the woman king – marketing recap

How Sony has sold a period drama about African warriors.

the woman king poster from Sony Pictures
the woman king poster from Sony Pictures

Viola Davis stars in this week’s The Woman King, in theaters this week from Sony Pictures. Davis plays General Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie, an all-female group of guardian warriors in the kingdom of Dahomey. Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim costar as the latest generation of warriors to be trained by Nanisca, with John Boyega as the nation’s king. The Agojie must be trained to help fight against the latest threat to their people: The expansion of French colonizers deeper into the African continent.

If the concept of the Agojie sounds familiar, it’s because the real life defenders were the inspiration for the Dora Milaje in Christopher Priest’s “Black Panther” comics run, a group that of course later appeared in several installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the movie was written by Dana Stevens, who developed the story with producer Maria Bello. Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in July, 2020 as Prince-Blythwood’s follow-up to the massively successful The Old Guard on Netflix.

News of Davis’ casting was followed in September 2021 by Boyega joining the project. Lynch was cast shortly after that, right in the middle of her getting rave reviews for her role in No Time To Die. Lawson, Tiffen and others joined shortly after that.

the marketing campaign

Davis offered the first real look at the film in February of this year when she posted a couple stills showing just how fierce she looks in costume.

Both Prince-Blythwood and Davis made an appearance on stage at Sony’s April 2022 CinemaCon presentation to promote their film. Davis was also given the event’s first-ever Trailblazer Award for her body of work.

A few weeks later Empire Magazine shared a first look still from the film.

Prince-Blythewood talked about the movie when she appeared at the American Black Film Festival in June, with the director debuting the trailer there for the festival’s audience before it went out to the general public.

More photos along with an interview with Davis came in Vanity Fair at the beginning of July.

Also in early July came the first trailer (10.4m YouTube views), which opens with King Ghezo warning of a new evil coming that must be fought with the Agojie. Nanisca convinces the king to fight back against the threat of the Europeans looking to expand their influence. We see the kind of training the Agojie go through and just how effective they are in combat, all of it adding up to a powerful trailer.

Banner ads on YouTube drove people to the film’s official website when the trailer debuted.

the woman king YouTube ad
the woman king YouTube ad

Later that month the announcement came that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the Toronto International Film Festival. Davis was later slated for a conversation as part of the film’s screening at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival in mid-August.

The first poster came out a bit later. It shows Nansica alone with her weapon held high, standing in what seems to be a fiery conflagration blazing all around her.

Bello was interviewed about her love of the African continent and how that played into developing this story.

A short vignette has Davis and Prince-Bythewood talking about the real life warriors portrayed in the film and how they’re surprised they didn’t know more about this before.

Trainer Gabriela Mclain spoke in this interview about how she put each one of the primary cast through their paces in preparation for such physically-demanding roles that required they *look* the part of fearsome warriors.

That training was the subject of another short featurette.

Mbedu was interviewed about the film’s incredible cast and more.

Cutdowns of the trailer started running in late August as TV spots and online promos, including pre-roll ads.

The second poster, released at the end of August, has the entire main cast of characters assembled and staring intensely at the audience amidst the same fiery background seen earlier.

An Essence cover story featured a conversation with the main cast about the story and what it was like working with everyone else. That was followed by a THR cover story with Prince-Bythewood and Davis in part covering the battles they had to take part in just to get the film made for reasons that are likely obvious.

An interview with Lynch focused again on the rigorous training she had to take part in.

Fandango debuted an exclusive clip of Nanisca pushing the warriors she’s training to be better than they ever thought they could be in order to defend their nation.

The bonding the cast underwent during filming was the subject of another short vignette.

That lead into the TIFF premiere screening, which garnered *very* positive reviews and buzz, and the Q&A with the cast and crew that went along with it.

Costume designer Gersha Phillips shared the real life inspiration that went into the costumes along with the fact they were made by actual African artisans.

Another TV spot from the last week featured football coach Jennifer King offering her thoughts on being a warrior along with clips from the film.

Boyega and Atim created Spotify playlists inspired by the film and their characters.

Davis went on to make appearances on “GMA”, “The Tonight Show”, “The View” along with others to promote the film and talk about how unique the story is in today’s marketplace.

overall

It’s not very surprising that there’s little in the way of overt reference to how the real life Agojie inspired the fictional Dora Milaje given the competing studios/companies in play. But that connection is very much there for anyone who’s paying attention.

Outside of that, the major message of the campaign is not only that this is a powerful film about an incredible group of warriors but that the existence of those warriors isn’t as well known in the general public as, say, the 300 Spartan warriors at the Battle of Thermopylae. If you pull on that thread more than a bit you’ll likely discover reasons that include racism, the fact that Europeans are clearly not the good guys in that story and so on.

But the story is being told in a big, bold fashion now and that’s what’s important. And the campaign has been moving, driven by the personal investment of Prince-Bythewood, Davis and others, including Bello, who seems to have taken the smart path and sat out most of the publicity and let others, particularly women of color, take the spotlight.

bullet train – marketing recap

How Sony is selling an action comedy

Bullet Train movie poster from Sony Pictures
Bullet Train movie poster from Sony Pictures

David Leitch directs Bullet Train, arriving in theaters courtesy of Sony Pictures. Written by Zak Olkewicz and based on the novel by Kōtarō Isaka, Brad Pitt stars as an American assassin known only as Ladybug. Despite wanting out of the life, Ladybug agrees to one last job snatching a briefcase aboard a bullet train heading from Tokyo to Kyoto. Once aboard the train, though, Ladybug finds a cadre of other international assassins there as well, all with missions that in some way connect to his own.

Sandra Bullock costars as Maria Beetle (also the original name of the source novel), Ladybug’s handler and the voice giving him directions on the train. Zazie Beetz, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Zoey King, Brian Tyree Henry and a host of others play the other assassins or other underworld types that cross paths with Ladybug.

With Antoine Fuqua producing and projections for opening weekend in the $30m range, let’s take a look at the marketing campaign Sony has cooked up.

announcements and casting

The film was announced in June 2020 with Leitch attached to direct and Pitt starring. Others like King, Henry and Taylor-Johnson were added over the rest of that year. A release date was finally announced a year later.

Of course that casting led to some entirely justified backlash and criticism of “whitewashing” since the original novel’s characters are Japanese and almost none of the actors in this film are.

Sony gave attendees of CinemaCon in August 2021 the first look at the much-anticipated film but that was it for a while.

the marketing campaign

Sony kicked the campaign off at the end of February with a teaser video that eschews footage from the movie (for the most part) in favor of a promotional video for NSL, the company that runs the train line in the world of the film. It’s filled with beautiful, peaceful images of the Japanese countryside before finally showing a scraped and exhausted Ladybug looking out the windows as the scenery passes by.

The first trailer (20.6m YouTube views) was then released at the beginning of March. A tone is immediately established as we see Ladybug and Lemon (Henry) have a threatening but polite conversation on the quiet car of the train. There are lots of moments like that as we meet the rest of the characters Ladybug will be interacting with and fighting against, get the backstory there are lots of people after the briefcase in question and more.

The teaser poster released at the same time doesn’t show that impressive cast but instead opts for an image of a train steward standing formally alongside a seat that, upon closer inspection, has blood on it, with more found on the floor.

Johnson talked about his role in an interview conducted by fellow actor Andrew Garfield.

Leitch and Bad Bunny both appeared at 2022’s installment of CinemaCon in April to offer updates, show off some footage and promise distributors the movie was coming soon.

Empire offered first looks at some new stills along with comments from Leitch, Pitt, Henry and others in May. Bad Bunny also offered some thoughts on the movie and more in a GQ profile.

At the beginning of June a new poster came out, this one showing Ladybug looking somewhat confused or frustrated as he stands in front of all the adversaries he’s going to have to fight his way through to complete his assignment.

That was followed by the second trailer (6.7m YouTube views). This one offers the same story and vibe, but adds the context that not only does Ladybug have legendary bad luck but that he’s crossed paths with many of the others that have now congregated on the train.

Henry and Johnson appeared in character in a series of short videos aired during the NBA Finals where they ask questions of various NBA stars.

We get a cut down version of the story and characters in the first TV spot that aired at the beginning of June. That spot was also used as pre-roll online.

Taylor-Johnson was on hand during Sony’s presentation at CineEurope in June to introduce footage from the film.

It was then Pitt’s turn for a GQ feature interview where he talked about not only this film but his career to date and some of the other recent projects he’s been involved in as a producer.

Fandango then unveiled a series of character posters, each of which has some sort of symbol or other item relevant to that character in the background.

Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat users could search for movie stickers to add to their content. Twitter emojis were also introduced.

As July began more TV spots rolled out that offered variations on the trailers or which went a little deeper in introducing one of the other characters in the story.

News also came that the movie was scheduled for August’s Locarno Film Festival.

King was then interviewed about the training she did for this and other recent films as well as the experience of working with Pitt.

The international press and publicity tour then kicked off in France, where Pitt and others were in attendance. Additional stops included Berlin, London and elsewhere. During this tour Sony made extensive use of YouTube’s #Shorts format to show off clips of the cast dancing around and having a good time. Pitt’s fashion choices would become the subject of not just one but two feature stories.

Henry and Johnson are back in a video announcing tickets going on sale in mid-July. They also showed up on an IMAX video explaining how watching a movie on your phone is a sub-par experience compared to theaters.

The IMAX-exclusive poster uses the style of Japanese paintings to show Ladybug looking out over the scenery as the train rushes through the title treatment. AMC Theaters’ poster shows him standing at the end of a train car with a handful of bad dudes waiting for him. The poster from ScreenX shifts to a landscape perspective to show Ladybug running down the top of the train with Momonga in pursuit.

Because NFTs are still a thing there were some of those as well. Nifty’s introduced a collection of them while an exclusive NFT of Momonga was offered to those purchasing advance tickets of large-format screenings.

Back in the world of real things, Tumi promoted its rugged aluminum briefcase that is the MacGuffin of the movie.

Manga artist Hiro Mashima offered his own takes on the character posters previously released.

The first (and at this point only) clip released shows a slightly extended take on the quiet car fight between Lemon and Ladybug.

overall

There’s a lot of fun stuff here, helped out by an entertaining and talented cast with Pitt out in front. My tolerance for Pitt varies from one film to the next, but here he’s at his most enjoyable with what looks like a loose performance matching the tone and vibe of the story. It helps that he has talented comic talents like Henry, King and others to play off, of course.

Of note is how often the campaign invokes Leitch as “The director of Deadpool 2” in an effort to amp up his credentials when it comes to action comedy. Not only that, but it’s an attempt to tie this movie into something the audience has already seen and largely enjoyed, bringing it closer to being a somewhat known quantity and therefore not as big a risk of entertainment dollars.

where the crawdads sing – marketing recap

How Sony has sold its adaptation of a best-selling novel

Where the Crawdads Sing movie poster from Sony Pictures
Where the Crawdads Sing movie poster from Sony Pictures

How The Crawdads Sing, opening this weekend in theaters, is based on the 2018 Delia Owens novel of the same name. Written by Lucy Alibar and directed by Olivia Newman, the movie stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as Catherine “Kya” Clark, a young woman who has grown up largely on her own in the wild marshes of 1950s North Carolina after being abandoned there by her parents and siblings. Solitary and suspicious by learned nature, she eventually bonds with two young men: The kind Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith), who teaches her to read and shares her love of nature and wildlife and the hunky high school quarterback Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), who manipulates Kya for his own sexual gain.

As the story reaches the end of the 1960s, Chase is found dead in the marsh with little evidence indicating who is responsible. Kya is charged for the crime but maintains her innocence as the people in town who have always viewed her with apprehension take sides.

Reese Witherspoon, who selected the book for her Hello Sunshine Book Club in late 2018, produced the film and has been central to the marketing campaign, so let’s dive in.

announcement and casting

The movie was announced in mid-2020, with Sony naming Newman as director in July. Edgar-Jones was named lead in January, 2021 at the same time the casting of Smith and Dickenson was revealed.

Production began in April, 2021, and throughout the year updates were shared of behind-the-scenes action and more, especially when Owens or Witherspoon would stop by the set.

the marketing campaign

Things kicked off in March of this year with a Vanity Fair feature including first-look stills from the movie along with comments from Newman and Witherspoon.

That was followed by the release of the first poster, which shows Kya’s face blending into the river that, in another photo, she pilots her small boat down. It’s a nice way to show her in her natural environment and communicates how Kya’s identity is the marsh and the marsh is who she is.

The first trailer (7.8m YouTube views) came out at the same time. It opens with the attorney who defends Kya (played by David Straitharn) explaining to the jury – and the audience – who she is and what her life has been like. That then gives way to more of Kya’s experiences, from having to survive on her own in the marsh to her tentative trips into town. Especially there are her relationships with Tate and Chase and how they come to shape her story.

Edgar-Jones was interviewed about how she connected with the character of Kya during the pandemic and how Owens encouraged her to make that character her own instead of worrying about how she’s presented in the book. In another interview she shared how she prepared for filming by working with the film’s art director to understand Kya’s drawing style and learned to drive a small motorboat.

A short vignette featuring comments from Jones, Witherspoon and others was released in mid-May, just before the second trailer. That trailer (5.2m YouTube views) hits many of the same beats as the first but shifts it so Kya is responsible for telling her own story. It also very clearly calls out that the film features a new song from Taylor Swift, which is played over much of the action.

Another profile of Edgar-Jones focused on her career so far and how she’s starred in a number of novel adaptations.

An exclusive clip was aired during the “MTV Awards” in early June. That was followed by another short featurette about making the movie, what the story’s about and getting Taylor Swift to contribute a song.

Sony used Pinterest (which makes a lot of sense given the female-skewing demographics of the book) to share a number of movie-inspired recipes, printable bookmarks and mobile backgrounds people could grab.

Kya and Tate have a conversation about what they are to each other in a clip released later in June.

Swift then released the full version of “Carolina” for everyone to listen to.

Fandango got an exclusive clip of the scene where Kya drives her boat through the marsh to avoid the sheriff and deputy looking for her in connection with Chase’s death. Another scene of Kya and Tate was shared by Southern Living.

The process of casting Edgar-Jones and how Newman worked with her to flesh out the character of Kya and capture the spirit of the book was covered in an interview with the two.

Newman and Owens both appeared at the Bentonville (AR) Film Festival in late June.

TV spots calling the movie “the most thrilling mystery of the summer” started airing at this point, highlighting Witherspoon’s involvement as well as the new song from Swift. Additional spots covered similar ground over the next few weeks, with some hitting slightly different aspects of the story.

A partnership with Chasing Paper offered peel-and-stick removable wallpaper designs inspired by the film and its locations.

There were more interviews with Newman and Edgar-Jones about what kind of impact they hope the movie will have both on audiences and their own careers.

Moving into July, another clip has Kya talking with her attorney about how she doesn’t hate the people in town who have looked down on her, she just wants to live her own life.

Later that month the New York premiere of the film had Edgar-Jones, Witherspoon, Newman and everyone else in attendance. Edgar-Jones also made a few appearances on “CBS Sunday Morning” and other talk shows to promote the film.

overall

Critical reception of the movie so far has not been positive, and projections have it opening to a shade over $10 million this weekend, dwarfed by what’s expected to be another big weekend for Thor: Love and Thunder.

But the latter says more about what the box-office looks like in mid-2022 than the campaign that’s sold the film. The marketing outlined above is solid, doing a nice job of appealing to women of all ages, those who made the book a best-seller and those who want to support anything Taylor Swift does. Using Witherspoon as a central element also makes a lot of sense given her name recognition and overall likability.

The reality is, though, that anything north of that $10 million would indeed qualify as a “sleeper hit” here. Looking at the movies that have scored big this year, they’re almost all driven by the turnout of male audiences, especially older men.

How it winds up performing will likely be influence as much by word of mouth from those who see the movie and wind up telling their friends how it does or doesn’t adhere to the book’s story as the campaign proper.

returning to theaters en masse

It’s the new pesto…

At the end of last week Sony announced it planned to bring Spider-Man: No Way Home back to theaters September 2nd for the Labor Day weekend. Not only that, but this is a new “fan cut” titled “The More Fun Stuff Version.”

This edition reportedly contains new scenes as well as extensions of existing scenes. Considering the original release was two-and-a-half hours long, it will be interesting to see the running time on this new version.

The news comes just a couple weeks after Sony tried something similar, bringing Morbius back to theaters in early June after its initial April release, though the return added less than $100,000 to its existing domestic total, keeping it in the $73m range.

Listen Jared Leto GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

By contrast, No Way Home grossed $804m before going on to strong numbers on home video/digital.

Morbius’s rerelease was explained as a way to hopefully capitalize on the memeification of the movie, though that obviously didn’t turn out well. Bringing back No Way Home, on the other hand, seems more like being out of ideas.

sony’s currently glowing

Back in April Sony was the belle of the ball, credited for saving the box office thanks to hits like Spider-Man, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and Uncharted. The studio topped that off with a “victory lap” at CinemaCon where it touted its success and reaffirmed its commitment to theatrical releases, a commitment that surely has little to do with it being the only major player without its own streaming platform. That’s why it has a deal with Netflix allowing the streamer to snatch up some titles.

The remainder of 2022 looks a little less optimistic, with July’s Bullet Train, September’s The Woman King and October’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Part 1 looking like the surest box-office bets. And since April theaters have been packed with audiences turning out for Doctor Strange 2 (Marvel/Disney), Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount) and now Jurassic World: Dominion (Universal).

twice as nice

Bringing popular (however you want to define that term) movies back to theaters seems like the logical extension of a business that has been in massive flux for the last two decades as studios evolved in response to changing consumer trends and preferences. It also appears to be a reaction to how the whole industry was thrown for a loop during the pandemic.

Theatrical attendance essentially zeroed out for a year and a half following March, 2020. In that time Warner Bros. went all-in on HBO Max, Universal, Disney and Paramount all experimented with streaming exclusives or hybrid releases and so on. And each time the studios genuflected in the direction of theater chains and promised they were still the prettiest in the room.

As people started coming back to theaters it became clear that franchises, sequels and other existing IP were cementing their dominance in the world of ticket sales. Yet at CinemaCon there seemed to be agreement that tentpoles alone couldn’t keep theaters afloat and that a broad-range of mid-level features were needed.

they’re back…again

If rereleasing major titles becomes a trend adopted by other studios, the idea that there’s any serious commitment to anything less than blockbusters becomes even more difficult to swallow. Such rereleases used to be exceedingly rare, saved only for titles like Avengers: Endgame that were major events. If this tactic is more widely adopted then it becomes less “satisfying public demand” and more “we just want to supplement home video revenue and fill a hole in our release schedule.”

The test, to my mind, will be if titles like Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World: Dominion are back on the big screen in two or three months. Right now, as stated earlier, Sony seems to be the only studio actively doing this, but if another joins in we will officially have a trend.

And then all best are effectively off, as box-office totals become less a moment in time and more a moving target studios can impact at will.

morbius – marketing recap

How Sony is selling its latest Spider-Man villain spinoff.

Morbius movie poster
Morbius movie poster

Morbius should have come out two years ago. But, of course, a lot has happened in that time.

Jared Leto stars as Dr. Michael Morbius, a scientist suffering from a rare blood-based disease. When he takes what he believes to be a cure for his condition he finds the side effects include a form of vampirism that gives him a taste for human blood. It’s then up to him to decide to put the powers that come with it to use for good or evil.

The movie is (maybe?) part of Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man Universe, which interestingly contains no Spider-Man movies but does have the two Venom movies to date. Matt Smith also stars as Michael’s brother Milo, who has the same condition and who also develops powers as a result of the experimental cure. Adria Arjona plays Michael’s coworker and fiancée Martine Bancroft while Tyrese Gibson plays FBI agent Simon Stroud, who’s hot on the trail of Morbius.

With all the delays and a general lack of focus, it’s sometimes been difficult to get a firm handle on the campaign, but let’s dive in and see what has transpired.

announcement and casting

Leto’s casting in the title role was announced in mid-2018, as was the involvement of director Daniel Espinosa. Arjona joined the cast in late 2018, as did Smith and others.

Leto shared a first teaser look at himself as the title character in early March of 2019 and another a month or so later.

the marketing campaign: 2020

The teaser trailer (21.3m YouTube views)released in early January 2020 presents a slightly ridiculous take on the comic hero genre. Morbious, we see, suffers from a chronic blood disease without a cure and his time is running short. So he tests an experimental cure on himself. It works, but with substantial side effects that have turned him into something not quite human, faster and stronger and with the abilities of a bat to fly and see things through echolocation. Oh, and he is driven to consume blood.

Two notable components make it clear that unlike Venom, this movie clearly takes place in the Holland-verse of Spider-Man movies, making it also part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 1) Morbious walks past a Spider-Man poster with “Murderer” spraypainted on it, and 2) Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes from Homecoming appears at the end, seeming to team up with Morbious on some new villainous endeavor.

At the end of March 2020, Sony announced it was shifting the movie’s release date by several months as theaters remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Another delay was announced in January 2021, with the movie shifting from March to October and then, just days later, to January 2022 to stay out of James Bond’s way.

the marketing campaign: 2021

With little conversation or acknowledgement, there was then a pause in the campaign of over a year, spanning a solid year, restarting only slightly in January 2021.

In an interview, Leto talked about how it was difficult to play a character who’s a little closer to how he is in real life.

Claims went back and forth between Sony and Disney executives and stars about whether or not this was part of the Holland universe of films until Sony issued a statement in late June 2021 saying definitively that the movie does *not* connect with the MCU in any way.

Leto appeared in a Fandango-exclusive featurette released at the beginning of November, one meant to set the stage for a new trailer the next day.

That new trailer (17m YouTube views) touted the January release while hitting many of the same beats as the spots that had come out earlier.

In early December a new poster came out showing the two halves of Morbius’ personality while proclaiming “A new Marvel legend arrives”, which seems a bit hyperbolic as well as duplicative since it’s very similar to the tagline used for Shang-Chi last year.

An extended clip was released in early December of last year showing Morbius’ transformation into the vampiric beast aboard a ship and going on to decimate most of the crew.

A short while later Leto appeared at the red carpet premiere of Spider-Man: No Way Home, furthering speculation that the two movies were in some way connected though it’s more likely this was just a publicity moment for the studio.

the marketing campaign: 2022

Another delay – this time to April 2022 – was announced in early January, reportedly to give Spider-Man: No Way Home some additional breathing room in theaters. That announcement came nearly two years to the day after the first trailer was released.

A short featurette was released in late February that had Leto introducing the character and explaining the super natural origins from the comics and how that’s being translated on-screen.

The final final final trailer (4.1m YouTube views) came out at the end of February. It starts with the same “hunt aboard the ship” scene that’s been featured several times previously. After that we see Michael fretting over the moral choice he now has to make in order to live followed by some advice from Adrian Toomes and a bit of posturing from Michael’s brother Milo. Overall it doesn’t offer much that we haven’t seen repeatedly in previous trailers and clips.

In a first (at least as far as I’ve noticed), a Discord community was created for the movie involving a series of message boards and chat rooms where updates and other information was shared.

TV spots like this began airing in early March, each one offering a slightly different cutdown of the trailer footage focusing on Michael’s search for a cure and the resulting mayhem when he takes that cure.

Arjona and Leto appeared together at a fan screening of the movie in Mexico.

An interview with Leto had him talking about why he decided to take on this role, including how being the first to portray Morbius was attractive to him since he didn’t have to worry about comparisons to other actor’s performances.

Morbius’ head forms the outline for a spooky cave and dissolves into a swarm of bats on the IMAX poster. The character’s demonic side gets a very artistic representation on the Regal Cinemas poster, with a similar approach taken on the D Box poster.

Another featurette has Leto talking more about the history of the character, specifically calling out how this is part of the Marvel Multiverse, something that opens up lots of opportunities for new stories. In one more he expanded on being the first to play Morbius and why the character was interesting to him.

He talked about the movie and playing another comic character on “The Tonight Show.”

An AR app for various platforms let users transform themselves into the sinister Morbius.

Sony shared videos from the cast’s publicity tour stops in Mexico City, Berlin, Paris and Madrid.

G Fuel created a movie-branded package containing a themed energy drink as well as a collector’s cup.

NFL player Von Miller appeared in a TV commercial where his trainers, concerned he’s showing superhuman abilities, consult Dr. Morbius, who tells them not to worry about it.

Arjona finally got a profile of her own, talking about joining a big Marvel movie as a Latina actress, STEM representation and lots more.

overall

Phew. A few thoughts in summary:

First, I don’t know that I’ve encountered a campaign that is so stop-and-start. Other campaigns over the last few years have had big gaps, but this one comes and goes with little acknowledgement of time having passed, essentially running the same handful of beats from the top each time a new phase starts.

Angry Jared Leto GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Second, the gymnastics Sony has to jump through to try and explain whether or not this movie is connected to Venom much less the MCU-partnering Spider-Man films is worthy of solid Olympics judges consideration.

Jared Leto Marvel GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Third, this is being sold entirely as an anti-hero character study. The villain played by Matt Smith appears briefly in the first trailer and briefly in the final trailer and is otherwise completely absent. That’s an odd choice that may have been driven largely by how big a personality Leto is as well as the desire to introduce the character on his own.

Matt Smith Walking GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Fourth, I forget what this one was.

Scared Jared Leto GIF by MorbiusMovie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Finally, Leto’s repeated insistence that this character was more like him personally so he didn’t have to go full method as he has on other films is just funny on, by my rough count, at least nine levels.

uncharted – marketing recap

How Sony is selling a big-bet video game adaptation.

uncharted movie poster
uncharted movie poster

Uncharted, based on the popular video game, finally hits theaters this weekend after a journey of several years and lots of talent changes over the last few years.

As it stands, the final product stars Tom Holland as Nathan Drake, a young adventurer out to find his fortune and live up to the legacy of his family, specifically Sir Nathan Drake, the 16th century explorer. Drake is on the trail of treasures lost by the crew of the Magellan in the early 1500s. To help him he partners with Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), who also previously worked with Drake’s missing brother Sam.

The movie, directed by Ruben Fleischer, also stars Antonio Banderas and Sophia Ali as competing treasure hunters. Nathan Fillion, who campaigned heavily for the role back around 2009, does not appear.

Let’s take a look at how Sony has sold the film.

announcement and casting

Sony has had an adaptation of the game from Naughty Dog studios in some stage of development since around 2008. At one point David O. Russell was attached to direct and Wahlberg was slated to play the lead role. Joe Carnahan, Shawn Levy and others have also been named as directors over the years.

Holland was officially cast in mid-2017, with the movie pegged as a prequel to the story told in the games. Two years later Wahlberg, who had exited the project, jumped back in, this time in the supporting role as opposed to the lead. Banderas and the others joined in early 2020 as the movie finally moved into production.

All those changes meant the original 2017 release date has changed several times.

the marketing campaign: early phases

While promoting Onward in early 2020, Holland offered a brief update by saying production was just weeks away from beginning. Banderas and Gabrielle joined the cast in early 2020, shortly before Fleischer’s name was floated as the latest director.

The first official look at Holland in character came when he tweeted out a photo in October of 2020.

Nolan North, who provided the voice of Nathan Drake for the video games, was heavily involved in the teaser push, sharing additional photos, participating in online chats and otherwise giving the production his seal of approval, an important part of getting longtime fans on board.

Holland was one of the presenters at the 2020 Game Awards to help burnish his credibility and build awareness.

More official stills were released in January 2021 to prove the movie was still happening.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Its release date was then pushed from July 2021 to February 2022.

the marketing campaign: getting serious

After such a long period of anticipation, the first trailer (15.4m YouTube views) finally came out in late October 2021. It immediately establishes Drake as a hunter of lost treasures before allowing him and Sullivan to team up to look for the one of the biggest unfound hauls in history. It’s the same treasure Drake’s brother was on the trail of when he disappeared. But they’re not the only ones looking for it, meaning there are going to be shootouts, explosions and other man-made dangers in addition to whatever else awaits them.

A behind-the-scenes featurette with Holland and Wahlberg came out shortly after that trailer.

How Holland used the time at home after Covid-related pauses in production to bulk up in an effort to match the muscular look of Wahlberg was covered in this interview.

Drake and Sullivan look out into the middle distance looking very much like they’re on the cover of a video game package on the first poster, which didn’t come out until December. The remnants of old ships loom in the background to make sure the audience understands they’re searching through historical artifacts.

The second trailer (12.9m YouTube views) came out a bit later in December and shows more of how Drake and Sullivan are going to be working together, the conflicts they’ll have with others who are also on the hunt for the Magellan’s lost treasure and more. It’s filled not only with action but also lots of quips and one-liners, especially from Drake, since selling the tone of the film is even more important than selling the story.

In January the first clip was released showing a showdown on a cargo plane that has Drake hanging on for dear life. That clip was also introduced by Holland at Sony’s CES press conference, where he talked about how he learned about the game franchise and how excited he was for the film to come out.

Another poster, this one using the traditional action movie format of everyone being arranged around the star with locations from the story placed in the background.

The scope and complexity of the stunts and action sequences was the focus of a mini-featurette with Holland.

TV spots started running a month out from release that boiled the sales pitch down to the essentials, focusing on the wit and action.

Fandango MovieClips shared an exclusive trailer that offers a bit more of the character dynamics but otherwise covers a lot of the same ground as earlier spots, even if much of the footage is new to the campaign.

The plane sequence is referenced again on the next one-sheet, which uses an image of Drake hanging off the dangling cargo.

Holland and Wahlberg appeared in an announcement for Fandango when tickets went on sale at the end of January.

A series of short “travel vlog” videos were shared from various stops like London, Spain, Rome,

The IMAX-exclusive poster once more uses the plane sequence as its central element. ScreenX has posters that show Drake and Sullivan clutching important artifacts while on their journey. AMC Theaters ran a sweepstakes campaign where fans could unlock exclusive content. The Dolby poster released a bit later takes a more original approach, offering an illustrated take on Drake that looks like it’s been folded like a map.

Hyundai’s cross-promotional campaign kicked off in late January with a spot that features Holland as Drake driving the 2022 Tucson to a convenience store/service station to get repairs after suffering unusual damage.

The two stars show up again to joke with each other and offer their thoughts on the film in an extended spot released at the beginning of February. They did likewise in a spot that references this being an Olympics year and how they’re basically professional athletes in the movie.

Drake puts his bartending skills to violent work in the next clip.

The topic of how Holland used Covid-enforced time off to bulk up and more was covered in another interview with the actor. He then appeared in a featurette with Neil Druckman, who created the game, to talk about adapting it for the screen.

Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan appears in a commercial that aired during the recent NBA All Star game. Also on the sports front was a spot (roughly timed with the Super Bowl) with Holland and Wahlberg talking about fandom and commitment. Another, this one Valentine’s Day themed, had the two discussing the bromance between their characters.

How he approached the character of Nathan Drake was covered by Holland in another featurette.

Sony launched an AR lens for Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram allowing people to put themselves in the “dangling from cargo out the back of a plane” sequence.

G Fuel launched a promotional campaign that positioned their nutrition supplement as the perfect fuel for high-energy adventures like those found in the movie.

Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters offered their own exclusive interviews with the stars.

The process of adapting the game into a movie was covered in another sit-down video featuring creatives from both media.

Fleischer talked about how working on Venom helped him approach this project and its action-heavy nature. How the trades departments translated the costumes and visuals of the game for the movie was covered in this profile.

A lyric video for “No Mind” by Milkblood was released earlier this week.

Many of the cast and crew appeared in person at an IMAX fan screening in New York City.

overall

It’s an alright campaign for a big-budget movie projected to open with a $30 million weekend and which could serve as an indicator of Holland’s box-office draw when he’s not wearing the Spider-Man costume. But two major things jump out at me:

First, Sony really honed in on that plane sequence as the central element to help convince audiences to come see the movie in theaters.

Tom Holland Plane GIF by Uncharted - Find & Share on GIPHY

Second, every time there’s a shot of Holland as a bartender I think this is a sequel or prequel to Cocktail and my interest in the film increases dramatically.

Tom Holland Bar GIF by Uncharted - Find & Share on GIPHY

spider-man: no way home – marketing recap

How Marvel and Sony have sold the third entry in the web-slinging franchise

Spider-Man: No Way Home movie poster
Spider-Man: No Way Home movie poster

Spider-Man: No Way Home arrives in theaters this week at the end of what can easily and legitimately be described as a weird year for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. At the beginning of 2021, Covid-19 vaccines were only just beginning to become widely available and many new movies were still going straight to streaming or VOD if they weren’t being delayed indefinitely.

Now the theatrical release picture has gone back to something approaching pre-2020 normal, including how only franchise blockbusters seem to score any level of success at the box office. But there are headwinds building, including new Covid variants, that could skew things going forward.

Into all this comes the third film in Sony’s third (or fourth depending on if you count Into The Spider-Verse) Spider-Man franchise. Tom Holland returns as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, as does Zendaya as Michelle “MJ” Jones-Watson and Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds.

The story revolves around Parker turning to Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to undo the revealing of his identity as Spider-Man that occurred at the end of the last movie. But when the spell goes wrong a rift in the fabric of the universe occurs, leading to intrusions on the MCU Spider-Verse by characters from Sony’s previous two Spider-Man series.

announcement and casting

In late summer of 2019, well before the movie actually moved into production, the press was dominated by reports that the tenuous partnership between Sony and Disney that had allowed Spider-Man to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had fallen apart. Both sides blamed the other, saying parts of the deal had been reneged on and a new agreement was impossible to reach that would allow the crossover to continue.

Things seemed destined to go back to their pre-2016 status quo, with Spidey unconnected from the MCU until Holland himself exerted pressure on the heads of both studios, making the fan outpouring clear to them, resulting in a new deal that would at the very least allow for a resolution to the character’s arc within the MCU instead of an abrupt, unexplained exit.

In October reports emerged that Cumberbatch would be reprising his role as Doctor Strange in the film.

Sony moved the movie by a month on the release schedule in July of last year while the Covid-19 pandemic was still causing massive disruptions. In September it raised a lots of eyebrows with the news Jamie Foxx was returning as Electro, a role he played in 2014’s Spider-Man 2 with Andrew Garfield,

Production was underway, as marked by Holland in a timely mask-related post, in November of 2020.

Additional casting news came fast and furious in December of last year, when Molina, Stone, Garfield, Dunst and Maguire were all reported to be coming back, lending credence to the rumors this movie was going full multiverse.

Zendaya spoke briefly about the movie late last year when doing publicity for other projects.

In February speculation as to the movie’s official title came to head when Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all shared a few new stills along with totally fake-out title cards, a planned stunt to get fans talking and sharing. It all culminated when Sony shared a video featuring the three leaving Watts’ office frustrated by his refusal to share the title of the film, only to walk past a white board with that title written on it along with a handful of rejected contenders.

Molina confirmed in April he was returning as Doctor Octopus, but Andrew Garfield in May denied he was involved saying he hadn’t been contacted by anyone about the project.

The movie, along with other upcoming MCU entries, was name-checked in the “Marvel Studios Celebrates The Movies” video from early May.

marketing phase one: spectacular

The first good look at the characters, including hints as to what the story may involve, came when Marvel released photos of some of the toys and collectibles in early July.

The trailer leaked in mid-August, causing Sony to go through the paces to try and have it taken down from the various places it popped up.

When it was finally released by both Marvel and Sony (107.5m combined views on YouTube), it shows Peter is still dealing with the fallout of the last movie, including police suspicion he killed Mysterio. With his secret identity now public, he goes to see Doctor Strange to see if anything can be done about that. But Strange’s spell to reverse what happened goes awry – in part because of Peter’s nervous meddling – it opens up a portal to the multiverse. That means there are glimpses of characters like Green Goblin, Electro and, dramatically at the end, Doctor Octopus.

Sony addressed that leak as it showed off the trailer and other footage to attendees of CinemaCon in August.

A first TV spot from the day after the trailer came out touted how successful it had been as measured by both video views and social media conversations generated.

Cumberbatch talked about what the story has in store for Peter and Stephen when he appeared at the Telluride Film Festival to promote some of the other films he had being screened there.

As Garfield was doing the media rounds for his other projects he kept being asked whether or not he was appearing in this movie, consistently denying any cameos had been filmed.

The release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage in September included conversation about this movie because of a mid-credits sequence that hinted at Eddie Brock/Venom, played by Tom Hardy, finally meeting Spider-Man in this film because of multiverse craziness.

Holland talked more here about what it was like to finish the trilogy with Watts as well as how he was super-excited to work with Molina. Around the same time a profile of Zendaya covered her experience on this franchise as well as her other recent work. More stills were released in an Empire cover story that had Watts talking about overcoming the seemingly impossible task of assembling so much of the talent from all the previous films.

marketing phase two: amazing

The first poster wasn’t released until early November, over two months after the trailer came out. It’s surprisingly restrained for this franchise but still shows a lot, including Spider-Man balancing on one of Doc Ock’s arms while Green Goblin is seen in the background along with hints of Sandman and Electro’s involvement.

The next one-sheet came out just a week later, this one showing Spider-Man huddled with Doctor Strange against the encroaching enemies.

More small hints and comments came from Cumberbatch on “Kimmel” in November during the press cycle for The Power of the Dog.

The official trailer (58m YouTube views from Sony) came out in mid-November. This one skips some of the setup about Peter wanting to make everyone forget his super hero identity and gets straight to the incoming threats from the multiverse. After the challenges become clear, Peter learns that all these villains die in their home universe, something he’s determined to prevent before closing the rifts and sending everyone back. Doctor Strange isn’t on board with that, but Peter and his friends won’t be stopped.

Sony held events screening that trailer in various cities, with Holland showing up at a couple of them to get fans even more excited.

The star was profiled in GQ, sharing some thoughts about this movie as well as what he sees for the future of Spider-Man on film.

At this time Liberty Mutual began running a cross-promotional campaign that worked the idea of Spider-Man saving the city into the company’s commercials about saving people money and hassle. There were also commercials from Hyundai that showed Peter getting picked up by Ned in the middle of nowhere as he tries to clear his name.

More TV spots were released that cut down the message of the second trailer to a shorter runtime while still conveying the multiverse nature of the story and the attendant villains.

Tickets going on sale was announced by the cast in a Fandango video on what was called “Spider Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving. Another video had Foxx joining Holland. AMC Theaters promised those buying advance tickets a free “eco-friendly” Spider-Man NFT.

An interview with producer Amy Pascal, who’s been involved with the franchise since she was the head of Sony Pictures, had her confirming there will be future Spider-Man movies, that those will be made in cooperation with Marvel Studios and that Holland wasn’t quite done with the suit yet.

The IMAX poster released at the end of November shows Spidey swinging through a distorted cityscape, hinting at how the universe is unraveling because of what’s happened. The Dolby poster shows him swinging through the city, this time upside down.

Lots of different elements are brought together on the theatrical poster, which has Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and MJ at the center of a twisted reality vortex as the various villains swirl around them. Electro, Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus all got individual posters as well.

Just leaving these here.

Two movie-inspired costumes were added to the Spider-Man video game from Insomniac.

At CCXP in early December there were a couple promotional moments, including a video of Molina, Dafoe and Foxx together talking about the legacy of their characters and working together for the first time, at least in this series, and how production technology has changed since the last time they suited up.

G Fuel released a commercial for its cross-promotional campaign, including new drink flavors and movie-branded cans and packaging.

Holland talked about the movie on “Late Night.” In another interview he cast more doubt on his future in the series while also reflecting on his involvement as being one of growth and enjoyment.

Liberty Mutual came back to the campaign to sponsor Daily Bugle newsstands in New York City filled with newspapers that had Spider-Man pictures and news.

A video of the Paris kickoff to the cast’s press tour was released.

An ESPN commercial that had fun with some of the rumors circulating around the movie and its cast was part of a larger element of the campaign focused on what was or wasn’t known. That included the cast discussing fan theories amongst themselves and then later asking those who had begun seeing the movie not to spoil anything for those who hadn’t yet.

Holland, Zendaya and Batalon all appeared on “GMA” to promote the movie while those three were joined by Cumberbatch for an appearance on “Kimmel.” Marisa Tomei showed up on “Late Night” by herself, though.

Literally everyone, including Marvel’s Kevin Feige and costars Tomei, J.K. Simmons, Jon Favreau, turned out for the red carpet world premiere. Even Jared Leto, who stars in the upcoming Morbius, was there. That event was sponsored by Hyundai and TikTok, which had been a major promotional platform for the movie to date, offering clips, filters, stickers and more. It even released its own commercial touting the features.

PlayStation put out a clip showing the disagreement between Peter and Strange that causes some of the story’s conflict.

One more video of the cast warning against spoiling the movie came out right at the end of the campaign.

overall

First: We have to address the very last part of the campaign, the one where the cast of the film was enlisted in the War Against Spoilers. While I get that there are a lot of plot twists and surprising characters, the entire premise of the story is that the multiverse is coming together, which means that anything is possible. So learning that X has been cast as a character they played previously isn’t exactly an outlandish statement that can upend one’s enjoyment of the film.

Second: You have to love how the three leads – Holland, Zendaya and Batalon – have seemingly formed this tight knit group over the course of three movies. Putting them all together in various components of the campaign, from the title announcement to press appearances and other videos, only works because they’ve clearly bonded and are now a family, with an easy rapport that makes the banter believable.

Third: Everyone needs to get their stories straight regarding Tom Holland’s future in the Spider-Man series. He seems to be pulling a Daniel Craig-esque “Yeah, I had a good run but I’m done” move while Pascal and Fiege are trying to pull him back in. The latter may just be marketing positioning by the executives who don’t want to blow up audience expectations, but then someone needs better media training.

Fourth: If you are brining back Willem Dafoe but also still putting him behind a mask that doesn’t allow for his natural expressiveness to come through, you’re doing it wrong. But am I right in understanding that the one villain from the Holland movies still alive – Michael Keaton’s Vulture – isn’t in this while almost all the villains from the other series are? OK I guess…

Fifth: I forgot what this was going to be.

Sixth: The campaign has a lot going for it but it might actually be too much. While super hero movies tend to be plot-heavy this feels excessively so. Still, it gave us this extremely relatable Doctor Strange GIF so it wins on points.

Benedict Cumberbatch Fire GIF by Spider-Man - Find & Share on GIPHY

Finally: While the reviews have been generally positive and anticipation for the movie seems high, it’s hard to believe the $150m opening weekend projections will wind up being accurate. We’re fully in the midst of a Covid-19 surge (thanks, everyone refusing to get vaccinated!) that is already causing Broadway shows to close, sports teams to cancel games and more. It might be big, but it won’t be that big. And if it is, it might be the last one to reach that mark for a little while here, at least until the spring.

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.