hocus pocus 2 – marketing recap

How Disney has sold a long-awaited supernatural sequel

Hocus Pocus 2 poster from Disney Studios
Hocus Pocus 2 poster from Disney Studios

This week’s Hocus Pocus 2 arrives on Disney+ just shy of 30 years after the original was released in theaters. Directed by Anne Fletcher and written by Jen D’Angelo, the movie once again stars the trio of Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Sanderson sisters, a family of witches from the 17th century who find themselves once again released from their imprisonment. As in the original, the three sisters seek to bring chaos to the town of Salem, MA and find a way to remain free.

Doug Jones also returns as the zombiefied Billy Butcherson. New to the cast are Hannah Waddingham as Mother Witch, who looks to help the Sanderson sisters, Sam Richardson as Gilbert, the owner of the town magic shop, Tony Hale as Salem mayor Jeffrey Traske and Lilia Buckingham as his daughter Cassie. Along with her estranged friends Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), Cassie will try and put the Sandersons back where they belong.

The first movie wasn’t a critical or box-office success, but home video and cable turned it into a beloved classic. That fan love was enough to eventually manifest this sequel, so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcement and casting

After lots of speculation and other reports, Disney finally set a 2022 release timeframe for the movie on Disney+ as well as announcing Fletcher was taking over directing duties.

Richardson was added to the cast in late October of last year, with Waddingham, Hale and others joining a short while later.

A first look photo of the three witches was released on Disney+ Day in November.

The Halloween release date was announced by Shankman earlier this year.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (5m YouTube views) came out at the end of June. It starts by introducing us to Cassie, Izzy and Becca as they make plans that include stopping by the magic shop. When Becca and Izzy conduct a little spell it releases the Sanderson sisters, who set out immediately to reclaim their powers and gain their freedom.

“We’re back, witches” is the extremely family-safe play on words used on the accompanying poster, which shows the trio backlit so just their outlines can be seen. It’s very much a teaser poster and does an adequate job of conveying the core message that a sequel is on its way.

The three stars appeared in a short video where they watch and react to that trailer.

Waddingham appeared on “Kimmel” and talked about this movie along with other projects she’s involved in.

We get a better look at the three sisters on the next poster from late August. On this one they are “Back and more glorious than ever” as they make their way down a street of houses.

The sisters swap places with the young heroes of the story on the second poster that came out a couple weeks later. The witches here are seen looming over the action at the top of the design while the kids cautiously walk down the street with their bikes. It’s a pretty standard layout for a movie like this, the antagonists looking down at the protagonists, but it’s well-executed and contines the visual style already established.

The second trailer (7.1m YouTube views) was released in early September, opening with a flashback to the 1600s where Mother Witch apparently gives a teenage Winifred her book of spells. After that it’s a lot of the same bits seen in the first spot, but with more looks at how the Sandersons react to being in the 21st century, how the young girls try and remain safe while also figuring out how to send the witches back where they came from and more.

Midler, Najimy and Parker all took part in an interview covering how Midler was, among the three leads, the one pushing most regularly for a sequel after the first one became so popular but that they all signed on enthusiastically once it was greenlit.

A clip shows more of the Sandersons having to make due with what’s available as they seek to fly back to their home.

The final poster returns to the real value proposition of the movie and simply shows the Sanderson sisters on their various flying instruments as they run amuck through the fog.

In a featurette the original cast shares how excited they were to return to their characters while the new additions along with Fletcher talk about the movie’s story and what it means to add something new to the story.

We get a bit of new footage in a TV spot that positions the movie as the ultimate fall accessory. Another later commercial hits a slightly different selection of footage.

A series of character posters highlight the Sandersons: Mary, Winifred and Sarah.


I don’t think there was any expectation that this was going to be a groundbreaking or hugely innovative campaign. After all, it’s for a streaming original that happens to be a sequel to a movie that only took on a life of its own well after it was on cable.

But what comes through in most of the material is a sense of joy and fun from the people who made it, particularly Midler, Parker and Najimy. That’s apparent not only in the trailers but also comes through in the interviews and featurettes, where the affection they have for the characters and the enjoyment they experienced at being able to return to this world is clear.

All of that goes a long way in elevating the marketing from a cute little effort to one that’s a lot more attractive, even if a good portion of the audience – especially those who grew up with those regular cable or home video viewings every Halloween – doesn’t need to know much beyond the fact the film is happening.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling its streaming original about a precocious young detective.

timmy failure posterBased on the book of the same name by Stephan Pastis, this week’s Disney+ original feature Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made seems, on paper, to be a weird mashup of elements.

On the one hand, the story of Timmy (Winslow Fegley) seems similar to many Disney theatrical or made-for-TV movies of the past. Timmy lives with his single mother Patty (Ophelia Lovibond) and fancies himself a bit of an amateur detective. His partner in his agency is a massive polar bear only he can see, and they both have their work cut out for them when Patty’s car is stolen, leading them on all sorts of adventures.

On the other hand, the movie was cowritten and directed by Tom McCarthy, whose credits include Spotlight and The Station Agent.

Disney’s campaign for the movie has sold it as a quirky comedy geared toward kids, with broad comedy and imagination at the forefront.

The Posters

Timmy is introduced on the first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) with the copy at the top reading “Small detective. Big imagination.” To emphasize that he’s shown riding down the street on his scooter, his polar bear partner right behind him. It’s a simple image with just a single photo used, but it works to make the essential point.

The Trailers

It was early January, just a month out from release, when the first trailer (384,000 views on YouTube) was dropped. As it opens, Timmy is in the principal’s office, the result of an incident that got everyone’s attention. We then jump to the backstory, including the fact that Timmy fancies himself a detective, running his own agency and with a polar bear as his assistant. That’s just one aspect of Timmy’s active imagination, which he uses as he searches for his mother’s stolen car and gets into a ton of hijinks and other adventures while doing so.

Online and Social

There’s no standalone website for the movie but it was promoted on the social profiles of Disney Studios, with the Disney+ accounts amplifying those posts.

Advertising and Promotions

Though it wasn’t in competition there, the movie screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January, with the cast and filmmakers in attendance for the premiere event there.

A clip released around the time of Sundance has Timmy introducing himself and his detective agency – including his partner – to the audience.

Short videos like this were used not only as promotional tools on social media but as pre-roll ads online and as commercials elsewhere.

Just as the movie was about to become available, online ads that used a cropped version of the key art drove people to the Disney+ site where they could sign up.

Media and Press

During Sundance McCarthy was interviewed about taking a notable turn with this movie compared to his previous films. He engaged in a handful of other interviews as well to promote the film. News also came out a while ago that Disney was so happy with the movie it had already started developing a sequel.


There’s nothing revolutionary here, other than the fact that most movies like this don’t get screened at the Sundance Film Festival. Still, most all of the campaign hits the same marks you find in the advertising and promotions of any movie from Disney (or other studios) that featured plot points like Paul Giamati being painted blue and other such craziness.

But it’s charming in its way, and is just the kind of non-event content Disney+ will be stocking itself with to keep subscribers moderately engaged, the same strategy Netflix and others have used.

Picking Up The Spare

Online ads that used the basic part of the key art started showing up as the movie was about to debut.

Disney released a clip of Timmy being himself.

Outdated Cultural Depictions Deserve Relevant Updates

Acknowledging the past is the best way to educate the present.

With so many classic films available on Disney+ it was inevitable that the topic of how some of those movies have, in the vernacular of the day, not aged well would eventually come up. The studio’s history is so deep and the number of movies so substantial, it’s only natural that some of these movies feature characters, stories, songs and other attributes that were a product of their time but which are no longer considered acceptable or appropriate.

It’s a common problem any studio would have to deal with if it were to put its entire catalog all in one place. Paramount would likely have to revisit the problems with movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s – which features Mickey Rooney in yellowface – if it created a portal where it not only offered that and other movies it had produced over the years but was responsible for presenting it as well.

To address this very real issue, Disney has taken two approaches. Either they’ve A) kept the movie in the “vault” like it has with Song of South, realizing there’s little to no redeeming qualities to it or B) applied a note to the opening of the movie that reads thusly:

“This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

While some have criticized the move because it hasn’t been consistently applied, because it’s not specific enough or because it shows some kind of kowtowing to the liberal elites, it’s a step in the right direction.

No, the disclaimer may not be perfect in various ways but it’s better than nothing. More than that, it’s exactly what’s needed to put older material in its proper historical place.

Over the years there’s been so much debate over cultural works like Huck Finn and other books, movies, shows and more that feature language, terminology, racial depictions, sexual politics and other story elements. School boards have discussed banning books, removing movies from libraries and such but removal has never been an answer that’s respectful or long-term.

It’s much more sustainable to offer education, acknowledging that mistakes were made in the past that now seem ill-advised if not utterly offensive. There can be opportunities to keep up with where society is at the moment instead of constantly trying to flush things down the Memory Hole and hoping no one brings them up. Such tactics only consign serious debates about where those cultural artifacts stand in history and how we’ve advanced to the sidelines, not allowing for people to consider them as anything above a kind of illicit smut that is usually hidden under the mattress.

Room for improvement in the disclaimer exists in a few areas:

  • Lose the ambiguity: “It may…” is too wishy washy and lets the content owner off the hook for seriously evaluating what’s on display. If they know it does, state it clearly.
  • Make it consistent: it’s a valid criticism to say that not showing the disclaimer on all applicable films, so address that immediately.
  • Offer more details: What is it specifically that’s outdated and why? Pointing people to a domain where they could get more information on what it is that’s no longer appropriate and offer resources to learn about how things have changed.

These – and other – movies shouldn’t be erased from the cultural landscape, nor should they be altered to remove elements that are offensive. The originals can be presented as they are and were, but acknowledging that some of these things are well past their sell-by date.

Noelle – Marketing Recap

Originally meant for theaters, Disney’s holiday feature becomes the latest release to get shunted to streaming.

noelle posterThe idea of Santa Claus being a title passed through a family isn’t exactly new. Fred Claus, Arthur Christmas and other movies have used variations on the conceit to various degrees of success.

Now Disney revisits the premise with Noelle. Anna Kendrick stars as the titular Noelle, Santa’s daughter. With the title of Santa about to be bequeathed to her brother Nick (Bill Hader), she’s in full support mode, ready to help Nick get ready for his big debut. The problem is that Nick doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about the position and Noelle has to do a lot of propping up.

When Nick disappears just days before Christmas things get even more complicated. With the success of the holiday on the line, Noelle has to head down south to find her wayward brother.

Despite the top-line cast – which includes Julie Haggerty, Billy Eichner and others – the movie is coming not to theaters but as one of the launch titles for Disney+, the company’s subscription streaming service launching tomorrow. That lack of confidence in the prospects of the film may be behind some of the choices made in the campaign that’s been run.

The Posters

“Saving Christmas together? Oh joy.”

That’s the tagline used on the only one-sheet (by marketing agency LA) for the film, which shows Noelle and Nick looking at the camera slightly befuddled and less than enthusiastic about where they are. While the sentiment may be one familiar to anyone who’s not thrilled about the social requirements of the holiday season, it’s not one that’s supported by the rest of the campaign. Not only that, it seems directly counter to the story shown in the trailer. There seems to be little thought given to the design, which includes the promotional graphic for Disney+ showing all the brand logos under the company’s umbrella.

The Trailers

We meet Noelle Kringle in the first trailer (3.6 million views on YouTube), released in August at the same time as D23. Her brother Nick is about to assume the mantle of Santa Claus, despite being not that enthused for the job. She tries to help him and encourages him to get away, which he does just before Christmas. It’s her job to find him, then, and sets out to save Christmas but has some very “fish out of water” moments while venturing outside the North Pole. It’s the charm of Kendrick and Hader that make what looks like a cheesy story appear to be somewhat intriguing.

Online and Social

There doesn’t seem to be any official web presence for the film, not even a social profile of its own. Disney+ has given it support on its social channels, but that’s it.

Advertising and Publicity

The start of production, along with an apparent name change, was announced by Kendrick in 2017 on, of course, her Instagram feed. While it was originally meant for theatrical release the movie was pulled by Disney from its schedule and shifted over to what at the time was its unlaunched OTT streaming service, the first feature film to be designated for that platform. It’s inclusion in the catalog of what was eventually known as Disney+ was later confirmed.

Costumes from the movie were on display at D23 in August, where the trailer debuted.

Yahoo! debuted the first clip from the film in early November, showing Noelle trying to get the new Santa ready for his first night out.

An early screening for readers of the Disney Parks Blog was held last week.

Media and Press

There were a few interviews with Kendrick, including an appearance on “Good Morning America” but there doesn’t seem to have been a great deal of effort put into a press push.


Based on what’s shown of the movie, it absolutely seems like the kind of film that would have received a significant theatrical release 20 years ago. It has a well-liked cast with plenty of name recognition, a charming concept and a sense of familiarity that would have helped attract a decent audience. It would have made $90 million dollars at the box office and been considered a success.

While being part of launch day is a big deal, that the title finds itself on Disney+ is telling not just of how the theatrical marketplace has changed but how much confidence Disney has in anything that’s not part of a franchise brand. The marketing has a distinct lack of enthusiasm feel about it, like the company knew it had to do something with it but didn’t want to divert resources from the meta take on “High School Musical” or the big-budget “The Mandalorian.”

Picking Up the Spare

Kendrick was interviewed by Trevor Noah when she appeared on “The Daily Show” just as the movie was becoming available.

I’ve noticed a handful of online ads like this that lead back to the Disney+ site.

noelle online ad.png