News of the World – Marketing Recap

How Universal has sold a period drama about the power of news.

Tom Hanks stars in News of the World, the latest film from writer/director Paul Greengrass. Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a retired soldier who now travels across America’s 19th century western frontier telling settlers and others stories from the rest of the country and the world. While in Texas, Kidd encounters Johanna (Helena Zengel), a young white girl who has been raised by a Kiowa tribe and is now being returned to her remaining family. The two encounter all the dangers the rural west has to offer as they try together to make it to their destination.

First reactions started coming out a few weeks ago, mostly positive, and the movie currently sits at a very good 86% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Universal’s campaign for the film has been as serious and dramatic as you would imagine given both the subject matter and those behind and in front of the camera. Let’s take a look.

The Posters

Capt. Kidd and Johanna both stare off into the middle distance with the cloudy frontier sky behind them on the poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in October. It’s a simple but effective image that shows off the main selling points of the film, particularly Hanks in a dramatic role. The “Find where you belong” copy is a little vague but is likely intended to communicate the journeying elements of the story.

The Trailers

The first full trailer (9.4 million views on YouTube) was released in late October, introducing us to Capt. Kidd as someone who visits remote towns to share news from elsewhere in the country. In that capacity he meets a young woman who has been raised by Native Americans after her white family was killed. But keeping her safe will be difficult given not only his own unfamiliarity with children but also the robbers and other bad people who were plentiful in the American West at the time.

Online and Social

You’ll find the basic marketing content on the movie’s official website, including the trailer, synopsis and more.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first footage from the film came in a TV spot released in early October. That footage shows Kidd and Jane setting out on their journey, including some of the dangers and problems they’ll face along the way.

A short featurette with Hanks talking about the story of the film and the arc of his character was released later that month, just after the first trailer came out. AMC Theaters had another exclusive featurette that touched on the political and social climate the movie’s story takes place in.

An exclusive clip was given to MovieClips.

Short videos like this were used as pre-roll and on social media.

Media and Publicity

While it wasn’t the first press for the movie, the news that it was among the first titles to be set loose by Fox in the wake of its acquisition by Disney was noted by many. Universal was the savior who likely rescued it from oblivion, eventually setting a Christmas 2020 release date.

Vanity Fair debuted the first stills from the movie in October along with some quotes from Hanks and Greengrass.

A profile of Zengel included comments from Greengrass along with her talking about getting the role and working on set with Hanks, who appeared on “The Late Show” last week.

Overall

I want to feel like this campaign was effective, mostly because I’m intrigued by the story and a fan of all involved in making the film. But the marketing seems like it could have happened in any year – particularly during awards season – and there’s little here that offers a sense of urgency or immediacy to what’s being presented.

What I mean is that here at the end of The Year of Our Lord 2020, we’ve all been through some stuff. So the story of the film, that Capt. Kidd is hoping to make something of himself and create an informed and entertained citizenry in the wake of a divisive and deadly conflict is more than a little timely. Hitting that element of the story could have made a stronger impact instead of seeming like a potential awards contender from any year.

That’s not to say it’s a bad marketing push, just that it could have been recalibrated to be a bit more relevant to the moment it’s being released in.

Picking Up The Spare

Greengrass was interviewed about working with Hanks again and more here

More clips like this continued to come out post-release. 

There were more interviews with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, composer James Newton Howard and costar Zengel.

Greyhound – Marketing Recap

How Apple is selling the latest WWII film starring Tom Hanks

As is the case with many recent films, we should have marked the theatrical release of Greyhound a while ago. As it stands, though, the movie is coming to VOD this week via Apple TV+.

Based on “The Good Shepherd” by C S Forester, Tom Hanks stars as Captain Krause, a relatively inexperienced naval commander who is assigned to an Allied convoy crossing the Atlantic in the early days of World War II. Krause, still unsure in his post, faces a number of challenges, from the elements to the crew to the phalanx of Nazi submarines that stalk the convoy. Determined to keep his crew alive, Krause has to dig deep to balance all the problems in need of solving.

The campaign – first from Sony and then Apple – focuses on Hanks and his role as Krause, a no-nonsense commander in a no-nonsense situation. Reviews have been somewhat mixed so far, with the movie scoring 76 percent “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment.

The Posters

In March the first poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out, showing Krause looking to the side with a colorful sunset – as well as a billowing American flag – behind him. Flying through the sky are warplanes to help establish the military setting. Copy at the top reads “The only thing more dangerous than the front lines was getting there,” hinting at how it’s a story of troop transportation logistics we’re in for.

That same text, and the same photo of Krause, is used on the second poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), also from March. But this time the conflict of the story is made a bit more explicit with the inclusion of images from a naval battle between submarines and destroyers. This fixes a key shortcoming of the first poster.

The same design was used on a new poster from June that ditches the copy but adds the Apple TV+ logo to signal the platform the movie will wind up being available on.

The Trailers

Krause is commanding a ship across the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic in 1942 as the trailer (12.5 million views on YouTube), released in March, opens. As part of a convoy of Allied ships, that means dodging U-boats and coming to the rescue of other ships. This is his first trip, but the choices he makes keep him and his crew alive from one moment to the next, even as others in the flotilla aren’t as lucky. It’s a tense story of survival being sold here, all told in colors that are just as saturated as the emotions are heightened.

Online and Social

Apple didn’t manage any sort of website for the movie, just a product page that has some rudimentary information and plenty of information on how to try the streaming service. It looks like a Twitter account was setup, but likely just to post the trailer so it could be used as an ad on that network.

Advertising and Promotions

Almost as soon as the marketing campaign kicked off in March the studio announced the release date was being pushed back by a month, but the reasons for doing so were unclear. In May news broke that Sony had offloaded the movie to Apple TV+ with no theatrical release potential in sight because of the Covid-19 situation. Finally in mid-June an early-July Apple TV+ debut date was announced.

At the same time, ads on YouTube and elsewhere promoted its upcoming Apple TV+ availability, using elements of the key art along with the trailer.

Apple released a featurette just a few days ago that had Hanks and others talking about the film’s story, the history behind it and more.

Media and Press

An interview with director Aaron Schneider allowed him to talk about how he approached making the film, especially working with Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay.

Overall

It’s strange to see the release imminent and for there to have been so little press involvement from Hanks, who was reportedly extremely disappointed when the film shifted from theatrical to VOD release. He’s usually been the biggest resource his film’s campaigns can rely on, and while he’s been out talking about Covid-19 testing and mask wearing, he doesn’t seem to have talked much about this film.

Despite that, this is a decent campaign for what looks like a Very Serious Movie. But it remains puzzling why it was ever slated for a summer release when it seems more like an October or November title with its subject matter, tone and visual style. I’m not sure who the summer audience for this would have been, especially if things had gone as planned and Tenet had been sucking up all the Serious Summer Movie air from the room.

Also missing is any mention of the source book or context for the period that would help audiences get their heads around it. So while it’s good, there’s definite areas where it falls short in capturing people’s attention.

Picking Up The Spare

Hanks and Schneider were interviewed here about their goal of authenticity in how the characters and situations were depicted on screen. Similar ground was also covered in an interview with costume designer Julie Weiss. 

Another featurette with Hanks and others offered additional looks at the filming of the movie. Similar ground was covered when Hanks stopped by “The Late Show.”

There was a bit of coverage as awards season started on the behind-the-scenes details of making the film. 

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood – Marketing Recap

One of America’s most beloved figures plays another of America’s most beloved figures.

a beautiful day in the neighborhood poster 3A couple years ago there was a cluster of documentaries about Fred Rogers and the magical show he helped create. Chief among them was Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which chronicled the beginnings of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and showed how Rogers worked hard to keep civility, respect and empathy at the core of everything he did and everything he shared.

This week’s new release A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood takes a dramatic approach to telling Rogers’ story. Not a standard beat-by-beat biopic, the movie is based on 1998 Esquire profile of the man by reporter Tom Junod and focuses on the short period of time Junod spent with Rogers researching that article.

Rogers is played by Tom Hanks, fulfilling the head canon most everyone has had since about 1995 in terms of matching an actor to a role. Playing Junod is Matthew Rhys. Sony’s campaign for the movie has, as we’ll see, used Hanks’ widespread adoration as a major selling point while also making clear the Rogers everyone saw on TV for decades was the same one that existed when the cameras were off.

The Posters

If you’re not already crying at the “We could all use a little kindness” copy that sits atop the first poster (by marketing agency BOND) released in September I’m not sure we can continue to have this conversation. Rogers is decked out in his sneakers and red cardigan, seated on the steps outside his television house and looking every bit the compassionate friend so many of us remember. It’s a simple poster to convey a simple message, right down to the unobtrusive type used for the title treatment.

The second effort (by marketing agency Gravillis Inc.) from October is a little less successful, putting Rogers on a stool against a bright orange background. Descriptions of his character including “Neighbor. Icon. Friend.” are shown at the top. This time around the copy reads “An American icon and the story of kindness we need right now,” which is a little heavy-handed.

Thankfully things get back on track on the third poster (by BOND), released just last week. This time Rogers is shown on his living room set having a conversation with Junod, who looks slightly embarrassed at the situation he finds himself in. Instead of a tagline this one features a handful of positive pull quotes from enthusiastic early reviews.

The Trailers

What the first trailer (12.2 million views on YouTube), released in late July, does most well are two things: 1) We get a good look at Hanks as Rogers and see he gives the performance all the charm we’ve come to expect from the actor without ever breaking out of the guardrails provided by the real man, and 2) Explain the framing device of the story, that we’re seeing Rogers through Vogel’s eyes and experiences, many of which are mirrored in members of the audience. Reactions to the trailer were almost uniformly of the “Give me a minute while I stop ugly-crying” variety.

Online and Social

For all the care and attention given to reinforcing and protecting Rogers’ legacy and reputation in the rest of the campaign, the movie’s official website is a real head scratcher.

Not only is there no biographical information on the subjects of the film – not even a link to Junod’s original profile – but there’s a “Photo Feature” that allows visitors to:

  1. Upload a picture of themselves and add it to the publicity still of Hanks as Rogers sitting on the front steps, or
  2. Upload a picture of their own and have the movie’s title treatment along with their location added to it.

This is just the kind of feature that has been used for a lot of bad, off-brand purposes when other companies have used it. While similar tools have been available on the sites for other movies, it seems like the potential for abuse that would sully the name of Rogers and his mission would be too high a risk.

Other than that, the site simply sports the usual marketing material. But that one section is going to bother me for quite a while.

Advertising and Publicity

The first trailer was released just before the news broke that the movie had been added to the lineup of the 2019 Toronto Film Festival. Hanks, ever the charmer, led a group sing-along of Rogers’ best known song while working the crowd there. Reviews were massively positive, calling Hanks’ performance one of the best of his career. Sony released a sizzle reel of the premiere activity in Toronto.

Later on it was added to the list of films screening at the London Film Festival.

News came in September that Hanks would receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award at this year’s Golden Globes.

A short featurette was released in October with Hanks, Heller and others talking about what made Fred Rogers so special. Another one released in early November has them sharing the care and attention paid to making Hanks believable as Rogers. That the movie is a tribute to Rogers was covered in a third video that features an interview with his widow.

Heller introduced the film and answered questions about it at a screening last week hosted by The Hollywood Reporter.

Another featurette was focused on the article that inspired the movie and included an interview with Junod.

Just recently Sony held the film’s premiere in New York City and released a short sizzle video of footage from the event. On the other coast, a group of artists created a movie-inspired mural in Venice, CA.

TV spots like this were short and focused on the humble nature of Rogers message, even as they included overly dramatic music. Online ads used the key art and video snippets pulled from the trailer.

Promotional partners included:

  • Vineyard Vines, which touted its position as the “official style” of the film and offered a collection of movie-inspired ties.
  • Funko, which released a new POP figure of Hanks as Rogers.
  • Beekman 1802, which is unveiling a new movie-inspired gift set of beauty items on QVC next week.

Additionally, both Random House and Penguin Books are releasing movie tie-in books.

Media and Press

The first look photo released by Sony last September showed Hanks sporting the iconic red sweater in a behind-the-scenes shot. Shortly before the new year the movie was finally given a proper title. An actual production still was released in mid-February and another a month later.

Around the time the first trailer was released Heller was interviewed about how she worked with Hanks to tone down his natural boisterousness in favor of the more subdued stillness that was Rogers’ hallmark style as well as how the production team recreated the sets and other trappings of the show.

Another interview with Heller that happened while she and Hanks were in Toronto allowed her to explain some of the choices she made with the story and how she landed Hanks for the lead role. At the same time, Hanks spoke about how he came to appreciate Rogers’ worldview and approach to educating and communicating with children as well as how he finally got involved with the project. Heller also sought to set expectations that this wasn’t a traditional biopic but a very specific story being told.

The director talked about how hard she worked to get Hanks involved in a profile that also emphasized her notable career prior to taking on this project. Rhys was also profiled, talking about how he got familiar with Rogers’ work after being cast as well as working the Hanks.

How the production team faithfully recreated the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” set was covered in a feature that talked about the research everyone involved did.

A feature profile of Hanks encapsulated a lot of the press focus, from how “nice guy” Hanks was playing the leading figure for compassion, respect and understanding in the world and how the filmmakers strove to not have the actor’s personality encroach on the subject of their story.

The dynamic between Hanks and Rhys was covered in a joint interview.

He’d mentioned it before, but Rhys talked about how he was wholly unfamiliar with Rogers when he appeared on “The Late Show.” Hanks also made the rounds, including on “Today.”

Just as confounding as the photo feature on the website was the decision to offer an exclusive behind the scenes look at the movie to a website with a reputation for sexism, racism, bullying and blatantly offensive and hurtful behavior both editorially and professionally.

The studio had news anchors on various national and local broadcasts wear red sweaters in celebration of #WorldKindnessDay.

Overall

This should be a beautiful campaign.

For the most part it is. Positive word of mouth from early screenings have given it a 97 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, indicative of the care and grace with which the filmmakers have handled the material. The press has hit exactly the right notes in interviewing both Hanks and Rhys, reinforcing the themes of the marketing (sometimes too heavily) while also being respectful to the legacy Rogers left behind.

A few missteps, though, bring the campaign down dramatically. Particularly that placement of a feature on the making of a movie at a site whose founder publicly threatened to fire any employee who tried to start a union. That’s the kind of off-brand mistake that can really come back to bite you.

Putting that aside, the movie is presented here as a gentle, inspiring feel good time at the theater, one that will cause you to ugly cry but leave feeling reinvigorated and hopeful. If that message can motivate enough people to skip Frozen 2, it may have a shot this weekend.

Picking Up the Spare

Hanks finally stopped by “Kimmel.”

Joanne Rogers, Fred’s widow, was a big part of the movie’s press campaign and made appearances like this on her own to talk about his legacy and how the film honors that.

The movie’s writers talk about how the approached conveying the important character of Rogers. Rhys was interviewed again about how he found the core of his real life character.

Two more featurettes were released to take advantage of awards season, one on Heller’s directing and one on the work of the production designers who recreated the tiny sets.

Toy Story 4 – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Toy Story 4 at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Disney’s official website for the movie is pretty disappointing, as it usually is. Visitors will find the trailers and other videos along with a small gallery of stills and some character descriptions, but the most material there is the long list of promotional partners. There were social profiles as well, including one from Ducky and Bunny that was only sporadically used and never seems to have lived up to its potential.

Media and Publicity

EW debuted exclusive looks at four new characters in the movie, offering some background on who they were and what they might contribute to the story. That included interviews with Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks and Ally Maki as well as details on how Don Rickles’ voice would still be used for Mr. Potato Head.

A feature on the return of Bo Peep explained why she wasn’t in the third movie and what other new characters audiences could expect. That topic also came up in an interview with director Josh Cooley where he talked about creating an emotional journey for Woody to go on that would be consistent with the previous movies. Potts also spoke about returning to the series after unexpectedly taking the third movie off.

As is common with Pixar releases, features like this focused on how the design and tech teams expanded their toolset to create even more detail in the movie.

Director Josh Cooley was interviewed about taking on the challenge of helming such a high-profile and high-stakes release, with the filmmaker talking about his personal connections to the franchise as well.

Both Hanks and Allen did a good amount of media for the movie, including stops on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “CBS Sunday Morning” and elsewhere. Key also got in on the action, as did Hale.

A feature interview with Hanks allowed him to reflect on the decades he’s spent returning to the character of Woody from time to time.

Picking Up the Spare

IMAX released an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette. 

A number of new promotional videos have come out from Pixar, including a “thank you” from the creators and talent, everyone’s best moments, Hale introducing us to Forky, an overview of the entire series, 

Cooley discussed how Key and Peele got into their roles as Ducky and Bunny. There was another interview with Potts about her return as Bo Peep and how she approached coming back to the role. 

How the producers got four comedy legends to voice a batch of supporting characters was covered here. 

The Post – Marketing Recap

the post poster 5The Vietnam War still looms large in the collective American psyche, an instance where the cause being fought for was more muddled than usual. So too, the tendency of powerful figures to use whatever tools available to silence dissent and maintain their secrets is as old as time. Both of those realities came together in 1971 when former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked what came to be known as “The Pentagon Papers” to The New York Times in 1971. While the Times published a number of stories on the documents, which contained a classified analysis of the Vietnam War, it wasn’t until later that year when The Washington Post picked up the story that things really heated up.

The Post, the new movie from director Steven Spielberg tells that part of the story. Meryl Streep plays Katherine “Kay” Graham, publisher of the Post from 1969 to 1979. When she’s informed by editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) that he intends to publish reports based on The Pentagon Papers it sets off a whirlwind of corporate and legal action. The Nixon administration moves to stifle that reporting, just as it did for the Times, citing national security concerns. Graham and Bradlee, then, must weigh the threat of being arrested for treason against their duty to inform the public of the real reason behind the Vietnam War.

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