Without Remorse – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling Without Remorse.

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a movie that was originally intended to come out about 25 years ago, shortly after the release of the book it’s based on. Like most of the first several books from the prolific Clancy, the story is rooted in the generational experiences of those who came of age in the 1960s, living through the Vietnam War, America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union and other conflicts both militaristic and political.

The original book, published in 1993, follows Navy Seal John Kelly through a series of personal vendettas in the U.S. and CIA assignments in Vietnam, ending with him assuming the moniker John Clark and becoming one of the CIA’s leading clandestine operators. It was the first time Clark had been moved into the spotlight after becoming a favorite supporting character in some of Clancy’s earlier books. Clark went on to be featured in Clancy’s Rainbow Six, which served as the foundation for the popular video game series.

On the big screen, Clark was previously played by Willem Dafoe in 1995’s Clear and Present Danger and previous attempts to adapt Without Remorse have had Keanu Reeves, Tom Hardy and others attached. But this week it’s Michael B. Jordan finally bringing the character to life once again in a modernization of the story that’s similar to what Paramount Pictures did in 2014 with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, though this doesn’t seem to be connected to that Chris Pine-starring movie.

With a new, younger lead, the story has also been updated and largely changed. Clark here is already a CIA operative whose family is killed by Russian agents after he disrupts their mission in Syria. After recovering from his own wounds, Clark embarks on a vendetta against those who enabled the attackers with the help of his friend and colleague Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith).

The Posters

Released in February, the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) shows Clark armed and ready for anything while in the middle of a very dangerous situation based on the amount of bullet holes in the wall he’s hiding behind. There’s no copy about the story itself here but you can tell what kind of audience Amazon is going after by the inclusion of “From the author of Rainbow Six” toward the top.

That same appeal is made on the second poster, released earlier in April. This time it’s a close-up of a very sweaty Clark that forms the primary image, the background showing the smoke from an explosion on one side and the Kremlin on the other.

The Trailers

In November of 2019, when the movie was still on Paramount’s release schedule, Skydance released a brief teaser showing flashing video of trauma and violence projected on Clark’s face, showing the kind of past he’s dealing with and problems he has to overcome

The full trailer (7.2 million views on YouTube), teased ahead of time, finally came out in March of this year. It begins with Kelly recovering from injuries sustained when a group broke into his home and killed his family and almost him. After a few shots from his past military career as well as his happy home life we see the reign of terror he goes on to avenge his family and find out who’s responsible for his loss.

The final trailer (21.6 million views on YouTube), released in early April, offers the same basic pitch, but with the additional detail that someone on the inside is working against Clark and Greer, telling the bad guys exactly where the team will be and how to stop them.

Online and Social

No website, but Amazon did create stand-alone social media profiles for the movie and provide support on its own brand channels.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

Jordan was named CinemaCon’s “Male Star of the Year” in March of last year, when the movie was still slated for later in 2020. He was also named “Sexiest Man Alive” for 2020 by People back in November.

In April 2020, Paramount moved the movie’s release back by two weeks as it shuffled much of its schedule due to the Covid-19 outbreak. A bigger shift was announced in June, as the movie was pushed all the way to February of 2021.

A few months later in July reports emerged that Paramount was in final negotiations to sell the movie to Amazon Video, one of many titles the studio was taking off its books as the pandemic dragged on.

This one seemed different, though, because it showed a studio abandoning what was intended to be a potential franchise-starter. It was unclear if future films that may have been planned were included in the deal as well. Before that deal was finalized, Paramount took the movie off its release calendar with no context given for the change. Amazon finally acquired the title in January, adding it to its “Jack Ryan” series as another Tom Clancy property it managed.

Amazon’s Super Bowl commercial in February for Alexa didn’t explicitly sell the movie as well but, between the fact that Jordan stars as the personification of Alexa and that a bus with the film’s branding appears in the background of one scene, it certainly was meant to help.

What kind of workout the star engaged in to achieve his Navy SEAL physique was covered in this interview.

Shorter cutdowns of the trailer were used as TV spots and online promos, with these videos mostly focusing on the action and big emotions of the movie.

A featurette from early April has Jordan, Smith and others talking about updating the story from the original book, honoring the characters, the legacy of the popular video game series and more.

An interview with Solima had the director talking about bringing the story into the modern period and his overall approach to telling big action stories and more. Turner-Smith was interviewed about what drew her to the role, what it was like to film such action-heavy scenes and more.

IMDb shared a short exclusive featurette on filming some of the action sequences.

Additional interviews with Jordan included him talking about his acting process and how he felt about being a black man playing a character written as white and previously played by a white actor. There were also a couple interviews with Lauren London, who plays Clark’s ill-fated wife whose death kicks the story into gear.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Omaha Steaks, which offered a custom surf-and-turf package that people were encouraged to order in time to enjoy while watching the movie.
  • Scotch Porter, which offered an exclusive movie-themed bundle of grooming products.
  • 511 Tactical, which ran a sweepstakes for a collection of its pseudo-military gear.

Overall

Initial reviews of the movie have not been great, calling it a grim and depressing throwback to Cold War military politics, but that doesn’t necessarily come through in the campaign. It’s certainly presented as a standard action flick, but that is elevated by Jordan’s charm, especially in the press and promotional component of the marketing.

While I’m a sucker for anything Clancy-related, that this movie seems completely disconnected from any of the other recent character reboots – including Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” series – is somewhat disappointing. And though the story seems to discard a lot of aspects of Clancy’s original book that are now likely seen as problematic (prostitutes and other women are killed with abandon), fridging Clark’s wife to spur him to action isn’t exactly an improvement.

Still, this campaign will likely appeal to die-hard action fans and get some moderate interest from players of the “Rainbow Six” video game series and Jordan’s fanbase.

Just Mercy – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling a true story of justice delayed.

just mercy poster 2Michael B. Jordan stars as lawyer Bryan Stevenson in the new movie Just Mercy, out this week. Stevenson is a recent Harvard grad who, instead of taking a high-paying job at a fancy firm opts to seek real justice. To that end he takes on the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man sentenced to death for a murder of a teenage girl despie the almost complete lack of evidence or motive.

In his quest to help McMillian and those like him who have been denied a fair hearing he has the help of Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), the two of them working to overcome the concerns the locals who know all too well that the system isn’t meant for them.

The marketing for the film has leaned heavily on the public’s associations between Jordan and Larson and the heroic roles they’ve taken on in previous films.

The Posters

just mercy poster“Every generation has its hero. Meet ours.” That copy may seem cloy given it appears in front of a photo of Jordan, but given that it’s Jordan as Stevenson and that he’s wearing a sensible suit the message is that ordinary people doing their jobs are sometimes the heroes we need. The poster (by marketing agency BOND) came out in December and features images of the other main characters in the tiled background behind Stevenson.

A second poster released later that months features Stevenson in profile, this time reminding us “Heroes exist.”

The Trailers

An announcement teaser preceded the release of the first trailer (6.6 million views on YouTube) in early September during the height of festival season. That trailer stars by introducing us to Stevenson and the surprises and challenges he faces working with prisoners on Death Row. McMillian is reluctant to work with him, but comes around when Stevenson enlists the help of the prisoner’s family and friends in his fight. With Ansley joining the team as well, Stevenson continues pushing his belief that each person has value beyond their crimes, even if that entails upsetting powerful people and institutions determined to maintain the status quo.

The second trailer (3 million views on YouTube) came out in early December and begins with McMillan’s conviction and Stevenson’s resolve to help him and people like him who are being railroaded by a prejudiced justice system. With Ansley’s help and the support of others around them, he takes on that system so that innocent men are not punished simply because of their skin color.

Online and Social

While the official website has plenty of decent marketing materials, there’s nothing here that adds any emphasis to the actual social justice causes espoused in the story. So there are no links or contact information for organizations that may offer legal defense for those who can’t afford it themselves. It seems like such information would be useful and in keeping with the movie’s message.

Advertising and Publicity

Before any other marketing for the movie really started it was announced among the lineup of films screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, an appearance that included a conversation with Jordan and Foxx. It was also slated for the Hamptons International Film Festival and then scheduled as the closing night feature at the Austin Film Festival. In mid-October it was announced it would open the Napa Film Festival.

A few online ads were run that used the key art and brief video snippets.

There were a few screenings held in the last few weeks in New York City and elsewhere, often involving appearances by the cast and crew, who participated in Q&As.

Media and Press

Both Foxx and Jordan spoke while in Toronto about the responsibility they felt to tell a story like this and raise awareness of the injustice they see around them. Jordan praised the people whose stories are portrayed in the movie during a Q&A following the screening. The two appeared on “The Tonight Show” right after that Toronto screening.

Cretton was interviewed about the need for diversity in the filmmaking ranks and how this story spoke to him. As part of a feature package on women in the entertainment industry, Larson talked about how inspired she was when taking on the role.

An interview with Jordan had him talking about the responsibility he felt in taking a part in a real life story like this, as well as how encouraged he felt that a major studio had agreed to take on such serious subject matter. The real Stevenson spoke about what it was like seeing his own story on screen. He was later profiled again about his work seeking justice for those who would otherwise be denied it.

The idea that it’s perseverance that pays off was covered in another interview with Cretton that once more uses the “this is another kind of super hero” narrative hook. He spoke later about the pressure he felt in telling a real life story and how invaluable it was to find the right cast.

The team behind the costumes and wardrobe were profiled on their work creating a realistic look for the story.

Jordan appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and more.

Foxx became more of a central figure in the publicity later in the cycle, starting with an interview where he talked about the universal elements of the story and an appearance on “The Late Show.” He also conveniently stopped by “Kimmel” when costar Larson was guest-hosting the show, creating a nice two-for-one promotional moment.

Overall

While there’s lots of good stuff going on here, there are two major issues that are apparent in the campaign.

First, the way it embraces the super hero terminology seems to betray a lack of confidence in the movie itself. That seemed to start out as a media hook, which made sense given the cast. Eventually it became part of the formal marketing and become the actual tagline used to help sell it to the public.

Second, it still seems like a mistake not to use the campaign to promote organizations that help those less fortunate. That’s the kind of move that’s been made in the campaigns for movies about sexual conversion therapy, teen drug abuse and other issues, so not seeing it here is notable by its omission.

That being said, it’s hard to take too much issue with a movie that touches on a topic like this, so whatever benefit comes from it is a plus.

Picking Up the Spare

The hair and makeup team was profiled and spoke about how they worked to accentuate the story and characters.

Additional interviews with Foxx as well as him and Jordan allowed both of them to talk about their characters and the change they want the movie to have.

How the editor created a sense of tension in a key scene was the subject of this feature interview.

A number of high-profile celebrities including Kobe Bryant, Common and others bought out theaters in neighborhoods across the country to let those who might not otherwise be able to afford it see the film.

Jordan made another appearance on “Kimmel.”

Creed II – Marketing Recap

creed 2 poster 52015’s Creed was better than it really had any right to be, taking the continued story of Rocky Balboa and providing a fresh perspective by introducing us to Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late Apollo Creed. Apollo (Carl Weathers), of course was killed in the ring by the Russian propaganda machine Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in an exhibition bout back in the 80s.

This week’s Creed II hopes to build off that good will and tie this new chapter even more closely to the Rocky legacy. After Adonis, in the first movie, worked so hard to live up to his late father’s name now he faces an even more stark reminder of the past. That comes in the person of Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of the man who killed his father all those years ago. Adonis is called out by Viktor and, with the support of his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), sets out to do what he needs to.

The Posters

Adonis stands defiantly and stubbornly on the first poster, a giant Roman numeral II in the background. It’s stark and powerful and does its job, which is tell the audience the character is coming back this Thanksgiving. A second poster put Rocky in the same position. Another set showed Adonis in a moment of angst as he kneels on the canvas and Rocky looking on from the other side of the ropes.

Finally all the characters, including both Dragos, are included on the next poster, each set looking defiantly at their counterpart.

The Trailers

Rocky narrates the opening of the first trailer as we see Adonis dealing with the effects of his fight from the last movie. The older fighter is warning him that the unnamed challenger coming after Adonis is dangerous and not to be taken lightly. That’s not stopping the young man, who’s still driven to live up to the name of his father and so we see him training hard to right the wrong done all those years ago. It’s not until the very end that we see the challenger come into frame, the name “Drago” on the back of his robe.

Adonis is ready for the next challenge in the first full trailer, even if that includes getting in the ring with the son of the man who killed his father. That’s something Rocky wants to discourage him from for personal reasons. The main theme of the trailer, though, is that Adonis is stepping back into the ring to help and and support the people he loves and can only do so because of that love and support.

Online and Social

Not much of interest on the movie’s official website, just the skimpiest of information.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot, released in mid-October, cut the story down to the basic elements by showing how Drago was calling out Creed, who can’t resist rising to it. Promoted Tweets like this were run in the days leading up to release to drive last-minute ticket sales. Online ads used key art and other images of Jordan to drive traffic to the official site so people can buy tickets.

The website didn’t offer much background on any promotional partners, so the only one that popped up was Nke, which launched the “Adonis Creed Collection” of apparel and gear inspired by the movie and character.

Media and Publicity

The press portion of the campaign kicked off in early August with some stills showing Adonis and Rocky back in action.

In mid-August a video was released showing Jordan surprising a super-fan with a special experience. The actor later spoke about how Stallone pushed for there to be a more specific antagonist in the sequel and how one with ties to the Creed character was seen as a natural fit in that role.

Around the time of the second trailer, Caple spoke about how he was encouraged to take on directorial duties for this movie and the advice he got from both Coogler and Stallone.

A featurette had Jordan talking about how this was his first sequel and how everyone involved wanted to make the story more intense and personal, while everyone praised Caple and his directorial efforts. Another connects this story to the first movie, emphasizing the themes of the past coming back to haunt Rocky and Adonis while a third had the cast and crew talking about the evolution of the characters and how the story focuses on family connections and responsibilities.

A series of featurettes was released in the early part of November, each exploring the background of the main characters in the movie. There were videos for Viktor Drago, his father Ivan, Adonis and Bianca.

Thompson showed up on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to talk about the movie a couple weeks before release. At about the same time Lundgren appeared on “The Late Show” in character to have some fun with Russian stereotypes.

An interview with Jordan, Thompson and Caple allowed them to continue talking about how the story focused on the importance of family but also explain how it shows a young professional black couple, something not often seen on screen. Caple was interviewed on his own again, mentioning how he almost passed on the film until Coogler, Stallone and others made him feel comfortable he’d be able to make it his own. He also spoke about the inspirations behind Thompson’s character’s music and performance.

Lundgren was interviewed about how he went about returning to the character after so many years and what went into updating the elder Drago. Jordan and Thompson then spoke about the story and how they enjoyed working together once again, all while Jordan was named GQ’s Man of the Year.

A video for “Shea Butter Baby” from Ari Lennox, one of the news songs on the film’s soundtrack, was released just a few days ago.

Overall

After a bit of a shaky start things really kicked into gear when the cast, as well as Caple, got more fully involved and started speaking about the characters and the story. Their personalities and their passion for the project all started coming through more clearly.

That was an even more powerful message than the connections of the story to the rest of the Rocky history. Those elements were still on display, but allowing Jordan, Thompson and the others to get out there and apply their personalities to the publicity campaign.

Picking Up The Spare

Jordan hit “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and Thompson “The Daily Show” to talk about making the sequel.

Cable Jr. also spoke more about how he and the cast wanted to more than just create a nod to nostalgia for the original Rocky movies.

A Dobly-specific poster was finally released shortly after the movie hit theaters.