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:

Overall

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.

Last Christmas – Marketing Recap

Universal is hoping audiences want something charming and familiar – with music they love – as the holiday season begins.

last christmas posterLast Christmas has an impressive pedigree. Not only does it star Emilia Clarke and thirst object Henry Goulding, but the movie was written by Emma Thompson and directed by comedy powerhouse Paul Feig. Not just that, but as the title would suggest – and the campaign emphasizes – it pulls inspiration from the music of George Michael and Wham!.

Clarke stars as Kate, a young woman who never quite lives up to her responsibilities and rarely wants to be accountable for her actions. Prickly and sarcastic, Kate is getting by working at a Christmas shop as an elf. One day she meets Tom (Goulding), a guy who seems too good to be true. Despite her efforts to push him away and warn him she’s a disaster, he sticks around and the two develop feelings for each other.

That plot is as paper thin as they come, but Thompson’s script offers secrets that when revealed could spell trouble for the couple. So the appeal is in the execution then, as some serious behind-the-screens talent helps some popular actors channel all their charm into a story we’ve likely seen before.

Audience interest is moderate, with a projected $17 million or so opening weekend for a movie that’s been sold in as non-offensive a manner as possible.

The Posters

Familiar London landmarks are lit up and positioned behind Kate and Tom on what seems to be the only domestic one sheet (by marketing agency LA) from August. The two snuggle on a bench in the foreground, clearly establishing this as a romantic comedy. The holiday setting is communicated both through the lights and the copy “It’s a wonderful life.” Both Feig and Thompson are name-dropped along with the fact that the movie will feature Michael’s music.

The Trailers

Kate is in the middle of another crisis as the trailer (10.2 million views on YouTube), which debuted in August, opens, the kind of thing that often happens to her because she’s self-involved and careless. Her family isn’t thrilled with her choices, including working at a year-round Christmas shop. That job brings her into contact with Tom, who she then keeps running into to the point it stops being a coincidence. We find out Kate has chronic health problems she uses as a reason to not connect with people. When she finally takes Tom’s advice to be nicer it has positive repercussions on the rest of her life.

Online and Social

The standard ticket-centric format is applied to the movie’s official website, but this one adds in the trailer, which autoplays at the top of the middle column. I’m pretty sure that just makes it worse, since it’s literally shoehorning one of the most important parts of the campaign into the page, which is otherwise solely devoted to commerce.

Advertising and Publicity

Feig, Thompson and Golding all appeared along with the first trailer at CinemaCon to begin the process of building buzz and wooing industry executives. Another extended preview was offered at CineEurope a couple months after that.

Promotional partners for the movie include:

Magnolia Bakery, which offered its Hot Cocoa Cupcake in conjunction with a shoutout of the movie.

last christmas magnolia

Kendra Scott, which offered a collection of movie-inspired jewelry.

last christmas scott

Tipsy Elves, which put the movie’s key art on a collection of its Christmas and holiday sweaters and more. The items don’t seem to be themed to the movie itself, just all brought under its banner.

last christmas tipsy elves

A paid promotion with Hannah Hart had Golding and Clarke appearing on her YouTube channel to decorate some Christmas cookies.

Spots like this were used online and presumably on TV as well that broke the trailer down to its essential elements.

Kate and Tom flirt in the first clip, released at the end of October. Elle hosted another exclusive clip of the two main characters being adorable with each other.

The cast and crew came out for the “gray carpet” premiere in New York last week.

Official movie merchandise along with special editions of the soundtrack were available on the website for George Michael’s music.

Media and Press

A first look photo showing Golding and Clarke was released in July. A month later Golding appeared on “The Tonight Show” to debut the first trailer. Around that time Feig revealed the movie would feature a previously unreleased song from the album Michael was working on at the time he passed away, adding a big incentive for fans to see the film.

Thompson talked about getting Michael’s permission to use his music in the film before he passed away. She also shared her inspiration for the story, including her actual thoughts on the song whose title is used here. Clarke also made some late night appearances to talk about being the “anti” female rom-com lead and more.

Overall

If there’s anything to take issue with in the campaign, it’s that it seems to have puttered out in recent months. While Clarke, Thompson and Golding did interviews and such, it seems like there should have been at least one more trailer and a series of other spots to keep the drumbeat going right up until release. That not happening may indicate there’s little to the movie beyond what’s seen in the trailer. Given the talent behind the camera – not to mention in front of it – that’s surprising.

Maybe it’s just because of the title song, but the whole campaign presents a movie that’s as immediately familiar as when your local radio station switches over to just Christmas music every November. You know exactly what to expect and that’s kind of comforting. The selling point here then becomes not only Michael’s name recognition but also the idea that audiences will be charmed and entertained but probably not challenged very much should they choose to head to theaters to see it.

Universal is also probably hoping it can take advantage of being first to market with an overtly Christmas-related film. The field will be much more crowded next week when Noelle debuts on the new Disney+ streaming service and Netflix begins to release the first of its series of Christmas originals, not to mention Hallmark Channel’s lineup. Whether or not it can break through based on the brand identity afforded by the association with Michael’s music remains to be seen.

Picking Up the Spare

AMC shared an exclusive interview with Golding and Clarke while Golding appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the film.

An interview with Feig had him talking about how Thompson approached him with the project and why he was initially reluctant to sign on.

Men In Black: International – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Men In Black: International at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

The second trailer leads off the content on Sony’s official website for the movie. After you close that the rest of the site’s offerings are lackluster and standard, far below what a movie like this is capable of presenting.

Media and Publicity

An Entertainment Weekly cover story in early January offered the first major publicity push for the movie, including lots of new photos, comments from Thompson, Hemsworth and the rest of the cast and crew and lots more.

Thompson was featured as an up and coming leader in the movie industry. She also appeared just before release on “The Late Show” in an interview that included how young she was when the first movie came out in 1997.

Sony released a video of an informal (but staged) chat with Hemsworth, Thompson and Kumail Nanjiani where they answered random questions sent in by fans. The studio also put out a sizzle reel of footage from the movie’s premiere.

A short promo was released by IMAX to encourage fans to see the movie in that format.

While walking the red carpet Thompson spoke about how she hopes the movie opens up more opportunities for female filmmakers.

Hemsworth’s appearance on “The Tonight Show” was ostensibly about this movie but much of the conversation naturally turned to his role as Thor.

Overall

men in black international gif

Picking Up the Spare

A joint interview with Thompson and Hemsworth focused on the chemistry they’ve built up over the course of a couple movie. 

This is the latest big budget flop to get a postmortem detailing the behind-the-scenes problems, including extensive and unsupervised daily rewrites, that seem to have lead to box office underperformance. 

Thompson was interviewed by Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show.” 

After the movie’s box office fortunes were sealed, the head of Sony came out with comments about weakness in the story that helped seal its fate. 

Late Night – Marketing Recap

late night posterMindy Kaling has emerged as one of the most interesting and original comedic voices of the last 10 years, coming to national attention on “The Office” and continuing that momentum with a show of her own and other ventures. This week’s Late Night both stars Kaling along with Emma Thompson and was written by her.

Kaling stars as Molly, an aspiring comedy writer who joins the staff of a late night talk show hosted by Katherine Newbury (Thompson). Katherine’s show has been struggling as she’s seen as no longer funny while also facing criticism she fails to support other creative women. To freshen up the show and counter some of that negative press she hires the relatively inexperienced Molly, who brings a burst of energy that’s positive for both their careers.

The Posters

Molly is resting her head on Katherine’s shoulder on the first poster, which communicates “They’re giving comedy a rewrite.” It’s simple but establishes that the dynamic between the two is the primary draw and that the movie will be set in the world of comedy.

The Trailers

Katherine runs a tough office, we see in the first trailer from March, firing writers and others on a whim if they displease her in the slightest. When Molly joins the staff she provides just the kind of creative jolt Katherine needs as she’s on the brink of cancelation. Molly’s position is questioned by others, but you can’t argue with success and Katherine finds she needs Molly to keep things going as the young writer is just the kind of energy the show has been missing.

The second trailer introduces us to Katherine as the only woman in late night TV, a position that’s currently tenuous, leading her to hire a woman as a writer on the show. Molly needs to prove herself in the office to be taken seriously and, encouraged by Katherine’s newfound desire to remain relevant and successful, starts letting her creative voice be heard and pushing Katherine to try new things.

Online and Social

While the official website for the movie doesn’t feature a ton of actual information – though the “Synopsis” is better written than most – it does sport a more interesting design. Scroll down the page past the trailers and sections offer a bit more on both Molly and Katherine, including GIFs for each that can be shared on various social networks.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Banner and other online ads used the key art image of Molly and Katherine together, including the tagline and a link to buy tickets.

Some TV advertising was done, but Amazon Studios hasn’t put any of those spots on its YouTube channel. Pre-roll ads on YouTube contained similar videos and pushed people to buy tickets.

Media and Publicity

A first look still from the movie was released at the same time it was announced it would be screening at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. While there Kaling talked about how the movie was latest opportunity she had created for herself, not waiting for others to give one to her. Amazon picked the movie up shortly after the premiere for a reported $13 million.

Kaling announced the release date in a fun little video at the end of February. She was interviewed later on about how being a “diversity hire” earlier in her career inspired her to tell this story.

The movie was scheduled as the closing night feature at the Toronto LGBT Festival.

Back in May Thompson appeared on both “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Saturday Night Live.” She was also the subject of a profile that covered not only this movie but others as well as her attitude in general and whole career to date.

A video released by Amazon in late May had Kailing and Thompson reading “nice tweets” about themselves, a more upbeat twist on a recurring bit seen on “The Tonight Show.”

The first clip featured a scene shown briefly in the trailer of Molly jumping in with an answer when Katherine is asked what it’s like working with the young writer. Another clip hosted exclusively by Vanity Fair showed the scene of male writers failing to impress Katherine with their ideas. A bevy of additional clips showing Katherine’s abrasive nature, Molly getting some harsh advice and more. Fandango got an exclusive clip of Molly interviewing for the job while EW

Kaling spoke more, as did director Nisha Ganatra, about how she’s often acted as the first through the door for women and people of color in her career. She also admitted to taking the ill-advised step of writing the part of Katherine specifically for Thompson before she’d ever met her or approached her about the role.

Overall

While the campaign Amazon has mounted has been exceedingly pleasant and funny, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this movie meets a box-office fate significantly different from that of Long Shot, Booksmart and other funny, original films of late. It’s not an event the way this week’s Dark Phoenix is, nor is it a family-friendly alternative like Secret Life of Pets 2. Instead it’s a mid-range comedy with a couple familiar faces that is easily passed on until it comes to Amazon Prime in a few months.

That’s not the fault of the team behind the marketing. Putting Kaling out in front on the campaign, particularly when it comes to the publicity and media, is a great call since she has a fanbase built up over years on TV and is the driving creative force behind the film. But that focus on an individual talent isn’t likely to be enough to counter the power currently enjoyed by franchises, around which the entire theatrical system is now built.

Picking Up the Spare

I neglected to include this substantial profile of Kaling where she discusses the movie and how she’s shaped her career so far. She also commented on the difficulties in making the film as well as the more broad way Amazon wanted to initially market it. 

Thompson appeared on “The Late Show” to discuss how she approached the role. Kaling also showed up there to talk about how she interviewed Colbert’s female staffers as part of her research while writing the movie. 

A featurette released by Amazon focused on the role of women in comedy and how Molly fits into that world. Another covered the process of recreating a late night show’s writer’s room. 

Another trailer came out after the movie had been in theaters for two weeks that hit most of the same beats as early spots but added some positive audience reactions to the footage shown. 

The Children Act – Marketing Recap

the children act posterFor the second time this year, a film adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel is about to hit theater screens. This time around it’s The Children Act. The movie stars Emma Thompson as Judge Fiona Maye, a member of the British court. She’s presented with a challenging case: A young boy, Adam (Fionn Whitehead), is dying and refusing the blood transfusion that could save his life. So she must decide if he should be forced to receive it.

At the same time she must decide what the law does and doesn’t allow, Maye is navigating the end of her marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci). So while her personal life is more emotional than ever she’s also riding a roller coaster of feelings as she visits Adam’s bedside, something that creates all sorts of conflict in her.

The Posters

While the story isn’t exactly spelled out on the poster, we do get the sense Judge Maye is being put in the position to make a touch call. We see her sitting behind her bench, which is enough, along with the copy “We all make choices. Hers make history.”

The Trailers

The main story is sold pretty effectively in the first trailer. We meet Judge Maye and see that she’s been put in the place of deciding whether or not the state can force a young man who’s dying to accept a blood transfusion, which he and his family have refused on religious grounds. That’s a difficult position to be in and the conflict she faces causes problems in her marriage to Jack.

It’s being positioned here as a drama about religious liberty, yes, but also what it means to be alive. The audience is promised lots of tense philosophical conversations between the various characters as they weigh life and death, which may not be to everyone’s interest, but you can’t deny that anytime Emma Thompson steps in front of the camera it’s a good thing.

Online and Social

Not much on the movie’s official website, just the trailer, a synopsis and some buttons to buy tickets. There were also Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There’s been nothing I’ve seen or been able to find on the paid front.

Media and Publicity

The movie screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Thompson and the rest of the cast talked about working together and what attracted them to the story, the process shooting some of the more emotionally difficult scenes and more. The movie was picked up by A24 while at the festival.

Around the same time Toronto was underway, Thompson showed up on “The Late Show” to discuss the movie with Colbert and otherwise be charming. She also appeared on “Late Night.” An additional interview had her talking about the preparation she undertook for one important scene.

Overall

There’s a lot of emotional material presented here as we see the various issues Thompson’s Fiona has to deal with. What’s notable is that the campaign doesn’t seem to be hiding any of that from the audience. This isn’t a simple or easy movie being sold to the public and it remains to be seen if anyone will actually react to that as something they want to see this weekend.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Emma Thompson talks about her career to date and how this movie fits into that here.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – Marketing Recap

Dustin Hoffman is the family patriarch Harold Meyerowitz in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), the new movie from writer/director Noah Baumbach. Harold is a well-known New York City artist whose career is being celebrated at an upcoming event.

That brings together Harold’s grown children Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller). Each has their own issues, some of which they trace back to being rooted in their father’s upbringing and the imposing shadow he cast over their lives. As usual, such gatherings are mixed with emotion and chaos as everyone deals with whatever baggage they’re carrying.

The Posters

The primary poster Netflix created shows Harold in two separate pictures, each accompanied by just one of his boys. He’s walking with Danny in the one at the top and with Matthew in the one below the title. That conveys at least a little about the story we’ll be watching, but the overall vibe is similar to that of an indie drama from Miramax circa 1994.

Three more posters were released, each showing Harold with a different character. In one he’s sitting at dinner with Maureen while the other two are just expanded versions of the photos shown on the primary one-sheet.

The Trailers

The first trailer establishes this as an ensemble dramatic comedy, focused on Danny playing piano and having a laugh with his dad. Around that are short other clips from the film showing the rest of the family and including a number of quotes from critics who saw early screenings. It’s clear this is a loving but dysfunctional family we’re watching, though.

The second trailer is much more focused on the story. Matthew is trying (unsuccessfully) to impress his dad while the two are out for a meal. Then we hear Danny talking about how he never really spent time with his dad when he was a kid. Those two scenes establish the family dynamic, along with someone’s surprise that Harold has two sons. Other hijinks, hilarity and family pathos follow as we find out more about how all these characters relate to each other.

The idea here is to sell the movie as family comedy/drama, that much is clear. But it never actually digs into what it is that has everyone coming together or what the motivating plot elements are. So we see characters and get a sense of their actions, but we don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just obviously the approach Netflix is taking in selling the movie.

Online and Social

No web presence here, as usual for Netflix. Some support was offered on brand social media channels but no distinct profiles were created for the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were a few paid social posts around the time the trailer premiered but that’s about it unless there are loads of banner ads across the web I haven’t seen.

Media and Publicity

The first real news about the movie came when it was announced it had been picked up by Netflix. The movie was one of the handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. Prior to that Hoffman and Baumbach interviewed each other at the Tribeca Film Festival about the genesis of the project, how they worked together and more.

A short time later some first-look stills were released. While at Cannes Baumbach talked about how he made the movie for the big screen but also loved working with Netflix to help get the movie out there. And Sandler, whose performance was praised by many as his best in a long, long time, talked about the pressure of working on a picture like this and his desire to not let anyone down. Later on it was announced as one of the films that would screen at the New York Film Festival.

The part Stiller plays was, according to this story, written by Baumbach specifically for him after working with the actor on two previous films. The actor and director talked there about their senses of humor and more as well. Baumbach kept talking about the inspiration behind the story, the family dynamic he was hoping to capture and more.

Shortly before release Netflix announced it would give the movie a limited, awards-qualifying theatrical run in select cities.

Hoffman and Baumbach talked jointly about how the director, through Sandler and Stiller, persuaded the actor to finally join the production, the comedy found in the relationships portrayed in the story and more.

Overall

We’re no stranger to stories of the privileged but angsty lives of New York creatives. That’s been the basis for countless movies, a trend I’ve called out as problematic a few times in the past. So the movie being sold here doesn’t appear to be breaking any new ground on that front and is easy to dismiss by anyone who’d like to see a bit more racial and socioeconomic representation on screen.

So how does the campaign try to work around that sizable roadblock?

First, it focuses much of its attention on Sandler, who is turning in a much more dramatic performance than he usually does here. Sandler often appears to be sleepwalking through the comedies he makes, putting the minimum viable effort into the work and sometimes even appearing to be annoyed he has to be there in the first place.

Second, it keeps reinforcing the connection all the characters have to Hoffman’s Harold. Everything is centered there, both the backstory and the current story. While I still feel some motivation would have been nice to offer in the campaign, the fact that we’re constantly reminded of how everyone is relating to their father and his influence is a smart move.

Add in appeals to fans of Baumbach’s previous work and you have a decent campaign that’s surprisingly full-throated for a Netflix original release.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.