On the Basis of Sex – Marketing Recap

on the basis of sex posterSupreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a cultural phenomenon in the last few years, largely because of her status as a kickass liberal woman who has carved her own path in an effort to bring legal equality to the world. Her story has recently been told in books like “The Notorious RBG” and the documentary RBG.

Now that story is getting the feature treatment in On the Basis of Sex. Felicity Jones plays Ginsburg as an ambitious lawyer who’s just starting out in her career. She comes up against walls and barriers all over the place, though, as she seeks to argue against laws she believes to be discriminatory against genders. Armie Hammer costars as her husband Martin.

The Posters

Jones as Ginsburg wears a sensible wool dress and gloves as she stands in front of a miniature Supreme Court building, showing how she will come to dominate that venue in more ways than one. Her outfit explains the time period the story is set in but it’s a drab image that doesn’t do much to fire the imagination or inspire much passion. Honestly it’s the kind of photo you’d expect to see used in a culture magazine for a feature on a powerful female attorney.

The Trailers

We get the basic outlines of the story in the first trailer, including how Ginsburg is determined as a young woman to change the culture and address some of the gender-based inequalities that have been codified into law. She’s smart but can’t get ahead because she’s a woman. Eventually she comes across a case where the law is prejudiced against men and she decides this is what it will take to upend the whole system.

What’s notable in what is otherwise a choppy and uneven trailer is the Hammer is very much playing the kind of role usually assigned to a woman, that of the supportive partner/spouse who encourages the other to keep fighting and do what’s right. That’s…that’s big. Jones looks very good, of course, but the story overall seems a bit overdone. Also, while some people took issue with the “Neither does the word ‘Freedom.’” line at the end, the movie’s screenwriter defended its usage, saying it makes sense in the context of the full scene.

That line is still in the second trailer, which focuses on Ginsburg’s fight against those who would keep her down and in her lane, something she’s utterly unwilling to do.

Online and Social

Focus Features’ official website follows the studio’s regular online template, opening with the trailer and with a bunch of photos, bios and videos further down the page for visitors to check out and click on. There are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Jones really shines in the first TV spot from late October, with Kesha’s inspiring original song playing over footage of her as Ginsburg crusading for what she believes to be right and making friends – and enemies – along the way.

In mid-November the second trailer was used as a promoted post on Twitter, one that specifically called out the inclusion of a new Kesha song.

Focus Features partnered with a number of consumer brands on the “All Rise Now” collection of lifestyle products, the purchase of which supported the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. The site for the campaign also featured movie assets and other graphics to be shared online, though oddly Pinterest isn’t one of the default choices for doing so despite them seeming to be perfect for that platform.

Media and Publicity

The publicity campaign kicked off with the release of the first photo showing Jones as Ginsburg. The actress spoke about the process of portraying the justice when Focus Features made it part of their CinemaCon presentation, which included an early look at footage for attendees.

Jones was the subject of a Vanity Fair cover story that detailed her preparation for the role, the attention to detail paid by everyone involved, the timeliness of the story and lots more.

Pop star Kesha released her anthemic song of empowerment that’s featured in the movie in mid-September.

The movie was singled out as the AFI Film Festival’s opening night feature.

Of course one couldn’t ignore the fact that this movie was coming shortly after the widely-acclaimed release of RBG, the documentary of Ginsburg that created a lot of stir among critics and audiences. That documentary was scheduled for a series of free screenings in advance of the U.S. midterm elections, which also nicely brought the subject back up a couple months before this movie’s release date.

Jones praised Leder as a director at a Q&A about the movie and her career in general. She also spoke about Ginsburg and the challenges she’s faced in her career while accepting the Variety Award at the British Independent Film Awards.

The first clip offered an extended look at a scene from the trailer of Ginsburg making a strong impression at a formal dinner. A second showed her making it clear she expects her husband to give her some space to be herself and a third had her arguing for taking a case no one else believes in. A final one had Ginsburg testing her arguments for equality.

An interview with Jones made the odd choice of focusing on her beauty and fitness routine as opposed to the research she did to take on the role of a future Supreme Court justice.

Hammer did the media rounds in the last couple weeks, talking about how he’s now BFFs with Ginsburg herself, his experience shooting the movie and how he bonded with the cast during production. Jones got in on the action with TV and other interviews.

The true story of the cast that essentially launched Ginsburg’s legal career, the one recounted in the movie, was detailed by Smithsonian Magazine and other outlets in the last few days.


First off, it’s worth noting this is the second movie in as many years to tell the story of a seminal case in the career development of a future Supreme Court justice, though last year’s Marshall didn’t get quite this level of buzz and awareness. That’s at least in part because Thurgood Marshall is a generation removed from most modern movie audiences, so there just wasn’t the connection.

This movie’s campaign, though, makes sure the audience knows this is about a woman who is held as an idol by many right now, so it’s much more relevant message. While the details of the case she’s arguing to make her point aren’t made very clear, that’s not the point. Instead it’s about her fierce determination in the face of adversity and disbelief.

Picking Up the Spare

Another interview with Leder where she talks about the ways she understood Ginsburg’s story and another where she talks about what she found in common with the lawyer.

She, Jones and Hammer were all part of a joint conversation about digging into Ginsburg’s life along with how the way her real life husband supported her wasn’t dramatic enough for some studio execs, who wanted to see more conflict. Another similar joint interview followed. That was also the subject of a new featurette.

Cailee Spaeny, who plays Ginsburg’s daughter, was interviewed a bit later about how she approached her role and got involved.

Later on there was another profile of Leder that focused on how she was yet another example of a female director who’d been shut out of feature films for almost two decades.

More on the “All Rise” campaign for workplace equality that involved a partnership with the ACLU here.

The Latest Movie Marketing Trend? Original Songs

The movie has been out now for almost two full months and we’re still talking about Lady Gaga’s performance in A Star Is Born. More broadly, we’re still hearing one or more of the songs she performed for the movie on the radio.

Gaga was a big part of the film’s marketing campaign, as was music as a whole. Early publicity focused on how director Bradley Cooper and the producers filmed in-character performances at a few music festivals over the preceding year and while a few songs were released early, the soundtrack as a whole was considered such a big card to play it wasn’t put out until the movie’s opening weekend.

Soundtracks have been an increasingly prominent part of movie marketing campaigns for a while now, with tie-in albums for Black Panther, Superfly, The Greatest Showman and other recent releases playing large roles in appealing to audiences. Studios want to reach people where they are, regardless of what media they’re consuming, so putting out a soundtrack that’s on-brand and clearly relevant to the film’s subject matter and story makes a lot of sense.

In the wake of A Star Is Born, the tactic seems to be shifting from soundtracks as an album to making it clear to audiences there is one specific song from a popular artist that is new to the film and which, then, makes going to see the movie that much more appealing. This is seen in a number of recent and upcoming campaigns.

Vox Lux – Sia

“Wrapped Up,” the new song performed by Sia debuted in the second trailer for the movie, just released yesterday. NEON didn’t want anyone to miss it, though, and so has been heavily promoting the imminent arrival of both for several days.

On the Basis of Sex – Kesha

The second trailer for the upcoming Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic starring Felicity Huffman doesn’t differ substantially from the first one released months ago except for the fact that it prominently features a new song from Kesha, “Here Comes the Change.”

Bumblebee – Hailee Steinfeld

The actor/singer’s new song “Back to Life” hasn’t appeared in any trailers or TV spots just yet (there’s still time, of course) but it did get its own lyric video earlier this month to make sure fans of hers knew there was more than one way she was involved in the movie.

Green Book – Aloe Blacc

Late in the campaign Universal released a music video for “I Count On Me” from Aloe Blacc, a song about not being knocked down by adversity or conflict but finding the strength within to go on. That’s very relevant to the movie’s story and is a great song to boot.

Dumplin – Dolly Parton

It makes sense, given that the story of the movie involves a character inspired by Parton’s music and life, that she would not only contribute a new song to the film but also be a big part of the pre-release publicity campaign. You don’t find personalities bigger than Parton’s, so she’s certainly getting people talking.

The Grinch – Tyler The Creator

No version of The Grinch’s story is complete without someone doing a version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” first performed by Thurl Ravenscroft in the 1968 animated special and then by Jim Carrey himself in the 2000 live action film. Bringing the song into the present is popular singer Tyler, The Creator, lending a bit of tough credibility to the venture.

The influx of original songs this late in the year – ones that are being featured in trailers and other videos leading up to release – seems as much about creating another category for the film to contend in come time for awards as it is about turning out audiences. With the exception of “The Grinch” all these are original songs that will be contending for accolades in the coming months.

Other movies aren’t sitting out completely, though, even if they don’t feature much in the way of new material. The cross-media potential of movies like Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Bohemian Rhapsody and others certainly can’t have been overlooked, each tapping in to the vast catalog of popular artists to help get audiences excited and in theaters.

What’s notable, though, is that this seems to be something studios have just caught on to. Looking back at the late month releases from the last couple years, very few examples of this being overt tactic employed to increase buzz and awards changes present themselves. Mary J. Blige released “Mighty River” for Mudbound, but that’s roughly it.

Based on other recently-adopted marketing trends, it’s one I expect will continue to be used. Studios, including Netflix and Amazon Studios, have embraced various aspects of the content marketing ethos in recent years, releasing a steady stream of interviews, featurettes and other material prior to release along with trailers and at the same time talent is engaged in press interviews.

Original songs are part of that. They provide another opportunity for conversations about the movie and have the added benefit of often appealing to different segments of the audience. And if they have some potential to raise the movie’s profile with an awards win, so much the better.