lightyear – marketing recap

You…are…a…prequel? Sequel? Something different?

Lightyear poster from Disney and Pixar
Lightyear poster from Disney and Pixar

DisneyPixar get extraordinarily meta with this week’s new film Lightyear, coming exclusively to theaters. The movie stars Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear, who…well, this is where it gets a little tricky.

This Buzz is the real life astronaut who inspired the action figure audiences first met in 195’s Toy Story. The story takes place about 10 years before the events of that film and follows Buzz as he and other astronauts seek to escape the alien planet they’ve been marooned on and find their way back to Earth. That crew includes Uzo Aduba as Alisha Hawthorne and later, after a bit of wibbly-wobbly space-time craziness, Keke Palmer as Alisha’s grandaughter Izzy. Taika Waititi voices Mo Morrison and Dale Soules voices Darby Steel, both fellow recruits working with Buzz. James Brolin voices the real Emperor Zurg.

Put another way, this is the live action movie released within the Toy Story universe that told Buzz’s story, a movie that then was turned into a line of toys etc.

The movie is directed by Angus MacLure, who cowrote the script with Jason Headley. With all that established, let’s take a look at how the campaign was run.

announcements and casting

The movie was one of several announced by Disney during its December 2020 investors presentation, but had been in the works for a few years already after MacLure expressed interest in telling a more definitive story of Buzz’s origins than had been shared in a 2000 direct-to-video movie.

That announcement included news of Evans being cast as the voice of Buzz. Waititi joined a year later, with Brolin, Efren Ramirez and Isiah Whitlock Jr. reported to also be cast in early 2022.

the marketing campaign phase one: to infinity…

Things started off in October, 2021, with the release of a teaser poster that doesn’t show much beyond the familiar space suit of the titular astronaut.

The first teaser trailer (14m YouTube views) was also released at that time. It doesn’t explain a whole lot but does tease a great deal, showing Lightyear taking off on a mission, flying his ship through various locations and ultimately seeing what would become his well-known suit at the very end.

It wasn’t until February that the full trailer (18.8m YouTube views) came out. This one explains how Buzz is taking off on a mission after he and others have spent a long time marooned on a distant planet. From there on we see the kinds of dangers he’ll encounter as he comes across an army of killer robots and other threats, all while accompanied by Socks, his robotic cat companion.

Another poster came out at the same time, this one showing Buzz striding purposefully across a tarmac where we see all manner of ships parked, presumably ready for action.

In March the movie came to the center of a controversy that was rocking Disney at the time, namely the issue of LGBTQ+ representation and related matters. As Pixar employees were planning a walkout over the company’s failure to denounce (and even support) Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, the studio took a small step in the right direction by restoring a same-sex kiss between Hawthorne and her partner that had previously been cut.

The movie was among those touted by Disney during their CinemaCon presentation in April of this year, with attendees getting a look at 30 minutes of footage that included the queer sub-plot that had caused so much controversy.

Another trailer (17.1m YouTube views) came out around that same time. It starts with Buzz testing a rocket launch after he and his team have been marooned on a planet for a year. But when he returns after what feels like a short flight he finds he’s been gone for 62 years. New threats have emerged on the planet and it’s up to him to lead an inexperienced team to defeat the bad guys and finally make it back to Earth.

The poster this time around has Buzz staring out into space.

Disney released a video right after that of Evans, Palmer and Waititi reacting to the trailer.

At the beginning of May a “special look” came out that seemed like another trailer but at the very least added some more context to the story that had been shared to date.

Another new poster added Zurg and some of those helping Buzz, including Sox, to the mix, the base the heroes operate from shown in the foreground. That same team is shown on a second one-sheet from mid-May, this time running into action.

Blue Apron introduced movie-themed meal kits at this point to attract parents of kids who may be interested in the film and want to have a meal inspired by it.

the marketing campaign phase two: go sox

TV spots began running in early June with commercials that focused on the heroic space adventures, the fuzzy cuteness of Sox and more.

Of course the first clip from the film was one showing Buzz unboxing Sox for the first time. Another, this one exclusively given to Fandango, has Buzz and his ad hoc team being briefed on their mission.

All this (and more) was part of a shift in focus by the campaign away from the core story and onto the characters, especially Sox. That was seen in some of the clips and other assets that made sure audiences knew that not only was Sox unbelievably adorable but that there was a diverse and interesting team supporting the title character on his adventures.

The main three stars then were featured unboxing some of the toys people can buy.

While the movie was being released theatrically, Disney+ got a documentary on the history of the character and how he was developed for the first Toy Story movies. There was also a featurette with MacLure, Evans and others talking about the origins of the story, including looks at the voice recording and introductions to the rest of Buzz’s team.

An exclusive poster from RealD 3D shows Buzz taking on Zurg.

Evans appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the film and what it was like to add his own take to a well-known character, something he also spoke about a few days earlier at the movie’s premiere. He also weighed in on the same-sex kiss conversation while attending the Annecy Film Festival where the premiere was happening.

The next featurette shows the cast praising Evans’ performance as Buzz, something that was well-timed since this was about when various parties started calling out Disney for not casting Tim Allen in the film, the presumption being that his more conservative politics were no longer welcome at Woke Disney. Another offers a better introduction to the supporting characters by the actors who voice them.


There are two stories being sold here:

First is the story of the movie itself, which given no other information is communicated to the audience as the story of the real Buzz Lightyear and how he gained a reputation as a legendary Space Ranger beloved by the masses.

Second is the backstory/context that’s been explained by MacLure and others to make sure nerds understand where this story fits in with the adventures of Toy Buzz after Andy unwraps him as a birthday present.

That second one isn’t found in the campaign proper but has been covered extensively in various interviews with the director and others, but it seems to be completely unnecessary to understand and enjoy the film itself, so only go as deep into those waters as you feel comfortable.

What’s on display here is good enough and will likely be more attractive to those with young kids who are looking for something to do with those kids now that summer vacation is fully underway. The mixed reviews that have given the movie an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes probably won’t dissuade them, especially if they themselves have fond memories of seeing Toy Story in theaters, contributing to what’s expected to be an opening weekend box-office take of $100 million, give or take.

Luca – Marketing Recap

How DisneyPixar has sold a coming-of-age story with an underwater twist.


Luca, directed by Enrico Casarosa, stars Jacob Tremblay as the voice of Luca Paguro, a pre-teen sea creature who dreams of exploring the world above. His best friend Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) helps him do just that, coming out to visit the small Italian village near their underwater home. They befriend a young girl named Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman), who joins the two — who can take human form when out of the water — in all sorts of adventures in her hometown.

The movie is the latest Pixar release coming to Disney+ as the result of the coronavirus pandemic, arriving with mostly positive reviews that have earned the film a 91% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and after a campaign that has emphasized the setting even more than the story.

The Posters

You get a sense of Luca’s dual nature on the first poster (by Legion Creative Group), released in February. Above the water he looks human but very different in the part that’s still submerged.

The same message is conveyed on April’s second poster, but this time Luca is joined by Alberto and Giulia as they sit on the coast of the Italian village where the action takes place, many of the supporting characters in the background. It sells a bright, fun adventure with a cast of young characters on a design that looks like a travel poster.

Three more character posters came out earlier in June that put all three of the kids in the position of being half-submerged, but only Giulia needs a snorkel and looks the same underwater.

The Trailers

Luca and his friends are having a great time on the Italian Riviera when the trailer (6.9 million views on YouTube), released in February, opens. But as they engage in the kind of hijinks not uncommon for kids their age, they are hiding a secret that’s only visible when they are in the water. The trailer sets up the premise succinctly, if somewhat incompletely, but still makes it look quite charming.

More of the story is on display in the first full-length trailer (11.7 million views on YouTube) from late April. We see how Luca explores the surface world with Alberto and how the two of them first get into some trouble but then are rescued by Giulia. She and Luca become friends, getting into adventures all their own together as Luca and his brother try to avoid revealing their true nature to the townspeople.

Online and Social

Only a barebones website for the movie but there were social media profiles that shared regular updates and assets.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Pixar announced the movie in July of last year.

In March of this year Disney announced the movie would skip theaters entirely and be available on Disney+ on its planned release date.

Casarosa was interviewed about the movie’s story as well as its unique visuals and approach to animation.

TV spots like this began running in May that sells the vibrant colors of the movie along with the adventures the characters have throughout the story.

A “Friendship” featurette had Gaffigan, Rudolph, Casarosa and others talking about the magical nature of friendships at a certain age and how the movie captures that magic.

The movie’s production designer Daniela Strijleva was interviewed about drawing inspiration from her own experiences in Italy to create the movie’s look and feel.

Another featurette included comments from Casarosa, Gaffigan and Rudolph about the research that went into creating an authentic Italian coastal town.

The first clip, released in early June, shows the moment Guilia brings Luca and Alberto home to meet her father and have dinner, an event that doesn’t go very well.

Casarosa was part of a publicity tour event in Italy.

Just days before the movie’s release a “blue carpet” premiere was held at the El Capitan theater in Los Angeles.

The official website lists a number of companies as promotional partners for the movie, but many of the links from that site don’t work and additional details on most of those weren’t readily accessible. The list includes:

  • Blue Apron (details unavailable)
  • Annie’s (details unavailable)
  • Baubles and Sole (details unavailable but the company did frequently promote the movie on Instagram)
  • McDonald’s, which put movie toys in Happy Meal boxes and offered downloadable activities online
  • The Watermelon Board, which created a campaign encouraging people to enjoy their summer with some cool refreshing watermelon


There’s less of an emphasis on the story here than there is on the setting. That’s understandable since it’s an unusual and beautiful location but it means that the actual stakes of the movie and the characters we’re asked to care about are moved to the background.

But it is an enjoyable marketing push, one that positions the movie as a simpler, gentler Pixar release, one that may not reach the emotional heights of other titles but which does promise a good time in a gorgeous location.

Onward – Marketing Recap

Pixar returns with its first non-sequel in three years.

onward poster 11In the last 10 years, Pixar’s output has been dominated by sequels, a stark contrast to the studio’s first 15 years that was made up of solely original stories save for the Toy Story series.

This week Pixar gets back into non-sequel territory with Onward. Set in a world of magic and magical creatures, the story follows two elvish brothers – Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) – who are given a way they can bring their late father back to life for a single day. When the spell goes wrong and only half the body is brought back the two set out on a quest for help so they can spend just a little more time with their dad.

Magic has been the central theme of the campaign, sometimes to the detriment of insights into the story. With little serious competition at the box office, tracking estimates an opening weekend of around $44 million and the movie currently has an 84 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, putting it somewhere in the middle of Pixar’s releases.

The Posters

Two moons hang in the night sky above an imposing mountain range and a brightly lit city on the first poster (by marketing agency Logan Creative Group) from late May, Barley and Ian in the foreground hanging out on the roof of Ian’s van. In case the fantasy world of the story isn’t clear from all that, the audience is told at the bottom the movie “Cometh soon.”

The second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in August features a denim jacket adorned with all sorts of pins and patches, just the kind of thing a fairy tale character teenager would wear.

We’re finally given a look at a key part of the story on the third poster (by Logan Creative Group) from October. Ian and Barley, with mountains and unicorns in the background, are standing in the street flanking the half-reanimated body of their father. There’s no explanation as to what’s going on, exactly, but at least it shows there is some sort of problem the brothers are out to fix.

A series of character posters came out in December that show Ian and Barley, their mother Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and others the brothers encounter on their journey. All those were brought together on the theatrical poster that features a number of characters and locations from the story.

A special poster was released by Disney to celebrate Chinese New Year in January. The design is meant to invoke a tapestry and designed to promote the movie in a more subtle way while mostly being a unique work of art. It was one of several posters in this style put out by Disney on the Chinese social network Weibo for upcoming films.

Ian and Barley are standing on top of their van, which is perched in the crook of the magical staff that’s central to the story on the RealD 3D poster, a nicely minimal design that evokes the fantasy elements of the story even more strongly than some of the other, more overt efforts.

The Trailers

The first trailer (7.3 million views on YouTube) from May introduces us to a world still rooted in magic, with orcs, trolles, elves and other creatures living everyday suburban lives. We meet Barley and his older, less responsible brother Ian as they set out on what the latter has deemed a “quest” while the former wants to think of it as just an “errand,” though one he admits might be a little strange. It’s s nice bit of world establishment with hints about what’s to come in the story.

In October the second trailer (7.3 million views on YouTube) was released, offering a much fuller look at the characters and story. After introducing us to a modern world still inhabited by mythical creatures and dominated by magic, we see Barley and Ian have been given the chance to bring their late father back for one day. The spell doesn’t work as intended, though, and they have to race against the clock to finish the restoration before they miss their chance to see him again.

The next trailer (3.2 million views on YouTube), released in December, covers a lot of the same ground but introduces some new characters and new scenes from when Barley and Ian are already on their quest and getting into trouble.

Online and Social

You get some character descriptions on the movie’s official website but the rest is just the basic marketing content.

Advertising and Publicity

A recreation of the van driven by Ian and Barley – named Guinevere – was brought to Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August of last year. Holland and Pratt also appeared on stage at the event to speak about the film, though Holland also addressed the split between Marvel and Sony that left Spider-Man’s future in the MCU up in the air.

Shortly after the second trailer came out, Disney released a video of Pratt and Holland watching and reacting to it, an attempt to tap into the kind of reaction videos created by fans and shared on YouTube.

The movie is one of many Disney brought to CCXP in December, with the cast and crew appearing on a panel there to show off footage and talk about the story.

A commercial released in late December eschews most all of the story, instead offering an extended look at Barley and Ian trying to use magic to deal with their van being out of gas. A similar approach is taken in a second spot that has them trying to walk across a ravine on an invisible bridge. Another commercial laid out the basic plot of the brothers going on an time-sensitive adventure to save their father.

At the end of January the movie was included on the list of screenings – out of competition – at the Berlin Film Festival in February.

The characters and story were introduced in a featurette released in early February that emphasized how it continues Pixar’s tradition of funny and emotional storytelling.

News came in mid-February that Brandi Carlisle was recording the end-credits theme song for the movie. The lyric video for that song, “Carried Me With You” came out later in the month.

The cast and crew attended the Hollywood premiere in mid-February, an event Disney livestreamed. They also appeared at the UK premiere shortly after that.

Later in February the first clip was released that showed Ian instructing Barley on proper spell-casting technique, though that goes a bit sideways.

TV advertising began about that same time with spots that sold the movie as a fun and magical adventure, putting the story aside to focus on the humor of the two brothers getting into all kinds of hijinks together.

Pratt and Holland along with others from the cast appeared in a short featurette that had them all explaining the premise of the story as well as how it goes wrong and what they need to do to fix it.

DisneyPixar used the bonus of Leap Day to hold advance screenings at select locations to attempt to build word of mouth leading up to opening day. The studio also held a sweepstakes that day to win a “birthday surprise.”

Earlier this week news broke that the movie would hit theaters with a new “The Simpsons” short, “Playdate with Destiny.” The combination of Pixar and “The Simpsons” might seem like an odd one but both hold a prominent place on the Disney+ streaming service. It’s largely a way to raise the profile of the long-running show among audiences that might be too young to have a nostalgic connection to it.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Ashley Furniture, which ran a sweepstakes with a grand prize of a $4,000 store shopping spree and two tickets to see the movie.
  • Happy Socks, which offered special movie-inspired socks for adults and kids.
  • McDonald’s, which put toys featuring characters, vehicles and creatures from the movie in Happy Meals while also offering coloring pages and other activities online.
  • Mixtiles, but no information was available on this partnership.
  • Old Navy, which put shirts and other items featuring movie characters and more in stores.
  • Whirlpool, which ran a campaign including TV commercials like this to sell its line of smart appliances, which are so efficient they’re compared to magic.

Additional featurettes came from AMC Theaters, which put out a couple interviews with the stars. Pixar also put out another special look that had the three primary cast members talking about the story and more. Audiences were encouraged to see it on the big big screen in a promo video from IMAX.

Final TV spots from Pixar reminded people the movie was coming out immediately, including a commercial that featured footage from the red carpet premiere.

Media and Press

A set of stills was released at the same time the first trailer came out in early June. A little later Holland and Pratt were interviewed along with Dreyfuss, talking about the bond they formed during production.

There was a bit of controversy in January when an artist sued Disney over the design of the van, saying the studio copied her work without permission.

An appearance by Pratt on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” was crashed by Holland, who stopped by to give his costar a hard time.

The technical design team was interviewed about the process behind creating the visuals, including the rules they held to regarding magic spells.

At the movie’s Hollywood premiere Pratt and Holland along with the rest of the cast talked about working together on the film and what attracted them to the story.

An interview with cinematographer Sharon Calahan had her talking about how she and the other filmmakers tapped into action movies like Atomic Blonde and John Wick to choreograph some of the movie’s key sequences. The movie’s design team was also interviewed about how they put together the look and feel of the magical world.

One final joint interview with Holland and Pratt focused how they worked together and the emotional core of the movie’s story.


DisneyPixar has created a strong magic-themed brand for the movie that’s been communicated through all the trailers and posters as well as in promotions on social media and elsewhere. That aspect of the campaign has been fun and relatively lighthearted, showing the characters engaged in lots of fantastic adventures on their quest.

Only occasionally is the purpose of that quest actually shared with audiences, which indicates there may be more faith in that aspect of the movie to generate interest as opposed to the story about seeking closure with a deceased parent.

What will be key to the movie’s box office fate is how the last week’s developments regarding the Covid-19 coronavirus impacts people’s willingness to mass with lots of others in a theater for two hours. With reported cases on the rise in Washington state and elsewhere and companies cancelling or pulling out of events, it might be that the public is just not feeling overly social at the moment. More than that, it’s possible the movie’s level of success this weekend could be an indicator of how things will play out over the next several weeks.

Picking Up the Spare

Encountered this online ad from Ashley’s promoting its tie in with the movie.

onward ashley ad.png

Toy Story 4 – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Toy Story 4 at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Disney’s official website for the movie is pretty disappointing, as it usually is. Visitors will find the trailers and other videos along with a small gallery of stills and some character descriptions, but the most material there is the long list of promotional partners. There were social profiles as well, including one from Ducky and Bunny that was only sporadically used and never seems to have lived up to its potential.

Media and Publicity

EW debuted exclusive looks at four new characters in the movie, offering some background on who they were and what they might contribute to the story. That included interviews with Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks and Ally Maki as well as details on how Don Rickles’ voice would still be used for Mr. Potato Head.

A feature on the return of Bo Peep explained why she wasn’t in the third movie and what other new characters audiences could expect. That topic also came up in an interview with director Josh Cooley where he talked about creating an emotional journey for Woody to go on that would be consistent with the previous movies. Potts also spoke about returning to the series after unexpectedly taking the third movie off.

As is common with Pixar releases, features like this focused on how the design and tech teams expanded their toolset to create even more detail in the movie.

Director Josh Cooley was interviewed about taking on the challenge of helming such a high-profile and high-stakes release, with the filmmaker talking about his personal connections to the franchise as well.

Both Hanks and Allen did a good amount of media for the movie, including stops on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “CBS Sunday Morning” and elsewhere. Key also got in on the action, as did Hale.

A feature interview with Hanks allowed him to reflect on the decades he’s spent returning to the character of Woody from time to time.

Picking Up the Spare

IMAX released an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette. 

A number of new promotional videos have come out from Pixar, including a “thank you” from the creators and talent, everyone’s best moments, Hale introducing us to Forky, an overview of the entire series, 

Cooley discussed how Key and Peele got into their roles as Ducky and Bunny. There was another interview with Potts about her return as Bo Peep and how she approached coming back to the role. 

How the producers got four comedy legends to voice a batch of supporting characters was covered here. 

The Incredibles 2 – Marketing Recap

incredibles 2 teaser posterI make mention of this in my recap at The Hollywood Reporter of the marketing campaign for The Incredibles 2, but it’s worth reiterating just how much the first movie, released in 2004, has influenced the conversation around the cinematic super hero genre that has popped up since then. It’s consistently ranked alongside other movies based on existing super hero characters and properties and became the touchpoint for the wealth of criticism aimed at Fox’s recent attempted reboot of Fantastic Four.

It’s a bit odd, though, that it’s so beloved given its starkly Objectivist philosophical bent. You would think that a story that says “Yes, some people are inherently better and deserve to be treated as such” would run afoul of those espousing how everyone is equal and is worthy of the same treatment, but here we are. It’s especially puzzling given younger adults have reported time and again recently wanting to work and be involved with organizations that take a more empathetic approach to doing business, including the treatment of workers.

Still, here we are, on the cusp of yet another sequel from DisneyPixar, albeit one that seems more anticipated and longed for among the audience than some other recent entries. Adding on below to what has been shared at THR, here’s how the movie was sold.

Online and Social

The official website for the movie is pretty barebones, just the trailer, some stills, an “Activity Packet” to download and a lot of retail and other commerce information. Kind of surprising and disappointing there aren’t more games and character profiles here.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were also tie-in comics from Dark Horse.

There were a couple exclusive consumer product lines that aimed to bring the movie’s style to the real world.

An art show at Nucleus Gallery in Alhambra featured original pieces from artists inspired by the movies and characters.

IMAX released a video interview featuring Bird and other Pixar creatives talking about the movie and how anxious they were to see it on the biggest and sharpest of screens. There was also a short exclusive promotional spot for that presentation.

Media and Publicity

Hunter spoke in EW about what it was like to return to play Elastigirl and how the character has changed and grown since the first movie, including how that fits into the unique feminist moment happening in society at large. A bit later the studio introduced a number of new characters as well as explanations of what they would be doing in the story. Bird talked extensively with various press sites about the story and characters both old and new in interviews as part of a press day to promote the film.

Later on more information was revealed as Bird explained who the character are that want to bring supers back into the light. He also was interviewed about where the story picks up in relation to the first movie and what’s in store for the family and why he returned to animation after taking a few years to direct some live action features.

A good amount of the press in advance of release focused not on the movie itself but on Bao, the short being attached to the film, including how it was the first such Pixar short to come from a female director.

Jackson hit the publicity circuit, though talk unfortunately frequently turned to his role in the Marvel movies.


Elastigirl’s line, seen in some of the trailers and TV spots, about how she’s torn between job and family is a nice change from the first movie, which focused on Bob’s struggles with masculine identity. That shift shows how the cultural conversation has changed over the last decade and is likely contributing significantly to the audience’s anticipation.


Good story here about how Pixar got the band back together for the sequel after over a decade.
More from costar Holly Hunter in this brief interview.

Coco – Marketing Recap

coco poster 6Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), feels the draw of music on his soul in the new Disney/Pixar release Coco. He idolizes his late ancestor, the famous singer and actor Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) but has to keep his passion secret because his grandmother and others strictly forbid music in their house and lives on any level.

One day while visiting Cruz’s local memorial Miguel suddenly finds himself transported to the mysterious Land of the Dead, where he’s the only living soul around. He has to enlist the help of both his ancestors and a friendly skeleton named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) to make his way out and back to the living world before he becomes a permanent resident of the afterlife.

The Posters

The first poster is concerned primarily with establishing the setting, showing Miguel’s pet dog against a wall adorned with the title treatment. The guitar that informs the story sits propped against the wall and patting the dog’s head is a skeletal hand. A few paper cutouts depicting various scenes provide some clues as to the story in a nice, subtle way.

The next poster shows the young boy walking down the street, his beloved guitar hanging off his back and his dog by his side. The dog is looking behind them at their reflection in a puddle that shows the spirit world they’ll come to visit, a couple of skeletal residents of that world visible there. It’s still super-colorful, keeping up the brand identity established earlier but does more here to hint that there’s something a bit spooky lurking in the story as well. Interestingly there are no other Pixar movies name-dropped here.

The theatrical poster puts the whole cast around the guitar that’s central to the story. The land of the living is on one side while the land of the dead is on the other, showing the two settings of the story.

Another shows Miguel and the skeletal musician he befriends in the Land of the Dead walking along a brightly-colored bridge, the rest of the characters in the background.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off by showing us that Miguel is a big fan of singer/actor Ernesto de la Cruz, watching his old show in a room dedicated to his idol. He travels to a shrine to the later actor and steals the guitar that is still there. Playing it transports him to the land of the dead. That’s about all that’s offered here, as the implications of doing so or what Miguel is searching for aren’t explained in this first look.

A short released a bit after that called “Dante’s Lunch” introduced us a bit more to the dog in the movie as he has some unfortunate experiences with a bone he’s trying to gnaw on.

The second trailer starts off by focusing on the supernatural, talking about how the dead come back to our world once a year, but that Miguel is going to be the first to go in the other direction. From there on out it’s about his confusion and sense of wonder at being among all these skeletons, ghosts and other souls of the departed.

The next trailer starts of with Miguel needing to hide his love of music due to his family’s history. He’s transported to the Land of the Dead, where he meets the deceased members of his family who, along with others, help him navigate this strange place and find his famous great-grandfather before he’s stuck there forever. It’s bright and colorful and sells the movie well, showing off the fantastic visuals it offers the audience.

The final trailer, released just a few weeks before the movie hit theaters, has Miguel making nice with his family as they prepare for the Day of the Dead. He needs to hide his artistic tendencies and eventually winds up in the Land of the Dead, where he has to escape and embrace who he is before it’s too late. “Nothing is more important than family” is the theme here that’s hit repeatedly.

Online and Social

The colorful key art sits atop the movie’s official website, showing Miguel and Dante exploring the colorful Land of the Dead. Scroll down and you can watch the final trailer, which is something you really should do.

There’s a brief synopsis that’s followed by a series of videos featuring various Disney talent talking about the movie, interviewing its actors, sharing set visits and more. The site ends with an extensive list of promotional partner companies.

They are unlisted on the hub site but there were Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles created for the film as well.

A virtual reality experience was announced, including a trailer, at Facebook’s recent Oculus Connect developer event, allowing players to explore the Land of the Dead that’s featured in the movie. More details on that execution were revealed when it was finally released to widespread acclaim.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot positioned the movie as exploring the one world Pixar hasn’t gone to yet, namely the land beyond the veil of death. It’s part of the studio’s usual approach, which is to tie each movie into as many of its previous films as possible.

There were a number of promotional partners for the film, including:

  •, which had directors Adrien Molina and Lee Unkrich along with producer Darla Anderson explore their own family tree using the site’s DNA test and archive of records. It also created a portal where you could trace Miguel’s family and begin the process of finding your own ancestors. It also published posts like this on its blog that talked specifically about Mexican heritage, mentioning the movie as it did so. The effort was supported by TV ads including this commercial. The company was mentioned frequently on the movie’s social media accounts, with various promotions and sponsored featurettes offered.
  • National CineMedia, which made Coco the first movie to receive promotion via Noovie, its new pre-show segment from. Specifically, the Backlot segment of the package was used by Disney (a premiere studio sponsor) to show a real dog going on adventures around the Pixar studios.
  • Airbnb, which launched a campaign including this TV spot that used the journey Miguel goes on in the film to inspire people to use the site to book their own Mexican vacations.
  • Chatbooks, which offered a customizable family photo album featuring illustrations from the movie.
  • Guitar Center, which partnered with guitar maker Cordoba to offer a series of instruments inspired by the movie and featuring designs like those seen in the film.
  • Herdez, which offered a free movie ticket with the purchase of select items.
  • Purple, which ran a co-branded TV spot that seems to be the extent of the tie-in other than the use of the phrase “your tired bones.”
  • Southwest Airlines which reskinned a 737 with movie branding.
  • Subway, which offered backpack clips featuring characters from the film in its kids meals.
  • SunRype, which ran a sweeps awarding movie tickets and other prizes.

Online and social ads used elements from the key art as well as either the full trailer, TV spots or other video clips. I’m sure there were plenty of outdoor ads that also used parts of the key art to make a bright, colorful impression on the audience.

Media and Publicity

EW provided the first look at the movie along with a few brief comments from director Lee Unkrich. While casting news isn’t usually part of the publicity activity I cover here, the announcement of an all-Latino cast was notable enough and generated enough coverage and discussion for me to make an exception.

A later edition of Entertainment Weekly had a couple interviews and stories about the movie, including an interview with Bernal about the skeleton he plays and how he worked to bring some heart to the character and how the Land of the Dead’s design and structure was inspired by Pixar’s work for Monsters, Inc.

Just days before release the reputation of the entire Pixar operation came under fire when chief John Lasseter suddenly stepped down amid reports there was a known culture of sexual harassment at the studio, with him at the center. That’s a big hit for an operation that’s part of the family-friendly Disney operation and one that could impact the perception of Pixar’s future films, including this one.


Pixar has put together another great effort that sells the movie as an adventure rooted in one specific culture but accessible to anyone. The extent to which the story is laid out varies from one element to the next but that’s not too surprising considering the visuals and tone are just as important in making the case to the audience as that story, sometimes even more so.

More than that, there’s a wonderful branding that flows throughout the campaign. From the colors to the title treatment, no matter where you encounter an element of the marketing it’s clearly tied to the movie. That’s the strongest thing the push has going for it, especially since it’s the rare Pixar film that’s about a human character, meaning it can’t tap into the same emotional tactics used on other movies.


Sonia Thompson at Inc. offers some crucial elements of how DisneyPixar succeeded in marketing the film to its multicultural success.