Thunder Force – Marketing Recap

How Netflix has sold a new super-powered comedy.

The world of Thunder Force, out this week on Netflix, is one that is already filled with super-powered bad guys the police force is unqualified to fight. That’s why Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) uses the resources of the biotech company she owns to develop a serum that gives people powers to take on the villains. When her estranged best friend Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) accidentally takes that serum, the pair decide to team up to fight crime, becoming Thunder Force.

Netflix has been selling the movie in exactly the way you’d expect, highlighting the comedic pairing of Spencer and McCarthy and the outrageous super-powered situations they find themselves in.

The Posters

Lydia and Emily strike heroic poses on the poster (by marketing agency The Refinery), which came out in early March. But the two are seen to have slightly different attitudes, exemplified by how Lydia’s wearing a few sponsor buttons on her uniform. The “New super. Nearly heroes.” copy makes it clear that while they might have powers they still have some work to do on using them.

The Trailers

Lydia and Emily are, we see in the first trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) from early March, friends that have drifted apart, with Emily becoming super-successful and Lydia less so. When Lydia takes the super power-granting formula Emily’s been working on she gets powers, only to find Emily has already done so. The two decide to go become a pair of crime fighters, but the bad guys up their game as well, with hilarity ensuing.

Online and Social

No website and only a little bit of support, it seems, from Netflix on its brand social media channels.

Advertising and Promotions

The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate. A pair of first look stills came out in early March, just ahead of the first trailer.

Thunder Force GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Two clips came out late last month, one showing Lydia foiling a robbery and the other showing her throwing a bus, both extended looks at scenes glimpsed in the trailer.

Media and Press

Most of the press included interviews with both Spencer and McCarthy together, including an appearance on “Kimmel” where they talked about being super heroes and how the genesis of the movie is wanting to mess with costar Jason Bateman.

Writer/director Ben Falcone also made the rounds a bit, talking about using the tropes of super hero movies to comedic effect and working with McCarthy and Spencer on the film.

Overall

This is the same campaign that’s been run for a number of McCarthy’s other movies, but that’s alright since it seems to work just about every time. That is to say, each works on an equal level and makes roughly the same pitch to the audience and has about the same result. McCarthy is a known quantity and this campaign, like those before it, reinforces that message.

The major difference here is the addition of Spencer, who’s a great partner for the comedy. Whether or not all of that makes this a funny sendup of the ubiquitous super hero movie remains to be seen, but if you enjoy McCarthy and her frequent collaborations with husband Falcone, this should be in your interest area.

Thunder Force GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Luce – Marketing Recap

luce posterAmy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) are a well-meaning and respectable suburban couple who, years ago, adopted the boy they named Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) from the troubled country of Eritrea in the new movie Luce. They’ve raised him to be a good person and, as he’s gotten older, he’s become an independent thinker who wants to raise awareness of important issues.

One day the bright future Luce seems to have as he prepares for the end of high school and the transition to college is threatened when one of his teachers, Mrs. Wilson (Octavia Spencer), raises some concerns about a paper he’s written, one in which he argues that violence on a national level is good for population control. She’s worried that kind of thinking is dangerous and that he’s taking advantage of his situation, while Luce and his parents are worried she is targeting him because of his position. A conflict ensues that brings a variety of issues out into the open.

The Posters

All four main players are shown on the one-sheet, their pictures cascading across the bottom half of the real estate with a concerned and anxious look on their faces. It’s a simple design meant to provide a blank white canvas for the emotions and issues raised by the story, which is hinted at in the copy “The truth has many faces.”

The Trailers

Luce is giving an inspiring speech about his family as the first trailer opens. He’s the model student and athlete, a young man who was adopted from another country by a couple that thinks the best of him. That image is threatened when a paper he writes is flagged by a teacher as being troubling. She becomes the enemy of Luce and Amy, who don’t want his future risked. The conflict escalates from the philosophical to the physical, with the teacher finding herself harassed and burglarized as Luce’s reputation becomes more and more precarious.

 

Online and Social

NEON’s official website for the movie doesn’t feature a lot of information beyond the marketing materials, but the design of the front page is well done in how it uses the poster key art to create some brand consistency. I also continue to appreciate how the studio provides a Box folder of photos and other media that can easily be downloaded right there instead of putting it behind some sort of press-restricted wall.

Advertising and Publicity

A first look still from the movie was released at the same time it was announced it would be screening at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it garnered a good amount of positive word of mouth and buzz. NEON picked up distribution rights while the festival was still happening. It later screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The movie was among those announced by AMC Theaters as part of the first curated under its Artisan Films program to highlight smaller films.

The conflict between Luce and his teacher is the focus of the first TV spot released in mid-July, which uses fast cuts and high drama to convey the story of the film.

An exclusive clip was provided to The Playlist showing a key moment of debate between Luce and his teacher. Another clip showed Mrs. Wilson confronting Luce’s adopted mother with her concerns.

Media and Press

The cast and crew were on hand at Sundance to talk about the themes of the movie and its story.

Spencer appeared on “Kimmel” earlier this week to talk about the movie while Watts showed up on “The Tonight Show.” Those two were also interviewed about the dramatic twists of the movie’s story and what audiences could expect.

Overall

This is exactly the kind of emotional drama that seems so important these days. The story, as it’s presented in the campaign is one that touches on themes of privilege, trauma and social responsibility, all topics that are in conversation in the news on a daily basis.

The marketing itself is good, all aimed at delivering the maximum emotional punch through short bits of the story being shared in a way to create cliffhanger moments to get the audience intrigued and feeling tense. Spencer and Watts being the focus of those clips and the press efforts show where the real standoff in the story going to be, making the movie seem all the more interesting.

Picking Up the Spare

A series of short spots focusing on the mother, father and son in the story came out shortly after the movie hit theaters. So too a clip of the prep for a key debate moment in the story.

Director Julius Onah and playwright J.C. Lee – whose work the movie is adapted from – speak here about the characters and themes of the story.

Spencer and Watts were jointly interviewed about the movie while Watts revealed it was Spencer’s involvement that got her to join the project.

The Shape of Water – Marketing Recap

shape of water poster 3Writer/director Guillermo del Toro is back in theaters with another of his fantasy-driven stories. Set in the Cold War of the early 1960s, The Shape of Water follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who gets a job as a cleaning lady at a top-secret government facility alongside Zelda (Octavia Spencer). They’re sworn to secrecy because of what’s housed there, including a strange and potentially dangerous amphibian humanoid (Doug Jones) that’s kept in a tank.

Overseeing the facility is Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) along with Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg). Elisa violates multiple protocols when she begins interacting with the creature, eventually falling in love with him. She creates a plan to rescue it from captivity with the help of Zelda and Giles (Richard Jenkins). That effort is complicated by not only Strickland’s manic desire for secrecy and bully-like nature but by the political intrigue that results in many agencies and parties being interested in the creature.

The Posters

the shape of water posterThe first poster uses artwork released around the time of the trailer but now formatted for a one-sheet. It shows Alice and The Asset locked in a passionate embrace, a variation on the kind of pose you’d see on the cover of an airport bookstore romance novel. Kelp and water flow around them. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful image that’s accompanied by the movie’s festival credentials. Thankfully the amount of text that gets in the way of the design is minimal.

There’s still no copy or plot points on the second poster, but who needs it when you have an image of a woman being embraced by some sort of strange mer-creature while they both float underwater. As with everything else it’s striking and unique and gets the point of the movie across as opposed to trying to fully explain the story to the audience.

The Trailers

The first trailer seemed to come out of nowhere and set us into the world of Eliza, a mute woman who works in a creepy, secretive government installation where they seem to house monsters. She’s supposed to just clean and nothing else and we hear about how dangerous and special the creature they’re studying is. But she forms a connection with it through their shared inability to speak. The head of the facility is less than sympathetic, just wanting to dissect the monster, but she wants to help it escape. That causes all sorts of problems, of course.

Why aren’t I watching this right now.

A red-band trailer (due to language) was up next. It starts off after Elisa has already taken The Asset from the facility it’s confined to. Strickland is determined to get it back, repeatedly questioning her, Zelda and others. It intercuts between his search for who stole it and her attempts to do so, all while repeating how important it is and how everyone is after it.

What’s on display most here are the performances of Hawkins and Shannon, both of whom are powerhouses in their own way, either silently or loudly. Not only that, but del Toro’s amazing visual style is clear as day here, both in the design of The Asset and the world all these characters live in. He makes a 1950s living room appear just as dark and mysterious as the secret lab where The Asset is housed. It’s incredible.

The next trailer, a red-band version, starts out with Elisa receiving her orders from Strickland to steer clear of the creature being held at the facility, a warning that’s reinforced when Strickland is injured. Eventually she forms a bond with the creature and helps him escape, both because of his treatment by Strickland and a plot by the Russians to kill it. Elisa’s plan is exposed and she – and it – are hunted down by all interested parties to finally secure what has been deemed a threat to all involved.

Online and Social

The final red-band trailer opens the official website, so take a few minutes and watch that again. After that’s done the splash page features the key art of Elisa and the Amphibian Man embracing underwater. A rotating series of positive quotes from early reviews are displayed below the title along with the film’s festival credentials as well as its Rotten Tomatoes “Fresh” certification. In the bottom left are the links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Moving to the content menu at the top, “Cast” kicks things off with a photo and quote from the actor or about him or her from del Toro along with it. Same with “Filmmakers.”

“Story” has a brief synopsis of the plot. All three trailers can be found and viewed in the “Videos” section. Finally, “Fan Art” displays some fan creations based on the character in the film.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A massive series of TV spots like this one were released just a week before release, each one featuring a slightly different collection of footage and scenes. It’s possible there’s some connective material here but they all offered a basic overview of the story and characters while selling the movie as a tight thriller.

If there were online or social ads I’m not aware of them. It’s possible some, along with outdoor signage were run in the initial select markets the movie has hit. The only online effort I’ve encountered is the placement of the trailer as a pre-roll ad on YouTube.

Media and Publicity

The movie was announced as one of those that would screen at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also was slated for the Venice Film Festival, where it racked up impressively positive buzz and where talked about the look and feel and story of his unusual movie. Already great word-of-mouth was only enhanced when the movie won the Golden Lion at Venice. During TIFF, del Toro talked about different aspects of the story and characters, including how he saw Hawkins’ caretaker as a sort of Disney Princess.

There was a fascinating feature on the design of those first bits of promotional poster artwork that went behind the scenes on the creative process of artist James Jean.

Spencer talked about how she was finally able to play someone for whom race wasn’t the defining characteristic as well as the responsibility of handling so much of the dialogue alongside Hawkins’ silent performance. There was also a lengthy profile of Doug Jones, a frequent collaborator of del Toro who plays the role of the Amphibian Man that drives the story. That profile emphasized how many movies and TV shows he’s been in and how infrequently we’ve ever seen his face since, as in this movie, he’s usually hidden behind masks and makeup, something he’s specialized in because of his unique ability to offer emotional performances even when hidden. Another similar profile hit many of the same beats.

Shannon also got involved, with a profile of the actor that included talk of how he got involved in the movie and how he approached creating the character. He also talked about filming the movie in appearance in the media including “Late Night.”

Overall

It’s not surprising to see the marketing for a movie from del Toro rely this strongly on a combination of secrecy, fantasy, mystery, story and visual style. That’s been his stock and trade for years now, with each film using all those elements to varying degrees. His movies are, as much as anyone else working in Hollywood, a representation of his imagination. Strong word of mouth that’s focused on the performances of Hawkins and Spencer propelled it from early screenings and seem to have primed the pump for the movie to finally hit wide release.

The campaign started off with a bang, the out-of-nowhere release of that first trailer, and kept up a solid pace over the intervening months. It’s been remarkably consistent, showing off the artistry of the visuals, the emotions of the story and the depth of the characters at most every turn. The lack of press push involving Hawkins is somewhat surprising, but there’s likely a reason behind that decision. Still, as the central focus of the story I would have expected her to play a bigger role in the publicity. It’s a small gripe in relation to a wonderful overall effort.

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