How Netflix has sold a story about grief and coming to terms with a new situation.
In Penguin Bloom, based on the book of the same name from writer Cameron Bloom, the story focuses on how a family adjusts to a new and very different dynamic and situation. Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) is paralyzed after an accident, throwing the vibe of the family household completely out of whack. Her husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) is put in the position of having to help their three young kids adapt to their new reality, finding inspiration to do so in the form of a young magpie whom they name Penguin unexpectedly enters the house. Jackie Weaver also stars as Sam’s mother.
Netflix’s campaign for the film has been relatively brief, but highlights the emotional nature of the story, inspired by true events. It sports a middling 60% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.
Sam and Penguin are, of course, the primary elements on the first and only poster (by marketing agency The Refinery), released in early January. The latter is perched on the former’s shoulder as they both look longingly out the window, in which the rest of Sam’s family is reflected. So it conveys the “inside looking out” nature of the story, how Sam is isolated from those around her in a relatively simple but effective manner.
The trailer (147,000 views on YouTube) starts by showing the Bloom family on vacation in happier times. When she has an accident on that vacation things get understandably tense, though the kids try to make the best of it. Still, Cameron and Sam are struggling, but the appearance of Penguin provides something for everyone – even Sam – to rally around and be inspired by, showing there’s a better way forward.
Online and Social
Nothing here. Netflix didn’t even give it that much support on social channels, with other movies taking precedence apparently.
Advertising and Promotions
The movie’s premiere was held at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, with positive reviews calling out Watts’ performance in particular.
Netflix acquired the film in November of last year and set a quick January release date.
Media and Press
Watts was interviewed in early October of 2019 about the movie and its story as well as what drew her to the project and how she feels it reflects a modern audience.
Oddly, given there are major stars in the film, there doesn’t appear to have been much press activity in the weeks leading up to release.
I’m a little surprised at how understated the campaign seems to be. The lack of press activity in particular comes off as a missed opportunity to get some more buzz about the film going after a long break since festival season. And it’s disappointing how little attention the film got from Netflix in terms of social promotion.
On the more positive side, the trailer is great, selling a movie that might be a bit emotional – especially since it’s based on a true story – but also looks funny and charming. More than anything, the campaign knows what it’s presenting; a story about the isolation that can come from an accident and how that creates tension in a family, but also how through hard work those impacted can find a way to survive together.