the 355 – marketing recap

How Universal has marketed star-packed action drama.

The 355 movie poster
The 355 movie poster

The 355, out this week in theaters, is a magnificent case study in the power of wish fulfillment.

Before going into that, the movie stars Jessica Chastain as Mason “Mace” Browne, a CIA agent who, when a top-secret weapon goes missing, assembles an international team of fellow agents to go after those who stole it before it can be used.

It’s a simple enough premise and the appeal is only enhanced when you consider the other agents Browne recruits are played by Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing.

With that, as well as the fact the movie is directed by Simon Kinberg who cowrote the screenplay with Theresa Rebeck, established, let’s look at how the project came to be and had been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

While Chastain had pitched the idea to Kinberg while the two were shooting X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the first real announcement about it came when Chastain brought the *concept* of the movie to Cannes 2018. While there she essentially assembled the cast in an attempt to get someone interested in producing or financing it.

The actresses did their part too, basically presenting it as a done deal should someone be brave enough to step up and get the ball rolling. It was a nervy, risky move that generated a lot of attention and interest in the audience, at least, and one of many female-led projects at Cannes or coming out around that time. Rights were eventually bought by Universal.

The lead up to the movie included features like this that profiled Chastain as both an actress and advocate, particularly within the #MeToo movement.

Reports emerged in April that Fan Bingbing, who had been out of sight for months, was still going to be in the movie. A few months later Chastain announced production had officially begun. In August of 2019 Universal finally gave the movie a release date.

Most of the primary cast was in place from the outset, but Kruger replaced Marion Cotillard in mid-2019 as production was getting underway. Sebastian Stan and others were added over the course of that year.

the marketing campaign: phase one

With an initial release date set for January 2021, marketing got underway in October 2020 with the release of a poster that has the members of the assembled spy team standing side by side, each in front of the flag of their respective countries. And, as someone has pointed out on Twitter, it’s the rare one-sheet that actually has the actor standing under their own name.

A couple batches of character posters that break out each one of the leads came out at the same time.

The first trailer (7.4m YouTube views) – debuted by Chastain when she appeared virtually on “Late Night” – also came out then. Mace, we see, is being given an off-the-books project by the security service she works for and sets out assembling a crack team of experts to get the job done. Together they have to stop some very bad people from doing some very bad things, but their mission puts not only themselves but those they love back home in danger. Still, they manage to kick an impressive amount of butt.

A TV spot debuted right after the first trailer came out, showing not only the mission the agents in this movie are engaged in but also offering a bit of backstory behind the “355” designation.

Most of the cast appeared on Entertainment Weekly’s “Women Who Kick Ass” panel at New York Comic-Con, which happened just days after the trailer’s release. They talked about how unique an all-female action movie is, the fun they had doing the stunts and lots more as they promised audiences a good time at the movies.

In November 2020 it was announced Universal was delaying the film by a full year, pushing it from January 2021 to the same date a year later.

The 355 Movie GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

the marketing campaign: phase two

As a result of that delay things went dark on the campaign until almost exactly a year after the marketing had first kicked off with the release of the second trailer (14.7m YouTube views). It covers much of the same ground as the first, but with a few tweaks and more of a focus on the objective of the team as well as the team itself.

An interview with Chastain had her talking about how the movie addresses the idea of female secret agents within the framework of the action movie and how the idea evolved over time. That story also included a new still and other looks at the film.

Short character introduction videos like this started coming out in early December.

Also in early December, Universal held a promotional event/party (seemingly sponsored by Stella Artois) in Miami with lots of music and movie-branded swag available to attendees.

IMDb debuted the first featurette from the movie showing Chastain and others talking about making an action movie and handling their share of the stunt work.

Dolby offered an exclusive clip/featurette that, like everything else, focused on the action of the movie.

More character posters were released that put each agent against a background of all the flags instead of just the one for their own country.

Additional clips also came out over the last couple weeks showing various action sequences involving different characters.

overall

The campaign’s continued emphasis on the action of the movie isn’t different from any other ensemble picture in this genre, so that’s chalked up to a tried and true tactic being executed here.

On the one hand, that’s all well and good because it means it’s not being sold substantively differently from similar movies featuring all-male casts.

On the other hand, by fitting the movie into such a well-used format it doesn’t allow the biggest unique selling point to really shine through.

GIF by The 355 Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

I’d almost rather have seen something unusual be done here because it would have provided a stronger hook, though it’s not assured that audiences would turn out no matter what the messaging was. That’s reflected in the $5 million the movie is projected to bring in this weekend as Spider-Man once again dominates theaters and Covid continues to sweep through the country, disrupting much of everyday goings-on.

Everybody Knows – Marketing Recap

everybody knows posterSecrets emerging from the past to intrude on the present form the primary problem in the new movie Everybody Knows. Laura (Penelope Cruz) has brought her daughters with her as she returns to her hometown outside Madrid for the wedding of her sister.

That joyous occasion is marred when Laura’s oldest daughter is abducted in the middle of the celebration. She sets out to find her with the help of Paco (Javier Bardem) and others, but it leads to revelations being uncovered about the past of Laura’s family that cast new light on everything that’s happened.

The Posters

There were a number of Spanish-language posters for the film’s overseas release but the one U.S. theatrical one-sheet hints at the drama of the story by showing Bardem looming over Cruz’s shoulder, his face obscured by her unkempt, blowing hair. Her face is concerned while he looks slightly shady but there’s no copy here to explain the story or offer more detail. The film’s film festival credentials are offered at the bottom to lend it some authority.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released last April before the movie debuted at Cannes, presents a dramatic thriller. Carolina has returned to her hometown for a wedding and brought her family with her. She reconnects with everyone, including Paco, an old friend. When her daughter goes missing it kicks off a series of events that lead to secrets – including the past love affair between Paco and Laura – to be revealed all over the place as everyone comes under suspicion.

The domestic theatrical trailer strikes a very different tone. Narration by Paco at the beginning explains that sometimes the past doesn’t stay in the past as we see Laura and the girls arrive for the wedding. After her daughter is taken it turns into just selling a more or less straight drama about the search to find her, jettisoning much of the emotional narrative that was found in the first spot.

If you were going on this alone you might suspect that Laura and Paco were the primary couple, not that each is married to someone else even though they used to be lovers years ago. That secret is just one of the revelations in the first trailer that hint at lots more secrets hiding under the surface, a storyline that’s missing completely here.

Online and Social

The website doesn’t offer much in the way of additional information. The domestic trailer plays when the site opens and the front page has links to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles. Scroll down and you can read an “About” section and then find bios for the cast and crew when you click on the photos arranged on the page.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve seen on this front.

Media and Publicity

One of the first major stories about the movie came when it was revealed it has landed the coveted opening night slot at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It was quickly bought by Focus Features after that screening, which resulted in a good amount of very positive buzz. While there Bardem and Cruz, a couple in real life, talked about working together, receiving equal paydays for the movie and more.

Overall

Most striking about the campaign is the difference between how the movie was sold last year for overseas audiences and how it was sold this year for U.S. moviegoers. The way entire plotlines and character connections are discarded in favor of selling it as a straightforward drama about a missing child is really something, an example of the message being dumbed down significantly for the domestic market.

That may have been done simply to avoid presenting it too clearly as a Spanish-language film. Notice in the U.S. release trailer that 1) Bardem’s narration at the opening is in English and that 2) There’s no dialogue from the film in the spot at all, with the story conveyed through the use of title cards. That makes sense from a certain point of view, but it also means that people here aren’t getting the full heft of the story, which could be a problem.

Picking Up the Spare

Focus Features finally released a bunch of TV spots that sell the movie in various slightly different ways.

Bardem finally made some media appearances, including an interview where he spoke about working with Cruz and an appearance on “Kimmel.”