearing at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Grace was interviewed and commented on how it was important for kids to know they can be weird, which is good. The movie’s directors spoke about the gender-balanced crew they put together as well as other aspects of production. Gaffigan was also interviewed about how this was one of a few films he was in that were screening at Sundance.

Davis, Gaffigan, Allison Janney, Grace and others made the media rounds in the last couple weeks, stopping by various morning and late night talk shows.

Overall

There’s almost nothing controversial or questionable in the campaign, which is nice to see. Instead, what’s being presented here is a movie that is pleasantly nostalgic and inspiring in a comfortable, familiar way. It’s the blanket you find at the back of your closet that is just perfect for cold, rainy days of watching your favorite movie.

Whether or not that translates to genuine audience interest remains to be seen. Amazon knows that, which is why the movie is one of their first releases to go straight to Prime Video instead of getting a theatrical release window. It’s not that the studio doesn’t have faith in the feature per se, it’s just that it apparently realizes it can’t realistically compete with this week’s other major releases.

Picking Up the Spare

A number of featurettes have been released by Amazon in the immediate wake of the movie hitting streaming. Those included a focus on the making of the film, how it encourages empowerment, the dynamic between the two leads and more on the gold record that forms the crux of the story.

There were also clips of the scouts selling cookies and the characters offering good old fashioned southern advice.

Viola Davis was interviewed about how personal the story of the movie was to her.