black adam – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a change in the hierarchy of power in the DC Universe

Black Adam movie poster from Warner Bros.
Black Adam movie poster from Warner Bros.

Black Adam, in theaters this weekend, is ostensibly the 11th film in the DC Extended Universe of movies that began with 2013’s Man of Steel, though you’d need a protractor and slide rule to actually make all those movies fit together into a cohesive narrative. And that’s without trying to figure in one-off projects and TV/streaming series.

The movie stars Dwayne Johnson as Teth-Adam / Black Adam, a slave boy from the city of Kahndaq five thousand years ago who, after his father is killed for angering the king, is given the power of the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou, who played the character in 2019’s Shazam!) before being imprisoned. When he’s woken in the present day by those searching for the same mystical artifact the ancient king was after he goes on a rampage that draws the attention of the Justice Society of America, who go after Adam. Alliances shift but Adam resists the call to become a hero, even if he is not quite a villain.

As the above implies, Black Adam is connected to the hero Shazam, though Zachary Levi (who played the hero in his own 2019 movie) doesn’t appear here. Viola Davis, though, is back as Amanda Waller, who calls in the JSA composed of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan). Sarah Shahi plays Adrianna Tomaz, the modern day researcher who awakens and eventually befriends Adam.

The movie is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and seems inspired by various elements of Black Adam’s backstory from both DC’s Post-Crisis and New 52 eras. So let’s say the magic word and take a look at how the movie’s been sold to the public.

long road to adam

Johnson has been trying to get this movie made for years, constantly talking it up on his social media profiles and saying the script is amazing and so on. He officially announced he was playing Black Adam in 2014 after speculation he may play either that character or Shazam.

His bravado was muted somewhat by the 2019 release of Shazam!, in which he wasn’t featured, but later that year it was announced director Jaume Collett-Serra had come aboard, perhaps breathing new life into things.

In October of 2019 Johnson Tweeted an announcement that production would finally begin in July of 2020 and then shared the news of an official release date. An interview from that time also had him hinting that the movie would include the Justice Society of America. Johnson confirmed in April his belief that production would begin at the end of summer, despite most things being shut down because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Centino was added to the cast as Atom Smasher in July, 2020.

dc fandome 2020 makes things instagram official

The lineup of DC’s “Fandome” virtual event in August 2020 included Johnson, fueling speculation he might offer a first glimpse at this movie. That speculation proved accurate when Johnson started sharing first looks at the design of Black Adam on social media, leading up to the Fandome panel where he and others shared more information – including that he would be butting heads with members of the Justice Society – and debuted a sizzle reel of animated concept art with Johnson narration added.

More JSA-related news came a month or so later when Hodge was cast as Hawkman. Brosnan and Mirren were added to the cast in March, 2021.

Pandemic-related production and other delays prompted WB to take the movie off its schedule in October, 2020, leaving it off the calendar at that point.

It was added back to the release calendar in March, 2021. At that time Johnson shared a video of a big outdoor display in New York City that revealed the film’s planned July, 2022 date. That announcement was also aired on TBS during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

A number of interviews like this with Collett-Serra had him teasing what he was taking away from his experience filming Jungle Cruise and applying to this film, including working with Johnson and developing cutting edge special effects. During the Jungle Cruise press cycle Johnson was also frequently asked about this movie, saying it was the hardest production he’s been a part of to date and offering other vague teases.

continuing adventures in pre-marketing

Warner Bros. gave CineEurope attendees a look at the movie in October 2021.

A year after those first official looks, fans were promised another tease of the movie during DC’s 2021 installment of Fandome. That came in the form of a video showing Adam’s first appearance in the film, though his full look still isn’t seen clearly. Garcia later commented on how the movie wouldn’t pull any punches with the character or story. An interview with Johnson had him sharing how the initial costume had too much padding for his liking.

In March 2022 the movie’s release date was moved back three months to late October, reportedly because of a VFX backlog plaguing the entire industry that meant the effect just wouldn’t be ready for the July release date.

Despite that delay, that same month DC announced a new Black Adam comics series from writer Christopher Priest and artist Rafa Sandoval scheduled to debut in June. A trailer for the series was released a bit later.

At CinemaCon in April both Centineo and Swindell were in attendance to give executives and journalists a look at the first trailer.

Some new looks at character designs were offered a little while later when the movie’s Funko POP! Figures were revealed.

marketing finally says the magic word

Things more officially got underway in early June with the release of the first poster, which shows Adam in profile with the copy “The world needed a hero. It got Black Adam.” helping to set the tone of the story.

That was followed by the first full trailer. We get a little bit of Adam’s history going back centuries. In the present, Adam has embraced the powers he has, which brings him into conflict with the heroes we then see, including Atom Smasher, Hawkman and Dr. Fate. Whether or not Adam is a hero is up to him, Dr. Fate intones.

It’s not a bad trailer, but there are several questions it generates, including whether the heroes we see here exist at the same time as those in the Justice League universe, whether Johnson is capable of playing anything other than a variation on his own persona and more.

Just after the first trailer debuted DC announced one-shot comics offering introductions and backgrounds on characters like Cyclone, Dr. Fate, Hawkman and Atom Smasher.

WB made this movie a centerpiece of its Hall H presentation at San Diego Comic-Con in July. Johnson appeared there in costume to introduce a new “sneak peak” that doesn’t expand too much on the earlier trailer but does feature a few new shots. The rest of the main cast along with Collet-Serra, who had previously clarified the movie does *not* include either Shazam or Superman.

As part of its SDCC coverage, EW debuted a new image of Johnson in costume along with comments from Collet-Serra about the characters in the story and more. The cast was also interviewed at Comic-Con by AMC Theaters.

Vanity Fair debuted a number of new stills along with an interview with Johnson about the character’s moral philosophy and how that unique take on an anti-hero is what has drawn him to Adam for a long time.

There was a massive tie-in promotion in early September with the Los Angeles Rams that included the players sporting the film’s branding, Johnson appearing in promos and other videos and the second trailer debuting during the game’s broadcast.

That trailer (22.6m YouTube views) begins with the same history lesson from the first one and shows a lot of the same bits about Adam’s journey and how he isn’t a hero. It’s primary focused on the showdown between Adam and the Justice Society, though we continue to hear how Adam isn’t necessarily a bad guy, just one who refuses to yield or bow before anyone, which brings him into conflict with the heroes.

That emphasis on the JSA is reinforced by their appearance on a new poster that came out at the same time as the trailer and by the character posters that include members of the team along with Adam himself.

The next Vanity Fair profile was of Centino, who gushed about the opportunity to work with the veteran actors in the cast.

The next one-sheet features Black Adam sitting on his throne looking somber and serious while the copy declares “The time of heroes is over.”

“There’s no one on this planet that can stop me” Black Adam declares in a TV spot from mid-September that features more of his fight with the JSA as well as dialogue making it clear Adam is willing to cross lines heroes can’t. Another extended spot hits many of the same notes but ties his story into the broader legacy of heroes and villains on Earth.

The IMAX, 4DX and Dolby Cinemas exclusive posters both feature slight variations on the JSA assembled around Adam.

A global press tour with Johnson and others from the cast and crew kicked off at the beginning of October and took them to screenings and events in New York, London, Mexico City and elsewhere.

Swindell was interviewed in October about making the movie and the process of undergoing so much physical training for the role.

Warner Bros. put street teams around New York Comic-Con giving out tickets to the world premiere screening that ended the above-mentioned press tour.

While the cast was in New York City Centino promoted the movie in an appearance on “The Tonight Show” while Hodge and Brosnan showed up on “GMA.” Brosnan also appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night”. Johnson confirmed a much-anticipated cameo by another DC character when he promoted the film on “The Tonight Show”.

A Black Adam skin and powers were added to Fortnite. The character was also added to the Injustice 2 mobile game.

An extended clip of Adam being awakened by Intergang and tearing through the over-matched mercenaries was released just before the premiere.

A partnership with EVgo gave those using the company’s charging stations a $5 Fandango promo code they could use when buying tickets for this movie. Circle K Stores also offered a Fandango code to those who engaged with the company on Twitter.

At the premiere Johnson weighed in on whether he would consider taking an advisory position in the development of future DC projects and talked more along with the rest of the cast about the long road involved in bringing this movie to fruition and more.

HBO Max offered an exclusive featurette about Black Adam’s moral gray area and how that impacts the other characters as well as the world the story is set in. Rotten Tomatoes also had an exclusive featurette focusing on the costumes of the characters.

DC shared an interview between Johnson and Echo Kellum, who has appeared in a few DC TV series.

overall

Projections have the movie bringing in about $75 million in its opening weekend, which would be a good start for a title like this that has more than a few question marks around it.

The campaign is, as such things tend to be, almost completely driven by Johnson’s personality and will. What seems like half the social media updates from the official movie account are reposts or shares from Johnson’s profile and that’s on top of him spending the better part of the last two decades simply forcing this movie into existence through public statements in addition to whatever behind-the-scenes politicking he’s been doing at the studio.

A decent single brand identity has been created around Black Adam’s defining character traits, namely his willingness to go to dark places, his repeated assurances he’s not a hero and his belief he’s the new major power in the world. Those have been repeated time and again across marketing elements.

What sticks out, though, is how most of the trailers, TV spots and other clips seem to draw most of their footage from the same 15 minutes of the movie, especially Adam’s slugfest with the JSA. That’s fine in and of itself but it also indicates there’s a lot of the movie that’s still unseen by the general public. Such things aren’t uncommon with movies like this, but it seems especially prevalent here.

The Foreigner – Marketing Recap

Jackie Chan stars in this week’s new release The Foreigner from director Martin Campbell. In the movie, he plays Quan, a London businessman whose daughter is killed in an act of random political terrorism. He begins to believe one official in particular, Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), may have answers because of his former ties to terrorist organizations.

Hennessy is less than helpful, though, frustrating Quan’s efforts further. Convinced he’s right, Quan begins following Hennessy and his assistants. When those bodyguards and others turn violent in their efforts to dissuade Quan from further action, they find that he’s far from the aging, grieving father he appears to be and is more than capable of bringing the fight to them.

The Posters

The poster declares at the top that it comes “From the director of Casino Royale” as a way to solidify its action bonafides. Other than that it’s just Chan standing on a city street looking dispassionately at the aftermath of some sort of mayhem, including a sidewalk that’s on fire and rubble that’s strewn about. “Never push a good man too far” is the very vague and generic copy that’s shared.

The Trailers

You can tell from how much the dad loves his daughter as the trailer opens that we’re in for a bit of violence and emotional manipulation. Soon Quan is at the desk of Mr. Hennessy asking for the names of the bombers, mostly because he believes Hennessy at least knows who they might be and at worst thinks he was involved. So begins a quest for revenge that involves going after those suspected of involvement on his own, taking out henchmen left and right with his fists or his improvised gadgets, meant to show how dangerous he really is.

This looks pretty by the numbers, almost like a remake of that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that had a similar “man seeking revenge for the death of his family” movie that came out last year. The biggest draw for what otherwise seems like staid material is that it comes from director Martin Campbell.

The next trailer again opens with Quan’s little girl dying in a bomb explosion and being frustrated in his attempts to get answers. So he takes matters into his own hands and goes after those he believes responsible. It’s pretty similar to the first one, just with a few tweaks here and there, so the value proposition to the audience remains unchanged.

Online and Social

Full-screen video of clips pulled from the trailer greet you as you load the official site. Not only is it featured on the front page, along with a “Get Tickets” button, a prompt to watch the trailer and links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds, but it will be persistent throughout the rest of the site as well.

“Videos” has both trailers, a couple of the TV commercials and a few clips and featurettes that focus on the stunt work, which isn’t surprising. There are about a half-dozen stills in the “Photos” gallery. Finally, “About” has a short Story synopsis and a Cast & Crew list.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one cut to the chase quickly, showing the bombing that sets the revenge-minded events in action and the threat he poses to those he’s deemed responsible. A lot more TV advertising was done, particularly in the month prior to release, with spots that varied from selling the emotion to selling the all-out action. They were all variations on a theme, though, most hitting the same general beats and story points.

Media and Publicity

Chan did some press for the movie, including appearances on late night talk shows, as did Brosnan. There was also a major feature profile of Chan that focused on his inability to rest, the fact that he’s still doing his own stunts at age 63 and more. That’s about it, with most of the rest of the press coverage coming from the release of clips or other marketing materials.

Overall

I’ll be honest, when I saw the first trailer I was inclined to pass on including a recap of this campaign here. It seemed light and inconsequential, the kind of unironic action movie that would have turned heads in 1987 but which now seems out of touch. I wasn’t that interested in watching Chan try to hold on a bit longer to this action credentials while involved in a story we’ve seen a number of times from other aging former action stars.

But then it just kept going and I kept checking it out, more interested in it than I was the last time. Eventually I came around to thinking that yes, this may be a slightly tired plot and no, I don’t really need to see what’s being sold here, but it’s being sold well. I’m sure there’s an audience out there who is going to want to revisit Chan’s stunt abilities, and his performance has scored pretty good reviews for its depth and emotion. So while it may seem like the kind of movie that in eight months we’ll all legitimately forget ever happened, it’s been presented with a workable campaign that has taken a good approach to reaching a target audience.

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

 

Only Living Boy in New York City – Marketing Recap

Get ready for a healthy dose of white upper-class angst with The Only Living Boy In New York City. Directed by Marc Webb, the story follows Thomas Webb (Callum Turner), a young man who has graduated college but doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life. Fortunately, he has wealthy parents (played by Pierce Brosnan and Cynthia Nixon), so is in a place where he can amble about a bit.

That ambling includes receiving advice from his neighbor W.F. (Jeff Bridges), an aging frustrated writer who Thomas befriends. Things get complicated not only because of the romantic pressure from Thomas’ girlfriend Mimi (Kersey Clemons) but also the discovery his father is having an affair with a woman named Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). Not just that, but Thomas eventually becomes involved with Johanna himself, causing further problems.

The Posters

The first poster is simple, establishing at least one of the movie’s relationships. We see Turner and Beckinsale kissing passionately while up against a white wall that looks like something you’d find in a high-end art gallery or other establishments. No copy fleshes out or further explains the story, just the cast list.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens up by immediately showing us we’re in the world of well-off, highly literate New York society. Thomas meets his new neighbor and we see he’s having issues with his girlfriend. A night out leads to him seeing his father out with another woman and he begins following her. That develops into a complicated flirtation between the two of them. Thomas is getting life advice from W.F., in some sort of relationship with Johanna, on the outs with his girlfriend Mimi and hiding what he knows from his father, all of which leads to lots of conflicted feelings and problems.

It looks like a decent story but it also certainly looks like yet another entry in the existential angst of the New York white upper class. It’s a Noah Baumbach movie as directed by Marc Webb. There’s nothing wrong with that but it also is ground that’s been well-trod over the years so it’s curious to see what, if any, new this one has to say.

Online and Social

The official website immediately plays the trailer in full-screen video, and “Video” is the second of the content sections in the menu at the top of the page. If you click over to “Home,” it has a version of the key art along with a prompt to save the release date to your calendar and links to the movie’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles. The only other section on the site is a “Synopsis” that gives a decent overview of the story and the relationships between the various characters.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve been aware of or seen.

Media and Publicity

Beckinsale and Bridges have, at least to date, handled most of the publicity efforts, appearing on some of the late night talk shows to talk about the movie and do the usual joking around. There was also a feature on Webb where he talked about making the movie and the New York setting of the story.

Overall

Just as I thought the marketing of Fun Mom Dinner might be hurt by the recent influx of movies about women cutting loose, I think the marketing of The Only Living Boy In New York City will be hurt by it being the 748th movie in the last two years about wealthy white people suffering a lack of direction while still having the financial means to wander about drinking high-end scotch and pondering what it all means. I don’t think we can go more than three weeks without a story like this hitting theaters, meaning the marketing needs to present a clear differentiating value proposition to stand out from the crowd.

There’s no such hook in the campaign here. The studio seems to think the relationship between Thomas and his father’s mistress checks that box, but it’s not enough. There’s too much ground being covered here that’s not only familiar but which is out of touch with the reality of the country at this point, where the wealthy 1% are still not beloved by most people. These aren’t characters we can relate to and the story isn’t outlandish enough to be seen as soap opera-like. We’ve pretty much seen this movie before and the campaign doesn’t offer anything unique or innovative enough to stand out from the crowd.