spider-man: no way home – marketing recap

How Marvel and Sony have sold the third entry in the web-slinging franchise

Spider-Man: No Way Home movie poster
Spider-Man: No Way Home movie poster

Spider-Man: No Way Home arrives in theaters this week at the end of what can easily and legitimately be described as a weird year for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. At the beginning of 2021, Covid-19 vaccines were only just beginning to become widely available and many new movies were still going straight to streaming or VOD if they weren’t being delayed indefinitely.

Now the theatrical release picture has gone back to something approaching pre-2020 normal, including how only franchise blockbusters seem to score any level of success at the box office. But there are headwinds building, including new Covid variants, that could skew things going forward.

Into all this comes the third film in Sony’s third (or fourth depending on if you count Into The Spider-Verse) Spider-Man franchise. Tom Holland returns as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, as does Zendaya as Michelle “MJ” Jones-Watson and Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds.

The story revolves around Parker turning to Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to undo the revealing of his identity as Spider-Man that occurred at the end of the last movie. But when the spell goes wrong a rift in the fabric of the universe occurs, leading to intrusions on the MCU Spider-Verse by characters from Sony’s previous two Spider-Man series.

announcement and casting

In late summer of 2019, well before the movie actually moved into production, the press was dominated by reports that the tenuous partnership between Sony and Disney that had allowed Spider-Man to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had fallen apart. Both sides blamed the other, saying parts of the deal had been reneged on and a new agreement was impossible to reach that would allow the crossover to continue.

Things seemed destined to go back to their pre-2016 status quo, with Spidey unconnected from the MCU until Holland himself exerted pressure on the heads of both studios, making the fan outpouring clear to them, resulting in a new deal that would at the very least allow for a resolution to the character’s arc within the MCU instead of an abrupt, unexplained exit.

In October reports emerged that Cumberbatch would be reprising his role as Doctor Strange in the film.

Sony moved the movie by a month on the release schedule in July of last year while the Covid-19 pandemic was still causing massive disruptions. In September it raised a lots of eyebrows with the news Jamie Foxx was returning as Electro, a role he played in 2014’s Spider-Man 2 with Andrew Garfield,

Production was underway, as marked by Holland in a timely mask-related post, in November of 2020.

Additional casting news came fast and furious in December of last year, when Molina, Stone, Garfield, Dunst and Maguire were all reported to be coming back, lending credence to the rumors this movie was going full multiverse.

Zendaya spoke briefly about the movie late last year when doing publicity for other projects.

In February speculation as to the movie’s official title came to head when Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all shared a few new stills along with totally fake-out title cards, a planned stunt to get fans talking and sharing. It all culminated when Sony shared a video featuring the three leaving Watts’ office frustrated by his refusal to share the title of the film, only to walk past a white board with that title written on it along with a handful of rejected contenders.

Molina confirmed in April he was returning as Doctor Octopus, but Andrew Garfield in May denied he was involved saying he hadn’t been contacted by anyone about the project.

The movie, along with other upcoming MCU entries, was name-checked in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May.

marketing phase one: spectacular

The first good look at the characters, including hints as to what the story may involve, came when Marvel released photos of some of the toys and collectibles in early July.

The trailer leaked in mid-August, causing Sony to go through the paces to try and have it taken down from the various places it popped up.

When it was finally released by both Marvel and Sony (107.5m combined views on YouTube), it shows Peter is still dealing with the fallout of the last movie, including police suspicion he killed Mysterio. With his secret identity now public, he goes to see Doctor Strange to see if anything can be done about that. But Strange’s spell to reverse what happened goes awry – in part because of Peter’s nervous meddling – it opens up a portal to the multiverse. That means there are glimpses of characters like Green Goblin, Electro and, dramatically at the end, Doctor Octopus.

Sony addressed that leak as it showed off the trailer and other footage to attendees of CinemaCon in August.

A first TV spot from the day after the trailer came out touted how successful it had been as measured by both video views and social media conversations generated.

Cumberbatch talked about what the story has in store for Peter and Stephen when he appeared at the Telluride Film Festival to promote some of the other films he had being screened there.

As Garfield was doing the media rounds for his other projects he kept being asked whether or not he was appearing in this movie, consistently denying any cameos had been filmed.

The release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage in September included conversation about this movie because of a mid-credits sequence that hinted at Eddie Brock/Venom, played by Tom Hardy, finally meeting Spider-Man in this film because of multiverse craziness.

Holland talked more here about what it was like to finish the trilogy with Watts as well as how he was super-excited to work with Molina. Around the same time a profile of Zendaya covered her experience on this franchise as well as her other recent work. More stills were released in an Empire cover story that had Watts talking about overcoming the seemingly impossible task of assembling so much of the talent from all the previous films.

marketing phase two: amazing

The first poster wasn’t released until early November, over two months after the trailer came out. It’s surprisingly restrained for this franchise but still shows a lot, including Spider-Man balancing on one of Doc Ock’s arms while Green Goblin is seen in the background along with hints of Sandman and Electro’s involvement.

The next one-sheet came out just a week later, this one showing Spider-Man huddled with Doctor Strange against the encroaching enemies.

More small hints and comments came from Cumberbatch on “Kimmel” in November during the press cycle for The Power of the Dog.

The official trailer (58m YouTube views from Sony) came out in mid-November. This one skips some of the setup about Peter wanting to make everyone forget his super hero identity and gets straight to the incoming threats from the multiverse. After the challenges become clear, Peter learns that all these villains die in their home universe, something he’s determined to prevent before closing the rifts and sending everyone back. Doctor Strange isn’t on board with that, but Peter and his friends won’t be stopped.

Sony held events screening that trailer in various cities, with Holland showing up at a couple of them to get fans even more excited.

The star was profiled in GQ, sharing some thoughts about this movie as well as what he sees for the future of Spider-Man on film.

At this time Liberty Mutual began running a cross-promotional campaign that worked the idea of Spider-Man saving the city into the company’s commercials about saving people money and hassle. There were also commercials from Hyundai that showed Peter getting picked up by Ned in the middle of nowhere as he tries to clear his name.

More TV spots were released that cut down the message of the second trailer to a shorter runtime while still conveying the multiverse nature of the story and the attendant villains.

Tickets going on sale was announced by the cast in a Fandango video on what was called “Spider Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving. Another video had Foxx joining Holland. AMC Theaters promised those buying advance tickets a free “eco-friendly” Spider-Man NFT.

An interview with producer Amy Pascal, who’s been involved with the franchise since she was the head of Sony Pictures, had her confirming there will be future Spider-Man movies, that those will be made in cooperation with Marvel Studios and that Holland wasn’t quite done with the suit yet.

The IMAX poster released at the end of November shows Spidey swinging through a distorted cityscape, hinting at how the universe is unraveling because of what’s happened. The Dolby poster shows him swinging through the city, this time upside down.

Lots of different elements are brought together on the theatrical poster, which has Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and MJ at the center of a twisted reality vortex as the various villains swirl around them. Electro, Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus all got individual posters as well.

Just leaving these here.

Two movie-inspired costumes were added to the Spider-Man video game from Insomniac.

At CCXP in early December there were a couple promotional moments, including a video of Molina, Dafoe and Foxx together talking about the legacy of their characters and working together for the first time, at least in this series, and how production technology has changed since the last time they suited up.

G Fuel released a commercial for its cross-promotional campaign, including new drink flavors and movie-branded cans and packaging.

Holland talked about the movie on “Late Night.” In another interview he cast more doubt on his future in the series while also reflecting on his involvement as being one of growth and enjoyment.

Liberty Mutual came back to the campaign to sponsor Daily Bugle newsstands in New York City filled with newspapers that had Spider-Man pictures and news.

A video of the Paris kickoff to the cast’s press tour was released.

An ESPN commercial that had fun with some of the rumors circulating around the movie and its cast was part of a larger element of the campaign focused on what was or wasn’t known. That included the cast discussing fan theories amongst themselves and then later asking those who had begun seeing the movie not to spoil anything for those who hadn’t yet.

Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all appeared on “GMA” to promote the movie while those three were joined by Cumberbatch for an appearance on “Kimmel.” Marisa Tomei showed up on “Late Night” by herself, though.

Literally everyone, including Marvel’s Kevin Feige and costars Tomei, J.K. Simmons, Jon Favreau, turned out for the red carpet world premiere. Even Jared Leto, who stars in the upcoming Morbius, was there. That event was sponsored by Hyundai and TikTok, which had been a major promotional platform for the movie to date, offering clips, filters, stickers and more. It even released its own commercial touting the features.

PlayStation put out a clip showing the disagreement between Peter and Strange that causes some of the story’s conflict.

One more video of the cast warning against spoiling the movie came out right at the end of the campaign.

overall

First: We have to address the very last part of the campaign, the one where the cast of the film was enlisted in the War Against Spoilers. While I get that there are a lot of plot twists and surprising characters, the entire premise of the story is that the multiverse is coming together, which means that anything is possible. So learning that X has been cast as a character they played previously isn’t exactly an outlandish statement that can upend one’s enjoyment of the film.

Second: You have to love how the three leads – Holland, Zendaya and Batalon – have seemingly formed this tight knit group over the course of three movies. Putting them all together in various components of the campaign, from the title announcement to press appearances and other videos, only works because they’ve clearly bonded and are now a family, with an easy rapport that makes the banter believable.

Third: Everyone needs to get their stories straight regarding Tom Holland’s future in the Spider-Man series. He seems to be pulling a Daniel Craig-esque “Yeah, I had a good run but I’m done” move while Pascal and Fiege are trying to pull him back in. The latter may just be marketing positioning by the executives who don’t want to blow up audience expectations, but then someone needs better media training.

Fourth: If you are brining back Willem Dafoe but also still putting him behind a mask that doesn’t allow for his natural expressiveness to come through, you’re doing it wrong. But am I right in understanding that the one villain from the Holland movies still alive – Michael Keaton’s Vulture – isn’t in this while almost all the villains from the other series are? OK I guess…

Fifth: I forgot what this was going to be.

Sixth: The campaign has a lot going for it but it might actually be too much. While super hero movies tend to be plot-heavy this feels excessively so. Still, it gave us this extremely relatable Doctor Strange GIF so it wins on points.

Benedict Cumberbatch Fire GIF by Spider-Man - Find & Share on GIPHY

Finally: While the reviews have been generally positive and anticipation for the movie seems high, it’s hard to believe the $150m opening weekend projections will wind up being accurate. We’re fully in the midst of a Covid-19 surge (thanks, everyone refusing to get vaccinated!) that is already causing Broadway shows to close, sports teams to cancel games and more. It might be big, but it won’t be that big. And if it is, it might be the last one to reach that mark for a little while here, at least until the spring.

the power of the dog – marketing recap

How Netflix is selling a story of masculinity in the early 20th century

The Power of the Dog movie poster
The Power of the Dog movie poster

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in The Power of the Dog, out now on Netflix after a limited theatrical release in the last couple weeks.

Directed by Jane Campion – her first film since 2009’s Bright Star – and set in 1920s Montana, the movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank and Jesse Plemons as his brother George. When the two encounter the widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Phil’s first reaction is to lash out with cruelty while George’s is to be more sympathetic. Eventually George and Rose marry, setting off a chain of events that will lead some characters down dark paths and others to more positive personal revelations.

With a solid 95% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and positive word of mouth from critics the movie scored well in that short theatrical run, so now that it’s available for everyone let’s take a look at how it was sold.

announcement and casting

The movie, announced in May 2019 as Campion’s return to feature film directing, came with Cumberbatch already attached. Dunst was cast the next month after Elizabeth Moss, originally slated to play Rose, had to drop out.

Also replacing a previously announced cast member was Plemons, who took the place of Paul Dano in late 2019. Most of the rest of the cast was added in early 2020.

the power of the marketing campaign

In June 2021 news came that Netflix declined an invitation for the movie to play the Cannes Film Festival, albeit out of competition. As usual, the two parties couldn’t agree on the festival’s requirement that movies appearing there be released theatrically in France.

Netflix released the first still in late July.

The first trailer (2.5m YouTube views) was released in August, opening by showing the general vibe of the cattle ranch worked by the Burbank family. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue but you definitely get the sense of Phil’s insensitive cruelty as well as Rose’s compassion and protectiveness of her son.

The first poster, released at the same time, focuses on Phil and calls out the all-star cast as well as Campion on a very rough, weathered image that conveys the tone of the film.

While Cannes was out of the picture, the movie did screen at the Venice Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival in September as well as at festivals in both Toronto and Telluride among others.

In advance of the Venice screening the producers talked about bringing Campion back to the big screen after a decade away and more. Campion went on to win Best Director at Venice.

During the various festival press cycles both Cumberbatch and Campion were interviewed about the movie’s portrayal of toxic, harmful masculinity and how that’s often the result of repression and other factors, especially regarding sexuality.

Dunst was also the subject of a substantial profile where she talked about how this and other recent films she’s done are part of a transformation in her career to portraying more characters going through trauma and despair.

Campion and the cast all appeared at the New York Film Festival in October along with a screening of the film as the festival’s “centerpiece” selection. The movie was also added to the lineup of November’s AFI Film Festival and then also screened at BFI London in October.

Other interviews with Campion had her talking about this movie as well as how the film industry has changed for women directors and how she’s encouraged by those changes.

Campion was slated to receive the Director’s Tribute at the 2021 Gotham Awards.

Cinematographer Ari Wegner was interviewed about how he created the movie’s sparse, harsh look and feel.

The next poster, released in early November, shows Phil and Peter riding across the former’s ranch, the vast Montana sky taking up most of the background.

A new trailer (742k YouTube views) also came out at that time. It shows much more of the story in detail, from George meeting and marrying Rose to the ridicule inflicted on Peter for his gentle ways to the emotional distress Phil is going through as he clearly hides something from himself and everyone around him. It’s powerful and distressing, which probably sells the film well.

How working with Campion caused him some initial anxiety and how the production differed in scope and style from his super hero work were covered in another interview. He covered similar ground when he appeared on “Kimmel” but a New York Times profile was much more serious as he discussed the multiple layers of the sometimes terrible person he plays. When he showed up on “Late Night” he had fun with the fact that production involved him not showering for a while.

With the cast and crew on the AFI Fest red carpet, they all talked about the story, working with Campion and lots more.

The director got a profile of her own that covered how she worked on this film and what it means for her career as a whole. That was followed shortly by another interview with Dunst where she also focused on working with her real-life partner Plemons, something she also talked about on “Kimmel.”

There had been some promotion of the soundtrack prior but it intensified in the last few weeks as seen in a joint interview with Campion and composer Jonny Greenwood and another interview just with Greenwood where he talked about what kinds of themes and ideas he tried to channel.

A clip released just this week shows Phil angrily playing the banjo when he enters a room to find Rose playing piano, showing the strained dynamic between those two.

overall

Throughout the marketing campaign there have been a few areas of emphasis:

First, the return of Campion to the director’s chair after more than a decade away. That absolutely needs to be noted and hopefully we won’t have to wait that long again.

Second, that Cumberbatch is a powerful actor who fully transformed to embody a character that is demonstrably terrible to everyone around him.

Third, that Dunst has evolved significantly as an actor to take on complex roles that speak to her personally.

All of that adds up to a strong campaign that, as many people have noted, could once again spur conversations around whether or not Netflix’s original productions are worthy of Oscar consideration. As has been the case with releases from other major filmmakers, it will be hard to ignore Campion’s return and the cascade of festival awards she’s accumulated so far. More importantly, though, the marketing makes a strong, consistent case for viewers to watch the movie as soon as possible.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle – Marketing Recap

mowgli poster 2Well, here we are again, preparing for the release of a movie inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” This time around it’s Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle and the man behind the camera is renowned actor/director Andy Serkis, most well-known as performance capture artist.

As with other adaptations, the story follows Mowgli (Rohan Chand), a boy lost in the jungle and raised as a “man cub” by the panther Bagheera (Christian Bale) and other animals. With the boy getting older the dangers he faces are more severe, including from other creatures including Kaa (Cate Blanchett) and Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch). This version, though, focuses more on the identity crisis faced by Mowgli as he discovers there are others like him in the jungle, humans he’s not sure he fits in with.

The Posters

mowgli posterThe title character stands defiantly on the first poster, covered in red mud and scars but looking fierce and ready for action, Bagheera off to his side as if he’s preparing to defend his young charge. Mowgli is labeled “Outcast. Survivor. Legend.” to make it clear to the audience that they’ll be following a story of determination.

After Netflix picked up the movie a second poster, now featuring the full title, was released. This one sells a more epic adventure, with Mowgli and Bagheera standing on a cliff and looking out over both the jungle and the human camp. This one positions it as a story of identity with the tagline “The greatest journey is finding where you belong.”

The Trailers

The first trailer, released this past June, offered a pretty dark take on the story, showing Mowgli caged and reluctantly entering the world of man after years of being among the animals. Bagheera encourages him to gain the others’ trust as we flashback to scenes of the panther teaching the boy how to survive. We hear about how he’s grown to be a man now but is fully part of neither world, “something we’ve never seen before.”

That trailer was taken down after the movie was sold by WB to Netflix, which released a new spot in early November, just about a month before it was scheduled to become available for streaming.

It’s less esoteric and difficult than the trailer, showing more of the familiar Jungle Book beats about Mowgli’s friends and rivals in the jungle as well as his curiosity about the world of man. It’s not as funny and bright as last year’s Disney movie and ends with the pitch that it will be both on Netflix and in select theaters.

Online and Social

No online or social presence for the movie, which isn’t wholly unusual though Netflix has done more on this front for other releases lately.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Pre-roll ads appeared on YouTube in the last week or so that used shorter versions of the trailer and the key art has been used for online ads across the web.

Media and Publicity

Of course with Disney putting out their own live-action Jungle Book last year the comparisons were inevitable. Serkis made comments to the press about how his version was going to be darker and for a more mature audience than Disney’s, an effort to clear some space between the two movies. Much later he kept making the case for his version, saying unlike Disney’s effort his was going to use more real locations and effects. Serkis talked about his directorial approach, which has been heavily influenced by his performing career, here while promoting a few other projects.

Eventually the movie’s name was changed from Jungle Book: Origins to the current title, in no small part because of the previous movie’s proximity. A bit after that Serkis and some of the cast showed up at CinemaCon as part of WB’s presentation there to talk about the film and help exhibitors get over any worries they might have over too many Jungle Book projects. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio.

A behind-the-scenes featurette included comments from Serkis about what kind of tone he wanted to strike with his adaptation, how lucky he was to get the cast he did and what each actor brought to their character.

Out of nowhere, late-July 2018 brought the news that Warner Bros. had sold worldwide rights to the movie to Netflix, which still included a theatrical release for 3D screenings. Serkis noted that the deal takes some of the pressure of competing against Disney’s recent film off while exposing it to much broader audience. WB meanwhile gets to not worry about trying to market a movie everyone involved has said is darker and more complex than Disney’s.

Things went dark for a little while but in the weeks leading up to release Serkis made a few media appearances to talk up the movie. Also popping around that time was an interview with composer Nitin Sawhney and a first listen at a couple of new songs from the soundtrack.

Bale later spoke about how he got involved in the movie and what he thought was new and interesting in the story.

A feature interview with Serkis had him talking about the previous Jungle Book adaptation and the years he’s spent trying to get this film, with his vision, made. He and others also went into some detail about the behind-the-scenes machinations that resulted in the movie being delayed and eventually sent to Netflix. Serkis also spoke about the process of filming the actors and creating the animals.

Overall

You definitely get the message that this is *not* a version of the story that’s going to feature lovable animals carousing around the jungle singing jaunty tunes. Indeed the campaign most clearly sets itself apart from other adaptations by showing only the bare necessities (sorry) of those animals, instead selling this as Mowgli’s story first and foremost.

It is definitely a dark story on display here, so it’s understandable why WB took a pass on the movie after years of dithering uncertainty and scheduling shifts. Throughout all that, the message has been most strongly conveyed by Serkis himself, who’s a big personality and is best positioned to tell audiences what’s going on and why they should take a chance on seeing it.

Picking Up The Spare

A featurette from Netflix had Serkis talking about the development of the movie, his process directing and performing motion capture and more.

Another featurette, this time introducing us to Serkis’ son Louis, who performed as Bhoot in the movie.

The Grinch – Marketing Recap

There’s not a whole lot to add to my recap of the marketing for The Grinch, from Universal and Illumination.

Universal’s new attempt to bring The Grinch — that iconic Dr. Seuss creation who’s as cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel — to the big screen is expected to bring in a respectable $55-60 million this weekend. This animated version from Illumination Entertainment has Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the green Christmas-hating Grinch with Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson and others in costarring roles.

Online and Social

Tyler, the Creator’s lyric video for the well-known theme song opens the movie’s official website, which also has the trailers, a synopsis and a list of the movie’s promotional partners as well as links to Twitter and Facebook profiles.

Picking Up The Spare

Cumberbatch apparently loves those billboards with the snarky one-liners about different cities. And Danny Elfman was interviewed about taking a fresh crack at the theme song.

Another lyric video, this time for “I Am The Grinch.” And there’s finally posters for both IMAX and Real3D releases.