Movie Marketing Madness: Stardust

stardust_bigreleaseposterStardust looked like an interesting sort of fantasy-lite film to me since I first started seeing promotional material for the movie. Then my brother-in-law Christopher loaned me the Neil Gaiman book the movie is taken from and now I can’t wait. The story follows a young man whose parentage is a bit mystical (at least on his mother’s side) who embarks on a journey to win the heart of the girl he loves. It takes place in a small village in England in the 1800′s or so and follows the young hero as he treks across an enchanted land to find a falling star, which he has sworn to bring back to the local girl who he’s hoping to woo. Along the way he encounters many amazing creatures and returns to his village to find both he and the circumstances he left behind have changed.

As Christopher and I were discussing, this is the classic Hero’s Journey broken down into its barest of elements. The hero embarks on a task, which takes him into deep danger. Through fortune, skill and luck he manages to overcome the adversity he faces along every step of the path and returns to his life changed and having accomplished different goals than he had in mind when he started. The book is so bare of any sort of over-indulgent crap that it’s light and refreshing to read. There are characters on the side of right and those who are evil and there’s never any question about which camp they fall into.

So let’s look at how Paramount is selling the movie adaptation.

The Poster

Surprisingly there has been only one poster produced for Stardust, at least domestically. This surprises me since a fantasy tale like this normally would get at least a teaser one-sheet, if not a raft of character posters as well. Kind of makes me think Paramount is putting the minimum of effort into the marketing of Stardust, a point I’ll take up again later on.

The one poster that was created focuses mostly on the characters of the story and not on conveying any sense of the story. Most of the main characters get arrayed around the poster’s real estate. The prominence of the actor, more than the character, seems to have played the biggest part in deciding how big their picture is. The captain played by Robert DeNiro is a relatively minor character in the book but he’s a main part of the poster, for instance.

The color scheme and surrounding layout give the poster a nice sense of whimsy and set the tone of this being a fairy tale of sorts pretty nicely. It’s easy to see this image being replicated on new printing of the

The Trailer

Again, just a single trailer has been produced here. It starts off showing the event that drives the plot – Tristan’s vow to bring back a fallen star to Victoria – to his discovery that the star is a person (Claire Danes (yummy)) to their adventures outwitting an evil witch and trying to return back to his home. For a fantasy movie it’s kind of light, but then again so is the book. This is not Lord of the Rings-type heavy material we’re dealing with here, but a far more whimsical story.

There are scenes in the trailer that will be very recognizable to those who have read the book and some that seem out of place, like they were added in to the movie because someone thought it would make the movie more enjoyable or understanding. Whatever the case it’s a good trailer that manages to convey the movie’s light nature and fantasy setting pretty well while not getting bogged down in exposition. The problem is that it almost veers too far in the other direction and doesn’t provide enough story detail to hook the viewer’s interest.

Online

stardustdanes.JPGLet’s look at the content on the official website that’s more ordinary first. There’s a lot of fun stuff on the site so it’s hard to know where to start but this seems like a good spot.

“Video” contains the trailer and a total of six TV spots for the film. I’m a bit surprised by that number since personally I haven’t seen any commercials for the movie and it doesn’t seem like on the studio is likely to drop a lot of TV cash on. But nevertheless…

I can’t be completely sure how many pictures there are in the “Gallery” but it’s pretty well stocked – maybe about two dozen pics if not more. And they’re more than just lifts from the trailer, too, they’re new scenes. That’s something that’s pretty unique, unfortunately.

“Downloads” is amazingly robust in its offerings, even if it is of only the usual suspects. There are over 24 Wallpapers, about the same number of Buddy Icons and a screensaver. For the former two offerings, there’s a Wallpaper and an Icon for just about all the characters that make an appearance in the film, which is cool. So many sites only hit the top three or four characters/stars and leave it at that.

“About the Film” is broken into several sections, including the Synopsis, which is nicely written and gives props to the supporting cast, Cast and Crew sections and a five-part Production Notes write-up. That last one covers most of the usual topics but keeps the text from getting too hung up in marketing speak and actually is quite fun to read.

“Residents of Wall” is a look at the characters that make up the village the movie starts out in. For those of you unfamiliar with this world and looking for an entry point, this is it. Six of the movie’s characters are profiled, albeit briefly, and their background explained. Fantasy films like this one need to do this more, give people a 101 course on the world of the film so it doesn’t seem so unfamiliar. That’s what marketing is, right? Making the unfamiliar and new seem safe and unthreatening? Bueller?

“Games & Features” offers up three games you can play. The first is Crossing the Wall, where you get to club people trying to cross the wall. Capture the Lightning has you trying to capture lightning. Push that Prince is, like the others, just what it sounds like. There are also some Features that are amusing and which, again, are designed to fully pull you into the world of the movie.

So that’s the main part of the site. Along the bottom there are also three locations from the movie you can choose to visit.

stardustwebsite.JPG

Starting at the “Village of Wall” gives you a nighttime map of the village. Occassionally little lights shine that, when you mouse over them, take you to the same character profiles we saw before. “Starry Sky” replicates the same stuff that’s part of the Games & Features section, letting you navigate the nighttime sky. “Kingdom of Stormhold” does the same thing as “The Village of Wall,” only for non-villager characters in the movie.

All in all it’s a nicely designed website that repeatedly tries to draw the visitor into the movie’s universe more deeply. That’s a great idea for a non-franchise property like Stardust, that doesn’t have the widespread brand recognition other book adaptations might have.

Overall

I honestly don’t know if Paramount knows exactly what to do with this movie. It’s not part of a series, it doesn’t feature a pre-pubescent kid as its hero and it doesn’t have overt or underlying Christian themes in it. That sets it apart from almost all the other sci-fi/fantasy films that have hit screens in the wake of The Lord of the Rings. That also means Paramount can’t lean back on some of the tactics that have become commonplace with these films, such as using church groups to get the word out.

But does the campaign sell the movie well? It’s hard to say. I’m interested in it but I’ve read the source book and am a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work (again, largely due to the influence of my bro-in-law). But Gaiman’s name isn’t in the trailer and there’s very little else to connect the author to the movie. Now I’m sure Gaiman fan sites are well aware that the movie’s coming out so his exclusion from the campaign may be intentional, so as not to scare off the general audience. Still I find that curious.

Everything about the campaign goes to pains to position Stardust as an adventure ride, a message that’s likely to get drowned out by The Bourne Ultimatum and other actual action movies. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t try to sell it more as a tale of romance and chivalry in an effort to make this a movie women wanted to see. Looking at the slate of upcoming releases I’m not seeing too much else that’s aimed at that audience so I think the possibilities would have been better going down that road.

Still, it’s a nice light and fun campaign for a movie that will hopefully be the same. I just wish Paramount had found a more singular vision for the campaign.

Google goes beyond the quote

Google News has announced it will begin including comments on the stories it links to. These won’t be comments from readers or trackbacks in the way we’ve come to define them in the blog world, but limited to the subjects of the story in question. This allows those people to add their additional perspective on a story that might not have been possible through the couple of quotes selected by the writer.

A major move? Absolutely, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons.

Google in the past has positioned News as something that’s just an aggregator. Every time Google has responded to jittery news organizations who say they’re stealing content and subsequent ad revenue Google says “No, we’re actually pointing more people to your site” by just showing a headline and an abstract. And they’ve been right.

But this neatly lifts out the news organization from the user experience. This is something that brings the reader right back to Google or prompts them to never leave in the first place.

It seems to me that this wouldn’t even be an issue if news sites did a little more innovating – and I don’t include adding video as innovation. I mean what if a news site put up a story just like before but then allowed room for participants to add comments right there? Or put up the whole text of an interview online for readers to peruse on their own? Seems like both of those would add to the value of the site and to the engagement (read: time of visit, the all-important ad metric) on that site.

Someone asked what kind of impact this is going to have on us as public relations professionals. I don’t actually think it’s that much of a new thing for PR folks, at least not in and of itself. If we’ve worked with our clients to develop a sensible online strategy, including how to respond to blog postings, problematic Wikipedia entries and such than this is just an extension of that. It’s something else to keep in the back of your mind. Same best practice guidelines exist, at least to my mind.

LATER UPDATE: Seems Google has disallowed spiders from crawling the comments content, setting off a firestorm of charges of hypocrisy. Those are somewhat warranted, especially since Google News is kind of, you know, built on a foundation of spiders. The fact that Google’s first foray into content creation is inaccessible to search engines should not be overlooked by anyone who covers the media space.