no time to die – marketing recap

How MGM and Universal have sold the capstone of the latest James Bond era.

No Time To Die poster

It’s impossible to even begin discussing the marketing for No Time To Die, the latest entry in the James Bond franchise, without putting in the context of two realities.

First, that this is clearly being sold as the last time Daniel Craig would star as the British super-spy. When he took over the role in 2006’s Casino Royale it was clear the franchise was headed in a new direction, one whose more realistic tone was seen as a direct response to movies like The Bourne Identity that featured more graphic violence and a flawed, human hero. Craig has hinted at leaving before, but this fifth outing seems to really be his last.

Second, that the movie’s release has been greatly impacted by events in the real world. Fears over the spread of novel coronavirus lead the studio in February 2020 to cancel the movie’s planned premiere in China. Things escalated after that when the planned release in April of last year was shifted to November by MGM, the studio citing an abundance of concern over audiences being exposed to what was then known as Covid-19 in theaters. That came after a Bond fansite launched a petition encouraging MGM and Eon to make that change.

Doing so meant the studio and producers stood to lose around $30 million in sunk costs, but the movie bombing because people were avoiding public spaces like movie theaters had the potential to be much worse financially in addition to being a public health nightmare.

With all that as context, we now come to the moment at hand. Here’s the official synopsis for No Time To Die:

In No Time To Die, Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.

What’s promised, though, is an end to the story begun 15 years and four films ago. That’s relatively unusual for the Bond franchise, to have a single storyline run through multiple installments, and it’s made the marketing of the movie that much more emotional and interesting. Let’s dig in.

announcements and casting

A lot of news came in one fell swoop as it was announced MGM and Annapurna would team up for distribution, having wrestled the rights away from Sony, that Danny Boyle would direct, that Craig would return for another go and that it was already scheduled for release. Boyle’s involvement wouldn’t last much longer as it was announced in mid-August he had departed the film due to the frequently-cited “creative differences.”

That set off plenty of speculation about who might be considered as a replacement, a decision the studio wanted to make quickly to keep things on track. Eventually Fukunaga was picked to sit in the chair, a decision that most everyone approved of given his talents shown in previous films.

There was a bit of coverage of the movie when it was revealed Craig had specifically requested Phoebe Waller-Bridge do a pass on the script to punch things up and bring an original take to the story and tone. A few weeks later in late April the cast and some of the locations were announced via livestream, though the title remained secret.

After months of being known publicly as simply “Bond 25” the official title was announced in mid-August 2019. In October the movie’s Instagram account marked the end of principle photography.

not the time to die: marketing phase one

It was all the way back in October 2019 – two solid years before the eventual release – that the marketing of the latest James Bond film began, back when the world was pure and you could go to the theater relatively certain you wouldn’t contract a deadly virus.

That’s when the first teaser poster was released, though it, like the character posters that followed in December, have all been subsequently updated to replace the “April 2020” date that was quickly obsolete.

Costars Lynch and de Armes were jointly profiled as part of THR’s “Next Gen Talent” feature, with the pair talking about the complicated process of joining the world of Bond and what it meant to be part of the team trying to modernize the character for new times and new audiences. A bit later Waller-Bridge was interviewed about how she came on to provide some help with the script and what she encountered when she joined. She offered more clarification on what she positioned as her limited role later on.

Just as has been the case with the previous two movies, Craig proclaimed this would be his very last outing as Bond while on the publicity circuit for last year’s Knives Out. Given how often he’s said this in the past, it remains to be seen if he’s serious this time or just negotiating through the press.

Late June brought a behind-the-scenes look at the movie’s filming in the Caribbean.

The first official still from the film was released in early December at the same time as the initial trailer. That release was also accompanied by the entire cast appearing on “Good Morning America” to celebrate the moment.

Also in December came the first teaser trailer (21.4m YouTube views). As it opens we see Bond is living peacefully in Jamaica, but is brought back into the fold to face an increasingly dangerous world. Nomi, a new 00 operative, isn’t thrilled about retrieving the relic from seclusion but the two pair up regardless, eventually reuniting with Moneypenny and Q as well. After encountering Madeleine, Bond interrogates Blofeld, eventually leading to a face off with Safin. Along the way there are just the sort of shots of well-choreographed action and adventure that are synonymous with the franchise.

With that April 2020 release date still kinda sorta realistic, more marketing efforts continued to pop up.

TV advertising began in early February of that year with a Super Bowl commercial that promises secrets will be unveiled that will “be the death of” Bond. In fact the spot sets the expectation that major changes will result from what happens, teasing that this might indeed by the last outing for this incarnation of 007. A commercial that aired during the NBA Finals is more basic, selling it as a big-screen action flick with a familiar character.

Total Film shared a first look at the villain played by Rami Malek, with the actor adding a few comments while continuing to keep the actual identity of the character he played a secret. Malek would later present at the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.

Costar Latasha Lynch received a profile where she was quizzed on 007 history and talked about the character she plays. Ana de Armas also got her own Vanity Fair profile a short while later.

Pop superstar Billie Ellish was announced as the performer of this movie’s title number in January, just before she swept the major categories at this year’s Grammy Awards. At the same time it was revealed Hans Zimmer was composing the film’s score. The audio of the title track was released in mid-February, earning a fair amount of praise. Ellish performed that song at the Brit Awards just a short while later and talked about writing the song when she appeared on “Good Morning America.”

In January a THR feature focused on longtime Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, including their thoughts on the future of the character. A little while later EW ran a cover story on the movie that offered a handful of interviews with the cast who teased what audiences could expect and addressing some of the issues – Boyle’s exiting the project, Craig’s occasional reluctance to continue and more – that have been part of the narrative to date.

Additional TV spots continued to come out throughout February of 2020, all showing off the action audiences could expect from the film. There was also an exclusive IMAX poster of Bond on a motorcycle, an image pulled from the trailers and commercials that had already come out.

Another poster shows a very grimy and dirty Bond alongside Madeline Swann (played by Léa Seydoux) looking out of a bullet-riddled car window.

A short featurette narrated by Fukunaga had the director talking about where Bond as a character is when the story opens and how this movie will deliver on audience expectations for this final chapter of Craig’s Bond.

still not quite the time to die: marketing phase two

At this point everyone pumped the brakes as it became clear the Covid-19 pandemic was going to be serious and disruptive. That’s when, in early March 2020, the announcement came the movie was being delayed from April to November of that year.

Not everything came to a stop though. Craig still hosted “Saturday Night Live” in March as planned, still promoting the movie while addressing the delay in his monologue as well as in subsequent sketches. It also needs to be noted that his hosting turn resulted in one of the most viral Twitter accounts/trends in recent years, something the actor only recently became aware of.

There was a big interview with Ellish where she talked about writing her song, how she got involved with the producers and more. Similar ground was covered in a later interview.

Craig then was profiled in both the UK and US editions of GQ.

Unlike some others, Fukunaga said in July he was not using the extra time afforded by the delay in release to continue fiddling with the film.

An official James Bond podcast was launched in late September featuring interviews with the cast and crew.

A second trailer (18m YouTube views) – teased the day before release – came out in early September and continues making the case for this being an essential endpoint for this era of the Bond franchise. Bond is up against a very personal foe, one that has drawn him back into the game, and has to work with Nomi to stop a massive threat. There are lots of dramatic moments and music along with the requisite running, jumping and shooting that are hallmarks of the series.

A new official poster, this one simply showing Bond armed, well dressed and ready for any kind of action, was released as well. Another shows Bond in more tactical gear lurking through a dark hallway.

Shortly after that there was a new featurette released with Malik and Fukunaga introducing us to Safin and explaining what some of his motivations are.

The official video for the song was released in early October. A month later in November Ellish’s song was nominated for a Grammy, despite the film the song is attached to being pushed to the next year, eventually winning the Song Written for Visual Media award.

A blow was dealt to the fall 2020 box-office picture when, at the beginning of October, Sony announced the movie was being booted to April, 2021. The news wasn’t wholly surprising, of course, as Covid-19 continued to sweep across the U.S. in particular. What *was* surprising was a report emerging in late October that MGM had openly explored selling the movie to Apple, Netflix and other streaming companies, hoping to get somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 million. That price tag was apparently too high, with the talks fizzling out without a deal being made. Additional details came later on how much of a financial drain those delays were becoming to the studio and its partners.

GIF by James Bond 007 - Find & Share on GIPHY

An additional delay was announced at that point, moving the release date from November 2020 to April 2021 because the pandemic situation – particularly the availability of movie theaters in major markets – had not improved sufficiently, as we all now know.

Craig appeared on “The Tonight Show” in early October of last year, shortly after the latest delay was announced, to discuss the movie and rationalize the change in release dates. Ellish also showed up to both discuss and perform her title song.

Of course the studio and producers marked the passing of Sean Connery, the original on-screen Bond, in November. Comments from Craig as well as the other actors who have portrayed the character came in as well.

In an interview from last November, Lynch talked about the attacks she’s been subjected to since taking on the role, primarily from those who don’t feel a woman – much less a woman of color – should play any sort of leading part in the Bond franchise.

ad break: the promotional partners

Promotional partners for the movie include:

  • Heineken, a returning Bond sponsor, which released an extended commercial in January that playfully shows Craig having difficulty navigating his own life as people constantly mistake him for his super spy alter ego. A later commercial pokes fun at the frequent delays of the movie while also playing up the quality of its beer in a spot titled “Worth the Wait.”
  • Nokia, which released a long-form commercial featuring Nomi using the company’s devices to engage in surveillance and gather evidence on a mission.
  • Land Rover, which launched a campaign for its Defender SUV, selling it with the same kind of attributes – unflappable, able to adjust to any situation etc – as are normally associated with Bond himself.

Shoot Out Nomi GIF by James Bond 007 - Find & Share on GIPHY

One big problem with these product placements is that many of them, while cutting edge and new at the time the film was made and meant to be released, are less shiny and may even be outdated a year later. The money those companies paid, then, becomes a much poorer investment, even if the reasons why are largely outside of most individual’s control.

finally time to die: marketing phase three (for real this time)

What would eventually turn out to be the final release date change came in January, when the movie was moved to October, 2021.

In March Ellish found herself in a wholly unprecedented situation, winning a Grammy for her “No Time To Die” theme song to a movie that hadn’t come out yet.

In the wake of the news that Amazon was buying MGM in May, Broccoli issued a statement assuring audiences (but actually exhibitors) that the movie would not go to streaming as so many other delayed blockbusters had but would receive a theatrical release around the world.

Another interview with Lynch had her talking about the role she plays as a black woman on screen, especially in big titles like Bond and others.

Things really started to ramp up in August, beginning with the release of the final trailer (13.5m YouTube views). It starts off with scenes and dialogue from Casino Royale, counting off and showing some of the people he’s encountered, missions he’s been on and more since then. Despite the talk of the world being different and enemies being “in the ether” as opposed to across the room from you, the latter is exactly what we get, with Bond facing off against Safin for the fate of the world.

In September came the announcement of “Being James Bond,” a retrospective documentary on Craig’s time with the character and franchise.

TV advertising also restarted last month with spots like this that featured the banter, the action and the overall vibe of the movie and franchise as a whole.

The new agents played by Lynch and de Armes are introduced in a featurette. There was also a new IMAX featurette that had Fukunaga talking about shooting for the big screen.

Tickets went on sale in mid-September, the occasion marked by a new TV spot.

Additional profiles of and interviews with Craig continued to come out, many of them pulling out newsworthy comments and other elements from the “Being James Bond” documentary on Apple TV+ or from the podcast episodes. The actor talked about his time with the character, what it will be like to watch whoever succeeds him in the role and lots more, including the fact that, despite the multiple times he’s almost walked away, he’ll ultimately miss it.

Additional interviews with Lynch had her talking more about how she wanted to make her character unique and real.

There was also a profile of Fukunaga that, among other things, made it clear that the entire fate of the global box office and theatrical industry is on his shoulders. A similar profile of the director covered why he signed on to the project to begin with and how he’s handled the long delays.

All that really culminated in late September when the official premiere was held at London’s Royal Albert Hall with the cast, crew and lots of other celebrities (and royalty) in attendance.

Malek talked about the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” just days ago.

overall: was it indeed worth the wait?

This movie should have been in theaters 18 months ago. That’s somewhat astounding, no less so because there was virtually no conversation about it being diverted to other platforms to get it out sooner, even with pressure coming from brand partners.

As it is, it arrives with a projected $60-70 million opening weekend and a solid 84% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes representing the largely positive reviews the movie has racked up so far.

It also comes after a marketing campaign that has been the very definition of stop-and-start.

After at least three attempts to get the ball rolling and build momentum toward release, what’s surprising is that the campaign has been remarkably consistent throughout. From the first elements in late 2019 through pre-roll ads that have run today, they keep hitting the idea that Craig’s Bond is about to hit the end of the road he began when he became a 00 in one of the best opening sequences of the entire franchise.

It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to get audiences interested enough to head to the theaters. The improved performances of Shang Chi and Venom 2 in the last few weeks are good indicators, but as the THR story above mentions, the Bond series has always skewed a bit older and that could make a bit of difference.

Also acting as an X factor is whether whatever interest there was two years ago has remained in audiences after multiple delays, not to mention [gestures broadly at everything else that’s happened since March, 2020, including 700,000 dead Americans]. It may be that some people have been waiting so long they figure it’s not worth it to go to the theater and they’ll just hold out for on-demand or other home video.

Knives Out – Marketing Recap

A good old-fashioned whodunit with an all-star cast comes to theaters hoping for success.

knives out poster13The $25 million tracking estimates for the opening weekend of Knives Out may not seem massive. Such a box office total would signal failure for most movies. While that number indicates audiences might be recovering from seeing Frozen 2 last weekend and saving their movie-going dollars for Star Wars next month, it might still be enough to not only win the weekend but show there’s life in the concept of a non-franchise movie featuring a sprawling ensemble of popular actors.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the movie stars Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Laketh Stanfeild, Daniel Craig and quite a few others. Craig and Stanfeild play investigators summoned to the mansion of Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) after his mysterious death, which just so happened to occur at his birthday party for which the entire family had gathered. All under suspicion and each with their own motives as well as alibis, the sometimes ungrateful children must remain in the home while the killer among them is rooted out.

As Johnson has made clear in numerous interviews, it’s a throwback to the kind of murder mystery films from the 50s and 60s that became staples of broacast television reruns in the 70s and 80s. And while the predictions may indicate some weakness in terms of audience appetite, the 95 percent “Fresh” rating it sports on Rotten Tomatoes shows critics have roundly embraced its entertaining eccentricity.

The Posters

knives out posterA magnifying glass with a knife for a handle sits atop the title treatment on the first poster (by marketing agency LA, as are the rest of the posters), released in July. The cast list is presented below along with the copy “Everyone has a motive. No one has a clue.” All those elements, along with the “whodunnit” at the top along with the typeface used combine to sell a classic mystery movie, one where everyone will be suspected at some point and is working against the others as the police try to solve the crime.

“Nothing brings a family together like murder” we’re told on the series of character posters released in September. Each one presents the character in question in a different part of the house where the action takes place and presents them with a description of their role in the family or the investigation, very much in the vein of an Agatha Christie story.

The entire cast is assembled on the theatrical poster from October, with the Harlan’s children and others arranged behind him. This time the tagline betrays a much more playful attitude, reading “Hell, any of them could have done it.” It’s a great way to upend audience expectations and communicate the fact that this is a fun time at the theater, not a scary horror film of any sort.

The Trailers

The first trailer (12.4 million views on YouTube) was released in early July and establishes the premise right away, that Thrombey family patriarch Harlan was killed following a party celebrating his 85th birthday. The detectives sent to the estate to investigate understandably suspect an attendee is responsible and so ask everyone to stay put until they find who did it. From there it’s all about the mystery as we see the Thrombey’s aren’t exactly a tight, loving family and each could have their own reasons for not only killing the old man but wanting those around them to go down for the murder.

Everyone’s “waiting for the big reveal” in the second trailer (6.5 million views on YouTube), released in September. This one is even more loose and fun than the first, focusing on the infighting of the family members as Blanc and the other investigators seek to uncover who killed Harlan and why. The whole cast gets a turn to shine as the movie is presented as a breezy and entertaining whodunit with a house full of suspects and motives.

The final trailer (388,000 views on YouTube), released in October, is short but to the point. Specifically, it sells the movie not on the story but on the positive reviews that have come out so far, positioning it as a rip-roaring good time and the most entertaining film of the year with a top-notch cast.

Online and Social

In contrast to many recent efforts, the movie’s official website features good information that heightens anticipation of the film. In addition to the usual marketing content, the front page of the site lets you click on the faces of the main characters, allowing you to see the poster they’re featured on along with a bit more background and some photos to download. It’s not much, but it’s something and a nice element to include given the cast. In acknowledgement of the film coming out around Thanksgiving there are also place cards with each character and their defining trait that can be printed out for your holiday table, including one with Johnson labeled “The murder mystery master.” Last month there were pumpkin design stencils available as well.

Advertising and Publicity

While there had been plenty of press coverage around casting and other production updates, the first real promotion came when Lionsgate brought Johnson and members of the cast to CinemaCon in March to get the ball rolling. An extended scene was shown two months later at CineEurope.

In July it was named among the films screening at the Toronto Film Festival as part of the “Special Presentations” lineup, a screening that brought almost universal praise for the story, direction and performances. Later it was named the London Film Festival’s Gala movie and had a Fantastic Fest screening announced in August. In October it screened at the Chicago International Film Festival, with appearances by Johnson and Shannon.

The Get Your Cut contest was announced in September, encouraging fans to hunt for clues and hidden messages scattered throughout the posters and trailers in an effort to win $250,000, positioned here as part of Harlan’s fortune he put aside for fans. A later message from Harlan’s personal attorney (played by Frank Oz) and a recording from Harlan himself continued promoting the contest.

TV advertising started in mid-October with a deluge of spots – a dozen at first with more coming after that – highlighting different aspects of the family, their motivations, the search for Harlan’s killer and more. While they take slightly different approaches, the commercials reinforce the impression from the trailers that this is a fun star-studded whodunit.

AMC Theaters offered an exclusive interview with Johnson where he talked about the story and working with the impressive cast.

In early November Lionsgate released a series of videos inviting you to “Meet the Thrombeys.” Each one was created to be a promotional video of sorts for that family member’s business. So Joni is selling Flam – which also has a website -, her lifestyle brand, Walt is selling Blood Like Wine Publishing – which also got its own website – and announcing his promotion to CEO and Linda is selling her real estate business, which also has a site. Each one is filled with “slashing” puns to reinforce the nature of the movie.

The first clip, released in early November, shows Ransom arriving at the family mansion and blowing off the investigators already on the scene. A second clip shows the assembled family being asked to stick around while the investigators find the guilty party while a third has Linda confronting Blanc.

knives out online adOnline ads used some combination of the key theatrical art and images from the character posters along with video clips in various units.

The positive reviews the movie had received were used in a final TV commercial that pegged it as a fun experience for audiences.

Johnson extended a “personal invitation…to murder” to the audience in a video designed to play like an old-fashioned movie trailer, the kind that has directors like Alfred Hitchcock. In fact you can see just the kind of thing being referenced in the trailer for Hitchcock’s Psycho. It’s another way Johnson is paying homage to the films that inspired him.

Outdoor billboards (by marketing agency Art Machine) used the same art of the assembled family seen in the theatrical one-sheet and outdoor ads. Notably, an alternate version of the billboard design showed the family from the back, each clutching a knife in their hands as if they’re ready to use it on each other at a moment’s notice.

knives out billboardknives out billboard2

Media and Press

An interview with Johnson during the Toronto screening allowed him to talk about his love of the murder mystery genre, what it was like working with such a big-name cast and transitioning from the massive spectacle of Star Wars to the smaller scale of this film. The cast offered their comments on how the movie provided some good alternative to family dinners during its Thanksgiving release window.

In a couple interviews from Toronto, Johnson even started speculating there could be more movies if this one does well. He also spoke with Curtis about how the movie’s story is intentional commentary on issues of wealth and privilege.

The cast shared one of their favorite moments from the few scenes they were all in together. A brief interview with just Evans had him talking about his inspiration, wardrobe and more.

Talk show appearances included Evans and Shannon on “The Tonight Show,” Johnson on “Kimmel,” Craig on “The Late Show,” Curtin on “Today” and more.

de Armes was part of THR’s “Next Gen Talent” feature in November, with the actress talking about her reluctance to join the film as well as how the script is what won her over.

An interview with Johnson had him talking about how this film was just as important to him as his franchise work and how it fits into his overall filmography.

At the movie’s premiere Johnson and the cast talked about their love of murder mysteries and how such stories can be reflections of the current political climate. An interview with the director had him talking about how hard he worked to get the movie made in the time available, how some fortunate coincidences allowed him to assemble the cast he wanted and more. Another had him sharing his mystery genre influences.

EW hosted an early Thanksgiving dinner with Rian and the cast talking about the movie and having a generally good time.

Curtis and costar Katherine Langford appeared on stage to present an award at the recent American Music Awards ceremony.

There were two feature profiles of Ana de Armas, spotlighting her as a breakout star in this movie who is poised for even more fame in the coming months with other projects coming out.

Overall

I’m hooked. As if I wasn’t a big enough Rian Johnson fan after his previous films – including what’s objectively the best Star Wars movie in the series – the way he conveys the fun he had in crafting this movie from beginning to end is infectious. That’s helped, in my own case, by recognizing exactly the type of movies he was inspired by and wanted to recreate here. They’re just the kind that were shown on “Family Classics” on WGN-TV in Chicago in the 80s on Sunday afternoons, the kind your parents would turn on after church while everyone is relaxing.

Everything about the campaign is just fun, showing you don’t need to make every mystery story into some deep, dark examination of the twisted nature of the human soul. Instead, as early reviews have indicated, it’s a lighthearted examination of the twisted nature of the human soul, including elements of class privilege both real and imagined.

Without a recognizable brand for the film’s marketing to latch on to, Johnson has become that brand hook, putting himself front and center throughout the campaign to act as the public face of the movie. That’s summed up nicely in the throwback trailer released last week but it’s seen in all the interviews he’s done and in the way the cast has praised his directorial style and work ethic on set.

Logan Lucky – Marketing Recap

Brothers Jimmy and Clyde Logan (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, respectively) come from a long line of losers in the new movie Logan Lucky, directed by Steven Soderbergh. They decide they’re going to turn things around, though, and set out to reverse their fortunes by robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600.

The problem is they don’t exactly have the smarts to pull off such an elaborate heist. So they enlist the services of a convicted thief named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to help them out. Between the three of them and with the reluctant help of Logan’s sister Mellie (Riley Keough), they execute their scheme. But will they actually get away with it?

Continue reading “Logan Lucky – Marketing Recap”