the many saints of newark – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the much-anticipated prequel to a critically-acclaimed series.

The Many Saints of Newark poster

“The Sopranos” retains its status as one of the most acclaimed and influential series of all time even 14 years after its final episode aired. It is still a cultural touchpoint alongside fellow HBO series “The Wire” and a handful of others that have been off the air (so to speak) for over a decade.

This week the world of mob boss Tony Soprano – memorably brought to life by the late James Gandolfini – returns in the form of The Many Saints of Newark. Jumping back to 1967 Newark, the prequel movie is still centered on Tony, whose younger self is now played by Michael Gandolfini, James’ son. At this point, though, he’s just an underachieving teen who idolizes his uncle Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), who leads the family’s criminal operation. Tony’s ruthlessness grows as time goes on under the influence of Dickie and others, setting the stage for his eventual ascent to power.

Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Bernthal, Corey Stall, Ray Liotta, Vera Farmiga, Billy Magnussen and others also star, some as wholly new characters who will influence the direction Tony and others take, some as younger incarnations of characters familiar to viewers of the show and who are part of Tony Soprano’s orbit. Let’s take a look at how Warner Bros. has sold what should be a slam-dunk with a built in audience of loyal super fans.

[disclosure statement: I’ve never watched a full episode of “The Sopranos” but I do believe the ambiguous cut-to-black ending is incredible simply because it refuses to neatly tie things up. Watching people freak out was highly enjoyable, even if the next 10 years of endless debate and discussion made me sometimes want to walk into traffic. Let’s move on…]

announcement and casting

Ever since the elder Gandolfini’s passing, series creator David Chase had ruled out telling stories that would take place after the end of the show. His idea of telling a story set earlier in the timeline, though, remained intriguing and it was this idea that New Line and HBO Films finally greenlit in 2018. Alan Taylor, who had directed a number of episodes during the original show’s run, was hired to helm the movie at that time.

Nivola was one of the first to be cast later in 2018, with others added over the course of 2019. That included the younger Gandolfini, who reportedly was hesitant to step into his father’s shoes and who, despite the genetic connection, had to audition for the role.

Originally scheduled for September, 2020, in April of last year the date was pushed to March, 2021 because of pandemic-related theater closures and other delays. This past January release was moved to October at the same time Warner Bros. announced it, like the rest of its slate, would debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

selling the movie

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo in January touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup. But the campaign didn’t really kick off until just this past June.

That’s when the first trailer (9.5m YouTube views) came out in late June. It starts with the older Tony’s voice introducing us to his younger self on screen. After getting into a fight we see his mother being told by a high school teacher that Tony is smart, a born leader, a label she disagrees with since he’s not doing well in school. He eventually gets involved in the “family business,” first as a lark and then as he accumulates more power and influence. But it’s clear there will be hurdles he has to clear on the way up, including lots of violence and betrayal.

The first poster was released at the same time. Using the same stylized typeface and black-and-white photography – albeit with a single pop of color – it shows the primary dynamic of the story with a young Tony looking to Dickie

Van Zandt talked in July about how he had consulted on parts of the movie’s story at the request of Chase, even though he doesn’t appear in the film.

Director Alan Taylor talked about the difficulty he had in taking the story from the small to big screen while keeping Chase’s vision intact. For his part, Chase was interviewed about not only the pressure of returning to a story he’d already left behind but also the difficulty in casting many of the parts.

TV spots/social media promos began running in late August, cutting down the trailer to focus on a few key moments in the criminal development of young Tony Soprano and how that’s enabled by Dickie.

A sprawling feature from early September went in-depth on the making of the film, especially how the actors sought to capture the spirit of well-known characters, making them familiar to those who know them from the show without doing impressions. It also covered the long road the movie took to finally being made all these after the end of the original show.

Rolling Stone followed that with profiles of the cast members, including Gandolfini, Odom Jr. Stoll, Liotta and Bernthall.

About about the same time there was an interview with/profile of Chase, who talked about how the original show came to be, the passing of Gandolfini and what eventually convinced him to return to the world of Tony Soprano for this prequel story.

Chase talked more about casting Gandolfini to play a young version of the same character his father brought to life when he appeared on “Kimmel.” Gandolfini himself appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to talk about the same thing, including sharing how at times he went a little hard in that direction and had to be pulled back. Bernthal’s appearance on “Late Night” had the actor telling fans of the show they shouldn’t just expect more of that in the movie.

Like many others, Chase was asked for his thoughts on the movie going day-and-date on streaming and theatrical, saying he wasn’t thrilled with that decision and, if he’d thought it was a possibility, he might not have made it at all.

Dickie is looking to make a name for himself as the second trailer (2.9m YouTube views) released in early September, begins. His aspirations have made enemies, of course, but they also overlap with his nephew Tony’s burgeoning interest in the family business. It’s a more fast-paced trailer that has more of an emphasis on Dickie’s story than Tony’s, along with what I’m sure are a few nods to stories from the show that fans will enjoy.

Dickie is all on his own on the next poster, also from early September. The same design aesthetic from the first one-sheet is used here. This time he’s labeled as “Who made Tony Soprano.” That the copy is declarative instead of being framed as a question is intriguing, telling the audience that the movie won’t so much be a journey to find out who it is that made the future mobster the man he would become but that this is the guy, so come along and see what happens.

A series of almost a dozen character posters came out shortly after that, showing off the movie’s impressive cast.

At this point the younger Gandolfini began a substantial media tour that would, in the three or so weeks leading up to the film’s release, include “CBS Sunday Morning,” “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night” and elsewhere. He was also the subject of a number of feature profiles like this.

Odom Jr., Bernthal, Liotta, Nivola and others from the cast also made appearances on a handful of morning and late night talk shows.

A featurette from later in September had Taylor, Chase and many of the cast members talking about returning to these characters and this world or, in many cases, entering for the first time.

Just a couple weeks ago the movie’s world premiere happened at the first ever Tribeca Fall Preview, an offshoot of the Tribeca Film Festival. At that premiere Chase, Taylor and the rest of the cast hit on similar themes about their experiences with the movie and the franchise as a whole.

Betting site DraftKings ran a free sweepstakes where fans could simply name their favorite “Sopranos” character for a chance at a $5,000 prize.

The focus is more squarely on Dickie in some of the additional TV spots run in the last couple weeks, continuing a shift begun in the second trailer.

AMC Theaters had an exclusive video interview with some of the primary cast members, as did Regal Cinemas.

overall

It’s not terribly surprising that many of the reviews of the movie have been lukewarm, resulting in a 71% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. To some extent no movie, whether it was set before or after the series, could live up to the reputation the show developed or the hallowed place it has been elevated to in the intervening years.

WB’s campaign for the movie has been solid, though, designed to give fans exactly what they want, which is more tales of Tony Soprano and his “family.” To that end, much of the marketing has been designed to evoke or outright mimic the key art and other elements of the show. Other elements are more geared to make fans react to an important mention or appearance that’s explicitly tied to the show that has come before.

Leonardo Dicaprio Reaction GIF by Once Upon A Time In Hollywood - Find & Share on GIPHY

What’s missing is a message to those (like myself) that haven’t yet explored the show. This could be an excellent on-ramp to that broader experience, allowing us to start with a young Tony and then continue on with his later, more established years. That could leave people in that category feeling shut out for one reason or another and therefore uninterested in checking out the movie.

cry macho – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the latest Clint Eastwood joint.

Cry Macho poster

Remember when Unforgiven was considered “late career Clint Eastwood? Now that revisionist Western, which opened up a wave of similar films reevaluating the “good guys wear white hats, bad guys wear black” model of previous decades, turns 30 next year but Eastwood has continued steadily working, especially as a director.

This week Cry Macho, the latest in which Eastwood both appears and directs, comes to HBO Max as well as theaters. Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by N. Richard Nash, the story follows Mike Milo (Eastwood), a retired rodeo rider who now breeds and trains horses. Milo is approached by his former boss Howard Polk (Dwight Yokam) to travel to Mexico to find and ultimately bring back Polk’s son Rafeal (Eduardo Minett) who is involved in an illegal cockfighting ring there.

announcements and casting

Warner Bros. announced the movie in October, 2020. One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Eastwood’s multi-pronged role was part of the original announcement but the rest of the cast wasn’t confirmed until after production, which took place with Covid-19 safety protocols in place, was completed in mid-December of last year.

A release date was finally announced in March, 2021.

marketing campaign launches

The marketing campaign officially kicked off just over a month ago in early August with the release of first look stills showing Eastwood, Minett and others along with comments from the actor/director about getting older, directing during the pandemic and more. Another piece with more from Eastwood and a second round of photos came out shortly after that.

The movie’s one and only poster is so on the nose in terms of what you’d expect from a 90 year old Eastwood it almost slips into parody. It just shows an extremely grizzled and leathery Milo looking off into the middle distance. Copy on the one-sheet explains this is “A story of being lost…and found.”

We hear all about how great Milo once was on the rodeo circuit as the trailer, also released at the beginning of August, opens. After engaging in some barbs with his former boss, he accepts the job of going to Mexico to find Polk’s son. But Rafeal isn’t exactly eager to return. The journey the two embark on won’t be smooth, we see, but it will involve more than a few opportunities for both a discussion of what being “macho” means and examples of what being a man actually looks like. It’s short on story and long on sentimentality, honing in on the idea of Eastwood himself and his character looking back over a long life of ups and downs.

Things were relatively quiet for a while with the exception of CinemaCon at the end of August, where Warner Bros. included footage from the movie in its presentation to exhibitors and press.

Just in the last week or so leading up to release things picked back up, starting with a featurette about the legacy of Eastwood as a director along with an overview of the story.

Another interview with Eastwood had him again talking about getting older as well as the experience of riding a horse on screen for the first time since Unforgiven.

Another featurette continued focusing on Eastwood’s legacy and how that translates to this movie.

Even more explicit was a short video that looked specifically at Eastwood’s evolution as a director going back all the way to Play Misty For Me with interviews from many of the actors that have appeared in his films along with fellow directors like Spielberg, Scorsese and others.

overall

With a very much middling 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie seems like it might benefit from getting the hybrid theatrical/streaming release even more than other titles. There’s not a lot here for anyone who doesn’t already have decades of appreciation for Eastwood and his work. In fact the vast majority of the marketing only gives the smallest amount of attention it reasonably can to the story or anything about the movie itself, instead almost wholly focused on making sure the audience knows what a legend Eastwood is, not why they should see this film specifically.

That may work and it may not, but it doesn’t seem likely there will be a lot of word of mouth that carries this along in the weeks following release.

the suicide squad – marketing recap

Sequel? Reboot? Both?

“OK, let’s try this again.”

That seems to be the prevailing attitude in the leadup to Warner Bros.’ release of The Suicide Squad, coming to theaters and HBO Max this week.

Like 2016’s Suicide Squad, this movie is about a group of super-villains who have been captured by the government and coerced by security operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) into taking on dangerous missions in exchange for reductions to their sentences. This time that mission involves hunting down The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), who has unleashed a giant alien starfish named Starro who can control people’s minds.

In addition to Davis, Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn – widely seen as the best part of the first film – as does Joel Kinnaman as Col. Rick Flag and Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. They’re joined by Idris Elba as Bloodsport (taking the place of Will Smith’s Deadshot), John Cena as Peacemaker and a handful of others as the Squad is greatly expanded this time around.

Technically a sequel in that it continues the story from that first movie and features some of the same characters, WB seems eager to take the few things people liked about the first entry and eject the rest, hoping to put the poor commercial and critical reception it received five years ago in the rearview mirror.

This despite how, in the wake of Zack Snyder being given the opportunity to revisit his abandoned Justice League project for HBO Max, some fans have taken it upon themselves to call for director David Ayer to be given the same opportunity with Suicide Squad. In this case it wasn’t Joss Whedon stepping in to finish the film but a trailer editing firm that took control of the final cut.

from rumor to reality

In late 2018 a possible sequel was still just that: possible. It was one of a handful of rumored projects that would bring Robbie back as Harley, some of which have fallen by the wayside with the exception of last year’s Birds of Prey.

Plans firmed up in early 2019 when WB confirmed earlier reports it had hired director James Gunn, who had recently been fired from his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 gig by Marvel Studios following a controversy drummed up by right-wing trolls, though he’d eventually get that job back. In fact one of Gunn’s first interviews after WB’s announcement, part of the promotional cycle for Brightburn, had him commenting on how working on TSS helped him deal with the disappointment he felt over the whole Marvel incident.

After plenty of speculation, rumors and reports about what characters would appear, Gunn finally unveiled the official cast list in September, 2019. A few months later in December Gunn along with Braga sent a video message to attendees of CCXP promising they would love the film being made.

Well before the rest of the campaign launched, Gunn celebrated his birthday by sharing the movie’s title treatment in August, 2020. Members of the cast also sent him a birthday message.

dc fandome fun and more

At that time the director along with members of the cast were revealed as part of the talent lineup for DC’s “Fandome” virtual event. A “remix” of a Zoom panel with Gunn and the movie’s cast continued to set the stage for Fandome.

Two videos came out during Fandome. The first was a behind-the-scenes sneak peak that has Gunn and the cast talking about how funny, action-packed and overall unbelievable the movie was going to be. The second was a “Roll Call” of just some of the characters included in the film and the actors playing them.

Gunn showed off not one but two versions of some promotional artwork during the Fandome period.

The first official poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) also came out during the event. Not only does it show off how many characters are part of the story but the way it has each one’s name obscuring part of their face is a nice artistic touch that speaks to the different tone and feel of the movie compared to the first one. Each one of those characters was also broken off into its own poster.

In advance of Fandome a new Suicide Squad video game was teased by Rocksteady Games. While it’s not directly tied to the movie, the trailer released during the event for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League shows the game pulls a lot of visual and character inspiration from the films.

Courtney spoke briefly about the film while promoting other projects.

Empire ran a cover story on the film back in October of last year. That included comments from Gunn about how he had broad latitude to kill whatever characters the story necessitated.

More promotions for the movie were run during 2020’s CCXP, the second year in a row for the movie at that event.

hbo max and Peacemaker spinoff

With a successful Fandome event having revived some of the positive buzz for the Suicide Squad brand and anticipation running high, WB in September 2020 announced a spinoff series focused on Peacemaker, the character played by Cena, for HBO Max.

Then the big news came. Namely, that this movie like the rest of WB’s 2021 release slate would debut simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, an adjustment made to not only boost the fledgling streaming service but also accommodate what at the time were still a lot of unknowns around the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gunn was among the high-profile directors who weren’t thrilled with that decision, stating his opinion in a few interviews. Since then, though, he’s remained mum on the subject.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup. Another promo showed off a bit more footage.

Cena showed off his Peacemaker costume when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” in February and then did likewise on “The Late Show” in early April. A short while later Kinnaman appeared on the same show to talk about the film and more.

the marketing begins…and King Shark is a shark…

In advance of the first trailer in March two posters came out. The first (by marketing agency Concept Arts) has a retro feel, showing the main characters looking like cereal box action figures on a poster that has artificial creases in it from where the downtown grindhouse theater folded it for storage.

The second features the same characters and a similar design but without the retro conceit. This time it’s all slick and modern but still fun and outrageous, the leads framed by a giant star in the background.

The first trailer (1.9 million views on YouTube) is awesome. It shows the basic story but is primarily focused on setting a much different tone for this movie compared to the first one. Among the better moments shown here are:

  • Harley completely undoing the team’s efforts to rescue her
  • King Shark eating a guy head-first
  • Harley saying “If you cough without covering your mouth, you die.”
  • A beach full of dicks
  • Starro, ladies and gentlemen

It’s insane and looks like a lot of fun. And it led to a revival of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work”, which the trailer’s sound designer commented on.

More character posters (by Concept Arts) were released at the end of March, showing some sort of object or symbol exploding behind that character. It’s a continuation of a visual theme established in the trailer with a shot of Harley tearing through a hallway firefight as colorful animated flowers burst from the background. By taking this approach it also continues establishing a much different visual identity for the movie from the “Hot Topic on ecstasy” tone of the first movie. These were also used in house ads appearing in DC books in the months leading up to release.

The first TV spot came out a bit after the trailer’s release, offering a cutdown version of that longer video that still had plenty of action and humor.

A green-band version that added a few more scenes and moments but otherwise hit most of the same beats came out a short while later.

In an interview with Total Film, Gunn talked more about how he wound up signing on to the movie and the amount of creative freedom – specifically to kill whichever characters he needed to to tell his story – the studio gave him. Robbie was also interviewed about the evolution of Harley Quinn in the film.

“Suicide Squad: Get Joker!”, a new three-issue mini-series from Brian Azzerello and Alex Maleev, was announced by DC in April and scheduled for release just days ahead of the movie hitting theaters and screens. There was also a King Shark one-shot with a preview of the Azzerello/Maleev series planned for Free Comic Book Day, which this year is happening the week after the movie’s release. DC also announced in May that many of its biggest titles would feature movie-inspired covers in August.

An interview with Kinnaman in June had him praising the film, saying it was “insane” and a lot of fun.

Also in June it was announced the movie would screen in August at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

The team runs through a deluge of both rain and tiny mind-controlling Starro spores on the next poster, released toward the end of June.

The second trailer (11.4m views on YouTube) also came out at that time, featuring similar levels of insanity and chaos as the first one.

Peacemaker clears up some confusion about what exactly “Project Starfish ” is and Polka Dot Man becomes a super hero in an extended TV spot from the end of June.

featurettes, more tv spots and plenty of goofy press

Fandango MovieClips got an exclusive featurette in July that had the cast talking about the unique vision Gunn brought to the project, filming the elaborate – and often practical – stunts and more.

A wide-ranging interview with Gunn had him reliving the moment he came onto the project following being fired by Marvel Studios, the attitude he tried to bring to the movie and more.

There were also a number of additional profiles and interviews with Robbie

Positive initial reactions followed a screening for press in July. That screening included a Q&A with Gunn and others where they talked more about the ridiculousness of Starro as a villain and other topics.

IMAX had an exclusive featurette, released in early July, that had Gunn and the cast talking about how the scale of the movie had to be seen on the big screen to be fully believed and enjoyed.

Another longer one goes behind the scenes, introducing some of the characters, including a few that hadn’t previously been given much of a role in the campaign.

Smashbox, one of the only promotional partners apparent, introduced a line of movie-inspired makeup products.

In what’s probably the best of the posters, the team is seen walking across a landscape which, upon further inspection, is actually Amanda Waller’s face.

WB celebrated Shark Week with a King Shark-centric spot that has Waller explaining a bit more about who he is and the rest of the team reminding him that eating people is only alright if they’re not his friends.

Red, the camera-production company, released a featurette with Gunn explaining how valuable those cameras were to making the movie he envisioned.

Gunn, Robbie and Cena – the latter once again in full costume – appeared on “Kimmel” in late July. Around that same time Courtney was interviewed about the movie, calling out the emotional heart that lies within the story.

The team is once again charging at the camera on the IMAX-exclusive poster.

That was later complemented by a TV spot hyping IMAX as the biggest and best way to see all the action.

AMC Theaters announced in July that those attending opening night screenings would receive an exclusive comic book.

Around this time outdoor and online ads using elements of the key art, especially from the second main poster.

the suicide squad online ad

grandson & Jessie Reyez released a video for “Rain,” a new song from the movie’s soundtrack, at the end of July. That video features appearances from some of the cast, their characters enjoying a night out before military bursts in and takes them away.

The cast, including Stallone, Melchior and others, continued doing various press appearances either in-person or virtually to hype of the film.

The Detachable Kid’s powers are featured in a clip that shows even Harley can’t believe what’s happening.

Just how low-rent the team is seen to be is communicated on another poster showing them arriving at the scene in an ancient broken down bus.

Bloodsport was added as a playable character in Fortnight.

One more bit of promotional art was released showing the team lying on the ground in the middle of a giant starfish drawing. The idea here – reinforced by the “Don’t get too attached” copy at the top – is to spur questions about which of the team is dead and who’s just sleeping.

Cena, Gunn and others appeared on a movie-themed episode of “Wipeout” earlier this month.

David Dastmalchian was interviewed about playing an insane, random character like Polka Dot Man.

Gunn and the cast, along with plenty of others, all showed up at the U.S. premiere of the movie in Los Angeles earlier this week. There they talked about how Gunn brought his unique level of insanity to the script

At earlier premieres and publicity tour stops, various incarnations of Starro – either as art installation or giant inflatable starfish – were used to create a unique visual spectacle.

In another substantial interview, Gunn touched on a number of topics related to the movie including why it was so much fun to write for Robbie’s Harley Quinn, what DC plans might be in his future, the “Peacemaker” HBO Max series and lots more. In another interview he shared how insistent he was on an R rating for the movie and what other conditions he had when signing on and how he wound up casting fellow director Taika Waititi in a small role.

The stars participated in an exclusive video interview for Regal Cinemas

conclusion, or “it’s king shark’s world, we just live in it

First, let’s address the Ayer in the room.

As mentioned above, ever since The Snyder Cut of Justice League became a thing a similar subgroup of fans has been demanding David Ayer be allowed to release his cut of Suicide Squad. The cast was even compelled to comment on the possibility of it happening at the premiere earlier this week.

To his credit, Ayer himself has been relatively mum, only recently releasing a statement that yes, an edit of the movie exists that’s vastly different than the theatrical version. But he also doesn’t seem bitter about it, essentially chalking it up as one more difficulty in his life he’s overcome and a story he isn’t eager to share since it would betray confidences and sour relationships. He ultimately clearly and publicly supports the new movie and Gunn’s vision for the characters.

That’s awfully big and mature of Ayer since the dominant theme of the marketing for The Suicide Squad has been “this one is different.” Brighter colors, less of a cubic zirconia vibe to the visuals and more of an emphasis on the humor inherent in the concept, especially given there’s a massive walking and talking shark involved.

King Shark Hand GIF by The Suicide Squad - Find & Share on GIPHY

The projected $30-40m opening weekend needs to be viewed on a sliding, pandemic-adjusted scale as it’s not indicative of either how well the marketing seems to have been received by the general public or the positive buzz and early reviews that have earned it a 94% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which is nearly four times higher than that of the first movie). By focusing on Gunn’s involvement, a clear difference has been drawn by Warner Bros. that could make this movie a hit both on streaming and in theaters.

space jam: a new legacy – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the sequel to what might be Hollywood’s cynical pinnacle.

The idea that there might be a sequel to 1996’s Space Jam, which paired the recently retired Michael Jordan with the Looney Tunes characters Warner Bros. was hoping to revitalize, has been swirling around for quite a while.

This week the prophecy is finally fulfilled as Space Jam: A New Legacy comes to HBO Max and theaters. This time around LeBron James is the NBA superstar at the center of the story, forced to play basketball after his son Dom (Cedric Joe) is kidnapped by the evil A.I. Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle) that runs Warner Bros.’ computer system. James recruits the Looney Tunes to help him, with hijinks ensuing as they face off against the Goon Squad team of avatars assembled by the A.I.

Warner Bros.’ campaign for the movie, which currently has a poor 45% Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, has been heavy on IP, using it as the key selling point for the audience to connect with.

The Posters

Character posters (by marketing agency BOND) were released in late March and featured James as well as many of the more well-known Looney Tunes characters like Bugs, Tweety, Lola, Daffy and others. Each is very simply placed in front of a red/blue background so there’s not a lot of action but you definitely are reminded of who will appear in the film.

The next poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out just a few days later, this one showing James and Bugs standing in front of the title like they’re waiting to head out on the basketball court.

In May more character posters (by Works Adv) came out, this batch focusing on the Goon Squad and taking a much more visually-interesting approach, putting each one against what almost looks like street art.

James – and Tweety, of course – soar above the rest of the Looney Tunes on the next poster, released in June.

The final theatrical poster came out in mid-June and just has James standing in

The Trailers

The first trailer came out in early April, announced by a teaser announcement. It starts with LeBron talking with his son, who is promptly sucked into another dimension, with LeBron following soon after that. An evil AI tells him he has to play basketball in order to get Dom back, resulting in LeBron meeting Bugs and the rest of the team, who assemble to help him out. They’re up against the Goon Squad, but the Tunes have a few tricks up their sleeves.

The same basic message is conveyed in the second trailer from June, though with a few additional or changed details.

Online and Social

You’ll find the basic marketing content as well as some games to play on the movie’s official website. There were also social profiles on the major networks.

Of course you can’t discuss a Space Jam website without noting that, for 25 years, the page for the first movie was oddly and stubbornly still around on the internet, offering a time capsule of what late-90s web design encompassed. That site is no longer at the domain it was for over two decades but has been archived on the updated page.

There were also sticker packs created for Giphy, iMessage and WhatsApp.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

After seemingly endless years of speculation, the movie moving into production was finally confirmed in September 2018 along with the primary filmmaking team.

After a long period of speculation, James revealed the movie’s official title in April of last year, sharing a video of him wearing a hat sporting the title treatment.

Differences that emerged during the early stages of production lead to initial director Terence Nance to be replaced by Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee in mid-July 2020.

A few months later in August he previewed the new uniforms that were going to be worn by the Tune Squad in the film.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Moving into 2021, a March cover story in EW offered comments from James, details on the story and first looks at the characters, including a redesigned Lola Bunny.

A small, overblown kerfluffle emerged back in March when reports emerged Pepe Le Pew, a problematic at best character, would not appear in the movie, nor was he part of WB’s future Looney Tunes plans. There were conflicting accounts of whether the skunk was included in early cuts of the movie or not, but costar Santo seemed to confirm he did, offering to pay the studio for the cut footage of their scenes together.

[full disclosure: space jam advertised on GoNoodle, my employer, but I was minimally involved in the promotion of that content.]

News that Zendaya had been cast to voice Lola Bunny came just before the first trailer dropped.

After the first trailer came out a video was released showing some of the hidden (and obvious) references and cameos in that trailer.

Cheadle talked about shooting the movie with James when he appeared on “Kimmel” in May.

Also that month the first commercial, which features some of the funnier moments from the trailer, came out.

We Win” by Lil Baby and Kirk Franklin was released in late May, offering the first song from the movie’s soundtrack.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Microsoft/Xbox, which has been involved since late 2020, offering teachers and students – access to STEM lessons hosted by James, who also appeared in a promotional video for the partnership.
  • I PROMISE School, which is part of James’ personal foundation and which has hosted first look events and more throughout the campaign.
  • Nike, which launched a new line of shoes and other apparel featuring movie branding. That included the LeBron 19
  • Candy Crush, which added a movie character takeover to the game.
  • Skype (part of Microsoft), which added movie-themed backgrounds for your video calls.

And of course all of that doesn’t even cover the various consumer merchandise offered to appeal to consumers of all kinds.

A Cartoon Network promo has the Nerdlucks from the first movie steal the powers of the “Teen Titans Go!” characters to hilarious — and in Robin’s case embarrassing — results. That was part of the promotions for “The Teen Titans Go! See Space Jam”, which had the team offering Pop-Up Video style commentary on the original film.

For ESPN there was a faux mini-documentary produced that had James talking about how he needed to team up with the Looney Tunes characters to save his son. The video is presented straight, just like one of ESPN’s other specials, and is the better for it.

More details about the movie’s soundtrack and what artists were contributing to it were shared in mid-June.

The first official clip was shared with Fandango MovieClips at the end of June, showing Speedy, Granny and others going full Matrix.

Another fake documentary type video had James and Bugs Bunny talking about what kind of teammate the other one is, getting into a debate about who’s the GOAT.

DC got another exclusive clip, this time of James and Bugs entering the world of super heroes, though why they turned into Batman & Robin when they were visiting Metropolis is unclear.

Warner Bros. hosted a screening party for the movie at Six Flags California in late June. Later on there was a fan screening in Los Angeles.

A featurette had James along with Ryan Coogler and others talking about the visual style of the movie and more.

James stopped by “Kimmel” – guest-hosted by Arsenio Hall – and then “Good Morning America” to talk about the movie.

The L.A. premiere earlier this week featured appearances by much of the cast and crew.

James, sporting his Tune Squad uniform, was added as a playable character in Fortnite.

Overall

It’s remarkable that the campaign reminds me less of the original Space Jam and more of Ready Player One from a few years ago. That’s because the focus is less on Bugs, Daffy and the craziness of the Looney Tunes and more on the brand synergy Warner Bros. has brought to the movie, bringing in IP from across the company’s portfolio.

Basketball Tune Squad GIF by Space Jam - Find & Share on GIPHY

That contributes to what is a disappointingly lackluster marketing effort, one that is so busy making sure all the cameo characters and settings are given their due that the core elements don’t get much time in the spotlight. The movie looks like some amount of fun, but you don’t have a very strong brand identity because there are scores of other brands that are more important.

no sudden move – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. is selling the latest heist film from one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors.

Of the high profile directors working today perhaps none has embraced streaming quite like Steven Soderbergh. After putting out two movies for Netflix in 2019, this week brings his second straight film for HBO Max.

No Sudden Move focuses on a group of small-time criminals in 1955 who are hired by a mysterious party to steal corporate documents. They recruit a reluctant insider to actually nab the goods, with some of the crooks sent to his home to keep his family in check. But when the job goes sideways they set out to find out who it was that hired them and why.

The movie stars Don Cheadle, Kieran Culkin, Benicio del Toro and others as the criminals, David Harbour as the executive marked to actually steal the documents, Amy Seimetz as his wife Mary and Jon Hamm as the Detroit city detective assigned to investigate the crime. With a solid 87% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie’s campaign has been heavy on the kind of stylized filmmaking that Soderbergh is known for.

The Posters

“Trust is a setup” we’re told on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery). Shown are Goynes and Russo, two of the criminals at the center of the plot played by Cheadle and del Toro. The rest of the notable cast is named at the top of the one-sheet, but the overall design is very simple and moody, setting a dark and shadowy tone for the movie more than anything else.

The Trailers

A brief teaser in late May preceded the first trailer’s release, which didn’t happen until early June.

That trailer (238,000 views on YouTube) is all about selling an attitude and a vibe. It conveys the story of how the criminals are A) convincing a mid-level auto executive to steal company secrets while B) the gang watches over the exec’s family to make sure they don’t do anything stupid and he knows what the consequences for not cooperating are. As usual, everything turns pear-shaped in a flurry of irrational behavior, divided loyalties, law enforcement investigation and other factors, but what’s clear is that this is another stylized Soderbergh production that looks fantastic.

Online and Social

The signed-out landing page for the movie on HBO Max’s site has some very basic information, including a collection of cast headshots, a small gallery of stills and the trailer.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

Casting news dominated much of the press for a while. In late September production, previously delayed because of the pandemic, resumed at the same time the movie was renamed from its original “Kill Switch” to the current title.

HBO Max and Warner Bros. confirmed in May that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the 2021 Tribeca Festival. At that premiere the cast was interviewed about the movie itself as well as the uncertain nature of the production.

Harbour promoted the film when he appeared on “Late Night” in June.

A profile of Seimetz focused on how she has bounced between acting and writing/directing her own material over her career, including how she steals the show in this film.

While it’s not actually press for the film, Alissa Wilkinson at Vox explores some of the very real social issues, including housing discrimination, highway construction and more, that inform the movie’s setting, action and characters.

Online ads like the one below were used to drive traffic to the HBO Max landing page for the film.

Warner Bros. partnered with Shinola Detroit on a sweepstakes awarding the winner a trip to Detroit’s Shinola Hotel. The company also created a movie-inspired line of handbags, watches and other apparel.

An interview with screenwriter Ed Solomon emphasized how he and Soderbergh sought to construct a story the audience would have to follow closely if they wanted to get the full experience of the payoff.

Short spots like this were used on social media (and likely elsewhere), presenting a cutdown version of the trailer that continues selling the movie as a high-drama heist story with a great cast.

HBO Max released a featurette with the cast talking about the complex nature of that story and the unique filmmaking aesthetic of Soderbergh.

Overall

What I said above really encapsulates the campaign from Warner Bros./HBO Max: Everything about the campaign is focused on presenting it as a dramatic, tense heist film with a great cast portraying characters who are always just one move away from turning on their compatriots.

Adding to that is the brand Soderbergh has for himself as a director who dabbles in seemingly every possible sub-genre and style. If you told me tomorrow he was directing a remake of The Music Man it wouldn’t surprise me at all. The point being that his involvement in and of itself is a big draw for the movie, which is why his name is so prominent throughout the campaign.

In The Heights – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a big movie musical event.

Anyone not already familiar with the name Lin Manuel Miranda has certainly come to know it in the years since Hamilton – the filmed version of which hit Disney+ last year – became a Broadway sensation. Others, though, were aware of Miranda’s skills well before that based in part on his first musical.

That musical, In The Heights, has now been adapted into a feature film debuting in theaters and on HBO Max this week. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the movie stars Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega, a Washington Heights bodega owner, Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario, a young woman returning to the neighborhood after dropping out of college, Corey Hawkins as Benny, Usnavi’s best friend and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, who works at a local salon and dreams of getting out. The story follows these and other characters over three days and involves a winning lottery ticket sold at Usnavi’s bodega, that changes being experienced in the largely Dominican neighborhood and more.

Initial reviews have praised the movie, which currently has a 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as bold and exuberant. And in a sign of the world reopening post-pandemic, some 96% of respondents to a recent Fandango survey say it’s the first film they plan to see in theaters since they closed down over a year ago. Helping that is not only the public health situation in the U.S. but also that school years are ending, all of which adds up to a projected opening weekend of $20 million.

With all that as context, let’s see how Warner Bros. has marketed what has shaped up to be the kickoff event of the summer.

The Posters

While the image of a New York City bridge is wonderfully colorful and striking, the main selling point on the first poster from December (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) is that the movie comes from the creator of “Hamilton” and the director of Crazy Rich Asians. That’s what’s going to convince people to take a chance on a movie whose source material they may not be familiar with.

A half-dozen posters came out in mid-March of this year, all of them taking a slightly different approach to selling the story. Some pull the camera out to show the neighborhood from a wider perspective, others focus more narrowly on the main characters. All keep the same brand of bright, joyous celebrations, though, and so work together to sell a good time with lots of singing and dancing.

Two waves of character posters were released in early May that position either one or two of those characters in different parts of the neighborhood where they live or work.

“The time has come” declares the Dolby Cinemas poster, which shows the main characters in the midst of a raucous neighborhood rally.

The final poster was released later in May, showing the two lead couples in the story dancing in the streets, the other neighborhood residents also celebrating around them.

The Trailers

The first trailer (11.6 million views on YouTube) was released in mid-December and starts out by reminding people it comes from the creator of “Hamilton,” a reasonable message to send. Benny is telling a story of the Washington Heights that was to a group of kids. Back in the day Benny was a dreamer but the neighborhood around him, his friends and his family was changing to shut out anyone who aspired to rise above their station. It’s filled with big, glorious musical numbers and big, glorious emotions, just like a musical should be.

A second trailer (2.6 million views on YouTube) came out in early March, debuting during the Grammy Award broadcast. It’s still focused on Benny and Nina, but is really about loving your neighborhood and embracing all that it has to offer. Not only that, but it’s unapologetically an appreciation of Lantino culture and all that means. Another slightly different version of that trailer came out at the same time, offering a few additional scenes but telling the same story.

Online and Social

In addition to the standard synopsis, videos and photos the official website for the movie has Meme Generator function allowing visitors to choose from a selection of GIFs, add their own message to it and then export it for sharing on the social network of their choice.

There were also standalone social profiles on most major platforms, including Giphy.

Advertising, Press and Promotions

Warner Bros. kicked off the film’s marketing by bringing a video containing the first footage as well as comments from Chu to CCXP in December 2019.

Miranda was interviewed about the movie while he was in Sundance earlier this year promoting other projects.

The movie’s production designer spoke about how he sought to accurately represent the cultures of the movie’s characters.

Both Ramos and Miranda were presenters during the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony.

Ramos, Barrera and others were interviewed about the movie and how they felt a great deal of cultural responsibility to get things right and present the neighborhood and its people respectfully and accurately.

In March of last year Warner Bros. pulled the movie from its original June release, one of several such changes in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. It was later rescheduled for June when the studio made its big HBO Max announcement in late 2020.

A few of the actors took part in an interview during the virtual edition of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers 21st Annual Media Summit in June, talking about the tone of the film and how production went.

Miranda talked about writing the original stage show late last year, making it clear he was moved to do so at least in part because of the lack of representation elsewhere in the entertainment world. Later on he was interviewed about what drew him to Chu as a director for the movie

Early April brought a short TV spot/promo that didn’t have much details but certainly conveyed the spectacle of the film.

Disney worked to get some early buzz going for the movie in April by both allowing critics and others to share their early reviews and announcing the film’s world premiere would be held at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in June. It was also scheduled as the premiere film for the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

An extended TV spot titled “Change The World” came out at the end of April that plays up the aspirational nature of the story, showing how the characters are out to not only preserve and celebrate their neighborhood and life but change the world while doing so. Another similar spot – this one titled “96,000” – is centered on how someone in the neighborhood has one the lottery and shows the characters talking about what they would do if they came into that kind of money.

Unsavi sings about his love for his neighborhood in the first clip, which debuted during the broadcast of the “MTV Movie & TV Awards” in mid-May.

Gold House, the Asian Pacific-Islander advocacy group that has coordinated support for movies with AAPI creators and leads, announced a spinoff #LatinxGoldOpen campaign in conjunction with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.

An exclusive MovieClips featurette covered how the themes of the story are universally applicable to everyone.

Ramos was the subject of a THR cover story where he talked about his history with the stage musical, his career to date and more while his work ethic and performance were praised by Miranda, Chu and others. He also received an NYT profile where he shared the pressures of so much attention right now as well as how he’s defined his career to date.

IMAX released a TV spot encouraging audiences to come see it on the big big screen.

In June Smits was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the actor talking about his long love of the stage production and lots more.

Grace was interviewed about this being her big screen debut as well as the cultural history she and the rest of the cast strove to portray and represent. That history and heritage was the focus of a feature with the whole cast sharing their thoughts on those topics and more, something they along with others also did at the movie’s recent Los Angeles premiere. They also commented on the relief and thankfulness they felt at the movie finally coming out a year after it was originally scheduled. An interview with costar Daphne Rubin-Vega had her talking about how her character was changed to be queer in the film when she was straight in the original show.

Both Ramos and Miranda appeared on “The Tonight Show” recently.

Additional interviews included conversations with Chu as well as the movie’s costume designer, screenwriter, cinematographer and production design team.

Regal Cinemas had an exclusive collection of interviews with the cast. Dolby shared an interview with Chu about the process of filming the movie in Washington Heights. Another Dolby video with Chu had him presenting the movie as a welcome way to celebrate the reopening of the world as the worst of the pandemic fades, at least here in the U.S.

Along with a few more clips, Warner Bros. released the first eight minutes of the movie on YouTube and made the same footage available within HBO Max.

An extended spot proclaiming the movie the “event of the summer” includes not only the critical praise it’s received to date but also endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman and others.

One final featurette has Miranda, Chu and others who are actually from the neighborhood portrayed on screen about how special Washington Heights is and how it’s always been an immigrant community of some form or another.

Chu was scheduled to appear on TCM to introduce three classic movie musicals that inspired this film.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Travelocity, which ran a sweepstakes giving the winner a dream vacation to either the Domincan Republic or another destination of their choosing.
  • Roblox, which is hosting a virtual block party in-world through June 20th featuring recreations of Washington Heights as well as some of the characters.
  • Foot Locker and Fila, which collaborated on a movie-inspired sneaker coming soon.
  • Open Table, which suggested people celebrate the movie’s release by ordering in from a local restaurant.

Overall

As is appropriate for screen musicals, there are no small emotions in this campaign. Everything is big, everything is colorful, everything is heightened. That comes through in almost every aspect of the marketing, from trailers to posters to Gifs.

In addition to the constant reinforcing of Miranda’s personal brand, what comes through most strongly is how different this movie is from others that tell stories of immigrant or similar communities. This isn’t a dark, serious look at the struggles of people in those neighborhoods, though the problems they face are still evident. Instead it’s a celebration of the people in a neighborhood and how they take joy in life, want to preserve their heritage and make the best of each day, dreaming of not just making it big but then coming back and helping those they grew up alongside. That’s pretty unique and makes this campaign pretty special.

You Got It Salute GIF by In The Heights Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Those Who Wish Me Dead – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling a drama of a young man and fire.

Those Who Wish Me Dead theatrical poster (by The Refinery)

Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Koryta, Those Who Wish Me Dead stars Angelina Jolie as Hannah Faber, a former smokejumper in the forests of Montana. Faber is haunted by the memories of an earlier forest fire that went very badly for the rest of her team. One day while keeping watch she comes across Conner (Finn Little), a young boy who seems to be on the run from something. Turns out he’s being pursued by two hitmen who have just killed his father and who are so desperate to tie up loose ends they will set a forest fire to flush out Faber and the boy.

The movie, directed by Taylor Sheridan, has a decent 71% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and arrives this week in theaters and on HBO Max preceded by a campaign that has emphasized the drama of evading fire but not so much on the story or characters themselves.

The Posters

The faces of Faber and Conner are the primary elements on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery) that came out in April. Both are, of course, bathed in the red light of the fire they are on the run from and both look weary and stressed from that effort. There’s no copy about the story here, and while Sheridan isn’t name-checked exactly a couple of his previous popular credits are called out at the top.

The Trailers

Hannah is working a fire-watching tower and still reeling from the mistakes she made years ago as the first trailer (8.8 million views on YouTube), released in early April, begins. One day she encounters a young boy who, she finds, is on the run from some dangerous people who have already killed his father. Those bad men start a forest fire to flush Hannah and the boy out, meaning she not only has to keep the kid safe but deal with the trauma of her own past at the same time.

Online and Social

Not much information on the movie’s official website, just the trailer, a brief synopsis and information on either buying tickets or subscribing to HBO Max.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Warner Bros. announced the May release date in February.

An interview with Jolie and others included a first look still from the film.

Fandango’s MovieClips got an exclusive clip in early May showing a key dramatic moment with Hannah trying to save her young charge from an encroaching fire.

A short featurette came out around the same time with Jolie and other members of the cast and crew discussing the themes of the story and what it was like to shoot the film in some extreme conditions.

Cutdown versions of the trailer – usually around 10 or 15 seconds – were used as TV spots as well as online, including as pre-roll ads on YouTube.

The key art was modified and reused for online ads that included a link to the HBO Max website where people could sign up.

Those Who Wish Me Dead online ad

HBO Max released an exclusive “first look” clip featuring a key moment of Faber figuring out why Conner is being pursued and by whom just days before the movie came out.

Overall

It’s a mixed bag here.

On the one hand, there’s a lot of drama that’s created in the campaign. We get the tension inherent in the flight of the two main characters from both the hitmen and the fire they start to either kill or find their quarry. And Sheridan has proven himself as a solid director of emotional stories about characters whose future we care about.

On the other, the trailer and other assets don’t give us a lot of opportunity to actually experience any empathy for those characters. There’s not a lot of detail regarding the story and the trailer in particular is somewhat unclear as to what’s happening. Not only that but given the human cost of forest fires over the last few years it’s hard to see that fire without recalling some very recent stories from the real world.

Still, it’s not unreasonable to overlook a few quibbles and give the benefit of the doubt to the campaign, given the talent involved.

Mortal Kombat – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. is selling Mortal Kombat.

Outworld. Earthrealm. Netherrealm. Ancient prophecies.

If any of the above ring any sort of bells for you, you’re likely part of the target audience for Mortal Kombat, this week’s adaptation of the popular arcade video game of the same name and a reboot of the film series that ran briefly in the mid-1990s.

Any distillation of the plot will only end in abject confusion and likely more than a few tears, so let me simply share the brief synopsis shared on IMDb: MMA fighter Cole Young seeks out Earth’s greatest champions in order to stand against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.

So you get the gist. What Warner Bros. is really selling in the campaign below, though, is an uber-violent fantasy story with fan-favorite characters and the promise of at least one spinal column being removed from a fighter. The lukewarm critical reception to date has earned the movie a 68% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so let’s dive into the marketing and see what’s what.

The Posters

The first teaser image came out in December of last year, showing no characters or anything else, just the recognizable logo and the promise of a release in both theaters and on HBO Max.

Scorpio and Sub-Zero, two of the most popular characters from the games, are featured on the next poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in February. Their two faces are split by a knife in an image that likely became the mobile device lock screen for a great many individuals.

A similar division is made on an IMAX poster that puts the two biggest characters as the most prominent faces on their respective teams. It’s a familiar design, used by many of the biggest recent franchises and is meant to tell audiences that no matter who their preferred fighter is, they’re featured in the film.

The Trailers

A long-running history and cover-up are hinted at in the restricted trailer (3.3 million views on YouTube), released in mid-February and teased ahead of time by a series of short character previews. We learn this because a paramilitary unit has learned of a secret organization – and their tournament – whose members have enhanced abilities and oh who cares what the actual story is. Sub-Zero, Scorpion and other popular characters are all on-screen here, and someone says “Finish him!” so it’s all good albeit very violent.

Shortly thereafter reporting came out it had become the most-viewed red-band trailer in the first 24 hours ever.

A “fan reaction” video showing people enthusiastically freaking out over the first trailer came out about a week after the trailer did.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website has the barest volume of information, with a “Synopsis” and the various trailers along with links to the official social network profiles.

A mobile site allowed people to put an AR-powered version of their favorite character’s mask on their own face.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

A first look at the movie came via EW’s 2021 Movie Preview in January, including comments from the filmmakers and cast along with a handful of photos. Just ahead of the trailer in February an advance look at Sanada as Scorpion was released, with more character photos coming out shortly after that.

Like the rest of WB’s 2021 slate, the movie was among those shifted to a hybrid theatrical/streaming (via HBO Max) release when that announcement was made in November of last year. A January promo showed off a bit of initial footage.

Artwork like this, released in March, shows more of the cast, splitting the characters into teams led by Sub-Zero and Scorpion. That and similar art was used for online ads and likely for outdoor billboards and other units as well.

JoBlo got an exclusive clip at the end of March.

The first TV spot came out about the same time, showing the military unit’s efforts to stop the conflict before it destroys the world. Additional spots hit different aspects of the story and focused on different characters, but all carried the same violent pitch to audiences.

Costar Lewis Tan, who plays Cole Young, an MMA fighter at the center of the story, was interviewed about the evolution of his career from behind-the-scenes to leading man and how he’s working to undo stereotypes of Asian-American actors. The training Tan underwent in preparation for the role was shown in a video from advocacy group GoldHouse.

In early April a “Meet the Kast” featurette was released that had the actors talking about the story, the action and living up to fan expectations with the characters. Another video focused on the combat training the cast underwent to get ready for the film.

The first clip of music from the movie showed off a new techno-remix version of the game’s theme song.

One commercial created for and by Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block featured a “felt-band” trailer mixing movie footage with homemade figures of the characters inflicting one “felt-ality” after another on each other.

Warner Bros. sponsored maker YouTube channel Hacksmith Industries to create a real-life version of Scorpion’s chain attack.

Additional promos included comments from the select critics who were invited to a screening of the movie’s first 13 minutes.

There were additional interviews with costars Ludi Lin (playing Liu Kang) about his career to date and with Joe Taslim (playing Sub-Zero) about his blazingly fast fighting skills.

A premiere event with the stars in attendance was held in Sydney Australia earlier this week.

In the last few days a handful of clips, most of them showing some of the movie’s key fights or action sequences, have been released.

One more featurette from IMAX had the cast and crew sharing how excited they were to see the movie on the biggest possible screen. And Warner Bros. took one more chance to get people excited by releasing the first seven minutes of the film to show more of what people could expect.

Overall

Whatever you think about the individual elements of the campaign, we can likely agree this is the overall message Warner Bros. is sending to the audience and sufficiently summarizes the marketing efforts the studio has put forth.

Come Here Warner Bros GIF by Mortal Kombat Movie - Find & Share on GIPHY

Release Date Shuffle Shows Streaming Confidence

It’s all about what cards you’re holding.

The state of the theatrical feature film release seems rosier than it has in a good long while following two of the strongest weekends of the pandemic era thanks to Godzilla Vs. Kong. The gross domestic box-office for that movie is now $69.5 million, an impressive total, especially given the film is also available on HBO Max. Adding to that success is that downloads of the HBO Max app hit an all-time high in advance of its release.

It’s a validation, at least for the time being, of WarnerMedia’s 2021 strategy of day-and-date distribution to both theaters and streaming. Things will go back to relative normal in 2022, when big releases will head to theaters exclusively for at least 45 days before becoming available to streaming subscribers.

WarnerMedia’s strategy was uber-controversial several months ago but now seems common, so much so that it wasn’t surprising when Disney announced Black Widow would do likewise on Disney+ but via its Premier Access payment tier.

Some studios aren’t feeling quite as sure about things, though. Just recently Paramount announced a handful of release date changes, notably moving Top Gun: Maverick out to November from July. That has been seen as a sign the studio can’t afford to have a Tom Cruise blockbuster be anything but just that. (Though the shifting of Snake Eyes from October back to July then would say the opposite, right?)

Tom Cruise GIF by Top Gun - Find & Share on GIPHY

The difference in approaches – continuing to play the release date shuffle versus coming up with a streaming/theatrical hybrid model – indicates how good the respective studios are feeling about their streaming positioning.

Reading the tea leaves above, it would seem that:

  • Paramount doesn’t yet think the newly-rebranded and relaunched Paramount+ is a suitable outlet for new releases. That’s understandable given it doesn’t have the market penetration of some of the other players. Still, the studio announced in February that a number of upcoming films will be available there 45 days after theatrical release, so it’s getting there.
  • NBCUniversal doesn’t have a dog in this fight. Peacock is an entirely adequate streaming service, but if there’s a strategy it’s unclear what it might be. And it certainly doesn’t seem to be factoring into conversations about new releases or anything else.
  • Sony knows it hasn’t even anted up. That’s why it just signed a deal that replaced Starz with Netflix as the studio’s first post-theatrical streaming outlet.

Warner and Disney are out in front of this pack, pushing new models and doing what makes the most sense given all the craziness of the last year while also working to build something sustainable for the future. That confidence is borne, to likely a great extent, by the strength of their brand, something the other studios are still struggling with.

Godzilla vs. Kong – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a showdown that has nothing to do with justice dawning.

Hollywood is, if nothing else, certainly an interesting place. Take, for example, this week’s Godzilla vs. Kong, which has a couple things going on.

First, this is the fourth and latest film in Warner Bros.’ MonsterVerse franchise, which started in 2014 with Godzilla, continued in 2017 with Kong: Skull Island and most recently was seen in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It’s notable, though, that GvK was greenlit all the way back in 2015 and moved into production, before Skull Island was released, with the assumption the series would be enormously successful and each installment highly anticipated.

In reality each installment has experienced diminishing returns from the one prior, at least domestically in the U.S. Godzilla’s $200.7m box office has fallen to a mere $110.5 for King of the Monsters. But a ship of this size isn’t easy to stop (though it might get stuck), so we’re just going to keep going because the international box office is still fairly strong.

Angry Mad As Hell GIF by HBO Max - Find & Share on GIPHY

Second, the movie is being viewed as the latest test of whether the U.S. audience is ready to return to theaters. Originally scheduled for November 2020, it comes this week to both HBO Max and over 90% of U.S. screens, the highest number available since many closed a year ago. While estimates for opening weekend are relatively paltry at less than $30 million, that would still be the most of any film since the Covid-19 pandemic shut most everything down.

So we find ourselves with the two monsters – known in-universe as “Titans” – finally coming face to face. The reasons why aren’t necessarily important, as the title does double duty as a synopsis of the story, such as it is. Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown return from King of the Monsters, joined this time by Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall, Kaylee Hottle, Bryan Tyree Henry and others, who will be offering exposition and acting as scale references so we know just how massive the two Titans are.

Warner Bros.’ campaign for the movie, helmed by mumblehorror director and noted fetish porn blogger Adam Wingard, is…well…it’s exactly what you might assume it is given the premise.

The Posters

The first poster (by marketing agency BOND), came out in January, immediately establishing the campaign’s red and blue color palette while showing Kong standing among the skyscrapers while Kong’s dorsal plates can be seen poking above the ocean surface as he advances toward that same skyline.

Godzilla has made landfall on the second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released toward the end of February, as we see him walking through the city toward Kong.

Another poster from early March has the two Titans facing off like boxers, with a design seemingly inspired by Vegas promotional art, their faces close together and seen within the transparent letters of “Vs.”

We get different perspectives on two posters (by agency Little Giant Studios) that came out just a short while later. One shows Kong from Godzilla’s point of view and the other shows Godzilla from Kong’s, each one again emphasizing their massive size as compared to the buildings they’re walking between and through.

One more theatrical poster hit the red/blue Kong/Godzilla clash one more time, with the two shown to be so tall their heads poke above the clouds.

Exhibitor-specific artwork included one-sheets for IMAX, which has the two monsters falling into one another like this is a 90’s erotic thriller from Paul Verhoven, RealD 3D, which offers a variation on the previous imagery of the Titans lunging at each other, and Dolby, which is a bit more original in showing Kong climbing a skyscraper above the cartoonishly round world below.

The Trailers

A series of teasers were released on social media in advance of the first trailer, which was finally released at the end of January. As it begins, someone is talking about how much humanity needs Kong, who is being transported across the ocean. The threat, it turns out, is Godzilla, but no one knows why he’s attacking. Amid all the subsequent fighting it’s revealed this may not be the first time the two – and others like them – have faced off.

A second, shorter trailer came out in mid-February. Whatever story there was in the first spot, it’s excised in this one as it cuts straight to the action as Kong and Godzilla punch each other and rampage through cities, destroying countless buildings as they do so.

Online and Social

There’s not much on the movie’s official website, but you will find a few trailers as well as details on how to watch the film in the way of your choosing, assuming you either subscribe to HBO Max or live near one of the theaters it’s playing at.

AR lenses for Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook allowed people to put themselves in the middle of the showdown between the two titans.

I have to hand it to the WB team on Twitter, which seemingly had the latitude to share fan memes and other fun content via the official account. That’s made scrolling through the account’s updates a lot more interesting as it is less about amplifying only adoration and praise and more about reflecting how the internet really reacts to things. A similar attitude can be found the movie’s official Giphy channel, which has not only straight GIFs but also a bunch of goofier, meme versions.

Youre Too Cute King Kong GIF by Godzilla vs. Kong - Find & Share on GIPHY

They even shared an image from a *very* current meme and got onto the NFT bandwagon with exclusive artwork available there.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

While the movie was initially scheduled to open in early 2020, less than a year after King of the Monsters, that title’s lackluster performance at the box office had Warner Bros. pushing this one back to later in the year to tighten things up and perhaps even do some more drastic reworking. Despite that delay, the movie was among those included in the studio’s CineEurope presentation to exhibitors in June of 2109. Another delay moved it from March to November 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic pushed it even farther out to May, 2021.

Rumors last December that Legendary was shopping the film to Netflix or other streaming services came and went but were followed by WB’s official announcement that it like the rest of their 2021 slate would be released to both theaters and HBO Max. Legendary was none too thrilled, threatening some sort of action.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

The release date was later moved up to March, 2021.

Short promo spots were released online in the build up to the movie’s debut.

Warner Bros. signed a deal with exhibition company CineWorld that would make this movie the first to play in CineWorld’s reopening Regal Cinemas.

Featurettes released in the lead-up to release included one that had the cast and crew introducing the idea of #TeamKong vs. #TeamGodzilla and talking about the scale of the action. That match-up was extended to social media, where people were asked to choose sides. Later on a map of the U.S. was shared showing how the majority of people in each state had voted.

More TV spots started coming out just in the last couple weeks and, like this one, largely played like cut-down versions of the trailers, working to set up the conflict. Longer spots went a bit more in-depth, but still focused on the big action of the story.

An IMAX-specific spot was pretty short but got the point across that people should see this huge movie on a huge screen. RealD 3D got a similar promo. For its part, Dolby shared a handful of interviews with the cast talking about the story and their characters.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Snickers, which released a spot tying into the Kong vs. Godzilla fan voting.
  • Roblox, which hosted a movie-themed event in the popular virtual world where players could unlock exclusive rewards.

Legendary also announced a handful of publishing tie-ins just a bit before the movie came out.

Warner Bros. sponsored a TikTok challenge that involved a number of influencers on that platform.

A handful of longer featurettes, originally released on home video editions of the previous movies, were published by WB to YouTube over the last several weeks as a way of making sure the audience was familiar with what had come before. Those included:

Landscape artwork acted as both online ads and likely were used for outdoor ads also.

Media and Publicity

Bichir was interviewed about the movie, saying he enjoys the freedom to take different kinds of parts in movies of various sizes.

An interview with Wingard had the director talking about creating the massive monster battles and more of the action that everyone hopes fans are looking for. Another had him sharing the kinds of showdowns he envisioned and how he wanted to pattern the action after some of his favorite ‘80s action movies.

Overall

There’s a great deal that’s very good about the campaign, even when you overlook how it’s supporting a movie that, based on the shrinking box-office returns for the previous films, may not have a huge audience pool to pull from. It has a very nice visual brand that’s consistent from start to finish and it sells a simple message over and over again, counting on repetition being key to both engagement and interest.

When it comes down to it, that simple message is best summed up in a single GIF that, despite the lack of hyperbole or any other pitch, shows exactly what Warner Bros. hopes the audience will either come out to theaters for or use their parents’ HBO Max login to watch.

Fight Punch GIF by Godzilla vs. Kong - Find & Share on GIPHY