Luca – Marketing Recap

How DisneyPixar has sold a coming-of-age story with an underwater twist.

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Luca, directed by Enrico Casarosa, stars Jacob Tremblay as the voice of Luca Paguro, a pre-teen sea creature who dreams of exploring the world above. His best friend Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) helps him do just that, coming out to visit the small Italian village near their underwater home. They befriend a young girl named Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman), who joins the two — who can take human form when out of the water — in all sorts of adventures in her hometown.

The movie is the latest Pixar release coming to Disney+ as the result of the coronavirus pandemic, arriving with mostly positive reviews that have earned the film a 91% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and after a campaign that has emphasized the setting even more than the story.

The Posters

You get a sense of Luca’s dual nature on the first poster (by Legion Creative Group), released in February. Above the water he looks human but very different in the part that’s still submerged.

The same message is conveyed on April’s second poster, but this time Luca is joined by Alberto and Giulia as they sit on the coast of the Italian village where the action takes place, many of the supporting characters in the background. It sells a bright, fun adventure with a cast of young characters on a design that looks like a travel poster.

Three more character posters came out earlier in June that put all three of the kids in the position of being half-submerged, but only Giulia needs a snorkel and looks the same underwater.

The Trailers

Luca and his friends are having a great time on the Italian Riviera when the trailer (6.9 million views on YouTube), released in February, opens. But as they engage in the kind of hijinks not uncommon for kids their age, they are hiding a secret that’s only visible when they are in the water. The trailer sets up the premise succinctly, if somewhat incompletely, but still makes it look quite charming.

More of the story is on display in the first full-length trailer (11.7 million views on YouTube) from late April. We see how Luca explores the surface world with Alberto and how the two of them first get into some trouble but then are rescued by Giulia. She and Luca become friends, getting into adventures all their own together as Luca and his brother try to avoid revealing their true nature to the townspeople.

Online and Social

Only a barebones website for the movie but there were social media profiles that shared regular updates and assets.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Pixar announced the movie in July of last year.

In March of this year Disney announced the movie would skip theaters entirely and be available on Disney+ on its planned release date.

Casarosa was interviewed about the movie’s story as well as its unique visuals and approach to animation.

TV spots like this began running in May that sells the vibrant colors of the movie along with the adventures the characters have throughout the story.

A “Friendship” featurette had Gaffigan, Rudolph, Casarosa and others talking about the magical nature of friendships at a certain age and how the movie captures that magic.

The movie’s production designer Daniela Strijleva was interviewed about drawing inspiration from her own experiences in Italy to create the movie’s look and feel.

Another featurette included comments from Casarosa, Gaffigan and Rudolph about the research that went into creating an authentic Italian coastal town.

The first clip, released in early June, shows the moment Guilia brings Luca and Alberto home to meet her father and have dinner, an event that doesn’t go very well.

Casarosa was part of a publicity tour event in Italy.

Just days before the movie’s release a “blue carpet” premiere was held at the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles.

The official website lists a number of companies as promotional partners for the movie, but many of the links from that site don’t work and additional details on most of those weren’t readily accessible. The list includes:

  • Blue Apron (details unavailable)
  • Annie’s (details unavailable)
  • Baubles and Sole (details unavailable but the company did frequently promote the movie on Instagram)
  • McDonald’s, which put movie toys in Happy Meal boxes and offered downloadable activities online
  • The Watermelon Board, which created a campaign encouraging people to enjoy their summer with some cool refreshing watermelon

Overall

There’s less of an emphasis on the story here than there is on the setting. That’s understandable since it’s an unusual and beautiful location but it means that the actual stakes of the movie and the characters we’re asked to care about are moved to the background.

But it is an enjoyable marketing push, one that positions the movie as a simpler, gentler Pixar release, one that may not reach the emotional heights of other titles but which does promise a good time in a gorgeous location.

Good Boys – Marketing Recap

good boys posterLong-range tracking has Universal’s R-rated comedy opening around $15 million.

The tween characters in Good Boys – directed by Gene Stupnitsky, who cowrote with Lee Eisenberg and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – are a bunch of clueless dorks in a familiar story. Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Newton) are all best friends who are panicking because they’ve been invited to their first middle school party, one they are afraid will include kissing and other activities they are inexperienced with.

Setting out to gain the knowledge they deem necessary to take part, they borrow the drone owned by Max’s dad to spy on their older teenage neighbor. When that drone falls into the hands of Hannah (Molly Gordon) and Lily (Midori Francis), the trio has to somehow get it back. Doing so winds up involving a surprising amount of drugs, sex toys and other materials they’re not nearly old enough to deal with.

That concept – of both the young actors and the characters they play – being underage for the level of material has formed the crux of Universal’s campaign.

The Posters

There has, surprisingly, only been one poster released for the movie. It came out around the same time as the first trailer and shows the tops of the heads of the three leads, a line hovering above them declaring “You must be this tall to see this movie.” That indicates for the audience that we’re dealing with some inappropriate material here. That message is reinforced by the big “R” rating in the middle as well as the movies mentioned at the top produced by the same team as this one.

The Trailers

The red-band trailer, which debuted at the same time the movie was appearing at SXSW, opens with Seth Rogen (a producer on the movie) explaining to the underage stars that the movie is so offensive the actors themselves can’t watch it. When footage finally starts we see the group of friends is trying to improve their middle school image, including knowing how to kiss a girl so they can be cool when they go to a party. Their hijinks involves them encountering sex toys they don’t know the real purpose for, accidentally acquiring someone else’s drugs and watching a little port. [extreme john mulaney voice] As one does. [/extreme john mulaney voice]

The jokes are slightly different in the later all-ages trailer but the message is the same, that the three guys are a bit clueless when it comes to girls (or basic biology) but are determined to be cool at a party. All sorts of craziness ensues as they try to figure out what girls want and show off their general lack of awareness and knowledge while everyone around them is much more worldly.

Another red-band trailer came in mid-July that opens once more with Rogen explaining the underage cast is too young to see the movie they just starred in. When footage kicks in it’s clear there’s plenty of language and other offensive material here, including lots of humor revolving around sex and drugs. A few new scenes offer additional context but by and large it’s similar to what has been shown before.

Online and Social

For the most part the movie’s official website features just the usual collection of marketing material. The only addition to that is a “Game” that lets you basically play Frogger, but you’re trying to get Max, Lucas and Thor across the highway in a recreation of a scene from the film. That game was also available to play on Snapchat.

Advertising and Publicity

This was one of two movies Seth Rogen had at SXSW this year, something that came up in various interviews with the actor/producer. Rogen and the underage members of the cast were part of Universal’s presentation at CinemaCon in April, cracking up the industry and press crowd and further promising a raunchy comedy that would bring in the audience. A screening of the movie was hosted by Universal at CineEurope in June.

Online display ads used the key art, including the title treatment with devil horns and the innocent-looking faces of the cast.

A series of red-band clips showing scenes from the movie involving piloting a drone, getting rid of the drugs they mistakenly have, attempting to steal a beer and learning how to kiss. Complex also received an exclusive clip featuring Lil Rey and Retta as Lucas’ parents.

While much of the campaign was centered around the kids, a featurette released earlier this month introduced us to the adults in the story as well as the actors who play them. Another focused on the bad words the kids were asked to say in the script.

Universal announced free screenings of the movie at select theaters across the country last Wednesday, August 7th, to mark National Friendship Day, which is a nice thematic tie-in to the movie’s story.

Media and Press

Tremblay appeared on “The Tonight Show” to do impressions and generally be cute while selling the raunchy movie he stars in. Lucas was on “Kimmel” to do likewise. All three kids showed up on “Late Night” and Howery was featured on “The Tonight Show.”

Given the fate that’s befallen many non-franchise films lately – especially those in the “comedy” genre – it’s understandable that the movie became the focus of stories like this wondering whether it can lure adult moviegoers to theaters.

Rogen was interviewed about whether the movie is appropriate for those under 17 and what kind of comedy he and the other filmmakers were trying to craft, including what kind of inspiration they drew from. There were also a few interviews with Gordon about her own experiences growing up.

Overall

While the campaign does make the movie look funny in an “OMG did they really do that?” kind of way, the emphasis on the idea of age appropriateness has me concerned the studio and filmmakers didn’t have enough faith to sell the story on its own merits. By continuing to go to the “these kids are too young to see their own movie” well it seems the actual ideas of the movie are being put to the side, which is usually a sign the marketing team doesn’t know how else to present the film to audiences.

What may be happening in this case is that, with the skeletons of so many recent comedies already bleaching in the desert sun, the decision was made to brand the movie as insanely outrageous and maybe even a little controversial in order to get people’s attention and pique their interest. That’s resulted in a campaign that constantly draws attention to the subject matter contained in the movie while not offering much in the way of the context that’s presented in.

We’ll have to see if it can break out where others have failed. In the meantime, let’s not forget the best “crossing the highway in a panic” scene ever committed to film.

Picking Up the Spare

Another interview with the underage cast. That same cast shared the lessons they learned from Rogen at the movie’s premiere. Williams talked about similar matters in this interview.

Marketing Recap – Wonder

wonder theatrical posterIf you’ve read the book on which this week’s new movie Wonder is based you’ll know what it means to have a good cry. The story follows Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy born with facial deformities who, after years of surgeries that have kept him home – and home-schooled – is about to enter fifth grade at his local public school.

Confident in who he is and supported by his mother (Julia Roberts), father (Owen Wilson) and older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie is nonetheless self-conscious about how different he is from the other kids. There are ups and downs as he seeks to make friends and be accepted by the kids – and adults – around him.

The Posters

“Are you ready to meet Auggie Pullman?” we’re asked on the first poster, which shows Auggie while he’s wearing his astronaut helmet. Not only does it state clearly that it’s based on a New York Times bestseller but the blue in the background is the same shade that was used on the cover of the source novel. That’s a nice touch.

That same concept was used on a series of character posters. Each features a different actor’s name, a drawing of their head that’s done in the same style as the book cover, and the name of the character they’re playing.

The next poster shows Auggie in profile, this time the visor of his helmet open so we can see part of his face. The same blue background is used along with the same copy, this is just about giving us a slightly better look at the main character.

Another poster has “Choose kind” as its primary message, this one using the same drawing of Auggie that’s featured on the cover of the book. Another once more puts Auggie in the helmet he loves to wear but adds the dog, showing a row of school lockers in the reflection of helmet’s visor. This time we’re promised, “Auggie Pullman will change your world.”

That’s the same message conveyed on the next poster, which drops the blue background that’s been used to date for a white one. Here, Auggie is sitting, still wearing his helmet, in front of a massive globe. A couple more posters featuring either Auggie on his own with his helmet off and in his hands or getting a pep talk from his parents.

The final (?) theatrical poster disposes with the blue theme of the entire rest of the campaign and just uses one of the production stills showing Auggie walking to school with the rest of his family. It also uses a wholly different approach with the copy, asking the audience “Who gives you the courage to face the world?”

The Trailers

The first trailer will hit you right in the feels. We meet Auggie as he’s about to start public school for the first time, something he’s nervous about because of the way his face looks. We hear him narrating what went into the surgeries that have resulted in his situation. His parents try to reassure him and he eventually makes a real friend at school, then another.

Shut up and give me a minute while I finish ugly-crying.

The second trailer once more starts with Auggie heading to his first day at school, where he encounters some bad attitudes from his classmates despite the encouragement of his family. Eventually he makes some friends and finds his groove, getting more involved and helping to inspire other kids. The primary element of the trailer is the inclusion of a new song from singer Bea Miller.

I said give me a damn minute.

One more short trailer hit that emphasized the role of Auggie’s family and how important they are to him.

Online and Social

There’s full-screen video that plays in the background of the splash page of the movie’s official website. Auggie is there in the corner holding his helmet just as in the key art alongside the release date, the movie’s official #ChooseKind hashtag and links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Over in the opposite corner are a few activities and options, starting with the “Daily Dose of Wonder,” which opens up a Facebook Messenger conversation with the movie, though what you’re supposed to do next is unclear. It might be that you’re meant to share something inspiring, but there’s no clear call to action or anything right here. There’s also a “Portrait Creator” that lets you create your own version of a self-portrait in the style of the book’s cover. You can download the finished product as an image to share on social media, a desktop image for your phone, computer or tablet, or an avatar or cover photo for your social media profile. iMessage stickers could be downloaded and you could enter the Omaze-powered Choose Kind campaign.

Moving to the content menu at the top of the page, the first section here is “Story,” which has a brief synopsis to check out. “Videos” has a lot, from the trailers to a number of character introduction videos to some of the “Choose Kind” short films that were created and a couple of featurettes.

There are several production stills in the “Photos” section and the “Posters” section has at least most of the key art that was created. “Cast” just has stills of each of the cast in character. There’s another link to the “Portrait Creator” and then a “Partners” section.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot played much like a shorter version of the trailers, showing not much of the actual story but focusing on how strong Auggie is in the face of such adversity and how supportive his family is. More spots kept hitting the inspirational aspect of the story, showing how tough Auggie is.

For a family drama, there were a number of interesting promotional partnerships:

  • Wattpad, the short/serialized fiction publishing platform, along with Tongal sponsored a short films series featuring stories that were shared there.
  • GapKids launched a back-to-school campaign centered on community heroes and kids with inspiring stories that included at least one TV spot using both Tremblay and R.J. Palacio, the writer of the source book. That was also part of GapKids’ overall “Forward With” campaign of other emotional and uplifting stories and commercials.
  • Roma, which created a special movie-themed rain boot as part of its overall mission to help those in need around the world have proper footwear and access to education.
  • Funoogles, which created special movie-themed eyewear and accessories.
  • HelloFresh, which offered a deal on its meal delivery service tied to the movie and asked recipients to send back a postcard with their stories of moments where they “chose kind.”
  • City of Kindness, which launched its own Choose Kind campaign. Mayors of select cities offered tools to help citizens make good choices and some hosted local screenings, all culminating today, World Kindness Day. Cheerios and Crest offered free product to organizations working with that campaign.

The trailers and other videos were used for social media ads and the key art, along with clips from the trailers and more, were used as online ads. Outdoor advertising used that key art as well.

Media and Publicity

There was certainly coverage of casting and production, but it’s notable that one of the first big pieces of press was from Daveed Diggs (of “Hamilton” fame), who talked about how he got the role. In EW’s fall movie preview Tremblay talked about working with Roberts as well as wanting to be part of such an important emotional story.

Tremblay, Roberts and Wilson all made a variety of media appearances and gave various interviews that talked about how inspiring they found the material and how that motivated them to get involved in the project. Director Stephen Chbosky also spoke about how he wound up making the movie and how he worked with Palacino to bring Auggie’s story to the big screen.

Overall

It’s OK for me to admit that this campaign plays every heartstring that still lies within a grizzled, cynical 40+ year old exterior. That’s partly because I have read the book it’s based on, so I know how the story plays out, and partly because it’s just damn effective. It uses the talents of all involved, from Tremblay to Roberts to Wilson, to great effect to sell the movie as one that’s inspirational and touching. I’m also struck by how it’s sold as both a movie for kids and young adults who will be drawn in by the relatability of how strange and alienating fifth grade can be as well as a movie for full-on adults and parents, who will identify with all the emotions shown by Auggie’s mom and dad.

It also can’t go without stating that there’s a great branding consistency going on in most all of the campaign. The trailers all hit the same beats as the TV spots and of course the posters, for the most part, use the popularity of the book to great effect, grabbing that distinctive robin’s egg blue for much of the campaign. Where many adaptations seek to discard much of the source book’s branding (aside from a title treatment or something) this one knows how often people have seen the cover on their own bookshelves or on the racks of book sections at Target and want to draw a straight line for the audience right to the box office.

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