The Lovebirds – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling a comedy originally meant for theaters.

lovebirds poster

20 years ago, when The Lovebirds was still intended for theatrical release by Paramount, the movie was tracking for a $10-15 million opening weekend. That was decent, if not spectacular, and was due in large part because star Kumail Nanjiani was pretty popular with audiences.

Now, the movie is headed straight to Netflix but retains its appeal.

The story is a familiar one: Jibran (Nanjiani) and his girlfriend Leilani (Issa Rae) are very much in love when they find themselves in the middle of what appears to be a murder investigation. Afraid they will be suspects but with no evidence of their innocence, they set out on their own in an attempt to clear their names so they can get back to their lives. Of course that doesn’t go nearly as well as they hope or expect it will.

Michael Showalter directed the film, which hasn’t undergone much (if any) change in direction in its marketing despite the change, still hoping to lure audiences with a collection of ridiculous situations being faced by otherwise normal characters.

The Posters

There was just one poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications) released in January that shows Jibran and Leilani sitting in the middle of a chaotic New Orleans street looking disheveled and exhausted from whatever it is they’ve been in the middle of. Various elements of the plot are hinted at through elements in the background, including a horse, a car with a broken window and more.

That one-sheet still carries the movie’s original April release date for theaters and while there doesn’t seem to have been an updated poster publicly released Netflix did put out a promo image using the same design.

The Trailers

Jibran and Leilani are, January’s first trailer (3.3 million views on YouTube) shows us, a very happy couple. Things get weird when a man claiming to be a police officer commandeers their car to chase down and then run over – repeatedly – someone he says is a criminal. They realize, after running from the scene, they’re probably wanted for murder at that point but fear going to the police will not turn out well given they’re both brown people. So they set out to investigate for themselves to clear their name, something they’re not qualified to do and which therefore results in hilarity.

The same trailer (562,000 views on YouTube) was released by Netflix in April when it acquired the film.

Online and Social

No website as usual for Netflix’s films, but there were social media profiles, including a Twitter account that was active until right after the distributor change.

Advertising and Promotions

At about the same time the trailer was unveiled the news came the movie would premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Those plans, including an appearance by the stars, were shut down when the festival was cancelled due to the Covid-19 coronavirus situation.

A TV spot that aired in February had Nanjiani and Rae having the idea of faking online romance explained to them by Dean Unglert, Jared Haibon and Ashley Iaconetti from “The Bachelor,” all of whom insisted what you see on screen is very real.

Paramount took advantage of Giphy’s Stories format to create “How To Find Your Lovebird,” a series of GIFs on #SinglesAwarenessDay featuring the stars sharing tips on how to get your crush to notice you.

Another short TV commercial-esque spot came out in March that shows some of the hijinks the couple get into as they try to prove their innocence.

Eventually the movie was one of a number of releases pulled from the schedule by Paramount and other studios. Not long after that it was announced the studio had signed a deal with Netflix for the movie to premiere there. That announcement came in the form of a filmed video chat between Nanjiani and Rae where they shared their excitement over the change.

Media and Press

A first look photo was released in early January, just before the trailer debuted.

Nanjiani did a few video call interviews in the last couple weeks to talk about this movie as well as some of the other projects he has coming up. Rae did as well.

Overall

The story itself looks like something that’s been done before, but the promise laid out in the campaign is that there are enough unique twists here that, combined with the attraction of the leads, What’s on display here is a fun, fast-paced comedy with lots of ridiculousness as the situations the characters find themselves in just keep getting more and more outlandish.

What’s surprising is that there wasn’t more of a pivot on display given the Paramount/Netflix shift. The campaign is entertaining, but Netflix decided to continue on exactly as before when they took the reins, not doing much more with the effort to gain additional attention and interest, instead largely relying on whatever momentum the marketing had accumulated up to that point.

Picking Up The Spare

More from Nanjiani here when he appeared on “Late Night.” 

Online ads like this began running as the movie was about to hit Netflix. 

After the movie was released there was an interview with the two stars, who also appeared in a video chat to discuss one of the movie’s key scenes. 

Release Dates Are Moving, Impacting Marketing Campaigns

The announcements are coming fast and furious now.

It’s been just over a week since MGM announced it was delaying the release of the latest James Bond film, No Time To Die, in response to concerns over the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Moving it from April to November meant taking a financial hit of around $30 million, but that was seen as preferable to putting public health at risk.

Within the last 24 hours there have been a number of other such announcements. Paramount has pushed out the release of both The Lovebirds and A Quiet Place Part II to later this year. Universal has made an even bigger move, shifting the release of F9 all the way to next year, while Disney finally broke its silence and announced Mulan and The New Mutants were being postponed, though Black Widow is still scheduled as planned.

new mutants pic

The reasons why are understandable and rational. Many cities and states have begun not only canceling their own events but encouraging private organizations to shut down mass gatherings. The NBA, NHL and MLS have both suspended their seasons. All of this is to, as they say, flatten the curve of what’s now understood to be a pandemic and slow the infection rate.

It’s interesting that this is all happening at this moment given there have been two recent cases of movies coming out after long delays, though the reasons weren’t quite as severe as this. Sonic The Hedgehog was moved several months when the initial trailers were met with poor audience reactions resulting in reworked special effects. And this week The Hunt hits theaters after a controversy over its subject matter cased Universal to pull it from the schedule late last year, waiting until the fire had died down a bit.

In both cases, the marketing campaigns were restarted when the studio put new release dates in place, after the situations in question had been resolved in some manner. And so they provide some template as to what may happen when the Covid-19 situation infection rate slows in the U.S..

Given all of these were as little as a week and as much as a month out from release, their marketing campaigns were already well underway. TV spots were running, online ads were driving ticket sales, talk show appearances were booked and happening and other promotional events were being organized.

These campaigns are big trains that don’t just come to an immediate stop. No doubt there will be a few lingering commercials and ads seen in the next few days as programmatically-bought campaigns run out the clock.

What Comes Next

Given the examples offered by Sonic and The Hunt as well as X-Men: Dark Phoenix and other movies that have come out long after they were originally meant to, it’s reasonable to assume a few things about the campaigns that will need to be relaunched:

First, expect them to restart about a month out from release. That’s the period in which a movie’s standard marketing push shifts into high gear, looking to lock down moviegoer intent and capture the general audience’s attention.

Second, expect all new marketing assets. The relaunch of the campaign will likely kick off with a new trailer, or at least a reworked version of an existing one, and a new poster or two that feature the new release date. These will be essential to educating the audience about what to expect and drive renewed interest.

Third, expect a new round of press and publicity. Many of these movies, especially a tentpole like F9, have already been featured in cover stories and their stars profiled in various interviews. So while Vin Diesel, Emily Blunt and others have already made the talk show rounds they might have to do so again in the weeks leading up to release. Again, this is an essential part of generating awareness.

f9 pic

All of that being said, there are some moments that will be impossible to replicate. The Lovebirds was scheduled to screen at SXSW, as were scores of other films, until that event was canceled. And yesterday CinemaCon, which has frequently served as a platform for studios to roll out first-look footage and appearances from major stars, was ixnayed.

It may be that such big promotional moments have simply vanished and are no longer available, so the studios may have to create their own pop-ups or simply write them off.

No Time To Die and F9 were two of this spring’s biggest releases, but others remain (as of this writing) on the schedule, but there may not be enough product in the market for theaters to remain open even if they want to. More announcements could be imminent, with additional campaigns paused and restarted. Given the pace that’s emerged in sporting leagues suspending their seasons, nothing would be surprising at this point.

There are things the studio teams can do, but they all mean asking audiences to take a second bite at the apple, hoping their attention hasn’t moved on to other subjects at a later date. Also a concern now is if the infrequent ticketbuying that’s already become evident becomes even more common with so many streaming options available.

Whatever happens, we’re looking at marketing schedules that are timed with surgical precision be thrown into disarray that’s only moderately controlled.