free guy – marketing recap

how Fox Disney has sold an action-comedy about life inside a video game

Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer star in this week’s Free Guy, directed by Shawn Levy. Reynolds plays Guy, an NPC (non-playable character, i.e. background cannon fodder) in an open-world video game created by Antwan (Taika Waititi). When two of Antwan’s developers insert new code into the game, Guy becomes self-aware, realizing he lives in a video game. Millie (Comer), one of those developers, uses her avatar to explore the game and help Guy save the game before Antwan, who doesn’t care for the updates or the attention Guy’s self-directed actions has attracted.

The movie, which has a solid 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, was one of the last developed by 20th Century Fox before it was acquired by Disney a couple years ago. It finally hits theaters this week after a number of delays and a marketing campaign that has acknowledged those delays with winking humor.

announcement and casting

The movie had been in various stages of development at Fox for a few years, with Levy and Reynolds signing on in 2018/19, finally moving things forward. Comer joined in 2019, leading to production getting fully underway.

comic-con and the first marketing attempts

As the movie had its official coming out with a well-received panel at New York Comic-Con in October, Fox released a “Meet the Cast” video that had everyone talking about how excited they were to work with the others. It included Reynolds and Waititi claiming they have never worked together before, while Comer and Keery try to correct the record, a nice bit of fun that’s in line with the public personas of both actors.

Unfinished footage from the film was also shown off to NYCC attendees, while a sizzle reel of the panel and press activities from the convention was released shortly after it ended.

Guy takes on a traditional super hero pose on the first poster (by marketing agency LA), standing with his shirt opened to show what’s underneath, which in this case is just another shirt and tie. It’s meant to communicate his ordinary nature, that he’s not a hero and doesn’t have hidden abilities and thanks to Reynolds’ expression that comes off as genuine.

Reynolds and others traveled to Brazil in December to appear at CCXP, where they showed off the trailer and other footage while working to get the audience there excited for the film.

December 2019’s first trailer (14.4m views on YouTube) starts off very dramatically, identifying the film as coming from the same studio that brought audiences Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King (twice) before showing someone skydiving into an epic action sequence. It’s then that we meet Guy, a normal guy who takes all the violence and chaos around him in stride until he starts wondering if there’s more to life than constantly being held up at the bank where he works and being shot at all the time. Putting on a pair of glasses shows him the reality of the world around him and leads him to the realization he’s in a video game, but has the freedom to be the hero his world needs.

There’s more going on the second poster, released in December, as we see Guy strolling blindly down a city street that’s filled with the chaos of bombs being dropped, cars exploding and more. It conveys nicely the idea that he’s a character incapable of recognizing, much less impacting the events happening around him.

Another entry in the self-deprecating part of the campaign came in January with a video of Reynolds and Comer talking about the craft of acting, with Reynolds increasingly frustrated by how Comer is consistently referred to in the context of the awards she’s won.

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.

delays, delays and more delays

Originally scheduled for summer of 2020, it was among the titles Disney delayed in a big announcement last April as the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and elsewhere was becoming clear.

When that announcement was made, Reynolds and others took it upon themselves to release an unfinished, watermarked clip of Guy in his apartment watching the news, all of which is horrible. The clip was meant to be both relatable given reality at the moment and to just keep the movie in everyone’s mind and includes the new date followed by a 🤞, which is a nice touch.

While there was a Total Film feature story on the film that included comments from Levy, Comer and Reynolds and a steady stream of new photos and other minor updates, things were quiet until October of last year.

That’s when the second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out, teased ahead of time in a video with the cast covering their bases by throwing out a number of potential release dates. It differs from the first trailer in a couple areas. First, it frames Guy’s epiphany that he and everyone he knows is living in a video game as a result of his crush on Milly. Second, it shows the chaos a free-range Guy has within the game and how it affects the real world, especially on the company that makes the game.

That second trailer gained more headlines for racking up over 55 million views in the first 24 hours following its release.

Another poster, this one showing Guy standing on a rooftop above the chaos of the city, came out at the same time.

At that point Disney was aiming for a mid-December release date, hopeful the pandemic would be receding into the background by then. The studio’s optimism was short-lived, though, and in November the movie was taken off the 2020 release calendar, with no new date announced until a month later.

ok for real this time

Fast forward to March 2021, when another video came out with Reynolds announcing a new (and eventually final) release date, though still in a way that played into the ridiculousness that had come before.

In May Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed the movie would receive an exclusive 45-day theatrical run instead of going to streaming simultaneously or shortly after that theatrical run.

There’s a bit more of the non-video game world that is impacting Guy’s existence in the next trailer (4.8m views on YouTube, released in early June. Other than that it hits many of the same beats as previous spots.

The whole cast shows up in a very typical action ensemble design on the poster released at that time. Differentiating it from something like an MCU entry is the upbeat and naive look on Guy’s face as he stands over everyone in the hero spot.

An interview with Comer in June had her talking about entering the world of action movies, working with Reynolds and more.

Lil Rey Howery, who plays Guy’s best friend in the game world, appeared at Essence Fest to promote the movie.

News came in late June that the movie would screen at the Locarno International Film Festival in August.

In mid-July Reynolds released a video that has Deadpool and Korg from the MCU reacting to the latest trailer. The mashup makes sense given Disney and Fox are now a single entity and that the movie stars both Reynolds and Waititi, who plays Korg.

Traditional 30-second spots began airing in mid-July that recapped the story and its visuals. Longer commercials obviously had more room to breathe but stuck to the same basic message.

Later spots expanded on what had come before while also pulling primarily from footage the audience has already seen. Of note, it was being positioned as the movie event of the summer, which may be a bit hyperbolic but what else are you going to do…

The first clip shows Guy and Millie pulling off a big fight in a nightclub. That clip really shows off the interplay between the two leads as well as the basic level of humor audiences can expect. Another has Guy being confronted by the police for breaking many of the game’s rules.

All the main characters got posters of their own (by marketing agency BLT Communications).

Guy and Millie have a meet cute over a Mariah Carey song in another clip. How important that song is to the movie and its story (it’s featured in nearly all the trailers and TV spots) was shared by Reynolds in an interview at the movie’s premiere.

Just how much Waititi riffed while on set was covered in a short featurette that had Levy, Comer and others praising his performance.

the comer and reynolds show

While it had been part of the campaign since the very beginning, the last few weeks featured a focus on Comer and Reynolds’ chemistry with a series of videos that had them playing off each other, often at Reynolds’ expense.

First, the two appeared in a promo video debating whether or not this qualified as a “date movie” especially in light of the social distancing of the last year and a half.

They then squared off in a test of their Canadian knowledge, the joke being that Comer is British.

These were fun largely because this is Reynolds’ brand in particular. For the last several years he’s consistently broken the fourth wall in his movie campaigns, so this makes a lot of sense and delivers what audiences have come to expect when he has a new movie coming out.

Individual videos had Comer and then Reynolds introducing their respective characters and having some fun with international translations of the movie’s title.

wrapping up the campaign

In early August Reynolds shared a video that had him showing off the massively bulked up physique he achieved in just a week, one that means he can no longer fit into the Deadpool suit but which allows him to appear as Dude in the movie.

A TV spot released just after that video came out showed off Dude and how he’s used by the game’s designers to try and reign in Guy.

Dolby and IMAX posters offered slightly different takes on what had come before, but they both still communicate how Guy is the lone calm in the center of endless chaos.

The movie’s premiere was held in Los Angeles last week, with Reynolds, Comer, Levy and others in attendance. At that premiere the cast and crew spoke about the unique approach they took to construct the world of the movie and more.

Comer made an appearance at the London premiere event as well.

Levy was the subject of a much-shared profile that dove into how he’s one of the most successful and hard-working comedy directors in Hollywood but has at the same time flown largely under the radar in terms of outsized press and attention. Many of the cast and crew praise Levy and his work ethic in that piece.

Overall

There have been so many campaigns over the last few months that have tried to be the end-all-be-all in jumpstarting theatrical moviegoing. Some have been more effective than others depending on where in the latest sub-cycle of the Covid-19 pandemic we are and what the audience’s appetite for breaking out of their new view-from-home norm might be.

The Free Guy campaign doesn’t make that kind of statement as explicit as the push for, say F9, but it’s still there lurking beneath the surface.

What may set this apart from what’s come before is that most of those earlier releases have been either thrillers or franchise action films while this one is clearly a comedy. That’s a different kind of communicable experience than just watching super heroes beat up bad guys or cars be pulled around by giant magnets. The campaign has played into that with its frequent tweaking of Reynolds’ and the focus on Waititi’s improv antics.

While the $15-18 million that’s predicted for the film’s opening weekend box-office may not be all that impressive compared to some other recent movies, it may actually represent a much more accurate look at how people are feeling about theaters since this one isn’t available for streaming simultaneously.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – Marketing Recap

How Lionsgate has sold a throwback buddy action comedy sequel.

Reviews haven’t been great for The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, calling it excessive and unnecessary but at least shorter than the first one. The resulting 26% Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes reflects that, but projections still have the film hitting around $15 million this long weekend, already bringing in $3.9 million on Wednesday.

The movie reunites Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek from 2017’s first film. As the story opens Michael Bryce (Reynolds) is getting out of the bodyguard business, in part because of the traumatic events of the earlier movie. But he’s sucked back into even more extreme violence when Sonia Kincaid (Hayek) recruits him against his wishes to help find and free her husband Darius (Jackson) after he’s kidnapped by mobsters. That gets all three of them involved in an Interpol mission to stop the terrorist Aristotle Papadopoulos (Antonio Banderas) from doing whatever it is he’s planning to do.

Nothing about the first movie could be mistaken for high art, but it was a fun Midnight Run/Running Scared-esque action comedy with two characters who loathed each other, highlighted mainly by the banter between Jackson and Reynolds. As we’ll see, the marketing of the sequel has tried to sell that same value proposition.

The Posters

All five of the leads — including Morgan Freeman, who plays Reynolds’ step-father — are arrayed on the first poster (by marketing agency Leroy and Rose), released in mid-May. From the gritty orange as well as the guns in everyone’s hands, it’s clear this is an action comedy. In fact it looks just like one-sheets for a number of other similar movies.

The same background design is used on character motion posters released at the end of May.

There’s even more action as Bryce and the Kincaids ride a motorcycle away from explosions and armed pursuers on the IMAX poster.

The Trailers

The first trailer (9.8 million views on YouTube), released in early April, opens with Michael reliving a terrible dream involving Kincaid and deciding to take a sabbatical to recharge and get over his issues. Of course trouble follows him to paradise as he gets mixed up, thanks to Sonia, with Kincaid one more time. Michael’s problems with this are amplified by the fact he’s trying to take a break from killing or protecting people, but circumstances just won’t let him sit on the sidelines.

A red-band version (400,000 views on YouTube) with lots of cursing came out about a week later.

The second trailer (15.2 million views on YouTube) came out a little over a month later. It still focuses on the dynamic between Michael and Kincaid – as well as Kincaid’s wife – but also puts it in the context of a bit more of the story and why they find themselves teaming up again.

Online and Social

Not much beyond the basic marketing assets on the movie’s official website, but the Twitter and other social media profiles were a lot more fun, trying to convey Reynolds’ trademark humor whole offering clips and other assets in the hopes people would share them.

Advertising, Press & Publicity

In early May there were a couple social promos like this timed for Mother’s Day that focused on Sonia’s declarations of what a great mother she’d be.

A Variety cover story on Hayek had her talking about how Hughes reached out to her about a role in the movie and how his wanting to involve her in developing the character helped her sign up enthusiastically.

The first TV spot came out in late May, an extended spot that continues showing the mix of action and humor in the movie, especially courtesy of Hayek.

Snap and Atom Tickets partnered to give Snapchat users access to early screenings to help get them excited for — and talking about — the movie.

The first clip shows Kincaid’s reaction to finding out his wife has brought in Michael despite his explicit instructions. Additional clips show Michael being pulled from sabbatical by Sonia, the three on an awkward drive through the Italian countryside and Michael trying to convince Sonia to take a less violent approach to a situation.

iHeartRadio ran a sweepstakes sending the winner on their own sabbatical earlier this month.

Jackson talked about the movie when he appeared on “Late Night” last week. Hayek and Reynolds appeared together on “Good Morning America” and she appeared on her own on “The Tonight Show.”

Regal had a promotional video of interviews with the stars.

Key art was repurposed as outdoor and online ads.

Overall

This whole campaign is like

The Nine Most Compelling Movie Campaigns of 2019’s Second Half

From Once Upon a Time In Hollywood to The Rise of Skywalker and everything in between.

The second half of 2019 ahs seen a number of notable movie releases from some of the biggest names in filmmaking. Downton Abbey was revived for the big screen and new entries in the Zombieland, Rambo and Terminator series hit theaters to varying degrees of success.

Major releases like The Lion King, Frozen 2 and others dominated the mainstream cultural conversation as well as the box office in the last six months thanks to their massive marketing efforts, there are a number of films where the campaigns were even more interesting and noteworthy. Sometimes those campaigns featured a particularly creative execution, sometimes they represented something new being done to reach an interested audience.

So, to follow up on my list of the most compelling movie campaigns from the first half of 2019, here’s the nine that seemed most interesting or innovative to me in the year’s second half.

Hustlers

There have been a number of movies in the last couple years about women determined to exact some pound of flesh from the world that has wronged them. Hustlers is among the most successful of that genre, thanks in part to the lead performance by Jennifer Lopez. What the movie’s marketing campaign did was out Oceans the Oceans movie, especially the recent Ocean’s 8. From the first moment of the campaign, the audience was presented with a neon bright brand that combined women owning their sexuality as exotic dancers with a social message of making the 1% pay for exploiting the poor.

The Hunt

No, the movie has not actually come out. Universal’s curtailed marketing campaign isn’t worth calling out, mostly because it was that campaign that lead to the studio pulling the movie from its release schedule. The planned August release was initially delayed in reaction to the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso following concerns the ads were insensitive to the news at the time. But at about the same time the campaign came to the attention of right wing media, which felt the story of wealthy elites kidnapping poor people for sport was terribly offensive. That conclusion was reached by ignoring the class warfare story and focusing on how the hunted were demographically more likely to be conservative voters than the rich people doing the hunting. To date there have been no updates on the movie’s status.

Ready Or Not

Released at the same time The Hunt was being nixed, Ready Or Not wound up being one of the year’s surprise box office hits. The movie is about a young bride who, on the night she marries into a family that made its fortune making and selling games, finds out that family is going to hunt her. Only if she survives the night will she be deemed worthy of becoming one of them. The marketing sold it as a ridiculously fun horror outing, filled with slapstick humor and more, all while maintaining a brand identity rooted in dark hardwood tones and gothic symbolism.

Joker

Warner Bros. seems to have finally found some kind of groove with its DC-related films following the release of Wonder Woman, Shazam, Aquaman and, most recently, Joker. The movie, one of the most successful of the year so far, was the subject of some of the most intense pre-release debates and conversations in recent memory. That’s largely because of the campaign, with trailers that seemed to present Joker’s backstory as startlingly similar to that of so many of the mass shooters that have plagued society. Before taking on the Joker persona, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is shown as a marginalized struggling comedian angry at the ways the people in his life have failed him. If the movie weren’t set in the 80s he’s the kind of guy who would frequent men’s rights forums. Post-release, it’s made the Bronx staircase Joker dances down a hot spot for Instagrammers, which itself is a statement about the power of the campaign.

Between Two Ferns

between two ferns posterNetflix has released a number of noteworthy films this year (more on that later), but the revival of Zach Galifinakis’ Funny Or Die celebrity interviews as a feature deserves mention not for the undeniable quality of the movie (though it is very funny) but because of the teaser poster. Designed by marketing agency Works Advertising, there’s so much going on with the one sheet it’s hard to keep track.

  1. All the lines of copy, even those right next to each other, are all at slightly different angles.
  2. The “www” in the URL for Netflix is a style that hasn’t been widely used in 15 years or more.
  3. The typeface for the release date and web address are laughably simple, a default style in Microsoft PowerPoint, and not one meant to convey any sort of impact.
  4. The two ferns are obviously the same fern copied and pasted on each side of Galifinakis’ head.
  5. The photo of Galifinakis still bears the Netflix watermark, like it was pulled from a press site and slapped onto the poster.

Overall it conveys a sense of “sure, fine, whatever,” which is completely on-brand for the Between Two Ferns series. It’s so sloppy and one of the best of the year.

The Lighthouse

How do you sell a black and white movie about two men left alone together on a remote New England lighthouse, isolated from the rest of the world and stuck with their own secrets and baggage? By going completely bonkers. The trailer has singing, dancing, axes, mermaids, terror, and Willem Dafoe repeating “Why don’t you spill your beans?” over and over again. With Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as the leads, it says something when a pelican is the only character that gets its own poster. In a move usually reserved for franchises and sequels, A24 also released an iMessage emoji pack so people could add images of angry lighthouse keepers and various sea creatures to their messages.

Knives Out

I truly believe no one had more fun selling their movie this year than director Rian Johnson. After making The Last Jedi, objectively the best Star Wars movie ever, Johnson assembled an all-star cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Daniel Craig and others for Knives Out, an old-fashioned murder mystery. The story is set on a wealthy family’s estate as investigators try to solve the murder of the patriarch, and the campaign not only played up the cast but also the breezy nature of the film. In interviews for the film, Johnson frequently evoked his love of classic movies based on Agatha Christie and other stories. That love was evident in the “A Rian Johnson whodunit” branding featured throughout the campaign and especially in one of the final videos, where the director personally invites audiences to see the movie, a move reminiscent of similar appeals by Hitchcock and other classic filmmakers.

The Irishman

After snagging new films from directors like Joel and Ethan Coen, Steven Soderbergh, Tamara Jenkins and other big names, producing a three hour epic from Martin Scorsese represents Netflix’s biggest conquest to date. To celebrate that milestone the studio/streamer ran a campaign that broke new ground for its original releases, including over a dozen featurettes on every aspect of the film, from the cast to hair and makeup to set design and everything in between. Not only were there teasers but there were trailers timed for the movie’s limited theatrical release and then again for just before it became available for streaming. This is very much the moment Netflix adopted tactics similar to how traditional studios sell movies while still supporting its non-traditional business model.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

It would be negligent to omit Disney’s massive, 8-month long campaign for what has been sold at every turn as the final installment in the Skywalker saga that began 42 years ago. The movie has been positioned as the conclusion to the story that began the first moment Qui-Gon Jinn laid eyes on a young Anakin Skywalker. Along the way the studio has had to thread various needles, appealing to older audiences that remember seeing the Tantive IV being chased by a Star Destroyer on the big screen in 1977 and those whose first experience might have been Poe landing on Jakku as the Resistance searched for a missing Luke Skywalker. With seven key promotional partners all producing their own commercials and campaigns along with other companies doing their own thing, there’s been no avoiding the idea that this is the ultimate event film, one audiences would be negligent in missing.

Honorable Mention: Every Ryan Reynolds Movie

He went method for the Pokemon: Detective Pikachu campaign earlier this year and then managed to put an ad for Aviation Gin inside an ad for his new movie 6 Underground that was inside an ad for Samsung. He’s already selling upcoming projects with the same knowing humor, showing he’s one of the strongest marketing brands around.

6 Underground – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling the first team up of director Michael Bay and superstar Ryan Reynolds.

six underground posterIn some regards, the pairing of Reynolds and Bay seems to make sense given the actor’s physicality and his penchant for mixing action and humor. But he’s actually a bit *too* overtly funny for Bay’s usual filmmaking style. While there are certainly humorous elements in Bay’s movies, they could never really be described as comedies.

We’ll see how that turns out in practice with this week’s 6 Underground. Reynolds stars as One, an elite operative who leads a team of similarly talented professionals, all of whom are presumed dead after being part of various military organizations. Together they take on impossible missions meant to make the world a better place, all while remaining anonymous.

Netflix has used the partnership between one of the most successful directors of the last 30 years and one of the hottest movie starts of the moment as the key selling point for a movie it hopes will bring blockbuster audiences to the streaming service.

The Posters

The design of the one-sheet isn’t great, nor does it effectively communicate what the movie is about or what the story is. One and the rest of his team of elite agents are shown in various action poses, leaping over cars or gripping their weapons in anticipation. But it never comes together into a cohesive whole, instead appearing as just a collection of individual elements. Only by process of elimination and counting can we figure out that the man in the back left, dressed in a white tuxedo, is probably the antagonist the good guys will be facing off against.

The Trailers

One leads a team of dangerous individuals, with the first trailer (3.1 million views on YouTube) – released in early October – showing just how dangerous they are. That team is made up of “dead” agents who operate with the freedom that status entails. Their presence is noted by some equally dangerous bad guys, who seek One and his team out to eliminate the threat they pose to their illegal operations. There are lots of action sequences and humor, both of which are synonymous with Bay and Reynolds, the movie being sold as a melding of their two sensibilities.

The second trailer (377,000 views on YouTube), released in November, starts off like an Italian tourism commercial. But both the beautiful artwork and peaceful atmosphere are soon broken by a car chase happening through the streets as the team seeks to evade capture. One keeps wise-cracking through the chase, making sure everyone knows this is a comedy as well as an action film. The decision to focus on one key sequence actually works in positioning the film as a clever and amusing story, giving the audience the gist of what’s happening without having to overly explain a plot that doesn’t really matter anyway.

The final trailer (490,000 views on YouTube) was released just a few days ago and more clearly establishes who the team is and why they do what they do, taking on the threats most ordinary people ignore. In fact it skips most all elements of the story in favor of introducing the specialties each member brings to the table while showing off lots of action and mayhem that they bring with them on their missions.

Online and Social

While Netflix has created websites and social profiles for other recent movies, it seems to have skipped those steps with this one. It wasn’t even given a whole lot of support on Netflix’s brand channels. That’s not wholly surprising given it isn’t exactly one of the company’s awards contenders.

Advertising and Publicity

The first big news about the movie came with the announcement Netflix had acquired distribution rights, marking its largest-budgeted movie to date and one seemingly in the line of post-Bright thinking that more blockbuster-level movies were essential to grow its original film slate.

Reynolds shared a fun little video from the set in mid-September.

6 underground online adOnline ads used the picture of Reynolds that was used on the poster to drive awareness and traffic to Netflix’s page for the movie.

In what some people referred to as the “turducken” of advertising, a commercial for Samsung that came out in mid-November starred Reynolds hyping the company’s sets as the perfect option for enjoying the big-screen action of the movie. Taking it up a notch further, it also features an ad for Reynolds’ own Aviation Gin. That’s completely on-brand for the actor and his self-aware sense of humor.

Last week Netflix released a video with Reynolds offering scientific proof that this movie is the “most Michael Bay movie that Michael Bay has ever Michael Bay’d,” offering the maximum amount of explosions and other elements that have been part of his filmography possible.

Reynolds and the rest of the cast appeared on a panel at the recent Comic Con Experience in Sao Paulo to talk about the movie and get people excited for it.

Media and Press

Surprisingly there doesn’t seem to have been much of a press push for the movie. Again, this may be the result of Netflix’s PR attention being turned to other, more serious releases, or it might be that the media landscape is a bit crowded at the moment. One way or the other, there’s not a lot going on here, mostly coverage of the trailers and other marketing materials being released.

Overall

Despite some quibbles with various elements of the campaign, including the lack of apparent press push, it’s hard to actually take issue with the marketing choices being made here. In particular, making the connection between Reynolds and Bay and then allowing Reynolds to act as the public face of the movie makes a lot of sense and takes advantage of the public’s continued appreciation of the actor.

six underground banner

What remains to be seen is if audiences are actually interested in watching the big screen action and explosions that are a hallmark of Bay’s movies on their personal screens. Netflix and other streaming companies have been public of late in seeking to create their own action/fantasy franchises to lure subscribers and this is a move in that direction. Considering original stories, even of this type, haven’t even been a hit in theaters lately the odds aren’t bad that this could be as much of an incentive as some of the high-profile dramas that have come out recently.

Picking Up the Spare

Netflix put on quite a show for the movie’s premiere, which included comments from the cast and crew on working with Bay on the film.

Reynolds appears as One in a new promotional video that crosses over with the upcoming Netflix show “La Casa de Papel.” There was also a funny video showing him doing overdubs for the movie in 39 languages.

An appearance by the star on “The Tonight Show” touched on the movie but also included lots more of what he’s involved in.

Jeff Beer at Fast Company writes about the brand that is Ryan Reynolds and how it was used to sell the movie.

A video was released by Netflix of the stonework that went into the incredible parkour sequences in the film.

A new “whisper trailer” came out that makes the movie’s marketing part of the ASMR trend online.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing for Pokemon: Detective Pikachu at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online

There’s little actual information on the movie’s website, which is focused around encouraging fans to explore the theatrical poster for clues and characters. It clearly signals who the target audience for the movie is by offering a prompt to follow the official Instagram profile for additional updates but not mentioning or linking to any other social network.

Media and Publicity

Director Rob Letterman spoke about how some of the scenes in the movie were influenced by older movies and what he wanted to bring to this story.

That same night Reynolds appeared on “The Tonight Show” to engage in various stunts with Jimmy Fallon and promote the movie.

EW ran a jokey, too-clever “interview” with Pikachu himself.

Letterman felt compelled to comment on the widely-derided look of Sonic in that character’s own upcoming movie. More relevant where his insights into how he and others decided which Pokemon were essential for the story, just like the writers did. There were also profiles of the design team and how they created the look of Pikachu and the other characters.

Overall

detective pikachu gif

Once Upon a Deadpool – Marketing Recap

Recapping Fox’s quick marketing campaign for ONCE UPON A DEADPOOL.

once upon a deadpool poster 2It’s not unusual for studios to occasionally rerelease big movies, particularly around the holidays or at other key moments where there’s the potential to reach new audiences or ask old ones to come out to revisit a movie they enjoyed the first time around. What *is* unusual for a movie to get a whole new version that eliminates one of its key selling points from its initial release.

That’s just what Fox is doing with Deadpool 2, now rebranded as Once Upon A Deadpool and hitting theaters today in a new, slightly scrubbed version that sports a more welcoming PG-13 rating. It’s a risky move given that the primary value proposition behind the Deadpool franchise has been that the character is unapologetically vulgar and violent. To help counter whatever concerns might be out there Fox has mounted a mini-campaign that is just as meta and playful as audiences have come to expect from the character.

The Posters

once upon a deadpool posterThe first poster was appropriately insane, showing Deadpool sitting behind Fred Savage, the latter wearing the same Chicago Bears jersey he did in The Princess Bride, on a red-nosed reindeer, the latter helping to convey the movie’s release timing to the audience. Oh, and the framing of the poster is just what’s seen on the one-sheet for The Princess Bride, just to help reinforce that point.

The second, released just a week or so prior to the movie hitting theaters, hits the “second coming” theme by showing Deadpool at the front of a choir of angelic beings that includes Savage and a host of band members heralding his arrival with trumpets and more. That image wound up being the subject of a backlash from the Church of Latter Day Saints since it recreates a famous painting associated with that group.

The Trailers

In the middle of November, just about a month out from release, a trailer (22.4 million views on YouTube) wsa put out featuring Deadpool talking with Fred Savage, who’s laying in bed in a Bears jersey just like he was in The Princess Bride. Only we have a bit of a Misery situation here, with Savage being tied down to that bed. We get a bit of footage from the movie, including some new stuff, before we’re back to Savage taking a shot at Deadpool’s status as a non-MCU Marvel movie.

Advertising and Publicity

A TV spot released at the end of November took roughly the same approach as the trailer while another a couple weeks later had Deadpool answering questions from Savage about himself and the movie that echoed much of what the audience had been wondering since this release was announced.

At about the time the actual marketing of the movie started, Reynolds explained how a big part of the reason he finally agreed to a PG-13 cut of the movie was an agreement to have a portion of the proceeds go to a cancer charity. He also offered some details on the single day of additional shooting that was done to add the Fred Savage framing scenes.

The charitable angle was the focus of a video released by Reynolds that had Deadpool and Savage having an initially heated discussion about Nickelback. Another clip showing the two of them revolved around how Deadpool is bleeping out his own cursing in an effort to avoid that R rating with this version of the movie.

On the day the movie hit theaters Fox released a promo featuring “poorly paid actors” hired by the studio – a disclosure that appears at the bottom of the screen – touting the fact that there’s finally a version of Deadpool that the whole family can enjoy.

Outside of that, the movie generated lots of speculation and discussion around *why* Fox was making this move right now. Plenty of essays and op-eds were written about how it’s meant to fill a hole in the studio’s end-of-year release schedule, or that it’s a trial balloon floated by the studio to show its new Disney owners it could play nice with the character and make him more amenable to a potential crossover with other characters.

Overall

Whatever Fox’s rationale or reasoning, it mounted a fun and appropriately self-effacing marketing push in a very limited time window. That campaign has not only worked to get people once more talking about Deadpool but also, in some way, set expectations in a way that if it turns out to be a complete disaster it’s kind of already acknowledged that could be a possibility.

If anything, the campaign itself adds to the character’s brand perception instead of detracting from it, which surely was a real concern. That will surely help in the long run, no matter what the future of the Merc With a Mouth is under his new corporate management.

Picking Up the Spare

While it was mostly an infomercial for his gin company, Reynolds did talk about the movie in a “Today Show” appearance.

Deadpool 2 – Marketing Recap

deadpool 2 posterThe marketing of 2016’s Deadpool was..well…it was unlike most anything that had come before. It certainly struck a much different tone than the campaigns for any of Fox’s other X-Men Universe movies, which were super-somber and serious, with all the mutants making Very Determined Faces as they engaged in Very Serious Situations. There wasn’t a lot of joy there.

For Deadpool 2, out this week, I wrote over at The Hollywood Reporter about how the marketing of this sequel has kicked things up a notch from the foundation the first movie set. There are elements that are more outrageous and others that are a bit more standard than what was seen in 2016, but all of it is still very fun. In addition to what’s there, below are a few publicity beats I wanted to make sure weren’t missed.

Media and Publicity

At various times Brolin offered some praise for Reynolds, calling out his work ethic and talent.

While she was promoting “Atlanta” at the time, Beetz spoke here about why she decided to sign on for multiple super hero movies and how she trained for her role in this film.

Things really kicked into gear with a feature cover story in EW that reinforced how much the character and the actor who plays him have in common. It also had Reynolds talking about how a third movie would, in his opinion, have to a stripped-down, zero-budget production that’s super gritty, offering no comment on Deadpool’s future should Fox and Disney join forces and more. Everyone glommed on to his saying he’d never seen the finished Green Lantern movie, but most of that commentary misinterpreted his basically saying it’s not that unusual for him to not watch his own stuff.

Similarly getting a lot of attention was his revelation that yes, Fox asked him to cut a Disney joke, though he doesn’t specifically claim that was due to the pending merger. In that package, Brolin talked about his workout routine to get Cable’s body and how much he loves the 2009 Reynolds-starring romantic comedy The Proposal.

A New York Times profile of Reynolds hit a lot of those same beats but put them in a more personal context, talking about how he’s really kind of a low-key guy who’s racked by insecurity over his career and personal life.

One last video came out that had Deadpool/Reynolds apologizing to David Beckham for the joke about the soccer star made in the first movie, which he claims not to be aware of but who does want Reynolds to apologize for some of his less-than-great previous films.

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

Well, Here Comes the Deadpool 2 Marketing

Fox is not resting on its laurels or taking a more conventional approach to selling Deadpool 2. At least not based on the first few efforts that have been undertaken.

deadpool 2 poster

The introduction of the new character Domino was handled by calling back to the first image released for the first movie, showing her laying atop a prone Deadpool in front of a fireplace.

The first poster continued the meta approach while also playing with the idea that so many characters were being included, using a Norman Rockwell-esque painting to show all those characters sitting around a Thanksgiving dinner while a painting of Stan Lee hangs on the wall.

Deadpool was announced as the guest editor of a special issue of Good Housekeeping where he offered his usual brand of irreverent holiday recipes and decorating tips.

Now the first teaser is out but, of course there’s only about 15 seconds of footage from the movie in there. Instead it’s focused on Deadpool pulling a Bob Ross and showing people how to paint scenic landscapes.

It’s good to see that Fox isn’t messing with what worked so well the first time. There’s the risk that it will go too far and take things to an extreme, as well as the potential for them to pull back and play it safe so as not to damage the franchise.

That’s why it’s important to remember the franchise is *about* taking it too far. None of the jokes in that teaser trailer should really be allowed, but because Deadpool is unapologetically himself, it works and plays into the brand image.

These first marketing moves are great, but it’s also important to remember there was actually a traditional campaign that paralleled all the goofiness for the first movie. Traditional trailers came along with the ones where he addressed the audience directly and made fun of Hugh Jackman. So those will be coming for the second movie as well.

Until then, let’s just sit back and enjoy the goofiness.

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

The Hitman’s Bodyguard – Marketing Recap

In the new movie The Hitman’s Bodyguard Ryan Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a high-end bodyguard who’s available for hire by well-off clients seeking protection. One day he’s contracted Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a notorious assassin who’s scheduled to testify against one of his former bosses.

That should be a simple enough assignment but for one thing: Bryce and Kincaid have history that’s included the latter trying to kill the former on multiple occasions. Still, Bryce has a job to do and so the two have to not only get along but work together as the forces of those Kincaid is meant to testify against try to kill both of them.

The Posters

The first poster tells us exactly what we can expect from the tone of the movie. The image of Reynolds carrying Jackson, as well as the color palate of the image, the style used for the title treatment and cast name as well as the copy on the left are all pulled directly from the poster for the 1992 Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston vehicle The Bodyguard. That’s pretty funny and a nice little wink, even if it does come a bit too close to selling this movie as a parody instead of its own thing.

Two character posters followed, one showing The Hitman (Jackson) and one showing The Bodyguard (Reynolds) in a monochromatic design, each with guns drawn and each featuring the “Get triggered” copy that seems a tad insensitive. Those two were brought together into what seems to be a theatrical poster.

Another series of posters took a more old-school approach, with visual styles that harkened back to the era of movies like The French Connection and others. One is a black-and-white image of the two leads, both with guns drawn, seemingly entering a scene, a target taking aim at the pair. Another has the two of them taking aim themselves at something off-screen. A third is similar but has them standing more still in the frame and asks “Who’s protecting who?”

The Trailers

The first trailer, a red-band version, starts off by introducing us to Reynolds’ high-end bodyguard. He’s been hired to protect a hitman (Jackson) but things get violent quickly. Much of the action, of which there is plenty, is presented while Reynolds vents to a newspaper kiosk salesman about what a bad time he’s having on this particular assignment. It’s full of foul-language and ridiculous action.

The trailer is so unconcerned with selling the story it’s crazy. Instead it’s just about seeing the MFs that are dropped by Jackson and the sly subversion of action movie tropes like jumping into the garbage bin from a rooftop. Like the poster the studio is having fun with the title association, playing Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” over much of the footage.

An all-ages, non-restricted trailer was released about a month later that hits many of the same beats, just with half the running time and no curse words. This one’s more about selling the outrageous situations the unlikely pair find themselves in and the strange bond that forms between them.

The official trailer opens with Bryce taking one of his other clients out of a potentially dangerous situation. We see that a dictator is on trial and that his friends are trying to kill a key witness in those proceedings. So Bryce is assigned to protect Kincaid, but we see they have a history that’s not super-pleasant. Still, it’s his job and so despite his reticence he does what he needs to do to keep his charge from being blown up or otherwise killed.

It’s a much better trailer in that it actually lays out the story, not just relying on the charm and chemistry of Reynolds and Jackson. That comedy may still be the biggest selling point, but at least this one explains why they’re stuck with each other and why Reynolds’ character isn’t thrilled with the assignment, something that was lacking from the teaser.

Another short trailer came out that wasn’t new in most regards, just serving to reinforce the interplay between the two leads. One more trailer, just as lighthearted and focused on curse words and over-the-top as the others, was created to mark Romance Awareness Month.

Online and Social

The theatrical key art is displayed on the landing page of the movie’s official website as the content of the site loads. After that you can choose between sides, one for Bryce, one for Kincaid. Doing so just takes you to a short video clip featuring that character that you’re encouraged to share on social networks. There’s a prompt to “Get Tickets” in the upper right and links to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles in the lower right.

There’s also a quiz you’re encouraged to take to see if you have what it takes to join AAA Executive Protection Agency, the group Bryce apparently belongs to. And if you click the icon in the center of the top of the page you get a gallery of GIFs and images that have copy and a silly little animated character, apparently an effort to keep things light.

Moving on to the site’s actual content, the first option in the drop-down menu at the top of the page is “About,” which is where you’ll find a pretty good synopsis of the shenanigans the two characters get into. After that is “Videos” which houses the trailers, a featurette and a clip of the two meeting for the first time under new circumstances. The “Gallery” has a handful of stills and “Posters” has all the one-sheets.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one started running a few weeks out from release that gave the barest outline of the story in favor of lots of action and a continued emphasis on the bickering relationship between the two violent professionals.

Online and outdoor ads used the various key art and social ads used the trailers as they were released.

Media and Publicity

The two leads were interviewed together, continuing the emphasis the campaign has placed on the dynamic between Jackson and Reynolds. In that interview they talked about bonding during filming, how they got involved in the project and lots more.

Other solo interviews had the pair, as well as costar Salma Hayek, talking about the story and all the usual anecdotes about filming and how much fun it was to be involved in something so silly. They also did the talk show rounds on TV to engage in hijinks with late night hosts and talk about the film.

Overall

As should be overwhelmingly evident from what I’ve laid out above, the main appeal the studio is conveying is the charm of and chemistry between the two leads. That’s why the story is often either missing or pushed way into the background of the trailers and other marketing elements in favor of Reynolds and Jackson getting on each other’s nerves, quipping and otherwise making it clear they’re not getting along as characters but certainly having a great time as actors.

The question then becomes whether that’s enough. The movie certainly looks like fun. Everything about it is the kind of big, silly action comedy that used to be pervasive in the late 80s and early 90s, but it’s unclear if that formula holds the same appeal these days. This looks more and more like a movie that will have an amusing campaign that leans on the likability of the two leads but which fades into obscurity quickly. A year from now someone will post on Twitter saying “Remember when a movie called The Hitman’s Bodyguard actually happened?”j