How Paramount has sold the sequel to a hit video game adaptation
After the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie took a rocky path to theaters that involved a complete redesign of the title character, this week’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has had smooth sailing by comparison.
Ben Schwatrz returns as the voice of Sonic, the speedy blue talking hedgehog that crashed into our world after escaping his own dimension. Now firmly established in his new life with Tom and Maddie Wachowski (James Marsden and Tika Sumpter, respectively). When Tom and Maddie leave Sonic on his own while they attend a wedding, the scheming Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) and Knuckles the Echidna (voiced by Idris Elba) try to get Sonic to reveal the location of a MacGuffin that will give them massive power. Colleen O’Shaughnessey provides the voice of Tails, a fox who helps Sonic evade danger.
Jeff Fowler returns to direct the sequel, which pulls story elements from some of the classic Sonic video games. Let’s take a look at how Paramount’s marketing campaign has gone.
announcement and casting
Paramount announced the movie, as well as its release date, in February of last year. Elba was cast as Knuckles to the delight of the entire internet in August.
The rest of the cast from the original announced they would return for this sequel – and likely others in the future – over the course of the year.
the marketing campaign
Things kicked off on the marketing front in December of 2021 when the first poster came out. It’s the usual brightly-colored mash-up of various images, but the message being sent to the audience is that Sonic and Robotnik in particular are back and that Tails will be a big part of the story, paying off on the teaser included at the end of the first movie.
The first trailer (33.3m YouTube views) was released at the same time. As it opens we see Sonic has been trying to fashion himself into a crime-fighting vigilante, with mixed results. When Robotnik returns he may have the chance to really make a difference and will get some help from the arrival of Tails. But Knuckles has other ideas.
That trailer debuted during The Game Awards and was introduced by Carrey and Schwartz.
Later in December Paramount shared a Sonic-themed hour-long Yule Log video to help you pass the time during the holidays.
In February IGN announced the movie would screen during Fan Fest.
One of the first TV spots for the movie was released in early February as well. It largely contains footage seen in the trailer and is focused on introducing Knuckles, but it’s also sports-themed, which makes sense given it came out during the Winter Olympics. Another spot even has Sonic name-dropping snowboarder Shaun White.
On a similar front, multiple commercials that were also tied to the ideas of competition and teams aired during the Super Bowl.
already planning ahead…
At this point (mid-February), Paramount made it clear the studio had plans for the future of the Sonic IP. That affirmation came in the form of an announcement that not only was a third feature film already in development but that Elba would return to voice Knuckles in a new series streaming exclusively on Paramount+ and loosely scheduled to debut in 2023.
back to the marketing campaign
Meanwhile, the selling of this installment continued with the release of a new poster that has lots going on, with most of the animated and human major characters arranged in a design that’s split between red and blue to highlight the showdown between Sonic and Knuckles.
Fowler, Carrey, Elba and others appeared virtually at IGN Fan Fest to hype up the movie and talk about their characters.
Sonic, Tails and Knuckles all got their own turn in the spotlight with the release of a series of character posters.
Also on the poster front in early March was a 4DX-exclusive one-sheet showing Sonic racing across the water. That was followed by a new poster with Robotnik and Knuckles staring down Sonic and Tails.
Another TV commercial that positions the showdown in this movie as “the real March Madness” preceded the release of the “Fastest” trailer, which speeds footage past in just a second or so, and then the actual “Final” trailer (23.7m YouTube views). This one offers a little bit more in the way of story setup, showing how Sonic discovers Robotnik has come back and is working with Knuckles. It’s then up to the blue hedgehog to stop them before they can harness a power source to take over the world.
At the same time another poster encouraged fans to “Take it to the next level.” Another series of posters added some of the minor characters along with new ones for Sonic and Tails. Dolby, AMC Theaters and D-Box exclusive posters also came out around this time.
In late March Kid Cudi released his original song “Stars In the Sky” from the movie’s soundtrack with a video that mixes him in the studio with footage from the movie. Kudi as well as Schwartz were later announced as appearing at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards.
Sonic encourages early audiences to not spoil the story for those seeing it later in a TV spot that seems more than a little ridiculous because what kind of plot points are there in a movie like this that are going to drastically impact how one enjoys it?
The first clip came out in late March and offers an extended look at the snowboard chase sequence between Sonic and Knuckles. Another shows the moment the two first meet as Robotnik announces his return.
A short featurette has Fowler and the cast talking about how things have been kicked up a notch for the sequel. Another has Elba and Schwartz talking about the introduction of Knuckles.
Schwartz promoted the movie when he appeared on “The Late Show” while Elba did likewise on “Kimmel”
Fila launched a Sonic-branded sneaker. Sonic, Knuckles and Tails were added to the popular Candy Crush mobile game.
O’Shaughnessey was interviewed finally taking the character of Tails to the big screen after she’d been voicing the character since 2014 in the “Sonic” TV series as well as in numerous video games since then.
At the beginning of April Dr. Robotnik took over the movie’s Twitter account to promote a mobile AR app that let people add his outrageous mustache and big glasses to their picture. A whole lot of those selfies people shared were then amplified by the account over the next week.
There were exclusive cast and crew interviews from AMC Theaters, Regal Cinemas and other distributors. Cinemark announced those attending early screenings would get a free Sonic comic book with an exclusive new cover.
Most of the cast and crew came out for the blue carpet premiere of the movie. Another event was held in L.A. a couple days later.
Tom tries to get a ring to help Sonic in the next clip from early April.
referencing other movies
There’s a whole aspect to the campaign that’s been woven in but which exists largely outside of the rest of the marketing efforts.
That component has involved timely and blatant references to other movies that have come out while the campaign has been running.
One of the first was a call out to Spider-Man: No Way Home with a reference to multi-dimensional portals.
Then there were a few references to Matrix Resurrections, changing red/blue pills to red/blue quills, which works out nicely since that ties into the Sonic/Knuckles rivalry here.
Finally, the whole “Blue Justice” thing overtly references The Batman.
These are all fun, and they got a lot of attention as they were released, but they also wind up distracting slightly from the rest of the campaign.
Less cynically, this kind of tactic illustrates how so much of the media has become self-referential and uses the hype of other things in order to establish relevancy and buzz.
Tracking projections indicate an opening weekend of about $50-54m, in part because this is the first “family” release since Sing 2 last December. And while early reviews were pretty positive, it settled in with a 67% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
At the end of the day the campaign, whatever it has or hasn’t done well, has succeeded largely simply by existing and letting people know the movie is on its way.