uncharted – marketing recap

How Sony is selling a big-bet video game adaptation.

uncharted movie poster
uncharted movie poster

Uncharted, based on the popular video game, finally hits theaters this weekend after a journey of several years and lots of talent changes over the last few years.

As it stands, the final product stars Tom Holland as Nathan Drake, a young adventurer out to find his fortune and live up to the legacy of his family, specifically Sir Nathan Drake, the 16th century explorer. Drake is on the trail of treasures lost by the crew of the Magellan in the early 1500s. To help him he partners with Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who also previously worked with Drake’s missing brother Sam.

The movie, directed by Ruben Fleischer, also stars Antonio Banderas and Sophia Ali as competing treasure hunters. Nathan Fillion, who campaigned heavily for the role back around 2009, does not appear.

Let’s take a look at how Sony has sold the film.

announcement and casting

Sony has had an adaptation of the game from Naughty Dog studios in some stage of development since around 2008. At one point David O. Russell was attached to direct and Wahlberg was slated to play the lead role. Joe Carnahan, Shawn Levy and others have also been named as directors over the years.

Holland was officially cast in mid-2017, with the movie pegged as a prequel to the story told in the games. Two years later Wahlberg, who had exited the project, jumped back in, this time in the supporting role as opposed to the lead. Banderas and the others joined in early 2020 as the movie finally moved into production.

All those changes meant the original 2017 release date has changed several times.

the marketing campaign: early phases

While promoting Onward in early 2020, Holland offered a brief update by saying production was just weeks away from beginning. Banderas and Gabrielle joined the cast in early 2020, shortly before Fleischer’s name was floated as the latest director.

The first official look at Holland in character came when he tweeted out a photo in October of 2020.

Nolan North, who provided the voice of Nathan Drake for the video games, was heavily involved in the teaser push, sharing additional photos, participating in online chats and otherwise giving the production his seal of approval, an important part of getting longtime fans on board.

Holland was one of the presenters at the 2020 Game Awards to help burnish his credibility and build awareness.

More official stills were released in January 2021 to prove the movie was still happening.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Its release date was then pushed from July 2021 to February 2022.

the marketing campaign: getting serious

After such a long period of anticipation, the first trailer (15.4m YouTube views) finally came out in late October 2021. It immediately establishes Drake as a hunter of lost treasures before allowing him and Sullivan to team up to look for the one of the biggest unfound hauls in history. It’s the same treasure Drake’s brother was on the trail of when he disappeared. But they’re not the only ones looking for it, meaning there are going to be shootouts, explosions and other man-made dangers in addition to whatever else awaits them.

A behind-the-scenes featurette with Holland and Wahlberg came out shortly after that trailer.

How Holland used the time at home after Covid-related pauses in production to bulk up in an effort to match the muscular look of Wahlberg was covered in this interview.

Drake and Sullivan look out into the middle distance looking very much like they’re on the cover of a video game package on the first poster, which didn’t come out until December. The remnants of old ships loom in the background to make sure the audience understands they’re searching through historical artifacts.

The second trailer (12.9m YouTube views) came out a bit later in December and shows more of how Drake and Sullivan are going to be working together, the conflicts they’ll have with others who are also on the hunt for the Magellan’s lost treasure and more. It’s filled not only with action but also lots of quips and one-liners, especially from Drake, since selling the tone of the film is even more important than selling the story.

In January the first clip was released showing a showdown on a cargo plane that has Drake hanging on for dear life. That clip was also introduced by Holland at Sony’s CES press conference, where he talked about how he learned about the game franchise and how excited he was for the film to come out.

Another poster, this one using the traditional action movie format of everyone being arranged around the star with locations from the story placed in the background.

The scope and complexity of the stunts and action sequences was the focus of a mini-featurette with Holland.

TV spots started running a month out from release that boiled the sales pitch down to the essentials, focusing on the wit and action.

Fandango MovieClips shared an exclusive trailer that offers a bit more of the character dynamics but otherwise covers a lot of the same ground as earlier spots, even if much of the footage is new to the campaign.

The plane sequence is referenced again on the next one-sheet, which uses an image of Drake hanging off the dangling cargo.

Holland and Wahlberg appeared in an announcement for Fandango when tickets went on sale at the end of January.

A series of short “travel vlog” videos were shared from various stops like London, Spain, Rome,

The IMAX-exclusive poster once more uses the plane sequence as its central element. ScreenX has posters that show Drake and Sullivan clutching important artifacts while on their journey. AMC Theaters ran a sweepstakes campaign where fans could unlock exclusive content. The Dolby poster released a bit later takes a more original approach, offering an illustrated take on Drake that looks like it’s been folded like a map.

Hyundai’s cross-promotional campaign kicked off in late January with a spot that features Holland as Drake driving the 2022 Tucson to a convenience store/service station to get repairs after suffering unusual damage.

The two stars show up again to joke with each other and offer their thoughts on the film in an extended spot released at the beginning of February. They did likewise in a spot that references this being an Olympics year and how they’re basically professional athletes in the movie.

Drake puts his bartending skills to violent work in the next clip.

The topic of how Holland used Covid-enforced time off to bulk up and more was covered in another interview with the actor. He then appeared in a featurette with Neil Druckman, who created the game, to talk about adapting it for the screen.

Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan appears in a commercial that aired during the recent NBA All Star game. Also on the sports front was a spot (roughly timed with the Super Bowl) with Holland and Wahlberg talking about fandom and commitment. Another, this one Valentine’s Day themed, had the two discussing the bromance between their characters.

How he approached the character of Nathan Drake was covered by Holland in another featurette.

Sony launched an AR lens for Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram allowing people to put themselves in the “dangling from cargo out the back of a plane” sequence.

G Fuel launched a promotional campaign that positioned their nutrition supplement as the perfect fuel for high-energy adventures like those found in the movie.

Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters offered their own exclusive interviews with the stars.

The process of adapting the game into a movie was covered in another sit-down video featuring creatives from both media.

Fleischer talked about how working on Venom helped him approach this project and its action-heavy nature. How the trades departments translated the costumes and visuals of the game for the movie was covered in this profile.

A lyric video for “No Mind” by Milkblood was released earlier this week.

Many of the cast and crew appeared in person at an IMAX fan screening in New York City.

overall

It’s an alright campaign for a big-budget movie projected to open with a $30 million weekend and which could serve as an indicator of Holland’s box-office draw when he’s not wearing the Spider-Man costume. But two major things jump out at me:

First, Sony really honed in on that plane sequence as the central element to help convince audiences to come see the movie in theaters.

Tom Holland Plane GIF by Uncharted - Find & Share on GIPHY

Second, every time there’s a shot of Holland as a bartender I think this is a sequel or prequel to Cocktail and my interest in the film increases dramatically.

Tom Holland Bar GIF by Uncharted - Find & Share on GIPHY

Infinite – Marketing Recap

How Paramount+ is selling a time-twisting action movie.

Infinite, starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Antoine Fuqua, is the first non-Spongebob movie to make its debut on the Paramount+ streaming service, arriving there later this week. As such it represents something of a statement on the part of Paramount, indicating the platform is for more than kids programming, library content and a few prestige series.

Wahlberg stars as Evan McCauley, a man haunted by recurring visions and confused when he finds he has skills he’s never trained for or practiced. One day he’s tracked down by a mysterious group calling themselves Infinites, who tell him these are memories and skills he’s accumulated in past lives. The group needs his help to track down others like them who are determined to end life on Earth. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Cookson and Jason Mantzoukas among others also star.

The Posters

Just one poster (by marketing agency Bond) for the film. Released in late May, it shows McCauley behind concentric circles that ultimately form an infinity symbol in order to reinforce the title’s branding. There’s no text or other copy to explain the story, so either the studio felt it was too hard to explain on the one-sheet or that Wahlberg’s presence was enough to generate audience interest.

The Trailers

Ted Murray (Ejiofor) is talking with McCauley about the voices McCauley hears and more as the first trailer (10.7 million views on YouTube), released at the end of May, begins. Murray taunts McCauley with a series of random objects until he finally triggers McCauley’s memories. Just as that happens a car bursts through the interrogation room wall and we’re off to the races. We hear about how McCauley is an Infinite and how unlocking his past will offer a guide for his future.

The second trailer (3.6 million views on YouTube) came out just a week later and begins with clips from the same interrogation scene mixed with shots of McCauley’s unremarkable but slightly confusing life. This time it’s Tammy McCauley (Cookson) who provides the backstory exposition before we get to lots more chases and fight sequences in exotic locales around the world. Oh, and we finally see the real draw of the movie, which is Mantzoukas’ unhinged tech guy performance.

Online and Social

Nothing here that was specific to the movie, but it was given some support — though not as much as recent high-profile series and other material — on Paramount+’s brand social profiles.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

In May Paramount announced the movie, originally scheduled for theatrical release August of last year but pushed because of the coronavirus pandemic, would instead bypass theaters and debut exclusively on Paramount Plus. An actual release date was finally revealed in May, just about two weeks before that date.

IGN debuted an exclusive first photo from the movie in late May in conjunction with the release of the first trailer.

A short promo was released at the end of May that presents many of the main characters and sets up the presence of a mystery that spans lifetimes and eons. It’s meant to be serious and important but it comes off a bit silly, like some kind of futuristic wrestling match

Taking a more traditional approach is another TV spot-like video that features an off-screen voice explaining to Evan how he’s lived countless lifetimes and is crucial to the future of the world.

Overall

I’m not sure how much of the marketing materials here were set and ready a while ago when the movie was originally scheduled for late 2020, but the tight timeframe mandated by how it’s been less than two months since a new release strategy was announced doesn’t help the campaign much. Everything feels rushed and breezed over, when a story like this typically benefits from taking a bit longer so some of the more ridiculous plot points can be ironed out and explained.

That extremely-condensed campaign is filled with sci-fi speak in what appears to be an attempt to position it as something similar to Inception, but there’s not enough of the story on display to create those stakes. Fuqua’s directing, then, might be the most engaging element of the marketing.

Instant Family – Marketing Recap

instant family poster 2Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are a happily married couple who decide they want to have kids but don’t really want to deal with all the messiness of the first few years. So they decide to become foster parents, eventually choosing three siblings, including a teenage girl and her younger brother and sister.

Things don’t go smoothly, of course. Lizzy (Isabela Moner), the oldest girl, is stubborn and writes off the couple’s intentions as just being a case of some white liberal guilt being assuaged. That goes hand in hand with Ellie and Pete’s inexperience with parenting and, put together, you have the recipe for some awkward but charmingly humorous moments.

The Posters

instant family posterThe adults are on one side and the kids on the other on the first poster, each looking somewhat skeptical at the other party. A second poster shows the whole crew all together, the adults looking either naively happy or very worried while the kids look like they’re having zero fun.

The Trailers

Ellie and Pete are not joiners in the first trailer, the kind of couple who haven’t had kids yet but who decide to investigate fostering because it skips some of the early problems. They’re super awkward about the process but eventually wind up with not just one but three kids, a sibling set. It takes a while and there are some hard, uphill moments, but eventually everyone figures each other out.

Online and Social

In keeping with the theme of some of the featurettes and other material released, the movie’s official website – which has a .org address – has less about the film itself and more about adoption and foster care. The Facebook page for the movie links to a Group where people are discussing issues related to adoption and family support. There was also a Twitter profile.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some online advertising was done, particularly on YouTube and other social networks and there seem to have been some TV spots created, but nothing under Paramount’s official banner so I’m unclear as to what is or isn’t real. There are certainly some videos shared online that look and feel like commercials, they’re just not labeled as such. The movie also promoted Tweets from Wahlberg.

Unlike most movies, the promotional partners here are all cause-based, from the Dave Thomas Foundation to AdoptUSKids and Jockey USA. The goal of these partnerships seems to be to get people involved and educated, which is great.

Media and Publicity

The movie was part of the studio’s presentation to exhibition executives at CineEurope in mid-July 2018.

At the same time the first trailer came out in early September, just after a first still hit, a featurette was released that had writer/director Sean Anders and his wife Beth talking about their own real life experiences that inspired the movie.

An interview with Spencer had her talking about the movie and how it’s among the more lighthearted projects she still chooses.

Byrne and Wahlberg did the media rounds on TV while Byrne and other members of the cast volunteered at local California charities to help during the current wildfire crisis in and around L.A.

Overall

There really are two aspects to the campaign that in some ways appear to be working toward opposite goals.

First, there’s the forgettable family comedy that’s being sold via the posters and trailer. We’ve seen variations on this movie before, including previous films starring Byrne (who really deserves better) and Wahlberg (who, not to put too fine a point on it, doesn’t). We get it, the would-be parents are flustered and out of their element and the wife looks so understanding and loving.

Second, there’s the advocacy campaign that the movie seems to be one factor of. This goes much further into selling the issue that lies at the heart of the film’s story than most campaigns for cause-based movies do. That’s really strong, making this seem like an extended PSA for adoption and foster-parenting.

For as much as the website and featurettes hit that point, I kind of wish it can gone even farther. It’s great that Paramount allowed even this much latitude, though, and good on the filmmakers for telling a very personal story that they’re trying to get in front of a mass audience.

Picking Up The Spare

I missed this featurette where adopted children answered interesting questions, unaware their parents were listening in.

Wahlberg appeared on “The Tonight Show” to give everyone in the audience a special screening while Byrne was interviewed about getting the comedy/drama ratio just right.

The filmmakers were interviewed again about how and why they decided to tell this story.

Mile 22 – Marketing Recap

mile 22 posterMy recap of the marketing for Mile 22 at The Hollywood Reporter couches the fact that Mark Wahlberg is one of our generation’s least interesting actors and that he and director Peter Berg need to be broken up like Ma Bell before they do any more cinematic damage.

Online and Social

I get what STX was going for with the official website but it just doesn’t work for me. While there is a drop-down menu on the left with all the usual content sections as well as links to the movie’s social profiles, the main page is one you scroll down and click on each of the 22 mile markers to view something like a featurette or still.

Media and Publicity

There was one more “digital spot” released that focused, of course, on the stunts and fight work for the movie. Wahlberg also finally started doing some press, appearing on “The Late Show” to joke about Boston accents and more.

Overall

The entire sales pitch for the movie is centered around Wahlberg’s character being that guy at the bar who won’t shut up about how tough he is, daring someone to punch him in the face. We never see him be tough, we just hear about it an awful lot. This does not look good.