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

Picking Up the Spare – Tag, Superfly and More

Superfly

More from Future on the soundtrack he produced and curated, which was a big part of the marketing campaign, here. Director X has also been giving interviews like this now that the movie is out.

Also recommended is this compare/contrast of this album with that of the original.

Tag

Star Jeremy Renner’s broken arms are part of this interview with director Jeff Tomsic where he talks about all the challenges he had making the movie.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Star Thandie Newton talked more here about the dress she wore to the premiere featuring the faces of the characters of color in the franchise to date.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

More on the Kellogg’s promotion for the movie here.

The movie is the next release to get the AR treatment from Moviebill, which is once again handing out periodicals to Regal Cinemas audiences that can be scanned using the Regal app to unlock exclusive content, including interviews (in print and AR format) with star Bryce Dallas Howard and director J.A. Bayona, a welcome message from star Chris Pratt, an interactive “dino-lab” and a sample of the dinosaurs available in the Jurassic World Alive, the location-based AR mobile game developed by Ludia.

That game is built on location and other data from Google Maps, which is helping to promote both the game and the services behind it.

Daniella Pineda has received a few profiles like this after being identified as the breakout newcomer – or at least largely unknown – in the movie. That makes the reports that a scene clearly identifying her as LGBTQ was cut, the latest instance of that happening in a major studio franchise film, somewhat awkward.

There’s also a bit of extra attention coming to co-star Justice Smith.

Director J.A. Bayona was never the focus of much of the press in advance of the movie’s release, but there was an interview with him here and another one here.

First Reformed

More from director Paul Schrader on the film’s disturbing characters and situations as well as his feelings and thoughts on God.

Gotti

The campaign for this is one I let go by me because it seemed like a terrible mess and the post-release developments have only reinforced that decision. Here are some examples:

  • The studio, along with MoviePass (which invested in the film), published a really weird and insulting Tweet positioning critics giving it a negative review as enemies of the common folk.
  • That same message was conveyed in push notifications to MoviePass mobile users and is what the movie’s marketing team is selling as they float the idea Rotten Tomatoes is artificially keeping its score down.
  • There’s speculation that the disconnect between that score and a strangely high audience ranking could be because of a bot/fake account campaign being mounted, something the studio denies.

Wonder Woman

As the marketing for the sequel ramps up, Turner Ignite placed a paid article on Ad Age about how Turner networks and shows helped sell the first movie to audiences.

Lady Bird

Amazon promoted the movie’s availability on its streaming service with a Father’s Day clip featuring some of Tracy Letts’ wonderfully-delivered lines from the movie.

The Incredibles 2

More from costar Holly Hunter in this brief interview.

A Wrinkle In Time

It seems Disney used the tactic of pairing this movie, which is already on home video, with The Incredibles 2 at drive-in theaters around the country to help it eek past the $100m mark.

Avengers: Infinity War / Deadpool 2

Josh Brolin is interviewed about how popular he is right now and how that kind of bothers and worries him.

Boundaries

OK, I’ll grant you that co-star Peter Fonda’s Tweet about Bannon Trump was in poor taste, but right now the last person who should be asserting any sort of moral highground on literally any issue at all is Donald Trump Jr. Indiewire has the whole recap, including Sony Classics’ position on the matter.

Christopher Plummer’s character was based in part on the real life grandfather of director Shana Feste.

The Catcher Was a Spy

The New York Times delves into the real history of Moe Berg, played by Paul Rudd in the movie.

Black Panther

An exhibit of the movie’s costumes will be on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Dundee

No, it wasn’t a real movie, but the campaign for Tourism Australia that sure looked like a movie’s marketing push just won multiple awards at the Cannes Social Lions.

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

The Incredibles 2 – Marketing Recap

incredibles 2 teaser posterI make mention of this in my recap at The Hollywood Reporter of the marketing campaign for The Incredibles 2, but it’s worth reiterating just how much the first movie, released in 2004, has influenced the conversation around the cinematic super hero genre that has popped up since then. It’s consistently ranked alongside other movies based on existing super hero characters and properties and became the touchpoint for the wealth of criticism aimed at Fox’s recent attempted reboot of Fantastic Four.

It’s a bit odd, though, that it’s so beloved given its starkly Objectivist philosophical bent. You would think that a story that says “Yes, some people are inherently better and deserve to be treated as such” would run afoul of those espousing how everyone is equal and is worthy of the same treatment, but here we are. It’s especially puzzling given younger adults have reported time and again recently wanting to work and be involved with organizations that take a more empathetic approach to doing business, including the treatment of workers.

Still, here we are, on the cusp of yet another sequel from DisneyPixar, albeit one that seems more anticipated and longed for among the audience than some other recent entries. Adding on below to what has been shared at THR, here’s how the movie was sold.

Online and Social

The official website for the movie is pretty barebones, just the trailer, some stills, an “Activity Packet” to download and a lot of retail and other commerce information. Kind of surprising and disappointing there aren’t more games and character profiles here.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were also tie-in comics from Dark Horse.

There were a couple exclusive consumer product lines that aimed to bring the movie’s style to the real world.

An art show at Nucleus Gallery in Alhambra featured original pieces from artists inspired by the movies and characters.

IMAX released a video interview featuring Bird and other Pixar creatives talking about the movie and how anxious they were to see it on the biggest and sharpest of screens. There was also a short exclusive promotional spot for that presentation.

Media and Publicity

Hunter spoke in EW about what it was like to return to play Elastigirl and how the character has changed and grown since the first movie, including how that fits into the unique feminist moment happening in society at large. A bit later the studio introduced a number of new characters as well as explanations of what they would be doing in the story. Bird talked extensively with various press sites about the story and characters both old and new in interviews as part of a press day to promote the film.

Later on more information was revealed as Bird explained who the character are that want to bring supers back into the light. He also was interviewed about where the story picks up in relation to the first movie and what’s in store for the family and why he returned to animation after taking a few years to direct some live action features.

A good amount of the press in advance of release focused not on the movie itself but on Bao, the short being attached to the film, including how it was the first such Pixar short to come from a female director.

Jackson hit the publicity circuit, though talk unfortunately frequently turned to his role in the Marvel movies.

Overall

Elastigirl’s line, seen in some of the trailers and TV spots, about how she’s torn between job and family is a nice change from the first movie, which focused on Bob’s struggles with masculine identity. That shift shows how the cultural conversation has changed over the last decade and is likely contributing significantly to the audience’s anticipation.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Good story here about how Pixar got the band back together for the sequel after over a decade.
More from costar Holly Hunter in this brief interview.

Picking Up the Spare – American Animals, Adrift and More

Adrift

New interviews with both star Shailene Woodley and director Baltasar Kormákur offer insights into the story and process of making the movie, though the latter contains significant spoilers so beware.

American Animals

The narrative that’s emerging of how MoviePass, which partnered to release the film as its first move into film distribution, helped the film succeed is that it used its own platform to heavily promote the film, utilizing the user data it has to target ads. If I’m *any* other distributor right now I’m pretty honked off.

Both the cast and crew and the real people the actors are playing are interviewed here about the blurring of fact and fiction in the movie.

Girls Trip

Details on a creative campaign for the movie involving Snoop Dogg were shared here by Viacom, which ran that campaign across some of its networks and platforms.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

To the surprise of [looks around quickly] literally no one, a Wall Street analyst has blamed the marketing for the movie’s lackluster box-office results. He’s like 27% right, in that the marketing campaign was dictated largely by the release schedule, which was dictated by the other Star Wars movies coming out before and after it.

There’s a trailer for the Solo-related material coming to Star Wars: Battlefront II.

First Reformed

Ethan Hawke continues to make the press rounds to talk about the movie, which keeps getting positive reviews and buzz.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

All of you jackweeds who have hijacked Star Wars fandom to disseminate your backwards-thinking, anti-women, regressive worldview and mindset: Please get off my franchise. There is no place here for you and never was. Leave. Now.

Ocean’s 8

More from Anne Hathaway and others in the cast here about how they hope the movie will help burst the myth that female-led movies are question marks theatrically.

Another quick profile of breakout star Awkwafina here. And Helena Bonham Carter is finally getting some attention with a profile where she talks about how fun it was to work on a light caper movie.

Hearts Beat Loud

Nick Offerman has done a bit of press in the last few days to promote the movie, which is nice to see.

Tag

Jeez, even Annabelle Wallis has been forced to talk about Jeremy Renner’s broken arms during her portion of the publicity cycle. Hamm and Helms have also done a bit more publicity.

A clip from the movie was played in an episode of Machinima’s “Inside Gaming” to try and reach that crowd.

Nice profile of co-star Jake Johnson here at GQ. And there’s more from Hannibal Buress as well as an interview with the comedian.

A Kid Like Jake

Claire Danes has continued to do press for the film and talk about the issues raised in the story.

Avengers: Infinity War

Viacom offers details on a creative execution involving Comedy Central’s show with Jordan Klepper.

The Incredibles 2

Good story here about how Pixar got the band back together for the sequel after over a decade.

Superfly

Apparently star Trevor Jackson initially rejected as the lead because it was felt he was too young. More about how he got involved in the movie here.

The Kissing Booth

I know I didn’t give this movie a full campaign review, but that’s largely because it didn’t get a full campaign from Netflix. That’s too bad since it seems like the story’s origins on story-sharing website Wattpad seems like it would have been a decent hook for the press.

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