How Netflix has sold its animated feature based on a hit series.
The three seasons of “Trollhunters” have been popular on Netflix. Created by Guillermo del Toro and produced by DreamWorks Animation, the series follows a group of teenage friends who find they must protect the world from all manner of mystical monsters and other threats.
Now the story concludes in the feature-length Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans. In the movie, the group of teenage protectors, led by James “Jim” Lake Jr., (voiced by Emile Hirsch) and Aja (voiced by Tatiana Maslany) must stop the threat posed by the Arcane Order and their massive Titans and keep the world safe.
Netflix’s campaign has relied heavily on the popularity of the three previous series, selling the film as a culmination of everything that’s come before.
The first poster, released in mid-June, shows the assembled team of heroes – human or otherwise – as they are prepared to face some unseen threat. There’s not a whole lot of information about the story, but those familiar with the series will be able to identify who’s who and make some conclusions about what to expect.
The same characters are shown on the second poster, released earlier this week. This time they’re posed on a building rooftop, the massive Titans they are facing off against looming in the background.
Finally the first trailer (800,000 views on YouTube) came out in mid-June. A war between mankind and magic is coming, we’re told, as we see the teen heroes told about the emergence of ancient titans determined to destroy civilization. There’s a lot of humor and a lot of action, both of which are familiar to anyone who’s seen the series, and overall it looks like a lot of fun.
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Netflix announced in August, 2020 that the movie would be coming some time in 2021, acting as a conclusion to the popular series.
A short teaser from late April finally made the movie’s release date official.
This was one of a few features Dreamworks promoted at the 2021 Annecy Animation Festival in June.
The cast appeared in a video released at the beginning of July warning people of the dangers of cyberbullying and telling anyone who’s been the victim of it to not fight back but to report the harassment.
Netflix put out the first few minutes of the video to help get people excited and show what they could look forward to.
Can’t wait for July 21? Here are the first few nail-biting minutes of TROLLHUNTERS: RISE OF THE TITANS—arriving next week on Netflix! pic.twitter.com/wDlD0TGmeO
Netflix hasn’t made as big a deal about this movie as it has for other recent releases, particularly the Fear Street trilogy, but the smaller campaign has played well to the elements that have made the original series successful. There’s a good deal of humor as well as the promise of plenty of supernatural action and adventure, which is exactly what fans are likely to expect. There could have been more done to pull in some new fans and explain how it concludes the three series already available, but that’s a relatively minor quibble in an otherwise solid push.
How Universal is upending the distribution game while selling its animated sequel.
In any other year, the release of Trolls World Tour would be (let’s be honest) only somewhat notable. The first movie was a solid hit, grossing $153 domestically and $346 million worldwide, and that insufferable song was everywhere, but if we were still living in the normal world it would largely be drowned out by Black Widow, Mulan and a few other releases.
This is not, of course, the normal world. Instead of releasing the movie in theaters among a host of others, Universal is sending the movie straight to video on demand while most all other releases have been pushed later in the year because all the theaters are closed.
That being said, the story of the movie is pretty standard fare for a sequel, seeking to create familiarity while at the same time expanding the world significantly. Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake return to voice Poppy and Branch, respectively, two music-loving trolls. They discover theirs is just one of many troll tribes, each one centered around a different style of music. Their world is threatened when Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) seeks to assemble an instrument that would wipe out all other kinds of music, and it’s up to Poppy and Branch to stop her.
With such an unusual – and slightly controversial – release plan in place, you might think the marketing from Universal would have undergone a big shift. Quite the contrary, the campaign has remained largely the same, still selling a bright musical adventure with tunes meant to get stuck in your head for months.
The initial poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) is very much a branded announcement one-sheet, showing Poppy wearing a tie dye shirt and sporting a concert badge showing the movie’s title treatment on a lanyard around her neck. It’s bright and colorful, meant to reestablish the brand for the audience.
A series of 21 posters showing hands of various colors raised in a familiar rock-centric configuration was released at about the same time the movie was announced on Universal’s schedule in June of last year.
In November what was more or less the theatrical poster (by marketing agency Leroy and Rose) came out, with many of the primary characters from the various tribes clutching a single guitar.
Another poster series were released in December (by Empire Design) showing the characters dancing and jumping in front of bright and sparkly backgrounds.
In January another singular one-sheet came out pitching this as “The happiest movie ever!” which is quite a claim to make.
A few other small sets of posters featuring some of the minor characters came out over the course of this year as well.
Poppy’s gentle rendition of “Sounds of Silence” is interrupted by blaring guitars as the first trailer (23 million views on YouTube) opens. It turns out there are other trolls, each with their own type of music. Uniting all six strings will destroy all except rock (of course) so it’s up to Poppy and the others to travel around and stop those who are trying to do just that.
In November the second trailer (11.7 million views on YouTube) came out, opening with a DJ dance party being rudely interrupted by the Hard Rock Trolls. Finding the queen of that clan is out to remove the music from all the other trolls, Poppy and Branch set out to stop her, discovering what makes all the other kinds of music the various troll factions represent special.
The third trailer (41 million views on YouTube) from March sells the same basic idea, showing off a few more of the musical sequences and other gags, most of which are based around songs.
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The official website for the movie is fairly standard, with basic information and content available. Notable, though, is that instead of a prompt to buy tickets as would be found on most sites this one features a “Where To Watch” button offering the various VOD stores it’s available on.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Early footage from the movie was included in Universal’s CineEurope pitch to exhibitors in mid-June of last year, acting as the official announcement the movie was in production.
Just like with the original, music once again played a major role in the marketing of the movie. Timberlake released “The Other Side” with SZA in late February, with a lyric video for the song showing footage from the film coming out shortly after that. In early March a lyric video for “Don’t Slack,” Timberlake’s collaboration with Anderson.Paak, was released. An official video for the song starring Kendrick along with Paak and Timberlake came out in early April, just before the movie was released.
A Giphy-powered sticker pack was available for Instagram users to add to their Stories.
When the Covic-19 pandemic caused most every theater to close, Universal pivoted by announcing it would release the new movie directly to VOD on the day it was scheduled to hit theaters. That caused a number of tidal waves to emerge in the industry, with exhibitors – through NATO – essentially saying this is a grudge they intend to hold on to tightly, especially since every other movie from Universal and other studios had simply been delayed, not pulled from theaters completely.
For some reason, a 10-hour looping video of Smooth Jazz Chazz (Kenny G) was released, maybe to calm everyone’s nerves. That was followed by a video of the cast performing “Just Sing” from the soundtrack.
Because everyone who was newly working from home was using Zoom to participate in video meetings, Universal put out some movie-themed backgrounds that could be uploaded as custom backgrounds for those Zoom calls.
The K-Pop and Reggaeton clans engaged in a dance battle in a clip given exclusively to Fandango’s MovieClips.
Last week a new clip of the Trolls singing a medley of pop hits from the last ~20 years came out, with the stars talking about their characters and the story at the end. Kendrick and Bloom were also joined by a couple young fans to engage in a whisper challenge.
China Glaze, which introduced a line of movie-themed nail polish that were available on their own or in various packages.
General Mills, which put movie-branding on a selection of of cereals, yogurts and more, prompting consumers to scan a QR code on those packages to unlock an exclusive movie clip.
Oreo, which put characters from the movie on packages and gave people early access to the “Just Sing” video. There was also an AR experience that could be unlocked.
Lays, which put out movie-branded bags of Poppables and also ran a sweepstakes whose prize is unclear.
Punky Color, which put out a line of movie-inspired hair color products.
McDonald’s, which is putting movie toys in Happy Meal boxes this week.
Media and Publicity
There has been, oddly, no discernable press activity for the film, save for one video interview of Timberlake by “SNL” buddy Jimmy Fallon. That may be from some combination of the following real or hypothetical factors:
Concern that active promotion by talent would further irritate NATO and its members, souring relations between them and the studios even further.
The almost complete stoppage of the late night talk shows in recent weeks, though other celebrities have been able to make it work.
No ability to run large-scale events like premieres and other parties.
My guess is it’s a little bit of everything. There’s nothing substantive stopping stars from doing phone or video interviews with the media, so between logistics and business considerations the reality is there’s been almost nothing on this front.
What I can’t really get over is how NATO’s full-on meltdown over Universal’s plans for the movie are so out of proportion for what it is. There wasn’t time to get tracking information on the movie before society crumbled, but it would have been unlikely given the competition it was meant to face that it would have been a massive box office smash.
So I’m left believing that NATO et al simply wanted to use this release as an opportunity to place a stake in the ground, registering their opinion on a VOD strategy they’ve been trying to fend off for a decade. Universal moving first in this direction allowed the group to take a hard stance on the matter without honking off a more powerful studio, a theory bolstered by the stunning absence of confrontational “we won’t forget this!” statement directed at Disney following the news it will bring Artemis Fowl direct to Disney+ later this year.
All of that aside, the campaign here is alright. It’s a big, bright, annoying movie being sold in exactly that manner. The most interesting part of the push is the release strategy, but with no apparent pivot because of that change, it’s not even something that changes the way it’s received or who it’s targeted at.
Picking Up the Spare
Via Adweek, Universal offered a Snapchat AR lens that let people turn themselves into one of the movie’s characters.
Kendrick and Timberlake participated in a video chat with hospital patients, an event coordinated by “Today.”
A number of new featurettes, all of which are of course very music – centric , have been released in the last few weeks. Kendrick made a virtual appearance on “The Tonight Show” to chat with host Jimmy Fallon.
How Universal Pictures is selling the period drama with a very personal story.
1917, the new film from director Sam Mendes, who cowrote the script with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, is one of a handful of recent projects to revisit what at the time was being called The Great War or The War To End All Wars, only later understood to be simply World War I. It joins the high profile They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary produced by Peter Jackson meant to remind audiences of the terror and cost of the war.
This time the story is fiction but the reality, as conceived by Mendes and Wilson-Caims, is still very real. In the spotlight are two young soldiers in the British Army, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman). The two are given a very important mission: They must get themselves across enemy territory in order to deliver a message that 1,600 soldiers, including Blake’s brother, are heading into a trap.
It’s just the kind of historic drama that makes sense for a holiday, awards-season release. Universal’s campaign has focused on Mendes’ technical achievements with the film, which sports a 92 percent “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes and is tracking for an opening weekend of around $20 million.
The movie’s title is presented on the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) as four enormous numbers, each transparent and showing a sunset in the background. At the bottom of the last two numbers you see the damaged barbed wire that marks the battlefield of the story.
That same image and format is shown on the second poster, but with a few key additions: 1) Blake and Schofield are seen running away from the camera, 2) A note that this comes “From the director of Skyfall, and 3) The tagline “Time is the enemy,” something that highlights the stakes for the young soldiers being shown.
Those two are shown more closely on the IMAX poster, this time crawling across a field that’s being strafed by an enemy plane, dirt being thrown up and still-hot bullets falling all around them.
We’re deep in the trenches of WWI as the first trailer (14 million views on YouTube) opens, with two soldiers investigating what turns out to be an enemy bunk. Blake and Leslie are summoned and given a mission: Find another battalion and stop a planned attack that is doomed to fail and result in 1,600 men being killed. They’re on their own and racing against the clock as they attempt to bring their message to those who need it and save the lives of all those men.
The second trailer (19 million views on YouTube) was released in early October. It tells the same basic story as the first, but offers much more footage of the journey Blake and Leslie take in their journey to find the battalion Blake’s brother is part of and warn them they’re about to walk into a German trap. We see the kind of horrific conditions that made up the WWI battlefront and what the two soldiers need to do to survive on their own in that man made hell.
The final trailer (900,000 views on YouTube), which came out just last week, hits a lot of the same beats as the other spots, emphasizing the dramatic nature of the journey the two soldiers embark on. Some new footage is shown here to make that even more clear, including more showing some of the other people they encounter on their mission. It also includes callouts for the multiple awards the movie and its filmmakers have already been nominated for, which is the real point of the trailer.
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Most of the marketing materials and other content can be found on the movie’s official website, which uses some of the previously-seen key art.
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A behind the scenes featurette was released in late September that has Mendes explaining the story and why he shot the film as he did, with others joining in to share how the movie takes you into the lives of the characters and their journey.
Preview screenings held in early December immediately resulted in the movie being included in most award season conversations, especially regarding Mendes and his direction.
An extended featurette from December had Mendes talking about what it was that lead him to write this movie and begin developing it as well as his experiences during production and more.
While it’s not listed on the movie’s official site, the 1917 One Shot Challenge was a promotion run by the studio encouraging aspiring filmmakers to create their own short film that tells a story in a single take. That’s a nice way to get some buzz in a critical audience in a way that’s contextual to the movie.
The first clip released came exclusively via Fandango MovieClips and shows some of the hellish situations Blake and Leslie have to get through to complete their mission, along with how incredible Mendes’ direction and camera work are.
Short videos like this were used as TV spots and pre-roll ads. Promoted posts on social media and online ads used those videos along with the key art to drive traffic to the website where people could buy tickets.
The cast and crew all came out for the premieres in London and Los Angeles in recent weeks.
Media and Press
Much of the focus of the press, especially following the release of the second trailer in October, was on the single shot Mendes planned that plays a central role in the film. The director talked about that in interviews like this. Later on it came back up in additionalinterviewswith cinematographer Roger Deakins and star Dean Charles Chapman among others.
Cowriter Krysty Wilson-Cains joined Mendes for a joint interview where they talked about crafting the narrative of the film and the difficulty they had doing so.
At the film’s premiere Mendes spoke about the very personal inspiration for the story.
In the last couple weeks the movie has benefitted from a number of awards nominations, particularly for either the film as a whole or Mendes’ direction, largely because of the innovate style it’s presented in.
It’s unlikely that the general public is going to swayed to see the movie by all the praise heaped on Mendes for his technical achievements. That kind of focus on the technical aspects of the filmmaking doesn’t often work to make a huge difference in crowds who are just looking to be pleasantly entertained in theaters.
Making that message the central component of the movie’s campaign is then meant to appeal to those who identify as cinephiles and who have followed Mendes’ career more closely over the years. It’s also meant to influence the awards season voters, a strategy that seems to be working.
For everyone else, what’s presented here is a Very Good war drama, something that usually resonates at the end of the calendar year to some extent. A branding focus was found early on and subsequently reinforced, creating a strong identity that is instantly familiar no matter where it’s encountered.
Picking Up the Spare
There were more stories about the technicalaspects of making the innovative film. Also some discussion here about how rare it is to see WWI portrayed on film.
MacKay was interviewed again about how he connected with the character he plays. Another profile talked about how he seeks to disappear into his rolls. He later appeared on “The Tonight Show.”
The cast and crew appeared in an IMAX featurette that once more focused on the heavy lifting involved in shooting the film.