f9: the fast saga – marketing recap

How Universal is selling the latest in one of cinema’s biggest international franchises.

I may have mentioned this previously, but with the exception of Hobbs & Shaw I’ve never seen a single entry in the Fast & Furious franchise. That’s despite the core series reaching its ninth entry over 20 years with this week’s F9: The Fast Saga. Here’s the official synopsis of the movie, courtesy of IMDb:

Cipher (Charlize Theron) enlists the help of Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s (Vin Diesel) younger brother, to take revenge on Dom and his team.

OK, sure. If you, like me, are largely in the dark as to what is happening in the above sentence, you may not be the audience for this new movie, despite a campaign that has boiled the pitch down to “muscle bound men and women engage in increasingly over-the-top stunts with cars.”

The movie, like many others, was originally scheduled to be released in April of 2020 but has been pushed numerous times because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not wanting to imperil the franchise’s massive international box-office, it has seemingly never even been considered for non-theatrical distribution. That international appeal is evident in how it’s already nearing $300 million in overseas ticket sales before it hits the domestic market, where it’s Fandango’s biggest pre-order title of the year so far.

It finally hits screens this weekend with a projected box-office of $60 million dollars thanks to a flashy campaign but not to the lackluster 62% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s alright because this is for the fans, not the critics.

The Posters

The teaser poster of Dom with his back turned as he leans against the hood of his car was released all the way back in January, 2020. It’s not much but it doesn’t need to be as it’s simply the announcement that a new movie in the series is coming out and yes, it’s about family.

A series of character posters came out at various points in the campaign that placed each character in front of what I’m assuming is their signature car, or at least one that seems to match the color aesthetic being used. The Photoshopping here is obvious, as the photos look like they’ve been cut out like Joker assembling his scrapbook and then glued to the smoke-filled background.

Dom is at the center of the group of characters featured on the theatrical poster, the rest arrayed around him while at the bottom there are a bunch of cars and a helicopter engaged in some form of racing or chase. I’m not sure the multi-colored plumes of smoke are meant to symbolize or what purpose they serve other than to add something to what would otherwise be a collection of browns and grays. An earlier version of this poster ditched the action and just featured the primary cast leaning against their cars with the same colorful smoke in the background.

Dom and Jakob are engaged in a no-holds-barred race on the IMAX poster, dirt and sparks flying everywhere as they trade paint.

One final poster came out just a few days ago, this one released at the end of a big online promotional day that included the cast answering fan questions. The poster itself was part of the 20th anniversary celebration aspect of the campaign and had Dom standing by himself alongside his car with a collection of memorable quotes from the previous films placed above him.

The Trailers

A teaser trailer was shared by Diesel a couple days before the release of the first trailer. When that trailer (52.5 million views on YouTube) came out at the end of January 2020 it showed that this movie would pick up on the same themes and ideas as the series’ previous entries. It focuses on family both real – Dominic talks about how everything he does is to keep his wife and son safe – and chosen, as he reunites with his colleagues and partners in crime and adventure. This time around they once again face off against Cypher, who has enlisted a criminal who turns out to be Dom’s brother. There are fast cars and over-the-top stunts, including what seems to be Dom catching a car while standing on top of a bus.

Demand for the trailer was so high it recorded over 262 million views across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook in the first 72 hours after it was released.

The final trailer (46.5 million views on YouTube) debuted over a year later, in April 2021. Debuting first on “Today” (thanks to some NBCU corporate synergy), the focus is once again on family, whether it’s the found kind or the one you’re born into. Other than that there are of course ridiculous car and other stunts on display, including some sort of scheme involving magnets and, at the very end, a hint that the franchise will finally go into space, just as fans have been clamoring for.

Online and Social

You can find trailers, a photo gallery, story synopsis and more marketing assets on the movie’s official website. It also has information on the entire saga to date including a timeline of events. Links to the movie’s social profiles are also on the page, but that list doesn’t include the Giphy page for an unknown reason.

An Instagram AR lens was available that assigned each user to a character from the movie.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

In advance of the first trailer’s debut during the Super Bowl, a concert was held in Miami featuring Cardi B., Ludacris and other artists, with the stars of the movie on hand to give fans their first full look at what they could expect. That concert was livestreamed so audiences everywhere could experience it as well. Universal announced the event in December, building anticipation over a month out from it happening.

As the promotional concert was happening, Jimmy Fallon called Diesel from “The Tonight Show” to hear how it was going and get important updates.

When the trailer revealed Han from Tokyo Drift was returning for real, it was only natural that Kang would be interviewed about how that is happening and what it means for him and fans.

The movie was among those with commercials airing during the Super Bowl, just a few days after the first trailer was released. That Big Game spot is short on dialogue – that’s not what the audience is interested in – and long on dramatic car chases and other thrilling sequences.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Dodge, which released a commercial featuring footage from the movie and other shots of the company’s cars narrated by Diesel that positioned those cars as the ultimate muscle performance machines.
  • Cameo, which let fans enter to win a personalized message from one of the cast members.

Diesel talked about the movie and more when he stopped by “Kimmel” in March of 2020. A few months later Rodriguez was interviewed about the important new perspective brought on by a female writer for the movie. While he was promoting other projects, Cena spoke about his trepidation before finally signing on to join the series.

In one of the biggest announcements that came as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020, Universal pushed the movie’s release an entire year, apparently wanting to put the maximum possible distance between that virus and the film hitting theaters. Especially important at the time was that while U.S. theaters were (at the time) still open, Chinese theaters had completely shut down, effectively cutting off a major segment of the audience.

The picture hadn’t improved enough by September for Universal to stick with that release date, pushing it out an additional three months.

In October of last year, Universal revealed there would only be two more F&F movies before the series shut down, with Lin attached to direct both of them.

Due to those delays, it was advertised again during the 2021 Super Bowl, the only movie from 2020’s lineup to make a second appearance. The new spot mixes the usual bits about the importance of family with the kind of outsized and ludicrous action the franchise is known for.

EW’s 2021 Movie Preview included more comments about the story (such as it is) and characters.

One more delay, this time from May to June, was announced in March.

Diesel narrates a spot, released in late April, that starts with him talking about the power of going to the theater before cutting to the same movie footage we’ve seen before. His voiceover positions the movie as the perfect time to “come together” in a communal viewing experience with all the involvement and engagement that entails.

That spot was parodied in a late-May episode of “Saturday Night Live,” with Beck Bennett’s Vin Diesel just kind of naming things that exist in a movie theater.

The “Total Car-Nage” video from early May mixed scenes from the finished film with a bit of behind-the-scenes footage showing how some of those scenes were shot. It’s not exactly a featurette, more of a hype reel.

Black was interviewed about coming back to the franchise and the fan-driven legacy of Tokyo Drift.

Universal shared a video of a massive publicity stunt where footage and images from the movie were projected onto the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

A “thank you” video was released with the cast expressing their gratitude to audiences in China, Egypt and elsewhere after it opened to an impressive $162 million in those markets. Unfortunately there was a bit of a kerfuffle when Cena, while being interviewed by a Taiwanese outlet, referred to Taiwan as a country, causing a backlash in China and resulting in him issuing an apology on the social media app Weibo. That backlash was at least in part to blame for the movie’s dramatic drop in its second week in China.

Rodriguez, Theron, Mirren and other women from the cast talk about how the story brings the female perspective to the action genre in a featurette released later that month that also teased the new song “Furiosa” by Anitta.

Diesel narrates a spot broadcast on ESPN that mixes movie footage with shots of NBA stars.

How the filmmakers pulled off a key sequence involving driving around and with the aid of massive magnets was the subject of a feature story.

Dom and Letty swing across a valley in their car in a clip released at the end of May.

To the surprise of many, news came in early June that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the Cannes Film Festival, albeit out of competition as a way to bring some serious star power and brand juice to the event.

Beginning in early June there were a series of featurettes released regularly. Those included:

  • A look at one of the key stunts Dom is involved in
  • A spotlight on costar Anna Sawai where she talks about preparing for the physical demands of the production
  • A focus on Cardi B, who has a cameo in the film
  • Another behind the scenes look, this time at a sequence shot at Peligro Mines
  • A look at the technical work done to flip a car in an overly dramatic manner
  • Similarly, here’s how they flipped a truck
  • And one more on the magnet stunt

Theron hosted an outdoor screening on the Universal Studios lot that raised money for the Africa Outreach Project, a cause that’s very personal to the actress.

Lin and others were interviewed again about finally taking the franchise into space and bringing Han back after the character was killed in Tokyo Drift.

Regal Cinemas shared video interviews with the cast as well as Diesel on his own. Cinemark Theaters gave control of its Instagram Stories to the cast to post and answer questions from the fans.

Diesel also appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie while costar Jordana Brewster was interviewed about some of her favorite memories and moments from the franchise so far.

One final promotional reel looked at the 20 years of cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and more from all the previous movies, cementing how this is a long-lived franchise.

Overall

What else is there to say other than

It’s about family.

Fast And Furious F9 GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s about justice for Han.

Fast And Furious F9 GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

It’s about magnets.

Fast And Furious Magnets GIF by The Fast Saga - Find & Share on GIPHY

But, as I alluded to earlier, there’s little in the campaign for someone unfamiliar with the previous movies to latch on to or be interested in. I get that by branding this “The Fast Saga” that unconverted audience is being encouraged to check out the earlier movies, but if they’re not willing to do so they will likely remain unconvinced this is the movie to see.

Bloodshot – Marketing Recap

The last movie that will ever open in 2020 comes out this week.

bloodshot poster 2Bloodshot, based on the Valiant Comics series and character of the same name, hits theaters this weekend, just before the world as we know it comes to an end and after other studios have pulled a n number of big-name titles from the release calendar.

Initially expected, via tracking reports, to have an opening weekend of around $10 million, that number is likely to be much lower given the U.S. public is now quickly moving into full self-quarantine/social distancing mode. Heck, it’s not even clear if theaters are still going to be open this weekend.

Despite all that, the movie stars Vin Diesel as Ray Garrison, a soldier killed in battle who is brought back to life by a mysterious organization. Not only is he resurrected, advanced technology gives him incredible powers, including being able to heal himself from injury and massive strength. Given missions by his masters, Garrison – now codenamed Bloodshot – also sets out to find the man he believes murdered his wife. But his memories may not be trustworthy as he finds reality is much more complicated than it seems.

Sony’s campaign has made the most of Diesel’s limited dramatic range, using special effects to fill in the rest in an attempt to appeal to audiences.

The Posters

Garrison is walking purposefully toward the camera on the first poster (by marketing agency BOND), released in January. You can see the character’s trademark glowing red chest symbol beneath his shirt, especially through what appear to be bullet holes. That symbol is reiterated visually behind him. At the top we’re told “You don’t need a past to have a future,” referencing the gaps in Bloodshot’s memory that fuel a lot of the story.

That same pose is used on the next poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), which adds a couple of the allies Bloodshot surrounds himself with to the background. This time the tagline reads “Being a super hero is in his blood.”, which isn’t quite as good as the first attempt.

Other posters, including one for IMAX, used variations on those themes, either showing Bloodshot on his own and up close or pulling the camera out to allow for the supporting characters and settings to be seen.

Of particular note is how some of the posters – especially the first one – make sure to call out that the movie is “Based on the best-selling comic book.” Many movies rooted in comics aren’t quite as clear in selling the source material, which is a real problem facing the comics industry, so it’s nice to see one that does so.

The Trailers

As many trailers about lone, angry men do, the trailer (11.6 million views on YouTube) for this movie, released in October of last year, opens by showing us how much Garrison loves his wife, who of course is a tall, leggy blonde. Cut to him waking up on a table to find out he died and has been brought back by a company that injected him with microscope organisms that make him stronger and heal injuries instantly. He takes off to find the man responsible for killing his wife, something that’s easier thanks to his healing abilities. Turns out, though, that the people who claim to be helping him are actually manipulating his memories to send him on assassination missions. When Garrison starts to put things together he sets his sights on them.

Online and Social

The landing page of the movie’s official website features the key art seen on the first poster, but that’s about as interesting as things get. It’s just the usual marketing materials shared here, lacking even a link or information on the source comic series.

Advertising and Promotions

Footage – and more importantly audio – from the movie was used in a promotional video by Dolby for its Atmos sound experience.

TV advertising began in early March with spots like this that boiled the sales pitch down to some cool special effects and a creepy bad guy. Similar videos were used for online and social media ads.

A first clip was given to Sony’s PlayStation division earlier this month showing the newly revived Garrison learning what he’s become a part of.

Sony announced last week this would be the latest title released in its new ICE immersive format.

The red carpet premiere was held earlier this week (before such events started getting canceled) and had all the stars and filmmakers in attendance. Diesel and others made sure to call out the comics the movie is based on to the audience both in person and online.

Another clip given to Fandango is all about the action, showing how Bloodshot can reconstitute himself after being seemingly injured.

A featurette released at the last minute has Diesel introducing the character to audiences.

Media and Press

The movie’s director and producer were interviewed around the time the first trailer came out, talking about the character and how they think audiences will react to him.

Diesel stopped by “Kimmel” to talk about this film and more. Costars Sam Heugan, Eliza Gonzalez and Lamorne Morris also made some talk show appearances.

An interview with the lead actor had him establishing that not only could there be more Bloodshot movies but that this might act as the launching point for a shared universe of Valiant Comics characters. Another feature profile had him talking about this movie and lots more.

Director David S.F. Wilson was interviewed about how his experience with special effects helped him navigate his first helming effort.

Overall

As it stands, the campaign Sony mounted sells an utterly ridiculous, over-the-top science fiction action movie featuring an actor who makes damp drywall seem overly emotive. He’s very popular, but outside of the Fast Saga that popularity is somewhat questionable.

That’s why, while the star can’t exactly be hidden away in the marketing, he certainly seems to be taking a back seat to the special effects.

The biggest sword hanging over the movie is whether or not there’s any willingness among the public to go to the movies this weekend. On the one hand, this campaign offers some decent escapism from the massive chunks of detritus falling from the sky at the moment. On the other, any public gathering right now seems like asking to become a public health cautionary tale.

So we’ll see how things turn out. Whatever happens, Sony’s campaign is outlandish and ridiculous. Whether it works or not might be up to a tiny little virus.