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. 

Five Things To Learn From Super Bowl LIII’s Movie Trailers

There was, as you likely well know, a sports ball game last night. Not being someone who follows the National Football League all that closely (we don’t have a team here in Chicago, unfortunately) I’m a little fuzzy on the details but if I understood Twitter correctly, Tom Brady gave Adam Levine the final rose and the two are already planning the wedding. Which is nice.

Super Bowl LIII was, as has been the case for all the games since they were back in the Xs, used as a massive platform for brands of all types to hawk their wares and try to make an impression on the audience. Burger King showed Andy Warhol eating a hamburger, Bud Light had everyone Googleing “corn syrup in beer?” and Verizon tried to undo some of the brand reputation damage incurred last year when it throttled the wireless plans of firefighters in California. Oh, and there was [checks notes] chunky milk?

Movie trailers were once again a huge part of the game’s advertising package, with studios promoting some of the biggest and most anticipated films still to come in 2019. There were a few people were expecting as well as a handful of surprises in this year’s mix of films as well as some puzzling omissions. Most importantly, there were five lessons that became clear based on what movies were advertised and how.

1: Bring the Adventure

Marvel Studios brought a new spot for Avengers: Endgame to the broadcast, but the real winner was the commercial for Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson. From the outset it’s made clear that she – and the audience – will be going “Higher. Further. Faster.” on a thrillride through outer space and back to Earth again.

So too, the trailer for Hobbs & Shaw, an extension of the Fast & The Furious franchise, looks like a ton of utterly ridiculous fun. The story seems incoherent, the premise outright ludicrous and the performances unbelievable. It’s not as inspirational as Captain Marvel but you can’t say it doesn’t look like a load of over-the-top fun.

Alita: Battle Angel sports some incredible behind-the-scenes talent, including director Robert Rodriguez and producer James Cameron. The commercial that aired only hinted at that pedigree but did try to sell audiences on a cinematic adventure they’d have to see in 3D to get the full impact of.

2: Bring the Scares

Writer/director Jordan Peele dropped a new one-minute spot for his new doppleganger thriller Us on Reddit just before it aired on CBS. The spot tells the same basic story as the full trailer from a few months ago, but exposed it to a new audience, likely intriguing at least some of them because of its creative connection to Get Out.

There were also two short teasers for Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, the upcoming horror film produced by Guillermo del Toro. This is the first footage released from the film and while there wasn’t much shown in the brief spots they definitely convey the one of creepy mystery that should go over well with horror aficionados.

3: Bring the Cute

Wonder Park is an animated adventure coming from Paramount Pictures in a few months, a basic message conveyed adequately by the commercial that teased the new trailer. It’s not especially memorable and this isn’t one of the year’s more anticipated releases, but Paramount obviously is hoping to score a hit with an original feature, especially in light of a recent round of bad press.

By contrast, Toy Story 4 is on many people’s radar already and the new spot that aired just after the game ended. There isn’t much about the story that’s explained here, but it does show that the series’ sense of humor is still intact and that Woody is still needing to get Buzz out of tough situations. It’s also notable in that, when you add in the promo for the “Twilight Zone” revival coming to Apple’s streaming service this makes three commercials with Jordan Peele.

Netflix also promoted its upcoming documentary Our Planet, not only with a 30-second spot but it also shared GIFs from the program all night on Twitter as a light form of counter-programming against the game.

4: Bring It Everywhere

If, like me, you were following along on Twitter you still got the gist that the game was less than thrilling. It also means you likely saw that many of the spots mentioned above were placed as Promoted Tweets at the same time they premiered on television.

While that makes a certain amount of sense, particularly when you consider many of the posts included links to buy tickets or find out more, it also shows that $5 million doesn’t buy the guaranteed mass reach a “Big Game” spot once promised. It’s not essential that a super-expensive TV ad buy be accompanied by another ad buy on social media to promote the ad that was run on TV.

5: Leave People Confused

OK maybe this isn’t such a great rule of thumb for advertisers and movie marketing professionals to follow, but it certainly would explain a few things, including:

  1. Where was the Star Wars: Episode IX ad? We’re less than a year away from release and have yet to see a single frame of footage. Disney may have seen greater value in promoting its two Marvel releases for this year, but a Star Wars trailer drop would have been epic.
  2. Where are the X-Men? Fox (not long for this world as an independent entity) has two X-Men movies coming later this year, but neither of them made any noise during the Super Bowl. Given both have been pushed back repeatedly this would have been a strong show of faith in them, so maybe that was the point.
  3. Where’s Ad Astra? This science fiction film stars Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, is directed by James Gray and has a May release date but there’s been no marketing for it at all so far.
  4. Where are the comedies? The genre had a rough 2018, but usually the Super Bowl has at least one straight forward comedy advertised. Perhaps this is a sign that people now prefer their laughs when they’re coupled with action sequences.
  5. Where’s the instant buzz? Last year Netflix surprised everyone by dropping the first commercial for The Cloverfield Paradox just hours before the movie was available in full on the service. There was no such stunt this year, (Amazon promoted the availability of its first episode of “Hanna” ahead of time) but this would have been a great yearly tradition.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I made queso.

Let’s Look At Some of 2019’s Anticipated Movies

With 2018 now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward to what’s coming to audiences by way of feature releases in 2019. Thanks to a number of media and theater-adjacent companies we have a decent idea of what people are looking forward to.

While every news site has published their own lists of films its staff is anxious to see, a few have been released based on survey results and they show a lot of commonalities, both in specific titles and rationales. Let’s take a look at what Atom Tickets, Fandango and IMDb have to tell us about what has gotten people’s attention among the upcoming releases.

  • Avengers: Endgame (Atom #1, IMDb #2, Fandango #1)
  • Captain Marvel (Atom #2, IMDb #1, Fandango #2)
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (Atom #3, Fandango #4)
  • Toy Story 4 (Atom #4, Fandango #5)
  • The Lion King (Atom #5, Fandango #7)
  • Star Wars: Episode IX (Atom #6, Fandango #3)
  • Aladdin (Atom #7, IMDb #9, Fandango #8)
  • X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Atom #8, IMDb #3,
  • Glass (Atom #9, IMDb #7, Fandango #6)
  • Jumanji 2 (Atom #10)
  • Hellboy (IMDb #10)
  • Joker (IMDB #8, Fandango #10)
  • It: Chapter Two (IMDb #6)
  • Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (IMDb #4)
  • Dumbo (Fandango #9)

So what do all those titles and their rankings tell us?

Super Heroes Continue To Be Big Draws

Six movies out of the 15 spread across the three lists feature comic book characters, with Marvel’s Avengers and Captain Marvel releases appearing at or new the top of them all along with the Spider-Man sequel produced in partnership with Sony Pictures. Marvel is also the source for the latest X-Men installment, one of two coming out this year that have been repeatedly pushed down the release calendar by Fox for various reasons. Add to that the new Hellboy movie with David Harbour in the title role and the Joker solo feature and you have lots of comics-based IP in theaters, not to mention the other films not on this list. Given that “critics finally embrace super hero movies” was one of the dominant themes coming out of 2018 and this isn’t at all surprising.

Sequels and Remakes Oh My!

With the exception of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood on IMDb’s list, everything here is either a sequel or remake of an earlier film. I’m including in that category the Joker movie since the character is so well known even if this is a new take independent of previous film incarnations. So studios aren’t going out on many limbs, at least not with the movies that have already begun their hype cycles, instead choosing to remain firmly on familiar ground in an effort to best appeal to the audience that isn’t interested in taking risks with their money and time. Notably, all three non-franchise releases from Disney on the lists are remakes of classic animated features.

Disney Continues to Dominate

Of the 15 films that make up the three lists, Disney is the force behind eight of them. Those releases include not just those remakes but also new installments in the franchises they manage including Star Wars and Marvel. In 2018 Disney accounted for one quarter of total box office receipts and it’s hoping to continue gaining more and more market share even as it enters the year it’s expected to launch its own streaming subscription service. That service will be filled with similar material related to Star Wars, Marvel and other properties, including sequels or remakes of its back catalog.

Earned Media Will Help All These Films

Every title on the list comes with the kind of big press hooks that will ensure whatever paid marketing is done the main job of raising audience awareness and keeping appetites stoked will be done through the press. Cover stories, feature profiles and more have already come out about many of them and will continue to be placed by press teams regularly to offer first look photos, new interviews with the talent involved and more. Corporate synergies will also be exploited to make sure casts enjoy cozy environments on the talk shows airing on networks owned by the same companies producing the films, helping to garner even more attention and earn even more secondary media coverage.

Hey…Where’s Netflix?

It’s surprising to see none of the movies planned by the streaming behemoth on any of the three lists, except it’s actually not. Atom, IMDb and Fandango are all tied closely to the theatrical industry, especially through ticket sales, so not seeing upcoming films from Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh and others is largely to be expected. But it’s likely these films will receive significant marketing pushes as their release nears. It’s also possible Netflix pulls out another period like 2018’s “Summer Of Love” where it released a number of romantic comedies and completely dominated the cultural conversation for months.

As usual, how all this turns out remains to be seen. Some of these titles will go on to be massive successes and some will fall by the wayside. But right now, these are the movies people have said they’re willing to check out, which should make studio publicity teams feel pretty good.