ambulance – marketing recap

How Universal sold the latest experiment with Bayhem

[ed. note: yep, this came out last week, the schedule just didn’t pan out as planned]

Ambulance movie poster
Ambulance movie poster

The logline for Ambulance, which hit theaters last week, really doesn’t matter as it essentially boils down to the fact it was directed by the one and only Michael Bay. But for the sake of completeness, let’s fill in the rest of what the movie’s about.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as Will Sharp, a military veteran desperate to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for his wife’s surgery. Out of legitimate options, Will reaches out to his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who enlists Will in a bank robbery he’s planning that could net them $32 million. But the robbery, of course, goes sideways and the two find themselves on the run in a stolen ambulance with an EMT (played by Eiza González) still on board while pursued by both the FBI and LAPD.

So with the thinnest of premises in place and a director known less for his storytelling skills than his ability to keep the action going at all costs (including to common sense), let’s see how this was sold in advance of last week’s release.

announcement and casting

News of the movie’s production, along with the lead, broke in late 2020 with Bay directing. But that was only after he had passed on the film a few years earlier. Now, though, he eyed it as a good project to get him out after a bit of Covid-relaterd quarantine.

Gyllenhaal and Eiza González were cast in late 2020, Abdul-Mateen II joined a short while later, replacing Dylan O’Brien, who had previously been selected to play the more legitimate of the two brothers.

A couple months later its release was delayed by Universal to February, 2022.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (22.5m YouTube views) was released in late October of last year, opening with Will explaining to Danny he needs money for his wife’s surgery. Danny takes that as an opening to get Will’s help with a bank robbery offering an even bigger payday. That heist goes south quickly, leading the two of them to go on the run to avoid the police, taking a cop wounded in the shootout hostage in the ambulance they’re escaping in.

A poster showing an ambulance’s rear doors with two massive bullet holes in it came out at the same time, the image making it clear the title is very literal and not a metaphor as well as conveying the kind of action and danger the story will contain.

The next poster came out in February and this time shows the three main characters, their huge heads arranged above the ambulance they spend so much time in, which is being pursued by various elements of law enforcement.

That was followed by the first TV commercial, which focuses on the drama between the two brothers and interestingly *not* the chaos that results from their impromptu chase across the city of Los Angeles.

A handful of new images from the movie were included in an interview with Bay about how he choreographs the massive action sequences he’s best known for. Right after that a profile of Gyllenhaal came out that had him talking about the experience of shooting a Michael Bay movie along with comments from Abdul-Mateen II about how the actor would occasionally seize the camera and start filming things himself as well as how Gyllenhaal made sure everyone on set was doing alright.

A series of character posters was released in early March that makes sure to highlight the L.A. location as a character in and of itself.

An IMAX-exclusive poster offers a variation on some of the earlier design themes.

Bay’s creativity and how that influences the process of shooting those big explosions and other sequences were covered in a featurette that included comments from many of the coordinators, drone pilots and others responsible for actually pulling those shots off.

The director along with the primary cast were in attendance at a red carpet premiere in Paris later in March. That was followed by similar events in Berlin, London and elsewhere, each accompanied by a round of interviews and other press activity.

An interview with Abdul-Mateen II and Gyllenhaal focused on how they bonded on set, a theme that kept coming up at this point of the campaign. That just reinforced how great Gyllenhaal is in junket settings when bantering with his costars, something he’s demonstrated repeatedly in recent years.

MovieClips debuted an exclusive featurette with the cast and crew talking about Bay’s skill as a filmmaker as well as the details of the story and the emotional stakes the characters have in the movie. Similar ground was covered in a Dolby Cinemas featurette.

Another trailer (10.5m YouTube views) came out toward the end of March that skips some of the emotional setup for Will in favor of cutting straight to the action. We see lots of the moments between Will and Danny as they navigate the situation they’ve found themselves in, all while Cam is stuck along for the ride caring for a patient in the back of the ambulance. There are some interesting moments, but the primary message is that there’s lots of gunplay and other violence, all set to the sound of grown men shouting at each other.

Additional TV spots like this were released that cut down the trailer footage in various ways to help sell the different aspects of the movie.

A movie-themed version of “Grand Theft Auto” gameplay was streamed on Twitch.

Just last week the stars and others came out for the red carpet premiere in Los Angeles. Once again the theme of the conversations with the stars was working with Bay and how they adapted to his unique energy on set and similar topics.

Just as she’d done in previous interviews – and a featurette – Gonzalez talked about how she hopes her role and performance as an EMT in some way honors the kind of work first responders do every day.

How he worked to cut through the chaos to focus on character was the subject of an interview with Abdul-Mateen II. A joint interview with him and Gyllenhaal was again about working with Bay and being pushed by the director to break out of what they may have expected.

USA Network aired a short exclusive featurette/commercial that mixed comments from the cast with high-octane footage. There was also a solo featurette with Abdul-Mateen II where he expanded on his character.

Gyllenhaal hosted “Saturday Night Live” just as the movie was opening. That came after her and Abdul-Mateen II appeared together on “Kimmel” to promote the film while Gonzalez showed up there on her own.

overall

Tracking estimates prior to opening had projected $10m for the weekend but it failed to clear even that bar, leading to lots of hand-wringing over the future of original action movies at the box-office and so on. But the lukewarm critical reception, as represented by the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes rating, likely led many people to choosing the family film in theaters over the action-oriented one.

What jumps out most from the campaign is how so much of it is devoted to everyone praising Michael Bay as if he’s some sort of impassioned but relegated artist. He has a reputation as being somewhat difficult, sure, but this feels like a kind of effort to trigger a Baynaissance of sorts, which is odd considering he’s been one of the most reliable box-office performers of the last…30 years? And as much as everyone can talk about his craft, this is still what Bay is best known for, which is why all those flipping cars and such are stil so central to this movie’s marketing.

Jake Gyllenhaal Action GIF by Ambulance - Find & Share on GIPHY

6 Underground – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling the first team up of director Michael Bay and superstar Ryan Reynolds.

six underground posterIn some regards, the pairing of Reynolds and Bay seems to make sense given the actor’s physicality and his penchant for mixing action and humor. But he’s actually a bit *too* overtly funny for Bay’s usual filmmaking style. While there are certainly humorous elements in Bay’s movies, they could never really be described as comedies.

We’ll see how that turns out in practice with this week’s 6 Underground. Reynolds stars as One, an elite operative who leads a team of similarly talented professionals, all of whom are presumed dead after being part of various military organizations. Together they take on impossible missions meant to make the world a better place, all while remaining anonymous.

Netflix has used the partnership between one of the most successful directors of the last 30 years and one of the hottest movie starts of the moment as the key selling point for a movie it hopes will bring blockbuster audiences to the streaming service.

The Posters

The design of the one-sheet isn’t great, nor does it effectively communicate what the movie is about or what the story is. One and the rest of his team of elite agents are shown in various action poses, leaping over cars or gripping their weapons in anticipation. But it never comes together into a cohesive whole, instead appearing as just a collection of individual elements. Only by process of elimination and counting can we figure out that the man in the back left, dressed in a white tuxedo, is probably the antagonist the good guys will be facing off against.

The Trailers

One leads a team of dangerous individuals, with the first trailer (3.1 million views on YouTube) – released in early October – showing just how dangerous they are. That team is made up of “dead” agents who operate with the freedom that status entails. Their presence is noted by some equally dangerous bad guys, who seek One and his team out to eliminate the threat they pose to their illegal operations. There are lots of action sequences and humor, both of which are synonymous with Bay and Reynolds, the movie being sold as a melding of their two sensibilities.

The second trailer (377,000 views on YouTube), released in November, starts off like an Italian tourism commercial. But both the beautiful artwork and peaceful atmosphere are soon broken by a car chase happening through the streets as the team seeks to evade capture. One keeps wise-cracking through the chase, making sure everyone knows this is a comedy as well as an action film. The decision to focus on one key sequence actually works in positioning the film as a clever and amusing story, giving the audience the gist of what’s happening without having to overly explain a plot that doesn’t really matter anyway.

The final trailer (490,000 views on YouTube) was released just a few days ago and more clearly establishes who the team is and why they do what they do, taking on the threats most ordinary people ignore. In fact it skips most all elements of the story in favor of introducing the specialties each member brings to the table while showing off lots of action and mayhem that they bring with them on their missions.

Online and Social

While Netflix has created websites and social profiles for other recent movies, it seems to have skipped those steps with this one. It wasn’t even given a whole lot of support on Netflix’s brand channels. That’s not wholly surprising given it isn’t exactly one of the company’s awards contenders.

Advertising and Publicity

The first big news about the movie came with the announcement Netflix had acquired distribution rights, marking its largest-budgeted movie to date and one seemingly in the line of post-Bright thinking that more blockbuster-level movies were essential to grow its original film slate.

Reynolds shared a fun little video from the set in mid-September.

6 underground online adOnline ads used the picture of Reynolds that was used on the poster to drive awareness and traffic to Netflix’s page for the movie.

In what some people referred to as the “turducken” of advertising, a commercial for Samsung that came out in mid-November starred Reynolds hyping the company’s sets as the perfect option for enjoying the big-screen action of the movie. Taking it up a notch further, it also features an ad for Reynolds’ own Aviation Gin. That’s completely on-brand for the actor and his self-aware sense of humor.

Last week Netflix released a video with Reynolds offering scientific proof that this movie is the “most Michael Bay movie that Michael Bay has ever Michael Bay’d,” offering the maximum amount of explosions and other elements that have been part of his filmography possible.

Reynolds and the rest of the cast appeared on a panel at the recent Comic Con Experience in Sao Paulo to talk about the movie and get people excited for it.

Media and Press

Surprisingly there doesn’t seem to have been much of a press push for the movie. Again, this may be the result of Netflix’s PR attention being turned to other, more serious releases, or it might be that the media landscape is a bit crowded at the moment. One way or the other, there’s not a lot going on here, mostly coverage of the trailers and other marketing materials being released.

Overall

Despite some quibbles with various elements of the campaign, including the lack of apparent press push, it’s hard to actually take issue with the marketing choices being made here. In particular, making the connection between Reynolds and Bay and then allowing Reynolds to act as the public face of the movie makes a lot of sense and takes advantage of the public’s continued appreciation of the actor.

six underground banner

What remains to be seen is if audiences are actually interested in watching the big screen action and explosions that are a hallmark of Bay’s movies on their personal screens. Netflix and other streaming companies have been public of late in seeking to create their own action/fantasy franchises to lure subscribers and this is a move in that direction. Considering original stories, even of this type, haven’t even been a hit in theaters lately the odds aren’t bad that this could be as much of an incentive as some of the high-profile dramas that have come out recently.

Picking Up the Spare

Netflix put on quite a show for the movie’s premiere, which included comments from the cast and crew on working with Bay on the film.

Reynolds appears as One in a new promotional video that crosses over with the upcoming Netflix show “La Casa de Papel.” There was also a funny video showing him doing overdubs for the movie in 39 languages.

An appearance by the star on “The Tonight Show” touched on the movie but also included lots more of what he’s involved in.

Jeff Beer at Fast Company writes about the brand that is Ryan Reynolds and how it was used to sell the movie.

A video was released by Netflix of the stonework that went into the incredible parkour sequences in the film.

A new “whisper trailer” came out that makes the movie’s marketing part of the ASMR trend online.