venom: let there be carnage – marketing recap

How Sony has sold a sequel like a…well…you know

To call the first Venom movie a bit of a surprise would be a significant understatement. Part super-anti-hero movie, part romantic comedy, part buddy cop movie and featuring one of the all-time great “he doesn’t even know what movie he’s in” performances from star Tom Hardy, it was at the same time a terrifying misfire and also somehow great, it defied expectations to gross a decent $213 million at the domestic box-office.

Now the sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, arrives in theaters. Directed by Andy Serkis and with Hardy returning as Eddie Brock/Venom and Michelle Williams returning as his ex-fiancee Anne Weying, the story picks up a year after the events of the first film. As the title implies, this one delivers on the tease from the end of the 2018 movie with Woody Harrelson appearing as Cletus Kasady, a serial killer Brock attempts to interview and who will have his own symbiote dynamic.

announcement and casting

Hardy was talking about the potential for sequels even before the October 2018 release of the first film. Sony was quick to capitalize on the positive buzz for that movie, though, and announced a release date for the second one in November 2018.

Harrelson had already signed on to the project as part of his agreement to appear as Kassady in the teaser at the end of the original. Rumors and vague reports about what was in store for the sequel were brought into finer focus when, in early August of 2019, Serkis was announced as the director of the film, replacing Ruben Fleischer.

Later that year additional cast members – including Naomie Harris as Frances Barrison / Shriek, a character from the comics that is a love interest of Kassady/Carnage – were announced, with principal photography wrapping up just before the pandemic shut many productions down in early 2020.

In April of last year Paramount both gave the movie an official subtitle and a new June 2021 release date (it was originally scheduled for October 2020) as the studio pushed titles in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. A video announcement confirmed both elements of that.

official marketing gets underway

Things were very quiet for a good long while between that April 2020 announcement and the May 2021 kickoff of the movie’s actual marketing campaign.

That kickoff included the release of the first trailer (34.4m views on YouTube) which quickly catches us up on Eddie and Venom’s relationship, which is that of a weird even more symbiotic Odd Couple that helps protect local bodega owners. But we quickly get to Kasady being cryptic and weird with Eddie, eventually becoming Carnage and wreaking havoc on the city. It’s not much, but it delivers on the promise setup in the first movie, so it’s all good.

At the same time the first poster came out, immediately establishing the conflict in the story as the camera peers out from Venom’s mouth to show Carnage *very* close and clearly on the attack. This is an object lesson in how to not beat around the bush and just send the message the audience wants, in this case that the movie is all about two symbiotes beating each other to a pulp for two hours.

In June Serkis appeared in a video announcing a fan art contest in conjunction with Talenthouse. Some of these submissions would be featured on the movie’s social media profiles throughout the remainder of the campaign.

An interview with screenwriter Kelly Marcel had her talking about developing the script, including collaborating with Hardy, who is getting his first “story by” credit.

Movie-themed stickers featuring both Venom and Carnage were made available for TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Also on the mobile front, a selfie lens that put Venom or Carnage’s head on your own was released for Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.

The second trailer (36.8m views on YouTube) came out at the beginning of this past August. It focuses much more on Kassady, from his instance on speaking only to Brock while in prison to how he gets the Carnage symbiote to the kind of mayhem he causes after breaking out. There are a few small appearances from Shriek but Anne Weying doesn’t show up until close to the end for a couple gags about Brock’s ability to control Venom’s actions.

Apple TV+ hosted an exclusive behind the scenes featurette after that trailer came out.

Two more posters then came out in mid-August. One once again features both symbiotes but this time they’re positioned as two halves of the same face instead of squaring off against each other. The other goes back to having Carnage attack Venom

At that point energy drink G-Fuel began promoting its movie-themed collectors cans, with both aliens featured on different can designs.

A much-shared interview with Hardy had the actor commenting on a number of things, including how much he wants to see the Venom/Spider-Man that everyone has been speculating on actually happen and what he already has in mind for a third movie.

The traditional super hero ensemble design is used on the theatrical poster, released at the end of August. The two symbiotes are seen at the top of the “V” shape formed by the assembled heads of the characters, with Carnage shown more fully toward the bottom.

Regal Cinemas released a video promo for its 4DX presentation, which adds motion and other sensations to the viewing experience.

Shorter videos started coming out at about the same time, roughly a month ahead of release, that were used for social media promotions as well as TV spots and pre-roll video ads. Some were just action-based while others delved into the dynamic between Brock and Kassady.

Given all other delays, including one in August that moved the release to mid-October, it was a little surprising when, at the beginning of September, Sony brought it up two weeks to early October.

A “FansFirst” screening was held in mid-September with Hardy and Serkis in attendance to help get those lucky enough to get in hyped up for the movie.

Dolby Cinema’s exclusive poster takes an artistic approach to the fight between Venom and Carnage, using the same sort of pose seen on other posters but with a minimalist design. The IMAX poster takes the opposite approach, still using a painted design but this time so detailed and graphic it looks like literally any comic book cover from 1994. The 4DX poster has the two faces sort of bleeding into and over one another.

A series of character posters followed that put the characters head in a “V” design that had their silhouette then featured at the bottom. The one for Anne Weying is notable for showing her at the bottom as the She-Venom she briefly became in the first movie, hinting that there may be additional transformations in store for her.

NFL star George Kittle appears in an ESPN promo that has him talking about moving in as Venom’s new roommate, which is just as hilarious and problematic as you’d imagine.

Of course, as is now standard, there was a Venom skin offered in Fortnight.

Sony hosted “Venom Day” the Monday prior to release, encouraging fans to contribute to the conversation and share their fandom. It also included videos from a handful of minor celebrities where, in the middle of having a conversation, they actually transform into Venom.

The first clip shows Kassady first transforming into Carnage as he breaks out of prison just as he’s about to be put to death.

Serkis talks about where Brock and Venom are as a couple in this installment and how that forms the foundation of the story in a featurette. In another we meet Shriek, with comments from both Serkis and Harris.

Another FansFirst screening was held just days ago with Serkis in attendance.

One final TV spot, released in the last couple days, uses the new song “Last One Standing” by Skylar Grey ft. Polo G, Mozzy, and Eminem, who had the title song in the original film.

overall

You have to hand it to Sony Pictures, the studio really leaned into the “glorious, psychotic trainwreck” vibe of the first movie and the unexpected way audiences latched onto it when promoting this second installment. Everything here is done with as much of a tongue-in-cheek attitude as a major motion picture studio can allow.

From the outset of the actual campaign, Sony understood the assignment was to show large-scale fights between Venom and Carnage and so included that in as many elements as possible. Most of the posters use that confrontation as their sole visual element while the trailers work through whatever character development is necessary to get to the more action-oriented point.

That means, interestingly, that Hardy’s screen time as the human side of the Brock/Venom duo is somewhat limited, which is a shame since his unhinged performance was widely seen as the highlight of the 2018 film. Still, it’s not as limited as Williams’ time on screen, which is a shame in and of itself.