In The Heights – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a big movie musical event.

Anyone not already familiar with the name Lin Manuel Miranda has certainly come to know it in the years since Hamilton – the filmed version of which hit Disney+ last year – became a Broadway sensation. Others, though, were aware of Miranda’s skills well before that based in part on his first musical.

That musical, In The Heights, has now been adapted into a feature film debuting in theaters and on HBO Max this week. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the movie stars Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega, a Washington Heights bodega owner, Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario, a young woman returning to the neighborhood after dropping out of college, Corey Hawkins as Benny, Usnavi’s best friend and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, who works at a local salon and dreams of getting out. The story follows these and other characters over three days and involves a winning lottery ticket sold at Usnavi’s bodega, that changes being experienced in the largely Dominican neighborhood and more.

Initial reviews have praised the movie, which currently has a 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as bold and exuberant. And in a sign of the world reopening post-pandemic, some 96% of respondents to a recent Fandango survey say it’s the first film they plan to see in theaters since they closed down over a year ago. Helping that is not only the public health situation in the U.S. but also that school years are ending, all of which adds up to a projected opening weekend of $20 million.

With all that as context, let’s see how Warner Bros. has marketed what has shaped up to be the kickoff event of the summer.

The Posters

While the image of a New York City bridge is wonderfully colorful and striking, the main selling point on the first poster from December (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) is that the movie comes from the creator of “Hamilton” and the director of Crazy Rich Asians. That’s what’s going to convince people to take a chance on a movie whose source material they may not be familiar with.

A half-dozen posters came out in mid-March of this year, all of them taking a slightly different approach to selling the story. Some pull the camera out to show the neighborhood from a wider perspective, others focus more narrowly on the main characters. All keep the same brand of bright, joyous celebrations, though, and so work together to sell a good time with lots of singing and dancing.

Two waves of character posters were released in early May that position either one or two of those characters in different parts of the neighborhood where they live or work.

“The time has come” declares the Dolby Cinemas poster, which shows the main characters in the midst of a raucous neighborhood rally.

The final poster was released later in May, showing the two lead couples in the story dancing in the streets, the other neighborhood residents also celebrating around them.

The Trailers

The first trailer (11.6 million views on YouTube) was released in mid-December and starts out by reminding people it comes from the creator of “Hamilton,” a reasonable message to send. Benny is telling a story of the Washington Heights that was to a group of kids. Back in the day Benny was a dreamer but the neighborhood around him, his friends and his family was changing to shut out anyone who aspired to rise above their station. It’s filled with big, glorious musical numbers and big, glorious emotions, just like a musical should be.

A second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out in early March, debuting during the Grammy Award broadcast. It’s still focused on Benny and Nina, but is really about loving your neighborhood and embracing all that it has to offer. Not only that, but it’s unapologetically an appreciation of Lantino culture and all that means. Another slightly different version of that trailer came out at the same time, offering a few additional scenes but telling the same story.

Online and Social

In addition to the standard synopsis, videos and photos the official website for the movie has Meme Generator function allowing visitors to choose from a selection of GIFs, add their own message to it and then export it for sharing on the social network of their choice.

There were also standalone social profiles on most major platforms, including Giphy.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Warner Bros. kicked off the film’s marketing by bringing a video containing the first footage as well as comments from Chu to CCXP in December 2019.

Miranda was interviewed about the movie while he was in Sundance earlier this year promoting other projects.

The movie’s production designer spoke about how he sought to accurately represent the cultures of the movie’s characters.

Both Ramos and Miranda were presenters during the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.

Ramos, Barrera and others were interviewed about the movie and how they felt a great deal of cultural responsibility to get things right and present the neighborhood and its people respectfully and accurately.

In March of last year Warner Bros. pulled the movie from its original June release, one of several such changes in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. It was later rescheduled for June when the studio made its big HBO Max announcement in late 2020.

A few of the actors took part in an interview during the virtual edition of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers 21st Annual Media Summit in June, talking about the tone of the film and how production went.

Miranda talked about writing the original stage show late last year, making it clear he was moved to do so at least in part because of the lack of representation elsewhere in the entertainment world. Later on he was interviewed about what drew him to Chu as a director for the movie

Early April brought a short TV spot/promo that didn’t have much details but certainly conveyed the spectacle of the film.

Disney worked to get some early buzz going for the movie in April by both allowing critics and others to share their early reviews and announcing the film’s world premiere would be held at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in June. It was also scheduled as the premiere film for the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

An extended TV spot titled “Change The World” came out at the end of April that plays up the aspirational nature of the story, showing how the characters are out to not only preserve and celebrate their neighborhood and life but change the world while doing so. Another similar spot – this one titled “96,000” – is centered on how someone in the neighborhood has one the lottery and shows the characters talking about what they would do if they came into that kind of money.

Unsavi sings about his love for his neighborhood in the first clip, which debuted during the broadcast of the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in mid-May.

Gold House, the Asian Pacific-Islander advocacy group that has coordinated support for movies with AAPI creators and leads, announced a spinoff #LatinxGoldOpen campaign in conjunction with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.

An exclusive MovieClips featurette covered how the themes of the story are universally applicable to everyone.

Ramos was the subject of a THR cover story where he talked about his history with the stage musical, his career to date and more while his work ethic and performance were praised by Miranda, Chu and others. He also received an NYT profile where he shared the pressures of so much attention right now as well as how he’s defined his career to date.

IMAX released a TV spot encouraging audiences to come see it on the big big screen.

In June Smits was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the actor talking about his long love of the stage production and lots more.

Grace was interviewed about this being her big screen debut as well as the cultural history she and the rest of the cast strove to portray and represent. That history and heritage was the focus of a feature with the whole cast sharing their thoughts on those topics and more, something they along with others also did at the movie’s recent Los Angeles premiere. They also commented on the relief and thankfulness they felt at the movie finally coming out a year after it was originally scheduled. An interview with costar Daphne Rubin-Vega had her talking about how her character was changed to be queer in the film when she was straight in the original show.

Both Ramos and Miranda appeared on “The Tonight Show” recently.

Additional interviews included conversations with Chu as well as the movie’s costume designer, screenwriter, cinematographer and production design team.

Regal Cinemas had an exclusive collection of interviews with the cast. Dolby shared an interview with Chu about the process of filming the movie in Washington Heights. Another Dolby video with Chu had him presenting the movie as a welcome way to celebrate the reopening of the world as the worst of the pandemic fades, at least here in the U.S.

Along with a few more clips, Warner Bros. released the first eight minutes of the movie on YouTube and made the same footage available within HBO Max.

An extended spot proclaiming the movie the “event of the summer” includes not only the critical praise it’s received to date but also endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman and others.

One final featurette has Miranda, Chu and others who are actually from the neighborhood portrayed on screen about how special Washington Heights is and how it’s always been an immigrant community of some form or another.

Chu was scheduled to appear on TCM to introduce three classic movie musicals that inspired this film.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Travelocity, which ran a sweepstakes giving the winner a dream vacation to either the Domincan Republic or another destination of their choosing.
  • Roblox, which is hosting a virtual block party in-world through June 20th featuring recreations of Washington Heights as well as some of the characters.
  • Foot Locker and Fila, which collaborated on a movie-inspired sneaker coming soon.
  • Open Table, which suggested people celebrate the movie’s release by ordering in from a local restaurant.

Overall

As is appropriate for screen musicals, there are no small emotions in this campaign. Everything is big, everything is colorful, everything is heightened. That comes through in almost every aspect of the marketing, from trailers to posters to Gifs.

In addition to the constant reinforcing of Miranda’s personal brand, what comes through most strongly is how different this movie is from others that tell stories of immigrant or similar communities. This isn’t a dark, serious look at the struggles of people in those neighborhoods, though the problems they face are still evident. Instead it’s a celebration of the people in a neighborhood and how they take joy in life, want to preserve their heritage and make the best of each day, dreaming of not just making it big but then coming back and helping those they grew up alongside. That’s pretty unique and makes this campaign pretty special.

You Got It Salute GIF by In The Heights Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Hamilton – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling a family-room ticket to the room where it happened.

The story of how Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, became a Broadway sensation is already well-known. What seemed unlikely and unexpected achieved a level of success few others have, with the demand for tickets becoming something legendary. People shared their stories of scoring seats like they told stories of invading Normandy.

Now that hit musical, which has subsequently expanded outside New York City to similar enthusiasm and reception, is coming to living rooms everywhere as a filmed production with the original cast comes to Disney+.

In marketing the film, Disney has run a campaign that draws on the strongest, most recognizable elements of the stage production and the legend it has built up over the years. It’s not the year’s most robust campaign, but it presents an attractive reason to not just watch the film but also, importantly, subscribe to the streaming service.

The Posters

The first poster came out in May and uses the same key art as the Broadway production, that of a bright gold background with a star in the middle and Hamilton raising his finger to the air as if defiantly making a point.

A month later a series of poster that used the same idea but swapped in different characters from the show at the top of the star came out. All feature the same “Experience the Original Broadway Production” tagline and details on its Disney+ debut.

The Trailers

Just a couple weeks ago the first trailer (2.4 million views on YouTube) came out, offering a brief glimpse of what audiences could expect, including those catchy tunes, a fully diverse cast and some great costumes. It doesn’t need to overstate its case because, at this point, if people aren’t going to fall all over themselves to experience it for themselves there’s not much more Disney could do.

Online and Social

Advertising and Promotions

The movie, including all of the original Broadway cast, was announced by Disney in February of last year.

To the surprise of just about everyone, news came in May that the movie would go to Disney+ instead of theaters, a decision that seemed to be more about keeping the streaming service stocked with attractive content than anything else. The date announced was nearly a year earlier than had been originally expected. Conventional wisdom held that the shift was in part a reaction to the Covid-19 closing of theaters as well as productions, including those for shows planned for Disney+. In short, it presented an available and attractive piece of content for the service at a time when the buzz around it was beginning to die down due to a lack of high-profile viewing options.

The first clip was released last week, offering a brief glimpse at the show’s opening, an introduction to Hamilton’s backstory.

Additional clips showed off bits from “The Room Where It Happened” and “Satisfied.”

Another promo video played up the drama of the story while making it very clear you could experience all that exclusively on Disney+ in just a few days.

Media and Press

Daveed Diggs spoke briefly about the movie and its early release on Disney+ when he was interviewed on “The Tonight Show” as part of his “Snowpiercer” publicity cycle.

Miranda acknowledged recently that a couple F-bombs from the show had been removed in order for it to pass under Disney+’s “PG-13 or lower” bar. He later talked about the film project on “The Tonight Show.”

The process of bringing a stage production to the screen was the subject of two features including comments from Miranda, director Thomas Kail and others.

An interview with Leslie Odom Jr. had him revisiting his first experiences with the production before it went to Broadway and sharing what it felt like to see it come to the masses now.

The cast reunited virtually with members of The Roots to perform “Helpless” as part of an online fundraiser.

Overall

There’s not a whole lot to say here. If you aren’t humming along to the songs shared in the clips and trailers, it’s possible you’re dead inside. So it succeeds in creating all the “OMG I finally get to see what literally everyone has been talking about for years” feels in the audience.

The campaign is actually a bit more robust than what Netflix has run for similar offerings like Oh Hello: On Broadway and other stage-to-screen translations. It promises to bring you all the same experiences – the laughter, the tears, the heartbreak, the hope – those who saw it in person had, but without having to mortgage all your possessions in the off-chance someone with tickets couldn’t make it and you were the next person on the waiting list.

Picking Up The Spare

More promo spots came out that cover the phenomenon that is the musical and a specific call to action the film is about to debut

More here on the process of translating the musical to the screen. 

Renee Elise Goldsberry, who absolutely steals every moment she’s in, talks about her signature number. She, Phillipa Soo and Jasmine Cephas Jones made a virtual appearance at Essence Festival. 

The promise of watching the movie drove a massive increase in Disney+ app downloads, which is exactly what it was meant to do. 

A few more clips have been released from “The Room Where It Happened” and “Satisfied.” There was also a new featurette on the filming of the show.

Mary Poppins Returns – Marketing Recap

Recapping Disney’s marketing campaign for Mary Poppins Returns.

mary poppins poster 2It’s hard to think of a more iconic marriage of role and actor than Julie Andrews’ performance as the title character in Disney’s adaptation of Mary Poppins. The story of that production, and the fierce guardianship over the characters by author P.L. Travers, was told in 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks. Travers was reportedly so unhappy with some details of that adaptation she ruled out any further movies with the character.

Now the managers of Travers’ estate have given their consent and Mary Poppins Returns is about to hit theaters. Estimated to bring in $40 million it opening weekend, the movie casts Emily Blunt as Poppins, who returns to the Banks household decades later. Jack Banks (Ben Wishaw) now has two children of his own but is living with his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) following the death of his wife. Poppins’ arrival once more involves a kindly lamplighter, this time Jack (Lin Manuel-Miranda).

The Posters

It’s a very simple message on the first teaser poster, which just shows half of Poppins’ face looking slightly off-camera. That’s it: Mary Poppins has returned and we’ll find out more around Christmas. Simple but…simple.

A more artistic approach is taken on the second poster, which positions Poppins and Jack as the central elements in a collage of images that include different aspects of the story.

Character posters from mid-November provided simple looks at each of the main players in the story

The Trailers

The teaser trailer works super-hard to recreate the magic of the original film. It’s all about setting the stage, though, with wind blowing and kites being flown and more, all leading up to Poppins descending from the sky and being told by two people that it’s wonderful to see her again.

The story is finally laid out in the full trailer, which shows that the Banks children are now grown and living together after Michael’s wife passed away. His children come home one with Mary Poppins in tow as she announces she’s back to once more take care of the family. Immediately she’s showing off her incredible abilities, much to Michael’s occasional dismay. There’s a big animated musical number, Dick Van Dyke is shown reprising his role as an old banker and more and this looks delightful, a much-needed dose of whimsy in the world.

Online and Social

You’ll find only the very basic information about the movie on Disney’s official website, including a collection of videos and photos along with links to the promotional partners.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were a host of new editions of the original book as well as other material released both in conjunction with the movie and to draft off it.

The second trailer was boosted using a Promoted Tweet the same day it was released.

It plays like a TV spot, but was labeled a “Sneak Peek” when it was released in mid-November. Whatever the case, it shows the basic outlines of the story, ending with a big musical number to show the movie doesn’t lack ambition or fidelity to the original. An actual TV spot came out a bit later that showed how Poppins reenters the Banks family and what sort of possibilities for adventure she unlocks.

In terms of promotional partners:

  • HSN sponsored the livestream of the movie’s red carpet premiere in Los Angeles.
  • 1-800-FLOWERS created a special “magical” movie-themed bouquet.
  • Fiora offered those buying $15 or more of its paper products a free movie ticket.
  • Ivory made the same offer to those buying $8 of its products.
  • Subway also offered those buying a kids meal a free movie ticket.
  • Nissan released two commercials that focused on how both the movie and the company’s cars feature and implement the latest design and technology.
  • The Republic of Tea created a handful of movie-themed tea sets sporting cobranded packaging.
  • Trunk Club curated a movie-themed fashion line it showed off at a Chicago press event that included items from the film.

Media and Publicity

While there were certainly conversations and speculation about the movie, the first official publicity came in the form of first-look stills of Blunt as Poppins and Miranda as Jack.

Later on a big cover feature story in EW gave more looks both of the movie itself and the behind-the-scenes action, with the actors talking about stepping into such iconic roles, updates on the characters, what the actors drew on for inspiration and lots more. More photos came in EW’s San Diego Comic-Con issue. Those hit around the same time attendees of Disney’s D23 event got a first look at footage from the movie.

Blunt was promoting A Quiet Place but also spoke while on publicity circuit about this movie, including how vaguely creepy the character of Mary Poppins was, whether or not she had been in contact with Andrews, how Miranda “came alive” during the filming of the big musical numbers and more.

The movie was among those Disney teased to distribution execs and press at CinemaCon. The movie was also part of the later CineEurope presentation from the studio. In mid-October it was shown off to exhibitors at the NATO industry conference.

Another new photo came up in EW in mid-August.

A “Special Look” released in late-October offered a glimpse at some of the movie’s animated musical numbers. Another featurette from mid-October had the cast and crew talking about how they decided to get involved with a sequel to the beloved classic film and how they went about making it.

Marshall and Blunt were interviewed together about how they wanted to make a joyful, fun movie for the whole family. Around the same time Miranda was interviewed about getting involved in the project and movie musicals as a genre. EW offered a cover story in early November that contained all sorts of new interviews and details about the movie.

Blunt made the TV rounds closer to release to talk about how her family reacted to her in the role and more. Miranda did likewise, talking about how much fun he had making the movie as did Mortimer in early December.

The first clip from late November featured Poppins’ return to the Banks household while a featurette released shortly thereafter made the connections between this movie and the original.

THR offered profiles of the costume design as well as how the production team recreated the London of the past and how Marshall felt responsible for guarding a precious part of Disney’s cinematic legacy.

The second reunion of Streep and Blunt was something both talked about while Miranda commented on the burden and responsibility he felt in taking on such an iconic story. Meanwhile Marshall was talking about how he convinced Blunt to take on a role with such significant (clears throat) baggage as this. The pressures of living up to the legacy of the original film were also mentioned by the cast and crew at the movie’s premiere.

A short featurette had Blunt talking about the unpredictable joy Poppins brings to the characters and story. Another clip showed how Poppins takes the kids into the magical animated world of singing and dancing. Further clips showed Poppins’ arrival and more musical numbers.

Character introduction featurettes began last week with one that focused on Topsy, played by Meryl Streep.

Interviews here and here with Miranda allowed him to talk about how he got involved with the movie, his inspiration for playing the character and his astounding career to date.

There were other TV features interviewing Blunt, focusing on the behind the scenes details and even profiling the nanny training school that inspired Poppins in the first place.

Overall

There are two options that occur to me based on how superficial the campaign appears to be: A) The movie is much deeper but Disney wants to keep things light and fluffy, or B) The movie as a whole is this superficial and offers the cinematic equivalent of marzipan.

Whatever the case, Disney is relying solely on nostalgia for the original here, without offering much of anything that’s new or unique. It promises to continue the story but doesn’t go to any lengths to explain how or in what way. New characters are shown, but the don’t bring much beyond what you could find by rewatching the original movie. That’s not the fault of the charming cast, it’s a choice that’s been made in how it’s being sold to the public.

Picking Up the Spare

Miranda continued making the television rounds with an appearance on “The Tonight Show” that included lots of singing and dancing. He was also interviewed on just about everything here and talked with Seth Meyers later on. He also kept singing the praises of his costar Blunt in appearances like this.

Google shared the story of a coding event they held for young girls that included a screening of the film.

Vanity Fair profiled Whishaw about his career to date and how this movie fits into that. Van Dyke was also interviewed about the story behind his decision to join the sequel and got a feature profile all of his own.

A “Now playing” TV spot focused on the magical nature of the story and characters. The animation team was interviewed about the core musical sequence as well.

Blunt continued sharing what it was that attracted her to the project, including her lifelong love of the character and stories.