The Lovebirds – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a comedy originally meant for theaters.

lovebirds poster

20 years ago, when The Lovebirds was still intended for theatrical release by Paramount, the movie was tracking for a $10-15 million opening weekend. That was decent, if not spectacular, and was due in large part because star Kumail Nanjiani was pretty popular with audiences.

Now, the movie is headed straight to Netflix but retains its appeal.

The story is a familiar one: Jibran (Nanjiani) and his girlfriend Leilani (Issa Rae) are very much in love when they find themselves in the middle of what appears to be a murder investigation. Afraid they will be suspects but with no evidence of their innocence, they set out on their own in an attempt to clear their names so they can get back to their lives. Of course that doesn’t go nearly as well as they hope or expect it will.

Michael Showalter directed the film, which hasn’t undergone much (if any) change in direction in its marketing despite the change, still hoping to lure audiences with a collection of ridiculous situations being faced by otherwise normal characters.

The Posters

There was just one poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) released in January that shows Jibran and Leilani sitting in the middle of a chaotic New Orleans street looking disheveled and exhausted from whatever it is they’ve been in the middle of. Various elements of the plot are hinted at through elements in the background, including a horse, a car with a broken window and more.

That one-sheet still carries the movie’s original April release date for theaters and while there doesn’t seem to have been an updated poster publicly released Netflix did put out a promo image using the same design.

The Trailers

Jibran and Leilani are, January’s first trailer (3.3 million views on YouTube) shows us, a very happy couple. Things get weird when a man claiming to be a police officer commandeers their car to chase down and then run over – repeatedly – someone he says is a criminal. They realize, after running from the scene, they’re probably wanted for murder at that point but fear going to the police will not turn out well given they’re both brown people. So they set out to investigate for themselves to clear their name, something they’re not qualified to do and which therefore results in hilarity.

The same trailer (562,000 views on YouTube) was released by Netflix in April when it acquired the film.

Online and Social

No website as usual for Netflix’s films, but there were social media profiles, including a Twitter account that was active until right after the distributor change.

Advertising and Promotions

At about the same time the trailer was unveiled the news came the movie would premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Those plans, including an appearance by the stars, were shut down when the festival was cancelled due to the Covid-19 coronavirus situation.

A TV spot that aired in February had Nanjiani and Rae having the idea of faking online romance explained to them by Dean Unglert, Jared Haibon and Ashley Iaconetti from “The Bachelor,” all of whom insisted what you see on screen is very real.

Paramount took advantage of Giphy’s Stories format to create “How To Find Your Lovebird,” a series of GIFs on #SinglesAwarenessDay featuring the stars sharing tips on how to get your crush to notice you.

Another short TV commercial-esque spot came out in March that shows some of the hijinks the couple get into as they try to prove their innocence.

Eventually the movie was one of a number of releases pulled from the schedule by Paramount and other studios. Not long after that it was announced the studio had signed a deal with Netflix for the movie to premiere there. That announcement came in the form of a filmed video chat between Nanjiani and Rae where they shared their excitement over the change.

Media and Press

A first look photo was released in early January, just before the trailer debuted.

Nanjiani did a few video call interviews in the last couple weeks to talk about this movie as well as some of the other projects he has coming up. Rae did as well.

Overall

The story itself looks like something that’s been done before, but the promise laid out in the campaign is that there are enough unique twists here that, combined with the attraction of the leads, What’s on display here is a fun, fast-paced comedy with lots of ridiculousness as the situations the characters find themselves in just keep getting more and more outlandish.

What’s surprising is that there wasn’t more of a pivot on display given the Paramount/Netflix shift. The campaign is entertaining, but Netflix decided to continue on exactly as before when they took the reins, not doing much more with the effort to gain additional attention and interest, instead largely relying on whatever momentum the marketing had accumulated up to that point.

Picking Up The Spare

More from Nanjiani here when he appeared on “Late Night.” 

Online ads like this began running as the movie was about to hit Netflix. 

After the movie was released there was an interview with the two stars, who also appeared in a video chat to discuss one of the movie’s key scenes. 

Little – Marketing Recap

little posterLittle offers a new spin on a familiar tale. Regina Hall stars as Jordan Sanders, a high-powered executive who has achieved her success by taking a cuthroat, no-nonsense approach to everything in her life. Her assistant April (Issa Rae) bears the brunt of Jordan’s assault as her personal assistant.

Jordan’s unapologetic personality leads to an altercation with a little girl resulting in the girl wishing Jordan were little again. The next day that’s exactly what happens. Jordan, now pint-sized (and played by Marsai Martin), seeks out April’s help to try and fix or at least manage the situation. Hilarity ensues.

The Posters

All three characters are shown on the one-sheet, with April standing between the different versions of Jordan. The copy – “She woke up like this.” – uses arrows to make the direction of the sentence clear, with “She ←” pointing toward adult Jordan and “this →” pointing toward the childish one. For her own part, April looks nothing but confused by the situation she’s been presented with.

The Trailers

Jordan, we see in the first trailer, is a pretty unreasonable boss, making outrageous demands on April’s time and patience. In fact she’s an abusive boss to everyone. One day a little girl wishes Jordan was a kid again, which comes to pass the next day. April winds up responsible for the new pint-sized version of Jordan, who continues to be obnoxious and abrasive even in a kid’s body. The two have to navigate all kinds of unusual situations from work to school and more.

We know Hall is funny, but Rae is the real winner here.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website offers the usual mix of content, including the trailer, a story synopsis and a “Partners” section. There were also profiles created on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

An edited version of the first trailer was used as a Promoted Tweet.

Postmates, the one promotional partner for the film, offered $.99 delivery fees for a limited time leading up to the release date.

A Snapchat filter shrunk your headshot down to kid-sized proportions.

The movie got some paid promotion during a recent episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Media and Publicity

A clip from late March has April trying to figure out what happened to Jordan, who shows up in a kid’s body with no idea how she got there. Another clip featured Hartley’s teacher being ogled by the women while a third showed the first moment April meeting the newly young Jordan.

Rae was profiled in a piece focusing on how she got the job, what connection she found with the story and the path her career has taken to date. Another interview with her used the hook of her character being an assistant to ask her how she manages her life.

Complex premiered a new song by Chloe X Halle that appears on the film’s soundtrack.

An interview with Martin covered how she got involved with the project and more.

There were a handful of other interviews with the cast as well as appearances on various talk shows. All three leads appeared at BeautyCon to talk about the film and its story.

Late in the cycle there were a couple profiles of superstar producer Will Packer where he talked about the movie and his success in the industry. There was also more on Martin and the fame she’s achieved at a young age.

Overall

It’s easy to write this off as a retread of Big, and indeed it seems the project may have started off like that. But that’s not how it’s being sold and labeling it as such discounts what the campaign shows to be a unique approach to the idea of suddenly finding yourself in a body you’re not familiar with while your personality and mind remain intact.

Specifically, the campaign has repeatedly invoked the phrase/hashtag “#BlackGirlMagic,” a concept rooted in celebrating the power and drive of black women in all aspects of life and society. The co opting of that idea into the marketing embraces a more literal interpretation of that idea, but still represents the original meaning.

As a white man I’m not fully qualified (or even a little bit qualified) to weigh in further on that particular point, but I will say the marketing presents a funny movie that is working hard to be judged on its own merits. On that front the campaign succeeds.

Picking Up the Spare

Good point here, that “tech company CEO” isn’t usually a job assigned to women, much less women of color, in films. 

The dominant theme of the coverage after release was that Marin is incredible as a producer and someone who’s tired of “firsts” and wants things to be normalized. 

There was also an interview with screenwriter Tracy Oliver about the movie and her career aspirations and another with the production team about creating the visual style of the movie.