Cruella – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling a villain’s origin story.

Emma Stone daring you to say something on the Cruella movie poster

Giving cinematic antagonists a feature-length backstory that makes their later actions if not reasonable at least understandable has been a trend in Hollywood for a decade or more now. Disney, which has been down this road before with movies like the two Maleficent entries, is back with another with this week’s Cruella.

Emma Stone stars as Estella, an aspiring fashion designer in the punk London of the 1970’s, whose dreams never seem to come true. When she finally manages to land a position with the powerful Baroness (Emma Thompson), Estella’s talent becomes apparent as does her penchant for mayhem and cruelty. Eventually she succumbs fully to that side of her personality and becomes Cruella de Vil.

After a campaign that has run in the relatively concise period starting earlier this year the movie arrives this week both in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.

The Posters

When the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in February it immediately established not only Stone’s appearance as the title character but also the overall look and feel of the film. Specifically, a look and feel rooted in the design aesthetics of the 70s punk scene, with its title treatment that seems to be written in lipstick and more.

A similar set of messages is conveyed on the second poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) released just a few days later.

The next one-sheet from early April pulls the camera out to show more of a full-body shot of Cruella.

In early May a series of character posters came out with Cruella and Baroness along with Cruella’s henchman Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and her childhood friend turned journalistic nemesis Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).

Another set that adds Jasper (Joel Fry), Cruella’s other assistant, to the mix came out a bit later in May.

The Dolby Cinemas poster looks exactly like the cover to a punk album, with Cruella, Horace and Jasper standing against a white brick wall, a dalmatian blurred in front of them as it runs past the camera. The Regal Cinemas poster has Cruella hovering the background as the other characters are arranged in front of her along with her signature town car.

The Trailers

It’s clear from the first trailer (13 million views on YouTube), released in mid-February, that we will be watching an origin story of a villain. That’s communicated through the handful of narrated lines about how she was “destined to be a psycho” and such, all of which sets up a twisted personality. Thankfully there’s no reason for that shown here, it just is what it is. Also unclear is what Cruella is acting out toward specifically in the story, as we just see scenes of general mayhem and craziness, not a unified goal or target. That’s fine since really it’s Stone’s performance that’s the main draw as she wears outlandish wigs and dresses and chews all available scenery.

A final trailer (6.2 million views on YouTube) came out in early April that continues selling it as a villain origin story, but one where Estella’s transformation is in large part triggered by the workplace abuse she suffers at the hands of Baroness von Hellman. It’s actually a lot more interesting for the backstory that’s offered as well as because more Thompson is always a good thing.

Online and Social

No website but there were social pages like this Twitter profile where updates were shared.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

The first big coming out party for the movie was at Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August of last year. Costumes from the film were on display and the first still showing Stone in character was released.

More stills offering additional looks at Cruella and The Baroness came out in late February following the release of the trailer.

A new “sneak peek” video was released in mid-March during the Grammy Awards ceremony showing the indignities Cruella suffers on her way up as well as how she makes her own opportunities along the way to her eventual fate.

Unsurprisingly, Disney announced in March that the movie would receive a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access release.

It’s notable that one of the first big interviews with director Craig Gillespie came in British Vogue given the campaign’s focus on fashion and lewks.

TV spots like this began to come out toward the end of April, some focusing on the story’s fashion industry setting, others on how Cruella grew into the villain she would eventually become.

The first clip, also released at the end of April, shares the moment when Cruella comes into her own by making a big entrance at a party hosted by her boss.

A short featurette that came out around the same time has Stone talking about taking on the character and more.

Additional spots and promos in the weeks leading up to release include a “Meet the Villain” extended look at Cruella’s hijinks, a “Call Me Cruella” promo that focuses on the rivalry between her and The Baroness, a clip of The Baroness’ chilling entry, a commercial showing the event audiences can expect in theaters or online, another clip showing Cruella commandeering what would become her signature car, a featurette on the fashion of the characters, a commercial showing Cruella making plans for her big coming out and the music.

In mid-May the movie became one of the first major releases to hold an actual red carpet premiere event in Los Angeles, a sign that nature was indeed healing. Stone, Howell-Baptiste, Gillespie and others were in attendance while costumes and other props were on display for attendees to check out.

Just days before the movie came out Disney released Florence Welch’s “Call Me Cruella” from the film’s soundtrack, which also included a number of songs appropriate to the era and setting of the story.

cruella online ad

Online ads used various incarnations of the key art to send clicks to the Disney+ sign-up/sign-in page.

Stone talked more about taking on such a well-known character when she appeared on “GMA.” She and Thompson both talked here about the looks of their respective characters while Glenn Close, who of course previously played Cruella on-screen and was a producer on this movie, shared her ideas for a sequel.

Promotional partners for the movie include:


It’s an interesting choice made by Disney to sell this as a glam fashion period piece in addition to a villain origin story. Everything about the campaign, from the interviews in Vogue to the featurettes on the costumes to the posters that go big on the hair and feather-strewn dresses, conveys a black and white fierceness to the audience.

While you can take issue with how accurate those attempts are to the era portrayed, it certainly works to create a strong visual identity for the movie. Everything is black and white and red all over, lipstick scrawled on a photo and dangerous attitudes conveyed through determined looks.

Zombieland: Double Tap – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Zombieland: Double Tap at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

There’s not a whole lot going on over at the movie’s official website, just the standard marketing materials along with lots of calls to action to buy tickets.

Sony created the usual social profiles for the movie, but took notably different approaches to them. The Facebook page has all the expected updates about promotional activities and new marketing assets being released. The Twitter profile has more updates and a more casual vibe, which isn’t unusual. What is worth calling out is that the Facebook uses “the Royal We” in framing how those updates are shared while on Twitter the updates come from an unnamed “I,” giving the profile a much more personal touch. That tactic is designed to create a stronger connection with followers by making it clear there’s a real person behind the posts, one that is just as excited about this new movie as they hope others are. So

Media and Press

It was over two years before any further update was offered. That’s when co-writer Paul Wernick made comments about how the movie was actually pretty close at hand, aiming toward a 2019 release.

Harrelson commented on the fun he had during production while promoting The Highwaymen earlier this year.

After the trailer debuted, Fleischer talked about why the sequel took so long to come together while also sharing comments from Stone that she wants to do one of these every decade to check in on the characters.

The cast made the late night and morning talk show rounds, with Deutsch and Zuckerberg appearing on “The Tonight Show” while the whole cast appeared on “The Tonight Show” to engage in a bit. Harrelson hosted “Saturday Night Live” a couple weeks ago.

AMC Theaters offered an exclusive featurette and interview with three of the leads. They commented on the same array of topics as before at the movie’s premiere.

Fleischer talked about how he revived old instincts to return to the decade-old stories and characters. He and others were interviewed again about the potential for another sequel in a decade.


Picking Up the Spare

More from the movie’s screenwriters here about their ideas for a third installment. The return of a certain celebrity in a cameo role was also covered, as was the unease felt by Stone and others in the cast. Deutch also talked about her addition to the story.

A blooper reel came out just after the movie was in theaters.

The Favourite – Marketing Recap

the favourite poster 2The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, tells the story of two women desperate to hang on to the coattails of power. Set in 18th century England, Olivia Colman stars as Queen Anne, who may be going slightly mad. She’s determined to continue engaging in her life of luxury, even as the country she leads engages in a war with France.

Amidst all this her friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) continues to enjoy her proximity to power and the influence that comes with that. Her position is threatened, at least in her eyes, by the arrival of a new aid to the Queen, Abigail (Emma Stone). Thus begins a jockeying for power with plenty of backstabbing, manipulation and other bad actions.

The Posters

the favourite posterI don’t even know how to describe the format of the first poster. The usual information – title, cast and other talent – is all included. But the layout is so unique, including the squares formed around those names, it takes a minute to realize what’s really going on. Then there’s the fact that it features not just a tagline but a whole story synopsis right there in smallish type. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.

The relationship between the three women is on display in the theatrical poster. Queen Anne and Lady Sarah are shown to the side in their own little frame, with Abigail sulking on the floor, just outside the conversation. At the top is the same title treatment and credits block seen earlier.

The Trailers

There’s a mad queen at the center of the story being sold in the first teaser, which has her and those around her engaging in all sorts of royal hijinks that are seen as anywhere from slightly eccentric to completely bonkers. It’s all very fast-paced and presented as even more off-kilter because of the fisheye point of view the camera often takes. Lanthimos’ previous work is of course name-dropped to help appeal to the crowd that’s become fans of his.

Everyone’s got their own agendas at work in the second trailer, which debuted at the same time the movie was making the festival rounds. Lady Sarah is madly protective of the attention of Queen Anne, but Abigail’s presence in the house means there’s someone competing for that attention. Backstabbing, threats and passive aggressive interplay follows as they try to keep the Queen from falling apart while also attempting to take their in-house rivals down.

Online and Social

Fox Searchlight’s official website has all the standard material like the trailer, gallery and synopsis. The “How Goes The Kingdom” section takes you to a series of posts from a Tumblr blog with GIFs, videos, photos and quotes that can be shared. There are also links to the movie’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The second trailer was used as a promoted Twitter post in mid-September to help raise awareness.

In mid-November TV advertising started with a series of commercials that highlighted the kooky nature of of the story, the backstabbing the characters engage in and more.

Other online ads used the key art and other stills from the film.

Media and Publicity

It first really popped on a lot of people’s radars when Fox Searchlight announced a release date for the movie. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio and then a few months later announced as the opening film of the New York Film Festival. It was also announced as one of those screening at the Venice Film Festival.

While at Venice Lanthimos and the cast spoke about the story and how the movie unintentionally echoes and amplifies many of the subjects and themes that have come up in the last year or so as sexual assault, discrimination and more have risen to the surface once more.

It continued on the festival circuit, screening at Telluride as well. While there Stone spoke not only about this film but about her career in general. Lanthimos also commented on how he wanted the same sex love triangle in the story to not be a thing but just to be accepted and have people move on.

It was then announced among the titles appearing at the Austin Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, where it continued earning kudos and where the cast and crew talked about the research they did for the story. Later on it received a number of accolades from the Gotham Awards, including a special prize for Weisz, as well as a handful of British Independent Film Award nominations.

Stone appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and her status as the only American on the set. Weisz later hit “The Late Show” to also hype up the film and talk about that extra “u” in the title.

The first clip showed the conflict for the queen’s affection and favor Abigail and Lady Sarah are engaged in.

A feature story on the movie had the cast and Lanthimos talking about the gender politics, the long road the movie took to production and lots more.


That THR feature profile on the movie really sums up the theme of the movie’s campaign, that it’s a story of power, gender politics and other related issues. It’s not presented as movie that’s as offbeat or unusual as some of Lanthimos’ other films but more of a mainstream dramatic comedy of women who are out to define their own destiny.

The marketing never focuses too much on the story but instead just shows the performances of the three leads, particularly Weisz and Stone. That’s a strong card to play and one designed to appeal to audiences during this season of serious movies hitting theaters.

Picking Up The Spare

Colman was the subject of feature profile that mentioned how this isn’t the first time she’s played royalty and an interview that touched on her acting choices and what kinds of roles she’s drawn to.

Lanthimos was interviewed and profiled about the sometimes difficult nature of his stories and his vision for this film. He also talked about the journey the script took to completion and how he and the crew worked to break free of the constraints of the period setting.

Weisz spoke about working with the director again and being on a female-dominated production while Stone was interviewed about playing a character a bit more rough-edged than usual. The two of them along with Lanthimos were interviewed together about the odd nature of the story.

A couple weeks after release a new featurette had the cast and crew talking about the themes of the story and the characters they play. Another talked about the perspective of the story and a third featured the cast talking about working with Lanthimos.

There was also a profile of the movie’s noted dance sequence while the producers of the film spoke about a decade of working with Lanthimos.