Concrete Cowboy – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold Idris Elba on a horse.

Based on the novel “Ghetto Cowboy,” the new movie Concrete Cowboy stars Idris Elba as Harp, one of a number of individuals in Philadelphia who patrol the streets of the neighborhood on horseback. They do so in an attempt to maintain a connection to a simpler time and culture, knowing full well they are out of step with other parts of society. Harp’s estranged teenage son Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) comes to live with him, opening up tensions both old and new as the father tries to teach his son a few things while the son holds on to old problems and baggage.

Directed by Ricky Staub, the movie arrives on Netflix this week after a small-scale campaign from the streamer. It currently has a decent 78% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s see how it’s been sold to the public.

The Posters

Just one poster, released in early March, but it’s a pretty good one. Harp looms in the background of the collage-esque design, with other elements conveying Cole’s role in the story as well as the urban setting and more. It’s not the flashiest design, but it communicates a solid sense of what audiences can expect.

The Trailers

The first trailer (638k views on YouTube) finally came out in mid-March, opening with Cole clearly not on the same page as Harp. We see Cole exposed to the world Harp lives in and the rules and legends that go with it, a process that isn’t always easy or comfortable. The two eventually come to an understanding, but only just as the way of life Harp and others have long embraced becomes threatened with extinction.

Online and Social

Nothing here, but the movie did get some support from Netflix on its brand social channels.

Advertising and Promotions

A short clip was released around the time the movie was debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was also slated for screening at the Telluride Film Festival. Netflix acquired the film in October.

In early March Netflix finally gave it an April release date.

Media and Press

Staub and Elba were both interviewed during TIFF about the road the project has taken to date and what they hope for in the future. Another conversation with the cast and crew included comments on the story, working together and more.

Overall

The movie came out of Toronto early last year with some very strong word of mouth, especially for Elba’s performance. But that was a year ago, and a lot has happened since then.

So it’s a little surprising to see that while the trailer and poster are both pretty strong, they add up to the majority of the film’s campaign. Very little seems to have been done to build on that festival buzz, and Elba’s press activity has been minimal. It would have been nice to see some more promo spots or other elements that allow Elba to be his charming self as well as allow McLaughlin to come to the spotlight.

Cats – Marketing Recap

How Universal Studios is selling a big screen adaptation of an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical with no discernible story.

cats poster 3Here’s the official synopsis for Cats, directed by Tom Hooper:

A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.

What the hell does that even mean? It’s some sort of twisted cat-themed snuff film where a group of felines play God and choose who deserves to live based on what, dancing ability? Overall popularity? Fur texture? What kind of messed up dystopian power dynamic is in place here?

Regardless, Universal is hoping to capture the same audience that made The Greatest Showman a massive hit two years ago. To that end it has enlisted an all-star cast that includes Taylor Swift, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Idris Elba, Judi Dench and others to dress in cat costumes and in tomcat tomfoolery in what’s being sold as a bright, glitzy spectacle. They’re all lead by newcomer Francesca Hayward in a movie tracking somewhere around $15 million for opening weekend and with a lowly 17 percent “Rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

The “You will believe” copy used on the first poster from July (by marketing agency Concept Arts) seems relatively generic for a movie with such a specific brand identity. A cat is shown walking toward a set of ornate doors, light glowing from the inside. Hooper’s name is prominently displayed not once but twice along with the names of the director’s previous popular films and the impressive cast list.

The second poster didn’t come out until November, showing Victoria (Hayward) with her back arched in dance as feathers fall all around her and honestly I don’t know what’s happening here. Whatever it is, the movie is labeled “The most joyful event of the holiday season.” Another poster (by marketing agency BOND) from early December has just Victoria’s head lit from behind.

The Trailers

The first trailer (13.3 million views on YouTube), released in mid-July, certainly fulfills the promise of showing off the look of the movie and the fact that it features a variety of human-shaped cats. Only the barest of information about the story is offered here as the focus is on the all-star cast while Hudson’s performance of “Memories” plays in the background the whole time.

In November the second trailer (8.6 million views on YouTube) caused a lot of buzz by showing more of the story of how it’s the night where the cat who deserves a new life is chosen as well as that the cats are actually cat-sized, with human-scaled objects around them. Other than that, the same flashy film is on display here, but it’s conspicuously devoid of any of the musical numbers.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website has all the usual marketing materials, but when you first load the site the front page is an interactive version of the neighborhood where the story takes place. Clicking the characters that appear in the scenery lets you play Cats-themed games and explore more about the characters and the world they inhabit.

Notably, the “Story” section doesn’t actually discuss the story of the movie at all. Instead it’s about establishing the movie’s credentials, including mentioning the musical it’s based on, the star power involved in making it and so on. Even the studio can’t explain what’s going on, or doesn’t think the audience will care.

There are Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles, of course, But in a clear sign Universal understands what the target audience is looking for and actually does online there’s also a Giphy profile promoted here, something most movies fail to do.

Advertising and Publicity

There had been lots of conversations and updates about the movie before April, 2019, but when Universal showed off a batch of behind-the-scenes footage at CinemaCon things really kicked off as buzz and anticipation grew. More footage was shown two months later at CineEurope.

In mid-July a first look featurette was released that included comments from many members of the cast, including Swift and others, about what drew them to the project and what their history with Cats was. It showed some behind-the-scenes footage as well as a few brief glimpses at the film itself. The timing of that featurette was meant to set the stage for the first trailer, released just a few days later.

Another short behind the scenes featurette came out in September that had the cast talking about moving and dancing like cats. In October another video was released that focused on Swift writing an original song for the film with Weber. A lyric video for that song, “Beautiful Ghosts,” came out the week before Thanksgiving.

Red carpet premiere events were held in New York and Hollywood earlier this week, with those events streamed live online for those who couldn’t attend in person. Those came at the tail (I’m so sorry) end of an international press tour that had the cast and crew talking about the elaborate production.

There were pre-roll ads and TV spots, all of which eliminated whatever pretenses were made to explain the movie’s threadbare story and just focused on the fact that you could see Swift and other dancing around in cat costumes. Outdoor ads used imagery pulled from the key art and more while online ads did likewise, often with video elements added in.

Promotional partners included:

  • Harry and David, which offered a line of movie-themed gift baskets you could send to someone you…have…feelings? about/for.
  • Kate Spade, which created a line of accessories inspired by the movie.
  • Piper-Heidsieck, which offered a limited edition champagne in a movie-branded bottle and box.
  • Pure Barre, which offered those who bought tickets to the movie a free fitness class.
  • Wolford, which ran a sweepstakes awarding the winner a free custom body suit like those seen in the movie as well as a private screening and promoted similar products they sell.

Media and Press

A short after CinemaCon, the movie’s choreographer was interviewed about the production and what it was like working with some of the bigger, more unexpected talent on the set.

Elba and other members of the cast talked about the movie earlier in the cycle while promoting other projects.

An interview with Hooper following the first trailer’s release allowed him to comment on people’s reactions while clarifying that some of the graphics weren’t quite finished yet, so everyone should calm down a bit.

Both Cordon (taking a break from his own show) and Hayward appeared on “Kimmel” in early December to promote the film and talk about working with Swift.

The influence Swift’s father had on her portrayal and new song was covered in this interview.

Hudson appeared on “The Today Show” to talk about the movie and her performance of “Memories,” a song she sang on a recent episode of “The Voice.” Corden also dropped by “Today.”

At the premiere the cast and crew spoke more about making the movie as well as the controversy that has swirled around the movie, based mostly in how it used computer effects for some of the costumes and other effects, something that’s apparently a big deal.

Overall

Cats is horny.

Picking Up the Spare

Hudson appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about her role in the film, while another interview with her allowed her to talk about performing such an iconic song as “Memory.”

A good recap here of the problems that bedeviled the filming lead to Universal making the unusual move of sending a new version of the movie to theaters with updated effects.

Molly’s Game – Marketing Recap

mollys game posterAaron Sorkin is a polarizing figure in entertainment. His writing style, full of fast-paced, hyper-literate dialogue that barely fits on the page, has turned some people off. While he’s not everyone’s favorite and has some definite ticks and quirks throughout his work, he has created some of Hollywood’s most memorable TV and movie scripts. With the new release Molly’s Game he not only has written the screenplay but for the first time steps into the role of director.

Jessica Chastain stars as the real-life Molly Bloom in the movie based on Bloom’s memoir of the same name. The story follows her as she moves from a cocktail waitress tasked with hosting a high-stakes poker game at The Viper Club in L.A. attended by actors and other celebrities. Finding she has a knack for this kind of work, she opens her own business to manage the operation herself. Eventually legal troubles come around as she’s charged with money laundering, racketeering and other crimes related to the people attending the games she operates. Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, the lawyer enlisted by Bloom to defend her.

Continue reading “Molly’s Game – Marketing Recap”

The Mountain Between Us – Marketing Recap

This week’s new release The Mountain Between Us combines elements of two popular movie genres: The pairing of unlikely and slightly mismatched individuals and the placing of characters in an extreme situation that is so far outside their comfort zone as to be almost impossible to survive.

In this case Kate Winslet plays Alex Martin, a journalist who’s getting married the next day. Idris Elba plays Ben Bass, a surgeon on his way to perform an emergency procedure. The two charter a plane to get out of the airport that’s shut down due to weather. When their small plane crashes, they have to survive the cold and brutality of the mountain they’re stranded on, making their way across it to try and find safety.

The Posters

Elba and Winslet are both seen on the first poster, though they’re facing in opposite directions as if they’re at odds with each other for some reason. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the rest of the campaign, though. And the copy “What if your life depended on a stranger?” is way more creepy and cryptic than anything else we’ve seen. Odd tone here.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out by introducing us to Ben and Alex, two strangers at an airport. She offers to take him on the private plane she’s chartered to bypass the usual issues. He’s on his way home and she’s on her way to be married. But the plane has a problem and crashes on top of a snow-covered mountain in the middle of nowhere, leaving them stranded far from civilization. She’s hurt and they have limited supplies but decide to set out to try and find help instead of waiting for it to come to them. Things go wrong, of course, as they fight for survival.

It’s alright but the trailer doesn’t do it any favors. It hits all the usual cliches of movies like this, including wild animals hunting them and someone falling through the ice into the cold water below. While there’s every possibility that there’s more to the story than this, the trailer looks pretty generic and like it doesn’t utilize the full capabilities of either Winslet of Elba.

Online and Social

The usual cropped version of the key art graces the top of Fox’s official website for the movie, below which are links to watch the trailer or find the movie’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

The first section on the site is “Videos,” where you can watch the trailer as well as some clips and a few featurettes/interviews. “About” has a story synopsis alongside the cast and crew list and more links to the movie’s social pages, including an Instagram profile. “Poster” just has the single one-sheet.

In “Featured Content” you’ll find some interesting stuff. First is a photo feature that allows you to upload a picture of yourself to a still from the film to make it seem as if it’s you Elba is comforting instead of Winslet. Also there is a link to iTunes encouraging you to buy the new song from Zayn and Sia that was written for the film.

The site finishes off with a “Gallery” of a half-dozen stills and a curated section of “Social Updates.”

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The debut of the trailer was supported with ad buys on social media, including YouTube which ran it as pre-roll before other videos.

The first TV spots like this one get quickly to the action and the peril the stranded travelers face as well as the emotional turmoil they’re put through as they try to survive out in the snowy wilderness. They’re just like the trailers only without as much setup and backstory.

Media and Publicity

It was announced the movie would have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The buzz that came out of that premiere wasn’t wholly positive, unfortunately. Not negative, but nothing to write home about for the most part.

Winslet talked in EW about the challenges of shooting in such a remote and unforgiving environment as well as how her style meshed with that of her costar. A short featurette focused on the extreme conditions that the movie was shot in and the challenges the cast and crew endured during production. The extreme conditions of the shoot continued to be the focal point of the press activity, with the crew and actors talking here about the search for reality and the technical challenges of the locations they found themselves on.

The physically challenging shoot was one of the subjects of this interview with Winslet, where she talked about drawing on the strength she’s built up over the years to handle it as well as what kinds of characters she likes to take on these days.

The two leads conducted in various other interviews and appearances, most of which continued to revolve around the logistics of the production more than anything else.

Overall

First, this is accurate:

The marketing is fine. Nothing special, but it’s fine. The continued focus in the publicity on the extreme conditions of the production and the adjustments everyone had to make have me thinking there’s an awareness the story itself is weak (or, worse, problematic) and so that was decided on as the safest hook for everyone to keep talking about. But whatever.

More problematic for me is something I didn’t notice until looking at the website, specifically that “In This With Idris” photo feature. What caught my eye is the fact that there’s only one option available, to erase Kate Winslet and put yourself in the position of the person relying on the big, strong man to protect them. That’s a little sexist, reinforcing gender roles. And it’s a lot disturbing that the feature asks you to literally remove a female character from the picture. The simple addition of both options would make it slightly better, at least allowing for equal opportunity removal and substitution.

After I saw that I went back and rewatched the trailer and noticed something else. Elba’s character is trying to travel because he’s Important. He has a Very Important Job To Do because he’s a highly-skilled individual who’s needed to save a life. His motivation is based in his talent and abilities. Winslet’s character, on the other hand, is emotional and feminine. She wants to get married. Her motivation isn’t about her own skills – her profession as a journalist is only passingly mentioned – but about her personal life.

The second issue is one the marketing campaign can’t do much with, though I have to wonder if that issue is one of the ones being masked by the “it was such a tough shoot” press focus. The first one, though, is an unforced error that seems out of whack with the current societal climate. It’s disconcerting that only the woman is deemed replaceable, easily swapped out with anyone at all. Someone in the marketing department needs to rethink that kind of approach and make sure female characters aren’t being written out of their own narratives.

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

The Dark Tower – Marketing Recap

Stephen King comes back to theaters with the release of this week’s The Dark Tower. The movie is based on the popular series of eight books from the author that tell the story of The Gunfighter (Idris Elba), a kind of knight whose order is charged with the protection of their world. That includes protecting the Dark Tower, a mystical structure that is integral to the balance between light and dark that’s enjoyed by all the worlds of the multiverse.

Challenging that balance is the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), the embodiment of humanity’s dark nature and a servant of the underworld. As these two magical, elemental forces collide the story and their conflict unfolds through the eyes of Lucas (Nicholas Hamilton), a young boy from Earth who has begun having visions of a strange, mysterious tower. He eventually crosses over into the world where The Gunslinger and the Man in Black are waging their war, in part causing that war to come to Earth.

The Posters

The first poster promised a mind-bending adventure. Two figures stand at the bottom of the image while a cityscape hovers above them, the buildings upside down from the perspective of those characters. “There are other worlds than these” according to the text that appears alongside the title treatment.

Around the time the first trailer debuted there were two new posters released, one showing The Gunslinger and other showing The Man in Black, with copy on each saying “One man sworn to protect it” and other “And one man to destroy it” just in case anyone needed further clarification on character motivations.

Two more posters took the same approach, with each of the main characters on a different poster, the Gunslinger in the city and The Man in Black on a barren landscape with the titular tower in the background.

Another poster shows the Man in Black and The Gunslinger with their backs to each other, the tower that they’re fighting over in the background. The Man in Black stands in the other world where their battle takes place while The Gunslinger is standing in our real world, showing the split settings of the story.

The Trailers

As the first trailer opens we get the backstory on the Gunslingers and their role as protectors. We meet a boy who’s having visions of the conflict between the two powerful forces and see him find a portal to the world where the battle is being fought. He meets and falls under the protection of the Gunslinger and finds out about the importance of The Tower. Eventually the Gunslinger comes back to Earth with the boy but That Man is Black follows him there and the fight continues. There’s some talk about how he doesn’t shoot with his hand but with his mind and lots of cool action sequences right up to the end.

It’s a pretty good trailer, explaining enough of the story to make it more or less attractive to those of us who haven’t read the source book. While hardcore fans weren’t thrilled with some of the liberties that were taken, the trailer presents an intriguing premise of a shadow war being fought that impacts all our fates and, more than anything, shows off Elba and his sweat-soaked performance.

Online and Social

The official website opens with the trailer playing in a pop-up window. That goes along with “Videos” being the first option in the content menu at the top of the page. After that is “About,” which has a brief synopsis of the movie’s story.

A “Gallery” of about five stills featuring the two lead characters is next, followed by a “Cast & Crew” section that has lists of those involved in making the movie.

Other than the links to the movie’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles, the final section on the site is the “Journey to the Dark Tower.” That’s not a great site but takes you to the world of the tower where you can move the camera around and click on some bright lights that play short clips from the film. It’s not much of a journey as you don’t seem to move toward the tower at all.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A series of TV spots began running in early June that featured narration from The Man in Black or the Gunslinger. Each one sets up the conflict from various ways, explaining who these characters are and what motivates them along with one that brings it all together to sell the movie as basically a superhero story about the fight between right and wrong.

Outdoor and online ads used the key art featuring the two leads or just an image of the tower while social ads utilized the trailer.

Media and Publicity

There was tons of conversation, speculation and reports about casting, filming and more, but the official publicity campaign kicked off with a first look at official stills featuring McConaughey, Elba and others in Entertainment Weekly. Along with the pictures the cast talked about the movie, their characters and more, including how King himself got involved in some ways to help the movie along.

Shortly before release director Nik Arcel cleared up some confusion around the story by stating it wasn’t really an adaptation but a sequel to previous Dark Tower stories, meaning it’s part of the universe not a straight retelling of the book’s story. That’s an…interesting perspective that actually has a high probability of turning off the general audience since it means some prior knowledge is required to get the full mythology of the world. Arcel also commented on the movie’s short – just 95 minutes – runtime, explaining it resulted from a tight script for what was meant to just be the first of many chapters in the overall story.

Not sure what it means about the appeal of this movie specifically but there was a late push to highlight its connections to other Stephen King properties, hoping to draw people in with easter eggs to other movies and stories. That seems like the studios admitting it has a weak hand.

While the cast made the press and talk show rounds to promote the movie and talk about how it compares with the source novels, the big last minute story was one that detailed the troubled road the movie had taken to the big screen. That began with ambitious plans to make a seven movie series with a TV series tie-in that was ultimately pared down, though TV plans are still in the works. Closer to release it also included problematic test screenings, reports of creative clashes between the director, producers and studio execs.

Overall

There’s so much going on with this campaign that it’s hard to get my head around it. “So much” not in the sense of a movie like some of the other big releases from this and other years, where there are an overwhelming amount of trailers, promotional tie-ins and other elements designed to inundate the audience with sheer volume of messaging. No, instead the movie’s message to potential moviegoers is weighed down with so much baggage, the result of its troubled path to production.

That baggage involves more than just the one or two big stories that have detailed specific issues or behind-the-scenes conflict. It also is manifests in the relatively small campaign that’s been mounted. Just one trailer was released, and the posters were all variations on the same theme, none featuring interesting designs or unique appeals. This was not a full-throated effort.

Other major studio release campaigns might suffer from a bit of bloat. Conversely, this one suffers from severe anorexia, especially for a movie that 1) Is a major fantasy release, 2) Is based on a book by a well-known author and 3) Has a built-in fanbase because of those books. Simply the fact that only one trailer was produced and that it only came three months before the movie’s opening weekend creates an odor of issues around it. That might turn the public off, allowing them to feel fine as they choose to finally check out Dunkirk or Baby Driver or see Wonder Woman again.