nope – marketing recap

How Universal has sold another smart horror film.

Nope movie poster from Universal Studios
Nope movie poster from Universal Studios

Writer/director Jordan Peele returns with Nope, new in theaters this weekend. The movie stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as OJ and Emerald Haywood, siblings who work the family farm with their father Otis Sr. (Keith David). When Otis Sr. is killed by a mysterious object that falls from the sky, the brother and sister enlist the help of a tech salesman (Brandon Perea) and a documentary filmmaker (Michael Wincott) to help prove the existence of UFOs.

Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Wrenn Schmidt and others also star in the film, which is projected to earn $45-55 million in its opening weekend.

Peele’s films always feature intriguing campaigns, so let’s take a look at how this one has been sold.

the marketing campaign

Universal announced the movie – then untitled – and gave it a 2022 release date in November of 2020. Palmer and Kaluuya were cast in February of 2021, with Yeun joining a month later.

The first poster came out in late July, serving also as the official announcement of the film’s title. Suitably ominous, it shows a small town nestled in a valley of hills, a small cloud hovering overhead. In a twist, that cloud has a string of flags tailing from it, as if it swallowed up event decorations somehow.

The release of the first trailer was teased in early February of this year with a spot that set the stage by using footage from Get Out and Us to establish Peele’s bonafides before offering a brief glimpse at the new movie.

That trailer (23m YouTube views) was released on Super Bowl Sunday and starts off with Emerald and OJ shooting a commercial for their horse training ranch. One night strange things start happening in the area around their ranch that have them and the other locals nervous and constantly looking toward the sky. What it is isn’t shown or even hinted at, but it clearly has the potential to cause lots of problems.

A commercial that cut down the trailer and teased audiences to go find it for even more aired during the Super Bowl as well, indicating Universal feels the mix of sci-fi/horror and Peele’s popularity had the potential to bring in a mass audience.

Another poster showing a horse and other objects being lifted into the night sky came out in early March.

A new still of Kaluuya accompanied a suitably vague interview with Peele, the director trying to sell the premise of the film without getting into specifics of the story.

Peele appeared on stage to talk about the movie when Universal showed off footage as part of its presentation at CinemaCon in April 2022. Later on, in June, it was among the movies Universal put on display to attendees of CineEurope.

Basketball star Steph Curry starred in a commercial that aired during the beginning of the NBA Playoffs.

In early June a featurette was released that starts off with Peele admitting the script he wrote then felt like it was going to be more than he could handle as a director, assembling a team to help him realize the vision. That’s about it for background, though, as it then just shows some of the finished footage along with behind-the-scenes shots.

The second trailer (13.8m YouTube views), which debuted in early June exclusively on Twitter Movies, starts off with Otis Sr. being killed by falling debris, prompting his kids to try and prove the existence of something strange happening in the clouds. They enlist the help of both Torres and Hoist in their quest, but things don’t go as smoothly as they hope. There’s a shot of a classic UFO at the end, but who knows how that fits in with the context of the story.

Another commercial puts shots of all the characters saying “nope,” “oh hell no” or some variation thereof to a catchy beat to show how they react to the danger they’re now confronted with. Additional spots, some of which wound up being used for online promos and pre-roll ads, arranged footage in slightly different ways to make the movie look alternatively terrifying, kind of funny or a mix of the two.

The IMAX logo appears reflected in the eye of a horse on an exclusive poster for that format that also touts how the film was shot with the company’s own cameras.

Peele’s talents as a writer, director and collaborator are all touted by the cast and crew in another featurette that focuses on the technical aspects of shooting what is a bigger production than his previous efforts. One more has Kaluuya and Palmer, along with Peele, talking about how the dynamic between the siblings plays a huge part in the structure of the story.

An extended commercial aired during the BET Awards broadcast at the end of June, this one again rearranging footage previously shown into something new to hit a specific vibe.

A UFO beams up a horse while flowers hover in the sky on the Dolby Cinemas poster, this one featuring a design looking like stitching on a pair of jeans.

At the beginning of July Peele shared the website for Jupiter’s Claim, the old west theme park seen in the trailers and commercials, that’s filled with easter eggs about the film’s story. Around that same time news broke that Jupiter’s Claim was scheduled to become a permanent part of Universal’s backlot tour, with the addition opening the same day the movie hits theaters.

The process of shooting with IMAX cameras was the subject of another featurette that once again covered how ambitious the project was for Peele and how he enlisted cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema to help him figure out how to pull it off.

An interview with Peele had him talking about being part of the Black Horror genre and how he wanted to do something more with this movie to help it still be part of that while not being exploitative.

Kaluuya collaborated with fashion designer Jide Osifeso on an exclusive line of movie-inspired apparel.

Around the same time, people were invited to check out the virtual reality experience created by Horizon Worlds for Oculus. People who did so were given access later on to an exclusive clip from the film.

Media appearances began at this point, mid-July, with Peele on “GMA,” Yeun on “Kimmel,” Palmer on “The Tonight Show,” Kaluuya on “First We Feast” and more.

Kaluuya was the subject of a feature cover story that had him talking about how his career is going, what changes he’s making as a result of the success he’s had, reuniting with Peele and lots more.

Banner ads like the one below were run on Spotify and other websites, sending traffic to the movie’s official website where they could find out more, including how to buy tickets.

Nope movie banner ad
Nope movie banner ad

The cast and crew were all in attendance at the movie’s world premiere earlier this week, where they talked about working with Peele, the spectacle of the film and what kind of inspiration they all drew from.

SKYY Vodka introduced a new drink inspired by the movie, announced with a campaign including a TV spot featuring movie footage that then gives way to someone sipping a drink on a farmhouse porch.

Icee and Razer were also promotional partners, the former taking advantage of how their frozen drinks are prominently featured in the film (as hinted at in some of the trailers and featurettes) and the latter running a sweepstakes awarding winners autographed machines as well as other co-branded swag.

overall

You have to hand it to Peele, who appears to have created something unique and engaging. Like the director’s previous films, it seems like it has a social message accompanied by a fascinating story.

What’s even more notable is that Universal has sold it in an effective and consistent way, keeping the focus on the siblings at the core of the story while also positioning Peele as a brand in and of himself, taking advantage of the raves his earlier films have earned to give this one a sense of familiarity.

There are shades of M. Night Shyamalan here in how the film has been sold, but with one big exception: The characters are the primary selling point in this campaign, not the promise of some big twist that will leave audiences shocked. So it comes off as Shyamalan-esque but without the self-aware attributes that have become part and parcel of the marketing of that director’s films.

lightyear – marketing recap

You…are…a…prequel? Sequel? Something different?

Lightyear poster from Disney and Pixar
Lightyear poster from Disney and Pixar

DisneyPixar get extraordinarily meta with this week’s new film Lightyear, coming exclusively to theaters. The movie stars Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear, who…well, this is where it gets a little tricky.

This Buzz is the real life astronaut who inspired the action figure audiences first met in 195’s Toy Story. The story takes place about 10 years before the events of that film and follows Buzz as he and other astronauts seek to escape the alien planet they’ve been marooned on and find their way back to Earth. That crew includes Uzo Aduba as Alisha Hawthorne and later, after a bit of wibbly-wobbly space-time craziness, Keke Palmer as Alisha’s grandaughter Izzy. Taika Waititi voices Mo Morrison and Dale Soules voices Darby Steel, both fellow recruits working with Buzz. James Brolin voices the real Emperor Zurg.

Put another way, this is the live action movie released within the Toy Story universe that told Buzz’s story, a movie that then was turned into a line of toys etc.

The movie is directed by Angus MacLure, who cowrote the script with Jason Headley. With all that established, let’s take a look at how the campaign was run.

announcements and casting

The movie was one of several announced by Disney during its December 2020 investors presentation, but had been in the works for a few years already after MacLure expressed interest in telling a more definitive story of Buzz’s origins than had been shared in a 2000 direct-to-video movie.

That announcement included news of Evans being cast as the voice of Buzz. Waititi joined a year later, with Brolin, Efren Ramirez and Isiah Whitlock Jr. reported to also be cast in early 2022.

the marketing campaign phase one: to infinity…

Things started off in October, 2021, with the release of a teaser poster that doesn’t show much beyond the familiar space suit of the titular astronaut.

The first teaser trailer (14m YouTube views) was also released at that time. It doesn’t explain a whole lot but does tease a great deal, showing Lightyear taking off on a mission, flying his ship through various locations and ultimately seeing what would become his well-known suit at the very end.

It wasn’t until February that the full trailer (18.8m YouTube views) came out. This one explains how Buzz is taking off on a mission after he and others have spent a long time marooned on a distant planet. From there on we see the kinds of dangers he’ll encounter as he comes across an army of killer robots and other threats, all while accompanied by Socks, his robotic cat companion.

Another poster came out at the same time, this one showing Buzz striding purposefully across a tarmac where we see all manner of ships parked, presumably ready for action.

In March the movie came to the center of a controversy that was rocking Disney at the time, namely the issue of LGBTQ+ representation and related matters. As Pixar employees were planning a walkout over the company’s failure to denounce (and even support) Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, the studio took a small step in the right direction by restoring a same-sex kiss between Hawthorne and her partner that had previously been cut.

The movie was among those touted by Disney during their CinemaCon presentation in April of this year, with attendees getting a look at 30 minutes of footage that included the queer sub-plot that had caused so much controversy.

Another trailer (17.1m YouTube views) came out around that same time. It starts with Buzz testing a rocket launch after he and his team have been marooned on a planet for a year. But when he returns after what feels like a short flight he finds he’s been gone for 62 years. New threats have emerged on the planet and it’s up to him to lead an inexperienced team to defeat the bad guys and finally make it back to Earth.

The poster this time around has Buzz staring out into space.

Disney released a video right after that of Evans, Palmer and Waititi reacting to the trailer.

At the beginning of May a “special look” came out that seemed like another trailer but at the very least added some more context to the story that had been shared to date.

Another new poster added Zurg and some of those helping Buzz, including Sox, to the mix, the base the heroes operate from shown in the foreground. That same team is shown on a second one-sheet from mid-May, this time running into action.

Blue Apron introduced movie-themed meal kits at this point to attract parents of kids who may be interested in the film and want to have a meal inspired by it.

the marketing campaign phase two: go sox

TV spots began running in early June with commercials that focused on the heroic space adventures, the fuzzy cuteness of Sox and more.

Of course the first clip from the film was one showing Buzz unboxing Sox for the first time. Another, this one exclusively given to Fandango, has Buzz and his ad hoc team being briefed on their mission.

All this (and more) was part of a shift in focus by the campaign away from the core story and onto the characters, especially Sox. That was seen in some of the clips and other assets that made sure audiences knew that not only was Sox unbelievably adorable but that there was a diverse and interesting team supporting the title character on his adventures.

The main three stars then were featured unboxing some of the toys people can buy.

While the movie was being released theatrically, Disney+ got a documentary on the history of the character and how he was developed for the first Toy Story movies. There was also a featurette with MacLure, Evans and others talking about the origins of the story, including looks at the voice recording and introductions to the rest of Buzz’s team.

An exclusive poster from RealD 3D shows Buzz taking on Zurg.

Evans appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the film and what it was like to add his own take to a well-known character, something he also spoke about a few days earlier at the movie’s premiere. He also weighed in on the same-sex kiss conversation while attending the Annecy Film Festival where the premiere was happening.

The next featurette shows the cast praising Evans’ performance as Buzz, something that was well-timed since this was about when various parties started calling out Disney for not casting Tim Allen in the film, the presumption being that his more conservative politics were no longer welcome at Woke Disney. Another offers a better introduction to the supporting characters by the actors who voice them.

overall

There are two stories being sold here:

First is the story of the movie itself, which given no other information is communicated to the audience as the story of the real Buzz Lightyear and how he gained a reputation as a legendary Space Ranger beloved by the masses.

Second is the backstory/context that’s been explained by MacLure and others to make sure nerds understand where this story fits in with the adventures of Toy Buzz after Andy unwraps him as a birthday present.

That second one isn’t found in the campaign proper but has been covered extensively in various interviews with the director and others, but it seems to be completely unnecessary to understand and enjoy the film itself, so only go as deep into those waters as you feel comfortable.

What’s on display here is good enough and will likely be more attractive to those with young kids who are looking for something to do with those kids now that summer vacation is fully underway. The mixed reviews that have given the movie an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes probably won’t dissuade them, especially if they themselves have fond memories of seeing Toy Story in theaters, contributing to what’s expected to be an opening weekend box-office take of $100 million, give or take.