where the crawdads sing – marketing recap

How Sony has sold its adaptation of a best-selling novel

Where the Crawdads Sing movie poster from Sony Pictures
Where the Crawdads Sing movie poster from Sony Pictures

How The Crawdads Sing, opening this weekend in theaters, is based on the 2018 Delia Owens novel of the same name. Written by Lucy Alibar and directed by Olivia Newman, the movie stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as Catherine “Kya” Clark, a young woman who has grown up largely on her own in the wild marshes of 1950s North Carolina after being abandoned there by her parents and siblings. Solitary and suspicious by learned nature, she eventually bonds with two young men: The kind Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith), who teaches her to read and shares her love of nature and wildlife and the hunky high school quarterback Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), who manipulates Kya for his own sexual gain.

As the story reaches the end of the 1960s, Chase is found dead in the marsh with little evidence indicating who is responsible. Kya is charged for the crime but maintains her innocence as the people in town who have always viewed her with apprehension take sides.

Reese Witherspoon, who selected the book for her Hello Sunshine Book Club in late 2018, produced the film and has been central to the marketing campaign, so let’s dive in.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced in mid-2020, with Sony naming Newman as director in July. Edgar-Jones was named lead in January, 2021 at the same time the casting of Smith and Dickenson was revealed.

Production began in April, 2021, and throughout the year updates were shared of behind-the-scenes action and more, especially when Owens or Witherspoon would stop by the set.

the marketing campaign

Things kicked off in March of this year with a Vanity Fair feature including first-look stills from the movie along with comments from Newman and Witherspoon.

That was followed by the release of the first poster, which shows Kya’s face blending into the river that, in another photo, she pilots her small boat down. It’s a nice way to show her in her natural environment and communicates how Kya’s identity is the marsh and the marsh is who she is.

The first trailer (7.8m YouTube views) came out at the same time. It opens with the attorney who defends Kya (played by David Straitharn) explaining to the jury – and the audience – who she is and what her life has been like. That then gives way to more of Kya’s experiences, from having to survive on her own in the marsh to her tentative trips into town. Especially there are her relationships with Tate and Chase and how they come to shape her story.

Edgar-Jones was interviewed about how she connected with the character of Kya during the pandemic and how Owens encouraged her to make that character her own instead of worrying about how she’s presented in the book. In another interview she shared how she prepared for filming by working with the film’s art director to understand Kya’s drawing style and learned to drive a small motorboat.

A short vignette featuring comments from Jones, Witherspoon and others was released in mid-May, just before the second trailer. That trailer (5.2m YouTube views) hits many of the same beats as the first but shifts it so Kya is responsible for telling her own story. It also very clearly calls out that the film features a new song from Taylor Swift, which is played over much of the action.

Another profile of Edgar-Jones focused on her career so far and how she’s starred in a number of novel adaptations.

An exclusive clip was aired during the “MTV Awards” in early June. That was followed by another short featurette about making the movie, what the story’s about and getting Taylor Swift to contribute a song.

Sony used Pinterest (which makes a lot of sense given the female-skewing demographics of the book) to share a number of movie-inspired recipes, printable bookmarks and mobile backgrounds people could grab.

Kya and Tate have a conversation about what they are to each other in a clip released later in June.

Swift then released the full version of “Carolina” for everyone to listen to.

Fandango got an exclusive clip of the scene where Kya drives her boat through the marsh to avoid the sheriff and deputy looking for her in connection with Chase’s death. Another scene of Kya and Tate was shared by Southern Living.

The process of casting Edgar-Jones and how Newman worked with her to flesh out the character of Kya and capture the spirit of the book was covered in an interview with the two.

Newman and Owens both appeared at the Bentonville (AR) Film Festival in late June.

TV spots calling the movie “the most thrilling mystery of the summer” started airing at this point, highlighting Witherspoon’s involvement as well as the new song from Swift. Additional spots covered similar ground over the next few weeks, with some hitting slightly different aspects of the story.

A partnership with Chasing Paper offered peel-and-stick removable wallpaper designs inspired by the film and its locations.

There were more interviews with Newman and Edgar-Jones about what kind of impact they hope the movie will have both on audiences and their own careers.

Moving into July, another clip has Kya talking with her attorney about how she doesn’t hate the people in town who have looked down on her, she just wants to live her own life.

Later that month the New York premiere of the film had Edgar-Jones, Witherspoon, Newman and everyone else in attendance. Edgar-Jones also made a few appearances on “CBS Sunday Morning” and other talk shows to promote the film.

overall

Critical reception of the movie so far has not been positive, and projections have it opening to a shade over $10 million this weekend, dwarfed by what’s expected to be another big weekend for Thor: Love and Thunder.

But the latter says more about what the box-office looks like in mid-2022 than the campaign that’s sold the film. The marketing outlined above is solid, doing a nice job of appealing to women of all ages, those who made the book a best-seller and those who want to support anything Taylor Swift does. Using Witherspoon as a central element also makes a lot of sense given her name recognition and overall likability.

The reality is, though, that anything north of that $10 million would indeed qualify as a “sleeper hit” here. Looking at the movies that have scored big this year, they’re almost all driven by the turnout of male audiences, especially older men.

How it winds up performing will likely be influence as much by word of mouth from those who see the movie and wind up telling their friends how it does or doesn’t adhere to the book’s story as the campaign proper.

Home Again – Marketing Recap

Reese Witherspoon returns to the romantic comedy genre with this week’s new release Home Again. In the movie she plays Alice Kinney, a single mom who, of course, is just trying to keep everything together, including her young daughters. After moving back to L.A. she winds up meeting three aspiring filmmakers, all of whom just happen to need a place to crash.

Alice invites all three to move into her guest house. That’s enough of a complication in her life, before we even get to the romantic potential that’s unleashed by this new situation. Just as Alice is starting to figure things out, though, her ex-husband Austen (Michael Sheen) shows up and throws yet another monkey wrench in the machine.

The Posters

Not much to the first poster, which just shows Witherspoon sitting on a ledge of some sort, her red dress matching the red background. “Starting over is not for beginners” the tagline reads before the audience is told the movie comes from producer Nancy Meyers, who’s apparently enough of an audience draw to warrant a call out like this.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off introducing us to Alice as she deals with a big change in life. She’s kind of a mess as she’s finalizing a divorce, raising two kids and then deciding to bring in three young men as roommates in her home. We get the idea that she’s a bit impulsive and that this is all just kind of happening without a big plan.

Unfortunately that’s about it. There are some shots of Alice relating to her former husband and possibly getting involved with one (or more? it’s hard to tell these guys apart) of her new roommates. It’s just kind of a generic “woman acting out on a midlife crisis in a kooky way” without a lot of story or heart on display here.

We open in the second trailer as Alice is taking her kids to the first day of school in a new place. While she’s out celebrating her birthday with friends she’s hit on by a younger man, who she hooks up with. That leads to an awkward situation which gets weirder when her mother suggests two other guys start staying at her house, which leads to some tense moments with the husband she’s separated from. It’s a whole new dynamic as everyone figures out how to relate to one another, with Alice serving as the connective tissue between them all.

It still seems very…slight. Witherspoon is still charming here, of course, and we get a bit more clearly explained story, but not by much. It’s still ambiguous why all three guys, including the one she hooked up with, need to live at her house. It’s just being sold on the promise of a lighthearted and good-natured performance by Witherspoon in a story about a midlife crisis, nothing more.

Online and Social

The key art of Witherspoon is the primary visual on the landing page of the movie’s official website. The same copy is also there along with the links to the movie’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and (because this is a female-skewing movie) Pinterest.

Scroll down the page and you’ll find a collection of media broken up into “Videos,” “Photos” and “Social Posts,” all of which are just what they sound like, with trailers and commercials, stills and embedded social updates collected in each category.

Back at the top of the page, “About” has a Synopsis and the Cast & Crew details. That’s the only original content section there since “Photos” is the same collection seen previously and “Watch the Trailer” just bringing up the trailer.

Oddly, in the upper-right corner there’s a link touting Crate & Barrel as the official sweepstakes sponsor of the movie. But there’s no information on that sweeps on the movie’s site, nor is there anything readily apparent on C&B’s site. A quick search undercovers the site, which declares the sweeps is now closed because someone already one.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A number of TV spots were released beginning a few weeks before the movie hit theaters. Some of them played up the more domestic aspects of the story, showing Alice loving her girls and making the best of the unusual situations. Others leaned a little more heavily into the wild behavior she engages in, particularly with the three guys who wind up living in her home.

Some social ads were run using the trailers, but that’s all I’m aware of. There’s also the Crate & Barrel sweepstakes sponsorship mentioned above.

Media and Publicity

In EW’s fall movie preview issue Witherspoon talked about not only this movie and its story – along with a few new photos – but also her impressions of the landscape of rom com movies as a whole. Later on at the premiere she was interviewed about being in the unique position of working with a mother/daughter team, with the rest of the cast chiming in about the production as well.

There was also a nice feature on director Hallie Meyers-Shyer that covered her Hollywood heritage, how the rom-com has shifted from being a mainstream stalwart to an indie genre and more.

Overall

It’s hard not to be drawn in by Witherspoon’s charm and self-assurance. That’s good because that’s primarily what the campaign is counting on to draw the audience in. The story is secondary here to her smile and the promise conveyed through every element of the campaign of seeing her back in the rom-com genre that initially catapulted her to stardom but from which she’s strayed (to great artistic success) in recent years.

Everything here is geared around Witherspoon’s character and people’s relationship to and with her. That makes it sometimes difficult to keep straight which of the vaguely-similar looking white dudes is which, but that only matters if you care that much. The other biggest draw here is a loose, scruffy-looking Michael Sheen, seeming to relish an opportunity to just hang back and be kind of a jerk.

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