shang-chi and the legend of the ten rings – marketing recap

How Marvel Studios has sold an expansion of its character roster with another origin story

shang-chi poster

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings arrives as the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe a scant two months after the last entry, Black Widow. The movie stars Simu Liu, the first Asian lead in a major superhero film, as Shang-Chi, a man who leaves his past behind as he sets out to define his own destiny. But his connections to a mysterious organization known as The Ten Rings and to his family may be things he can’t shake and has to confront.

The movie also stars Tony Leung as Wenwu, Shang Chi’s father who has his own secrets, Fala Chen as Shang’s mother Jiang Li, Awkwafina as Katy, a friend he makes in his time away and more. Notably, Benedict Wong reprises his Doctor Strange role as Wong and Ben Kingsley makes another appearance as Trevor, a character last seen in Iron Man 3 who was hired to pose as The Mandarin.

It’s directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who cowrote the screenplay with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham.

announcement and casting

While the movie had been announced as “upcoming” well before that, the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con panel with Marvel Studios was where announcements regarding official release dates, cast and full title were revealed.

A couple months after SDCC 2019 Cretton was interviewed about his hesitancy to take on the project as well as what he hoped to accomplish with the movie.

In March of 2020 production was halted when Cretton self-isolated out of concern surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak. He later announced he was fine.

Several months later Disney pushed its release back at the same time it moved a number of other titles because of coronavirus closures.

In December of last year additional details, including cast members, were revealed during Disney’s investors presentation which coincided with the wrapping of production.

the marketing commences

The formal marketing campaign kicked off this past February when Marvel put out a video overview of the character to help introduce him to audiences who may not be familiar, which is nearly everyone, including long-time comics readers.

The first teaser (22.3m views on YouTube), released in April, introduces us to Shang-Chi and shows he is reluctant to embrace the destiny his father and others trained him for. But that reluctance isn’t stopping a variety of bad guys from coming after him, meaning he needs to put that training to use to survive. No one’s motivations are explained, but it sure does look cool, and that’s the goal of this first spot.

Shang stands in front of the 10 rings – all of them seemingly inscribed with runes – on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), also released in April.

First glimpses at the film itself included in the studio’s “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May.

The first real good look at Liu in costume as the title character came in May as part of an interview with him where they talked about getting involved with the movie and what the character meant to them. Later that month Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed the movie would receive an exclusive 45-day theatrical run instead of going to streaming simultaneously or shortly after that theatrical run. That put it in stark contrast to Black Widow, which recently had a simultaneous Disney+/theatrical debut.

More of the history of the power of the 10 rings and the connection they have to Shang-Chi’s family is explained in the second trailer, released in June. The trials – both physical and emotional – the hero is put through are shown, including how he wants to be his own man. Toward the end there are surprise appearances by not just Abomination but also Fin Fang Foom, of all things.

An EW cover story from July had Liu talking about the audition process along with lots more about getting to know the character and so on.

Advertising for the film essentially kicked off with an extended TV spot released in July that offers more details on how Shang attempts to reject his family’s legacy and entanglements but finds himself ultimately needing to confront things in order to become his own man.

A featurette released around that same time has the cast and crew talking about the characters and story as well as producer/overlord Kevin Feige making the first overt connection with the 10 Rings organization that was introduced all the way back in the original Iron Man, The Mandarin being a long-time adversary of that character in the comics.

The cast introduced their characters in another featurette where they also answered questions about themselves.

Shang-Chi is in the same pose on the second poster, released in July, that he was on the first. This time, though, he’s surrounded by the other characters, from Kate to his father, the latter looming in the background in the traditional “villain” position.

a marvel legend will rise

More TV commercials – also run as preroll on YouTube and as social promoted posts – continued to come out beginning in early August. As is the norm, each focused on a slightly different aspect of the story, from the action to the family drama to the humor and more. Some also included slightly better looks at characters like Wong and even Abomination.

Those spots also began positioning the film and the character of Shang-Chi as “a Marvel legend” that is finally getting the spotlight. That’s interesting branding in that it gives the character a little more importance, but it also makes you wonder why that debut is only happening now if the character is such a legend.

Additional posters came out that broke out each of the main characters onto their own one-sheet in early August. Shang-Chi is finally in an action pose on another poster that came out a week later.

Liu took issue with comments from Disney CEO Bob Chapek about this movie being “an experiment”, pointing out that Asian-American representation on film is necessary and good, not something to play around with to see if it works.

The world premiere red carpet event was held in Hollywood at the El Capitan in mid-August.

At the premiere, Feige responded to Liu’s comments, attempting to clarify that the “experiment” was in the 45-day theatrical exclusivity, but that feels like it only addressed part of the issue. There were also interviews with Liu, who espoused his opinion that the movie would be world-changing, and others at the premiere as well.

Run It” by DJ Snake, Rick Ross, Rich Brian from the movie’s soundtrack was also released in the middle of last month. That song was featured in another commercial.

Fandango MovieClips had the first clip, which shows Shang-Chi and Kate escaping a bunch of ninjas.

That “legend” branding was continued with a TV spot that starts out showing clips of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, positioning Shang-Chi as a hero in the same vein, one who stands at the same level.

Tickets went on sale in mid-August, announced with another TV spot.

Around that time a special IMAX advance screening in select markets was announced with just about 24 hours notice, an attempt to create some buzz for the film by showing it off to more people.

Awkwafina talked about the movie and filming action sequences when she appeared on “Kimmel”. Liu also appeared on that show a few days later.

Another song from the soundtrack, “In The Dark” by Swae Lee feat. Jhené Aiko, came out later in August.

A scene from the trailers of Shang-Chi and Kate being attacked by assassins on a bus was expanded on in another clip.

An interview with Feige had the producer discussing some of the issues that had complicated or delayed the movie’s release in China, an important market for Marvel but one that is up for grabs here given the subject matter.

Cap, Thor and Iron Man make another appearance in a later TV commercial that hints at the 10 Rings themselves being not only powerful but also not from this universe.

The action sequences of the movie were covered in another featurette, with Liu talking about the choreography and filming.

How Awkwafina not only got involved in the project but also found herself leading the chemistry read sessions looking for the lead were covered in an interview with her. Liu expanded on the process that resulted in him being cast and how life-changing the opportunity is.

Similar to other films with Asian and Asian-American leads, the Gold House initiative organized a campaign to get people to theaters, partnering with GoFundMe for this one. The topic of Asian-American representation on film was also the subject of a joint interview with Awkwafina and Kumail Nanjiani, who stars in the upcoming Marvel Studios film The Eternals.

The “Rise” portion of the campaign came to an ending (more or less) with the release of a featurette with that exact name and about the debut of a character who is being set up as very important to the future of the MCU.

Leung finally got a profile of his own late last month, the emphasis being on the amount of preparation he did before filming his scenes and how he paid attention to what was happening even if he wasn’t involved on a particular day.

Format-specific posters were released in mid- to late-August for 4DX, ReadD 3D, Dolby Cinemas and IMAX.

overall

  • Considering everything that’s going on in the world right now – continued pandemic spikes, wildfires that are engulfing much of the western U.S., hurricane aftermath that has much of the southern U.S. underwater or utterly destroyed – the $50 million projection for opening weekend isn’t bad.
  • The “Rise of a legend” theme really tried to make Shang-Chi into something he isn’t in the comics, but is a good sign for what he might mean to the movies. It’s also an attempt by Marvel Studios to overdo it a bit in making the first Asian character to lead an MCU movie a big deal without earning it at all in previous entries.
  • It’s a bit surprising to me that there wasn’t much said or done to address how problematic and drenched in racist stereotypes Shang-Chi, The Mandarin and other supporting characters were in the comics. If you’re wondering why there aren’t new collected editions of old comics on sale right now, that’s why. But there could have been more acknowledging the past here.

Raya and the Last Dragon – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling its latest animated feature with an all-star cast.

Raya and the Last Dragon is, like many of Disney’s animated films, about a character defying the odds to embrace and fulfill her destiny. In this case, the people of Kumandra have long ago splintered into various tribes and lost most of what they once shared. When an ancient threat emerges, it’s up to Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a skilled warrior, to seek out the dragons that helped defend them centuries ago. When she finds the only remaining dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), she has to bring the young dragon back, facing different threats along the way.

Originally scheduled for release last November, this week the movie hits both theaters and Disney+ under the same “Premier Access” tier Disney previously used for Mulan. It arrives with an impressive 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has received a campaign that’s emphasized the action and adventure in the story.

The Posters

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year in 2020.

The first real poster for the film (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) came out in October of last year and shows Raya, her face partially obscured by her hat but holding a substantial sword. A motion version of that poster came out a short while later.

Raya is seen more fully on the second poster, also from October. The camera here pulls back to show her standing defiantly in a tropic setting, the cloudy outline of a dragon visible in the background.

The next poster (by marketing agency Ten30 Studios) came out in December. Here Raya and Sisu are seen running side by side, seemingly into battle or toward some other form of danger or adventure. Both have a fun, excited look on their face that communicates their lack of fear toward whatever they’re facing.

In February what seems to be the theatrical poster came out, showing Raya at the center of all the action, with the supporting characters and some of the story’s locations placed around her. The design is wonderful, using elements that seem to be pulled from traditional Asian artwork to display everything the audience may need to know about the movie.

Additional posters continued to come out after that, including one that simplifies the design to show Raya, Sisu and others ready for a fight, one that shows them enjoying a feast together and one that shows the kind of food the characters enjoy, part of a late-campaign push focusing on food and snacks.

The Trailers

The first trailer (14.1m views on YoutTube) was finally released in mid-October. In an extended sequence we see how Raya is a sort of spy/defender, sworn to defend an important artifact. The splintering of the tribes of the world has thrown the world into chaos, prompting her to embark on a mission that could once again unite them and restore peace. The story here seems secondary, though, to simply showing how powerful Raya is.

In late January the next trailer (12m views on YouTube) came out, starting out with Raya meeting – and ultimately recruiting – a “con baby.” After that she’s on a quest to find the last dragon in order to restore peace among her home’s divided people. She’s successful in the first part but has to then contend with others who are on the same mission for their own purposes, encountering danger and adventure along the way. It presents a much more comprehensive overview of the story along with all the action and humor the movie has to offer.

Online and Social

Visitors to the movie’s official website will find the basic marketing information like trailers and a synopsis along with a downloadable movie-themed activity packet as well as links to buy tickets or find out more about Disney+ Premier Access. There were also stand-alone social media profiles for the film.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie was announced by Disney at the 2019 D23 Fan Expo, when the cast was brought out to share the story and show off the first early footage as a way to get fans excited.

A first look still from the film was released in August 2020 at the same time as the news Tran was joining the cast.

In December Disney announced the movie would not go to theaters but would instead debut on Disney+ with the same Premier Access paid tier previously used for Mulan.

After the second trailer came out Disney released a video showing Tran and Awkwafina reacting to it.

A Super Bowl spot aired in early February that takes a slightly more serious take on the story than was seen in the recent full trailer, but still looks very entertaining, with plenty of humor and adventure for fans. Additional spots came out later that took the same action/humor tone.

Disney Parks shared an exclusive clip of Raya and Sisu enlisting some help in their journey home.

In late February Disney released a featurette focused on the casting of the voice roles. There was also a lyric video for “Lead The Way” by Jhené Aiko.

A condensed version of Tran’s video diaries from the studio and other production locations was shared along with a brief tutorial on how to draw Tuk Tuk, one of Raya’s adorable sidekicks.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Fitness company Obe, which offered movie-inspired workout classes as well as a discussion of some of the film’s more athletic action sequences.
  • Omson, which created special Southeast Asian sampler packages of prepared spices, offered in movie-branded packaging.
  • Raddish Kids, which created movie-inspired recipes for its meal delivery service.
  • Sanzo, which offered a 20% off coupon for those wanting to try its Asian-inspired flavored drinks.
  • McDonald’s, which put movie toys in its Happy Meal packages.
  • Kellogg’s, but details on their promotion were unavailable.

Media and Press

The filmmakers, including director Don Hall, revealed Tran’s casting in the lead role and discussed the importance of this being the first Disney animated film to be inspired by Southeast Asian legends and culture.

Tran appeared on “Good Morning, America” in October to debut the trailer and talk about the film.

Tran spoke during a group interview about the unjustified pressure she’s being made to feel about playing the first Southeast Asian Disney Princess.

Closer to release Tran appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about being a crazy Disney fan and now being in a (non-Star Wars) Disney movie. Awkwafina then appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

There were a few more interviews like this with Tran where she shared her excitement at being part of such a monumental production. She also got a cover story in THR about how this film marks a big moment for her, coming after the toxic backlash she received as a result of her Star Wars role.

Producer Osnat Shurer and others were quoted in a story about how the filmmakers found inspiration in the art and culture of Southeast Asia and how that’s represented in the movie.

Overall

In addition to the campaign’s commitment to communicating the Southeast Asian influence felt by the filmmakers, which is admirable, the main thing that comes through here is the redemption of Tran. Her treatment in the wake of The Last Jedi in particular was horrendous, and she’s made no bones about how difficult that period was for her to live through. So to see her standing tall here and taking part in a project that allowed her to pull from her own heritage and background is admirable and inspiring in and of itself.

Aside from that, Disney is making a concerted effort here to sell the movie as a funny, adventure-filled good time for audiences. There’s nothing too dark here, as even the threats faced by the protagonists don’t seem overwhelming or scary, a likely attempt to position the movie as a safe choice for younger viewers at home.

What will be interesting to see is how the movie fares as part of the Disney+ Premier Access experiment. Mulan was more or less a known quantity given it was a remake of a previously popular film. But this is an original property, so how willing people are to shell out the additional fee to watch it remains to be seen.

Breaking News In Yuba County – Marketing Recap

How MGM has sold a dark comedy.

From writer Amanda Idoko and director Tate Taylor comes this week’s comedy Breaking News In Yuba County. Allison Janney stars as Sue Buttons, a suburban housewife who becomes something of a local celebrity after her husband Karl (Matthew Modine) goes “missing” and she embarks on a search to find him. Entranced by her newfound fame, Buttons keeps the charade going through a series of increasingly desperate actions that bring her into contact with local crime figures, persistent police officers and other colorful characters.

The movie also stars Mila Kunis, Wanda Sykes, Awkwafina, Regina Hall and others.

The Posters

You definitely get a sense of the movie’s sense of humor on the poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), released just a couple weeks ago. That comes through not only in the wild artistic design of the primary images, which place the supporting cast around a wide-eyed Sue while offering glimpses of the locations of the story’s action, but also in the copy reading “Sue Buttons has one killer story.”

The Trailers

The trailer (1.2 million views on YouTube), also released in mid-January, follows the rough flow of the story itself, from Sue’s panic over what to do about her dead husband through the notoriety she gains when it seems like he’s been kidnapped and into how it all starts to fall apart when it becomes clear she made much of it up. Along the way we meet some of the unusual local personalities that get involved in some manner and really see the dark sense of humor the film is selling, one conveyed well by the cast, especially Janney.

Online and Social

There is a website listed at the end of the trailer, but repeated attempts to load it were unsuccessful, so it’s not clear what’s on the site. MGM did give the movie some support on its social channels, including running regular little “daily affirmations” featuring brief clips from the film.

Advertising and Promotions

MGM, through its relaunched American International Pictures, acquired the project in October of last year, announcing a January release date at that time.

Some shorter versions of the trailer were run as pre-roll on YouTube, but that’s all the paid advertising I’m aware of.

Media and Press

Janney stopped by “Kimmel” recently to talk about the movie and lots more.

That is, surprisingly, about the end of the press efforts.

Overall

A good poster and strong trailer make me want to like this campaign a lot more than I actually do. The disconnect is caused in large part by the lackluster effort elsewhere, including the site that won’t load, the mostly non-existent press push and so on. Such a showcase for Janney in particular needs more support, not provided here.

It’s such a small campaign, it actually makes me wonder if the theatrical-only release plan for the film caused MGM to scale back the marketing because what’s the point of going big when your maximum box-office take is around $5 million?

Picking Up The Spare

Bridget Everett appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the film.

The Farewell – Marketing Recap

the farewell posterFamily drama is at the heart of the story in the new movie The Farewell. Akwafina stars as Billi, a young woman who’s part of a big Chinese family. She’s independent and headstrong and doesn’t always agree with the decisions the rest of her family make.

That becomes an issue when she finds out her grandmother, who still lives in China, is sick and dying. But Nai Nai isn’t aware her time is short and the rest of the family wants to keep it that way. Billi disagrees with this but goes along while traveling across the Pacific to spend a bit more time with her.

The Posters

The whole family is posed for a portrait on the first poster, everyone looking a bit down and depressed except for Nai Nai who still looks upbeat and as if she’s just happy to be surrounded by everyone. Copy at the top, echoed in the trailer, promises audiences the movie is “Based on a true lie.”

The Trailers

Billi finds out her grandmother is dying just as the trailer, released in early May, opens. Her parents don’t want her to find out, but Billi wants to travel to China to see the old woman before she passes under the pretext of simply visiting family. She reluctantly goes along with keeping the secret, eventually coming to understand that revealing the truth would do more harm than good in a society that values the collective whole not the individual.

Online and Social

The page A24 has for the movie on its site has minimal information, including the trailer, poster and a synopsis. There are also links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve seen, but I’d be willing to bet there have been at least some online ads run.

Media and Publicity

The movie’s premiere at Sundance had much of the cast and crew in attendance, allowing Awkwafina a chance to talk about the generic version of the story the studio seemed to prefer as well as how she never expected to be offered a dramatic role like this. A24 quickly stepped in to purchase distribution rights.

An interview with Wang allowed her to talk about the process of making the movie from start to finish. Awkwafina also addressed her expanding into drama from the comedy she’s usually known for.

Director Lulu Wang was given the Sundance Institute’s 2019 Vanguard Award at the film’s Los Angeles premiere event.

While walking the red carpet at the premiere, Awkwafina spoke about how she hopes the movie continues breaking down cultural barriers by focusing more on what’s universal for everyone instead of what’s different.

How this movie continues the momentum started by Crazy Rich Asians was the subject of this feature, including how those involved are committed to adding more Asian American stories to Hollywood’s output. Also covered was the journey the story took from Wang’s own life to the big screen and how she and others worked to make sure it remained authentic. She also spoke about the way she wanted to go against the grain of Hollywood’s standard operating procedure. That interview also included how she opted to take a theatrical release deal even though a streaming service offered her more money.

Zhao Shuzhen, who plays Nai Nai, got profiles like this in the immediate lead up to release.

In keeping with the movie’s story, A24 hosted a fake Chinese wedding outside the New York theater that hosted the premiere there.

The evolution of Awkwafina into a dramatic actress was covered by many stories similar to this one that allowed her to talk about how intimidated she was by the prospect.

Overall

There’s so much here that’s charming and funny. The focus on Awkwafina is understandable but it’s how the publicity campaign also includes hefty helpings of Wang that really makes a difference to me. It’s one thing to talk about how inclusiveness is improving in front of the camera, but having that happen behind the scenes as well is just as much a game changer, if not more so.

That campaign is selling a story that’s very specific but also largely universal, that we sometimes do things in someone’s best interest that may seem a bit morally questionable. It might be a bit small scale, which makes some amount of sense, but it’s alright and I hope there will be more of it in the coming weeks as the movie expands beyond its limited initial release.

Picking Up the Spare

There have been more interviews with Wang on the concept of being an American, the trick in telling stories about a lie and how she tried to keep the tone very human and relatable. 

Awkwafina also kept going, appearing on “The Late Show” and being the subject of an interview with her real life grandmother. She also talked about her drive to be part of this movie. 

Another round of interviews with Wang like this and this hit weeks after the movie was released to continue generating conversations around the movie.