Army of the Dead – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a zombie-tastic romp through Sin City.

Imagine Ocean’s 11 but instead of Andy Garcia’s security apparatus, the thieves had to get through a horde of zombies to get to the casino safe full of cash.

That’s the basic premise of Army of the Dead from director Zack Snyder, taking a break from encouraging his most toxic fans to attack Warner Bros. for..reasons. In the movie’s story, a zombie outbreak has overtaken Las Vegas, leading casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to hire a group of mercenaries lead by Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to battle their way through the undead and retrieve $200 million from vault of the casino. Time is tight on the mission because the U.S. government, fearful the quarantine of Vegas won’t hold, plans on nuking the city to wipe out the threat. But everyone has their own hidden agendas.

The movie, which also stars Garret Dillahunt, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Tig Notaro and others, has a solid 72% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with early reviews calling it a fun, action-filled caper film.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency P+A) came out in February, showing a massive bank vault with various playing cards and currency flying around in front of it to help establish the Las Vegas setting of the story. To convey the presence of the zombies, a number of hands can be seen reaching out from the closed door, obviously not human and obviously not doing well.

Ward and his team stand atop a bright neon-lit slots bar on the second poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in April. With more neon in the background, there are a couple of skulls, a handful of poker chips and lots of weaponry on display to help sell the elements of the story. Two additional posters came out a bit later, one showing a zombie hand holding up a playing card and one showing a human hand holding a pike with a zombie head mounted on it. The bright pop-art colors keep the visual identity of the campaign going.

A series of brightly colored posters featuring each individual character were released in late April, each featuring a different tagline along with lots of neon decorations in the background in an attempt to convey the story’s Las Vegas setting.

Three more posters came out in the weeks leading up to release. One on, the focus is back on Ward’s team as they stand in the middle of the bright lights of Vegas, a group of undead hands reaching from the bottom. The other two look like comic book covers, with Ward on one walking through the flotsam of a ruined Vegas while carrying his packs. The other looks more like some kind of Mexican or similar artwork, with The Bride — a more intelligent, advanced zombie the team encounters — standing amid a collection of flowers and skulls.

The Trailers

The first trailer (3.7 million views on YouTube) came out at the end of February, immediately establishing a harsh post-apocalyptic landscape before flashing back to Vegas prior to the outbreak. Without offering much in the way of details, we get that a small armed unit is trying to break into a casino vault, fighting their way through the zombie hordes to do so.

We get a little more context for the story in the second trailer (11.1 million views on YouTube) from early April. Ward is approached by Tanaka to see if he’s interested in breaking into Tanaka’s old casino, now surrounded by zombies, before Las Vegas is nuked by the government. But things get complicated when they realize the zombies now roaming the streets have evolved and are smarter than the ones they faced in the war years ago.

Online and Social

As is common, Netflix supported the movie on brand social channels — including creating a bunch of GIFs on Giphy — but didn’t launch any new profiles or sites for the campaign. But it *did* create a publicly-accessible Dropbox where, in a feature it called #DeadDrop, the company put new posters, GIFs, videos and other assets.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

In August of last year news broke that, despite the movie being fully shot and in post-production, Netflix announced original star Chris D’Elia was being replaced and Notaro brought in. Those reshoots were said to be scheduled for as soon as pandemic conditions would allow, and have Notaro acting largely against a green screen and stand-ins.

Netflix was apparently so entranced by the project it announced a prequel film and anime series later in August.

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate. An official release date was set in February.

Snyder was interviewed about the film as part of EW’s 2021 Movie Preview, with some first-look stills also provided. He also spoke about the more in a Vanity Fair piece that was focused on his new version of Justice League, putting the development of this film in the context of his return to directing after taking a couple years off in the wake of his daughter’s death.

A few weeks after the second trailer came out Netflix shared a video of Snyder watching and reacting to a low-budget fan remake of that spot. Maybe this is meant to humanize the director or show how in-tune with his fans he is.

How the VFX team created the zombies – including the tiger – and more topics were covered in an interview with producer Deborah Snyder.

Zack Snyder Zombie GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

In a surprise move, news broke at the beginning of May that Cinemark planned to screen the movie at many of its locations nationwide ahead of its debut on Netflix. That’s a major concession by a large chain and one that shows how the calculus may have changed over the last year and a half.

Why Bautista chose this project instead of joining the cast of The Suicide Squad was the subject of this interview, with the star saying he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work with Snyder.

The process of replacing D’Elia with Notaro was covered in-depth in an interview with her and Snyder, including how they had to make a number of adjustments simply because of the difference in size between her and the other actor.

Tig Notaro Army Of The Dead GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Additional interviews with Deborah Snyder and others included how production had a smaller scope than the DC Films movies, more on how they created that CGI zombie tiger, how working with Netflix differs from working with Warner Bros., the respect Bautista gained for Snyder’s work ethic as director and cinematographer, how Snyder got all the extras thinking and walking like zombies and lots more. Zack Snyder offered an overview of the story and characters as well.

Netflix released the first 15 minutes of the movie online to give audiences a taste of what they could expect when they watched the whole thing.

Cut down versions of the trailer along with other promos offered additional glimpses at the movie, mostly focusing on the mix of humor and violence it’s presumed will be most attractive to the audience.

A number of banners, some used as ads, some used just as organic promos, were created. Most simply repurposed some of the key art, but others like the one below attempt to recreate the look of classic zombie movie title treatments.

Overall

One review of Army of the Dead simply said something along the lines of “Well, it definitely is a movie” and that sums things up nicely.

With a bunch of solid actors in the lineup, there’s so little emphasis in the campaign on the human characters the message becomes they really don’t matter. Instead the primary selling point of the marketing here is the work put in by the VFX team to create a CGI tiger.

At least it hasn’t been preceded by months and months of kowtowing to online trolls, making them feel as if they have power they don’t. But, that being said, Snyder has spent a decent chunk of this movie’s publicity cycle litigating his past super hero work, which shows he’s not as interested in selling this movie as maintaining his status as Hollywood’s most persecuted director.

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.

Stuber – Marketing Recap

You can ready my full recap of the marketing campaign for Stuber at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Fox’s official website features all the usual marketing content, including the trailers, a synopsis, some stills and more. In addition to links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles there’s information on getting a complimentary ride to an early screening.

Media and Publicity

A profile of Nanjiani covered how he got involved in the project and how he felt once more playing a ride-hailing service driver.

Nanjiani then appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the unique experience of filming with his costar.

Mira Sorvino, who plays Bautista’s superior officer, did a number of press interviews promoting the film.

The two main stars did several other interviews, either on their own or together, often playing up the physical differences between them but also usually emphasizing the fun they had during filming and how that will translate for the audience.

Overall

The more I dived into this, the more it became apparent that the women in the movie have been entirely erased from the marketing campaign. Sorvino did some press and Natalie Morales is in one clip, but Betty Gilpin and Karen Gillan are completely absent. Super weird choice.

Picking Up the Spare

There have been a few more profiles of Nanjiani, including one that focused on his workout routine among other topics and one more about him trying to create something new in the “buddy cop” genre. 

While Bautista appeared successfully on “Kimmel,” Nanjiani had to cancel an interview on “Conan,” with the host making the biggest comedic deal possible about it and promoting The Lion King instead. 

The two stars did another joint interview here. 

A featurette focused on costar Iko Uwais. 

Hotel Artemis – Marketing Recap

hotel artemis posterJodie Foster is here to tell us the rules in Hotel Artemis, written and directed by Drew Pearce. Foster plays Jean Thomas, the nurse at an establishment that acts as a safe spot and hospital for the criminal underworld. She’s assisted there by Everest (Dave Bautista) and operates successfully because everyone who comes there understands the rules, including that there’s no violence on the property.

That rule winds up being broken when a series of events brings a strange group of people together on a single night. Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) is on the run and in need of help after pulling a job. But he’s attracted some unwanted attention from a crime lord named The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum), who is out to recover what’s been taken from him. Also there that night are bad guys played by Sofia Boutella, Charlie Day and more, all with their own agendas and desire for survival.

The Posters

The teaser poster doesn’t include any mentions of the high-caliber cast or the story, just showing the hotel’s logo and name. Not much and not hugely effective unless you know what the movie is about already and have other information to support it and add context to it.

The second poster uses that same logo but shows all the shady characters that will pass through the hotel in the frame of the door. The orange, fire-like tone everything has hints that there will be more than a little chaos caused by all these folks and their actions.

The Trailers

The first half of the trailer is devoted to introducing us to the world the story takes place in. On a broad level that means the violent hellscape that is LA in 2028 (insert “so I see things haven’t changed” joke) and the hotel itself, which has specific rules to protect the staff and those who seek sanctuary there. The second half is about how, as we see early on, Waikiki has stolen something valuable from a very powerful man who wants his property back. That theft, while unintentional, has consequences for Waikiki and the hotel in general as everyone looks to make it through the night.

Well that looks like a lot of fun. It’s wacky and violent and over-the-top but also completely committed, at least based on what’s seen here, to the premise. With such a great cast that’s been brought together this has to be at least kind of good.

A red-band trailer later on hit the same basic chords but presented things a bit differently, mixing up some of the character introductions, overview of the rules of the hotel and more. Missing is much of the exposition about why all these criminals have converged in one place on one night and in its place is lot of cursing and glorified violence.

One last “Character” trailer took the approach of trying to look like a 70s grindhouse type flick, with grainy footage and voiceover that introduced all the various criminals and their associates that keep the story going. It’s alright, but not as clever as it thinks it is.

Online and Social

There were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles for the movie but no official owned site.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A TV spot focused mostly on setting up the hotel and its rules as well as its all-star cast, showing the movie as a grungy and violent story with a wicked sense of gallows humor. Another delved more into the story and the rules of the hotel as well as how those rules get broken. This one was just about presenting a kinetic and violent good time with a catchy rhythm. A special TV spot featuring Bautista ran during “Sports Center.” There were also online ads that used elements of the key art as well as video snippets, which also showed up in social ads.

Media and Publicity

Brown showed up on the late night TV circuit, engaging in hijinks and promoting this movie as well as talking about that show he’s on and some of his other recent movies. Foster did the same to talk about the movie’s story and lots more. Other members of the cast did other publicity stops on various media.

Overall

There’s quite a bit to like about the campaign. It sometimes goes a little far in trying to sell the style over the substance, but it’s hardly the first marketing push to do so. There’s certainly a consistency to the brand here as everything is bathed in that orange brown light, like street lights filtered through window that hasn’t been cleaned in far too long.

Foster is, of course, the central focus here even if she isn’t the central focus. What I mean by that is that the marketing spread the attention around to Brown, Bautista, Goldblum, Boutella and others, but it all revolves around Foster’s nurse, both because she’s a central figure and because Foster is just such a presence. The campaign presents a lot of reasons to see the movie – it’s violent and darkly funny among them, but Foster disappearing behind an accent and glasses might be chief among them.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Brian Tyree Henry has done a bit more press now that the movie is in theaters, including “The Daily Show.”
Writer/director Drew Pearce also has talked with Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter and more about what kind of movie he set out to make and how he created something fairly unique.