morbius – marketing recap

How Sony is selling its latest Spider-Man villain spinoff.

Morbius movie poster
Morbius movie poster

Morbius should have come out two years ago. But, of course, a lot has happened in that time.

Jared Leto stars as Dr. Michael Morbius, a scientist suffering from a rare blood-based disease. When he takes what he believes to be a cure for his condition he finds the side effects include a form of vampirism that gives him a taste for human blood. It’s then up to him to decide to put the powers that come with it to use for good or evil.

The movie is (maybe?) part of Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man Universe, which interestingly contains no Spider-Man movies but does have the two Venom movies to date. Matt Smith also stars as Michael’s brother Milo, who has the same condition and who also develops powers as a result of the experimental cure. Adria Arjona plays Michael’s coworker and fiancée Martine Bancroft while Tyrese Gibson plays FBI agent Simon Stroud, who’s hot on the trail of Morbius.

With all the delays and a general lack of focus, it’s sometimes been difficult to get a firm handle on the campaign, but let’s dive in and see what has transpired.

announcement and casting

Leto’s casting in the title role was announced in mid-2018, as was the involvement of director Daniel Espinosa. Arjona joined the cast in late 2018, as did Smith and others.

Leto shared a first teaser look at himself as the title character in early March of 2019 and another a month or so later.

the marketing campaign: 2020

The teaser trailer (21.3m YouTube views)released in early January 2020 presents a slightly ridiculous take on the comic hero genre. Morbious, we see, suffers from a chronic blood disease without a cure and his time is running short. So he tests an experimental cure on himself. It works, but with substantial side effects that have turned him into something not quite human, faster and stronger and with the abilities of a bat to fly and see things through echolocation. Oh, and he is driven to consume blood.

Two notable components make it clear that unlike Venom, this movie clearly takes place in the Holland-verse of Spider-Man movies, making it also part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 1) Morbious walks past a Spider-Man poster with “Murderer” spraypainted on it, and 2) Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes from Homecoming appears at the end, seeming to team up with Morbious on some new villainous endeavor.

At the end of March 2020, Sony announced it was shifting the movie’s release date by several months as theaters remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Another delay was announced in January 2021, with the movie shifting from March to October and then, just days later, to January 2022 to stay out of James Bond’s way.

the marketing campaign: 2021

With little conversation or acknowledgement, there was then a pause in the campaign of over a year, spanning a solid year, restarting only slightly in January 2021.

In an interview, Leto talked about how it was difficult to play a character who’s a little closer to how he is in real life.

Claims went back and forth between Sony and Disney executives and stars about whether or not this was part of the Holland universe of films until Sony issued a statement in late June 2021 saying definitively that the movie does *not* connect with the MCU in any way.

Leto appeared in a Fandango-exclusive featurette released at the beginning of November, one meant to set the stage for a new trailer the next day.

That new trailer (17m YouTube views) touted the January release while hitting many of the same beats as the spots that had come out earlier.

In early December a new poster came out showing the two halves of Morbius’ personality while proclaiming “A new Marvel legend arrives”, which seems a bit hyperbolic as well as duplicative since it’s very similar to the tagline used for Shang-Chi last year.

An extended clip was released in early December of last year showing Morbius’ transformation into the vampiric beast aboard a ship and going on to decimate most of the crew.

A short while later Leto appeared at the red carpet premiere of Spider-Man: No Way Home, furthering speculation that the two movies were in some way connected though it’s more likely this was just a publicity moment for the studio.

the marketing campaign: 2022

Another delay – this time to April 2022 – was announced in early January, reportedly to give Spider-Man: No Way Home some additional breathing room in theaters. That announcement came nearly two years to the day after the first trailer was released.

A short featurette was released in late February that had Leto introducing the character and explaining the super natural origins from the comics and how that’s being translated on-screen.

The final final final trailer (4.1m YouTube views) came out at the end of February. It starts with the same “hunt aboard the ship” scene that’s been featured several times previously. After that we see Michael fretting over the moral choice he now has to make in order to live followed by some advice from Adrian Toomes and a bit of posturing from Michael’s brother Milo. Overall it doesn’t offer much that we haven’t seen repeatedly in previous trailers and clips.

In a first (at least as far as I’ve noticed), a Discord community was created for the movie involving a series of message boards and chat rooms where updates and other information was shared.

TV spots like this began airing in early March, each one offering a slightly different cutdown of the trailer footage focusing on Michael’s search for a cure and the resulting mayhem when he takes that cure.

Arjona and Leto appeared together at a fan screening of the movie in Mexico.

An interview with Leto had him talking about why he decided to take on this role, including how being the first to portray Morbius was attractive to him since he didn’t have to worry about comparisons to other actor’s performances.

Morbius’ head forms the outline for a spooky cave and dissolves into a swarm of bats on the IMAX poster. The character’s demonic side gets a very artistic representation on the Regal Cinemas poster, with a similar approach taken on the D Box poster.

Another featurette has Leto talking more about the history of the character, specifically calling out how this is part of the Marvel Multiverse, something that opens up lots of opportunities for new stories. In one more he expanded on being the first to play Morbius and why the character was interesting to him.

He talked about the movie and playing another comic character on “The Tonight Show.”

An AR app for various platforms let users transform themselves into the sinister Morbius.

Sony shared videos from the cast’s publicity tour stops in Mexico City, Berlin, Paris and Madrid.

G Fuel created a movie-branded package containing a themed energy drink as well as a collector’s cup.

NFL player Von Miller appeared in a TV commercial where his trainers, concerned he’s showing superhuman abilities, consult Dr. Morbius, who tells them not to worry about it.

Arjona finally got a profile of her own, talking about joining a big Marvel movie as a Latina actress, STEM representation and lots more.

overall

Phew. A few thoughts in summary:

First, I don’t know that I’ve encountered a campaign that is so stop-and-start. Other campaigns over the last few years have had big gaps, but this one comes and goes with little acknowledgement of time having passed, essentially running the same handful of beats from the top each time a new phase starts.

Angry Jared Leto GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Second, the gymnastics Sony has to jump through to try and explain whether or not this movie is connected to Venom much less the MCU-partnering Spider-Man films is worthy of solid Olympics judges consideration.

Jared Leto Marvel GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Third, this is being sold entirely as an anti-hero character study. The villain played by Matt Smith appears briefly in the first trailer and briefly in the final trailer and is otherwise completely absent. That’s an odd choice that may have been driven largely by how big a personality Leto is as well as the desire to introduce the character on his own.

Matt Smith Walking GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Fourth, I forget what this one was.

Scared Jared Leto GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Finally, Leto’s repeated insistence that this character was more like him personally so he didn’t have to go full method as he has on other films is just funny on, by my rough count, at least nine levels.

house of gucci – marketing recap

How MGM has sold a high-fashion drama

house of Gucci movie poster
House of Gucci poster

The House of Gucci, out in theaters this week, has a lot of talent behind it as well as a story made for late primetime in the early 1980s.

Directed by Ridley Scott (his second film in just a few months after The Last Duel), the movie stars Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani, an ambitious woman who sets out to marry Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), heir to the fashion empire that bears his family’s name. She wants control though he doesn’t, setting up a power struggle between the couple and others in the family as well as between Patrizia and Maruizio themselves.

Jared Leto, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino and others also star as members of the Gucci family or those in their orbit and influence.

MGM’s campaign has been heavy on the drama, positioning it as a feature length episode of “Dallas” or “Knots Landing” with all the intrigue and drama you’d expect from that.

announcement and casting

Though there had been ups and downs in Scott’s development of the the project since 2006 it wasn’t until November 2019 that things officially began moving forward, helped by Gaga’s casting in the lead role.

The film, developed by Scott, was reportedly picked up by MGM after that studio outbid Netflix in early 2020. Cast members were announced over the course of the year, including Pacino, Driver and others.

In March Lady Gaga posted a first look photo of herself and Driver as the married couple of the title.

Costume designer Janty Yates was interviewed about creating the period-appropriate looks for the characters and what it was like to dress fictionalized real people.

In a Variety cover story in May Hayek talked about this being the first role she took post-Covid and how the low stress shoot helped her get back in the groove given her lack of energy. Hayek also praised Lady Gaga’s work ethic on set.

the marketing campaign

Promotional artwork featuring Gaga, Irons and Pacino came out at the end of July showing them looking dapper and stylish against a stylish blue background.

The first trailer (13m YouTube views) was released at that time as well. As it opens, Patrizia is discussing the allure of the Gucci name and is clearly targeting Maurizio as a way to gain access to the power the family holds. We meet that family and see some of their dynamics before Patrizia reveals she wants to move the old guard out so she they can seize control by whatever means necessary.

MGM gave CinemaCon attendees in August a first look at the movie.

It wasn’t until late September that the first poster came out using the same blue background as the earlier images but this time with all five of the main characters arranged in the photo. The deadly plot is communicated through the copy “A legacy worth killing for.”

Exclusive footage was provided to Vogue as part of another interview with costume designer Yates.

In late October the second trailer (7m YouTube views) was released. This time we meet the Gucci family via Maurizio introducing Patrizia to them all. The majority of this trailer’s running time is devoted to the intrigue around Patrizia’s plans to inject herself into the decision-making part of the business through manipulation, law enforcement and ultimately murder.

Another set of three posters came out shortly after that, this round using different color backgrounds for each of the characters. Another one with Hayek was added a short while later.

Leto was interviewed about how the role of Paulo Gucci fits into his career habit of completely transforming his physical appearance for each character he plays. How Gaga went full method after doing extensive research into her character was covered in an interview with her.

Tanqueray introduced a gin that was labeled as “inspired by” the movie.

Again, the next poster shows all five main characters but this time they’re shown against a gold background.

Spots like this began running in early November, running not only as TV commercials but also as pre-roll ads, social media promos and even as audio ads.

Leto and Hayek appeared at the LACMA ART+FILM GALA, an event presented by Gucci in Los Angeles.

A red carpet premiere was held in London with the cast and crew in attendance.

Regal Cinemas shared an exclusive video interview with the cast.

Gaga, Driver, Leto and others were all part of a featurette that not only offered a brief preview of the story but extolled the benefit of seeing it in theaters.

The first official clip has Maurizio and Patrizia inspecting a pile of knock-offs, with her taking it a *lot* more seriously than he is.

Gaga talked more about her character research and other aspects of the film during a Q&A following a screening in Hollywood earlier this month. She and Scott were also interviewed together about the story, working with Gucci and more.

Gaga later walked the red carpet at the movie’s Milan premiere.

The next clip shows Patrizia beginning to plant the seeds of a coup in Maurizio’s mind. Another has her buttering up Paulo.

Gaga introduces Patrizia and explains who she is in the story of the movie in another featurette. A similar video featuring Driver and others talking about Maurizio came out a bit later.

When he appeared on “the Tonight Show” Leto talked more about his physical transformation. Driver later talked about the movie on “The Late Show” and the whole cast did likewise on “GMA.”

New York City was the next stop for a red carpet premiere, with the cast and crew once again there. That was followed by a Los Angeles event a few days later.

Cinemark offered an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette.

MGM announced an experiential event in New York and L.A. that included exclusive photos as well as costumes, props and more from the film’s production.

An extensive personal profile of Gaga had her sharing how she tapped into painful moments from her past to capture some of the key character moments. How she and Driver staged some of the more intimate scenes was covered in a joint interview with the pair.

Another featurette focuses more on the family behind the fashion brand and how it’s populated by some very interesting characters. The family’s history and legacy was covered in a featurette just days later.

Patrizia asks for insights into her future in the next clip while another features the moment seen in many trailers and commercials with Patrizia talking about not being ethical but being fair.

overall

At the outset I said the movie seemed to be big-screen drama that seemed to channel the aesthetics and style of an early-80s prime time soap opera and I stand by that. Perhaps it’s helped by the era the story is set in, but everything about the entire campaign makes me think we should be watching this on TV in the hour before the local news comes on.

Lady Gaga Reaction GIF by House of Gucci - Find & Share on GIPHY

Reviews have been mixed, with some critics calling it glorious and others saying it’s an inconceivable mess. That’s why it has a middling 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. But there’s a lot to like in the marketing, including it’s strong sense of brand identity, helped by the official involvement of Gucci itself in production.

But there are still two questions that don’t seem to have answers:

  • Why is Adam Driver not featured in any of the sets of character posters? He’s a major star but only appears on the group one-sheets. It’s incredibly odd.
  • Who made the decision that Lady Gaga should be the central focus of the publicity and press campaign? I get that she’s the star at the center of the action, but it still appears there were only three messages she had to share in each interview, so it’s thin soil to plant in.

These are the things that will continue to haunt me.

The Little Things – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a dramatic procedural with some big stars. 

A good number of early reviews and write-ups of The Little Things, the new movie from writer/director John Lee Hancock, have called it out as a throwback to the kind of mid-grade drama with an all-star cast that was commonplace in the 80s and 90s but which lately has fallen out of favor with studios. 

As we’ll see in the campaign for the movie, which has an unfortunate 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, those descriptions are pretty spot-on. 

Denzel Washington plays Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon, a former LAPD detective and now county sheriff who is asked to come back to the department by new guy Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) to find a serial killer before he strikes again. When Deacon becomes convinced he’s found the guy in Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), his propensity for cutting corners becomes a problem that might outweigh his ability to notice small details that often uncover important clues. 

Let’s see how it was sold. 

The Posters

It’s a split image on the first poster (by marketing agency Leroy and Rose), released in mid-December, one designed to represent the good at the top and bad at the bottom. To that end, Deacon and Baxter are seen on top and Sparma on the bottom. But the way they’re all shown on the same bridge but with different backgrounds, it seems like they’re standing across the street from each other. 

The second poster came out at the same time and uses the “horizontal stripes” format to show the three leads as well as a shot of Baxter confronting Sparma in a remote location. Both one-sheets feature the same “Some things never let us go” copy that hints at how the story will be driven by the obsessions of different characters as well as a great blue/red color scheme that creates a strong visual identity here. 

The Trailers

As the first trailer (11 million views on YouTube), released in late December, opens, Deacon is being reluctantly brought into an ongoing murder investigation by a police department that he’s not exactly on good terms with. He’s determined to do his job, though, despite the tension. When he becomes convinced he’s found a good suspect he doesn’t let the lack of evidence deter him as he continues pursuing his leads, trying to teach Baxter the value of not always playing within the rules to do what’s right. 

Online and Social

As has been the case with other HBO Max premieres, there doesn’t seem to have been a standalone website or social profiles for the movie, but it did get some support on HBO Max’s brand channels. 

Advertising and Promotions

Warner Bros. announced a date for the movie in March of last year. It was later among the titles WB said in December of last year would premiere simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max because of continued pandemic-related theater closures. 

Preroll ads for the film were placed before videos on YouTube and other streaming services. 

A featurette released earlier this week had the cast and filmmakers introducing the story and talking about their characters. 

Media and Press

Hancock reflected on the decades-long process of getting the film made, having first completed a script in the early 90s and shared his thoughts on the movie’s unexpected release strategy. He also praised Washington as a collaborator in fleshing out the characters and story. 

An interview with Leto veered too often into Joker territory but also had him talking about this film and why the character seemed attractive to him. Leto later appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and otherwise be his own quirky self.

Washington and Malek showed off their mutual admiration society in an interview where they talked about making the movie, its release pattern and more. Another interview with Hancock had him talking about the state of the film industry and how he went about shooting the movie from a technical standpoint. 

Malek also stopped by “The Tonight Show” to share his insights on the film. 

Leto talked about his reputation for going overboard with some of his roles and how that worked out on this film. 

Overall

The reviews may not be great, but the campaign sells a movie that has a lot of allure. Outside of the story details, the promise made to the audience is that they will spend a couple hours watching a handful of very good actors actually play off each other as opposed to reacting to CGI sky beams. That’s something special in this day and age, and so it’s a movie that seems worth checking out based solely on that point. 

What’s notable about the campaign is that it seems to be the first time we’re officially acknowledging that Washington is an elder-statesman in Hollywood. That status is something he’s earned over the decades, but yeah we see that happening here. 

Denzel Washington Pointing GIF by Turner Classic Movies - Find & Share on GIPHY

Picking Up The Spare

More interviews with Leto on why he opted to play a villain again
A featurette that came out after the movie was available for streaming had the cast and crew talking about the suspenseful nature of the story and more.