the gray man – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold an action-thriller with an A-list cast

The Gray Man movie poster from Netflix
The Gray Man movie poster from Netflix

The Gray Man arrives on Netflix this week with the hopes the movie will kick off a franchise based on the novels of the same name by Mark Greaney. The talent behind the film certainly helps make that case.

Ryan Gosling plays a CIA mercenary known only as Sierra Six. When Six discovers a handful of secrets the agency wanted to remain hidden he goes on the run, hunted by fellow CIA operative Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) along with others. But Six has the help of a handful of people, including sympathetic agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) and others. Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Alfre Woodard and others also star.

Adding to that, the movie is directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the brothers behind the last two Avengers movies as well as the previous Netflix original Extraction.

announcements and casting

Other studios have been working on a version of the film for over a decade, but the Russos became involved in 2015 as screenwriters.

It wasn’t until July, 2020, though that Netflix announced the movie was going into production with the Russos now directing and Evans and Gosling attached to star. de Armas joined in December of that year, with others cast in early 2021.

Henwick talked briefly about the project while promoting other things in 2021.

Netflix shared a handful of stills in late April to give people their first real look at the film.

Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview.

the marketing campaign

In early May Empire featured Gosling and Evans on the cover of its Summer Preview issue. Both, as well as the Russos, were interviewed in the issue about what attracted them to the project, what their character’s motivations within the story are, the process of filming and more. That issue also revealed Netflix already had two related projects – a sequel and a Lloyd Hanson-focused prequel – being written in anticipation of the first movie proving a success.

A series of characters posters came out in mid-May featuring the main cast, each with some foreign skyline behind them. The orange and blue color scheme creates a sense of dark mystery, as if they’re hiding from the light.

The first trailer (14.8m YouTube views) came out later in May. it starts by helpfully establishing that Sierra Six is “The Gray Man,” an unofficial operative for off-the-books missions. Why he goes rogue is unclear, but Hansen is soon on his trail, an assignment he considers to be a lot of fun given Six’s reputation in the clandestine world. There’s lots of gunfights, a few car chases, and Six referring to Hansen’s “trash stache”, so it’s filled with both action and humor.

Netflix quickly released a video of the Russos talking about that trailer and breaking down how it was assembled and how it is designed to get the audience’s interest.

The company also began offering “Lloyd’s Trash Stache,” a fake mustache inspired by Evans’ look, in its online store.

Six fights his way through a hallway of bad guys before being confronted by Lloyd in the first clip.

The Russos then participated in an interview about the movie for Netflix’s Geeked Week in mid-June.

Another set of character posters showed off the rest of the impressive cast.

The theatrical poster features, surprisingly, only Sierra Six, who is seen kind of blowing away as the outline of his form becomes less defined from left to right. It’s not bad, but not showing either of the other two lead characters is an interesting choice, even if Six is the title character.

The movie’s premiere event was held in mid-July, just ahead of release, with most of the filmmakers and cast in attendance. While there Gosling and the Russos made it clear the “trash stache” line is an accurate representation of their thoughts while the directors shared their love of working with Evans and more.

An interview with the Russos had them talking about the long process of getting this movie made, what it was like to work with Netflix again and some of their thoughts on Marvel’s future along with some other projects they’ve been involved in.

A behind-the-scenes featurette came out a week before the movie’s release that had everyone talking about their characters, the story and the epic nature of the action that audiences will experience. That was followed by a video of the Russos showing off their production offices, but that was less about this film than it was a walk down memory lane of their various Avengers and Captain America movies.

Tag Heuer partnered with Netflix on a campaign for the company’s Carrera watch, which Gosling apparently wears in the film. That campaign included banner ads featuring Gosling.

Tag Heuer / The Gray Man banner ad
Tag Heuer / The Gray Man banner ad

Those in San Diego this week for Comic-Con can take part in The Gray Man Training Program, an experiential set-up recreating the tram sequence from the film, asking participants to try and get through the obstacle course in one piece. The Netflix booth on Friday will also be promoting the film.


There are two points of primary focus in the campaign Netflix put together:

  • The “trash stache.” It is admittedly a great line and, after causing waves when it was part of the first trailer, was fully embraced by everyone. It came up in numerous interviews, featurettes and more. When a product is created for something as random as this you know it’s achieved a certain level of popularity.
  • The Russos themselves. This is another example of how directors in many instances are used as brand proxies when the movies themselves aren’t part of a franchise or based on wildly popular existing IP. Half the elements of the campaign above are just the directing brothers, whether it’s their experience working with Marvel Studios, their love of Chris Evans or something else the audience is expected to relate to.

While there’s lots of fun action and humor featured in the marketing, there’s also no consistent brand identity that’s been established, which may be even more noticeable if/when additional films are being sold to the public.

There’s also the unfortunate coincidence (?) of Gosling’s press tour for this movie being overshadowed by the recently released pictures of him as Ken in the upcoming Barbie movie. Those pics are so over-the-top and meme-worthy they became a frequent topic of interviews with Gosling at the expense of The Gray Man.

First Man – Marketing Recap

first man poster 4It’s not as if the story of NASA’s early days hasn’t been told before. From The Right Stuff to the excellent “From the Earth to the Moon” miniseries to the recent Hidden Figures, the heady era when humanity rose to the challenge Pres. Kennedy laid out to extend our reach to the stars is ground that’s been covered before.

Joining those ranks is this week’s First Man. Ryan Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong in a story that follows him as he moves toward the day when he’s given the opportunity to be the first man to walk on the moon. Along the way he must confront his own fears, face the dangers inherent in breaking new ground and comfort his wife Janet (Claire Foy) and sons as well. The movie reteams Gosling with director Damien Chazelle.

The Posters

“Experience the impossible mission to the moon” is the value proposition offered on the first poster, which shows Armstrong in his helmet and suit, the orange and red of the fiery rocket he and the others ride reflected on the glass. The second takes a broader perspective, showing a massive black plume of smoke rising toward the clouds, a bright orange spot at the top as the rocket ascends.








Armstrong’s empty flight suit is the main element on the third poster while the final one-sheet uses a similar image as the first, of Armstrong’s helmet melding into the moon and his face striking a reflective pose.

The Trailers

The first trailer does everything it can to reinforce the stakes of what Armstrong and the other early astronauts were trying to do. It’s filled with people asking him to be careful, explaining how difficult, dangerous and unprecedented the mission is, how much everyone is coming at it from a pretty negative point of view and more. Basically it’s focused on worst case scenarios, which is the opposite of most movies about the space program that focus on hope and the rush of exploration. It becomes a bit heavy-handed at times, but still works as a big-scale drama.


All that being said, it also kind of feels like a movie about Armstrong at this point is almost an answer to Hidden Figures, an attempt to reclaim the early days of NASA for white men. I’m not accusing the filmmakers of having that as their agenda, just that instead of Figures opening up the door to more stories about those who have been largely ignored in the numerous retellings of this era we get something very familiar.

Just before the movie’s debut at the Venice Film Festival in late August the second trailer was released. It carries the same general tone and structure as the first, showing how Armstrong is selected for the mission and how he handles that responsibility. The drama at home is just as strong as what’s happening at NASA as time marches on toward launch. What’s most striking about the trailer is that it presents Gosling as giving yet another nearly silent performance in a role as a stoic man who does what’s needed while still remaining sensitive to those around him. He barely has any dialogue, so everything is dependent on him looking determined but caring.



A third trailer from late September continued to display a deeply moving story of the early days of manned space exploration, once more eschewing actual dialogue in favor of narration culled from speeches by John F. Kennedy.




Online and Social

The official website for the movie features all the usual content, from the trailers to a stills gallery and so on. The one notable addition is the “AR Experience,” which offers the user a unique movie-themed experience when you load the website on your phone and point the camera at the moon.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Online ads that used the key art of Gosling as Armstrong, the outline of the moon forming the barrier of his helmet, started showing up at the time of the Venice Film Festival, driving traffic to the movie’s official website. At about the same time the first TV spot was released that showed the same kind of drama as the trailer while inviting audiences to come see for themselves what it was like to break this ground. Another used similar footage while listing the attributes necessary to put yourself in harms’ way as Armstrong did. Those were both also used as social media ads.

In late July a special preview was run exclusively before IMAX screenings of Mission: Impossible – Fallout. That preview was teased ahead of time. IMAX later ran its own TV spots that continued emphasizing the big story being told.

Media and Publicity

The footage featuring Gosling that Universal brought to CinemaCon to start building some buzz unfortunately seemed to underwhelm the media in attendance. A bit later both Chazelle and Gosling spoke about the story and characters alongside the revealing of a first still from the movie.

Around the time the first trailer was released Gosling showed up on “Kimmel” to do an interview where both he and the host were dressed in old-school spacesuits and sitting in a pretend capsule.

It was also announced as the opening night film for the Venice Film Festival, where Gosling and Chazelle complimented each other and talked about why they’ve repeatedly worked with each other. The movie garnered strong positive reactions from that initial screening.

The movie was announced as one of those screening – in IMAX – at the Toronto International Film Festival. Shortly thereafter another new photo was released along with comments from Gosling and Chazelle. It would then go on to also screen at Telluride.

There was an extensive cover story profile of Chazelle that covered this movie, his career to date, his collaborations with Gosling and more. Shortly after that Foy was interviewed about how she got involved with the movie, what she found most difficult about the story and more.

Because we live in the stupidest timeline, the movie’s festival screenings became a flashpoint for right wing pundits like Marco Rubio and the drones at Fox News because it reportedly didn’t include a shot of Armstrong planting an American flag on the moon. It got to the point that not only did Chazelle and Gosling feel the need to respond and clarify the intent behind that omission but so did Armstrong’s own sons.

That topic came up again in interviews during Toronto, where Stoll also shared what advice he got from the real life Aldrin. Chazelle later spoke about how he wanted to present the “normal” side of the initial astronauts that helped expand mankind’s reach.

A featurette released in late September had actual former astronauts talking about just how groundbreaking and inspiring the early Apollo missions were to them and the world.

The first clip shared a moment from a mission orbiting the moon where a technical problem creates a moment of dramatic tension for Armstrong and now the audience. That clip was preceded by a critical quote encouraging people to see the movie in IMAX. It was followed by an exclusive featurette on the people who helped make space travel possible and a promotional appeal for the big format by Gosling himself.

The actor showed up on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and space food and more. He was also interviewed about the approval he got from Armstrong’s sons and how important that was to him. The whole primary cast and crew discussed the movie and the real life events that inspired it.

A private screening for friends of the filmmakers preceded the planned premiere in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum, an event that allowed the cast and crew to talk about the themes of the movie and its characters one more time.


I get what Universal is going for here and can’t fault them for it. They want to make a dramatic story of man going to the moon for this generation and want someone like Gosling to present a warts-and-all portrait of Armstrong where he’s not a super hero, just someone doing his best to do his job.

But…we know this story. Even if it has some new shading and is a visual marvel, we know what happens here. There’s no new ground being broken or understanding being achieved, at least not based on what we’ve seen in the campaign. Yes, Gosling looks great, but that’s not new either. And why why why are we continuing to make movies where actresses like Foy are asked to stand in the background and be the supportive wife while the man gets the narrative arc?

That’s where the campaign falls flat to me, in not presenting anything new or interesting or even presenting it in a unique way. It’s all material we’ve seen before and no amount of trading off the Gosling/Chazelle reteaming can get me past that.


Regal Cinemas and Universal partnered on a program to give free movie tickets to 14,000 current and veteran members of the U.S. military.

Gosling is the cover story for the recent issue of GQ, including an extensive interview about this movie and his whole career.

An exclusive IMAX featurette had Chazelle and others involved in the filmmaking talking about shooting the movie in the wide format in order to tell the big-scale story.

Olivia Hamilton, who plays Pat White in the movie and who’s married to Chazelle, made an appearance on “Kimmel” to talk about her burgeoning career.

Gosling talks here about how he tried to get in Armstrong’s head to tell his story.

IMAX has a new featurette going behind the scenes to talk to the cast and crew. Another one from Universal built on the buzz the movie’s score had built up.

Foy continued to get a few feature profiles mentioning this and other recent projects, She was also one of the December hosts of “Saturday Night Live.”

Two new featurettes were released as awards season ramped up, one focusing on Chazelle and his vision for the film and the other on the movie’s technical achievements.

Blade Runner 2049 – Marketing Recap

Warner Bros. has had its work cut out for it in putting together a marketing push for Blade Runner 2049 on a number of fronts.

First, it’s a sequel to what has long been considered one of the greatest standalone science fiction movies of all time. 1982’s Blade Runner is just about perfect as it is, despite all the different version and edits that have muddied the waters over the years. It’s moody and tense, with deep, rich characters living a fully-realized world and a story that contains not only deep details but also overarching mysteries that have driven countless conversations and arguments.

Second, it’s another in a long line of “legacy sequels” a format that hasn’t fared well in the last couple years. Audiences, it seems, just aren’t that interested in catching up with Derek Zoolander, the various characters of Independence Day and other movies. They want something that’s both new and familiar and these offerings, which often simply remake the original but with different characters, haven’t caught fire.

So it’s into this market that WB releases Blade Runner 2049. As the title suggests, the story has moved forward 30 years from the 2019 setting of the original. Society is balanced on the brink of collapse, a situation that could be further destabilized when K (Ryan Gosling), an LAPD officer, discovers a secret tied to the history of Replicants, the “more human than human” constructs first created by the Tyrell Corporation and now manufactured by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). K’s investigation opens a lot of boxes people would rather stay closed. To help him he seeks out the legendary Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford), now living the life of a recluse.

The Posters

The first poster wasn’t much more than a title treatment. In the background though is a starry sky, with a few trees or other figures visible in the dark of the night. Surely this hints at something, right?

Two character posters were released next, one showing Deckard walking through a dusty, barren environment and the other showing K walking through the fog next to his police vehicle. Neither offers machine the way of hints as to the story and both recreate looks first seen in the teaser trailer but still, any new looks at this movie were welcome.

Two versions of a theatrical one-sheet were released, one that featured a standard photo collage of the main characters, the left side of the image with Gosling red and fiery, the right side with Ford blue and colder. A slight variation on that added some digital billboards to the backgrounds on both sides and smudged the photos a bit to make it look more artistic.

The hot/cold dichotomy of the characters was continued on a couple character posters featuring the two leads. An IMAX-specific poster used the same hot and cold sides of the design but eliminated the secondary characters, just focusing on IMAX and the two leads. That layout also appeared in a motion poster.

A series of banners combined a number of character posters into a single image, with the title spread out across the whole thing. Some featured just the main five actors/characters, others an additional five supporting characters.


The Trailers

The “Announcement” trailer starts off with a bit of dialogue from the original over new footage of the same L.A. we saw in the first movie before cutting to a scene of K walking through some sort of desert, past a fallen monument and into an abandoned building. Now there’s new dialog from Deckard as the camera shows him emerging from the shadows, his gun drawn and pointed at K.

Holy cow. Whatever concerns I had about this movie have been completely erased. It has a mood, it has a style and it has more. While my guess is this overplays Ford’s role in the picture a bit, what else are you going to do to market this movie?

We’re immediately thrown into the environment of the story in the full trailer, which starts out showing Wallace talking about how he’s working as fast as he can to create a disposable workforce. Lt. Joshi talks about the war that’s inevitable if the two opposing sides realize there’s no wall. K finds and confronts Deckard and the two spend at least some of the time working together, evading the people who are after them like they’re trying to find out the truth of something. Lots of shots of the overall look and feel of the movie, along with music that sounds like an updated version of the iconic Vangelis-penned theme from the original and some vague story hints round things out.

It’s pretty darn effective. Gosling is stoic and on-point in a story that looks like it takes his role as a police officer and turns him into a rule-breaking vigilante of sorts. Ford’s role looks very specific and I’m still not convinced he’s in more than 30 minutes of the movie. Indeed his appearance may actually be a look at the finale of the movie. Outside of all that there are lots of lines about bubbling conflicts, secrets being uncovered and so on. One thing that jumped out at me is that the Atari symbol on the billboard, something that was seen in the original movie, shows that the filmmakers are staying true to that timeline and not trying to “update” it based on the real world.

The second trailer offers a bit more information about the story. Officer K starts out by confronting what seems to be a rogue Replicant before he goes on to search for Deckard and learn more about the history of the Replicants. It’s clear, though, that there are powerful people who don’t want Deckard found and certain secrets revealed. When he does find Deckard the two go on the run while various forces around them seek to bring them in for their own reasons.

Yep, still on board. It’s a solid trailer where the only real issue I have is that some scenes can be interpreted as containing major story revelations. Still, I’m not going to nitpick about that because it’s very, very cool.

Online and Social

The “hot/cold” key art appears at the top of the Tumblr-hosted official website with prompts to watch the trailer and get tickets prominently displayed. There’s also a button toward the bottom of the front page with the “Road to 2049,” an animated timeline that covers the events of the first movie as well as what’s transpired in the 30 years between movies. That includes some of what’s seen in a series of short films produced by different filmmakers which is covered more below.

The first content section in the menu is “Story,” which offers a very brief Synopsis that tells you little about the actual story details but does explain what sets K on a search for Deckard. “Partners” just has the information on Johnnie Walker’s movie-branded whiskey, which, again, is covered more below.

If you scroll down the site you’ll encounter lots of GIFs, images and videos, all of which can be sorted in the “Gallery” menu.

They’re not linked anywhere I can see on the site, but there were also Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles for the movie as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Two TV spots started off the paid television campaign, one that asked a handful of questions and one that offered a few answers. Both continued the trend of selling the movie based on a combination of dark, edgy visuals and the promise of a mystery that needs to be unlocked. Another extended TV spot shows that Officer K is being tasked with erasing Deckard from the world while also making it more clear that Wallace is searching for him as well.

There were a few promotional partner companies who signed on, including:

  • Atari, which made special hats that included their own speakers to really bring the gaming experience fully into your ears.
  • Johnnie Walker, which offered a limited special edition whiskey in a custom bottle to mark the drink’s inclusion in the movie.

The shorter of those character poster compilations mentioned above, along with two banners that show either K or Deckard walking toward their vehicle of choice, were likely used as outdoor billboards.

Various videos, including this “Plan” TV spot, were used over the course of the last few weeks before release as ads on Twitter and Facebook.

Warner Bros. became one of the first companies to use Snapchat’s new paid 3-D World Lenses ad unit, creating a virtual flying car from the movie that could be overlaid onto the real world.

Media and Publicity

The publicity cycle started with a one-two punch, first the announcement of the movie’s title and then the news of a VR experience, though that release focused more on the technology than the potential story.

The stars talked about the movie for a while in advance of the actual publicity campaign while they were promoting other projects. That included comments by Gosling while he was touting La La Land that Ford isn’t in the movie as much as people might expect or hope.

Shortly after the first trailer dropped there was a bit of a press push featuring an EW cover for its’ 2017 preview issue that included interviews with Gosling and other members of the cast as well as a couple first-look photos. There was also a similar feature in Empire. The second trailer debuted at the end of a cast Q&A with Ford and Gosling.

Villeneuve spoke fairly often about how conscious he was of the shoes he was stepping into and how he had to come to terms with the possibility he might fall on his face with the movie.

To mark the 35th anniversary of the first movie’s release a new featurette was released that contained quite a bit of new footage and provided a bit more detail about this movie and its story.

Everyone involved, including Villeneuve and Gosling, kept talking about how they wanted to remain true to the sequel’s roots, how unbelievable it was to be involved in something like this and more.

The movie got a big push at San Diego Comic-Con, with a panel featuring the movie’s stars and director. On the show floor fans could wait in line for a VR experience and walk through a life-size replica of a street scene from the movie. At the panel and elsewhere Ford, Gosling and Villeneuve all talked about the movie, with Ford sharing how he got back into the role of Deckard and a timeline showing the audience some of the major replicant-related events have transpired since the end of the first movie.

A little over a month before release a short film titled “2036: Nexus Dawn” was released that filled in some of the gaps between 2019 and 2049. That continued with “2048: Nowhere to Run” and then with “Black Out 2022,” a short anime that garnered lots of attention for its stylish look and feel.

Villeneuve kept reiterating how much he didn’t want to just copy the original but bring something new and fresh and essential to the sequel while still committing to the continuation of the overall aesthetic that first movie created.

The famously grouchy and tight-lipped Ford was the subject of a Vanity Fair cover story that touched on his career, his attitude toward the business, what made him sign on for this sequel and more, including the story of how he accidentally punched Gosling in the face while shooting an action sequence.

Just before release, it became clear that the visual style of the movie would be a major selling point, a focus reinforced by stories like this that specifically covered the design of the costumes.

Ford and Gosling, in particular, did a number of other media interviews and appearances, often talking about an infamous on-set incident where Ford accidentally punched his co-star during a stunt sequence as well as the return of the older star to yet another role from early in his career. That also includes Gosling hosting “Saturday Night Live” the weekend before release, reminding everyone he’s a pretty gifted comedian.


The core question here has to be this: Does the campaign overcome the legitimate and serious concerns a generation of fans has that this sequel is going to tarnish, disrespect or diminish the original? Is a continuation of the story even necessary after so many years of it living on its own, with only a few easily-forgotten spinoffs popping up here and there?

Based on WB has put together here, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Not only does the marketing itself sell a movie that’s a stylish, colorful sci-fi noir, but it’s reinforced the idea that the filmmakers wanted to remain consistent with the iconic look and feel of the original, a point made over and over again in the publicity efforts.

I can only speak for myself, but the campaign has worn down whatever resistance I initially felt for the idea of a sequel, which first seemed to me like cynical move to wring more value from an IP that was just sitting on the shelf, sadly unmonetized. Unlike other “legacy sequel” campaigns, it hasn’t used the promise a return to old and familiar characters as its central value proposition, though the prominent role of Deckard in the marketing and Ford in the publicity certainly takes that approach.

Instead, it’s more about selling the audience on the idea of following up with the repercussions of the events of the first movie and seeing what impact they had on the world the movies are set in. While I might have some issues with the short films that fill in story gaps, those are minor compared to how anxious I am to see what a new set of characters and filmmakers can make of the Blade Runner concept.


To the surprise of no one, director Denis Villeneuve didn’t want to include Harrison Ford in any of the film’s marketing, preferring to keep his return to the series secret. That…wound up not being so much the case.

The movie itself didn’t take off to massive success, but it apparently opened the door to new stories that will be told in comics and books.

Blade Runner 2049 Trailer 2 (Quick Reaction)

The new trailer for Blade Runner 2049 is out and I have some thoughts:

  • Thank you to the person who put “California 2049” in the opening as it’s now clear where the story is set.
  • Dave Bautista’s character appears to be the new Leon Kowalski and I’m here for it.
  • I still remain unconvinced that the filmmakers didn’t just pop in on Jared Leto one day and film him. Basically, this may just be how he is and not him playing a character.
  • OK, that’s a pretty big spoiler in Harrison Ford’s speech, right? At least there’s a way to interpret it as being a very big spoiler.
  • Sylvia Hoeks as some sort of bad-ass enforcer for Leto’s mad genius is giving me some Terminator 3 flashbacks.
  • Everything here is pointing toward how finding Deckard is going to upset the balance and, as Robin Wright’s character says, “break the world.” I do like me a trailer with stakes.