The Aeronauts – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling a historical adventure of scientific exploration.

aeronauts poster 2The Aeronauts seems like the kind of story that would act as the prelude to some sort of fantasy adventure. In fact, it’s (kind of) based on a true story. Felicity Jones plays Amelia Rennes, a pilot in 1800s London who is sought out by scientist James Glasher, who wants to use the gas balloon she flies to test his theories on weather prediction. Facing pushback from the Royal Society over those ideas, he partners with Rennes on his own, but their flight into the upper reaches of the sky goes horribly wrong and the two wind up adrift, struggling for survival.

While Glasher is a historical reality, Rennes is a composite of female scientists from the period, a fictional character inserted into the story to give Glasher someone to play off in events that are largely true, but slightly dramatized.

Amazon Studios has put together a campaign that emphasizes the peril the duo find themselves in as well as the desperate need to be taken seriously by their peers that has driven them.

The Posters

aeronauts posterThe movie is “Based on a true adventure” according to the poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in late August. The balloon where much of the story takes place is shown floating into the cloudy sky. It’s a peaceful image until you notice a person is dangling from the edge of the basket, holding on for dear life.

That balloon – and the person in danger – are the central elements on the theatrical poster from October. This time, though, the faces of the two leads are added to either side of the balloon, each looking out into the distance as if considering the new territory they’re on the cusp of exploring. It’s actually slightly less effective because the additional elements clutter the impact a bit

The Trailers

The first trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube) wasn’t released until August. It begins with Amelia talking about her search for answers in the sky. Meanwhile, James is encountering pushback from fellow scientists when he suggests weather conditions can be forecast. He enlists her help for his experiments, but a freak storm on one of their outings sends them off course and unable to return to Earth. So it becomes a struggle for survival as extreme conditions pound them and their balloon until it looks like all hope may be lost.

James is desperate to prove his theories about weather prediction in the second trailer (4.2 million views on YouTube), released in October. To that end he gets Amelia to agree to fly him higher than ever before, where they marvel at the wonders around them. Only toward the end do we see the perils the pair face as things get out of hand and hardware begins to fail.

Online and Social

Not much beyond the standard marketing content on the movie’s official website, unfortunately. There was plenty of potential for an interactive history of ballooning or the science of weather prediction, or features on the real life characters portrayed in the story, but all those were passed by.

Advertising and Publicity

When Amazon did finally announce, in mid-May, a release date for later in the year it came with the surprising caveat the movie would screen in IMAX for a week prior. That made it Amazon’s first foray into IMAX releases, not all that shocking given it’s primarily trafficked in smaller dramas and the like.

Those plans changed in late July, though, when it was announced Amazon Studios was releasing it only to limited theaters and then making it available for streaming a short two weeks later, the latest in a series of moves showing less strict adherence to the theatrical model. In fact it was noted this film, along with The Report, represented the first salvo in a shift by Amazon away from applying the theatrical model to all its feature releases, something it had previously committed to as a way to stay in the good graces of exhibitors and studios.

In August the movie was listed among those slated to appear at this year’s London Film Festival as well as the Toronto Film Festival and Hamptons Film Festival. Redmayne and director Tom Hooper appeared at the movie’s Chicago Film Festival premiere also.

The American Federation of Teachers promoted the film with a sweepstakes awarding an educator with a private screening. Also on the educational front, the Museum of Flight held an advance screening for those interested in flight.

Amazon created a traveling promotional event titled “Aeronauts Incredible Journey” that launched in Los Angeles and has or will make a handful of other stops in major markets. The event included movie-themed attractions and experiences along with a period-specific food festival.

Two featurettes released by Amazon focused on the journey the characters embark on and the heights the story reaches for, the process of building the balloon used for filming and the recording of the score.

Online ads used video from the trailers along with the key image of the balloon to drive traffic to the ticket-selling website.

aeeronauts online ad

Media and Press

A still was released showing Redmayne and Jones before the movie had a US release date secured. Redmayne and Jones talked about working with filming a key moment with a dog. Sound designer Lee Walpole was interviewed about creating the unique mix of atmospheric and other noises for the story.

While at AFI Fest, Hooper and others spoke about the technical production details as well as how the story is still relevant to today.

Jones appeared on “The Tonight Show” and other talk shows while Redmayne included “The Late Show” among his promotional stops.

Overall

There’s almost a sense of “hurry up and wait” about the campaign Amazon Studios put together here. The branding never really comes together and it seems to have been a series of starts and stops, with no groove or momentum to what’s put before the audience.

It’s telling that the strongest parts of the marketing are those that just focus on the balloon itself. That’s a key image and one that has the strongest, most unique brand value from what’s here. When the actors themselves get involved things start to slow down and become far less interesting, maybe because the story is hard to explain. That balloon, though, is simple and evokes a strong response.

That’s why so many of the featurettes and other paid promotions used the balloon as the central component. Keeping the attention on that is the best choice the campaign does, including the traveling carnival, but it may not be enough to keep audiences interested enough in a movie that may wind up passing everyone by as they wait for higher profile holiday releases.

Picking Up the Spare

More featurettes on the movie’s score and actors, along with new interviews with Jones and Redmayne that focused on those stunts, which was also the subject of a profile of the movie’s cinematographer.

Another interview with Jones about how she worked to meld the various elements of the movie’s story in her character.

A handful of clips like this one have also been released.

Another featurette from Amazon Studios on the work that went into shooting the film.

On the Basis of Sex – Marketing Recap

on the basis of sex posterSupreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a cultural phenomenon in the last few years, largely because of her status as a kickass liberal woman who has carved her own path in an effort to bring legal equality to the world. Her story has recently been told in books like “The Notorious RBG” and the documentary RBG.

Now that story is getting the feature treatment in On the Basis of Sex. Felicity Jones plays Ginsburg as an ambitious lawyer who’s just starting out in her career. She comes up against walls and barriers all over the place, though, as she seeks to argue against laws she believes to be discriminatory against genders. Armie Hammer costars as her husband Martin.

The Posters

Jones as Ginsburg wears a sensible wool dress and gloves as she stands in front of a miniature Supreme Court building, showing how she will come to dominate that venue in more ways than one. Her outfit explains the time period the story is set in but it’s a drab image that doesn’t do much to fire the imagination or inspire much passion. Honestly it’s the kind of photo you’d expect to see used in a culture magazine for a feature on a powerful female attorney.

The Trailers

We get the basic outlines of the story in the first trailer, including how Ginsburg is determined as a young woman to change the culture and address some of the gender-based inequalities that have been codified into law. She’s smart but can’t get ahead because she’s a woman. Eventually she comes across a case where the law is prejudiced against men and she decides this is what it will take to upend the whole system.

What’s notable in what is otherwise a choppy and uneven trailer is the Hammer is very much playing the kind of role usually assigned to a woman, that of the supportive partner/spouse who encourages the other to keep fighting and do what’s right. That’s…that’s big. Jones looks very good, of course, but the story overall seems a bit overdone. Also, while some people took issue with the “Neither does the word ‘Freedom.’” line at the end, the movie’s screenwriter defended its usage, saying it makes sense in the context of the full scene.

That line is still in the second trailer, which focuses on Ginsburg’s fight against those who would keep her down and in her lane, something she’s utterly unwilling to do.

Online and Social

Focus Features’ official website follows the studio’s regular online template, opening with the trailer and with a bunch of photos, bios and videos further down the page for visitors to check out and click on. There are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Jones really shines in the first TV spot from late October, with Kesha’s inspiring original song playing over footage of her as Ginsburg crusading for what she believes to be right and making friends – and enemies – along the way.

In mid-November the second trailer was used as a promoted post on Twitter, one that specifically called out the inclusion of a new Kesha song.

Focus Features partnered with a number of consumer brands on the “All Rise Now” collection of lifestyle products, the purchase of which supported the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. The site for the campaign also featured movie assets and other graphics to be shared online, though oddly Pinterest isn’t one of the default choices for doing so despite them seeming to be perfect for that platform.

Media and Publicity

The publicity campaign kicked off with the release of the first photo showing Jones as Ginsburg. The actress spoke about the process of portraying the justice when Focus Features made it part of their CinemaCon presentation, which included an early look at footage for attendees.

Jones was the subject of a Vanity Fair cover story that detailed her preparation for the role, the attention to detail paid by everyone involved, the timeliness of the story and lots more.

Pop star Kesha released her anthemic song of empowerment that’s featured in the movie in mid-September.

The movie was singled out as the AFI Film Festival’s opening night feature.

Of course one couldn’t ignore the fact that this movie was coming shortly after the widely-acclaimed release of RBG, the documentary of Ginsburg that created a lot of stir among critics and audiences. That documentary was scheduled for a series of free screenings in advance of the U.S. midterm elections, which also nicely brought the subject back up a couple months before this movie’s release date.

Jones praised Leder as a director at a Q&A about the movie and her career in general. She also spoke about Ginsburg and the challenges she’s faced in her career while accepting the Variety Award at the British Independent Film Awards.

The first clip offered an extended look at a scene from the trailer of Ginsburg making a strong impression at a formal dinner. A second showed her making it clear she expects her husband to give her some space to be herself and a third had her arguing for taking a case no one else believes in. A final one had Ginsburg testing her arguments for equality.

An interview with Jones made the odd choice of focusing on her beauty and fitness routine as opposed to the research she did to take on the role of a future Supreme Court justice.

Hammer did the media rounds in the last couple weeks, talking about how he’s now BFFs with Ginsburg herself, his experience shooting the movie and how he bonded with the cast during production. Jones got in on the action with TV and other interviews.

The true story of the cast that essentially launched Ginsburg’s legal career, the one recounted in the movie, was detailed by Smithsonian Magazine and other outlets in the last few days.

Overall

First off, it’s worth noting this is the second movie in as many years to tell the story of a seminal case in the career development of a future Supreme Court justice, though last year’s Marshall didn’t get quite this level of buzz and awareness. That’s at least in part because Thurgood Marshall is a generation removed from most modern movie audiences, so there just wasn’t the connection.

This movie’s campaign, though, makes sure the audience knows this is about a woman who is held as an idol by many right now, so it’s much more relevant message. While the details of the case she’s arguing to make her point aren’t made very clear, that’s not the point. Instead it’s about her fierce determination in the face of adversity and disbelief.

Picking Up the Spare

Another interview with Leder where she talks about the ways she understood Ginsburg’s story and another where she talks about what she found in common with the lawyer.

She, Jones and Hammer were all part of a joint conversation about digging into Ginsburg’s life along with how the way her real life husband supported her wasn’t dramatic enough for some studio execs, who wanted to see more conflict. Another similar joint interview followed. That was also the subject of a new featurette.

Cailee Spaeny, who plays Ginsburg’s daughter, was interviewed a bit later about how she approached her role and got involved.

Later on there was another profile of Leder that focused on how she was yet another example of a female director who’d been shut out of feature films for almost two decades.

More on the “All Rise” campaign for workplace equality that involved a partnership with the ACLU here.