bros – marketing recap

How Universal has sold its latest romantic comedy

Bros movie poster from Universal Studios
Bros movie poster from Universal Studios

Billy Eichner stars in – and wrote with Nicholas Stoller – this week’s new release Bros. Eichner plays Bobby Lieber, a neurotic museum curator who’s so in his own head about everything he hasn’t been very successful when it comes to relationships. That starts to change when he meets Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) and the two dance around each other on the way to actually dating, all as Bobby works with his team to open a museum dedicated to the LGBTQ+ experience and history.

The movie features what Universal is touting as “an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast” and indeed has been positioned Eichner as the first openly gay man to both write and star in a major romantic comedy from a big studio.

With all that, along with the fact it was directed by Stoller and produced by Stoller and Judd Apatow, in mind, let’s take a look at the details of the campaign.

announcement and casting

Universal announced the movie in mid-2019 with Eichner writing and starring and Stoller directing.

The cast –all of whom are LGBTQ – was revealed in September 2021. Rash and others were added a month later and Yang and Fierstein a while after that.

Universal made the movie part of their CinemaCon 2022 presentation, with Eichner and the rest of the cast in attendance to get exhibitors and other executives excited for the film.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (393k YouTube views) – labeled as NSFW – was dropped in mid-May. Bobby is recording an episode of his podcast, which allows him to explain to his listeners and therefore the audience what the plot of the story is. Namely, that he’s been hired to write a romcom about dating and love in the LGBTQ+ world, but that the reality may not be what the people who hired him expect it to be. Along the way we see Bobby meet Aaron and interact with others in his personal and professional life and it all looks very funny.

It’s presumably Bobby and Aaron we see on the poster released at that time, though all that’s shown is two guys from the back, each one grabbing the other’s ass. Which really tells us a lot of what we need to know about the story.

Eichner was interviewed in The New York Times about what it was like to make the movie and how as a story exclusively about gay relationships it’s still an outlier among Hollywood’s output. He then was part of a conversation with collaborator Joel Kim Booster about being gay men in comedy and how that’s played out in making this movie along with other projects over the past few years.

When he appeared at the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” Eichner spoke about how an LGBTQ+ cast brings an experience to their roles that straight actors playing the same characters just can’t.

The second trailer (11.8m YouTube views) came out in mid-June. It eschews the framing device of the first trailer and also drops the plot about Bobby working on a movie script in favor of focusing on how awkward he is when it comes to relationships, even when he meets Aaron. We also see more of the drama surrounding his work on the museum and how all of that informs the problems Bobby experiences.

Because the world is just this random, Mariah Carey hosted a New York City screening of the movie complete with red carpet and a Q&A with Eichner later in June.

A feature in Rolling Stone had Eicher, Stoller and Apatow all talking about the unique aspects of a romantic comedy focused on two gay men, including how Stoller admits how he had to get over some of his more generalist impulses to fully appreciate how this story was different than those told about straight couples.

In July it was announced the film’s world premiere was scheduled for September’s Toronto Film Festival.

Macfarland got his own profile covering his career to date and how this might be the star-making turn he’s been waiting for.

In late August Eichner gave an impassioned speech at the “MTV Video Music Awards” that combined promoting the movie with railing against the majority-conservative Supreme Court that seems inclined to undo the rights of anyone who’s not a land-owning hetero cis white male.

An Out cover story featured Eichner and Macfarland talking more about the movie’s unique status. Eichner also got interviews in Rolling Stone and Variety. Additional interviews with Macfarland covered his experiences coming out as gay and filming sex scenes for the movie as well as being a gay man in the entertainment world in general.

Fathom Events in early September held movie-sponsored screenings of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (directed by Stoller, featuring Eichner and produced by Apatow) and Knocked Up (directed by Apatow).

The cast and crew were on the red carpet for the TIFF premiere, which generated almost exclusively positive reviews from those who saw it.

Fandango shared an exclusive featurette with Eichner talking about casting the movie, making it with Stoller and more.

Eichner resurrected his “Billy on the Street” gag with some help from Paul Rudd to get out and promote the movie on the streets of New York. He also talked more about the movie when he appeared on “The Late Show” and then “Late Night.” That coincided with the New York premiere event where the cast and crew once again walked the red carpet.

There was lots of advertising for the movie that began in mid-September and continued up until…roughly now. That included TV spots, online promos and pre-roll and audio spots.

A clip shows an extended look at the scene where Bobby and his other museum executives are trying to figure out the theme for the opening.

Jack Black then joined Eichner in an L.A. version of “BotS” around the time of the premiere on that coast.

One final extended commercial has Bobby talking about the confidence he feels or at least fakes as he goes through life, citing moments when he’s been told to suppress who he is or not do something he feels passionate about.

overall

The campaign is very good. Sometimes it feels like the “history making” aspects of the narrative are being oversold a bit, but that’s a small quibble when Eichner is out there selling the film through sheer force of will and charm. And if you check out the official Twitter account you’ll see it’s been endorsed by a who’s who of modern comedy, including many of the actors and others that Eichner, Stoller and others have worked with previously.

Whatever the movie’s opening weekend – predicted to be about $10 million – is, it stands as reasonable we should be nearing a point where stories like this don’t *have* to be heralded as so unique and groundbreaking. They can just be part of the landscape and their commercial success or failure doesn’t have to be seen as indicative of any particular narrative.

the bubble – marketing recap

How Netflix is selling a meta comedy about Hollywood in times of pandemic.

The Bubble movie poster
The Bubble movie poster

There have been a handful of movies over the last year or so that have, in one way or another, been about or at least set in the world of a pandemic. But The Bubble, new this week on Netflix, offers a new take on the idea, one that mixes quarantine reality with Hollywood’s love affair with making movies about itself.

Directed by Judd Apatow, who cowrote the script with Pam Brady, the movie follows the cast of the fictional Cliff Beasts 6 as they shoot the franchise sequel during the Covid-19 pandemic. Karen Gillan, David Duchovny, Leslie Mann, Keegan-Michael Key and others star as Cliff Beasts series veteran actors. They’re joined by newcomers played by Iris Apatow and Pedro Pascal, with Fred Armisen as the film’s director and Kate McKinnon as the studio head overseeing a logistically difficult production.

With that premise, let’s take a look at the very meta campaign Netflix has rolled out over the last month or so.

announcements and casting

Netflix announced the film in November, 2020, as the real-life pandemic was still sweeping through the country and world. Apatow was set to direct as well as write with Brady.

Most of the primary cast, including Gillan, Key, Mann, Pascal and others was announced in February, 2021.

the marketing campaign for CLIFF BEA6TS

Things kicked off in early March with an appropriately meta touch, one that left more than a few people scratching their heads as we tried to figure out what was going on. Causing the confusion was the teaser trailer for Cliff Beasts 6: The Battle For Everest. What’s most impressive about this teaser is that it 100% looks like something that would actually be made for a long-in-the-tooth action franchise, with pulse-pounding music, a few flashy graphics and, most impressively, the fact that the title is actually represented as “CLIFF BEA6TS”, with that “6” making no sense whatsoever.

That was followed by a completely serious featurette explaining the story to date in the Cliff Beasts franchise, including interviews with the cast, posters for the earlier movies and the usual kind of self-congratulatory comments about how everyone worked together mixed with promises of even more action and adventure to come.

Along those same lines came a retrospective that included comments from the cast about returning to the series, who their characters are and other very familiar material.

All of that took place in just a couple days, all leading up to the launch of the campaign for the *actual* movie, not the movie-within-a-movie.

Later on there was a behind-the-scenes video released that shows the director of Cliff Beasts trying to coax performances from the actors with sometimes confusing, sometimes contradictory and always insane suggestions. Another similar video shows just what you get when you hire a Sundance-winning director to helm a big-budget special effects blockbuster.

the marketing campaign for THE BUBBLE

The first trailer (500,000 YouTube views) for The Bubble starts out with footage from Cliff Beasts, only to then transition to show the ridiculous green screen nature of shooting movies like that, including extras in foam outfits as placeholders for the digital monsters added later. We see that the cast and crew have been sequestered for the duration of the production, with PPE and Covid tests and everything we’ve come to expect over the last two years. Even with that aside the set is filled with insanity, whether it’s people coming down with the flu, doing too much cocaine, hooking up with each other or rolling their eyes at some of their costars.

The disconnect between reality and fantasy is also highlighted on the poster, which has the cast arrayed in the usual heroic V formation, but with the green screen not filled in, so we see the wires and backdrops and all the other stuff we’re not supposed to.

A clip shows an extended look at one sequence from the production, with a dramatic moment in Cliff Beasts giving way to the green screen reality of filming.

Netflix offered everyone an explanation of what was going on in a video that also had recommendations on what else members of the movie’s cast have been in that people could watch.

overall

What’s most amazing about this campaign is that, with the exception of one or two videos, it encompasses a total of under 72 hours. Most all of those initial videos for the Cliff Beasts movie came out over a single two-day period, while the trailer and poster for the actual movie came out in a single day.

That aside, there’s a lot of fun in what’s presented here, especially when you consider it’s inspired by the real life situation encountered by the Jurassic World: Dominion filmmakers. But it’s also more of a broad comedy than what we’re used to seeing from Apatow, who usually deals in headier, or at least more subtle, fare.

King of Staten Island – Marketing Recap

How Universal is selling a personal story from an “SNL” cast member.

king of staten island poster

Pete Davidson is…an acquired taste. He has as many detractors as he does fans and has come under considered criticism for a number of choices made in his past. Still, by all regards he remains popular, at least enough to remain on “Saturday Night Live” for a number of years as a prominent cast member.

Now he is working to expand even further into feature films with The King of Staten Island, not only starring in the film but also writing it. Davidson plays Scott, a slightly fictionalized version of himself. Scott suffers from a kind of arrested development, showing no drive to grow and move out of his mother’s Long Island basement. Part of Scott’s ennui comes from losing his firefighter father nearly 20 years ago, just as Davidson lost his own on 9/11/20. When his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) begins dating another firefighter (Bill Burr), Scott finds the status quo challenged but also an opportunity to finally grow as a person in unexpected ways.

Universal’s campaign has leaned into Davidson’s established public persona while also asking audiences to question what it is they actually know about him as well as relying on the popularity of director Judd Apatow, who also helped Davidson as a writer.

The Posters

Scott stands atop his car with all the unearned confidence of your average white 20-something on the first and only poster (by marketing agency P+A), released in late April. The tattoos that cover his torso speak to Scott’s only occupation as a tattoo artist while the scene shown in the background establish the suburban setting, though it doesn’t get more specific than that. The biggest call to action appears at the top, which displays Apatow’s name and previous films prominently, indicating Universal thinks his involvement is a major draw for audiences to latch on to.

The Trailers

The first trailer (6 million views on YouTube) came out in early May and introduces us to Scott, a grown man who still lives with his mother and has successfully avoided responsibility his whole life, in part because he hasn’t moved past his firefighter father dying almost 20 years ago. It’s clear Scott is a fun guy to hang out and get high with, but not much more than that. When he has to begin caring for the children of his mom’s new boyfriend, he starts to grow up a bit and get his life in order.

Online and Social

In addition to the basic information and material about the movie, the official website has a section devoted to “Critical Acclaim” where visitors can get a sense of the positive reviews the film has already accumulated, all the way back to its festival screenings. The focus of the site, and what’s found on the front page, is offering a variety of ways for people to download the film on-demand since that is its new distribution method.

Advertising and Promotions

After accumulating quite a bit of buzz in advance, the movie’s public debut was scheduled for the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, but that was spiked when the festival was canceled because of the Covid-19 outbreak. It was later scheduled for the Tribeca Film Festival.

In late April the decision was made to pull the movie from the theatrical release schedule and push it over to Premium VOD, just as Universal was doing with a number of other titles. That announcement was accompanied by a staged video call between Apatow and Davidson. Another call, mostly about drugs, followed a little bit after that.

A featurette released in early May featured members of Davidson’s real life family as well as those in the cast and Apatow talking about the origins of the story, how the star examined his real issues and more.

About the same time a clip came out with Scott’s sister encouraging him to be nice to their mother.

A few days ago another staged call came out, this one with Davidson and Burr talking about the imminent on-demand release of the film.

The story and characters are condensed down to their major elements in a TV spot that introduces us to Scott and the world around him but skips touching on some of the struggles he faces.

Media and Press

Shortly after the first trailer debuted both Apatow and Davidson appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and how some of Davidson’s “SNL” castmates helped play a role in making it happen.

In the last week or so there’s been significant activity on the press front. Davidson appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about the real-life parallels in the movie and on “Kimmel” to make a bunch of jokes and talk about the story.

Additional appearances were made by Bel Powley, who plays Scott’s casual girlfriend, on “Late Night” and Apatow on “The Late Show.”

An interview with Apatow had him going in-depth on his working relationship with Davidson and how he helped the actor create a narrative out of his experiences. Burr also shared his experiences on the set and what it was like working with Davidson.

Both Apatow and Davidson were interviewed on NPR about their collaboration, which was also the subject of an NYT feature. Costume designer Sarah Mae Burton discussed her process in creating a visual look for Scott and other characters that seemed everyday without overtly reminding audiences of the actor wearing the clothes. Apatow was also interviewed with his daughter Maude, who plays Scott’s sister and has appeared in many of her father’s films along with others.

Entertainment Weekly hosted a video roundtable interview with Apatow and most of the cast to talk about making the film and what it meant to them.

Overall

In the interest of full-disclosure, my tolerance for Davidson is generally fairly low. I fall into the camp that feels he’s not nearly as funny as he thinks he is, making his popularity somewhat perplexing to me.

Unfortunately there’s not much in this campaign that dissuades me from this feeling. The press work he and Apatow have done tries to iron out some of those wrinkles, but it’s not enough to change my mind, and my guess is I’m not the only one. Even Apatow’s involvement isn’t enough to significantly pique my interest.

That being said, Universal’s campaign isn’t bad and works with the strengths it has and, admittedly, Davidson has a substantial fanbase. So offering a movie featuring a slightly askew version of the star working through some personal issues probably has a good amount of appeal for many people. But given the personalities involved, your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Picking Up the Spare

Maude Apatow was interviewed about the movie and making her own way in an industry where her father is a dominant force. 

There were further talk show appearances by Davidson, Burr and Apatow the elder. 

An exclusive preview was shown on HBO. 
A number of new featurettes have been released, covering Davidson’s connections to much of the rest of the cast, a look at how heroes make for good stories and the involvement of Davidson’s grandfather.