Rocketman – Marketing Recap

rocketman posterThe fate of “classic rock” as a viable radio format may be up in the air, but on the big (or streaming) screen it’s alive and well. That is most recently evidenced by the fact that this week’s Rocketman, a biopic of flamboyant piano player and the man behind some of rock’s biggest hits Elton John, is tracking for a debut weekend of $25 million. That opening, should it come to pass, would only be about half of what last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody brought in, but well above some of the other non-franchise releases so far this year.

(Side note: For the purposes of maintaining focus, we’re not going to address how the movie is titled “Rocketman” but the John song it’s named after is “Rocket Man.”)

Taron Egerton takes on the role of John in a story that follows him from his beginnings as a struggling bar and club musician through the super-stardom he experienced in the 1970s and 80s. That journey includes not only his growth in the music world but also his personal life, a big part of which is his sexuality, something he kept secret from the world for years, as well as his rampant drug and alcohol abuse.

The Posters

Egerton *is* John on the first poster, showing him in one of his trademark flamboyant performance outfits and clearly having a blast singing and playing in front of a massive stadium crowd. It’s tinted purple with light shimmering all over the image, communicating clearly the bright fantastical tone of the film.

John is shown in close up, his eyes obscured by big dramatic glasses on the Dolby Cinemas poster released in early May.

rocketman poster dolby

The Trailers

The teaser trailer labels the film as being “Based on a true fantasy” and indeed is meant to create a kind of surrealistic framing for the story. That’s helped along by the good looks we get at some of John’s most iconic styles, from the glittery Yankees jersey to the feather boa to the massive cowboy hat and lots more. There are scenes of him as a young child to help make clear that we’ll be following him from his youngest days – or at least flashing back to them – and some indications the film won’t shy away from the sexuality John kept secret for decades.

The official trailer from late February offers a more complete look at the story, moving between John’s beginnings as a working pub musician named Reggie to the heights of super stardom. It presents his story as one of trying to change his reality through the creation of one fantasy after another, including the costumes and other theatrical excesses. There’s also more than a few hints at the sexuality he kept under wraps in the early years and how that contributed to his feeling there was always a block on him being who he truly was. It’s filled with John’s music, which makes for a great selling point in and of itself.

Online and Social

There’s not a lot on the movie’s official website, but what is there is at least somewhat original.

“Never Ordinary” is a photo-upload feature that allows visitors to add some sparkle to a headshot or other photo via a selection of colorful frames, John-like glasses, text with declarations of strength or uniqueness and more. The end result can then downloaded or shared on social networks.

Also shareable is the “What’s Your Song” section, which has a personality quiz asking you a series of questions to determine what Elton John song is the perfect one for you.

More standard are the “Videos” section with the trailers and more, and the “Soundtrack” section with links to stream, download or buy the album.

Only Facebook is linked to from the site but there were also Twitter and Instagram profiles as well as an official Giphy channel. You can also find an official movie playlist on Spotify along with the soundtrack.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot debuted around the same time as the second trailer, cutting down the story of John living out a fantasy life into a shorter pitch for the audience but including many of the same key moments.

Fandango announced in early May it would give its VIP members access to screenings two weeks prior to release in an effort to jumpstart audience buzz for the movie, a partnership promoted with a new commercial spot.

A couple weeks before the movie came out, John’s music was used in a special themed episode of “American Idol” that had contestants singing some of his biggest hits. The costumes were, of course, the focus of a special movie-themed episode of “Project Runway.”

Most of the online ads – and there have been quite a few – have used key art of John in his sparkly Dodgers uniform that wasn’t from a U.S. but a U.K. poster. Pre-roll ads on YouTube included spot for both the movie in general and for the soundtrack specifically.

rocketman pic

There weren’t many promotional partnerships – at least not any that received much attention – but one involved Lucky Brand, which created a collection of t-shirts inspired by the film and featuring classic photos of John. Another exclusive collection was offered by fashion retailer Mr. Porter, but those pieces were more formal and subdued, understandable given it was a subset of its ongoing Kingsman label.

Gucci was also involved, but seemingly only in that it has long been John’s preferred outfit provider and so has occupied a significant role in the publicity of this movie just as it has on the singer’s recent and previous tours. Their status as the movie’s official crystal provider was touted by Swarovski.

Media and Publicity

The movie was part of the studio’s presentation to exhibition executives at CineEurope in mid-July 2018. Quite a bit later, in late September, Paramount released a first still of Egerton as John, showing off how he donned the singer’s unique 70s style.

Egerton spoke about the movie while promoting Robin Hood last year. He and Maddon were interviewed jointly about working together on the film.

A short featurette from mid-February had Egerton and others talking about the process of recording John’s songs for the movie and receiving the artists approval for his interpretations. John’s approval of Egerton’s performance and abilities extended to the actor singing “Tiny Dancer” with John at piano for the musician’s charity event earlier this year.

Given the club’s status as an important part of John’s rise to fame, it was a nice move to have the cast and crew show up at L.A.’s The Troubadour for a Q&A.

In mid-March Paramount held a preview event giving select attendees a first look at expanded footage from the movie, resulting in a wave of very positive buzz and word of mouth as those who saw it came away impressed by Egerton and the production as a whole. About that same time Egerton was interviewed about how his primary goal was to do John proud and remain true to the real story.

Shortly after that there was some controversy when it was reported Paramount was balking at scenes depicting a gay sexual relationship, reports Fletcher dismissed as speculation, saying his and the studio’s intent was still to release an R-rated film that dug into John’s life and behavior. Similar comments were made by Egerton when the film screened at London’s Abbey Road Studios and then again by the actor when Paramount brought him and footage from the movie to CinemaCon in early April. That footage wowed attendees, generating a lot of positive buzz in advance of release.

Reports circulated the movie would have its official premiere out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, rumors that were later confirmed as it would screen out of competition there. It was later added as the opening night feature at the Toronto LBGT Festival.

In mid-April a short featurette had the cast and crew talking about telling a fantasy-driven story of John’s life.

A feature story profiled the production team and their efforts to recreate Los Angeles from the era the story takes place in. Another focused on the costume design team and how they dressed Egerton in facsimiles of John’s most outlandish outfits.

Continuing the emphasis on Egerton’s real-life vocal abilities, it was announced in early May that he and John would duet on a new song for the movie’s soundtrack.

rocketman pic 2

Some of the movie’s cast revealed the songs from John’s catalog that had the biggest impact on their lives.

A feature profile of Egerton had the actor talking even more about taking on the Elton John persona as well as how some of the roles he’s taken to date have lead him to this point, ready to vault into the realm of super stardom. That was also the theme of another later interview with him and became a constant element of other stories prior to release. Along those same lines, Maddon was profiled in a piece that focused on how he was ready to stop playing a “nice guy” and get a little darker, a move this movie is part of.

Scenes from the movie are mixed with footage of Egerton in the studio singing in an official video for his version of John’s classic song “Rocket Man” that lends its title to the movie. The costuming – featuring recreations of John’s outlandish wardrobe over the years – was the subject of another featurette in early May.

A profile of Fletcher covered his previous work and allowed him to talk about not only this movie but also his contributions to last year’s big musical biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. John’s real-life husband, who’s also a producer on this movie, spoke about how eerily close to reality Egerton appeared while Fletcher once more sought to assuage concerns the story would go light on the singer’s sexuality.

“The Tonight Show” hosted an appearance by Maddon. Closer to release Egerton was interviewed about his friendship with John on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” A number of interviews featured John and Egerton together, including this appearance on “Good Morning, America.” The duo of Egerton and Maddon sang along to John’s music on an episode of “Carpool Karaoke.”

The movie’s appearance at Cannes was a major event, with the entire cast as well as John, co writer Bernie Taupin and John’s husband. Everyone engaged in multiple interviews, talking about the story and how true it is or isn’t to the events that inspired it. What it also accomplished was to set aside some of the concerns that had plagued Rhapsody, assuring people it contained a frank portrayal of John’s sexuality, something that was a first for a major studio release. Fletcher even compared it to Rhapsody directly, saying this is the “R-rated version” of the story that in that movie was toned down for a PG. That comparison was one Egerton wasn’t so eager to address, wanting to let both movies be judged on their own.

Paramount hosted a special performance of both John and Egerton at the festival, something that garnered massive press attention. The singer was also interviewed about his substance abuse from decades ago and how it plays into his – and the movie’s – story.

There were also interviews with the technical crew of the movie, including the costume and set designers responsible for creating the movie’s fantasy-inspired look and feel.

Fandango hosted an exclusive clip of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.” EW then got a clip of “Crocodile Rock.” Future clips included scenes of John meeting Taupin and more.

That fateful meeting was also covered in a piece written by Taupin about how the two were brought together and their decades-long collaboration.

Being true to the story continued to be a big topic of the press, with Maddon reiterating similar comments from Fletcher about how cutting the gay sex scenes from the movie would have been a disservice to John and everyone else. An interview with John included him saying some studios the project was shopped to over the years wanted that aspect of the story toned down, a compromise he was unwilling to make.

Fashion was the focus of an interview with Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays John’s mother in the film, one that touched on not only the styles sported in the film but also her own personal preference for styling herself and buying second hand clothing. She also appeared on a few TV talk shows and engaged in a few other interviews.


How the movie was being seen as a pivotal proving point for both Paramount – which needs a non-franchise hit – and Egerton was the subject of this story, which makes it clear the studio is taking a big bet here that could have significant upsides as well as downsides depending on how fickle the audience is. Appearing at Cannes offered a moment where the general conversation turned cautious optimism to one that included it among potential Oscar contenders. I wouldn’t be surprised, based on that late buzz, if opening weekend proves a bit stronger than the $25 million forecast.

In marketing the movie, Paramount has seized the larger-than-life nature of the story and man to position it as just as big a blockbuster event as Aladdin or other franchise entry. This is a big, oversized and dramatic story with flashy costumes, massive spectacle that should be seen on the big screen according to the studio. The message has been one of reassuring the audience that they know the music and the basics of who these people are and what happens, so come see a glitzy version that will entertain you for two hours or so.

That the project has so deeply involved the real people being portrayed has been an advantage for the marketing, especially on the press circuit, where John, Taupin and others have been available for interviews and appearances. Putting the cast and crew out there to this extent would have resulted in a bit of overload, but spreading it around the group means there are more cumulative beats generated.

Previously I had lumped this movie in with Bohemian Rhapsody and The Dirt, two other recent music biopics that had the seal of approval and heavy involvement from the subjects themselves. Those others were criticized for being too glowing in their portrayal of sometimes problematic or at least more complex artists, something that can be expected when the parties giving approval have an active interest in managing their own reputation.

The message sent by John in particular in the campaign for Rocketman is the opposite, though: Instead of shying away from aspects of the story that might be unsavory he seemingly sought to embrace them, unwilling to partner with a studio or filmmaker who didn’t want to be truthful about what happened even if it might be unusual for a major studio film. That has made a big difference in how it’s been sold.

Picking Up the Spare

John took to iHeartRadio to host a special show featuring some of his biggest hits and tell stories related to the movie. Music was also the subject of an interview with Giles Martin, the producer of the soundtrack. 

The cast and crew spoke more about production and John’s legacy at the film’s premiere. 

More attention has been paid to the production team, with features on how the film’s fantasy sequences were developed and how they recreated the famous Dodgers Stadium concert. Costar Richard Madden got another profile as well. 

Egerton showed up at a John concert in England, once more teaming up on a duet of “Your Song.” 

A couple stories in early November about how Egerton has come to have a side hustle as a John collaborator and more on how nervous he was about taking on the project.

Robin Hood – Marketing Recap

robin hood poster 12A few initial thoughts about Robin Hood, coming to theaters this week:

  • This movie looks like another “let’s turn a classic literary character into a super hero” adaptation like Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur, but more like the latter, unfortunately
  • There’s nothing here that looks like it deviates from the standard Robin Hood story, about a returning Crusader (Taron Egerton) who’s upset that his home has turned into a den of corruption at the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) and so gets training on vigilantism from an ally (Jamie Foxx).
  • The story about a social justice warrior engaging in criminal but morally righteous behavior to redistribute wealth to the disadvantaged is 100% going to be received poorly by the MAGA crowd and the “Fox & Friends” hosts who love them
  • If there isn’t a Bryan Adams song over the end credits, what are we even doing here?

With that being said, let’s dive into the campaign.

The Posters

Two character posters – one featuring Robin and the other Little John – were released at the same time as the first teaser trailer. A more general poster came out as well showing Robin standing in the middle-distance in a forest made up not of trees but of arrows shot into the ground. It’s not bad and certainly works to set the tone and visual feel of the film. Another shows a collection of arrows arranged in an “R” symbol that looks like what’s sported by the Batman sidekick known as Robin, not one that’s associated with the social justice warrior or Nottingham.

A whole batch of character posters introduced us to the main players in the story, putting their headshots in front of an arrangement of arrows and other ornate decorations.

A couple theatrical posters featured the whole cast. While each has them in different opinions, they both seem like variations on the kind of generic action-oriented super hero movie one-sheets we’ve seen over the last several years, with the hero looking stoically at the camera while supporting characters stand or run around in the background.

The Trailers

If the first trailer is any indication, this is another in a long line of recent movies that seek to turn the characters of classic literature into super heroes. The basic outlines of the Robin Hood mythos are there, including his desire to exact justice upon a corrupt ruler and redistribute wealth to the common folk, all with the aid of Little John and with the suspicious eye of Marion on him. But it’s all dressed up by incredible, superhuman capabilities, technically-advanced arrows and all that. There’s humor and romance amidst all the action as well, but no really coherent story is being sold here.

Honestly, this looks like a promo sizzle reel for “Arrow” season two. You can’t convince me it’s not, especially with the repeated usage of “The Hood” to refer to the vigilante.

The second trailer is a little better, but only a little. We see more of Little John training Robin to use the bow and arrow as a tool for stealing from the rich in order to give to the poor, as well as the Sheriff’s frustration at having his power questioned by some vandal. But between the slick jacket the Sheriff is wearing, the modern attitudes sported by all the characters and the Occupy Wall Street bandanas worn by Will Scarlett and the other members of Robin’s gang, this still looks like it could be set in the not-too-distant future, not the far-off past.

The whole “rob from the rich, give to the poor” angle is hit a bit harder in the third trailer, which positions Robin as a social justice vigilante who sets out to steal from the sheriff’s treasury and thereby remove his base of power.

Online and Social

A variation on the key art greets visitors to the movie’s official website. When you open up the menu in the upper left the first section there is the “Synopsis” and you can navigate through the other sections by clicking the arrow at the bottom of the page. It’s a nice touch from a user experience perspective.

The movie also became the latest to get a “VR Experience” with a game that puts players in Robin’s shoes to shoot arrows and exact justice. The game was created by Qualcomm for the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR platforms.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A series of TV spots started hitting in late October, with different commercials covering different aspects of the story, from the plan Robin and John hatch to the justice they try to achieve with their actions.

Online ads used the key art while sponsored social media posts used the trailers and other video assets.

Two promotional partners were listed on the official website: Qualcomm, which created the VR game mentioned above, and Laser Quest, which offered a sweepstakes awarding a hometown screening for winners.

Media and Publicity

Comments on the movie from Egerton, Mendelsohn and others accompanied a first look photo that kicked off the publicity and marketing of the movie. Things went dark for a while until it was part of Lionsgate’s pitch to industry and press at CinemaCon, with footage being shown to prove the movie was actually happening.

While the movie didn’t have a huge promotional presence at San Diego Comic-Con, it did run a contest awarding prizes if you unlocked the secret phrase and told it to staffers at a location outside the convention center.

A behind the scenes “sizzle” featurette had the cast and crew talking about the story, how different this version is from what you’ve seen before and how big the action is.

How Little John begins training Robin was the subject of the first clip released in mid-October. Another showed how the Sheriff “redirects” funds from the church.

Egerton and Foxx showed up together on “The Tonight Show,” part of the studios’ strategy to sell this as a buddy movie in addition to everything else. Foxx later appeared on his own as well while Egerton sat on “Kimmel”s” couch.

Another interview with Egerton had him talking about the character’s unlikely status as action hero and more.


This looks ridiculous, the latest ham-handed attempt by a studio to use well-known cultural icons and characters to ram a franchise down the throats of the audience whether they want it or not. That’s seen in every part of the marketing but especially in the generic, bland and badly-designed posters whose characters could easily be swapped out and replaced with those from any other movie.

Considering projections have the movie opening with an anemic $14-17 million, it doesn’t seem the campaign is doing much of anything.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Marketing Recap

As this week’s sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle opens, the elite British spy agency has suffered a terrible setback as a secret – and evil – organization has destroyed their headquarters and announced its intention to take over the world. Leading that charge is the organization’s charismatic leader Poppy (Julianne Moore), who maintains others have failed and so now she has to step in and clean up their mess.

That leads the surviving members of Kingsman, including Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) to seek the help of their American cousins the Statesman. That brings them into contact with Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and the head of that group, Champ (Jeff Bridges). The colonials may have a different way of doing things, but the two groups have to work together to take Poppy and The Golden Circle down before it’s too late.

The Posters

The first teaser poster accompanied, and basically served as, the news that the movie was officially happening at all. It shows a pair of glasses with one lens blacked out sitting on top of a surface with the text “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” a reference to the fate of a character from the first movie who may not be as gone as fans were led to believe. The second teaser also hinted at a character, but this time a new one that was American. This came out at the same time rumors were circulating around Tatum’s involvement and seemed to confirm those. Two more did the same thing for different characters.

The next primarily conveys the idea that the story is moving across the pond in this story, with the British character on one side holding his umbrella and dressed like a chartered accountant and the other character on the right dressed in jeans and a denim jacket and holding a bullwhip.

A whole series of posters featured each individual character standing against a white background. The Brits were labeled as “Suited” while the Americans were “Booted” to differentiate the teams and Moore’s villain was “Deluded.”

Another series offered a brief explanation of who they were alongside each character.

Another put each character in front of a contextual background like a cabinet full of guns, stylish clothing, sports equipment and more.

The Trailers

In advance of the first trailer, an “Ultimate Breakdown” was released that took the viewer through much of the movie, all condensed into quick flash single frames that took just 15 seconds to cycle through. It certainly worked to get people talking.

The first trailer starts with a brief recap of how Eggsy was recruited as a Kingsman before an important building is destroyed. That sets things in motion and there’s little story on display in the rest of the trailer, which is primarily concerned with showing off the action sequences. Along the way we get hints of the American counterparts they’ll encounter before a major reveal is made at the very end.

Before the panel at San Diego Comic-Con a red-band trailer was released that explains a bit more about the challenge the Kingsmen are facing and what brings them to America to work with the Statesmen. It’s violent and high-concept and looks awesome.

One more short trailer introduces us to Poppy and The Golden Circle. She’s bringing her secret organization out of the shadows because she feels society has failed, leading to lots of destruction, villainy and…dancing?

Online and Social

The theatrical key art sits at the top of the movie’s official website, just above links to the Facebook and Twitter profiles created by the studio as well as prompts to watch the trailer or buy tickets.

Scroll down and you can check out a bunch of the “Videos,” including the trailers, clips, TV spots and a few featurettes focusing on the stunt work involved in making the film. After that “About” has a story synopsis and cast and crew list. “Posters” lets you view, download or share many of the one-sheets.

After a section encouraging you to sign up for email blasts there’s “The Goldin Foldin,” a page you can print out with an original Al Jaffe (of MAD Magazine fame) illustration that can folded into a new image much like his landmark works on the back of that magazine.

There are a few activities under “Featured Content” that are relevant to the movie. “Gallery” has some production stills to check out. You can download a mobile “Game” that allows you to play as a Kingsman. Finally, “Social Updates” brings in posts from the movie’s social profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Whiskey also figured heavily in the first TV spot for the movie, which aired, appropriately enough, during the Kentucky Derby. This one was heavy on the story’s American connections, following the British team as they travel to Kentucky and meet the Statesmen, with scenes in a distillery and more being the focal point.

Further TV spots leaned heavily on how the Kingsmen and their American counterparts had to team up to save the world, with plenty of violent gunplay and other action shown. A ton of commercials were released over the course of the last four to six weeks prior to release, each taking a slightly different approach to selling the story but all playing up the slapstick violence. There were so many spots the movie was the biggest TV spender in the last couple weeks.

There were a number of promotional partners for the movie as well, including:

  • Old Forester, which created a special label of its bourbon whiskey named after the American version of the Kingsmen that’s introduced in the movie. That new product, framed as a partnership that was integral to the movie, received an extended video spot to introduce it to the audience.
  • VisitBritain and Expedia Media Solutions, which partnered on a campaign to encourage U.S. travelers to head across the pond. That campaign included banner and other online ads, an online game and exclusive content on and more.

Media and Publicity

The first bit of real publicity for the movie came in the form of an announcement of its title, which was enough to get people talking. It was quite a while then until some first-look stills were released along with from Egerton, Strong and others about where the characters are when we meet them again in this installment.

Vaughn talked about Moore’s taking on the role of the bad guy in the series and how she pulled inspiration from an unlikely source in Entertainment Weekly’s big San Diego Comic-Con preview issue. It also received a Hall H panel at Comic-Con featuring Egerton, Tatum and other members of the cast and crew.

The movie’s panel at SDCC included the cast and crew but it opened with a fun bit of original animation that placed Eggsy in the animated world of “Archer.” The opening scene from the movie was also shown. After than EW’s fall movie preview included an interview with both Firth and Egerton where they talked about their on-screen chemistry and off-screen friendship.

There was a fun video Fox created to tie into real world events that shows the studio’s marketing team first brainstorming and then executing the solar eclipse as a promotional stunt for the movie.

Egerton, Firth, Moore and a few others did a bit of press and publicity but there didn’t seem to be much. Whether that’s because of any trepidation on the part of Fox, a scheduling issue or something else I’m not sure, but it’s odd to see a lack of interviews and other activity by the main cast.


I failed to mention at the outset that I’ve not yet seen the first Kingsman movie, so I’m missing some of the context that might be necessary for the second outing. That being said, there’s nothing about the campaign here that makes that knowledge necessary. Meaning I don’t find much about the marketing that assumes the audience knows exactly who these characters are and what they’re up to. There’s the reveal that’s placed at the end of the first trailer, but that’s about it. Everything else just sets this up as a globe-trotting spy caper involving a team of Brits and a team of Yanks trying to stop a vague and ill-defined bad guy.

It’s all played fast and loose here, with tongue firmly in cheek. This is exactly how the first movie was sold, which means it’s in-line with the tone that’s been used to market just about all the cinematic adaptations of Mark Millar’s work, including Wanted and Kick-Ass. Considering that consistent brand tone it’s a bit surprising Millar isn’t name-checked more often in the campaign. Everything that’s here is good enough if you’re inclined toward such movies, promising an action adventure that’s high on style and low on substance.

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