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. 

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.

Seberg – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling a movie of stardom, paranoia and surveillance.

seberg posterJean Seberg helped usher in the French New Wave of cinema when she starred in 1960’s Breathless, written by Francois Truffaut and directed by Jean-Luc Godard. In this week’s new release Seberg, the actress is portrayed by Kristen Stewart. With the stardom that comes from her breakout performance in Godard’s innovative masterpiece, Seberg wants to challenge herself as a performer and do something important with the profile she’s gained.

To that end she gets involved in the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, eventually becoming romantically involved with Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), a leader in the movement. Her actions, though, put her on the radar of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, who believes such groups are anti-American and dangerous. She becomes paranoid she’s always being listened to and followed, which sometimes she is.

In marketing the film, Amazon Studios has focused on how the story highlights the dangers of putting yourself out there for a cause and the impact it can have on your career and personal life.

The Posters

Stewart as Seberg is shown on the poster looking very much the early-60s manic pixie dream girl with her tom-boy haircut and short, colorful dress. It’s a simple image but one that highlights the movie’s key selling point, which is Stewart’s take on the subject. Her persona is communicated in the three adjectives shown under the title: “Actress. Activist. Adversary.” .

The Trailers

November brought the release of the first trailer (629,000 views on YouTube). It sells a story steeped in themes of identity and paranoia as we see Jean go from merely uncomfortable with the public image that’s been crafted for her to one who wants to define her own persona more completely. We’re shown how she starts off as chafing under the spotlight and refusing to be something she doesn’t want to be to someone who wants to enact real change in the world. Doing so threatens not only her marriage thanks to the affair she begins but also her safety as her work with civil rights groups gets the attention of law enforcement who wants to shut those movements down. It’s a powerful combination of messages, one that certainly resonates in the modern day.

Online and Social

There is an official website for the movie but it only has the most basic of information. It’s only received limited support on Amazon’s social channels.

Advertising and Promotions

seberg online adThe 2019 Venice Film Festival was slated to be the venue for the movie’s premiere. Shortly after that it screened at the Toronto Film Festival and was later slated to appear out of competition at the London Film Festival.

Stewart received the Golden Eye Award when the movie was scheduled for the Zurich Film Festival. It also played at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

Online ads used the title treatment and other images from the poster art to drive visitors to the official site to learn more.

Media and Press

A first-look photo was released at the same time as the news it would be screening at Venice. There was a profile of Stewart back in August where she talked about this movie and her career to date.

An interview during Venice had Stewart talking about how she worked to honor the subject she was playing and more. During Toronto she spoke about similar topics while at the same time making it clear artists have the right and responsibility to speak out on social issues that are important to them, both within and outside of their work. She and Mackie talked about how fame has changed in the age of social media.

Stewart continued to talking about celebrity privacy and related matters during the festival and then about the relationship between actor and director while in San Sebastian. She spoke more about the process of filming the movie here.

A profile of Mackie focused on how this was one of a few recent roles to take him back into more dramatic territory as compared to his super hero film work.

Overall

While the campaign itself is decent enough, it just hasn’t received the same amount of attention from Amazon Studios that other recent releases have. So everything here has been fairly muted and restrained, without a lot of additional context or background given to reinforce the story’s message that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t actually out to get you.

What’s doubly disappointing is that Stewart is the perfect star for a movie like this, given how her privacy has been invaded by the public and media for so long and so pervasively. While she spoke about those issues in interviews, there’s nothing in the marketing itself to hammer that point home, which is a missed opportunity.

The Aeronauts – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling a historical adventure of scientific exploration.

aeronauts poster 2The Aeronauts seems like the kind of story that would act as the prelude to some sort of fantasy adventure. In fact, it’s (kind of) based on a true story. Felicity Jones plays Amelia Rennes, a pilot in 1800s London who is sought out by scientist James Glasher, who wants to use the gas balloon she flies to test his theories on weather prediction. Facing pushback from the Royal Society over those ideas, he partners with Rennes on his own, but their flight into the upper reaches of the sky goes horribly wrong and the two wind up adrift, struggling for survival.

While Glasher is a historical reality, Rennes is a composite of female scientists from the period, a fictional character inserted into the story to give Glasher someone to play off in events that are largely true, but slightly dramatized.

Amazon Studios has put together a campaign that emphasizes the peril the duo find themselves in as well as the desperate need to be taken seriously by their peers that has driven them.

The Posters

aeronauts posterThe movie is “Based on a true adventure” according to the poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in late August. The balloon where much of the story takes place is shown floating into the cloudy sky. It’s a peaceful image until you notice a person is dangling from the edge of the basket, holding on for dear life.

That balloon – and the person in danger – are the central elements on the theatrical poster from October. This time, though, the faces of the two leads are added to either side of the balloon, each looking out into the distance as if considering the new territory they’re on the cusp of exploring. It’s actually slightly less effective because the additional elements clutter the impact a bit

The Trailers

The first trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube) wasn’t released until August. It begins with Amelia talking about her search for answers in the sky. Meanwhile, James is encountering pushback from fellow scientists when he suggests weather conditions can be forecast. He enlists her help for his experiments, but a freak storm on one of their outings sends them off course and unable to return to Earth. So it becomes a struggle for survival as extreme conditions pound them and their balloon until it looks like all hope may be lost.

James is desperate to prove his theories about weather prediction in the second trailer (4.2 million views on YouTube), released in October. To that end he gets Amelia to agree to fly him higher than ever before, where they marvel at the wonders around them. Only toward the end do we see the perils the pair face as things get out of hand and hardware begins to fail.

Online and Social

Not much beyond the standard marketing content on the movie’s official website, unfortunately. There was plenty of potential for an interactive history of ballooning or the science of weather prediction, or features on the real life characters portrayed in the story, but all those were passed by.

Advertising and Publicity

When Amazon did finally announce, in mid-May, a release date for later in the year it came with the surprising caveat the movie would screen in IMAX for a week prior. That made it Amazon’s first foray into IMAX releases, not all that shocking given it’s primarily trafficked in smaller dramas and the like.

Those plans changed in late July, though, when it was announced Amazon Studios was releasing it only to limited theaters and then making it available for streaming a short two weeks later, the latest in a series of moves showing less strict adherence to the theatrical model. In fact it was noted this film, along with The Report, represented the first salvo in a shift by Amazon away from applying the theatrical model to all its feature releases, something it had previously committed to as a way to stay in the good graces of exhibitors and studios.

In August the movie was listed among those slated to appear at this year’s London Film Festival as well as the Toronto Film Festival and Hamptons Film Festival. Redmayne and director Tom Hooper appeared at the movie’s Chicago Film Festival premiere also.

The American Federation of Teachers promoted the film with a sweepstakes awarding an educator with a private screening. Also on the educational front, the Museum of Flight held an advance screening for those interested in flight.

Amazon created a traveling promotional event titled “Aeronauts Incredible Journey” that launched in Los Angeles and has or will make a handful of other stops in major markets. The event included movie-themed attractions and experiences along with a period-specific food festival.

Two featurettes released by Amazon focused on the journey the characters embark on and the heights the story reaches for, the process of building the balloon used for filming and the recording of the score.

Online ads used video from the trailers along with the key image of the balloon to drive traffic to the ticket-selling website.

aeeronauts online ad

Media and Press

A still was released showing Redmayne and Jones before the movie had a US release date secured. Redmayne and Jones talked about working with filming a key moment with a dog. Sound designer Lee Walpole was interviewed about creating the unique mix of atmospheric and other noises for the story.

While at AFI Fest, Hooper and others spoke about the technical production details as well as how the story is still relevant to today.

Jones appeared on “The Tonight Show” and other talk shows while Redmayne included “The Late Show” among his promotional stops.

Overall

There’s almost a sense of “hurry up and wait” about the campaign Amazon Studios put together here. The branding never really comes together and it seems to have been a series of starts and stops, with no groove or momentum to what’s put before the audience.

It’s telling that the strongest parts of the marketing are those that just focus on the balloon itself. That’s a key image and one that has the strongest, most unique brand value from what’s here. When the actors themselves get involved things start to slow down and become far less interesting, maybe because the story is hard to explain. That balloon, though, is simple and evokes a strong response.

That’s why so many of the featurettes and other paid promotions used the balloon as the central component. Keeping the attention on that is the best choice the campaign does, including the traveling carnival, but it may not be enough to keep audiences interested enough in a movie that may wind up passing everyone by as they wait for higher profile holiday releases.

Picking Up the Spare

More featurettes on the movie’s score and actors, along with new interviews with Jones and Redmayne that focused on those stunts, which was also the subject of a profile of the movie’s cinematographer.

Another interview with Jones about how she worked to meld the various elements of the movie’s story in her character.

A handful of clips like this one have also been released.

Another featurette from Amazon Studios on the work that went into shooting the film.

The Report – Marketing Recap

Amazon Studio’s new film about uncovering government secrets gets released with coincidentally appropriate timing.

the report poster 2Scott Z. Burns wrote and directed The Report, this week’s new release from Amazon Studios. The movie, based on a true story, stars Adam Driver as Daniel Jones, a U.S. Senate staffer given the responsibility to investigate and report on the actions undertaken by the CIA in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Specifically, Jones is tasked with determining if the CIA’s program of torture and various forms of “enhanced interrogation techniques” were of any substantive use to U.S. intelligence gathering. What he finds is that not only were those efforts of little to no value but that agency officials routinely misled lawmakers as to what they were doing and whether it was helping to keep America safe.

The campaign mounted by Amazon has sought to position Jones as a crusading fighter determined to do what’s right despite the powerful forces aligned against him. With an 86 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, early reviews have been positive but there seems to be a distinct lack of buzz for the drama.

The Posters

the report posterJones is presented on the poster (by marketing agency LA), released in August, as a collection of copy, some of which is appropriately redacted. Even part of the title is scratched out. “Truth matters” reads the copy at the bottom, but the whole design is stark and attention-grabbing, selling the movie as a serious drama for serious people.

The second poster, released in October, uses the same design concept but this time includes the faces of Annette Bening as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Jones’ boss, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough (Jon Hamm). The movie’s festival credentials are also highlighted along with a positive review quote playing up the film’s story.

The Trailers

Amazon released the first trailer (5.4 million views on YouTube) in August. As it starts, Jones is explaining how the attacks of 9/11/01 changed his perspective to one focused on national security, leading to a job in government. When he learns the CIA destroyed evidence of torture he sets out to find out what was on the tapes that have gone missing, finding that the agency engaged in wanton cruelty with little to show for it. The intelligence community takes issue with that finding and begins targeting Jones and making the case that what they did was essential to national security, leading him to take action to make sure his report sees the light of day.

A second, shorter trailer (427,000 views on YouTube) was released in October that focused on the ramifications of the report and what it was meant to both accomplish and undo.

Online and Social

Amazon created Twitter and Facebook profiles for the movie but no official website. Those profiles don’t even have a link to any site where people can buy tickets or register their interest in watching it when it becomes available for streaming.

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. Amazon picked it up during the festival, one of many high-profile acquisitions it made. In August it screened at the Telluride Film Festival.

In mid-June Amazon finally announced a September release date for the film, planning a two-week theatrical release before it would become available on the company’s streaming service. That release date was shifted to November in late July, but the same two-week window between theatrical and streaming availability was kept intact. In fact it was noted this film, along with The Aeronauts, represented the first salvo in a shift by Amazon away from applying the theatrical model to all its feature releases, something it had previously committed to as a way to stay in the good graces of exhibitors and studios.

Amazon held a number of screenings of the movie in various locations, usually those associated with government or journalism, in the last couple weeks. Some of those included Q&A sessions with the cast and crew and even Jones, who joined the filmmakers on stage to talk about the true story the film is based on.

Online ads used variations on the key art to raise awareness. 

the report online ad

Media and Press

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. Amazon picked it up during the festival, one of many high-profile acquisitions it made. Burns spoke about the story and how he envisioned it as an alternative to officially-approved versions of events.

Benning was interviewed about taking on the role of Diane Feinstein and how she decided not to research the real woman too much lest it overwhelm her performance.

An interview with Burns allowed him to talk about how timely the story told in the movie still is, especially as the U.S. is in the middle of impeachment proceedings that have the concept of accountability for illegal actions as their core premise. Burns, along with the real life Jones, also spoke about how this movie seeks to correct some of the problems with earlier movies like Zero Dark Thirty that seemed to position torture as both effective and necessary.

Overall

While Amazon has made the case that it’s reevaluating the theatrical release window it’s previously had in place as a way to appease theater owners, it seems that choosing this movie – a political drama that has more in common with the kinds of films that were popular 40 years ago – to be one of the first under the new system. That could be because of a lack of faith in the commercial viability of a story like this, regardless of its high-caliber cast.

That being said, the campaign…well…it seems to be targeted specifically at the audiences that still enjoy the kinds of films that were popular 40 years ago. It sells a movie in which someone going on with their public service job despite other people telling them “don’t do that” in loud voices is high drama.

What’s missing from all but a handful of interviews is a clear message to the audience as to *why* this story is still so essential and relevant. That whistleblowers and others who seek out the truth are an essential part of our society and government is as important now than ever before. More emphasis on that might not have improved the movie’s box-office chances significantly but it would have tightened up the campaign a good deal.

Picking Up the Spare

Amazon announced it would be one of the first test cases for its new policy not reporting on theatrical revenue for their movies.

The front pages of major newspapers across the country were wrapped in ads for the movie just days before it hit theaters. There were also a handful of trucks with messages about truth and fear driving around Los Angeles in a promotional stunt.

Another interview with the director has him connecting the dots of accountability between the story told in the movie and what’s happening right now. Maura Tierney was interviewed about the difficult subject matter featured in the movie.

There was more from Bening on how she approached playing the real life Feinstein, including recalling first meeting the Senator 40 years ago.

To my surprise, there was a really nice official website for the movie that offered information on the real events and people not only portrayed in the film but also those that impacted what’s seen on screen.

A few new featurettes from Amazon have come out, including one that focused on the importance of the truth to society, one that introduced the characters of the story and one that broke down some of the numbers featured in the story.

A making of featurette came out a couple weeks after the movie hit theaters.

Honey Boy – Marketing Recap

After years of less than favorable headlines, Shia LaBeouf seeks to turn his much-maligned persona into artistic fodder.

honey boy posterHoney Boy not only stars LaBeouf but was also written by the actor as a way to reclaim some of the power he’s lost over the last several years of eccentric and sometimes troubling behavior. He plays not himself but as James Lort, a fictionalized version of his own father who pushes his son Otis (Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges) into show business, an area James himself has struggled to break into over the years.

The movie, directed by Alma Har’el, follows Otis from his childhood through the young adult years when he is swallowed by the Hollywood entertainment machine, leading to a breakdown that lands him on the tabloid front pages and then into rehab. Through this, Otis tries to reconcile with his estranged father.

The Posters

A pie flies into Otis’ face on the first one-sheet, meant to convey the ludicrous activities actors will subject themselves to as they attempt to climb the ranks of the industry.

Two more posters came out in September (by marketing agency Gravillas). One shows Otis, his face covered in a creme pie like he’s been the victim of an old time comedy skit while wires are seen attached to his back. The other shows an extreme close up of James, his eyes looking sad behind his glasses and the remnants of white clown paint still visible on his face.

In early October a reversible poster that uses a variation on Comedy/Tragedy masks (by marketing agency La Boca) was released. The dark background makes the electric colors of the masks pop, with each side getting the title treatment and credits as well. It’s a nice way to emphasize the mixed nature of the story and a reminder that the two aspects of storytelling are intertwined and inseparable.

The fourth poster shows a clown standing on his head, juggling with his feet and with a rooster balanced on his butt. It’s an image designed to show just how hard the entertainer is willing to work to keep the audience’s attention, while the colors that seem to drip off the clown’s costume evoke something sad.

The Trailers

When the trailer was released in early August it came in both red- and green-band editions. It opens with an actor on the set of a 2005 action film being pulled by stunt rigging as if he’s flying backward because of an explosion. That’s a none-too-subtle reference to LaBeouf’s own career at that time. That actor’s arrest is followed by a flashback to his childhood, as he receives an unwelcome pep talk from his father. His relationship with that father is an influential part of the boy’s life, but as he becomes more successful than his old man was the dynamic also becomes more unbalanced for both of them.

Online and Social

Nothing much on the movie’s website, which is just focused on making sure you know where and when you can buy tickets to see it.

Advertising and Publicity

The movie’s screening at Sundance was very well received, earning accolades for LaBeouf as both a writer and performer and leading many to comment on how this was the comeback vehicle he needed in his career. Amazon seized on the buzz around the movie to make it one of its many acquisitions at the festival.

The Toronto Film Festival included it in its “Special Presentations” section this year. In August it was announced it would screen at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival.

LaBeouf and Har’el attended a handful of advance screenings for select audiences in the last few weeks to talk about the movie and encourage people to spread some word of mouth.

Media and Press

While the casting was happening and plans were coming together the narrative began to emerge that this was going to be LaBeouf’s comeback vehicle. That really started with a profile where he talked about writing the movie under a pseudonym and more.

While at Sundance he talked about the writing process and the personal story he tapped into, as well as how the script was the result of court-ordered therapy for him. He hit similar themes in interviews during Toronto, later talking about how his management team encouraged him not to go down this road.

Cinematographer Natasha Braier was interviewed about the constant state of uncertainty LaBeouf added to the time- and budget-constrained production and how that kept her on her toes and ready for anything. There was also a joint profile of the actor and director where they talked about their collaboration.

Overall

There are several thoughts that come to me after reviewing the campaign from top to bottom.

First, much like any franchise film or legacy sequel, the campaign seems to assume the target audience has some familiarity with the subject of the story. In this case, it seems interesting enough but is firmly targeted at those who have been following LaBeouf’s ups and downs over the last decade, as he went from the darling of the industry to the portrait of the troubled artist.

Second, it has to be stated that the movie being made at all reflects that LaBeouf, despite his issues, still enjoys some pull in Hollywood that seems to come with being a white man. We now have as many movies about LaBeouf’s struggle to overcome his problems as we do about Harriet Tubman’s work to free slaves via the Underground Railroad. The latter took nearly 100 years to finally come to the screen, the former less than 15.

Those points having been made, what works best about the campaign are the posters. The trailer is alright but never really comes together, while the posters carve out a much more clear and intriguing brand identity for the film, using the idea of comedy and tragedy being two halves of the same coin to communicate a key theme of the story to the audience. That’s the strongest non-LaBeouf pitch it has and one that I wish had been continued elsewhere in the marketing.

Picking Up the Spare

LaBeouf made an appearance on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and his unusual approach to a personal story.

How Hedges prepared to play a fictionalized version of LaBeouf was the subject of an interview with the actor. A feature involving all three leads has them reflecting on the real story of the film and more. while Jupe was interviewed on his own a short while later.

A second trailer came out after the movie was in theaters that offers another look at the story.

There have been a number of clips released since the movie came to theaters. An additional interview with director Har’el also came out to talk about her work on the awards season campaign trail.