spider-man: no way home – marketing recap

How Marvel and Sony have sold the third entry in the web-slinging franchise

Spider-Man: No Way Home movie poster
Spider-Man: No Way Home movie poster

Spider-Man: No Way Home arrives in theaters this week at the end of what can easily and legitimately be described as a weird year for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. At the beginning of 2021, Covid-19 vaccines were only just beginning to become widely available and many new movies were still going straight to streaming or VOD if they weren’t being delayed indefinitely.

Now the theatrical release picture has gone back to something approaching pre-2020 normal, including how only franchise blockbusters seem to score any level of success at the box office. But there are headwinds building, including new Covid variants, that could skew things going forward.

Into all this comes the third film in Sony’s third (or fourth depending on if you count Into The Spider-Verse) Spider-Man franchise. Tom Holland returns as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, as does Zendaya as Michelle “MJ” Jones-Watson and Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds.

The story revolves around Parker turning to Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to undo the revealing of his identity as Spider-Man that occurred at the end of the last movie. But when the spell goes wrong a rift in the fabric of the universe occurs, leading to intrusions on the MCU Spider-Verse by characters from Sony’s previous two Spider-Man series.

announcement and casting

In late summer of 2019, well before the movie actually moved into production, the press was dominated by reports that the tenuous partnership between Sony and Disney that had allowed Spider-Man to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had fallen apart. Both sides blamed the other, saying parts of the deal had been reneged on and a new agreement was impossible to reach that would allow the crossover to continue.

Things seemed destined to go back to their pre-2016 status quo, with Spidey unconnected from the MCU until Holland himself exerted pressure on the heads of both studios, making the fan outpouring clear to them, resulting in a new deal that would at the very least allow for a resolution to the character’s arc within the MCU instead of an abrupt, unexplained exit.

In October reports emerged that Cumberbatch would be reprising his role as Doctor Strange in the film.

Sony moved the movie by a month on the release schedule in July of last year while the Covid-19 pandemic was still causing massive disruptions. In September it raised a lots of eyebrows with the news Jamie Foxx was returning as Electro, a role he played in 2014’s Spider-Man 2 with Andrew Garfield,

Production was underway, as marked by Holland in a timely mask-related post, in November of 2020.

Additional casting news came fast and furious in December of last year, when Molina, Stone, Garfield, Dunst and Maguire were all reported to be coming back, lending credence to the rumors this movie was going full multiverse.

Zendaya spoke briefly about the movie late last year when doing publicity for other projects.

In February speculation as to the movie’s official title came to head when Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all shared a few new stills along with totally fake-out title cards, a planned stunt to get fans talking and sharing. It all culminated when Sony shared a video featuring the three leaving Watts’ office frustrated by his refusal to share the title of the film, only to walk past a white board with that title written on it along with a handful of rejected contenders.

Molina confirmed in April he was returning as Doctor Octopus, but Andrew Garfield in May denied he was involved saying he hadn’t been contacted by anyone about the project.

The movie, along with other upcoming MCU entries, was name-checked in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May.

marketing phase one: spectacular

The first good look at the characters, including hints as to what the story may involve, came when Marvel released photos of some of the toys and collectibles in early July.

The trailer leaked in mid-August, causing Sony to go through the paces to try and have it taken down from the various places it popped up.

When it was finally released by both Marvel and Sony (107.5m combined views on YouTube), it shows Peter is still dealing with the fallout of the last movie, including police suspicion he killed Mysterio. With his secret identity now public, he goes to see Doctor Strange to see if anything can be done about that. But Strange’s spell to reverse what happened goes awry – in part because of Peter’s nervous meddling – it opens up a portal to the multiverse. That means there are glimpses of characters like Green Goblin, Electro and, dramatically at the end, Doctor Octopus.

Sony addressed that leak as it showed off the trailer and other footage to attendees of CinemaCon in August.

A first TV spot from the day after the trailer came out touted how successful it had been as measured by both video views and social media conversations generated.

Cumberbatch talked about what the story has in store for Peter and Stephen when he appeared at the Telluride Film Festival to promote some of the other films he had being screened there.

As Garfield was doing the media rounds for his other projects he kept being asked whether or not he was appearing in this movie, consistently denying any cameos had been filmed.

The release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage in September included conversation about this movie because of a mid-credits sequence that hinted at Eddie Brock/Venom, played by Tom Hardy, finally meeting Spider-Man in this film because of multiverse craziness.

Holland talked more here about what it was like to finish the trilogy with Watts as well as how he was super-excited to work with Molina. Around the same time a profile of Zendaya covered her experience on this franchise as well as her other recent work. More stills were released in an Empire cover story that had Watts talking about overcoming the seemingly impossible task of assembling so much of the talent from all the previous films.

marketing phase two: amazing

The first poster wasn’t released until early November, over two months after the trailer came out. It’s surprisingly restrained for this franchise but still shows a lot, including Spider-Man balancing on one of Doc Ock’s arms while Green Goblin is seen in the background along with hints of Sandman and Electro’s involvement.

The next one-sheet came out just a week later, this one showing Spider-Man huddled with Doctor Strange against the encroaching enemies.

More small hints and comments came from Cumberbatch on “Kimmel” in November during the press cycle for The Power of the Dog.

The official trailer (58m YouTube views from Sony) came out in mid-November. This one skips some of the setup about Peter wanting to make everyone forget his super hero identity and gets straight to the incoming threats from the multiverse. After the challenges become clear, Peter learns that all these villains die in their home universe, something he’s determined to prevent before closing the rifts and sending everyone back. Doctor Strange isn’t on board with that, but Peter and his friends won’t be stopped.

Sony held events screening that trailer in various cities, with Holland showing up at a couple of them to get fans even more excited.

The star was profiled in GQ, sharing some thoughts about this movie as well as what he sees for the future of Spider-Man on film.

At this time Liberty Mutual began running a cross-promotional campaign that worked the idea of Spider-Man saving the city into the company’s commercials about saving people money and hassle. There were also commercials from Hyundai that showed Peter getting picked up by Ned in the middle of nowhere as he tries to clear his name.

More TV spots were released that cut down the message of the second trailer to a shorter runtime while still conveying the multiverse nature of the story and the attendant villains.

Tickets going on sale was announced by the cast in a Fandango video on what was called “Spider Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving. Another video had Foxx joining Holland. AMC Theaters promised those buying advance tickets a free “eco-friendly” Spider-Man NFT.

An interview with producer Amy Pascal, who’s been involved with the franchise since she was the head of Sony Pictures, had her confirming there will be future Spider-Man movies, that those will be made in cooperation with Marvel Studios and that Holland wasn’t quite done with the suit yet.

The IMAX poster released at the end of November shows Spidey swinging through a distorted cityscape, hinting at how the universe is unraveling because of what’s happened. The Dolby poster shows him swinging through the city, this time upside down.

Lots of different elements are brought together on the theatrical poster, which has Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and MJ at the center of a twisted reality vortex as the various villains swirl around them. Electro, Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus all got individual posters as well.

Just leaving these here.

Two movie-inspired costumes were added to the Spider-Man video game from Insomniac.

At CCXP in early December there were a couple promotional moments, including a video of Molina, Dafoe and Foxx together talking about the legacy of their characters and working together for the first time, at least in this series, and how production technology has changed since the last time they suited up.

G Fuel released a commercial for its cross-promotional campaign, including new drink flavors and movie-branded cans and packaging.

Holland talked about the movie on “Late Night.” In another interview he cast more doubt on his future in the series while also reflecting on his involvement as being one of growth and enjoyment.

Liberty Mutual came back to the campaign to sponsor Daily Bugle newsstands in New York City filled with newspapers that had Spider-Man pictures and news.

A video of the Paris kickoff to the cast’s press tour was released.

An ESPN commercial that had fun with some of the rumors circulating around the movie and its cast was part of a larger element of the campaign focused on what was or wasn’t known. That included the cast discussing fan theories amongst themselves and then later asking those who had begun seeing the movie not to spoil anything for those who hadn’t yet.

Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all appeared on “GMA” to promote the movie while those three were joined by Cumberbatch for an appearance on “Kimmel.” Marisa Tomei showed up on “Late Night” by herself, though.

Literally everyone, including Marvel’s Kevin Feige and costars Tomei, J.K. Simmons, Jon Favreau, turned out for the red carpet world premiere. Even Jared Leto, who stars in the upcoming Morbius, was there. That event was sponsored by Hyundai and TikTok, which had been a major promotional platform for the movie to date, offering clips, filters, stickers and more. It even released its own commercial touting the features.

PlayStation put out a clip showing the disagreement between Peter and Strange that causes some of the story’s conflict.

One more video of the cast warning against spoiling the movie came out right at the end of the campaign.


First: We have to address the very last part of the campaign, the one where the cast of the film was enlisted in the War Against Spoilers. While I get that there are a lot of plot twists and surprising characters, the entire premise of the story is that the multiverse is coming together, which means that anything is possible. So learning that X has been cast as a character they played previously isn’t exactly an outlandish statement that can upend one’s enjoyment of the film.

Second: You have to love how the three leads – Holland, Zendaya and Batalon – have seemingly formed this tight knit group over the course of three movies. Putting them all together in various components of the campaign, from the title announcement to press appearances and other videos, only works because they’ve clearly bonded and are now a family, with an easy rapport that makes the banter believable.

Third: Everyone needs to get their stories straight regarding Tom Holland’s future in the Spider-Man series. He seems to be pulling a Daniel Craig-esque “Yeah, I had a good run but I’m done” move while Pascal and Fiege are trying to pull him back in. The latter may just be marketing positioning by the executives who don’t want to blow up audience expectations, but then someone needs better media training.

Fourth: If you are brining back Willem Dafoe but also still putting him behind a mask that doesn’t allow for his natural expressiveness to come through, you’re doing it wrong. But am I right in understanding that the one villain from the Holland movies still alive – Michael Keaton’s Vulture – isn’t in this while almost all the villains from the other series are? OK I guess…

Fifth: I forgot what this was going to be.

Sixth: The campaign has a lot going for it but it might actually be too much. While super hero movies tend to be plot-heavy this feels excessively so. Still, it gave us this extremely relatable Doctor Strange GIF so it wins on points.

Benedict Cumberbatch Fire GIF by Spider-Man - Find & Share on GIPHY

Finally: While the reviews have been generally positive and anticipation for the movie seems high, it’s hard to believe the $150m opening weekend projections will wind up being accurate. We’re fully in the midst of a Covid-19 surge (thanks, everyone refusing to get vaccinated!) that is already causing Broadway shows to close, sports teams to cancel games and more. It might be big, but it won’t be that big. And if it is, it might be the last one to reach that mark for a little while here, at least until the spring.

Project Power – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a movie where anyone can gain powers…for a price.

The premise of Project Power, debuting on Netflix this week, is relatively simple. A drug has been developed that, when taken, grants the person who took it a random super power for just five minutes, but the kind of power is unknown. That creates a very dangerous situation where anyone can become a public threat at any time, and may even present a danger to themselves.

Those creating the drug are out to expand their business, but are also being sought by a trio including Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop who wants to protect his city, Robin (Dominique Fishback), a dealer who sees the problems the drug can create and Art (Jamie Foxx), an ex-soldier with motivations he keeps to himself. But to take on those with unpredictable powers, they might have to make difficult decisions about what they’re willing to do.

Netflix’s campaign for the film has focused heavily on the powers on display since they offer the flashiest visuals to get people’s attention.

The Posters

Art is holding up one of the mysterious, glowing pills that offer unknown powers on the single poster (by marketing agency MOCEAN) for the movie, released in mid-July. Frank and Robin flank him on either side, a dark and slightly ominous background behind the trio. Copy in the foreground asks the audience “What would you risk for five minutes of pure power?”, making it somewhat clear what the story will be about.

The Trailers

We quickly get the premise as July’s first trailer (3.8 million views on YouTube) begins, that there’s a pill on the streets capable of giving people a random power when they take it. To the police that’s dangerous, and it becomes moreso when those making the pill kidnap Art’s daughter. The exact nature of the story isn’t crystal clear here, but that’s alright since the point is just to show off some of the fun visual tricks and action sequences, which look quite entertaining.

Online and Social

No standalone site, as is standard for Netflix, and it only received limited support on the brand’s own social channels and profiles.

Advertising and Promotions

The first clip shows a sequence of Frank chasing a powered-criminal after he himself has taken a pill. Additional clips came out over the next few weeks, including one where Robin shows off her freestyle skills after Art challenges her.

Media and Press

Some first look stills came out in mid-July.

At the time the trailer was released there were profiles of Fishback, the film’s directors and more.

Foxx appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and more.

There were a few other scattered press appearances, but nothing very substantial.


Netflix, like other streamers, has said for the last few years it wants to expand into more franchises, particularly big-budget action series that are roughly the equivalent of what audiences usually see on theater screens. To date those efforts have only been moderately successful – we’re still waiting to hear more about the Bright sequel reportedly greenlit years ago – but you can see an effort to set this up as just such a franchise.

The story is sidelined for the most part, bits and pieces only coming through in the gaps between action sequences and visuals of people figuratively or literally exploding with powers they don’t know how to deal with or use. Foxx, Gordon-Levitt and Fishback are there in service of those visuals, with their motivations unclear.

In that regard the movie looks like a pleasant diversion for a couple hours, but what kind of impact or staying power it has remains to be seen.

Picking Up The Spare

Netflix bought a Promoted Trend ad on Twitter in the days right around when the movie premiered. 

Gordon-Levitt virtually stopped by “The Tonight Show” to talk about this movie and more. There was also another profile of Fishback. 

Two more featurettes came out after the movie was available, one that focused on Machine Gun Kelly and one that delved into how the movie’s super powers work.

A video for Chia’s “My Power” came out a little while later. How Fishback partnered with hip hop artist CHIKA on her character’s rhymes was covered in a later featurette.

Just Mercy – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling a true story of justice delayed.

just mercy poster 2Michael B. Jordan stars as lawyer Bryan Stevenson in the new movie Just Mercy, out this week. Stevenson is a recent Harvard grad who, instead of taking a high-paying job at a fancy firm opts to seek real justice. To that end he takes on the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man sentenced to death for a murder of a teenage girl despie the almost complete lack of evidence or motive.

In his quest to help McMillian and those like him who have been denied a fair hearing he has the help of Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), the two of them working to overcome the concerns the locals who know all too well that the system isn’t meant for them.

The marketing for the film has leaned heavily on the public’s associations between Jordan and Larson and the heroic roles they’ve taken on in previous films.

The Posters

just mercy poster“Every generation has its hero. Meet ours.” That copy may seem cloy given it appears in front of a photo of Jordan, but given that it’s Jordan as Stevenson and that he’s wearing a sensible suit the message is that ordinary people doing their jobs are sometimes the heroes we need. The poster (by marketing agency BOND) came out in December and features images of the other main characters in the tiled background behind Stevenson.

A second poster released later that months features Stevenson in profile, this time reminding us “Heroes exist.”

The Trailers

An announcement teaser preceded the release of the first trailer (6.6 million views on YouTube) in early September during the height of festival season. That trailer stars by introducing us to Stevenson and the surprises and challenges he faces working with prisoners on Death Row. McMillian is reluctant to work with him, but comes around when Stevenson enlists the help of the prisoner’s family and friends in his fight. With Ansley joining the team as well, Stevenson continues pushing his belief that each person has value beyond their crimes, even if that entails upsetting powerful people and institutions determined to maintain the status quo.

The second trailer (3 million views on YouTube) came out in early December and begins with McMillan’s conviction and Stevenson’s resolve to help him and people like him who are being railroaded by a prejudiced justice system. With Ansley’s help and the support of others around them, he takes on that system so that innocent men are not punished simply because of their skin color.

Online and Social

While the official website has plenty of decent marketing materials, there’s nothing here that adds any emphasis to the actual social justice causes espoused in the story. So there are no links or contact information for organizations that may offer legal defense for those who can’t afford it themselves. It seems like such information would be useful and in keeping with the movie’s message.

Advertising and Publicity

Before any other marketing for the movie really started it was announced among the lineup of films screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, an appearance that included a conversation with Jordan and Foxx. It was also slated for the Hamptons International Film Festival and then scheduled as the closing night feature at the Austin Film Festival. In mid-October it was announced it would open the Napa Film Festival.

A few online ads were run that used the key art and brief video snippets.

There were a few screenings held in the last few weeks in New York City and elsewhere, often involving appearances by the cast and crew, who participated in Q&As.

Media and Press

Both Foxx and Jordan spoke while in Toronto about the responsibility they felt to tell a story like this and raise awareness of the injustice they see around them. Jordan praised the people whose stories are portrayed in the movie during a Q&A following the screening. The two appeared on “The Tonight Show” right after that Toronto screening.

Cretton was interviewed about the need for diversity in the filmmaking ranks and how this story spoke to him. As part of a feature package on women in the entertainment industry, Larson talked about how inspired she was when taking on the role.

An interview with Jordan had him talking about the responsibility he felt in taking a part in a real life story like this, as well as how encouraged he felt that a major studio had agreed to take on such serious subject matter. The real Stevenson spoke about what it was like seeing his own story on screen. He was later profiled again about his work seeking justice for those who would otherwise be denied it.

The idea that it’s perseverance that pays off was covered in another interview with Cretton that once more uses the “this is another kind of super hero” narrative hook. He spoke later about the pressure he felt in telling a real life story and how invaluable it was to find the right cast.

The team behind the costumes and wardrobe were profiled on their work creating a realistic look for the story.

Jordan appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and more.

Foxx became more of a central figure in the publicity later in the cycle, starting with an interview where he talked about the universal elements of the story and an appearance on “The Late Show.” He also conveniently stopped by “Kimmel” when costar Larson was guest-hosting the show, creating a nice two-for-one promotional moment.


While there’s lots of good stuff going on here, there are two major issues that are apparent in the campaign.

First, the way it embraces the super hero terminology seems to betray a lack of confidence in the movie itself. That seemed to start out as a media hook, which made sense given the cast. Eventually it became part of the formal marketing and become the actual tagline used to help sell it to the public.

Second, it still seems like a mistake not to use the campaign to promote organizations that help those less fortunate. That’s the kind of move that’s been made in the campaigns for movies about sexual conversion therapy, teen drug abuse and other issues, so not seeing it here is notable by its omission.

That being said, it’s hard to take too much issue with a movie that touches on a topic like this, so whatever benefit comes from it is a plus.

Picking Up the Spare

The hair and makeup team was profiled and spoke about how they worked to accentuate the story and characters.

Additional interviews with Foxx as well as him and Jordan allowed both of them to talk about their characters and the change they want the movie to have.

How the editor created a sense of tension in a key scene was the subject of this feature interview.

A number of high-profile celebrities including Kobe Bryant, Common and others bought out theaters in neighborhoods across the country to let those who might not otherwise be able to afford it see the film.

Jordan made another appearance on “Kimmel.”

Robin Hood – Marketing Recap

robin hood poster 12A few initial thoughts about Robin Hood, coming to theaters this week:

  • This movie looks like another “let’s turn a classic literary character into a super hero” adaptation like Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur, but more like the latter, unfortunately
  • There’s nothing here that looks like it deviates from the standard Robin Hood story, about a returning Crusader (Taron Egerton) who’s upset that his home has turned into a den of corruption at the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) and so gets training on vigilantism from an ally (Jamie Foxx).
  • The story about a social justice warrior engaging in criminal but morally righteous behavior to redistribute wealth to the disadvantaged is 100% going to be received poorly by the MAGA crowd and the “Fox & Friends” hosts who love them
  • If there isn’t a Bryan Adams song over the end credits, what are we even doing here?

With that being said, let’s dive into the campaign.

The Posters

Two character posters – one featuring Robin and the other Little John – were released at the same time as the first teaser trailer. A more general poster came out as well showing Robin standing in the middle-distance in a forest made up not of trees but of arrows shot into the ground. It’s not bad and certainly works to set the tone and visual feel of the film. Another shows a collection of arrows arranged in an “R” symbol that looks like what’s sported by the Batman sidekick known as Robin, not one that’s associated with the social justice warrior or Nottingham.

A whole batch of character posters introduced us to the main players in the story, putting their headshots in front of an arrangement of arrows and other ornate decorations.

A couple theatrical posters featured the whole cast. While each has them in different opinions, they both seem like variations on the kind of generic action-oriented super hero movie one-sheets we’ve seen over the last several years, with the hero looking stoically at the camera while supporting characters stand or run around in the background.

The Trailers

If the first trailer is any indication, this is another in a long line of recent movies that seek to turn the characters of classic literature into super heroes. The basic outlines of the Robin Hood mythos are there, including his desire to exact justice upon a corrupt ruler and redistribute wealth to the common folk, all with the aid of Little John and with the suspicious eye of Marion on him. But it’s all dressed up by incredible, superhuman capabilities, technically-advanced arrows and all that. There’s humor and romance amidst all the action as well, but no really coherent story is being sold here.

Honestly, this looks like a promo sizzle reel for “Arrow” season two. You can’t convince me it’s not, especially with the repeated usage of “The Hood” to refer to the vigilante.

The second trailer is a little better, but only a little. We see more of Little John training Robin to use the bow and arrow as a tool for stealing from the rich in order to give to the poor, as well as the Sheriff’s frustration at having his power questioned by some vandal. But between the slick jacket the Sheriff is wearing, the modern attitudes sported by all the characters and the Occupy Wall Street bandanas worn by Will Scarlett and the other members of Robin’s gang, this still looks like it could be set in the not-too-distant future, not the far-off past.

The whole “rob from the rich, give to the poor” angle is hit a bit harder in the third trailer, which positions Robin as a social justice vigilante who sets out to steal from the sheriff’s treasury and thereby remove his base of power.

Online and Social

A variation on the key art greets visitors to the movie’s official website. When you open up the menu in the upper left the first section there is the “Synopsis” and you can navigate through the other sections by clicking the arrow at the bottom of the page. It’s a nice touch from a user experience perspective.

The movie also became the latest to get a “VR Experience” with a game that puts players in Robin’s shoes to shoot arrows and exact justice. The game was created by Qualcomm for the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR platforms.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A series of TV spots started hitting in late October, with different commercials covering different aspects of the story, from the plan Robin and John hatch to the justice they try to achieve with their actions.

Online ads used the key art while sponsored social media posts used the trailers and other video assets.

Two promotional partners were listed on the official website: Qualcomm, which created the VR game mentioned above, and Laser Quest, which offered a sweepstakes awarding a hometown screening for winners.

Media and Publicity

Comments on the movie from Egerton, Mendelsohn and others accompanied a first look photo that kicked off the publicity and marketing of the movie. Things went dark for a while until it was part of Lionsgate’s pitch to industry and press at CinemaCon, with footage being shown to prove the movie was actually happening.

While the movie didn’t have a huge promotional presence at San Diego Comic-Con, it did run a contest awarding prizes if you unlocked the secret phrase and told it to staffers at a location outside the convention center.

A behind the scenes “sizzle” featurette had the cast and crew talking about the story, how different this version is from what you’ve seen before and how big the action is.

How Little John begins training Robin was the subject of the first clip released in mid-October. Another showed how the Sheriff “redirects” funds from the church.

Egerton and Foxx showed up together on “The Tonight Show,” part of the studios’ strategy to sell this as a buddy movie in addition to everything else. Foxx later appeared on his own as well while Egerton sat on “Kimmel”s” couch.

Another interview with Egerton had him talking about the character’s unlikely status as action hero and more.


This looks ridiculous, the latest ham-handed attempt by a studio to use well-known cultural icons and characters to ram a franchise down the throats of the audience whether they want it or not. That’s seen in every part of the marketing but especially in the generic, bland and badly-designed posters whose characters could easily be swapped out and replaced with those from any other movie.

Considering projections have the movie opening with an anemic $14-17 million, it doesn’t seem the campaign is doing much of anything.