Movie Marketing Madness: Strangers With Candy

The Comedy Central series Strangers With Candy was one that I never really got into. I didn’t quite “get” the show or its central storyline, that of 40-year old hooker Jerri Blank and her return to high school after a lifetime of booze, drugs and other problems. It seemed to get lost in my mind with so many other comedy shows on the network that came and went with little note. That being said, I knew that some people loved it and eventually respected it as a launching pad for Steven Colbert.

The movie focuses on that storyline of Jerri Blank. She’s recently left rehab and decides to pick up her life where she left it off – in high school. When she does so she finds a world very different from the one she left, except for the booze, sex and drugs. Those are still pretty much the same.

The Poster

That’s just disturbing. Blank is showing off her middle-aged hinder righ there at the front. The one-sheet shows her in front of her younger and more shall we say toned counterparts in school. Other than that there’s not a whole lot to the poster other than the name. Since that name, the brand recognition of the old TV series, is going to be the primary driver of traffic to the theater for this movie, that’s just fine. It’s a bright and vibrant poster that nonetheless manages to convey the dark comedy aspect of the movie. Good stuff

The Trailers

The teaser trailer has problems. For one thing there’s almost no mention of any plot whatsoever. It’s just a collection of funny moments from the movie, a couple of which feature Colbert as a closeted homosexual science teacher. That being said it’s not much more than a clip reel.

The theatrical trailer is a bit better since it does feature an outline of the movie’s plot. We follow Jerri as she leaves her rehab center and reenters the world and proceeds to encounter some problems. That part is good. But there’s an absolutely horrible voice over that spells things out in an amazingly annoying way. Like I said, reinforcing the connection to the TV show is good and should be a major selling pint but please try to do it better than this.

Both commit what I consider a mortal sin for trailers. They both take two lines of dialogue and put them next to each other when they’re completely separate in the actual movie. Amy Sedaris says “I hate you,” and then it cuts to an unrelated scene between her and Colbert. That kind of thing bugs me because it’s more or less intentional misleading of the audience. The interchange doesn’t actually happen but someone after the fact thought it would be funny so they spliced it together. It amounts to a kind of bait-and-switch and I’m tired of it.

Online

The movie’s official website features one of the best images of all time to show the site is loading. It’s a drug needle pulling liquid out of a spoon. Read that sentence again. I literally don’t know what to do with that.

Most of the rest of the site is more or less by the book. The main page shows a high school announcement board with a bunch of posters. Click on some and be taken to things like Trailers or Wallpapers or AIM icons. Click on others and hear an audio clip from the movie. There are also two lockers off to the right that have more content. One houses a Photo Gallery and the other a Synopsis and Cast & Crew bios. The bios are kind of interesting in that they’re laid out like a yearbook, which is at least movie appropriate. Unfortunately the majority of the site doesn’t live up to the promise of the drug needle intro.

Overall

Considering the movie has reportedly been sitting in a studio vault for something like two years it’s good that it’s finally getting released. The marketing effort unfortunately reflects the movie’s status as kind of a cast-off in that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of effort behind it. They went through the motions and checked off the appropriate items but didn’t really work too hard at it. I’m a little surprised, as I mentioned a while ago, that Stephen Colbert wasn’t brought more to the forefront of the campaign considering his all-star status nowadays. Kind of makes me think he’s not in the movie all that much and the marketing team didn’t want to over sell his role. That’s just an assumption, though.

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Movie Marketing Madness: The Devil Wears Prada

This is not the sort of movie I am usually interested in. I just want to state that clearly and unquestioningly right there at the beginning. Movies that star the chick from The Princess Diaries (both installments) and are all about fashion are not exactly what you’d call right up my alley. So imagine my surprise to realize that I’m kind of looking forward to this one.

Anne Hathaway stars as a fresh-off-the-bus college graduate who happens into an internship at a super powerful and influential fashion magazine and who knows little about the industry. She begins working for the magazine’s widely respected and feared editor-in-chief, played by Meryl Streep. It’s a position that’s sought after by many since holding it for any length of time means being able to write your own check in the rest of the magazine world.

Like I said, this sounds like a plot that would prove deadly for my attention level. But now let’s look at how an interesting and innovative marketing campaign changed my mind.

The Poster

Alright, so the use of devilish imagery isn’t exactly groundbreaking for a movie that has “Devil” as part of the title. But the simple over-sized red stiletto heel against the white background is most definitely eye-catching. It also very effectively screams “SATIRE!!!!!!” at the loudest possible volume. But that’s alright. Too many campaigns for satirical movies try to downplay that and then the studio wonders why the movie failed. So the fact that this poster is big and bold about the movie’s intentions is, you know, a good thing.

Not only is it effective at communicating the theme of the movie but it’s also visually appealing. Just like the fashion world the movie portrays, the poster is stylish, sleek and sexy. You won’t convince me that the high heel motif wasn’t created as a way not only to appeal to the inner fashion goddess all women house but also the men with various, ummmm, fantasies. You just won’t.

The Trailer

Now here’s where things get really interesting. Most trailers are patchwork quilts of clips from all throughout the movie. The best jokes, the best action sequences, the best dramatic sequences are all cobbled together into something that a group of people think will appeal to a mass audience. The logic seems to be that if they take the best parts of the movie then people will be convinced of just how gosh darn good it really is.

The problem with that people usually come away feeling they’ve seen the best parts of the movie and so what’s the point of seeing the whole thing? And that’s usually accurate. There usually has to be a pre-existing awareness of a movie to generate a ticket sale. The trailers just feed that.

The trailer for The Devil Wears Prada took a different approach. Instead of a clip compilation the marketing team took a three minute clip chronicling Hathaway’s arrival at her new workplace. She comes in completely unaware of the office culture, is verbally assaulted by Streep’s assistant and generally pushed around and intimidated. When Streep arrives in the office her lackeys absolutely soil themselves making sure everything is perfect and that they are out of her way. Streep and Hathaway eventually meet when the prospect of her working at the magazine comes up and that’s about where we leave it, save for some great vamping from Stanley Tucci.

Here was a three minute clip from the movie (I’m sure there was some editing but it’s essentially intact I gather) that perfectly encapsulated what the film was about. Hathaway is young and naïve. Streep is established and imposing. Her assistant is flustered and bitchy. Tucci is fabulous. What more could a usual compilation trailer tell us? This is perfect. I watched it a half-dozen times it was so different and engaging. And that’s the key. It was engaging. It didn’t try to manipulate me with musical cues and overly emotional performances. It served as a plot synopsis better than anything else could. I loved it and my interest in the movie is derived almost completely from this trailer. Whoever had the idea to create it in this manner is a genius and should win a bunch of awards next year. Good stuff.

The Website

Most of the content on the official website is pretty cut and dried. There are a couple attempts at original thought, but they mirror a lot of what other sites have done. One example is the Fashion 101 quiz, which tests you fashion knowledge. Another is the Hell Boss creator. Those are very similar to what other sites have created when they’re testing your relationship knowledge or things like that. Good try, but not much of a stretch. There seems to have been a micro-site created for the movie (it’s linked from the main site) called The HIDEOUS Skirt. It’s kind of funny if you enjoy being snarky at bad fashion. This is the first I’ve heard of it, which might be a problem. Oh well.

Other Efforts
Fox entereed into couple of very appropriate partnerships for the movie’s promotion. First, the put the movie’s name all over Sephora stores and on the beauty retailer’s website. Very smart play, especially considering Sephora stores are mainly found in high-end malls like Chicago’s Water Tower Place. They also partnered with Mercedes-Benz to have a new car model debut as product placement within the movie. Finally, there was the creation of a store on Amazon.com highlighting the movie’s products. All these fit in very well with the high-end vibe of the movie and are geared to appeal to either currently in or aspiring to that social strata. The studio/movie also sponsored a “Coffee Break” on Tuesday, 6/27, making free coffee available to all those who toil away in offices at select coffee shops in some big areas.
Overall

It’s a solid effort for a movie that looks better than it really should be. A lot of that comes from the trailer being unafraid to actually show us the movie in question and a poster that’s quick-witted and amusing. I’ll be checking it out at some point based largely on those two components of the campaign, which really cross gender and make the movie appealing to those of us who couldn’t care less about fashion and the politics of that world.

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Movie Marketing Madness: Superman Returns

The success or failure of Superman Returns could determine the future of the comics adaptations as a whole. I’m dead serious about this. The movie reportedly cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 million to produce (I remember the headlines when T2 cost $100 million. Doesn’t that seem quaint now?) and the character is the one by which all others are judged. Superman is larger than life. He’s not of this world, invulnerable (just about) and symbolizes Truth and Justice in the comic world. And so not only is more demanded of the character but more will be demanded of the movie. I don’t care how well X-Men 3 just did, if Superman Returns bombs you’re going to see a lot of studios rethinking their comic adaptations long-term.

That pressure makes it difficult to market it. There’s also the little fact of the earlier movies starring Christopher Reeve. Returns seems to be using the idea that the last two of the movies made by Reeve didn’t so much exist and continues the story from where Superman II left off. That’s an interesting idea, and one that’s quite different from Batman Begins, which rebooted the Batman franchise by existing completely seperately from the Michael Keaton/Val Kilmer/George Clooney movies that wound up getting run into the ground. Essentially, a few years have passed since Superman II, during which Superman has been absent from Earth. Of course so has Clark Kent, but it doesn’t seem like anybody is putting that together. He comes back and, of course, Lex Luthor isn’t thrilled. Plus, he finds out Lois Lane has a kid. Things, of course, get interesting.

The Posters

The first teaser poster was basic but got its point across. Featuing a simple arrangement of the Superman “S” symbol against a blue background and text that just said “Returns. 2006.” at the bottom. Tremendously successful in getting across the message that a new Superman movie would be coming out soon. While I think the poster is, overall, really good, the poster bugs me visually. I think it’s the fading of the blue at the edges into black that hurts my eyes if I look at it too long. Maybe that’s just me.

The theatrical poster , which was only released at the end of May, featured the character himself hovering over the world with the state of Florida unfortunately placed to look like he has a massive, Florida-shaped erection. Oops. Interestingly, that seems to have been modified in later versions of the poster, with the world just clouded and obscured below him. Phallic symbolism aside, it’s a good poster that present an idealized image of the character. It also nicely continues a theme from the trailers, that feature him hanging out in the uppper atmostphere. That’s a nice move that presents some consistency to the campaign.

There were also some character posters created, most of which you’ll find online as desktop wallpapers. A lot of these were created especially for the IMAX release of the movie and have some cool imagery. I also really like the bus shelter poster that the Superman Homepage has a look at. CinemaBlend has a great round-up of the entire poster offerings and even compares them to the one-sheets for the two Richard Donner-directed movies. Really good stuff from CB. One of the posters, the one with Supes hovering over the Earth, of course got repurposed as a Netflix envelope ad.

The Trailers

First there was this clip/teaser that wasn’t really a teaser. Conventional wisdom held that this was a promo reel that was shown at the ShoWest industry trade show. Whatever it was it gave us our first look at moving pictures from the movie. Glimpses not only of the titular character, the Daily Planet building and a bunch of other stuff.

The actual teaser trailer featured a bit of footage from that promo reel but was about 20 times cooler. It opens with some of Marlon Brando’s dialogue from the original movie about Kal-El’s purpose among the humans. It ends with the first use of the image of Superman hovering above the Earth. Quite frankly I watched this about 15 times I thought it was so good.

The main debut that took place in the theatrical trailer was that of Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor. We also get views of Perry White and Jimmy Olsen, who are obviously there for comic relief. As I said at the time, that’s alright since that’s a good role for them. We also get a good look at Lois Lane and one of the main plot devices that will be used in the film, the fact that Lane has a child.

The third spot really turns the focus to Spacey’s Luthor. He becomes the centerpiece of the campaign. It works, though, since Spacey is just completely over the top in this.

Most of the TV spots recycled footage from the trailers and suffered from the same thing most 30-second spots do: That they’re too short and suck. I mean the footage is alright but the condensed time does not lend itself to movie advertising.

Warner Bros. created a YouTube playlist of these spots and trailers for convenient viewing. If you’re an Xbox Live player you can also download hi-def trailers and more for viewing within the platform. That’s kind of an awesome move.

Online

The marketing push for Superman Returns began quite a while ago, well over a year before the movie was scheduled to come out. The first components released were the video diaries created by director Bryan Singer and published on BlueTights.net. These walk the line of being kind of officially unofficial but provided fans with a great lok at the movies production and generated a lot of buzz about the movie, which is always a good thing. Much like they did with the trailers, Warner Bros. eventually compiled all of these into one YouTube playlist.

The movie’s official website is pretty traditional and uninspired, save for Thursday the 22nd when Lex Luthor took over the site. You really had to see it to belive it but it was a lot of fun. Video, About the Film, Photos and Downloads all are pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve been reading M3 for a while. There’s some interesting stuff in Downloads but nothing too extraordinary. There are a couple links at the bottom of the page that deal with the history of Superman and an overall celebration of the character DC/Warner Bros. is engaging in this year. Legacy is all about the “Year of Superman” and Documentary has the deets on “Look, Up In the Sky!“, a documentary of how the character has been adapted for TV and films over the years. It’s good stuff.

I’ve gone back and forth over the months on how I feel about the blog that Warner Bros. setup for the movie. At first I was really enthused about it. Then I ranted a bit about how it didn’t seem to be used very much. Since then I’ve come to see it for what it is: A good way for the studio to ping subscribers and readers about what’s new on the site and when a new trailer appears. And you know what? That’s fine. It’s a good move for a movie where it doesn’t seem there’s someone to be populating the site with new editorial content so I’ve accepted that using it for fact-based updates is a perfectly valid function.

Oh, and they created a MySpace page asking the profile’s “friends” to submit pictures of themselves wearing Superman garb as part of the “Show us your ‘S'” campaign. I have to say this is one of the better uses of MySpace for movie marketing, something I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

One line from this Fast Company story really jumped out at me. When the producers were starting the process, they reached out to BlueTights.net, a Superman fansite that wound up hosting Singer’s Video Journals. They supported the site’s servers and allowed them to host the videos and do more to really expand their reach. A great example of embracing the community in a real and meaningful way.

Other Efforts

There are a ton of other promotions going on around the movie. One of the biggest is a partnership with PepsiCo. That deal has a number of components. The Daily Planet website, co-branded by both Pepsi and Yahoo, seems to be the focal point of the deal and will be where the online efforts all point back to. Some of the features of this promotion include:

  • Jeff Gordon driving a DuPont/Pepsi/Superman Returns car on July 1st at Daytona.
  • Enter a code found on Pepsi package products online to “Fid Lex Luthor.”
  • Lay’s potato chips has a contest where if you enter a code from packaging you’re entered to win a trip to a national monument somewhere in the U.S.
  • Lay’s also has a cool “Fly With Superman” thing that uses Google Earth to play a fun online game.
  • They also have an “Enhance Your Superpowers” promotion where you can do something cool.
  • Quaker Oats products have also been branded with Superman images and renamed to be, for example, “Superman Crunch” instead of Cap’n Crunch.

You can read all the details on PepisCo’s promotions over at SuperHeroHype. The Daily Planet website also has some other stuff on it, like a playable demo of the Electronic Arts game for the movie. But it’s important to keep one thing in mind – you need a Yahoo account to access the content. You must be signed in to Yahoo in order to play the games, view the comics or do really anything else on the site. While I get that this is a Yahoo page and all, that requirement rubs me raw since there’s no reason for it other than to collect information. They’ve done little but succeed in alienating those people who don’t already have and don’t feel like creating a Yahoo account. Argh.

Telus mobile phone users can download Superman ringtones and other goodies. When they do so they’re entered into a contest to win a trip to Los Angeles to take a tour of Warner Bros. Studios. Superman was also featured in a new “got milk?” ad. He’s also got some themed 7-11 Slurpee drinks/cups, a Build-A-Bear promotion all of his very own and a PerfectMatch.com contest. Even Duracell got into the game, with a super hero themed spot that tied into the movie. The commercial shows Superman using his x-ray vision to see that his alarm clock uses Duracell batteries. The deal also will have some Superman-branded battery packaging on store shelves. Samsung has a promotion where you can download various Superman themed goodies to your cell phone or get Superman swag when you purchase select products. (Disclosure: Samsung is a client of my employer, but we did not work on this effort.) Hallmark even has a Superman Father’s Day e-card you can send to your dad that plays John Williams’ famous score.

Warner Bros. has also created a wireless access portal that allows visitors to download some stuff for free and purchase other mobile phone content. Brandon Routh appeared at the MTV Movie Awards, where he presented an award to Christian Bale. There was also a new promotion and a clip from the flick that were shown within the broadcast. Just this past week Burger King launched their Kid’s Meal promotion with eight toys available.

And of course let’s not forget the ton of magazine covers Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth have been featured on. It’s a little ridiculous. More importantly it points to how much free publicity the movie is getting by virtue of these covers. Add up the impressions, including passers-by who might see but don’t necessarily pick up the magazine, and see how that compares to the paid media buys, like TV spots and print ads and then do a simple cost analysis. And don’t forget the skydivers . Yes, I said skydivers. And they projected the Superman symbol on a number of landmarks across the country, including Niagra Falls. For those of you who didn’t see it, here are some pics of the Falls.

Overall

Nice solid campaign that plays it completely safe. Seriously, there’s not a risky move here. There are innovative moves, but nothing that betrays anything but a sense of awe and wonder about the its subject. The trailers are wicked cool, if a bit repetitive after a while. The posters are a tad Freudian but still very well designed and pretty. The online aspects of the push range from standard to safely innovating, with the website representing the former and the blog the latter. I can’t say there’s a misstep in the entire campaign other than the Yahoo-hosted website, but that’s probably not going to impact a lot of people. Just the ones who matter.

I think this story is interesting that Warner Bros. asked high-octane producer Joel Silver for advice on how to market Superman in a more manly manner. That’s reported to be a course correction after, you know, the big gay campaign that was the subject of dozens of stories but which I never really saw. I thought that was a case of one person saying it and then that opinion echoing around the media world. Asshats.

Personally I can’t wait.

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Quick Takes: 6/27/06

A lot of things piled up in the last week that I’m just not going be able to handle individually. Hence, yet another of these bullet-point posts. Sorry.

Trailers

  • Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (here).
  • Snakes on a Plane TV spot (here).
  • Pan’s Trailer (here).
  • Mimi’s First Time (here).
  • America: Freedom to Fascism (here).

Posters

  • Hollywoodland (here).
  • Open Season, Crossover, Trust the Man and Talladega Nights (#2) (here).

Other

  • Kevin Smith really gets the web for movie marketing. (NYT)
  • Spider-Man 3 trailer debuts today. (PRN)
  • Nielsen Media Research overcharges for common sense report on movie marketing effectiveness. (DHW)
  • Christopher Stipp interviews Tim Nett of firm Trailer Park. (QSE)

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The right to free speech

This is about as far from movie marketing as you can get but I feel compelled to write about this here. The White House is in about day five of accusing the New York Times and Los Angeles Times of treasonous behavior over their report that the government has been monitoring bank transactions to “search for terrrorists.”

Let’s be very clear here. It’s the job of our press to shine the bright light of day on the dark dealings of the government and others. The White House and their proxies have said that the publication of this story is harming their war on terror and is disgraceful and offensive. I think what is disgraceful and offensive is the administration’s lack of faith in the American system. They believe that if a law hinders their view of executive power then that law must be avoided, not amended or debated, but just ignored. And to help their efforts they have a staff of political lawyers who think they can label something Constitutional or not and have that opinion hold, despite what anyone else might believe. That opinion is unchallangeable since, they say, questioning it not only gives aid and comfort to the enemy but could kill Americans by helping the terrorists.

Even more so than the current net neutrality debate going on, this is really going to impact how the level of discourse in America progresses in not only the short term but long term as well. The White House wants to do what they want to do and have a pants-wetting press dutifully republish their spin and rationales without asking pesky questions. It’s not a large leap to go from prosecuting the LAT and NYT for treason, which at least one member of Congress has suggested doing, to prosecuting any and all dissenting speech for its failure to be upbeat and pro-administration. If you believe in an open and fair right to speak your peace and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, than you should be offended at the opinion that reporting on the secret tapping and monitoring of our lives is somehow dangerous. America was founded on the idea that we all have a voice in our government. The press, to a large extent, acts as that voice and is suppose to speak truth to power. They should not be prosecuted for doing so.

LA Times adds new entertainment ad exec

The Los Angeles Times has grabbed Lynne Seagell from The Hollywood Reporter and put her in the role of overseeing entertainment ad sales. This despite the fact that the LATimes and other pubs are seeing drastic downturns in ad buys from movie studios as they move their budget dollars online.

BloggerCon IV: Jay Rosen – CitJourn

Jay Rosen’s Citizen Journalism session – intro here. Doc Searls’ notes here

[ed: Just like an educator, Jay's on-screen notes ask, as the session begins, for people to move up to the front of the room]

[10:53] Doc’s notes are going to be invaluable here. Marc Glaser made some fantastic comments about how he does his job on a regular basis, and is sourcing things.

[10:58] Doc Searls: “Open your archives” to newspapers.

[11:10] The “citizen journalism”-ness of this discussion seems to be going in and out quite a bit, IMHO.

[11:27] Jeremy Pepper discussing how Wal-mart and much of the right “gets” it with regard to working with bloggers, while some on the left are more about control. I’d have to agree with a lot of that.

[11:43] Buzz makes a fantastic comment about the “real-time” issue that goes on with contribution and the value of what is contributed. People want to see the completed work asap.