2018’s Most Innovative Movie Campaigns

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll likely know 2018 has lasted a remarkable nine years. At least that’s what it’s felt like at times. It’s hard to remember that Black Panther came out just this past February as it seems as if that was roughly forever ago.

The year has seen a number of interesting and memorable movie marketing campaigns for dramas, comedies and everything in between A few months ago I shared what I felt were the best campaigns of the year to date and what it was that made them so special.

There are some campaigns, though, that may not be as memorable or innovative as others but which in some manner perfectly represent the genre the movie was a part of, or are indicative of a larger trend in how studios are selling their films to the general public.

Love, Simon

It’s notable that the year started out (more or less) with what was widely regarded as the first mainstream studio movie with a gay coming-of-age story, directed by powerhouse TV producer Greg Berlanti. It started 2018 on a hopeful and lighthearted note that was much different than the one it ended on. That more sour note was exemplified by releases like The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Boy Erased that dealt with the horrible practice commonly referred to as “gay conversion therapy.”

Rampage

For the last few years Dwayne Johnson has been the king of the box-office, reliably bringing in sizable audiences for movies he stars in, up to and including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle at the end of last year. So it’s surprising that both his high-profile releases in 2018 – Rampage and Skyscraper – failed to cross the $100 million mark. Both movies’ campaigns went big to sell the large-scale action of the stories, including VR experiences that took audiences inside the world of the movie. That each movie fell short in terms of ticket sales shows that even the biggest stars are still vulnerable when the material is seen as weak.

The Incredibles 2

One of the major changes of the last 10 years is that the term “all-ages movie” has been radically redefined. It used to mean gentle, inoffensive features, either animated or live action. Now, though, PG-13 super hero movies fit that category. The Incredibles 2, though, was the rare example this year of a truly all-ages story breaking through, in this case to massive success. That was helped by a campaign that focused on selling audiences a return to the classic original they loved from over a decade ago.

Leave No Trace

There were a number of high-profile movies this year from female directors, in some cases directors that for whatever reason hadn’t released a new feature in several years or more. Such was the case with Leave No Trace, which had Debra Granik behind the camera. That was her first new movie since 2010, when she introduced the world to Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. Also fitting in this category is The Land of Steady Habits from director Nicole Holofcener and Private Life from Tamara Jenkins among others. Granik and her return to feature directing formed a central component of the publicity campaign.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Sony has had its struggles with the Spider-Man characters it manages, finding its most popular attempt was when it teamed up with Marvel Studios for last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which established the wallcrawler as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The campaign for Into the Spider-Verse, which is not part of that crossover agreement, has generated a lot of positive attention and buzz by highlighting the multi-dimensional story and focusing on Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino Spider-Man who first appeared in Marvel Comics’ “Ultimate” line of books.

Set It Up

One of the most pervasive media narratives of the last several months was Netflix’s handful of releases in the romantic comedy genre, one the studios aren’t playing in as much as they used to. Set It Up was one of the first in what the company later labeled “The Summer of Love,” a period that went on to include Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and others. All were sold with light, breezy campaigns that focused on the chemistry between the leads and the chance for the audience to enjoy something a bit lighter on a Friday night.

Annihilation

Netflix started off 2018 by dropping a bomb on the movie industry, releasing The Cloverfield Paradox just hours after it debuted the first TV commercial for the movie during The Super Bowl broadcast. It had picked up the movie from Paramount, which decided it was no longer interested in the title. Paramount did hang on to Annihilation, starring Natalie Portman, but sold overseas distribution rights to Netflix when it saw little potential in those markets. It was, in fact, a year of Netflix picking up titles other studios wanted to discard, including Extinction (from Universal), Step Sisters (Broad Green Pictures), Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (Warner Bros.) and more.

Roma

No movie better encapsulates the tension between Netflix and theater chains than this new, highly-personal story from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. It, along with other recent releases like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and others are all titles Netflix feels are worthy of awards consideration, but the rules of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences state a movie must play a certain amount of theaters for a certain amount of time to qualify. So, wanting to continue to attract high-profile filmmakers, the company has essentially rented the requisite screens. Prior to that the movie was given the full prestige treatment, with appearances at film festivals in Toronto, Venice and others, all exactly like any other studio would give an awards contender.

Eighth Grade

There were a number of coming-of-age movies released in 2018, just as there are in most years. You can’t really go wrong with telling emotional stories of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood and uncertain of who they are and what their place in the world is. Bo Burnham’s feature directorial debut really got people’s attention, though, with a campaign that focused on the emotional performance from Elsie Fisher and, along with Searching and other movies, showed Hollywood may finally be understanding what the internet really is.

The Hate U Give

There were a handful of movies this year that either directly or indirectly addressed Black Lives Matter and the issue of police violence against black citizens, including Monsters and Men and Blindspotting. The Hate U Give was special, though, in that the campaign highlighted the book it was based on and its message of how the younger generation has a special role in shaping the future of society on all fronts. It was also presented as a showcase for star Amandla Stenberg, who’s earned accolades for her performances in this and other recent movies.

Halloween

The marketing for Halloween hit all the right notes, striking a balance between selling something new and the return to something old, promising audiences the opportunity to see where Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) was after all these years. That campaign contained the best elements of Universal’s long-time management of the franchise and Blumhouse’s appeal to the modern day horror fan. Contrast that with another legacy sequel, The Predator, which failed to elicit the same feelings of nostalgia after running a campaign that maybe just a little too tongue-in-cheek for its own good.

A Star Is Born

From the minute A Star Is Born first started screening for critics it had tremendous buzz as a potential awards contender, with much of the conversation focusing on the performance by Lady Gaga as the singer nurtured to stardom by an experienced industry mentor. The promise of new material fro Gaga was among the strongest messaging hooks, so much so that Warner Bros. didn’t release the soundtrack so going to the theater was the only way to hear that music at first. It also set the stage, so to speak, for original songs from popular artists to be used as central components in film campaigns, a tactic used by Vox Lux (Sia), On The Basis of Sex (Kesha), Bumblebee (Hailee Steinfeld) and others.

BONUS – Game Night

The movie is one of the more hilarious in recent years and the campaign reminded us all just how funny Rachel McAdams can be just by including this one line.

game night gif

Picking Up the Spare: Ant-Man and The Wasp, Deadpool 2 and More

Ant-Man and The Wasp

The movie’s successful opening weekend let it run a “#1 movie in the world” TV spot to tout how well it was received.

The search for Janet Van Dyne was almost completely missing from the campaign but now that the movie is out, Marvel released this short video emphasizing it and focusing the Quantum Realm where she disappeared years ago.

Deadpool 2

Fox is promoting the release of the “Uncut” home video release with both a TV spot and a recently-announced screening at San Diego Comic-Con next week. That home video release will include a children’s book that’s absolutely unfit for children.

Also at SDCC, LEGO will be giving away an exclusive “Sheriff Deadpool” minifigure that’s not specifically tied to the movie but is still part of everyone’s general promotions for Deadpool.

Leave No Trace

There’s a new TV spot designed to show off some of the positive reviews the movie has received and help it build on very solid word of mouth.

Avengers: Infinity War

The 10th anniversary celebration that was tied to the movie’s release continues with the release of 10 more character posters to mark the occasion.

Skyscraper

Costar Bryon Mann has received a bit more attention in the last few days, with a couple interviews that let him talk about his career, working in his home city of Hong Kong as well as the movie specifically.

Dwayne Johnson started making the late night talk show rounds in the last couple days, including an appearance on “Colbert.”

Hotel Transylvania 3

Kathryn Hahn has made a few media appearances recently, showing up on “Kimmel” to tell stories and promote the movie a bit.

Blade Runner 2049

The movie itself didn’t take off to massive success, but it apparently opened the door to new stories that will be told in comics and books.

Eighth Grade

There’s been a whole wave of stories about writer/director Bo Burnham and his mission to get the movie made and tell the story in a realistic and respectful way. You can see instances of this on Indiewire, Buzzfeed, Variety just to name a few.

The Kissing Booth

The New York Times goes into why the movie has turned out to be so popular, including how Netflix tried to not overhype it.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Leave No Trace – Marketing Recap

leave no trace posterThe new movie Leave No Trace is the latest in a series of recent films about characters who have intentionally chosen to live off the grid, leaving modern society behind. Ben Foster plays Will, a father who’s taken his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) and decided to live in a forest far away from everyone else and surviving all on their own.

Everything changes when the authorities catch up with them and force the two to come back to “civilization.” Social services puts them in a house and tries to get Will a job and Tom an education. Neither takes well to their new surroundings and seek to escape the life they’re being forced into and return to the life they knew. The movie comes from director Debra Granik, the first feature from her since she broke out with 2010’s Winter’s Bone.

The Posters

The poster shows Tom and Will hiking through the woods, dwarfed by the massive trees around them. Most of the real estate is devoted to a collection of quotes from critics praising the movie, something that, when combined with the mention of this coming from the director of Winter’s Bone, indicates the studio knows this is going to appeal mostly to the arthouse crowd and so is going after them directly.

The Trailers

Will and Tom are living on their own in the middle of a park and, when the trailer opens, are on the run before Will is arrested. The authorities keep talking about wanting to get Will help – we see he may have trauma from his time in the military – and make sure Tom is taken care of, which she insists her dad has been doing. They’re set up in an actual home and given jobs, but it’s not long before Will can’t take the conformity and structure and so they set out once again. Tom, though, seems to be alright with a more conventionally normal life and so strikes out on her own.

That looks really great, especially the performances by both McKenzie and Foster. She in particular seems to give a powerful edge to Tom’s mix of independence, self-sufficiency and devotion to her father. It’s obvious she’s the heart and soul of the story as it’s her journey and struggle the audience will be asked to primarily invest itself in.

Online and Social

Bleecker Street’s official website for the movie features all the usual information, including a story synopsis, trailers and clips, a photo gallery and so on. Links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles are also featured on the front page of the site.

On the editorial front, there’s a section of original blog posts from the studio featuring interviews and profiles of Granik, Foster and others involved in the movie as well as some with Peter Brock, the author of the source novel, and a wilderness survival expert. Farther down the page is a collection of the earned media with the cast and crew.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The story was outlined in its most basic form, showing the relationship between Will and Tom and their struggle to live the lives they want to free from interference, in TV commercials that ran long and short. Both name-drop Winter’s Bone, apparently believing enough of the target audience is familiar with that movie for it to provide encouragement to see this one.

Media and Publicity

Critics often called this movie out as one they couldn’t wait to see at the Sundance Film Festival, in no small part because of it being the long-awaited follow-up by director Debra Granik to Winter’s Bone. Around that time Granik spoke about the gap between films as well as how she approached this story and working with the actors to tell a natural, observational story more than anything else. The movie was eventually picked up by Bleecker Street toward the end of the festival.

Later interviews allowed Granik to talk more about the story she was telling with this movie and how she’s determined to carve her own path as a filmmaker and not get caught up in the big spectacle of the movie industry.

In the last week or so there was a big push around McKenzie, with spotlights that said she would follow in Jennifer Lawrence’s footsteps as the next young woman to breakout in a movie directed by Granik. Foster got some attention as well as people reminded us he’s one of those “reliably great in everything” type of actors.

Overall

I’m happy to see that Bleecker Street gave this movie some paid support along with the engaging and interesting organic campaign that was mounted. It certainly highlights some of the strongest value propositions available, including the performances by Foster and McKenzie. The latter in particular, along with Granik, were really turned into the focus of the publicity, something that coupled with strong festival buzz should help get the attention of those looking for a smaller-scale theatrical outing.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

There’s a new TV spot designed to show off some of the positive reviews the movie has received and help it build on very solid word of mouth.