Dolittle – Marketing Recap

How Universal is selling the revival of a decades-old character for modern audiences.

dolittle posterIn the last 12 years, since he came roaring back to the top of the movie industry with 2008’s Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. has only starred in seven non-Marvel Cinematic Universe features. His Tony Stark has been so integral to the MCU he’s needed to cameo or be part of a lot of what’s come out since then. That’s meant his schedule has been pretty much booked.

Now that his Avenging days are behind him for good, he’s seeking to expand a bit and is hoping this week’s Dolittle is the vehicle to help him do so. Downey stars as the Doctor of the title, an eccentric character who, as you should know already, has the ability to talk with animals. Pulled out of his reclusive life, Dolittle embarks on a quest with his animal and human friends to find an exotic cure for the ailing Queen Victoria.

(Part of me can’t believe I typed the above without irony.)

Unsurprisingly, the studio has relied heavily on Downey’s presence to sell the movie, but the campaign is one that’s so muddled and often confusing it’s hard to tell what’s happening. Still, tracking reports are estimating an opening weekend of $35-55 million. Reviews, which just started coming out, haven’t been of a nature that betting on the high end would make a lot of sense.

The Posters

The title character sits surrounded by his animal friends on the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts). “He’s just not a people person.” we’re told, but the main selling point is simply Downey and the promise of him engaging in all sorts of hijinks with a bunch of CGI creatures.

Each of those animals is given their own opportunity to shine on a series of posters released a few weeks later.

The Dolby poster uses the same tagline seen before but pulls the camera out a bit to show Dolittle marching in a line with a menagerie of animals. For IMAX the poster shows the whole collection of humans and animals involved in the story, including some of the settings seen. It also makes an interesting design choice, with some of the animals bleeding out from the frame that is within the confines of the one-sheet. That’s a different approach than on other IMAX posters, which fill the frame or which make it clear that what you’re seeing is more than you otherwise would.

The Trailers

Aside from a fairly awful cover of “What a Wonderful World,” the initial message sent in the first trailer (22.5 million views on YouTube) from October is that the movie comes from the same producers behind such effects-heavy fairytale adaptations as Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent. Dolittle and his friends are about to embark on a “perilous journey” and we see footage of them getting into various tight situations, but always seeming to come through them.

The “official” trailer (853,000 views on YouTube) is exactly the same as the initial version but just a bit shorter and with a new ending that reveals the dragon the crew encounters on their journey.

Online and Social

In addition to the trailers and other content, the official website is actually fairly nicely stocked. There’s a pleasant little game and some coloring pages to download, both of which work to make it clear the movie is targeting a younger crowd.

Advertising and Publicity

The movie was part of the studio’s presentation to exhibition executives at CineEurope in mid-July 2018. Things then went quiet until October 2019 when the trailer was released and the new titled – shortened from the original The Voyage Of Doctor Dolittle – was announced.

During the recent holiday season, a couple videos were released with Downey sitting in a “Masterpiece Theater”-esque chair and encouraging people to see the film.

Downey appeared in a promotional video from December that had him running the auditions for his animal costars, all of whom use lines from other films to try and get their parts.

Sia’s song for the movie’s soundtrack, “Original,” was released last week.

A series of videos came out earlier this week that introduced all the animal characters in the story, showing the actor who provides their voice and with a brief overview of who they are provided by Downey.

Online ads used the key art, especially the photo of Dolittle with the animals arranged behind him, along with video snippets. Preroll and other video ad units – including presumably TV commercials – used short versions of the trailer to try and get people’s attention.

The premiere was held last weekend, with the stars and others in attendance.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Circle K, though no details could be found on what was involved.
  • FAO Schwarz, which promoted the movie with in-store ads and signage during the recent holiday shopping season.
  • Amazon, which partnered with the movie to get people to make donations to Toys For Tots through their Alexa devices.
  • dolittle nwfNational Wildlife Foundation, which ran a sweepstakes and otherwise used the idea of the movie and its animal characters to get people to become conservation advocates.
  • Frontier Airlines, which ran a sweepstakes awarding the winner a trip for four to the movie’s premiere.
  • Nature’s Path, which put movie branding on some of its product packaging and donated money raised to animal conservation programs.
  • Procter & Gamble, but once more details aren’t available on this promotion.

Media and Press

There wasn’t a whole lot of press activity for the film, which may be because of the delays and other issues it encountered. But in the weeks before release, Downey appeared on a handful of late night and early morning talk shows and did a couple interviews here and there. Many of them turned to questions about how he feels leaving the MCU, but that’s to be expected.


There are moments where things seem alright. But for the most part, the campaign presents the movie as one to dread, the kind of effects-heavy disaster with big aspirations but a messy, incomprehensible story.

One reason for that dread is that the story isn’t mentioned at all – AT ALL – in the campaign. None of the trailers, posters or ads explain what it is, and even the official synopsis is sparse on details. So audiences are asked to sign up for an unknown quantity based solely on the idea of enjoying Downey and some talking animal hijinks. Considering outside of the MCU Downey doesn’t have a great theatrical track record in the last decade that’s a dicey bet to place.

Picking Up the Spare

I had missed this feature on the extensive and messy reshoot process the film underwent.

Downey finally did a few talk show appearances to promote the film, though his heart didn’t seem to be in it. There was also an interview on why he chose this to be his first major post-Marvel project, though it likely wasn’t intended to be so.

More here on the behind-the-scenes problems and various relationships that lead to the final production.

Avengers: Endgame – Marketing Recap

You can read the rest of my recap of the marketing campaign for Avengers: Endgame at The Hollywood Reporter. My coverage of the PSA effort for Stand Up To Cancer also ran on Adweek.

Online and Social

For such a big movie, Marvel’s official website isn’t very informative, perhaps by design. You’ll find both trailers and some basic background on the film, including links to on-site blog posts offering readers a refresher on what’s come before, as well as a list of the promotional partners who helped draft off the movie’s buzz.

Media and Publicity

Of course the movie couldn’t help but come up as the cast was out promoting other projects, as Smulders, Jackson and others were all compelled to comment on it in some manner.

Ruffalo appeared on “The Tonight Show” to help debut the second trailer and answer (or not) questions about the movie. Duke also mentioned the movie while promoting Us last month.

A substantial profile on Evans had the actor talking about not only the future of Captain America and his part in the MCU but also the political stances he’s taken, with him saying staying silent wasn’t an option even if it meant alienating some portion of the audience and potentially costing him work.

The movie’s substantial length became the focus of many conversations in the last month prior to release following the revelation that it was clocking in around three hours, a full 30 minutes longer than Infinity War. The Russos rationalized the expanded time by pointing out the movie wrapped up the story that had been told over 20+ movies and featured dozens and dozens of characters.

A different subset of cast members appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” each night the week of April 8-12, bringing clips and more. That started with Downey, Johannson, Hemsworth and Rudd followed by Renner and Cheadle. Around the same time they showed up on “Good Morning America.”

In the final few weeks of the press cycle, two themes emerged in terms of what the cast and crew were telling interviewers and talk show hosts:

  1. “Let us explain…” That’s what the Russo brothers did to clarify why Captain Marvel is wearing more makeup in this movie than she did in her solo outing (a ridiculous topic).
  2. “We don’t know nothing…” That’s what Hemsworth, Cheadle and others did when asked what they knew about the movie’s story, which isn’t surprising given they’re all just small parts in a very big machine.
  3. “[X] has returned…” That’s what was behind interviews and profiles of Tessa Thompson, who confirmed that she couldn’t confirm anything, and Rudd/Renner, who spoke of how they are finally able to rejoin their comrades.

An EW cover story reunited the original team for a retrospective interview and offered up other photos and details, but not too much.

At the end of the campaign there were profiles of Feige as well as his two long-time aides. The screenwriters were interviewed on how they worked to bring together so many different storylines and characters into something coherent as well as how they reintroduced some of the previously missing heroes. Feige and Downey Jr. reminisced on the beginnings of the MCU, when the idea of a shared cinematic universe was still a “best case scenario” and the bets were much more unsure.

Rudd was announced as the host of an upcoming episode of “Saturday Night Live.”

One final TV spot released the day the movie hit theaters played up the overwhelmingly positive reviews it was getting. A video had a bunch of the stars reminding the audience not to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it yet.

Adding to the movie’s profile was the news from Fandango it now held the record for the most advance tickets sold.

Larson came on “The Tonight Show” and revealed she shot her first appearance with the rest of the Avengers – which appears at the end of her own movie – on a green screen with no one else around and no idea what her one line meant. Rudd also appeared to have some fun with Fallon.

The media agency Kantar estimated that all in, Disney spent close to $14 million on the marketing and advertising campaign, with TV buys making up a little over half of that and a good chunk of the advertising coming the day tickets went on sale a couple weeks ago.


Another profile of Winston Duke mentioned this movie as well as his appearance in Us.

More details revealed here on the partnership with Fortnite.


avengers endgame gif

Picking Up the Spare

Wayne Friedman at MediaPost points out how the majority of the movie’s campaign – and ad spending – came in the final month leading up to release. Jeff Beer at Fast Company also has his own recap of some of the movie’s cross-promotional campaign. There was also a look at how altered shots in the trailers kept some of the movie’s secrets hidden. 

Google added a fun little tool for those who searched for “Thanos.” 

Additional TV spots promised a “once in a generation event” and played up all the records the movie was breaking. 

Another short promotional video shows how every movie has lead to this one while also reminding audiences not to spoil the ending for anyone. Some of the cast reminisced about their favorite memories as part of the MCU. 

Brolin appeared on “Kimmel,” as did Sebastian Stan. 

IMAX continued promoting the filmmakers use of its large-format cameras with another video. 

Trolls continued to hound Larson, criticizing her junket appearances to the point where costar Don Cheadle felt the need to smack them down. 

The writers and directors of the movie kept talking about various aspects of the story and characters. 

Once the spoiler lid lifted more details about the story started to official come out, including a profile on the effects of Professor Hulk, who was also featured in a clip. 

Gillan was the subject of two profiles focusing on her role in the movie. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Marketing Review

Spider-Man is back in theaters in this week’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. After an extended cameo in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, this is Tom Holland’s second outing as the web-slinger and his first in the character’s own movie. Well…kind of his own movie. The corporate cooperation that began with Civil War continues here. Sony, which owns the theatrical rights to Spider-Man, is essentially loaning him out to Marvel Studios, which manages the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. So Sony gets to use the successful platform of that behemoth to help launch their third go-around at Spider-Man, while Marvel gets to incorporate Spidey into their big event movies.

Continuing the story set up in Civil War, Peter Parker is enamored with the tech genius Tony Stark (played again by Robert Downey Jr.). Stark provides him with a high-tech suit to help Parker fight local neighborhood crime as Spider-Man. The stakes get considerably higher when Spidey crosses paths with, and gets on the wrong side of, The Vulture (Michael Keaton). That conflict threatens everything that Peter holds near and dear and could upend the life he leads as a seemingly unremarkable high school student.

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