Cherry – Marketing Recap

How Apple is selling a story of trauma, addiction and how they intersect.

No matter what else you might say about Joe and Anthony Russo, they certainly seem to inspire loyalty among the actors the directing brothers work with. Nearly every post-Avengers project they’ve been involved with has included at least one of the actors from the MCU, and this week’s Cherry is no exception.

Based on the novel by Nico Walker, Tom Holland stars in the film as the title character, a young man who’s a romantic at heart in the early 2000s. He meets and immediately falls in love with Emily (Ciara Bravo), but when complications in the romance emerge he enlists in the military and is shipped to Afghanistan. When Cherry returns, the relationship with Emily restarts, but his trauma from his time overseas leads them both into dangerous drug addiction, which is financed by Cherry beginning to rob banks both for the money and the rush.

Early reviews were largely positive, praising Holland’s mature and charismatic performance, but the movie sports a less enthusiastic 43% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie received a limited theatrical release a few weeks ago but hits Apple TV+ this Friday.

The Posters

In December a teaser poster showing Cherry staring straight ahead at the camera, his haircut and look conveying a sense of someone who’s seen some stuff and has little left to lose was released. That poster was notably misprinted online when it debuted on Variety, with the title messed up to the extent lots of people had a laugh at its expense. It was republished quickly.

A short while later a series of posters that retained the dark red background but this time showed each character in profile with a noun that describes them came out.

The theatrical poster from January has the same aesthetic but while Cherry is the only one really seen, arms presumably belonging to Emily are shown reaching from off-camera to hold his face in her hands.

The Trailers

Cherry is robbing a bank as the first trailer (4m views on YouTube(, released in mid-January, starts. Via voiceover he’s wondering what the point of life is before we flashback to his earlier life, including meeting Emily and then, much to her dismay, joining the Army. When he returns he’s suffering from PTSD Emily can’t help with, so he turns to robbing banks to try and silence the voices in his head or at least do something that feels like anything. It’s a powerful trailer, made more so by the glimpses we get of Cherry narrating his actions and life to the camera.

Online and Social

Nothing special on the web page for the movie from Apple TV+, which didn’t set up individual social pages but did support the film on its brand profiles.

Advertising and Publicity

The Russos brought the still-in-production movie to Cannes 2019, hoping to lure buyers with the promise of the project’s potential. They discussed it further, including that Holland was starring in the film, during their panel at San Diego Comic-Con in July of that year.

With Covid-19 shutting down most all theaters for an indeterminate period of time in early 2020, the Russos admitted they weren’t sure what the distribution future for the film was going to be. That changed in September when Apple acquired the movie following a brief period of speculation Netflix might pick it up.

In early January the Russos offered the first real look at the movie via a clip showing Cherry enlisting in the military.

A featurette came out at the beginning of March that had Holland and Bravo talking about the story and their characters.

Shorter promos like this were shared online and may have been used as ads or commercials.

Media and Press

An interview with the Russos offered more details about the story and more as well as showing off some of the first official stills from the film. Another later interview with the brothers had them talking about Holland’s performance, the origins of the story and more.

Shortly before the movie came out there was a feature profile of not only Joe and Anthony Russo but also their sister Angela, who wrote the film.

An interview with Holland had the actor talking about taking on such a risky – both emotionally and physically – role. He later appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the film.

There were additional interviews with the Russos about the personal nature of the story and how the production of the film was such a family endeavor. They also talked about what sort of generational elements inspired the story.

Henry Jackman was interviewed about creating the film’s score. The movie’s cinematographer talked about how the story is divided into a handful of distinct chapters.

An appearance by Holland on “The Tonight Show,” as many of his interviews did, talked briefly about this movie but also went heavily into talking about Spider-Man.

Overall

Having seen the movie (thanks to a Hollywood Reporter-hosted virtual screening) I can safely report the campaign as outlined above matches the finished product pretty well. There are a few story elements, especially the extent and cause of Cherry and Emily’s descent into addiction that aren’t fully communicated here, but the marketing’s focus on Holland’s performance is justified.

Having said that, it’s Bravo’s performance that really centers the story and shines through. So much of that performance involves her speaking directly to the camera, a surrogate for Holland’s Cherry, and her calm but emotional demeanor comes through strongly. It’s a shame she wasn’t more fully involved in the publicity and press components of the marketing.

The Devil All The Time – Marketing Recap

How Netflix is selling its latest psychological drama.

Based on the book of the same name, The Devil All The Time comes to Netflix this week from director Antonio Campos. Tom Holland stars as Arvin Russell, the son of Willard (Bill Skarsgård) and Charlotte (Haley Bennett). Arvin is a troubled young man in 1960s rural Ohio who’s dealing with the legacy of murder and violence his late father and others have left in their wake. That even includes the small church Willard built after his tragic experiences during World War II.

Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), the new preacher at that church, charms much of the small town but quickly comes into conflict with Arvin because of Teagardin’s sexual assault of Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), Arvin’s step-sister, which leads to her suicide. Adding to that is the corruption among town leaders and law enforcement and the secrets that everyone there seems to have.

Netflix’s campaign for the movie – which has a 68 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes – has played up the gothic noir elements of the story while also highlighting the all-star cast.

The Posters

A small fire smolders in the corner of the first poster (by marketing agency P+A), released in early August. The title treatment is presented in landscape on the portrait-oriented design, meaning you have to turn your head a bit to see it. The transparent letters of the title reveal the faces of the cast, whose names also appear just above it.

In September the second poster came out. This one puts the members of the cast in an orange and brown image on the top half of the poster, the dark colors creating a sense of mystery and dread that’s emphasized by the ominous looks on most of the faces. At the bottom of all that is an animal skull that only adds to that sense. Of particular note here is the copy “Everyone ends up in the same damned place.”, which speaks not only to the fact that history tends to repeat itself in families but that some places are just damned.

The photos that appear on a series of character posters are all damaged in some manner, illustrating the way the characters themselves are damaged and twisted. Each one features a quote from that character as well to help set up who they are and what their motivations are.

The Trailers

The first trailer (11 million views on YouTube), released in early August, sets up a story about unexpected connections and sinister motivations. Centered on Arvin, we see how he’s grappling with the legacy of his late father in many ways while also trying to keep his mother safe from a creepy local preacher. Other relationships between the characters aren’t as clear, but the trailer certainly establishes a dark mood as a small town’s secrets and demons come to the surface.

Online and Social

No website for the film, but it did receive support on some of Netflix’s brand social profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Netflix announced it had acquired the film in early 2019.

In the last couple weeks a handful of clips have been released, including an extended look at a key scene set in the church where much of the action happens.

A featurette released a week or so ago had Holland talking about his accents, why he got involved in the project and approaching such dour material.

Others provided a quick overview of the story and characters, why Holland was such a good fit for this movie and why you probably recognize costar Harry Melling.

Media and Publicity

In August 2020 Netflix released the first stills from the movie along with an interview with comments from Campos, Holland and others.

A number of interviews with Holland included the actor talking about having to go a little darker than he has previously and his nervousness around that and more, though many of those wound up turning to topics like Spider-Man and other projects. There were also conversations with Campos where he talked about the violent nature of the story and with Pattinson about how he approached his role and performance.

Campos also talked about developing the gospel music heard in the film with producer/music supervisor Randall Poster. Costume designer Emma Potter was interviewed about creating the look of each character.

Overall

Your mileage for this campaign may vary depending on your interest in largely unredeemable characters and dark, nihilistic stories. Assuming you’re on board with that kind of thing, this may be right up your alley, something to scratch a particular itch with a movie that has lots of bad people doing lots of bad things for largely bad reasons.

While the details and actual outline of the story isn’t super clear from the campaign – there’s no identifiable through-line to the events or characters – the emphasis Netflix has placed on the actors themselves works in place of that. So there may be some fans of Holland, Pattinson and others who will check it out based largely on that alone, though they may find material that’s very different from the popular franchises those actors are well known for.

Picking Up The Spare

Netflix released the movie’s opening scene online as well as a new explainer with some of the details the audience should know about the film. There was also a behind the scenes look. 

The movie’s director of photography and writer have both been interviewed about crafting the story.

Onward – Marketing Recap

Pixar returns with its first non-sequel in three years.

onward poster 11In the last 10 years, Pixar’s output has been dominated by sequels, a stark contrast to the studio’s first 15 years that was made up of solely original stories save for the Toy Story series.

This week Pixar gets back into non-sequel territory with Onward. Set in a world of magic and magical creatures, the story follows two elvish brothers – Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) – who are given a way they can bring their late father back to life for a single day. When the spell goes wrong and only half the body is brought back the two set out on a quest for help so they can spend just a little more time with their dad.

Magic has been the central theme of the campaign, sometimes to the detriment of insights into the story. With little serious competition at the box office, tracking estimates an opening weekend of around $44 million and the movie currently has an 84 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, putting it somewhere in the middle of Pixar’s releases.

The Posters

Two moons hang in the night sky above an imposing mountain range and a brightly lit city on the first poster (by marketing agency Logan Creative Group) from late May, Barley and Ian in the foreground hanging out on the roof of Ian’s van. In case the fantasy world of the story isn’t clear from all that, the audience is told at the bottom the movie “Cometh soon.”

The second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in August features a denim jacket adorned with all sorts of pins and patches, just the kind of thing a fairy tale character teenager would wear.

We’re finally given a look at a key part of the story on the third poster (by Logan Creative Group) from October. Ian and Barley, with mountains and unicorns in the background, are standing in the street flanking the half-reanimated body of their father. There’s no explanation as to what’s going on, exactly, but at least it shows there is some sort of problem the brothers are out to fix.

A series of character posters came out in December that show Ian and Barley, their mother Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and others the brothers encounter on their journey. All those were brought together on the theatrical poster that features a number of characters and locations from the story.

A special poster was released by Disney to celebrate Chinese New Year in January. The design is meant to invoke a tapestry and designed to promote the movie in a more subtle way while mostly being a unique work of art. It was one of several posters in this style put out by Disney on the Chinese social network Weibo for upcoming films.

Ian and Barley are standing on top of their van, which is perched in the crook of the magical staff that’s central to the story on the RealD 3D poster, a nicely minimal design that evokes the fantasy elements of the story even more strongly than some of the other, more overt efforts.

The Trailers

The first trailer (7.3 million views on YouTube) from May introduces us to a world still rooted in magic, with orcs, trolles, elves and other creatures living everyday suburban lives. We meet Barley and his older, less responsible brother Ian as they set out on what the latter has deemed a “quest” while the former wants to think of it as just an “errand,” though one he admits might be a little strange. It’s s nice bit of world establishment with hints about what’s to come in the story.

In October the second trailer (7.3 million views on YouTube) was released, offering a much fuller look at the characters and story. After introducing us to a modern world still inhabited by mythical creatures and dominated by magic, we see Barley and Ian have been given the chance to bring their late father back for one day. The spell doesn’t work as intended, though, and they have to race against the clock to finish the restoration before they miss their chance to see him again.

The next trailer (3.2 million views on YouTube), released in December, covers a lot of the same ground but introduces some new characters and new scenes from when Barley and Ian are already on their quest and getting into trouble.

Online and Social

You get some character descriptions on the movie’s official website but the rest is just the basic marketing content.

Advertising and Publicity

A recreation of the van driven by Ian and Barley – named Guinevere – was brought to Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August of last year. Holland and Pratt also appeared on stage at the event to speak about the film, though Holland also addressed the split between Marvel and Sony that left Spider-Man’s future in the MCU up in the air.

Shortly after the second trailer came out, Disney released a video of Pratt and Holland watching and reacting to it, an attempt to tap into the kind of reaction videos created by fans and shared on YouTube.

The movie is one of many Disney brought to CCXP in December, with the cast and crew appearing on a panel there to show off footage and talk about the story.

A commercial released in late December eschews most all of the story, instead offering an extended look at Barley and Ian trying to use magic to deal with their van being out of gas. A similar approach is taken in a second spot that has them trying to walk across a ravine on an invisible bridge. Another commercial laid out the basic plot of the brothers going on an time-sensitive adventure to save their father.

At the end of January the movie was included on the list of screenings – out of competition – at the Berlin Film Festival in February.

The characters and story were introduced in a featurette released in early February that emphasized how it continues Pixar’s tradition of funny and emotional storytelling.

News came in mid-February that Brandi Carlisle was recording the end-credits theme song for the movie. The lyric video for that song, “Carried Me With You” came out later in the month.

The cast and crew attended the Hollywood premiere in mid-February, an event Disney livestreamed. They also appeared at the UK premiere shortly after that.

Later in February the first clip was released that showed Ian instructing Barley on proper spell-casting technique, though that goes a bit sideways.

TV advertising began about that same time with spots that sold the movie as a fun and magical adventure, putting the story aside to focus on the humor of the two brothers getting into all kinds of hijinks together.

Pratt and Holland along with others from the cast appeared in a short featurette that had them all explaining the premise of the story as well as how it goes wrong and what they need to do to fix it.

DisneyPixar used the bonus of Leap Day to hold advance screenings at select locations to attempt to build word of mouth leading up to opening day. The studio also held a sweepstakes that day to win a “birthday surprise.”

Earlier this week news broke that the movie would hit theaters with a new “The Simpsons” short, “Playdate with Destiny.” The combination of Pixar and “The Simpsons” might seem like an odd one but both hold a prominent place on the Disney+ streaming service. It’s largely a way to raise the profile of the long-running show among audiences that might be too young to have a nostalgic connection to it.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Ashley Furniture, which ran a sweepstakes with a grand prize of a $4,000 store shopping spree and two tickets to see the movie.
  • Happy Socks, which offered special movie-inspired socks for adults and kids.
  • McDonald’s, which put toys featuring characters, vehicles and creatures from the movie in Happy Meals while also offering coloring pages and other activities online.
  • Mixtiles, but no information was available on this partnership.
  • Old Navy, which put shirts and other items featuring movie characters and more in stores.
  • Whirlpool, which ran a campaign including TV commercials like this to sell its line of smart appliances, which are so efficient they’re compared to magic.

Additional featurettes came from AMC Theaters, which put out a couple interviews with the stars. Pixar also put out another special look that had the three primary cast members talking about the story and more. Audiences were encouraged to see it on the big big screen in a promo video from IMAX.

Final TV spots from Pixar reminded people the movie was coming out immediately, including a commercial that featured footage from the red carpet premiere.

Media and Press

A set of stills was released at the same time the first trailer came out in early June. A little later Holland and Pratt were interviewed along with Dreyfuss, talking about the bond they formed during production.

There was a bit of controversy in January when an artist sued Disney over the design of the van, saying the studio copied her work without permission.

An appearance by Pratt on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” was crashed by Holland, who stopped by to give his costar a hard time.

The technical design team was interviewed about the process behind creating the visuals, including the rules they held to regarding magic spells.

At the movie’s Hollywood premiere Pratt and Holland along with the rest of the cast talked about working together on the film and what attracted them to the story.

An interview with cinematographer Sharon Calahan had her talking about how she and the other filmmakers tapped into action movies like Atomic Blonde and John Wick to choreograph some of the movie’s key sequences. The movie’s design team was also interviewed about how they put together the look and feel of the magical world.

One final joint interview with Holland and Pratt focused how they worked together and the emotional core of the movie’s story.

Overall

DisneyPixar has created a strong magic-themed brand for the movie that’s been communicated through all the trailers and posters as well as in promotions on social media and elsewhere. That aspect of the campaign has been fun and relatively lighthearted, showing the characters engaged in lots of fantastic adventures on their quest.

Only occasionally is the purpose of that quest actually shared with audiences, which indicates there may be more faith in that aspect of the movie to generate interest as opposed to the story about seeking closure with a deceased parent.

What will be key to the movie’s box office fate is how the last week’s developments regarding the Covid-19 coronavirus impacts people’s willingness to mass with lots of others in a theater for two hours. With reported cases on the rise in Washington state and elsewhere and companies cancelling or pulling out of events, it might be that the public is just not feeling overly social at the moment. More than that, it’s possible the movie’s level of success this weekend could be an indicator of how things will play out over the next several weeks.

Picking Up the Spare

Encountered this online ad from Ashley’s promoting its tie in with the movie.

onward ashley ad.png

Spies in Disguise – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing for Spies In Disguise at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Not much of note on the movie’s official website, which is laid out in the usual Fox site template. I would have expected something more like a “turn yourself into a pigeon” photo upload feature or casual game or something else, but none of that is here.

Media and Press

Holland appeared on “Kimmel” in early December to talk about this movie as well as others. Other than that there doesn’t seem to have been a big press push for the film, maybe because both stars have been out promoting other projects very recently and this was deemed not worth the effort.

Overall

I’m honestly not sure who this is meant for or who’s supposed to be enticed by this campaign. It’s a mystery to me.

Picking Up the Spare

Another commercial came out just before Christmas that focused on the “Team Weird” theme that emerged late in the campaign. There were also videos of Smith and Holland experiencing an escape room of sorts and a new clip released as well.

A profile of the movie and its creators focused how it seeks to communicate inventive and non-violent solutions to problems for kids.

Spider-Man: Far From Home – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Spider-Man: Far From Home at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

Surprisingly, the movie’s official website is actually pretty basic and a little boring. It just has the standard marketing content along with a “Fan Art” section that’s a nice touch. There are also links to the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

Media and Publicity

Before any other formal publicity had started, Holland showed up in a skit on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to retrieve his mask and let people know the movie was coming out in the summer of 2019. In early December, Gyllenhaal joined Instagram with a post teasing his role as the movie’s big bad.

Gyllenhaal talked about how this was the right time for him to make the move into big productions while he was promoting Velvet Buzzsaw earlier this year and how he was obsessed with his costar Holland.

During the Avengers: Endgame press cycle, Marvel’s Kevin Feige revealed that this, not Endgame, was actually the final entry in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though he was still vague on when the story actually takes place. How that movie impacted this one was the subject of an interview with the creative team. Holland also teased what’s in store for Peter Parker as he tries to be a super hero outside his native New York City.

After the second trailer came out and created all sorts of post-Endgame questions Watts addressed some of them, including how the time jump from that movie might impact the characters in this one.

Much of the primary cast appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to talk about shooting the film and what they thought of it in relation to Endgame. They also made a surprise appearance at Disneyland to the delight of visitors to a stunt show featuring Spider-Man.

An extended bit on a later episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” was billed as an “exclusive clip” but was really just a fake scene with Kimmel playing a dry cleaning employee interacting awkwardly with Peter Parker.

Holland appeared on “The Late Show” to share stories of filming the movie and more. He later teased there were rough plans for him to make a brief cameo in Into the Spider-Verse that were spiked early on in the process. Zendaya stopped by “The Late Show” to talk about filming and stunts and more.

Watts talked more about how he worked over the last couple years with the Russo Brothers to make sure his movie worked in connection with theirs and what surprises he’s planted for fans. He also later explained that scenes included in the trailer that were cut in the final film would reappear in a new short on the home video release.

The cast made an appearance in costume at a Los Angeles children’s hospital to visit patients there.

The Gyllenhaal/Holland pairing on the publicity circuit isn’t quite at Gyllenhaal/Reynolds, but it’s close, reinforced by the results of the photo shoot for another EW cover story.

Overall

One more point I didn’t fully make in my THR column was that, upon further review, there were almost no story stakes presented the campaign for the movie. Sure, Spidey seems to team up with Mysterio at the behest of Fury, but beyond stopping a handful of ill-defined creatures, what does it matter? Neither that showdown nor Peter’s crush on MJ are shown in any way that the outcomes matters in a tangible way.

That’s remarkable and shows that with these massive event movies you don’t need to make the audience care about the characters or story, just show them that they’re there.

Picking Up the Spare

There have been a lot of conversations with the movie’s writers and directors, including one where the writers discussed *that* Nick Fury line from the trailer. The costume designers also talked about the looks sported by Spidey and Mysterio. 

EW offered lots more on the movie, including reports from an earlier set visit and an exclusive custom Snapchat lens.

The movie reportedly received $288 million worth in media promotions from Sony and its partners.

Gyllenhaal’s appearance on “The Late Show” continued the love fest between him and Holland.  

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Marketing Review

Spider-Man is back in theaters in this week’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. After an extended cameo in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, this is Tom Holland’s second outing as the web-slinger and his first in the character’s own movie. Well…kind of his own movie. The corporate cooperation that began with Civil War continues here. Sony, which owns the theatrical rights to Spider-Man, is essentially loaning him out to Marvel Studios, which manages the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. So Sony gets to use the successful platform of that behemoth to help launch their third go-around at Spider-Man, while Marvel gets to incorporate Spidey into their big event movies.

Continuing the story set up in Civil War, Peter Parker is enamored with the tech genius Tony Stark (played again by Robert Downey Jr.). Stark provides him with a high-tech suit to help Parker fight local neighborhood crime as Spider-Man. The stakes get considerably higher when Spidey crosses paths with, and gets on the wrong side of, The Vulture (Michael Keaton). That conflict threatens everything that Peter holds near and dear and could upend the life he leads as a seemingly unremarkable high school student.

Continue reading “Spider-Man: Homecoming – Marketing Review”