The Prom – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a flashy, glitzy feel-good story.

The Prom, directed by TV impresario Ryan Murphy, is a star-studded romp about defying small-minded attitudes with the help of a handful of massive celebrities. Adapted from a hit stage musical, the movie stars Jo Ellen Pellman as Emma Nolan, a high schooler who has been informed that the PTA, headed by Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington), will not allow her to attend the prom with her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), who just also happens to be Mrs. Greene’s daughter.

When Emma’s situation makes the news it catches the attention of a handful of Broadway stars who are looking to get themselves out of a professional rut. So Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), Barry Glickman (James Corden), Angie Dickenson (Nicole Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) all head to small-town Indiana hoping to find career salvation but wind up experiencing quite a bit more.

The movie itself has received middling reviews, but Netflix gave it a flashy campaign in keeping with the subject matter.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency L.A.) came out in September and immediately makes the showbiz-nature of the story clear by presenting both the title and the names of the cast in big neon letters, like a sign placed on top of a building. You don’t get a lot of story information here but you get a lot of background on the rest of the movie, so it works pretty well.

A series of character posters, each with the face of that actor and another thing to celebrate named, came out in November.

“Everyone deserves a chance to celebrate” the audience is told on the next poster, released later in November. This one shows Emma and Alyssa holding hands while walking toward the school building, clearly on their way to a dance. A second poster uses the same aesthetic, but turns the couple around so they’re standing triumphantly facing the camera.

The final poster has the adults in the cast walking down the downtown of the town where the action takes place, all looking like they’re having a great time with all the neon and glitz they’re wearing.

The Trailers

The trailer (1.3 million views on YouTube), released toward the end of October, is the very definition of glitzy. You get the basics of the story – that a bunch of Broadway superstars has come to a small Indiana town to support a young woman who is being denied the right to go to the prom with her girlfriend – but that’s just there in the service of showing off the big musical productions. There’s so much glitter, so many sequins and so much choreography it’s…well…it’s just impressive.

The final trailer (1.4 million views on YouTube) came out just a few weeks ago, opening with Emma logging into her computer to tell her story. That prompts the cadre of actors to take up Emma’s cause as their own, heading to Indiana to make a splash. There are ups and downs, of course, but ultimately the stars decide to stage a prom themselves, resulting in more than a few heartwarming musical numbers.

Online and Social

No website, of course, but the movie also seems to have received limited support on Netflix’s brand social channels because the company has been busy promoting Mank as well as its lineup of holiday films.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie was announced back in April of 2019. After it was picked up by Netflix a release date was finally announced in mid-September.

A full clip of Kidman performing one of the film’s key musical numbers came out earlier this week.

Media and Press

The cast and crew were all part of a THR cover story where they talked about making the movie, what the story meant to them and more. That included a spotlight on DeBose, mentioning this as one of a couple high-profile projects she’s recently involved in.

Many members of the cast were quoted talking about this movie in a feature story on the latest wave of Hollywood’s attempt to make musicals an ongoing genre again.

Murphy praised his cast and celebrated the timeliness of the story in an interview.

DeBose was interviewed about how her cultural heritage and other factors played into this and other roles. Another interview with Murphy had him talking about assembling the cast and making the movie.

In terms of talk show appearances, Rannells showed up on “The Tonight Show” while Streep appeared on “The Late Show.”

Overall

You certainly can’t accuse the campaign of not knowing what it’s selling. That bright, shimmery pink and purple brand identity is carried across every element of the marketing, creating a consistent experience for the audience no matter where they encounter it.

What is slightly disappointing, though, is that in serving so much glitter the marketing never really settles into the story. You have to dig through several layers of musical fluff to get to what the film is actually about, and much of the drama that’s conveyed in the official synopsis isn’t communicated within the campaign itself. That includes big contradictions, such as how Washington’s character is shown in the trailer to be the antagonist who doesn’t want to let her daughter celebrate but on the posters is smiling and having a grand old time along with everyone else.

In the end it’s a mixed bag, but maybe I too don’t understand the concept of zazz.

SuperIntelligence – Marketing Recap

How HBO Max has sold a high-concept comedy not too far removed from reality.

Melissa McCarthy stars in this week’s new HBO Max release Superintelligence, directed once again by her husband Ben Falcone. In the film McCarthy plays Carol Peters, an all-around unremarkable woman who one day finds herself targeted by a powerful artificial intelligence (voiced by James Corden) that is deciding if it should enslave, destroy or leave humanity alone. It plans to study Carol for a few days before making its ultimate decision.

Along the way, the AI gifts her with a fortune to see what she does when freed from other concerns. The situation also prompts Carol to attempt to reconnect with her ex, George (Bobby Cannavale), wanting to spend what might be her last few days with no regrets about the past. Meanwhile, the FBI wants to know why Carol got the AI’s attention and what can be done about it.

As with many others, the movie was originally scheduled for theatrical late last year before being pulled by Warner Bros. and ultimately replatformed for streaming.

The Posters

Carol and George are having a nice romantic moment on the poster (by marketing agency Works Adv), released in November. The two look like they’re enjoying each other’s company along with some champagne and it all seems pleasant until you realize the heart shape in the wall behind them seems to hint at some sort of violence or devastation that has created such an opening. That juxtaposition, intended to create some intrigue or interest, comes off as a bit odd, hinting at a movie that may not know which tone to take.

The Trailers

As the trailer (6.7 million views on YouTube), released in early November, opens, we see that an ultra-sophisticated computer system has set its eyes on Carol for…reasons. It knows everything about her and has led her to believe the world is going to end in three days, something it’s threatening to do if it can’t understand humanity more fully through her. With the FBI wondering why it’s targeted Carol, she takes the idea of there not being many more tomorrows to reconnect with an ex-boyfriend.

Online and Social

No stand-alone site for the movie, but HBO Max did give it regular support on its brand social channels.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A brief controversy emerged in mid-November when it was noticed that one of the groups taking part in the “20 Days of Kindness” campaign was staunchly anti-abortion, which seemed to be off-brand for McCarthy and others. She and the studio issued a statement days later saying that group had been removed from the effort.

After the trailer came out a number of featurettes were released that covered the love story of the movie, the makeover Carol gives herself to win George back and how much of an average, non-exceptional human being Carol is.

Other promos like this really leaned into McCarthy’s popularity.

Media and Publicity

McCarthy and Forte appeared on stage to do a bit during WB’s CinemaCon 2019 presentation, an effort to get exhibitors and others excited about the upcoming film. In October of last year it was announced the movie would forego a theatrical release and instead be saved for the debut of HBO Max.

The cast participated in a group interview about technology and related issues here.

Both Falcone and McCarthy appeared on late night and other talk shows to talk about the movie and once more working together.

Overall

The message of the campaign is simple, and largely the same one as most other comedies starring McCarthy. Namely, if you enjoy her antics and persona, you’ll likely enjoy this movie. If not, you may want to find something else because it’s probably going to be relatively similar to what you’ve seen before.

That’s not a bad thing, as McCarthy is a comedic powerhouse, one with a relatively solid and box-office record. Such a record makes her streaming feature debut more of a statement about the health of comedies at the box-office than it probably should be, even when adjusting for this being a pandemic year. She is who she is, especially when being directed by Falcone, and this campaign makes that abundantly clear.

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.