How Warner Bros. has mounted an oft-delayed and ultimately unusual campaign for its first legit superhero sequel since 2012.
To call Wonder Woman 1984’s trip to an eventual release date “unconventional” would be a severe understatement. Originally scheduled for December 2019, it was later moved to June, 2020, then later and later in the year following the theatrical closures resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The final release date of December 25, 2020 seemed iffy as late as last month but has finally come to pass because WB – and parent company AT&T – pulled a bold move that has subsequently disrupted the entire film industry, sending the movie to both whatever theaters are open and the HBO Max streaming platform.
Just as the title implies, the movie – directed once more by Patty Jenkins – jumps several decades from the World War I setting of the 2017 installment to the 80s. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is now an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute, where she meets coworker Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Barbara’s insecurities make her a ripe target for Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a megalomaniac businessman who acquires the ability to grant wishes and fulfill desires, an ability he uses to increase his own fortunes. Eventually Barbara wishes for superhuman powers and is transformed into Cheetah, setting the stage for an epic showdown with Diana. Along all that, Diana is confounded by the mysterious return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who she believed dead 60 years ago and who doesn’t appear to have aged at all.
Before the HBO Max release was announced, #WW84 had taken Tenet’s position as the movie exhibitors were pinning all their hopes for a moviegoing revival on. The simultaneous distribution may have dashed those hopes (along with the fact that the pandemic is nowhere near controlled in the U.S., meaning most theaters are still closed), so the film is now seen as an example of what could become Hollywood’s future. At the very least, it set the stage for Warner Bros. announcement its entire 2021 slate was following the same pattern.
In addition to the copious discussions and analysis of what all of the above means for theaters, HBO Max and other studios, initial reviews have praised it as a feel-good sequel to help close out an infection-filled tire fire of a year. Those reviews have been mixed enough to give it a lackluster 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the marketing of the film has struck the same colorful, powerful tone as that of the original.
The first teaser poster, Tweeted out by Jenkins in early June 2019 along with the news the movie would not have a panel at 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con, shows Diana looking imposing in golden full body armor. She’s set against a colorful backdrop that forms a slight “W” to reinforce the branding. It’s an impressive first image communicating what may be the movie’s brighter tone.
Four character posters – one for Diana, Trevor, Lord and Minerva – retained that colorful background branding while also offering one of the movie’s biggest revelations: that Trevor sports a fanny pack in the film.
In March two more posters came out showing Diana kneeling in her ceremonial armor, a colorful background swirling behind her. Those posters also served as announcements of the new (at the time) June release date.
An exclusive IMAX poster, released in November, shows the armored Diana crouched and ready for battle while promoting the fact some sequences in the film were shot with IMAX cameras, the better to lure in audiences hoping for an immersive experience.
More posters came out earlier this month that took the same kind of visual approach, making sure to include the new selling point of simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max availability.
The “#WeekofWonder” campaign run the first week of December included another poster showing Wonder Woman walking purposefully and powerfully toward the camera. AT&T debuted another showing a more relaxed, though still armored, Diana.
There were also four new character posters that debuted on IGN.
Diana is explaining to Barbara that her life has been different than she might imagine as the first trailer (37.3 million views on YouTube), released at the beginning of December 2019, begins. We see momentos from her past before seeing Wonder Woman break up a group of armed criminals in a shopping mall. As that’s happening, a TV commercial features Lord promising people they can achieve all their dreams and have what they want. Somehow Steve Trevor returns, having not aged a day in the 40 years since he apparently died. They set off on a mysterious adventure while we’re shown footage of them in combat mixed with scenes of the Amazons competing in some form of organized games.
All of that is bookended by title graphics and other animation seemingly pulled directly from a 1984 video cassette, including fuzzy static that mimics what would happen when a VHS tape got stretched after too many plays.
In conjunction with DC Fandome in August a new trailer (23.8 million views on YouTube) was released that starts by showing a young Diana in the midst of her training followed by a grown Wonder Woman using her magic lasso to swing between lightning bolts. That gives you an idea of how epic the story is. After that there’s more footage showing Barbara’s quest for power that turns her into Cheetah, Lord’s megalomania that has to be stopped and the mystery surrounding Trevor’s return. At the end there’s a nice flip from a scene in the first movie, with Trevor trying on clothes to fit into the current world while Diana judges his choices.
In mid-November in conjunction with the announcement of the HBO Max release plans the “Official Main Trailer” (4.3 million views on YouTube) came out that is almost exactly the same as the Fandome trailer from August.
Online and Social
Whatever website might have once existed for the movie it’s been replaced by a single page on HBO Max’s site with the trailer and information on either signing up for that service or purchasing theater tickets. It’s really disappointing, though there were still stand-alone social profiles that went more in-depth on promotions and other marketing assets.
Advertising and Promotions
With so much going on, it’s necessary to break all of this up a little bit.
Advertising and Sponsorships
Snapchat users could add a movie-themed lens and background to their stories and videos.
There was also an exclusive Snap lens on branded Dorito’s bags.
It was one of the first brands to have access to Instagram Reels when that feature was rolled out earlier this year, posting exclusive content there.
An official Spotify playlist featured not only Hans Zimmer’s score but also a solid selection of 80s hits.
IMAX promoted its involvement in the production with a short featurette with Jenkins talking about shooting the movie not just on film but on IMAX.
Fandango offered an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette.
The movie sponsored a bit on “Ellen.”
Outdoor ads of all shapes and sizes, from standard billboard units to full-skyscraper projections, were run in the last few weeks before release.
Just last week WB released the first three minutes of the movie, which offer a bit of flashback as well as stage setting for where the story of this film begins.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
Tide, which inserted Wonder Woman into a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl LIV broadcast earlier this year.
The Red Cross, which ran a sweepstakes entering those who donated blood, platelets or plasma in July for a chance to win movie prop replicas of Wonder Woman’s lasso and gauntlets.
Revlon, which created a line of movie-inspired cosmetics.
Microsoft, which had a substantial campaign using the movie and character as a way to encourage kids to develop tech skills and learn to code by playing game, engaging in online scavenger hunts and more. There was also a Bing extension that added movie key art to browsers and an Edge browser theme.
Dorito’s, which put movie branding on chip bags, some of which came out earlier this year before various delays, leading to packaging hitting shelves with inaccurate dates.
Eleven by Venus Williams, which created a “capsule collection” of movie-themed apparel.
Alex and Ani, which created a line of movie- and character-themed jewelry.
Dairy Queen, which created the Wonder Woman Cookie Collision Blizzard, which was available well before the film was eventually released.
Hot Topic, which offered all kinds of movie and character merchandise, some exclusive to the retailer.
Reebok, which offered a line of movie- and character-themed footwear. That campaign included an emphasis on highlighting healthcare workers as well as promoting the company’s education initiatives.
The movie also was included in a number of ads for AT&T encouraging people to sign up for the company’s fiber home internet service so they had the bandwidth to fully enjoy Wonder Woman 1984 via HBO Max.
Promotions for the movie kicked off all the way back in June, 2018 in advance of that year’s San Diego Comic-Con as Gadot and Jenkins Tweeted out a handful of first looks at Trevor, Barbara and Diana. That Trevor’s presence in the movie was revealed at the outset of the publicity cycle is notable since the question of whether or not he would show up could have been a significant part of the campaign. Instead, Jenkins – and presumably the studio – felt there was more to gain from getting it out there early and not making everyone endure months of speculation, which is appreciated.
The movie was also part of that year’s CineEurope presentation from the studio.
Warner Bros. sat out Hall H at SDCC 2019 but Jenkins and Gadot did appear at Comic Con Experience in Sao Paulo in December, talking about the movie and what audiences could expect while giving attendees an early look at the first trailer.
The film was included in WB’s 2019CinemaCon presentation that included footage from the film and comments from Jenkins. It was also featured in that year’s CineEurope presentation.
Gadot appeared as a presenter during the recent Oscars broadcast.
A new October release date was announced in June.
Shortly after that news came the movie would be among those included in DC FanDome, a virtual event planned for August. That panel, which included the debut of another trailer, had Jenkins and others discussing both this and the first film and fielding some questions from fans. There was also a surprise appearance by the original on-screen Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter. More promotions for the film, including another appearance by Jenkins, were part of the second part of FanDome a month later.
The news the movie would debut in theaters and on HBO Max was accompanied by a short promo making that point to audiences. It was also prominently included in promos for WB’s later announcement of its 2021 theatrical/HBO Max plans.
Additional longer commercials showed an abridged outline of the story.
A new extended spot was unveiled at this year’s CCXP, one that focuses on the emotional journey Diana goes on over the course of the story.
Immediately leading up to release WB bought Promoted Trends on Twitter.
DC FanDome was reactivated in mid-December for the movie’s virtual premiere, including exclusive looks at the film and more. That premiere supported World Central Kitchen, which has been doing a lot of work to feed hungry people across the world – including the U.S. – during the pandemic.
DC Comics Tie-Ins
There’s been a full-throated promotional effort from DC, not only because that division is home to the Wonder Woman IP but also because the movie’s release roughly coincides with the 80th anniversary of the character’s print debut. That effort has included a number of on-domain “get to know X character” stories and videos as well as insights into the design and creation of Wonder Woman’s golden armor, an interview with Tina Guo, the guitarist behind the now-famous Wonder Woman movie theme and more.
A planned movie tie-in comic with cover art by Nicola Scott, who shared her work on Twitter in March. More details came out in July, including that the book – “Wonder Woman 1984 No. 1” – would debut exclusively in Walmart stores and feature multiple stories, including a direct prequel to the film co-written by Louise Simonson and associate producer Anna Obropta.
A handful of Zoom chat backgrounds, released earlier this year (as many companies were doing) so people could add some film branding to their video calls.
Lilly Aspel, who plays the young Diana, appeared on an episode of DC’s Kids YouTube show to talk about the movie and play games.
#WonderWomanDay was celebrated in October with all sorts of merchandise sales, events at comics retailers and more.
A new digital-first comics series featuring stories from established and new creators.
Media and Publicity
With all the delays and date changes, publicity didn’t truly kick off – outside of a few interviews and comments, including those from Pine and Jenkins from the “I Am The Night” set – until February of this year.
That’s when more photos were released to EW, which also hosted a roundtable conversation with Jenkins and the cast as well as an interview with Gadot about the continuation of Diana’s story as well as that spiffy new armor.
Another interview with Gadot had her talking about this movie as well as her career, public image and more.
New images and comments from Gadot and others emerged in April, as Warner Bros. execs reiterated their commitment to the theatrical model for this movie. At about the same time, Jenkins hinted at the four-film arc she has in mind for the character if she gets the chance and more. She discussed more details and ideas in another interview later on.
As the reality of the pandemic became more clear in May, Gadot surprised a group of Wonder Woman-inspired healthcare workers in Detroit with an appearance to lift them up during difficult times.
Wiig was interviewed about what a career change it was to take a role in a big-budget production like this and how that went.
Pascal was the subject of a feature profile that included comments from Jenkins about working with him and more.
In an interview earlier this month Jenkins said she was essentially ignoring the theatrical cut of Justice League, directed by Joss Whedon, because she felt it contradicted what she had done and had planned, unlike the way she had worked with original JL director Zack Snyder
Gadot spoke in a later interview about returning to the role and what she hoped that meant for the character, feminism and the world as a whole. In another she acknowledged again how rough a year this has been for many people and expressed her hope this movie brings them and everyone else some joy and relief.
The late-breaking HBO Max plan didn’t sit quite right with Jenkins, who said as much in a recent interview.
Wiig and Gadot’s on-set friendship and subsequent antics was covered in an interview with “Entertainment Tonight.”
Wiig also returned to her “Saturday Night Live” home the weekend before release.
A substantial profile of Jenkins made lots of headlines for including her thoughts on the HBO Max situation, the prolonged negotiations that finally allowed her to return for a sequel, her plans for a third film and more. Another interview had her revealing how studio notes influenced the ending to the first movie.
Let’s face it, the campaign is one of the best of the year, even despite all the delays and awkwardness, because of this single image.
On top of what it’s selling to audiences, the campaign has a strong message for entertainment industry executives who feel threatened by change they’re not in charge of.