ghostbusters: afterlife – marketing recap

How Sony has sold its latest attempt to revive an iconic franchise

Ghostbusters Afterlife poster
Ghostbusters Afterlife poster

Whenever I’m talking about the nostalgia industrial complex that’s built up over the last couple decades, Ghostbusters is usually the example I pull out. Sony/Columbia and its various partners have worked hard to sell 1/8th reproductions of Ecto-1, proton pack-shaped USB chargers and other consumer products and high-end collectibles to a largely male audience who still hold the 1984 comedy as the single most important cultural moment of their lives.

As such it wasn’t wholly surprising when that same crowd came out in force to push back on Paul Fieg’s 2016 reboot of the franchise considering he was letting girls in what was *clearly* a boys-only clubhouse.

And it’s not wholly surprising that, five years later, Sony Pictures has taken a 180-degree turn from that previous effort.

That new take, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, comes out this week. The movie stars Carrie Coon as Callie Spengler, daughter of Egon, played in the originals by the late Harold Ramis. Carrie has moved herself and her two kids – Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Fill Wolfhard) – to Oklahoma and a house her father left her years ago. When strange, supernatural things start happening in town it’s up to the remaining members of the Spengler family, along with their new friends and science teacher Chad Grooberson (Paul Rudd) to save the town and the world.

While the 2016 movie had most of the original cast appearing in small cameos as other characters, this time around they are reprising those original roles. So we get Bill Murray as Peter Venkman, Sigourney Weaver as Dana Barret, Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore, Annie Potts as Janine Melnitz and Dan Ackroyd as Raymond Stantz.

Having all of them return is indicative of a campaign that is steeped in nostalgia, not for what it can tell us about our present or future but for the comforting blanket of familiarity it offers.

announcement and casting

The news that Reitman would be creating his own Ghostbusters film came out of more or less nowhere in mid-January 2019. At that time a brief teaser was released that didn’t offer any footage from the film but set the tone and made sure everyone knew it was in the works.

The early 2019 announcement included the clarification this film would follow the original movie’s timeline, not that of the 2016 Paul Feig movie, a fact the cast of that film wasn’t thrilled with and many questioned, seeing a missed opportunity to expand that story.

Further complicating matters, Reitman commented in February 2019 that he was planning on “giving the movie back to the fans,” talking about the lengths he was going to in order to cater to those who still hold the original to be a sacred pop culture text. Those comments were interpreted as him validating the criticisms of the 2016 film and telling the men who complained about women being allowed near their beloved franchise that he shared their perspective. He clarified things a short while later, expressing his love of Feig’s film and the actors in it, but the message still hung out there.

An interview with Ackroyd allowed him to talk about how the main reason this film was greenlit over a sequel to the 2016 movie was cost, with this one reportedly sporting a much lower budget than that would have necessitated. Around the same time Murray was in Cannes for another film but said during his press appearances there that he’d be open to another Ghostbusters film if the offer came in.

The focus continued to be on the status of the original cast, as mid-2019 kept bringing various comments and updates from Reitman and others that various members had read the script and were interested or had already committed. Paul Rudd revealed in late June that he had taken on a supporting role in the film, with Ackroyd and Hudson confirming they’d be appearing a couple months later. He spoke briefly about it while promoting other things last year.

Rudd’s casting was announced in June, 2019 via a video of him filming outside the New York firehouse that was the team’s original headquarters.

Wolfhard spoke about the audition process during CinemaCon 2019.

marketing phase one

Vanity Fair got things officially started in December 2019, sharing a batch of first look photos along with comments from Reitman and others.

A supernatural storm brews in the distant sky on the first poster, released shortly after those stills came out. Showing the Ecto-1 speeding through a wheat field toward that storm establishes the connections to the past as well as the setting of the current story.

The first trailer (21.1m YouTube views), released at the same time, starts by establishing the setting of the film. Trevor and his family are relocating to a farmhouse in a small town because they’re broke and it’s the only thing still in their name, left to them by their unnamed grandfather. As strange and spooky things begin happening around them, Phoebe uncovers a secret stash of ghostbusting equipment no one but her teacher Mr. Gooberson recognizes it for what it is. It isn’t long before the kids are using that old equipment as more and more supernatural creatures begin appearing.

Wolfhard commented on the movie while he was promoting other things earlier this year.

While speculation had surrounded his involvement, Murray finally revealed he would return as Dr. Peter Venkman in January. That was part of an extended profile that had him talking about the legacy of the franchise and much more.

Several of the movie’s stars joined the original cast and filmmakers in one of Josh Gad’s conference Zoom calls in mid-June.

An interview with Ackroyd allowed him to make it clear that while Ramis wasn’t in the film his spirit would be well-represented.

Coon appeared on “Kimmel” to promote other projects in January but spoke briefly about this film as well.

Later on Murray spoke about his initial reluctance to come on board for the film and how Reitman won him over.

At the end of March last year, Sony announced it was shifting the movie’s release date by several months as theaters remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It got pushed a few more months in October, and then again in January to November.

marketing phase two

With that new November 2021 release date set, the campaign started up once again a few months ago.

A mysterious teaser was released in early April, showing Mr. Gooberson doing some shopping only to come across mini versions of an old foe.

Things really started off in early June on #GhostbustersDay, so-called because 6/8 was the day the original movie was released all the way back in 1984.

Related events included:

  • The cast and crew of the movie taking fan questions via Twitter Spaces
  • Merchandise promotions from both Reitmans and others
  • Lots of new consumer products announcements
  • The elder Reitman and Murray discussing whether or not Ghostbusters Day is an official holiday

Reitman Jr. and Sr. were both part of a featurette released in early June that had the two talking about their life long experiences with the franchise as well as how the idea of passing things down from generation to generation is reflected in the story.

The next trailer (2.7m YouTube views) didn’t come out until July 2021. It hits many of the same beats as the first one, showing how Trevor is kind of a loner in a small town where his family has moved into the house his grandfather left them. From there on it’s all building mythology, with Jeanine helping them get settled and hinting that Egon wanted them to come here for a reason. That reason may have something to do with the mysterious happenings in town, which just escalate over time. It ends with Ray picking up the phone in his occult books shop, hinting at his involvement in the story as well.

Videos came out shortly after that showing Grace, O’Connor and others from the cast reacting to that trailer.

Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” fame announced in August that he had been on the set of the film and would be offering behind-the-scenes looks at production.

Sony screened the movie in full at CinemaCon in August, giving attendees much more than the usual selection of trailers and clips. Both Reitmans were in attendance to praise the studio and get people excited for the film.

Reitman and the visual effects crew were interviewed about bringing the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man back.

Those Mini-Pufts continued to be at the center of the campaign with a video showing how to make s’mores out of them. A bit later a similar video was released for National Marshmallow Day.

Short teasers like this started coming out at the end of August offering little snippets from the movie.

A second poster was finally released in September that shows Trevor, Phoebe and their friends exiting the Ecto-1 to get a look at a mysterious beam either coming from or reaching up to the gathering clouds.

Wolfhard appeared on “The Tonight Show” around that time as well. He and Grace also talked about the movie on “Today.”

Both Reitmans and others from the cast appeared at New York Comic-Con in October for a panel about the movie. That panel wound up also including a surprise screening of the movie for those in attendance.

While the sizzle reel released after that panel had fans praising the film (the word “amazing” is frequently invoked), overall reviews were far less positive, with many critics panning it as the worst example of empty nostalgia, with objects from previous films shown for no real reason other than to evoke a SQUEE reaction from people who remember it from the original.

VFX producer Kerry Joseph was interviewed about the process of bringing miniature versions of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man to life.

Cinemark released an exclusive poster that simply shows the Ecto-1 speeding down the streets of Summerville.

Reitman was slightly more complimentary toward Feig’s 2016 movie in another interview, saying it opened the doors to additional stories set in the universe of the first films.

The cast and Reitman appeared in a video supporting LGBTQ+ youth on Spirit Day in October. Lots of ghosts and movie branding were part of the Halloween episode of “The Kelly Clarkson Show” with Grace and Hudson stopping by as well.

MovieClips got an exclusive clip at the beginning of November showing Mr. Gooberson helping the kids revive one of the old ghost traps Egon left behind.

Reitman was interviewed by the PlayStation Blog team about taking on the franchise and what he hoped audiences would get out of it. PlayStation also debuted a new clip of Mr. Gooberson encountering a Terror Dog – the big supernatural bear that chased Louis Tully out of his apartment – and more.

An exclusive IMAX poster shows someone sitting in the gunner chair of the Ecto-1 as they blast a spook or specter in the sky.

Regal Cinemas offered a free bag of popcorn to people buying IMAX tickets. Regal also had an exclusive video interview with the cast of the film.

The final trailer (3.2m YouTube views), released just last week, only runs a minute but includes a lot of elements from throughout the campaign, including Phoebe trying to revive her grandfather’s legacy, plenty of antics from the Mini-Pufts and, at the end, the biggest tease to date that the original Ghostbusters are back in action.

Rudd made the talk show rounds to not only promote the movie but also accept his status as the newest Sexiest Man Alive according to People Magazine.

A poster for ScreenX shows the Ecto-1 making crop circles in someone’s field. D-Box put out a commercial promoting the more visceral experience audiences will have seeing it in that format. The Dolby Cinemas poster shows the Ecto-1 racing toward trouble.

Inglewood, CA residents could stop by Randy’s Donuts recently to get movie-themed donuts from the Ecto-1. Also on the food front, Hi-C revived its Ecto Cooler drink as a tie-in promotion.

A premiere red carpet event was held just days ago in New York City with the cast and crew all in attendance.

Murray, Hudson and Ackroyd appeared together on “The Tonight Show” to talk about reuniting for the sequel after so many years.

Costar Logan Kimchi hosted a featurette introducing audiences to the rest of the movie’s cast.

An interview with Coon had her talking about the way the movie depicts science, the family-centric nature of the story and more.

overall

With a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 66% and projections estimating an opening weekend take of $30 million or less (the 2016 movie – considered to have flopped hard – brought in $46 million) it seems that demand for a direct sequel isn’t as high as those who hold the rights might be hoping.

If that comes to pass it could indicate that pure, single-malt nostalgia is powerful enough to sell high end replicas of 30 year old toys but not enough to actually generate interest in *anything* new for that property.

Such a statement would be a powerful rebuke to those who jumped on the narrative, even free from any misogyny, that the 2016 movie failed because it deviated too far from the norm.

Sony GIF by Ghostbusters - Find & Share on GIPHY

About the marketing campaign for this movie specifically there are a few themes that are apparent:

Mini-Pufts as Minions: Let’s remember that the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the first movie isn’t a comedic element in and of itself. It’s a harbinger of death, with the Ghostbusters reacting comedically to its appearance. But here, they are treated like any sort of recent cute, animated creation. As such they form one of the centerpieces of the campaign.

Paul Rudd GIF by Ghostbusters - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Ecto-1 as Ark of the Covenant: The central element on all the posters is the converted ambulance that has been pulled out of the garage and fixed up for a new generation. That makes sense, but it also betrays a lack of faith in the new characters, whose faces aren’t even seen on those posters because so much real estate is devoted to a car.

Paul Rudd GIF by Ghostbusters - Find & Share on GIPHY

Recreating the Past: More than anything, the campaign is about including as many easter eggs referencing the original as possible. Just scan the movie’s Twitter feed and you’ll see multiple retweets of others who have pointed out similarities – sometimes shot for shot – between the first movie and what’s seen in the new one’s trailers.

All of that isn’t to say that the campaign isn’t good. It is. But it also relies almost exclusively on creating a sense of nostalgia in an audience that may only be interested in watching the original instead of exploring any new territory lest it tarnish their long-held opinions.

venom: let there be carnage – marketing recap

How Sony has sold a sequel like a…well…you know

To call the first Venom movie a bit of a surprise would be a significant understatement. Part super-anti-hero movie, part romantic comedy, part buddy cop movie and featuring one of the all-time great “he doesn’t even know what movie he’s in” performances from star Tom Hardy, it was at the same time a terrifying misfire and also somehow great, it defied expectations to gross a decent $213 million at the domestic box-office.

Now the sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, arrives in theaters. Directed by Andy Serkis and with Hardy returning as Eddie Brock/Venom and Michelle Williams returning as his ex-fiancee Anne Weying, the story picks up a year after the events of the first film. As the title implies, this one delivers on the tease from the end of the 2018 movie with Woody Harrelson appearing as Cletus Kasady, a serial killer Brock attempts to interview and who will have his own symbiote dynamic.

announcement and casting

Hardy was talking about the potential for sequels even before the October 2018 release of the first film. Sony was quick to capitalize on the positive buzz for that movie, though, and announced a release date for the second one in November 2018.

Harrelson had already signed on to the project as part of his agreement to appear as Kassady in the teaser at the end of the original. Rumors and vague reports about what was in store for the sequel were brought into finer focus when, in early August of 2019, Serkis was announced as the director of the film, replacing Ruben Fleischer.

Later that year additional cast members – including Naomie Harris as Frances Barrison / Shriek, a character from the comics that is a love interest of Kassady/Carnage – were announced, with principal photography wrapping up just before the pandemic shut many productions down in early 2020.

In April of last year Paramount both gave the movie an official subtitle and a new June 2021 release date (it was originally scheduled for October 2020) as the studio pushed titles in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. A video announcement confirmed both elements of that.

official marketing gets underway

Things were very quiet for a good long while between that April 2020 announcement and the May 2021 kickoff of the movie’s actual marketing campaign.

That kickoff included the release of the first trailer (34.4m views on YouTube) which quickly catches us up on Eddie and Venom’s relationship, which is that of a weird even more symbiotic Odd Couple that helps protect local bodega owners. But we quickly get to Kasady being cryptic and weird with Eddie, eventually becoming Carnage and wreaking havoc on the city. It’s not much, but it delivers on the promise setup in the first movie, so it’s all good.

At the same time the first poster came out, immediately establishing the conflict in the story as the camera peers out from Venom’s mouth to show Carnage *very* close and clearly on the attack. This is an object lesson in how to not beat around the bush and just send the message the audience wants, in this case that the movie is all about two symbiotes beating each other to a pulp for two hours.

In June Serkis appeared in a video announcing a fan art contest in conjunction with Talenthouse. Some of these submissions would be featured on the movie’s social media profiles throughout the remainder of the campaign.

An interview with screenwriter Kelly Marcel had her talking about developing the script, including collaborating with Hardy, who is getting his first “story by” credit.

Movie-themed stickers featuring both Venom and Carnage were made available for TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Also on the mobile front, a selfie lens that put Venom or Carnage’s head on your own was released for Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.

The second trailer (36.8m views on YouTube) came out at the beginning of this past August. It focuses much more on Kassady, from his instance on speaking only to Brock while in prison to how he gets the Carnage symbiote to the kind of mayhem he causes after breaking out. There are a few small appearances from Shriek but Anne Weying doesn’t show up until close to the end for a couple gags about Brock’s ability to control Venom’s actions.

Apple TV+ hosted an exclusive behind the scenes featurette after that trailer came out.

Two more posters then came out in mid-August. One once again features both symbiotes but this time they’re positioned as two halves of the same face instead of squaring off against each other. The other goes back to having Carnage attack Venom

At that point energy drink G-Fuel began promoting its movie-themed collectors cans, with both aliens featured on different can designs.

A much-shared interview with Hardy had the actor commenting on a number of things, including how much he wants to see the Venom/Spider-Man that everyone has been speculating on actually happen and what he already has in mind for a third movie.

The traditional super hero ensemble design is used on the theatrical poster, released at the end of August. The two symbiotes are seen at the top of the “V” shape formed by the assembled heads of the characters, with Carnage shown more fully toward the bottom.

Regal Cinemas released a video promo for its 4DX presentation, which adds motion and other sensations to the viewing experience.

Shorter videos started coming out at about the same time, roughly a month ahead of release, that were used for social media promotions as well as TV spots and pre-roll video ads. Some were just action-based while others delved into the dynamic between Brock and Kassady.

Given all other delays, including one in August that moved the release to mid-October, it was a little surprising when, at the beginning of September, Sony brought it up two weeks to early October.

A “FansFirst” screening was held in mid-September with Hardy and Serkis in attendance to help get those lucky enough to get in hyped up for the movie.

Dolby Cinema’s exclusive poster takes an artistic approach to the fight between Venom and Carnage, using the same sort of pose seen on other posters but with a minimalist design. The IMAX poster takes the opposite approach, still using a painted design but this time so detailed and graphic it looks like literally any comic book cover from 1994. The 4DX poster has the two faces sort of bleeding into and over one another.

A series of character posters followed that put the characters head in a “V” design that had their silhouette then featured at the bottom. The one for Anne Weying is notable for showing her at the bottom as the She-Venom she briefly became in the first movie, hinting that there may be additional transformations in store for her.

NFL star George Kittle appears in an ESPN promo that has him talking about moving in as Venom’s new roommate, which is just as hilarious and problematic as you’d imagine.

Of course, as is now standard, there was a Venom skin offered in Fortnight.

Sony hosted “Venom Day” the Monday prior to release, encouraging fans to contribute to the conversation and share their fandom. It also included videos from a handful of minor celebrities where, in the middle of having a conversation, they actually transform into Venom.

The first clip shows Kassady first transforming into Carnage as he breaks out of prison just as he’s about to be put to death.

Serkis talks about where Brock and Venom are as a couple in this installment and how that forms the foundation of the story in a featurette. In another we meet Shriek, with comments from both Serkis and Harris.

Another FansFirst screening was held just days ago with Serkis in attendance.

One final TV spot, released in the last couple days, uses the new song “Last One Standing” by Skylar Grey ft. Polo G, Mozzy, and Eminem, who had the title song in the original film.

overall

You have to hand it to Sony Pictures, the studio really leaned into the “glorious, psychotic trainwreck” vibe of the first movie and the unexpected way audiences latched onto it when promoting this second installment. Everything here is done with as much of a tongue-in-cheek attitude as a major motion picture studio can allow.

From the outset of the actual campaign, Sony understood the assignment was to show large-scale fights between Venom and Carnage and so included that in as many elements as possible. Most of the posters use that confrontation as their sole visual element while the trailers work through whatever character development is necessary to get to the more action-oriented point.

That means, interestingly, that Hardy’s screen time as the human side of the Brock/Venom duo is somewhat limited, which is a shame since his unhinged performance was widely seen as the highlight of the 2018 film. Still, it’s not as limited as Williams’ time on screen, which is a shame in and of itself.

Broken Hearts Gallery – Marketing Recap

How Sony has sold an offbeat romantic comedy.

The Broken Hearts Gallery, new this week in whatever theaters are available, stars Geraldine Viswanathan as Lucy, a young woman getting over her latest romantic misstep. Lucy has a tendency to memorialize past relationships with some sort of souvenir, something her friends and roommates find odd. After a chance meeting with Nick (Dacre Montgomery) and because of her job as an art gallery assistant, Lucy is inspired to take all those leftovers and open a pop-up space showing them off. With social media driving interest, others begin to bring their own relationship mementos and add them to the display at The Broken Hearts Gallery.

Written and directed by Natalie Krinsky, the movie has received a campaign from Sony that has leaned into Lucy’s emotion-driven need to express herself as well as how her efforts to finally find some closure to those relationships might put her in a better position when her friendship with Nick begins to evolve. Decent, if not glowing, reviews have given it a 75 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Posters

Lucy and Nick gaze at each other on the first poster (by marketing agency Works Adv), released in mid-June. They’re both sitting on a beat up couch that, for some reason, is placed right in the middle of a New York street. That’s probably meant to help establish the story setting and overall aesthetic, which is very much street-level neighborhood NYC. Further hinting at the story comes from the title treatment, rendered here as a neon sign, and the copy “There’s an art to letting go.”

The Trailers

The first trailer (8.3 million views on YouTube) came out in late June and immediately shows how Lucy is having a hard time getting over her most recent failed relationship, something that has her roommates concerned. When she finally does agree to reenter the world it doesn’t go very well, but she does meet Nick, who we find out has dreams of opening a boutique hotel. Lucy agrees to help him with the art, which turns into a community project of memorabilia from past loves. Things progress from there, of course, as their personal and professional relationships both mature and take form.

A second, short, final trailer (1.4 million views on YouTube) came out just last week. It hits most of the same big beats as the first one, just without some of the details and other moments. The message is similar, though, that this is about Lucy coming to terms with her past relationships and doing something creative while doing so.

Online and Social

Sony’s official website for the film has a pretty standard collection of the marketing materials, including a synopsis, small photo gallery and trailers.

Advertising and Promotions

Sony’s release date for the film has been a moving target given the uncertain theatrical situation, with an early-August timeframe being the latest move, at least before the movie was pulled from the schedule entirely in July.

In August Sony announced the film would have its premiere as one of its drive-in features hosted and screened on the studio lot. That premiere, sponsored by Porsche and Atom Tickets, was held in early September with the cast and filmmakers among others in attendance.

Clips released over the last few weeks include Lucy meeting Nick, Lucy establishing the idea for her makeshift gallery and her friends trying to get her to let go of the detritus she’s accumulated from past relationships.

There were also a couple short featurettes offering brief backgrounds on both Lucy and Nick.

Both Viswanathan and Montgomery shot a special promo for Regal Cinemas.

Media and Press

There were a couple interviews with Krinsky where she talked about how long she’s been developing this project and the work she’s put into it as well as how she approached creating an unconventional romantic comedy that is coming out in the middle of a pandemic.

Viswanathan was interviewed about taking on a leading role as well as how she feels her career is going so far and more.

Overall

One thing that comes through strongly in the campaign is how it seeks to add something fresh to the rom-com genre by frankly discussing female sexuality without sacrificing emotions. In fact the intersection of the two seems to be the main theme of the campaign as we see Lucy navigate how she’s feeling about her past relationships and the desire for something physical. All of that gets channeled into her art.

What’s being sold here is a character-driven rom-com, one that has the added benefit of featuring characters and individuals that still aren’t commonly represented on-screen. It’s all the fresher for it.

Picking Up The Spare

Additional press coverage included a profile of the crafts departments on the production and more from Krinsky on the real life inspiration for the story and how she felt making her directorial debut. 

The stars appeared in a new interview for Regal Cinemas. 

Greyhound – Marketing Recap

How Apple is selling the latest WWII film starring Tom Hanks

As is the case with many recent films, we should have marked the theatrical release of Greyhound a while ago. As it stands, though, the movie is coming to VOD this week via Apple TV+.

Based on “The Good Shepherd” by C S Forester, Tom Hanks stars as Captain Krause, a relatively inexperienced naval commander who is assigned to an Allied convoy crossing the Atlantic in the early days of World War II. Krause, still unsure in his post, faces a number of challenges, from the elements to the crew to the phalanx of Nazi submarines that stalk the convoy. Determined to keep his crew alive, Krause has to dig deep to balance all the problems in need of solving.

The campaign – first from Sony and then Apple – focuses on Hanks and his role as Krause, a no-nonsense commander in a no-nonsense situation. Reviews have been somewhat mixed so far, with the movie scoring 76 percent “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment.

The Posters

In March the first poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out, showing Krause looking to the side with a colorful sunset – as well as a billowing American flag – behind him. Flying through the sky are warplanes to help establish the military setting. Copy at the top reads “The only thing more dangerous than the front lines was getting there,” hinting at how it’s a story of troop transportation logistics we’re in for.

That same text, and the same photo of Krause, is used on the second poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), also from March. But this time the conflict of the story is made a bit more explicit with the inclusion of images from a naval battle between submarines and destroyers. This fixes a key shortcoming of the first poster.

The same design was used on a new poster from June that ditches the copy but adds the Apple TV+ logo to signal the platform the movie will wind up being available on.

The Trailers

Krause is commanding a ship across the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic in 1942 as the trailer (12.5 million views on YouTube), released in March, opens. As part of a convoy of Allied ships, that means dodging U-boats and coming to the rescue of other ships. This is his first trip, but the choices he makes keep him and his crew alive from one moment to the next, even as others in the flotilla aren’t as lucky. It’s a tense story of survival being sold here, all told in colors that are just as saturated as the emotions are heightened.

Online and Social

Apple didn’t manage any sort of website for the movie, just a product page that has some rudimentary information and plenty of information on how to try the streaming service. It looks like a Twitter account was setup, but likely just to post the trailer so it could be used as an ad on that network.

Advertising and Promotions

Almost as soon as the marketing campaign kicked off in March the studio announced the release date was being pushed back by a month, but the reasons for doing so were unclear. In May news broke that Sony had offloaded the movie to Apple TV+ with no theatrical release potential in sight because of the Covid-19 situation. Finally in mid-June an early-July Apple TV+ debut date was announced.

At the same time, ads on YouTube and elsewhere promoted its upcoming Apple TV+ availability, using elements of the key art along with the trailer.

Apple released a featurette just a few days ago that had Hanks and others talking about the film’s story, the history behind it and more.

Media and Press

An interview with director Aaron Schneider allowed him to talk about how he approached making the film, especially working with Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay.

Overall

It’s strange to see the release imminent and for there to have been so little press involvement from Hanks, who was reportedly extremely disappointed when the film shifted from theatrical to VOD release. He’s usually been the biggest resource his film’s campaigns can rely on, and while he’s been out talking about Covid-19 testing and mask wearing, he doesn’t seem to have talked much about this film.

Despite that, this is a decent campaign for what looks like a Very Serious Movie. But it remains puzzling why it was ever slated for a summer release when it seems more like an October or November title with its subject matter, tone and visual style. I’m not sure who the summer audience for this would have been, especially if things had gone as planned and Tenet had been sucking up all the Serious Summer Movie air from the room.

Also missing is any mention of the source book or context for the period that would help audiences get their heads around it. So while it’s good, there’s definite areas where it falls short in capturing people’s attention.

Picking Up The Spare

Hanks and Schneider were interviewed here about their goal of authenticity in how the characters and situations were depicted on screen. Similar ground was also covered in an interview with costume designer Julie Weiss. 

Another featurette with Hanks and others offered additional looks at the filming of the movie. Similar ground was covered when Hanks stopped by “The Late Show.”

There was a bit of coverage as awards season started on the behind-the-scenes details of making the film. 

Bloodshot – Marketing Recap

The last movie that will ever open in 2020 comes out this week.

bloodshot poster 2Bloodshot, based on the Valiant Comics series and character of the same name, hits theaters this weekend, just before the world as we know it comes to an end and after other studios have pulled a n number of big-name titles from the release calendar.

Initially expected, via tracking reports, to have an opening weekend of around $10 million, that number is likely to be much lower given the U.S. public is now quickly moving into full self-quarantine/social distancing mode. Heck, it’s not even clear if theaters are still going to be open this weekend.

Despite all that, the movie stars Vin Diesel as Ray Garrison, a soldier killed in battle who is brought back to life by a mysterious organization. Not only is he resurrected, advanced technology gives him incredible powers, including being able to heal himself from injury and massive strength. Given missions by his masters, Garrison – now codenamed Bloodshot – also sets out to find the man he believes murdered his wife. But his memories may not be trustworthy as he finds reality is much more complicated than it seems.

Sony’s campaign has made the most of Diesel’s limited dramatic range, using special effects to fill in the rest in an attempt to appeal to audiences.

The Posters

Garrison is walking purposefully toward the camera on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in January. You can see the character’s trademark glowing red chest symbol beneath his shirt, especially through what appear to be bullet holes. That symbol is reiterated visually behind him. At the top we’re told “You don’t need a past to have a future,” referencing the gaps in Bloodshot’s memory that fuel a lot of the story.

That same pose is used on the next poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), which adds a couple of the allies Bloodshot surrounds himself with to the background. This time the tagline reads “Being a super hero is in his blood.”, which isn’t quite as good as the first attempt.

Other posters, including one for IMAX, used variations on those themes, either showing Bloodshot on his own and up close or pulling the camera out to allow for the supporting characters and settings to be seen.

Of particular note is how some of the posters – especially the first one – make sure to call out that the movie is “Based on the best-selling comic book.” Many movies rooted in comics aren’t quite as clear in selling the source material, which is a real problem facing the comics industry, so it’s nice to see one that does so.

The Trailers

As many trailers about lone, angry men do, the trailer (11.6 million views on YouTube) for this movie, released in October of last year, opens by showing us how much Garrison loves his wife, who of course is a tall, leggy blonde. Cut to him waking up on a table to find out he died and has been brought back by a company that injected him with microscope organisms that make him stronger and heal injuries instantly. He takes off to find the man responsible for killing his wife, something that’s easier thanks to his healing abilities. Turns out, though, that the people who claim to be helping him are actually manipulating his memories to send him on assassination missions. When Garrison starts to put things together he sets his sights on them.

Online and Social

The landing page of the movie’s official website features the key art seen on the first poster, but that’s about as interesting as things get. It’s just the usual marketing materials shared here, lacking even a link or information on the source comic series.

Advertising and Promotions

Footage – and more importantly audio – from the movie was used in a promotional video by Dolby for its Atmos sound experience.

TV advertising began in early March with spots like this that boiled the sales pitch down to some cool special effects and a creepy bad guy. Similar videos were used for online and social media ads.

A first clip was given to Sony’s PlayStation division earlier this month showing the newly revived Garrison learning what he’s become a part of.

Sony announced last week this would be the latest title released in its new ICE immersive format.

The red carpet premiere was held earlier this week (before such events started getting canceled) and had all the stars and filmmakers in attendance. Diesel and others made sure to call out the comics the movie is based on to the audience both in person and online.

Another clip given to Fandango is all about the action, showing how Bloodshot can reconstitute himself after being seemingly injured.

A featurette released at the last minute has Diesel introducing the character to audiences.

Media and Press

The movie’s director and producer were interviewed around the time the first trailer came out, talking about the character and how they think audiences will react to him.

Diesel stopped by “Kimmel” to talk about this film and more. Costars Sam Heugan, Eliza Gonzalez and Lamorne Morris also made some talk show appearances.

An interview with the lead actor had him establishing that not only could there be more Bloodshot movies but that this might act as the launching point for a shared universe of Valiant Comics characters. Another feature profile had him talking about this movie and lots more.

Director David S.F. Wilson was interviewed about how his experience with special effects helped him navigate his first helming effort.

Overall

As it stands, the campaign Sony mounted sells an utterly ridiculous, over-the-top science fiction action movie featuring an actor who makes damp drywall seem overly emotive. He’s very popular, but outside of the Fast Saga that popularity is somewhat questionable.

That’s why, while the star can’t exactly be hidden away in the marketing, he certainly seems to be taking a back seat to the special effects.

The biggest sword hanging over the movie is whether or not there’s any willingness among the public to go to the movies this weekend. On the one hand, this campaign offers some decent escapism from the massive chunks of detritus falling from the sky at the moment. On the other, any public gathering right now seems like asking to become a public health cautionary tale.

So we’ll see how things turn out. Whatever happens, Sony’s campaign is outlandish and ridiculous. Whether it works or not might be up to a tiny little virus.

Bad Boys For Life – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Bad Boys For Life at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

In addition to the usual marketing materials, the official website features a Meme Maker feature that lets people upload a photo and then add the movie’s title treatment to it. The result can then be shared on social or sent to friends.

Media and Publicity

The project was one that had gone through many starts and stops over the years, subject to endless speculation on if or when it might happen. It wasn’t until early January that Smith shared a photo confirming production had begun. He later offered a first official look at the movie as well.

Lawrence and Smith appeared jointly on “Good Morning America” while the two made separate stops on “The Tonight Show” over the last week or so. Smith also chatted with Seth Myers on “Late Night.”

How Lawrence has overcome the troubles he’s had both personally and professionally in the last 20 years or so was covered in this interview with the actor.

Why now was the perfect time to bring the Bad Boys back to the big screen and more were covered in comments made by the stars and others on the movie’s premiere red carpet.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

More from Lawrence on his return to acting and what he’s been up to here. There was also finally some attention paid to Hudgens and her supporting role in this feature.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer spoke at the premiere about the movie and why another sequel has been so long in the works.

Will Smith drove a Lyft car in Miami in a promotional stunt for the movie.

Spies in Disguise – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing for Spies In Disguise at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Not much of note on the movie’s official website, which is laid out in the usual Fox site template. I would have expected something more like a “turn yourself into a pigeon” photo upload feature or casual game or something else, but none of that is here.

Media and Press

Holland appeared on “Kimmel” in early December to talk about this movie as well as others. Other than that there doesn’t seem to have been a big press push for the film, maybe because both stars have been out promoting other projects very recently and this was deemed not worth the effort.

Overall

I’m honestly not sure who this is meant for or who’s supposed to be enticed by this campaign. It’s a mystery to me.

Picking Up the Spare

Another commercial came out just before Christmas that focused on the “Team Weird” theme that emerged late in the campaign. There were also videos of Smith and Holland experiencing an escape room of sorts and a new clip released as well.

A profile of the movie and its creators focused how it seeks to communicate inventive and non-violent solutions to problems for kids.

Little Women – Marketing Recap

How Sony is selling the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel.

little women poster 9The story of Little Women is one that’s been told on film a number of times over the decades. Now writer/director Greta Gerwig is bringing her own interpretation of the material to screens with an all-star cast and a modern sensibility that still retains the story’s original setting.

As always, the story revolves around the women of the March family, with matriarch Marmee (Laura Dern) and daughters Beth (Eliza Scanlen), Amy (Florence Pugh), Meg (Emma Watson) and Jo (Saoirse Ronan). With the men all gone fighting the Civil War they have to make it on their own and count on each other. All four have their own dreams and desires but come up against the standards of the time, which don’t let a woman claim her independence or make her own way in the world.

In marketing the film, Columbia Pictures/Sony has relied on audience’s familiarity with the source material while also promoting the presence of some of today’s most buzzed-about young actors.

The Posters

Jo is shown running toward the camera on the first poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) from October. The other main characters are relegated to horizontal photo strips off to the side, there to be shown off to the audience but clearly not the focus of the movie. “Own your story” conveys the take-charge attitude audiences will encounter when they see it.

A series of character posters that offer fuller looks at the cast came out shortly after that.

One final poster shows the four March sisters looking anxiously out the window anxiously, emphasizing one more time the weight of the cast on display here.

The Trailers

It’s very much the classic story we’re all familiar with being shown in the first trailer (7.6 million views on YouTube), released in early August. While the characters and plot may be largely known to us, the selling point then becomes the cast that’s been assembled by Gerwig, one that includes some of the most buzzed-about talent working today. Aside from that, the message sent to the audience is that women can do whatever it is they want and should be allowed to do so my men and society as a whole, which still remains an important one.

Online and Social

There’s actually some good stuff on the movie’s official website, including a “March Sisters Quiz” to help you determine which one you’re the most like.

Advertising and Publicity

The movie gained significant awards season momentum following a press/SAG/DGA screening in October.

Laurie asks Jo to dance in the first clip, released in early November. A second clip released a bit later has the two discussing the economic realities of love and marriage in the era. Additional clips had Auntie Marsh talking about Jo’s need to be married and her frustration at the whole of patriarchal society.

An extended TV commercial came out in late November that offered a recap of the story, focusing on Jo’s special place in the family and her unwillingness to accept the fate that awaits her as a woman in that era.

The movie’s premiere was held last week, with Gerwig and the cast all showing up to chat about the production and more.

Little Free Libraries was the only promotional partner for the film, putting movie-branded boxes of books in select cities across the country. Sony donated 2,000 copies of Little Women to be stocked in those and other locations as well.

Most of the cast participated in a “Tiny Kitchen” vignette, watching as a movie-themed tiny kitchen was assembled.

Media and Press

While also talking about other projects, Ronan spoke on what it was like to reunite with her Lady Bird director. Pugh commented on the movie and its story while she was in Sundance earlier this year promoting other projects. Reports circulated in April that this was the second choice Sony had in mind if Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, the new movie from Quentin Tarantino, wasn’t ready for screening at Cannes.

Vanity Fair offered a first look at the pairing of Ronan and Chalamet in mid-June. Interviews with Pugh while she was promoting Midsomer earlier this year often included comments about transitioning from that production to this one and what a welcome relief the change was.

An interview with Gerwig from about the same time the trailer was released has her sharing her thoughts on assembling the powerful cast and making the most of their talents.

A brief Chalamet profile came out that touched only on very high-level topics and only briefly mentioned this movie. That came at about the same time as an EW cover story featuring both Chalamet and Ronan where they talked about working together again and the natural chemistry they enjoy on screen as well as an interview with Pugh where she shared her approach to her character and attachment to the material.

The October screening included a Q&A with Gerwig and the cast where they talked about the story and how they got into character.

What drew her to offer yet another take on the familiar story and how she assembled the impressive cast were covered by Gerwig in another interview where she talked about the research she did in preparation for production. The ways in which she and the cast updated that material were the topic of a joint profile with her and Pugh.

While the focus was on other things, costar Tracy Letts briefly commented on his enthusiasm for working with Gerwig again after getting to know her while filming Lady Bird.

Chalamet spoke about the movie when he appeared on “Late Night” several weeks ago.

A profile of Ronan had her acknowledging the likely importance of this role in her career while also emphasizing how committed she was to getting that role while Gerwig talked about how she approached Jo and working with the actor.

In a nice touch, the movie was endorsed by Gillian Armstrong, who directed the much-loved 1994 version.

How cast and crew assembled to make the very old novel interesting and relevant to the modern times was the subject of an extended feature profile that encompassed comments from many of those involved.

Gerwig’s influence on the story and her ability to manage the cast were all commented on by those involved at the film’s premiere a few weeks ago.

Members of the cast made a major foray into the late night talk show arena beginning a couple weeks ago. “The Tonight Show” hosted Chalamet, “The Late Show” featured Ronan and Pugh.

The stars of the film expressed their collective dismay at Gerwig’s being overlooked for a Golden Globes director nomination.

The movie’s release allowed for a new conversation about the source book and its rightful place in the American literary canon and the reasons it might not be currently occupying that position.

Gerwig spoke about how long she’s had the ending of the movie in mind and what it took for her to get it made.

Overall

Selling an all-female drama set in during the Civil War should be a hard task, but by selling it as a piece of modern filmmaking with whipsmart dialogue uttered by some of the most critically-praised actors in recent years is a solid way around that problem.

A movie like this should be benefitting from all sorts of awards season buzz, but as many people have noted it’s oddly not. The reasons why are unknown (though plenty of speculation has been bandied about) but whatever they are it means a crucial part of the hype cycle is missing, which could impact its chances for success at the box office as well.

Despite that, what’s sold here is all manner of enticing. Throughout the campaign Gerwig has promised anything but a staid period drama. Instead what audiences are offered is a vital, fresh, energetic take on the material that reflects both the past and the present.

Picking Up the Spare

A new behind the scenes featurette has been released along with another that focused on Gerwig’s direction.

Gerwig started making a few late night appearances along with participating in a number of additional interviews on the inspirations for the story, her work building the world of the film, her long personal journey with the story. She also appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie and her early awards season snubs.

Also getting some attention was the film’s costume and production designers.

Another profile of Pugh here that talked about this movie and her career as a whole. She also appeared on late night to promote the movie and talk about the various Oscar snubs.

The movie has increased interest in and attendance at the Alcott family home in Massachusetts.

Jumanji: The Next Level – Marketing Recap

You can read my entire recap of the marketing campaign for Jumanji: The Next Level at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Nothing much of note on the movie’s official website, which just wants to make sure you get the marketing content you’ve likely already seen and buy tickets now.

Media and Publicity

A first cast photo was shared in mid-March, kicking off the publicity campaign for the film.

Aside from appearances on late night talk shows by Johnson, Black, Hart and others in the cast there doesn’t seem to have been a whole lot of press activity for the movie, something common among this week’s releases.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

Sony released a sizzle reel from the premiere event. There was also a special Comedy Central promotion on how Johnson and Hart learned to be old people.

Another nice profile on the pairing of DeVito and Glover. Meanwhile Gillan was interviewed about her unexpected career path as action hero.

Gillan appeared on “Kimmel.”

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood – Marketing Recap

One of America’s most beloved figures plays another of America’s most beloved figures.

a beautiful day in the neighborhood poster 3A couple years ago there was a cluster of documentaries about Fred Rogers and the magical show he helped create. Chief among them was Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which chronicled the beginnings of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and showed how Rogers worked hard to keep civility, respect and empathy at the core of everything he did and everything he shared.

This week’s new release A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood takes a dramatic approach to telling Rogers’ story. Not a standard beat-by-beat biopic, the movie is based on 1998 Esquire profile of the man by reporter Tom Junod and focuses on the short period of time Junod spent with Rogers researching that article.

Rogers is played by Tom Hanks, fulfilling the head canon most everyone has had since about 1995 in terms of matching an actor to a role. Playing Junod is Matthew Rhys. Sony’s campaign for the movie has, as we’ll see, used Hanks’ widespread adoration as a major selling point while also making clear the Rogers everyone saw on TV for decades was the same one that existed when the cameras were off.

The Posters

If you’re not already crying at the “We could all use a little kindness” copy that sits atop the first poster (by marketing agency BOND) released in September I’m not sure we can continue to have this conversation. Rogers is decked out in his sneakers and red cardigan, seated on the steps outside his television house and looking every bit the compassionate friend so many of us remember. It’s a simple poster to convey a simple message, right down to the unobtrusive type used for the title treatment.

The second effort (by marketing agency Gravillis Inc.) from October is a little less successful, putting Rogers on a stool against a bright orange background. Descriptions of his character including “Neighbor. Icon. Friend.” are shown at the top. This time around the copy reads “An American icon and the story of kindness we need right now,” which is a little heavy-handed.

Thankfully things get back on track on the third poster (by BOND), released just last week. This time Rogers is shown on his living room set having a conversation with Junod, who looks slightly embarrassed at the situation he finds himself in. Instead of a tagline this one features a handful of positive pull quotes from enthusiastic early reviews.

The Trailers

What the first trailer (12.2 million views on YouTube), released in late July, does most well are two things: 1) We get a good look at Hanks as Rogers and see he gives the performance all the charm we’ve come to expect from the actor without ever breaking out of the guardrails provided by the real man, and 2) Explain the framing device of the story, that we’re seeing Rogers through Vogel’s eyes and experiences, many of which are mirrored in members of the audience. Reactions to the trailer were almost uniformly of the “Give me a minute while I stop ugly-crying” variety.

Online and Social

For all the care and attention given to reinforcing and protecting Rogers’ legacy and reputation in the rest of the campaign, the movie’s official website is a real head scratcher.

Not only is there no biographical information on the subjects of the film – not even a link to Junod’s original profile – but there’s a “Photo Feature” that allows visitors to:

  1. Upload a picture of themselves and add it to the publicity still of Hanks as Rogers sitting on the front steps, or
  2. Upload a picture of their own and have the movie’s title treatment along with their location added to it.

This is just the kind of feature that has been used for a lot of bad, off-brand purposes when other companies have used it. While similar tools have been available on the sites for other movies, it seems like the potential for abuse that would sully the name of Rogers and his mission would be too high a risk.

Other than that, the site simply sports the usual marketing material. But that one section is going to bother me for quite a while.

Advertising and Publicity

The first trailer was released just before the news broke that the movie had been added to the lineup of the 2019 Toronto Film Festival. Hanks, ever the charmer, led a group sing-along of Rogers’ best known song while working the crowd there. Reviews were massively positive, calling Hanks’ performance one of the best of his career. Sony released a sizzle reel of the premiere activity in Toronto.

Later on it was added to the list of films screening at the London Film Festival.

News came in September that Hanks would receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award at this year’s Golden Globes.

A short featurette was released in October with Hanks, Heller and others talking about what made Fred Rogers so special. Another one released in early November has them sharing the care and attention paid to making Hanks believable as Rogers. That the movie is a tribute to Rogers was covered in a third video that features an interview with his widow.

Heller introduced the film and answered questions about it at a screening last week hosted by The Hollywood Reporter.

Another featurette was focused on the article that inspired the movie and included an interview with Junod.

Just recently Sony held the film’s premiere in New York City and released a short sizzle video of footage from the event. On the other coast, a group of artists created a movie-inspired mural in Venice, CA.

TV spots like this were short and focused on the humble nature of Rogers message, even as they included overly dramatic music. Online ads used the key art and video snippets pulled from the trailer.

Promotional partners included:

  • Vineyard Vines, which touted its position as the “official style” of the film and offered a collection of movie-inspired ties.
  • Funko, which released a new POP figure of Hanks as Rogers.
  • Beekman 1802, which is unveiling a new movie-inspired gift set of beauty items on QVC next week.

Additionally, both Random House and Penguin Books are releasing movie tie-in books.

Media and Press

The first look photo released by Sony last September showed Hanks sporting the iconic red sweater in a behind-the-scenes shot. Shortly before the new year the movie was finally given a proper title. An actual production still was released in mid-February and another a month later.

Around the time the first trailer was released Heller was interviewed about how she worked with Hanks to tone down his natural boisterousness in favor of the more subdued stillness that was Rogers’ hallmark style as well as how the production team recreated the sets and other trappings of the show.

Another interview with Heller that happened while she and Hanks were in Toronto allowed her to explain some of the choices she made with the story and how she landed Hanks for the lead role. At the same time, Hanks spoke about how he came to appreciate Rogers’ worldview and approach to educating and communicating with children as well as how he finally got involved with the project. Heller also sought to set expectations that this wasn’t a traditional biopic but a very specific story being told.

The director talked about how hard she worked to get Hanks involved in a profile that also emphasized her notable career prior to taking on this project. Rhys was also profiled, talking about how he got familiar with Rogers’ work after being cast as well as working the Hanks.

How the production team faithfully recreated the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” set was covered in a feature that talked about the research everyone involved did.

A feature profile of Hanks encapsulated a lot of the press focus, from how “nice guy” Hanks was playing the leading figure for compassion, respect and understanding in the world and how the filmmakers strove to not have the actor’s personality encroach on the subject of their story.

The dynamic between Hanks and Rhys was covered in a joint interview.

He’d mentioned it before, but Rhys talked about how he was wholly unfamiliar with Rogers when he appeared on “The Late Show.” Hanks also made the rounds, including on “Today.”

Just as confounding as the photo feature on the website was the decision to offer an exclusive behind the scenes look at the movie to a website with a reputation for sexism, racism, bullying and blatantly offensive and hurtful behavior both editorially and professionally.

The studio had news anchors on various national and local broadcasts wear red sweaters in celebration of #WorldKindnessDay.

Overall

This should be a beautiful campaign.

For the most part it is. Positive word of mouth from early screenings have given it a 97 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, indicative of the care and grace with which the filmmakers have handled the material. The press has hit exactly the right notes in interviewing both Hanks and Rhys, reinforcing the themes of the marketing (sometimes too heavily) while also being respectful to the legacy Rogers left behind.

A few missteps, though, bring the campaign down dramatically. Particularly that placement of a feature on the making of a movie at a site whose founder publicly threatened to fire any employee who tried to start a union. That’s the kind of off-brand mistake that can really come back to bite you.

Putting that aside, the movie is presented here as a gentle, inspiring feel good time at the theater, one that will cause you to ugly cry but leave feeling reinvigorated and hopeful. If that message can motivate enough people to skip Frozen 2, it may have a shot this weekend.

Picking Up the Spare

Hanks finally stopped by “Kimmel.”

Joanne Rogers, Fred’s widow, was a big part of the movie’s press campaign and made appearances like this on her own to talk about his legacy and how the film honors that.

The movie’s writers talk about how the approached conveying the important character of Rogers. Rhys was interviewed again about how he found the core of his real life character.

Two more featurettes were released to take advantage of awards season, one on Heller’s directing and one on the work of the production designers who recreated the tiny sets.