2018’s Most Innovative Movie Campaigns

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll likely know 2018 has lasted a remarkable nine years. At least that’s what it’s felt like at times. It’s hard to remember that Black Panther came out just this past February as it seems as if that was roughly forever ago.

The year has seen a number of interesting and memorable movie marketing campaigns for dramas, comedies and everything in between A few months ago I shared what I felt were the best campaigns of the year to date and what it was that made them so special.

There are some campaigns, though, that may not be as memorable or innovative as others but which in some manner perfectly represent the genre the movie was a part of, or are indicative of a larger trend in how studios are selling their films to the general public.

Love, Simon

It’s notable that the year started out (more or less) with what was widely regarded as the first mainstream studio movie with a gay coming-of-age story, directed by powerhouse TV producer Greg Berlanti. It started 2018 on a hopeful and lighthearted note that was much different than the one it ended on. That more sour note was exemplified by releases like The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Boy Erased that dealt with the horrible practice commonly referred to as “gay conversion therapy.”

Rampage

For the last few years Dwayne Johnson has been the king of the box-office, reliably bringing in sizable audiences for movies he stars in, up to and including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle at the end of last year. So it’s surprising that both his high-profile releases in 2018 – Rampage and Skyscraper – failed to cross the $100 million mark. Both movies’ campaigns went big to sell the large-scale action of the stories, including VR experiences that took audiences inside the world of the movie. That each movie fell short in terms of ticket sales shows that even the biggest stars are still vulnerable when the material is seen as weak.

The Incredibles 2

One of the major changes of the last 10 years is that the term “all-ages movie” has been radically redefined. It used to mean gentle, inoffensive features, either animated or live action. Now, though, PG-13 super hero movies fit that category. The Incredibles 2, though, was the rare example this year of a truly all-ages story breaking through, in this case to massive success. That was helped by a campaign that focused on selling audiences a return to the classic original they loved from over a decade ago.

Leave No Trace

There were a number of high-profile movies this year from female directors, in some cases directors that for whatever reason hadn’t released a new feature in several years or more. Such was the case with Leave No Trace, which had Debra Granik behind the camera. That was her first new movie since 2010, when she introduced the world to Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. Also fitting in this category is The Land of Steady Habits from director Nicole Holofcener and Private Life from Tamara Jenkins among others. Granik and her return to feature directing formed a central component of the publicity campaign.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Sony has had its struggles with the Spider-Man characters it manages, finding its most popular attempt was when it teamed up with Marvel Studios for last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which established the wallcrawler as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The campaign for Into the Spider-Verse, which is not part of that crossover agreement, has generated a lot of positive attention and buzz by highlighting the multi-dimensional story and focusing on Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino Spider-Man who first appeared in Marvel Comics’ “Ultimate” line of books.

Set It Up

One of the most pervasive media narratives of the last several months was Netflix’s handful of releases in the romantic comedy genre, one the studios aren’t playing in as much as they used to. Set It Up was one of the first in what the company later labeled “The Summer of Love,” a period that went on to include Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and others. All were sold with light, breezy campaigns that focused on the chemistry between the leads and the chance for the audience to enjoy something a bit lighter on a Friday night.

Annihilation

Netflix started off 2018 by dropping a bomb on the movie industry, releasing The Cloverfield Paradox just hours after it debuted the first TV commercial for the movie during The Super Bowl broadcast. It had picked up the movie from Paramount, which decided it was no longer interested in the title. Paramount did hang on to Annihilation, starring Natalie Portman, but sold overseas distribution rights to Netflix when it saw little potential in those markets. It was, in fact, a year of Netflix picking up titles other studios wanted to discard, including Extinction (from Universal), Step Sisters (Broad Green Pictures), Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (Warner Bros.) and more.

Roma

No movie better encapsulates the tension between Netflix and theater chains than this new, highly-personal story from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. It, along with other recent releases like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and others are all titles Netflix feels are worthy of awards consideration, but the rules of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences state a movie must play a certain amount of theaters for a certain amount of time to qualify. So, wanting to continue to attract high-profile filmmakers, the company has essentially rented the requisite screens. Prior to that the movie was given the full prestige treatment, with appearances at film festivals in Toronto, Venice and others, all exactly like any other studio would give an awards contender.

Eighth Grade

There were a number of coming-of-age movies released in 2018, just as there are in most years. You can’t really go wrong with telling emotional stories of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood and uncertain of who they are and what their place in the world is. Bo Burnham’s feature directorial debut really got people’s attention, though, with a campaign that focused on the emotional performance from Elsie Fisher and, along with Searching and other movies, showed Hollywood may finally be understanding what the internet really is.

The Hate U Give

There were a handful of movies this year that either directly or indirectly addressed Black Lives Matter and the issue of police violence against black citizens, including Monsters and Men and Blindspotting. The Hate U Give was special, though, in that the campaign highlighted the book it was based on and its message of how the younger generation has a special role in shaping the future of society on all fronts. It was also presented as a showcase for star Amandla Stenberg, who’s earned accolades for her performances in this and other recent movies.

Halloween

The marketing for Halloween hit all the right notes, striking a balance between selling something new and the return to something old, promising audiences the opportunity to see where Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) was after all these years. That campaign contained the best elements of Universal’s long-time management of the franchise and Blumhouse’s appeal to the modern day horror fan. Contrast that with another legacy sequel, The Predator, which failed to elicit the same feelings of nostalgia after running a campaign that maybe just a little too tongue-in-cheek for its own good.

A Star Is Born

From the minute A Star Is Born first started screening for critics it had tremendous buzz as a potential awards contender, with much of the conversation focusing on the performance by Lady Gaga as the singer nurtured to stardom by an experienced industry mentor. The promise of new material fro Gaga was among the strongest messaging hooks, so much so that Warner Bros. didn’t release the soundtrack so going to the theater was the only way to hear that music at first. It also set the stage, so to speak, for original songs from popular artists to be used as central components in film campaigns, a tactic used by Vox Lux (Sia), On The Basis of Sex (Kesha), Bumblebee (Hailee Steinfeld) and others.

BONUS – Game Night

The movie is one of the more hilarious in recent years and the campaign reminded us all just how funny Rachel McAdams can be just by including this one line.

game night gif

The Hate U Give – Marketing Recap

the hate you give poster.jpgBased on the groundbreaking book by Audrey Wells The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr (Amandla Stenberg), a young black woman who lives in the poor part of time but goes to school at an elite – and mostly white – high school. She balances both worlds in various ways, being part of each community when she can.

That balance is disrupted when her friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is shot by a police officer. Starr is angry and sad and finds she wants to speak up and fight back against the kind of system that would allow such a thing to happen. Both halves of her life, though, are pressuring in different ways and she has to find the courage to carry on despite all that.

(Note: This came out a couple weeks ago in limited release and I just missed it because the official release date I was using to plan my recaps listed 10/19. No oversight or slight was intended.)

The Posters

The first and only poster is a variation on the original book cover art, showing Starr holding up a sign with the movie’s title.

Debra Cartwright, the artist who designed that original book cover, had some thoughts on both creating that first work and its use for theatrical key art as well as the casting of a light-skinned girl, which runs counter to the dark-skinned figure seen on the novel.

The Trailers

We meet Starr and get a glimpse of her life in the first trailer, seeing all the people and places in her neighborhood, including a local boy who’s crushing on her. She explains how she code-switches when she leaves home to attend a magnet high school, turning into a whole different version of herself. When she’s out with Khalil one night he’s shot by police during a DWB-inspired stop, throwing her whole world into chaos. Many encourage her to stay quiet, especially after being pressured by police, but Starr insists on speaking up and speaking out because she knows what happened wasn’t right.

Online and Social

It’s a pretty standard content offering on the movie’s official website, which features videos, a synopsis, photos and more along with links to official Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles. The one section worth calling out is the “Educator Resources,” which links to an outside website where teachers can download study and discussion guides to help foster and direct conversations about the movie’s story and themes.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The studio sponsored a presence for the movie at VidCon, the popular gather of video creators and media companies who want to get their attention. Later on Barnes & Noble announced it would hold discussion forums for the book at select locations around the country.

The first TV spot starts out playing much like the first trailer, but then dives more deeply into how the shooting she witnesses and her role following that impacts the code-switched life she leads at the magnet high school she attends.

One of the featurettes below was used as a Promoted Tweet with a link to buy tickets.

Media and Publicity

The first publicity for the film was not great. YouTube personality Kian Lawley was originally cast as Chris and most all the movie shot with him. It was only then that controversy developed because of past videos from Lawley where he used racially offensive language in a dead-serious way. That was doubly troubling because of the story’s subject matter. So his role was recast with Apa in that role and much of the movie reshot from scratch, something Steinberg and director George Tillman Jr. spoke about while Fox was promoting the film at CinemaCon. Around that same time a first still was released.

Not only did it appear at VidCon but Angie Thomas, the author of the source novel, appeared with the director and cast at various book and literary events and conventions. VidCon attendees also received a sneak peek at the teaser for the movie before it was released shortly thereafter during the BET Awards.

The movie was announced as one of those screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. It later appeared at the Hamptons Film Festival, where it won the audience award.

Stenberg was among those featured in Variety’s issue focusing on rising young talent, giving her an opportunity to talk about inclusivity in genre films, her career so far and more. Around that same time Thomas and Tillman spoke about the events that inspired the story and how it came to be adapted into a film, respectively.

The first clip released showed Starr coming to terms with the violence she’s witnessed and which is part of everyone’s life, with her father explaining it’s a trap other people fall into.

Around the time of Toronto a featurette was released showing the entire cast as well as Tillman talking about the story and its themes and how both are as timely now as they’ve ever been.

Toronto provided plenty of opportunities for the cast and crew to talk about the film, with Hornsby talking about the stakes for his career in playing Starr’s father, everyone explaining what the movie means to them, Stenberg clarifying for the white people in the back that “post-racial America” isn’t a thing that’s ever been, and everyone addressing the issue of supposed color-blindness.

It was also announced as among the films screening at the Urbanworld Film Festival. It was later revealed Def Jam would release the soundtrack for the movie. Tillman later talked about the themes and story elements of the movie.

A series of free screenings were arranged by Fox for youth organizations both to speak to those organizations and hopefully generate some word of mouth.

Hornsby was interviewed about how the powerful script had him hooked immediately while the whole cast offered their thoughts on how they approached the story and their characters, including how they drew inspiration from real people in their lives.

Just a couple weeks ago screenwriter Audrey Wells passed away suddenly, which prompted Stenberg to speak about how she collaborated with the director and writer on molding the story.

How Lawley was removed from the film and replaced with Apa came back up closer to release, including new details of just when the controversial comments were made and how they impacted everyone involved.

Regina Hall has been in a number of things recently, but her appearance on “Kimmel” included promotion of this movie. Stenberg also showed up on a number of talk shows both in the morning and late night to talk about the movie and share other amusing stories.

There was a whole mini-campaign launched focused on the #ReplaceHate message. That kicked off with ashort spot featuring the cast holding up signs featuring different words such as “empathy” plugged in where “hate” is in the title. Additional spots featured Stenberg as well as actual fans participating and spreading the message.

Overall

I’m more than a little shocked this hasn’t been more fervently used as a whipping post by Fox News or, if it has, that such commentary hasn’t been covered by the mainstream entertainment trade press. Considering its high profile and powerful message, you’d think Ted Cruz or someone would have a strong opinion on how it’s corrupting our youth by teaching them to not be deferential to the police or something.

Snark aside, this seems like the crown jewel in the recent wave of movies featuring #BlackLivesMatter and other racial themes and stories. It carries a very positive message about standing up for what you believe in even if the world is telling you to sit down. And if the movie encourages a few more people to understand what “code-switching” is and how those around them use it, so much the better.

Picking Up The Spare

The cast talks here about their own experiences with microaggressions at school and how those have impacted their lives.

Nice profile of Angie Thomas, the author of the book, and how she’s using the buzz around the movie to take her career to a new level.

The movie’s appearance at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival allowed Stenberg to speak more about the emotional nature of the story.

Author Angie Thomas speaks here about the process behind bringing her book to the movies.