minions: the rise of gru – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the latest adventure starring the little yellow meme machines.

Minions: The Rise of Gru poster from Universal Pictures
Minions: The Rise of Gru poster from Universal Pictures

In an age where properties are spun off with abandon, it’s understandable if you have a hard time figuring out which part of the franchise this week’s Minions: The Rise of Gru belongs to.

Near as I can tell, the two Minions movies are prequels to Despicable Me, with the sequels sporting the Despicable Me name. But still, it makes the kind of sense that doesn’t.

Anyway, this new movie continues the story of a young Gru (voiced by Steve Carrel) and the Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin) he already has helping him become the super villain he’s destined to be. This time Gru is about 12 years old, with aspirations to join the Vicious 6, a team of the worst villains. When his plans go awry, he’ll get into all kinds of hilarious trouble.

Voicing some of the villains Gru encounters are Michelle Yeoh, Russell Brand, Danny Trejo, Alan Arkin and others.

announcements and casting

Universal announced the movie was happening in 2017, a couple years after the successful opening of the first Minions in 2015.

The studio confirmed the film’s subtitle and gave exhibitors a first look during its CineEurope presentation in mid-2019. Carell and Coffin’s return was confirmed later that year.

the marketing campaign: 2020

A commercial aired during the Super Bowl in early February 2020 was the first official look the public got at the movie. There isn’t much of the story on display here, just the promise of lots of actions and laughs and the return of everyone’s favorite little yellow characters.

That was followed by the first trailer (36.3m YouTube views). As it opens, a young Gru is interviewing for a spot on a society of super villains only to find himself rejected. To prove himself he steals a valuable stone from those villains and with the help of the Minions he escapes. Unfortunately those same Minions have made some questionable choices and he needs to find the stone before the villains find him.

A poster introducing Otto came out at the same time. It uses a wild, tye-dyed look that would come back throughout the campaign.

In March of that year the movie became one of many delayed, in this case by a year to July, 2021, as theaters were closing down and people sheltering at home during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Scenes from the earlier films were put together with a new voiceover from Carell in a World Health Organization PSA in May, 2020, with some helpful tips and hints on staying safe during that difficult time.

Another TV spot came out in June of that year.

In September a line of apparel and other items from Verdy was revealed. That was followed in November by a line of items from Yeenjoy Bob and then a Minions-themed skateboard from The Berricks.

NBCUniversal worked to keep the Minions top-of-mind despite the delays with a holiday special in late November featuring the characters as well as others from various Illumination films.

the marketing campaign: 2021

After having some fun tweeting at various companies during the 2021 Super Bowl, another delay of another full year to the release date was announced in March of that year.

The Minions showed up with Simone Biles in an ad for the Summer Olympics in June, 2021.

A month later a movie-themed DLC for Minecraft was released that let players build cityscapes they could then navigate as young Gru, complete with Minions to follow him around and interact with.

With that new release date, a short commercial was released in December 2021 not showing much more than a few Minion hijinks but promising audiences the movie was still on its way.

Insta360 revealed a Minions-shaped camera in December as well.

the marketing campaign: 2022

That was followed by another TV spot presenting the movie more clearly as the backstory of how Gru became the super villain he would one day be.

It was then Olympics time again, with the Minions and skier Mikaela Shffrin appearing in a commercial for NBC’s coverage of the Winter games.

In March Illumination announced the movie would be the opening feature at this year’s Annecy Animation Festival.

Gru’s origin story is the central message of the next trailer (24.2m YouTube views), released at the end of March. In addition to the trouble he gets into on his way to becoming fully despicable we see more of the story, including how his antics bring him and his Minions into conflict with some other villains who don’t appreciate the competition from a youngster.

The tye-dye backdrop returns on the poster released at the same time, this one showing three of the Minions in tracksuits, one of them holding a boombox above his head.

Regal shared a pre-show video of the Minions on a roller coaster with all the usual “no texting” and “buy more candy” messages in it, along with a promotion for Regal’s loyalty program and app.

Details of the movie’s soundtrack were released in May, including the fact that the album would include Diana Ross, which set the internet ablaze with excitement. The first single – ”Turn Up the Sunshine” from Diana Ross and Tame Impala – was made available quickly after that.

More songs from the album continued coming out over the next few weeks.

Another new trailer (9.2m YouTube views) came out in early June that largely pulls footage from the previous trailers but is still cute for all the expected reasons.

A TV spot that aired during the NBA Finals doesn’t feature anything from the movie but instead has the Minions in a “SportsCenter” type environment arguing which basketball player is indeed the GOAT. Another commercial from mid-June had the Minions visiting Jurassic World, a tie-in with that movie hitting theaters.

Promotional partner commercials also started running around this time, including spots from Liberty Mutual, CarMax and others.

Another video game tie-in was announced with the Minions joining the world of Adopt Me.

To take advantage of A) Universal and B) Carrel being behind both properties, a promo video inserting the Minions into the opening of “The Office” was created.

More commercials and clips continued to be released, each showcasing a different part of the story but always featuring plenty of the mayhem the Minions are always involved in.

Andrews talked about being part of the movie when she appeared on “The Tonight Show,” with Carell stopping by the same show shortly after that.

A “yellow carpet” event was held last weekend at the TCL Chinese Theater with Carrel and others adding their hand/footprints to the cement there. That was followed a few days later by the official premiere, with the cast and filmmakers in attendance.

This past week’s episode of “American Ninja Warrior” featured a Minions-themed challenge and offered viewers an exclusive look at the movie.

overall

Projections have the movie, which currently has an unenthusiastic 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, opening in the neighborhood of $70 million this weekend.

It’s somewhat telling that the most interesting (at least from my perspective) parts of the marketing are those that have little to nothing to do with the movie. The way the Twitter account was jumping in to reply to sporting and other cultural events in the space between trailers and other materials was more inventive and engaging than those trailers or commercials.

Maybe that’s because the Minions are no longer characters but have become pop culture artifacts that can be inserted into any moment. The evolution has progressed to the point where they exist more as ideas than objects. So this movie will come and go from theaters – and then come to Peacock in about four weeks – but those moments will persist outside of their context.

Oh, and the plot is essentially the same as Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog if there were hundreds of copies of Moist running around. There, I said it.

jurassic world dominion – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the end of another dinosaur trilogy.

Jurassic World Dominion movie poster from Universal Pictures
Jurassic World Dominion movie poster from Universal Pictures

Jurassic World Dominion has an ambitious goal: Not only does it set out to conclude the trilogy of films begun in 2015 when director Colin Trevorrow brought us back to a world of genetically-resurrected dinosaurs but also put a cap on the sextology begun by director Steven Spielberg all the way back in 1993.

Picking up four years after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, this one takes place in a world where colons no longer exist dinosaurs have proliferated across the planet, upsetting the balance of nature.

Details of the story are relatively inconsequential, as the movie’s cast provides its major selling point. Not only do Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return from the first two World films, but the core trio from the first films – Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum – all come back for the first time since the 1993 original. Oh, and of cours BD Wong once more reprises his role as Dr. Henry Wu, the scientist behind the mistakes made by so many other people.

Joining the cast are DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, Campbell Scott and others. But unfortunately Lauren Lapkus, Wayne Knight and Jake Johnson are nowhere to be found.

So, with all of that established, let’s take a look at the marketing campaign.

announcement and casting

While the movie was still a ways off from production, in September 2019 Universal released “Battle at Big Rock,” a short video directed by Trevorrow that showed what life in a dinosaur-filled country was like. The story was meant to fill in at least some gaps between Fallen Kingdom and the third film.

A short while later it was revealed this new movie would not only bring back Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm but also have Sam Neill and Laura Dern return to the franchise for the first time since Jurassic Park III.

In February of 2020, Trevorrow marked the first day of filming with a photo that also revealed the movie’s subtitle.

Pratt spent some of his time on the Onward press tour building anticipation for this film.

The movie was one of many to have its production put on hiatus because of the Covid-19 outbreak. A big deal was made when shooting restarted in July with safety precautions in place but the Malta-based production had to scale back in August due to another outbreak in that country. In October Universal moved the movie’s release date out an entire year because of continued production delays as well as the uncertainty still plaguing the U.S. theatrical market.

Neill made his return official with a post at the beginning of August.

In an interview in May, 2020, producer Frank Marshall clearly stated this was just the beginning for even more stories and not the end of a trilogy as some had suspected.

Reports came out in June that a fan-favorite character from the first Jurassic Park would be returning in this story.

Goldblum talked about not only making another appearance in the franchise but also reuniting with Neill and Dern when he was on “Late Night” in August. A bit later there were additional interviews with Goldblum on his own and with Neill.

In an interview with EW, Trevorrow talked about why he felt motivated to return for the series’ final installment and what he thought fans could look forward to.

Neill talked more about shooting the movie, including the Covid accommodations that had to be made, here.

The final day of filming was announced once again by Trevorrow, with details coming out later that over 40,000 Covid tests were used during production along with a raft of other safety protocols and challenges.

the marketing campaign phase one: we spared no expense

Universal announced in June 2021 that a special sneak preview of the movie would screen in from of IMAX showings of F9, giving it what was expected to be a massive platform. Trevorrow was interviewed about that footage, promising this movie would be the culmination of everything that had come in the five previous installments.

A commercial promoting that footage’s IMAX-only availability was released as F9 was hitting theaters.

Around the same time there were promotions of the new “VelociCoaster” ride at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure theme park, including revelations there would be easter eggs from the new movie sprinkled around the ride that would hint at what fans could expect.

Universal gave CinemaCon attendees in August of last year a look at footage from this and other upcoming movies.

the marketing campaign phase two: it’s a unix system

Things got started again in November, 2021 when Universal released the five minute “prologue” footage that had earlier been shown in front of F9’s IMAX screenings. Trevorrow made it clear at that time that the footage had originally been intended to be this movie’s opening sequence but had been cut during the editing process.

There was also a poster to promote this video.

The director was interviewed about uniting the casts of the new and old trilogy while introducing some of the new dinosaurs in Total Film along with a couple of new photos. He also commented on the kind of story audiences could expect alongside another exclusive new photo.

In January U.S. ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin shared a Universal Pictures/Winter Olympics cross-promotional commercial showing her trying to outrun a velociraptor. Completing the corporate synergy trifecta, Shiffrin then talked about the commercial when she appeared on “Today.”

Another commercial featured Shaun White.

Marshall confirmed that, of course, this was not the end and that the franchise would continue after this trilogy finale.

the marketing campaign phase three: hold onto your butts

The campaign finally for real kicked off in February with the release of the first trailer (53.6m YouTube views). It starts off by showing how dinosaurs are now something people face in their everyday lives, though that has had disastrous consequences for them and the environment. After we see the reunion of Drs. Sattler and Grant we’re off to the races, with lots of running and escaping from various dinos until the end, when all the principles from the entire franchise are assembled in front of a T-rex.

The poster that came out at the same time puts the familiar franchise logo in a circle of amber while promising this is “The epic conclusion of the Jurassic era.”

Because the Super Bowl was broadcast on NBC it provided Universal with another chance at cross-promotion, so Pratt narrated a video introduction to the game that used the movie’s music, text style and more. Goldblum also appeared in a bit at Universal Studios.

An exhibit that mixed movie promotion with a little actual science opened at the National Western Center in Denver. It featured animatronic dinosaurs, a recreation of the lab from the first movie and more Instagrammable moments.

Both Pratt and Howard participated in the launch of a competition encouraging young artists to design a new ratings card for the British Board of Film Classification.

A pair of Empire covers featured both casts for an issue that contained a handful of new images, comments from the cast and director and more.

A featurette released in mid-April explores the legacy of the six-part series, with the cast talking about how things have progressed to this point and how this is them throwing everything against the wall to finish the story off.

the marketing campaign phase three: must go faster

In late April the next trailer (29.1m YouTube views) came out. This one starts off with Owen meeting Blue’s baby raptor, a baby that’s soon grabbed by hunters. From there the chaos starts as the heroes have to evade a series of bigger, more feathery and more dangerous dinosaurs because somehow riding a motorcycle will somehow save the world from disaster.

The same tagline is used on the next poster, but this time all seven of the primary cast members are shown, the new cast at the top and the older trio at the bottom.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar starred in a commercial that aired on ESPN.

In the first of many such pieces, Neill, Dern and Goldberg were jointly interviewed about reuniting and how easy it was for them to fall back into step after so many years, largely because they’ve remained friends.

Traditional TV advertising began around this time, with spots that hit all the main selling points seen in previous trailers and other material.

Barbasol announced it would release movie-branded cans of shaving cream in the payoff to a joke that’s almost 30 years old.

Additional promotional partners included:

  • Dr. Pepper, which offered movie tickets, a t-shirt and more to Rewards members who earned sufficient points.
  • General Mills, which put dinosaurs and other movie branding on packages of cereal, snacks and more.
  • Kinder, which did likewise.
  • Ferrara, which partnered with Fandango to offer movie cash and a chance to win other prizes in a sweepstakes requiring purchase of certain candy products.
  • Progressive, which used footage from the “Prologue” in a commercial assuring those having their cars destroyed that all the damage was covered.
  • China Glaze, which launched a line of movie-inspired cosmetics.
  • Carl’s Jr./Hardees, which offered a selection of items in movie-branded packaging for just $.93 to celebrate the 1993 release of the original film.

A T-rex is seen in the darkness on the IMAX poster released at the end of April. IMAX later announced a special live Q&A with “special guests” that was scheduled for just before the movie opened.

Howard and Goldblum appeared together at CinemaCon 2022 as part of Univeral’s presentation to exhibitors and other executives/press.

Pratt appeared on “Today” and “The Tonight Show” to start promoting the film around the time tickets went on sale. That “Today” spot included the unveiling of a giant LEGO T-rex statue.

He then introduced a featurette that explains the film’s premise, with Trevorrow and others weighing in as well.

The Dolby Cinemas poster features an image from the trailer of Owen motorcycling away from a pack of raptors.

A short behind-the-scenes video shows Pratt and Howard meeting and interacting with Neill and Dern for the first time on set.

the marketing campaign phase four: woman inherits the earth

Dern, Howard and Wise were interviewed about the importance of female characters to the franchise, a theme that would come up a number of times in the last bits of the campaign. Those three, along with Isabella Sermon, then appeared in a featurette all talking about the same thing and paying tribute to Dern’s original turn as Ellie Satler.

Trevorrow and some of the cast were in attendance at a premiere event in Mexico City. Howard, Dern and others later took part in a similar event in Germany.

Around this time there was an interview with Dern and Neill that highlighted something that didn’t register with a lot of people back in the day, which is that she’s 20 years younger than Neill but that despite that the two were established as a romantic couple in the first film.

In late May the movie was featured on the cover of Total Film, with exclusive interviews and photos in the issue.

The two casts squared off in a trivia quiz testing their knowledge of the series.

NowThis debuted exclusive footage that showed more of the real world implications of having dinosaurs roaming around.

Jeep once again signed on as a promotional partner, sharing a TV commercial showing how versatile a Jeep can be in a world overrun by dinosaurs.

A TikTok filter let people put themselves in a situation where they’re being chased by virtual dinos.

The cast appeared in an exclusive interview for AMC Theaters. Trevorrow talked about bringing the franchise to a close in an exclusive interview with Dolby.

Pratt, Goldblum and Neill were all interviewed about the importance of father figures to the story and how that’s reflected in their own families.

Finally everyone was out for the world premiere in Los Angeles earlier this week.

overall

Tracking has the movie opening with about $50 million this weekend, which might be enough to finally dethrone Top Gun: Maverick from its impressive showing.

But the paltry 42% Rotten Tomatoes rating hints that this one may not have the legs of that other sequel and may fall quickly to both the highly mixed reviews to date and what might not be great word of mouth from opening weekend audiences.

Despite all that, the campaign has been some fun, especially in seeing the easy rapport of Dern, Goldblum and Neill. The problem is that it stands in marked contrast to the forced chemistry of the other stars.

So you have a campaign that leans heavily on nostalgia but doesn’t do much to alleviate the concerns of those who thought the second World movie was a mess. But it did give us this moment, and that’s not nothing.

Lauradern GIF by Jurassic World - Find & Share on GIPHY

firestarter – marketing recap

How Universal is selling a pyro-tastic drama.

Firestarter 2022 movie poster with Ryan Kiera Armstrong recreating the poster from the 1984 film.
Firestarter 2022 movie poster

Firestarter, out this weekend from Universal Pictures in theaters and on Peacock, is another adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name.

This version stars Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlene “Charlie” McGee, a young girl who one day finds she has developed pyro-telekinesis, able to start fires with the power of thought. That makes her a danger to those around her, including her father Andrew (Zac Efron) and mother Vicky (Sydney Lemmon). It also makes her a person of interest to a government agency known as “The Shop”, personified by agents and assassins played by John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes and Gloria Reuben.

An earlier adaptation was released in 1984 with David Keith, Drew Barrymore, George C. Scott and others. This time around Universal partnered with Blumhouse Pictures for a version that promises to be just as terrifying as the original movie as well as the book both are based on.

announcement and casting

Universal and Blumhouse, along with Akiva Goldsman, announced their plans for a fresh adaptation of King’s book back in 2017. After a few missteps, Keith Thomas was named director in late 2019, with Scott Teems writing the script.

Efron and Greyeyes were cast over the course of 2020, with Armstrong joining in mid-2021 just as production was getting underway.

the marketing campaign

If you recognize the first poster, released in early February, that’s because it’s virtually identical to the one-sheet for the 1984 film, just with Armstrong instead of Barrymore. As such it’s pretty simple, conveying the basic idea that the story involves a young girl and fire. Copy at the top makes an additional appeal, calling out Blumhouse as the company behind the well-received The Invisible Man. It also makes sure to note the simultaneous theatrical/streaming release date, the copy here amounting to an announcement of those plans.

The trailer (18.8m YouTube views) opens by showing Charlie beginning to lose control of her powers in the middle of class, causing the temperature to rise, water to steam and metal to become hot to the touch. Her dad wants her to learn to keep those emotions buried deep down, but that’s impossible and an outburst gets the government’s attention. Now on the run, Andrew tries to teach Charlie how to harness her abilities, but the more control she gains the more she gives into the righteous feeling she gets when hurting others, especially those chasing them.

Around that same time, Universal announced horror legend John Carpenter, along with others, had composed the film’s score.

A TV commercial-like video (likely used as pre-roll on YouTube and probably on Peacock as well) came out in mid-April, about a month out from release. It boils (sorry) the trailer down to a few key dramatic moments to show the audience what they can expect. More spots like this continued to come out over the next few weeks.

Just a couple weeks ago Universal promoted the movie to exhibitors at CinemaCon, leading to an awkward moment on stage.

https://mobile.twitter.com/MattBelloni/status/1519008878356164608

Over the last week or so there have been pre-roll ads placed in front of YouTube videos as well as online banner ads like the one here that lead clickers to the page where they can find out more about where and how to watch the movie.

AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas both shared their own exclusive video interviews with the cast and crew.

Efron promoted the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” recently.

overall

The marketing here is…fine. It communicates what it needs to and includes multiple nods to the first film, which is a legitimate choice to be made versus trying to carve out and create a brand new identity for this new adaptation.

What I can’t quite grok, and which the campaign largely ignores, is that Zac Efron is now playing dad roles. That seems like a cultural turning point we should have collectively marked, or at least been made more aware of as it happened.

ambulance – marketing recap

How Universal sold the latest experiment with Bayhem

[ed. note: yep, this came out last week, the schedule just didn’t pan out as planned]

Ambulance movie poster
Ambulance movie poster

The logline for Ambulance, which hit theaters last week, really doesn’t matter as it essentially boils down to the fact it was directed by the one and only Michael Bay. But for the sake of completeness, let’s fill in the rest of what the movie’s about.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as Will Sharp, a military veteran desperate to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for his wife’s surgery. Out of legitimate options, Will reaches out to his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who enlists Will in a bank robbery he’s planning that could net them $32 million. But the robbery, of course, goes sideways and the two find themselves on the run in a stolen ambulance with an EMT (played by Eiza González) still on board while pursued by both the FBI and LAPD.

So with the thinnest of premises in place and a director known less for his storytelling skills than his ability to keep the action going at all costs (including to common sense), let’s see how this was sold in advance of last week’s release.

announcement and casting

News of the movie’s production, along with the lead, broke in late 2020 with Bay directing. But that was only after he had passed on the film a few years earlier. Now, though, he eyed it as a good project to get him out after a bit of Covid-relaterd quarantine.

Gyllenhaal and Eiza González were cast in late 2020, Abdul-Mateen II joined a short while later, replacing Dylan O’Brien, who had previously been selected to play the more legitimate of the two brothers.

A couple months later its release was delayed by Universal to February, 2022.

the marketing campaign

The first trailer (22.5m YouTube views) was released in late October of last year, opening with Will explaining to Danny he needs money for his wife’s surgery. Danny takes that as an opening to get Will’s help with a bank robbery offering an even bigger payday. That heist goes south quickly, leading the two of them to go on the run to avoid the police, taking a cop wounded in the shootout hostage in the ambulance they’re escaping in.

A poster showing an ambulance’s rear doors with two massive bullet holes in it came out at the same time, the image making it clear the title is very literal and not a metaphor as well as conveying the kind of action and danger the story will contain.

The next poster came out in February and this time shows the three main characters, their huge heads arranged above the ambulance they spend so much time in, which is being pursued by various elements of law enforcement.

That was followed by the first TV commercial, which focuses on the drama between the two brothers and interestingly *not* the chaos that results from their impromptu chase across the city of Los Angeles.

A handful of new images from the movie were included in an interview with Bay about how he choreographs the massive action sequences he’s best known for. Right after that a profile of Gyllenhaal came out that had him talking about the experience of shooting a Michael Bay movie along with comments from Abdul-Mateen II about how the actor would occasionally seize the camera and start filming things himself as well as how Gyllenhaal made sure everyone on set was doing alright.

A series of character posters was released in early March that makes sure to highlight the L.A. location as a character in and of itself.

An IMAX-exclusive poster offers a variation on some of the earlier design themes.

Bay’s creativity and how that influences the process of shooting those big explosions and other sequences were covered in a featurette that included comments from many of the coordinators, drone pilots and others responsible for actually pulling those shots off.

The director along with the primary cast were in attendance at a red carpet premiere in Paris later in March. That was followed by similar events in Berlin, London and elsewhere, each accompanied by a round of interviews and other press activity.

An interview with Abdul-Mateen II and Gyllenhaal focused on how they bonded on set, a theme that kept coming up at this point of the campaign. That just reinforced how great Gyllenhaal is in junket settings when bantering with his costars, something he’s demonstrated repeatedly in recent years.

MovieClips debuted an exclusive featurette with the cast and crew talking about Bay’s skill as a filmmaker as well as the details of the story and the emotional stakes the characters have in the movie. Similar ground was covered in a Dolby Cinemas featurette.

Another trailer (10.5m YouTube views) came out toward the end of March that skips some of the emotional setup for Will in favor of cutting straight to the action. We see lots of the moments between Will and Danny as they navigate the situation they’ve found themselves in, all while Cam is stuck along for the ride caring for a patient in the back of the ambulance. There are some interesting moments, but the primary message is that there’s lots of gunplay and other violence, all set to the sound of grown men shouting at each other.

Additional TV spots like this were released that cut down the trailer footage in various ways to help sell the different aspects of the movie.

A movie-themed version of “Grand Theft Auto” gameplay was streamed on Twitch.

Just last week the stars and others came out for the red carpet premiere in Los Angeles. Once again the theme of the conversations with the stars was working with Bay and how they adapted to his unique energy on set and similar topics.

Just as she’d done in previous interviews – and a featurette – Gonzalez talked about how she hopes her role and performance as an EMT in some way honors the kind of work first responders do every day.

How he worked to cut through the chaos to focus on character was the subject of an interview with Abdul-Mateen II. A joint interview with him and Gyllenhaal was again about working with Bay and being pushed by the director to break out of what they may have expected.

USA Network aired a short exclusive featurette/commercial that mixed comments from the cast with high-octane footage. There was also a solo featurette with Abdul-Mateen II where he expanded on his character.

Gyllenhaal hosted “Saturday Night Live” just as the movie was opening. That came after her and Abdul-Mateen II appeared together on “Kimmel” to promote the film while Gonzalez showed up there on her own.

overall

Tracking estimates prior to opening had projected $10m for the weekend but it failed to clear even that bar, leading to lots of hand-wringing over the future of original action movies at the box-office and so on. But the lukewarm critical reception, as represented by the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes rating, likely led many people to choosing the family film in theaters over the action-oriented one.

What jumps out most from the campaign is how so much of it is devoted to everyone praising Michael Bay as if he’s some sort of impassioned but relegated artist. He has a reputation as being somewhat difficult, sure, but this feels like a kind of effort to trigger a Baynaissance of sorts, which is odd considering he’s been one of the most reliable box-office performers of the last…30 years? And as much as everyone can talk about his craft, this is still what Bay is best known for, which is why all those flipping cars and such are stil so central to this movie’s marketing.

Jake Gyllenhaal Action GIF by Ambulance - Find & Share on GIPHY

the 355 – marketing recap

How Universal has marketed star-packed action drama.

The 355 movie poster
The 355 movie poster

The 355, out this week in theaters, is a magnificent case study in the power of wish fulfillment.

Before going into that, the movie stars Jessica Chastain as Mason “Mace” Browne, a CIA agent who, when a top-secret weapon goes missing, assembles an international team of fellow agents to go after those who stole it before it can be used.

It’s a simple enough premise and the appeal is only enhanced when you consider the other agents Browne recruits are played by Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing.

With that, as well as the fact the movie is directed by Simon Kinberg who cowrote the screenplay with Theresa Rebeck, established, let’s look at how the project came to be and had been sold to the public.

announcement and casting

While Chastain had pitched the idea to Kinberg while the two were shooting X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the first real announcement about it came when Chastain brought the *concept* of the movie to Cannes 2018. While there she essentially assembled the cast in an attempt to get someone interested in producing or financing it.

The actresses did their part too, basically presenting it as a done deal should someone be brave enough to step up and get the ball rolling. It was a nervy, risky move that generated a lot of attention and interest in the audience, at least, and one of many female-led projects at Cannes or coming out around that time. Rights were eventually bought by Universal.

The lead up to the movie included features like this that profiled Chastain as both an actress and advocate, particularly within the #MeToo movement.

Reports emerged in April that Fan Bingbing, who had been out of sight for months, was still going to be in the movie. A few months later Chastain announced production had officially begun. In August of 2019 Universal finally gave the movie a release date.

Most of the primary cast was in place from the outset, but Kruger replaced Marion Cotillard in mid-2019 as production was getting underway. Sebastian Stan and others were added over the course of that year.

the marketing campaign: phase one

With an initial release date set for January 2021, marketing got underway in October 2020 with the release of a poster that has the members of the assembled spy team standing side by side, each in front of the flag of their respective countries. And, as someone has pointed out on Twitter, it’s the rare one-sheet that actually has the actor standing under their own name.

A couple batches of character posters that break out each one of the leads came out at the same time.

The first trailer (7.4m YouTube views) – debuted by Chastain when she appeared virtually on “Late Night” – also came out then. Mace, we see, is being given an off-the-books project by the security service she works for and sets out assembling a crack team of experts to get the job done. Together they have to stop some very bad people from doing some very bad things, but their mission puts not only themselves but those they love back home in danger. Still, they manage to kick an impressive amount of butt.

A TV spot debuted right after the first trailer came out, showing not only the mission the agents in this movie are engaged in but also offering a bit of backstory behind the “355” designation.

Most of the cast appeared on Entertainment Weekly’s “Women Who Kick Ass” panel at New York Comic-Con, which happened just days after the trailer’s release. They talked about how unique an all-female action movie is, the fun they had doing the stunts and lots more as they promised audiences a good time at the movies.

In November 2020 it was announced Universal was delaying the film by a full year, pushing it from January 2021 to the same date a year later.

The 355 Movie GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

the marketing campaign: phase two

As a result of that delay things went dark on the campaign until almost exactly a year after the marketing had first kicked off with the release of the second trailer (14.7m YouTube views). It covers much of the same ground as the first, but with a few tweaks and more of a focus on the objective of the team as well as the team itself.

An interview with Chastain had her talking about how the movie addresses the idea of female secret agents within the framework of the action movie and how the idea evolved over time. That story also included a new still and other looks at the film.

Short character introduction videos like this started coming out in early December.

Also in early December, Universal held a promotional event/party (seemingly sponsored by Stella Artois) in Miami with lots of music and movie-branded swag available to attendees.

IMDb debuted the first featurette from the movie showing Chastain and others talking about making an action movie and handling their share of the stunt work.

Dolby offered an exclusive clip/featurette that, like everything else, focused on the action of the movie.

More character posters were released that put each agent against a background of all the flags instead of just the one for their own country.

Additional clips also came out over the last couple weeks showing various action sequences involving different characters.

overall

The campaign’s continued emphasis on the action of the movie isn’t different from any other ensemble picture in this genre, so that’s chalked up to a tried and true tactic being executed here.

On the one hand, that’s all well and good because it means it’s not being sold substantively differently from similar movies featuring all-male casts.

On the other hand, by fitting the movie into such a well-used format it doesn’t allow the biggest unique selling point to really shine through.

GIF by The 355 Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

I’d almost rather have seen something unusual be done here because it would have provided a stronger hook, though it’s not assured that audiences would turn out no matter what the messaging was. That’s reflected in the $5 million the movie is projected to bring in this weekend as Spider-Man once again dominates theaters and Covid continues to sweep through the country, disrupting much of everyday goings-on.

halloween kills – marketing recap

How Universal is selling the sequel to a movie that was a sequel that ignored the previous sequels to the original well I’ve gone cross-eyed…

Halloween Kills poster

2018’s Halloween got, by all accounts, better reviews than it was expected to, going on to bring in $255m at the domestic box office. Now the sequel to that film, Halloween Kills, is finally being released.

Picking up roughly right where the first movie left off, this one again pits Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) against the masked homicidal maniac Michael Myers, who is still bent on killing her and everyone around her. That list includes Laurie’s daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). It’s up to the three Strode women to try and bring Myers’ rampage to an end.

But of course this isn’t the end, and everyone knows it, as Halloween Ends, the final part of this trilogy, is scheduled for this time next year, all of which have been or will be directed by David Gordon Green. Until then, let’s see how this installment has been sold.

announcement and casting

That this movie – as well as the third installment – was coming was announced by Blumhouse during San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, with McBride, Green and Curtis all slated to return.

Shortly after that announcement the producers spoke about how unexpected this whole ride was. McBride and Green were interviewed about some details of the story, letting audiences know more or less what they could expect. Curtis talked about the movie in an interview last October, touching on the relevancy of the story to the current era.

At that same time a very short behind the scenes tease of what Green and the cast were shooting.

the marketing kills

Originally scheduled for October 2020, the release date was shifted a full year last July, with Green and producer John Carpenter issuing a statement explaining to fans why they felt the change was necessary to preserve the film and its intended presentation.

A short teaser was released in conjunction with that statement showing the Strodes being taken away from the scene of the fire while hoping that fire is allowed to continue burning in order to end Myers’ threat. Another came out on Halloween of 2020, promising the film would be coming out that time a year later while showing that things are far from safe for the citizens of Haddonfield.

An interview in late 2020 with Green had him assuring fans the filmmakers were not simply going to retread the story of the first film.

Curtis rightfully earned the title of Greatest Of All Time Scream Queen at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in December 2020.

The first full trailer (10.5m YouTube views) wasn’t released until June of this year, starting with the immediate aftermath of the previous movie. Michael has, of course, survived, with a body count following everywhere he goes. Laurie and her family are determined to end him, but he’s getting stronger the more he kills, setting up yet another confrontation between the two characters.

Myers’ cracked, scorched mask is the sole element on the first poster, also released in June. Embers swirl behind him, with the whole thing creating a very dark and gritty tone for the film.

In June of this year the movie’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival was announced along with Curtis’ receiving of a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Carpenter previewed “Unstable” from the movie’s soundtrack in August.

At Venice in September Curtis talked quite a bit about the series’ continued appeal, her award and how the movie’s message of evil being something not easily dispatched is relevant to the modern world.

Universal then announced the movie would debut day and date in theaters and on the company’s Peacock streaming service.

TV advertising began around that time as well, with spots like this that cut down the trailer while showing it’s not just the Strodes who are out to put a final end to Myers but the whole town, with the three core women leading the charge.

The final trailer (8.5m YouTube views) was released in late September. It shows that Myers is out once again on Halloween, terrorizing the residents of Haddonfield. He survived the fire Laurie set, but this time it’s not just her and a few others that have had enough but the whole town.

Early October brought a featurette that had the cast and crew talking about returning to the characters and story, whether their absence has been long or short. A second short featurette had Curtis talking about how the fight against Myers is multigenerational. In a third video everyone promises audiences that this is a *very* different movie and that the audience can expect lots of shocks.

The film screened at Beyond Fest earlier this month, with the cast and crew in attendance to answer fan questions and generally get folks excited.

A new poster released just over a week before the movie came out shows all three Strode women standing defiantly as their house burns in the background. There were also breakout character posters for Karen and Allyson.

Two more behind-the-scenes videos have Green talking about the technical difficulties of shooting this movie, including some of the more complicated effects sequences.

Overall

While this isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, the marketing campaign Universal has put together is cohesive, makes strong appeals to the target audience and spends only as much time as necessary connecting this to past films while keeping the focus on what’s new and upcoming. Those are all strengths. And you have to stand up and applaud how Curtis commits to the project, selling the movie with conviction and making sure to call out her costars and others.

Initial reviews haven’t been strong, with a paltry 54% on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment. But tracking projects a strong opening weekend total of $35-55m, which may not be Bond numbers but certainly indicates strong audience interest. Whether or not the hybrid theatrical/streaming release impacts those projections will, I imagine, be watched with great interest.

Michael Myers GIF by Halloween - Find & Share on GIPHY

candyman – marketing recap

How Universal is selling a sequel to a horror classic with a contemporary twist

candyman teaser poster

Candyman, believe it or not, is a direct sequel to the 1992 movie of the same name, taking the now standard approach of ignoring or at least discounting the two previous sequels. The movie stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy, an artist who moves into Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood with his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris). That neighborhood, now gentrified from its public housing roots, still has memories of the Candyman, a mysterious supernatural entity that could be summoned by those who say his name five times in a mirror. When Anthony begins exploring the long-dormant spirit in his artwork he not only unleashes the killer but also begins to chip away at his own sanity.

announcement and casting

While a fourth installment in the franchise had been rumored and in various stages of development since the early 2000s, it wasn’t until 2018 that things finally started to move forward. It was at that point that Jordan Peele came on as producer and Nia DaCosta as director. Both developments were positively received, especially in the wake of Peele’s breakout hit Get Out.

A year later Abdul-Mateen was cast, though initial reports had him playing the title role. Those were dispelled when it emerged that Tony Todd would reprise that role from the original, with Parris joining as well.

marketing kicks off, or at least tries to

The beginning of the formal marketing campaign was unfortunately timed for early 2020. In late February Universal offered those who included “candyman” five times in a Tweet an alert when the trailer was released a few days later.

As that first trailer (14.5m views on YouTube) opens, McCoy is moving into the Chicago neighborhood formerly known as Cabrini Green. He becomes obsessed with the local legend of The Candyman and begins depicting him in his art. All this while people in the area begin dying after invoking his name, something McCoy eventually begins to suspect he’s somehow tied to. It’s a suitably creepy trailer that plays up both Peele’s role as producer and DaCosta’s as director, giving the film a nice pedigree for audiences to latch on to.

The teaser poster, released around that same time, shows a honey-covered hook, a bee still clinging to the glazed metal. Audiences are encouraged to “Dare to say his name” on what is otherwise a white background that is still fairly ominous.

It wasn’t too long after that in April that the first release delay was announced as the movie was shifted from its original June date to September.

How black filmmakers were working to tell stories involving racial themes and from their own point of view within the horror/thriller genres was the subject of a substantial profile in August of last year that included DaCosta. She touched on the real life inspirations of some of the story elements and more as well.

In mid-June TV spots started coming out that continued teasing how the movie is about the legacy of Candyman and the role he plays in the community.

DaCosta appeared at the American Black Film Festival to show clips to the virtual attendees.

In September of last year, when the movie should have been hitting theaters, Universal bumped it again, just a bit to October. It was then taken off the calendar completely before the eventual move to August 2021 was announced, a date that actually stuck.

When the delay to 2021 was announced, DaCosta explained why seeing it in theaters was an important part of the intended experience as opposed to seeing it at home through VOD.

DaCosta made Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch list in early 2021.

An interview with costar Domingo Colman allowed him to talk about how DaCosta was approaching the story and the brutalization inherent in it respectfully, not how it’s often depicted by other filmmakers.

for real this time

The restart of the campaign came in June when a special Juneteenth message from DaCosta was announced. That video, which has her talking about the duality of the holiday and how the same kinds of themes are captured in the movie, was well-done and because of the commonalities between the holiday and the film, seems less opportunistic than some other attempts.

That was followed by the second trailer (27m views on YouTube) in June. McCoy is having the history of Candyman told to him, latching on to that story and the legends surrounding it. That makes it very creepy, even if it sacrifices a bit of the context around the characters and their story.

The poster released at that time shows what is presumed to be Candyman himself from the back, his hook visible as he raises his arm. This time the message to the audience is trimmed down to, simply, “Say it”, assuming we all know what that means.

The director was interviewed about how she has moved from small independent films to this being the first of two major studio releases she’s helming.

TV and social advertising picked back up in the wake of the trailer with videos that continued using the shadow puppet motif to help explain the legend of the spirit that haunts Cabrini Green.

Anthony is trying to convince a reluctant Brianna to summon Candyman in the first clip, released in mid-August.

A profile of Abdul-Mateen identified him as one of the biggest rising stars of the moment thanks to high-profile roles in this movie and a number of others.

Peele and DaCosta talk about their fascination with urban legends – including this one – and their desire to tell a horror story from a Black perspective in a short featurette. Another focused on the real life artists who created the works that, in the movie, come from Abdul-Mateen’s character.

Those same artists are part of a #TellEveryone social impact initiative, details of which can be found on the movie’s website. That initiative included a focus on Black artists, the history and importance of Black horror stories (a subject that got its own featurette) and more. Downloadable lesson-planning materials are offered on that page along with information on where to dive deeper and support related programs.

Anyone brave enough to take the challenge to say Candyman’s name five times online unlocked an exclusive, creepy filter that added swarming bees to their selfies.

Abdul-Mateen and Parris were part of an exclusive video interview from AMC Theaters.

An exclusive Fandango clip expands on a scene glimpsed in the trailer, of a bunch of teenage girls making the mistake of summoning the killing spirit.

One last TV spot includes not just footage from the film but also comments from the cast and crew, who name aspects of the story and the urban legend behind it to demonstrate its power.

Parris discussed the film when she appeared on “Late Night.”

overall

One of the issues the campaign has frequently worked to overcome is that, because of Peele’s involvement, he sometimes overshadows DaCosta. But the featurettes and other elements make sure to include her as often as they do him to make sure she gets as much attention as she deserves as the film’s director.

Other than that, Universal and the filmmakers have taken pains to make sure that this is positioned as more than just another sequel to a classic horror film. Instead it’s touted as a cultural event, part of a long legacy of urban legend building as well as a reflection (if you’ll pardon the term) of society and the trauma it inflicts on Black citizens.

Despite that, your reaction to the marketing will likely be dependent on your taste for horror films in general. Some will work past their aversion because the campaign promises a deeper story while others will pass because it’s just not their genre of choice.

old – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the latest twist-heavy film from a singular director

old movie poster

Director M. Night Shyamalan, known for his intricately-structured slow reveals, returns with this week’s new release Old. Gael García Bernal stars as Guy, who’s vacationing with his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and their two children. The family visits a secluded beach but soon discover they, as well as others already there, are mysteriously aging rapidly, with years going by in just minutes. With time running out, they look for ways to escape before it’s too late.

The marketing campaign has focused on explaining that premise, largely because hooking audiences to come see the twists in the last act is the primary value proposition for any film from Shyamalan. With middling reviews giving it a 60% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and projections for a $12-15 million opening weekend at the box-office, let’s take a look at some of the details.

The Posters

The first poster, released last September, hints at time being a major factor in the story by showing human beings falling through an hourglass like grains of sand. The “It’s only a matter of time” copy unnecessarily underlines that hint.

That theme is made even more explicit on the theatrical poster, released in May. This one shows a woman relaxing on the beach, her face hidden by her hat but her legs and arms visible. One side of her body, we see, is much more gaunt and aged than the other, further indicating to the audience that there’s some unnatural force at work in the story. A motion version came out at the same time.

The Dolby poster shows an aerial view of the beach, with some kind of shape visible in the lines formed by the waves and sand.

The Trailers

When the first trailer (23.2 million views on YouTube), released in May, begins, we see that some vacationing families decide to defy requests to not visit the beach near the resort they’re staying at. That choice has dramatic consequences when after a series of strange events they find they are aging years in just minutes and can’t escape, leading everyone to make some very difficult choices. It’s full of tension but not silly and works to create anticipation and wonder about what power is behind what’s happening.

Online and Social

You’ll find only the basic marketing content on the movie’s official website, including a photo gallery that has a handful of behind-the-scenes shots. There were also social media profiles for the movie.

Advertising and Promotions

Shyamalan announced the movie and debuted the first key art in September, 2020.

Shyamalan briefly spoke about the movie in early 2021 when he appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

The first look at the film came in a Super Bowl spot that aired in early February. Understandably, there’s not a whole lot of the story in that spot but it does have enough elements to hint at the kind of story audiences can expect.

After the first commercial debuted during the 2021 Super Bowl, the director appeared on Entertainment Weekly’s Instagram to discuss the movie.

While the movie didn’t screen there, did sit down for an interview at the 2021 Tribeca Festival.

Clips that hint at the mystery of what’s happening on the beach and the confusion of the characters began hitting in mid-July.

Shyamalan talked about the movie when he appeared on “Late Night” in July.

Clips like this started coming out earlier this month, but none offered much in the way of detail as to what the overall story was.

The second key art was used for outdoor ads like this as well as online ads that drove traffic to the official website where people could buy tickets.

A special movie-themed escape map was added to Fortnite where people had to collect needed resources and put together the clues to get out of that area.

Surprisingly, the cast talked about how this movie doesn’t rely on the typical Shyamalan twist at the film’s premiere earlier this week.

How Shyamalan worked with his daughter on the film was the subject of a short featurette released just before the movie came out. He also discussed how he doesn’t think he makes horror but something more akin to drama in this spot.

Another featurette, this one exclusive to Fandango MovieClips, has the cast and crew discussing the concept of time and how it relates to the movie. The director discussed how sound and other elements help create fear and uncertainty in a Dolby-exclusive video while he and the stars all appeared in a Regal Cinemas video.

Shyamalan discussed how this movie fits into his overall filmography and more in this interview. He also spoke more in this profile about what drives him creatively and what some of his film influences are and have been.

Overall

M. Night Shyamalan movies are always sold on the idea that the audience won’t believe what lies just beyond what they see in the trailers and this campaign doesn’t significantly deviate from that formula.

The concern with that approach is that it can hold so much back there’s little for the audience to actually comprehend. Put another way, there’s a minimum level of context needed for the audience to grasp the broad outlines of the story and why they should care about the characters.

Universal’s campaign for Old, in my opinion, *just* crosses that tipping point. That could mean that, whatever the merits of the movie itself, it may simply be too obscure a proposition to motivate people into making this choice. Not that the campaign isn’t well-executed from a technical standpoint – it is – but it’s right at the cusp of holding too much back to maintain the sense of mystery associated with the filmmaker.

2020’s Nine Most Intriguing Movie Campaigns

Even a dumpster fire can yield some interesting results.

If compiled, the articles, think-pieces and hot takes written between March and December of 2020 on the present and future of movies and theater-going would fill volumes rivaling the collected works of Marcel Proust, though they would be far easier to summarize.

A year unlike any other certainly proved even more disruptive to aspects of the film industry – production, distribution and exhibition alike – than anything like MoviePass or other threats once held to be dire could have dreamed. No one could have engineered a scenario where over 90 percent of the nation’s movie theaters would close for months at a time, studios would shut down filming on major motion pictures and so on ad infinitum because of a virus outbreak around the globe.

All of that, as well as the pivot by studios and media owners to streaming, upended, delayed or otherwise altered a great many movie marketing efforts. That doesn’t mean 2020 didn’t have plenty of interesting campaigns, though. It just means in some cases what made them “interesting” or otherwise notable was a little different than what would have qualified in prior years.

More than anything else, 2020 was a year of unexpected firsts. WarnerMedia finally launched HBO Max and offered a number of original films before announcing it would be home to its entire 2021 theatrical release slate. Disney rushed Onward over to Disney+ before later using it for titles like Hamilton and Soul that otherwise would have gone to theaters and for Mulan as a test for a new pricing model. Paramount sold off many of its titles to Netflix or Amazon. Apple released a handful of original features while trying to provide Apple TV+ with some momentum. Universal essentially reinvented and reinvigorated PVOD.

So, with all that said, these are some of the most intriguing movie marketing campaigns of a year for which “intriguing” is such an understatement as to almost be irresponsible.

Mank

Why It Made The Cut: Many campaigns for period films include some element or another meant to evoke the era the story takes place in. No movie takes that as far as Netflix’s Mank, where the whole campaign was designed to seem as if the film were being released in the late 1930s/early 1940s, just like Citizen Kane. Trailers were cut and narrated in the style of that period, posters were designed to look similar to the kinds of one-sheets seen then and more. It shows something unique can be created if the marketing team goes all-in on a concept.

Mulan

Why It Made The Cut: The campaigns for many movies that had their release plans changed dramatically saw subsequent alterations made to their marketing campaigns. Few were as innovative as Disney’s shift of Mulan. Not only was the film sent directly to Disney+ (as well as limited theaters), but the introduction of a “Premier Access” PVOD tier to that streaming platform set this one apart from the others. By all accounts this experiment was a success, one that may be replicated with other titles in the future. It also essentially set the stage for what Warner Bros. would wind up doing with HBO Max beginning with Wonder Woman 1984, though Disney remains committed to sending its Marvel Studios titles exclusively to theaters.

Yifei Liu GIF by Walt Disney Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Assistant

Why It Made The Cut: Few films felt as timely as The Assistant, which came out at the same time Hollywood was dealing with not only the continued fallout of Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace due to sexual harassment and assault but also the burgeoning protests by assistants in the industry over lack of adequate pays and other mistreatment. While other campaigns made big, flashy statements to audiences, this one played it so quiet and understated it sometimes fell off the radar, but kept coming back to show how powerful the story and performances were.

Birds of Prey

Why It Made The Cut: Before May of last year, Warner Bros. and DC Films seemed to be actively apologizing for the dark, dystopian tone (not to mention storytelling shortcomings) of earlier films from Zack Snyder and David Ayer. The campaign for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was part of that, presenting a new take on the best character to come out of Suicide Squad that freed Harley Quinn from the male gaze and other traps. In contrast to some of those earlier movies, this campaign was funny, bright and full of women taking their power back. It was also one of the last major fully-theatrical campaigns of the year before things got weird.

Harley Quinn Smile GIF by Birds Of Prey - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Invisible Man

Why It Made The Cut: Universal’s unsuccessful effort to launch its Dark Universe film franchise on the back of 2017’s The Mummy is legendary as a case study in corporate hubris. That made the campaign for The Invisible Man so notable as it not only looked like a powerful and compelling story in its own right but also was the first example of the studio’s new approach of making smaller movies driven by creative filmmakers, not the dictates of a shared cinematic universe.

Universal GIF by The Invisible Man - Find & Share on GIPHY

Trolls World Tour/Scoob!

Why It Made The Cut: These two kid-targeted movies were some of the earliest efforts by their respective studios into the burgeoning world of premium video-on-demand, an avenue theater owners had kept off-limits for a decade. Most notably, each represented early adoption of the studio-hosted watch party, encouraging fans to engage in a communal but remote viewing experience anchored by Twitter chats. While Trolls World Tour was a first-mover, Scoob! in particular went all-out for its watch party with downloadable party packs, recipes and other items for those at home to use as part of the event.

Zac Efron Animation GIF by SCOOB! - Find & Share on GIPHY

The New Mutants

Why It Made The Cut: The New Mutants is included here simply because it actually came out after years of delays, rumors of extensive reshoots and other issues. Not only was it finally released – after a campaign that shifted over time from a horror-centric push to one that was more of a conventional super hero message – but it came out theatrically instead of, as many expected, via streaming.

Angry X-Men GIF by 20th Century Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

Tenet

Why It Made The Cut: With so many movies coming out on PVOD or streaming, Tenet’s theatrical release is a bright shining example of a powerful stakeholder intentionally not reading the room. The film’s massively disappointing box-office performance shows there was no audience in September willing to brave theater-going in sufficient numbers, a lesson so well-learned by Warner Bros. it’s cited as being a major reason for the studio’s decision to send #WW84 and eventually all its 2021 releases to HBO Max. It would rather anger directors, agents, production partners and others than go through that again, and with good reason.

Coming Robert Pattinson GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Happiest Season

Why It Made The Cut: Few films of late have tried so hard – and to a great extent so successfully – to redefine an entire genre as The Happiest Season. Its holiday-centric campaign was perfectly in keeping with the movie’s story, and the emphasis on providing a new take on the Christmas movie category was felt throughout the marketing by Hulu.

Christmas GIF by HULU - Find & Share on GIPHY

HONORABLE MENTION – Emma

Just for this GIF.

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.