How Searchlight Pictures is selling a dark comedy of influencers and influence
Zoey Deutch plays Danni Sanders in Not Okay, arriving on Hulu this weekend from Searchlight Pictures. Sanders is an aspiring social media influencer on a trip to Paris to break out of her creative rut and attract some new followers with fresh content. Fate helps her out when a terrorist attack in the city results in her being mistaken for one of the attack’s survivors, a status that’s untrue but which helps bring her attention. But the truth is the trip was faked and the truth is hanging out there, waiting to come to light and tear down Sanders’ newfound fame.
Written and directed by Quinn Shephard, the movie costars Dylan O’Brien as Colin, the man Sanders has a crush on and Mia Isaac as Rowan, the actual survivor of a school shooting Sanders encounters in her new role as advocate for peace and love.
With all that in mind, let’s look at the campaign.
announcements and casting
The movie was announced in June, 2021 with Searchlight producing, Shephard writing/directing and Deutch starring. The rest of the cast joined over the next couple months as filming began.
During production there was already a decent marketing effort underway on social media, especially TikTok, where videos were being posted showing Deutch and the rest of the cast engaging in hijinks and having fun behind the scenes. The studio was also posting behind the scenes photos, memes about influencers and more on Twitter and elsewhere.
Not all of that is directly tied to the movie, some of it is just tangentially related to themes of the story or characters. But the goal here was to create share-worthy content that’s in-line with the influencer culture of that story that fans could relate to and begin to build some buzz about.
the marketing campaign
The official campaign finally kicked off in early March with the release of a first look photo along with an interview with Shephard talking about how she worked with the film’s costume designers and stylists to mine TikTok and other social media platforms for the kinds of trendy fashions Sanders and the other characters might wear.
At the end of April the movie’s release date was moved up a week from early August to the end of July.
The teaser trailer (3.5m YouTube views) that came out at the end of June opens with a warning about how it contains an “unlikable female protagonist”, which sounds like a ridiculous thing to say until you realize it really isn’t. From there we see the consequences of Sanders’ actions before we see the actions themselves, all of which are highly questionable but which, she explains, are taken because she’s desperate to be noticed.
More memes and other trendy content was posted on social media following that, with the team jumping on each new format that popped up online.
Shephard was also interviewed about casting Deutch, taking on some of the worst aspects of the extremely online culture and more. A similar interview with O’Brien had him talking about how he got involved, the limited research into the social media world he did and working with Deutch again.
The poster was released in mid-July showing Sanders in anguish, the French flag painted on her eyelid and colorful tears coming down her face.
At the same time the full trailer (1.9m YouTube views) came out. We see that Sanders is pursuing online fame in part to make up for the fact her personal and professional lives are somewhat disappointing. So she tells everyone she’s going to Paris to help her writing career and proceeds to Photoshop enough evidence to make it look like that’s what happened. When the places she’s pretending to visit are bombed, pretending to have survived the attacks is easier than telling the truth. Fame follows, but it comes with the promise/threat that things can turn bad at any moment, which they inevitably do.
Both Deutch and Shephard appeared for a Q&A following a screening of the film at the Future of Film is Female.
A pop-up event in New York City that promised some surprises along with free goodies and treats from a handful of sponsors was announced at this point and said to run throughout the weekend.
The studio put together a bunch of Spotify playlists themed to each of the major characters.
Satires taking aim at social media and the lengths people will go to for online stardom aren’t exactly new, with several coming out in the last few years. But most of those focus on the lengths themselves and how outrageous they are.
The campaign here shows Not Okay may be slightly different in how it deals with the repercussions of those actions. It seems to be more about the price Sanders pays for what turns out to be a fleeting celebrity than just the wacky hijinks involved in pulling off her scam.
Of course we could ask the question of what the difference between “scam” and “hustle” is, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole.
Deutch is a consistently enjoyable actor and the campaign shows the role asks her to pull from her entire range, from energetic and funny to alone and tragic. It seems like she hasn’t quite had a breakout role to date, but this could be that.