red notice – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold a star-studded action comedy.

red notice poster Netflix
Red Notice poster

Red Notice, out this week on Netflix after a brief theatrical run, features the kind of cast that is any producer’s dream. Dwayne Johnson stars as FBI profiler John Hartley, who is on the trail of two high-profile thieves: Sarah Black (Gal Gadot) and Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds). When Hartley is wrongfully accused of being a criminal himself he has to team up with Booth to bring in Black and prove his innocence.

Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, the movie has been sold as a big extravaganza with major star power. Let’s take a look.

announcement and casting

Universal Pictures won a bidding war for the project in early 2018, beating out several other studios for a movie that was seen as a sure thing with Johnson attached. Gadot was added later that year.

The first bit of news about the movie was kind of unusual in that it was a revelation that Johnson had asked for $1 million to promote the film to his social media followers in the lead up to release. That’s…not that big a deal? You could argue this kind of promotion would be in the talent’s own self-interest anyway, but if someone’s willing to pay you to do it as well, go for it.

In July 2019 it was revealed Universal had let the project go, with Netflix picking it up while at the same time dismissing Universal’s previously-announced release date and adding Reynolds to the cast. Right after that it was reported the movie’s budget was somewhere around $200 million, a substantial figure for an original property.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Even so, Reynolds mentioned it briefly when virtually appearing on “The Tonight Show” earlier this year.

the marketing campaign

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate.

A release date was finally announced by Netflix – via the social media profiles of the cast – in July.

The first trailer (4.1m YouTube views) was released in September. It sells the basic story of Hartley having to team up with Booth to take down Black but like the rest of the campaign it’s primary goal is to convey the chemistry between the three leads and the action-packed humor of the story.

Later that month the movie was part of Netflix’s TUDUM virtual fan event, where an extended clip of the fight between the three main characters in a museum display room was released.

A substantial profile of Johnson touched on all the usual topics, from his early days in wrestling to his political ambitions to his daily training routine and so on.

Posters started coming out in mid- to late-October. Those included a theatrical one-sheet showing all three leads who are labeled “Pros and Cons” as well as character posters for Hartley, Black and Booth. Those character posters came out to count down the last three weeks before the movie’s release.

The second trailer came out at that time also, opening with the scene of Hartley recruiting Booth to try and find Black. That plan is complicated when Black frames Hartley for a crime he didn’t commit, meaning he and Booth now need to work together to both bring her in and clear his name. That’s all in service of what’s really being sold here, which is Reynolds and Johnson quipping at each other while Gadot looks lovely and dangerous and outsmarts both of them time and again.

Netflix put out one of their “watch this before…” videos that explains the story and characters while also offering some other recommendations on what to watch with the three stars.

The movie’s red carpet premiere, held earlier this month, was livestreamed, with the stars and others in attendance. At that event they boasted of the size of the premiere while also talking about how much fun they had making the movie, how they hope the audience enjoys it and more.

Of course because they both star in their own DC super hero franchises, a joint interview with Gadot and Johnson included asking them how those characters would have acted in the events of this film. Those two also appeared together on “Kimmel”.

An interview with Thurber had him talking about both the process of working with the cast and the technical aspects of production, including how he and others kept many of the effects practical instead of adding them later.

Just before the movie came to Netflix Johnson announced a new promotion where he would choose Tweets people shared about someone who’s done you wrong and put them on the Times Square digital billboard promoting the film. Netflix boosted that message with a paid promoted trend on Twitter.

overall

If you’re a fan of the three leads, you’ll likely be on board with this campaign.

If you’re a fan of big, silly action comedies, you’ll likely be on board with this campaign.

If you’re a fan of movies that are going to be completely enjoyable even if you only three-quarters watch them while doing other things, you’ll likely be on board with this campaign.

Basically there’s a lot of good stuff here but none of it should be mistaken for fine art. This is a popcorn flick meant to be enjoyed for what it is, not what it could be or what other movies have been.

jungle cruise – marketing recap

How Disney has sold an action-comedy brand extension.

Jungle Cruise, based on the Disney Parks attraction of the same name, has been in development for nearly two decades. Finally hitting theaters – and Disney+ Premier Access – the movie stars Emily Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton, a scientist in the first decades of the 20th century who’s determined to find the Tree of Life somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. With German competition on the same trail, Houghton enlists the aid of Frank “Skipper” Wolff (Dwayne Johnson). Wolff captains a steamboat selling naive tourists an embellished adventure down the river. Along the way the two have to survive not only their German competitors but all the dangers the Amazon has to offer on its own.

With a story that meshes the Disney ride with a bit of both Heart of Darkness and The African Queen, Disney has mounted a campaign that sells the movie – projected to earn $25-30 million at the box office – as an adventure comedy with two charming stars. Initial reviews have been middling, earning the film a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. Let’s take a look at the details.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in October 2019, shows what the movie is all about, with Lily and Frank standing at the front of his rickety boat as it travels up the river and through the jungle setting. Arrows sticking out of the hull show how dangerous the trip is, as do the skulls floating in the water and piranha leaping out to try and get a bite.

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.

There’s a definite The Mummy-esque vibe on the next poster, released in March 2020. Houghton and Wolff are shown in the center swinging on a vine, the boat that is carrying them below as it makes its way up the river. Surrounding the pair in a vine-covered frame are some of the supporting characters as well as the other threats they’ll face along the way.

Same goes for the next poster from May of this year as the campaign ramped back up after a year off. Both this and the previous one-sheet look like someone aiming for a Drew Struzan style, though not quite hitting the mark.

A series of character posters featuring a fun design reminiscent of promotions for an expedition came out at the end of June.

Similar approaches were taken on the posters for IMAX, Dolby and RealD 3D, all of which try to evoke a feeling of nostalgia with their painted approaches and designs that are filled with all kinds of story detail.

The final theatrical poster was released just a couple weeks ago, accompanied by two more character posters for Houghton and Wolff.

The Trailers

The first trailer (5.3m views on YouTube), released in early October 2019, immediately presents Lily as a take charge explorer on the trail of a hidden plant rumored to have incredible healing properties. To help she enlists the services of Frank, a tour boat captain who engages in a bit of showmanship to keep his customers entertained on their travels. This trip is going to bring both of them into contact with threats that are much more real, we see.

The same basic premise is laid out in the second trailer (7.2m views on YouTube) from March 2020. Frank is skeptical of Lily’s claims since he’s been on the same hunt for the great healing power in the jungle. They’re going to face a number of threats on their journey, whether it’s from the animals around them, mysterious submarines tracking their movements, or supernatural forces that protect what they’re seeking. It’s all positioned as a big adventure.

Lots of CGI-heavy action and adventure is on display in the trailer (2.4m views on YouTube released over a year after the last one in May 2021. We get the same message of how Frank and Lily are somewhat reluctant partners who have to protect each other when the jungle turns dangerous and more threats present themselves. It’s fun and silly and works.

Two trailers – one featuring Frank’s perspective and the other featuring Lily’s – came out in late June. Each has an introduction from the appropriate star, with Lily’s coming out second so Blunt can label her’s as the “real trailer” unlike the fake one Johnson put out earlier.

Online and Social

Not much to the movie’s official website, just information how to buy tickets or sign up for Disney+ and basic marketing content.

Advertising, Publicity and Promotions

Fun little set videos were shared at the beginning and wrap of production in 2018, immediately establishing that the campaign would be centered on the interplay between Blunt and Johnson.

Attendees of Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August 2019 were treated to an appearance by Blunt and Johnson along with other details revealed at the event.

Like many movies, its release date was pushed – in this case by a whole year – as a result of theater closures in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. Eventually, in May of this year, Disney announced the film would receive a joint theatrical/Disney+ Premier Access release, with it becoming available to other streaming subscribers later on.

Disney announced in June it was reviving the “Behind The Attraction” series on Disney+ that would take viewers behind the scenes of popular rides and other locations at its parks, including Jungle Cruise.

Johnson made an appearance at Essence Fest in June, bringing with him exclusive footage from the movie.

TV spots like this began airing at that time, once more highlighting not only the adventure but also the chemistry between the two stars.

A featurette from early July has the stars talking about the story and its origins in the Disney World attraction. Another short featurette has the stars and director talking about the stunts and action of the movie.

At this point Blunt and Johnson began making TV appearances, either together or solo, including on “GMA,” “The Late Show,” “The Tonight Show,” NPR’s “Morning Edition” and elsewhere.

Speaking of that attraction, it got a makeover in early July that removed some of the more dated elements, many of which were much more overtly offensive than they were when the ride was first introduced.

Ramirez talked about shooting the film when he appeared on “The Tonight Show.” Johnson did likewise when he appeared on “Kimmel.” Both he and Blunt talked about working together on “Access Hollywood.”

One of Lily’s daring escapes was featured in the first clip, given exclusively to Fandango MovieClips. Other clips showed more of the supernatural and very natural threats they face as they make their way along the Amazon.

Additional videos showed off the fun the cast, including costar Jack Whitehall, had during the production, playing a game of “mystery crate” with props from the movie,

A recent THR cover story focused on the pairing of Johnson and Blunt, including how he worked to overcome her reluctance to sign on to the project because he wanted to work with her and thought she’d be brilliant. It also covered some of the initial screening reactions, which led Disney to emphasize the dynamic between the leads.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra was also interviewed about why he signed on to the project, how it fits into his career so far and more. Whitehall also spoke about his character being openly gay.

The world premiere event was held at Disneyland (natch) earlier this week with the cast and crew in attendance and talking about how much fun the film is.

A few additional clips like this showing another harrowing escape of Houghton’s came out in the last few days.

Promotional partners:

  • Applebee’s, which offered a free movie ticket for those spending $25 on food. The promotion was supported by online and other ads.
  • Echelon, which gave members a look at exclusive behind the scenes footage during scheduled themed exercise sessions.
  • GetMyBoat, which ran a sweepstakes awarding either a grand prize of a boat outing for six or tickets to see the movie.

Overall

This moment, seen in many of the trailers, TV spots and other videos, perfectly sums up Disney’s marketing of the movie.

Sorry The Rock GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

Instead of selling it *just* as an adventure comedy, the campaign has sold the movie as a buddy adventure comedy, with Blunt and Johnson offering clear point/counterpoint dynamics that are emphasized by their very different characters and statures. That’s why they’ve frequently appeared together in TV and other interviews and why there were two or three instances of them being on opposite sides as they introduced trailers, announced production was starting and so on.

It’s a common tactic used for many movies with Johnson but it’s great to see Blunt able to show off her comedic chops a bit and have some fun, with Johnson acting as a perfectly earnest if exaggerated foil.

Now we just have to see if it’s enough to bring people to theaters.

Jumanji: The Next Level – Marketing Recap

You can read my entire recap of the marketing campaign for Jumanji: The Next Level at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Nothing much of note on the movie’s official website, which just wants to make sure you get the marketing content you’ve likely already seen and buy tickets now.

Media and Publicity

A first cast photo was shared in mid-March, kicking off the publicity campaign for the film.

Aside from appearances on late night talk shows by Johnson, Black, Hart and others in the cast there doesn’t seem to have been a whole lot of press activity for the movie, something common among this week’s releases.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

Sony released a sizzle reel from the premiere event. There was also a special Comedy Central promotion on how Johnson and Hart learned to be old people.

Another nice profile on the pairing of DeVito and Glover. Meanwhile Gillan was interviewed about her unexpected career path as action hero.

Gillan appeared on “Kimmel.”

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Nothing particularly surprising on the movie’s official website, just the usual mix of marketing materials along with links to social profiles.

Media and Press

The two stars were jointly interviewed about the over-the-top story and the continuation of the F&TF franchise.

As the marketing for this film was well underway news broke that producer Neal Moritz, who had been with the franchise since the beginning, was being removed from future films by Universal, their patience with his confrontational style having reached its end. More immediately, it contended he had no standing as producer on this film since it didn’t fall under the terms of his contract because it was a spinoff of the franchise, one the studio needed to cultivate for future expansions and sequels.

A profile of Johnson focused on how this is just the latest in a string of films featuring the actor saving the world in some manner. A couple months later an EW cover story focused on Elba and his addition to the franchise as well as how he and the other two stars meshed during production.

There was also a profile of Elba on his own that covered his career and why he’s made the choices he has, including signing on to this project.

Johnson’s work to present the Samoan siva tau war dance in an authentic way – and the impact it had on him and his family – was the subject of another interview with the actor. Director David Leitch was also profiled, with the focus being on his status as one of Hollywood’s go-to guys for action films.

Late night TV appearances included Elba talking with Colbert as well as Kirby and Johnson on “Fallon.”

Kirby, who (despite a notable age difference) played Statham’s sister and Johnson’s love interest, finally got a profile of her own. Also getting a turn in the spotlight was the stunt and effects team that added their flair to the movie.

More from Leitch on certain secrets of the movie’s story here. The director was also featured in an IMAX promo video while the format company created its own short spot for the movie.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

Leitch continued to talk about the pressure he felt taking his first stab at the franchise.

Adweek details a Snapchat sponsored AR lens that added some of the movie’s vehicles to people’s surroundings.

Skyscraper – Marketing Recap

skyscraper posterIn lieu of plot recap, which is the opening of my recap of the film’s marketing at The Hollywood Reporter, I will simply direct your attention to this Skyscraper-themed thread from Screencrush’s Matt Singer.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website opens with the trailer and when you close it there are big buttons encouraging you to watch it again or find out about the VR experience. In addition to the usual content like a gallery, story synopsis and so on, there’s a seperate site where you can Discover the Pearl, the hotel where the action takes place. There you can find out about the building’s construction and engineering, discover its eco-friendly features and more. That’s a nice feature that adds context to the story, helping anyone who’s checked it out have all that in mind.

Media and Publicity

There’s been an odd lack of publicity by Johnson and others for this release, strange considering the actor has so many movies coming out throughout the year that he’s pretty much constantly on the media circuit. Johnson and director Rawson Marshall Thurber talked in a joint interview about this movie and the state of Hollywood in general but there wasn’t a whole lot of other earned media happening.

Overall

If there’s any problem I have with the marketing, it’s that the nods to the kinds of 1970s disaster movies it wants to invoke are ill-placed. This movie has more in common with Die Hard than with The Towering Inferno, so it should have leaned more heavily in that direction. It’s a small nit to pick, but unless you’ve got a cast of 7-8 “that guy/woman” types who are also running around the burning building and dying off one-by-one as they find a way out, don’t go there.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

It was apparent in the film’s campaign, but the distinct lack of sense of humor was one (at least potential) reason the movie didn’t perform up to expectations at the box-office. While I haven’t seen it, the problem likely stems from how it adds the element of putting the hero’s wife and children in the middle of the action. That increases the stakes, but it also makes a wise-cracking protagonist odd and out of place. You’ll note that Die Hard, which the movie clearly was aspiring to be, avoided that.

 

Dwayne Johnson and director Rawson Marshall talk here about Neve Campbell’s character, who was all but missing completely from the campaign.

 

This is an interesting profile of Johnson and the clout he wields, including his formidable social media presence.

 

Also, the movie has come under some scrutiny as another example of Hollywood casting an able-bodied actor to play a disabled character, which is part of a bigger conversation around representation.

 

Costar Bryon Mann has received a bit more attention in the last few days, with a couple interviews that let him talk about his career, working in his home city of Hong Kong as well as the movie specifically.
Dwayne Johnson started making the late night talk show rounds in the last couple days, including an appearance on “Colbert.”

Rampage – Marketing Recap

rampage poster 2Dwayne Johnson continues his efforts to appear in a full half of Hollywood’s yearly output by starring in this week’s big special-effects action film Rampage, based on the classic video game of the same name. Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a primatologist at a zoo who shares a special bond with a gorilla named George, who he rescued at a young age.

One night George gets out of his enclosure and is exposed to a chemical being released from a strange object that had fallen from the sky. The next day the gorilla is twice his normal size and just keeps getting bigger. That draws the attention of the feds, who want to know what’s happening, as does Okoye. Soon everyone realizes George wasn’t the only animal feeling the effects of the chemical, leading to a climactic showdown in the streets of Chicago between a massive gorilla, wolf and alligator.

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – Marketing Recap

jumanji poster 20The premise of the first Jumanji was pretty simple: A man who’s been trapped in a board game for 26 years finally breaks loose and the kids who freed him have to stop the animals and other dangers that came out with him. 27 years later the movie is finally getting a sequel in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

The film follows four disparate teenagers who are all sentenced to detention one afternoon. Forced to clean out the high school storage room the discover an old video game system that still works and decide to play “Jumanji” to pass the time. They wind up being sucked into the game, taking on the physical forms of different characters. Now appearing as grown adults (played by Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black), they have to find their way out while also saving Alex, a man who was trapped in the game back in 1996.

Continue reading “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – Marketing Recap”