Movie Marketing Madness: Sex and the City

In the history of the cinema I don’t think there has ever been a movie with as little cross-gender appeal as Sex and the City: The Movie.

No, I’m dead serious. Other movies that are teary dramas or romantic comedies at least throw in a little something for guys, even if it’s just a token character of some sort. Maybe it’s a certain style of humor or a particular trait of one of the characters or, i don’t know, something, there’s usually at least minimal effort that’s made to give the guys who have been dragged to the movie by their wives or girlfriends some thread to hang on to so that they’re not sitting there in the theater or at home wishing oh sweet mercy couldn’t they just be anywhere else.

Most of the time that one tiny thread receives outsize representation in the marketing campaign for the movie. The same character that’s in the story for the sole purpose of making the movie endurable by men will often appear in all the trailers and commercials and possibly even the posters, just so the studio can say it attempted to appeal to both genders with the campaign.

Not so Sex and the City. It’s aggressively not making a play for males. It’s not that they’re simply being ignored by the campaign – it’s that the push is specifically designed to turn them off as harshly as possible from wanting to see the movie. So much so that John Cass at the Chicago Tribune (who I used to like but who took an odd right-turn about six years ago) actually created a coupon to print out exempting men from having to see it.

Also helping guys get out of seeing the flick was Best Buy’s Geek Squad, which sent teams of geeks to theaters in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to hand out packets (which you can see here) with excuses printed on them and which contained quarters for the guys to use to go play video games. They also created a video that shows them taking one of the SatC location tours and acclimating themselves in that world, presumably so they could write some decent excuse notes.

The film, of course, reunites all the characters from the popular HBO series of the same name, a series that hasn’t been on the air in something like five years. And it’s being marketed as a return to the familiar routine of watching four woman snipe at each other while remaining friends and looking for their own personal version of the perfect life, whether that entails as many shoes as their closet will bear or the arms of a loving man, who in this universe exists only to dote upon the woman and fulfill her every wish.

As we’ll see, the campaign is as much about selling a lifestyle – albeit an aspirational one for most of the targeted audience – as it is about selling a movie. In the case of Sex and the City those are one and the same.

The Posters

The first teaser poster for the movie broadcast loud and clear what the film was going to be about, marking the first salvo in New Line’s (and later Warner Bros.’ effectively killed the studio) effort to make the campaign as overtly girly and glamorous as possible. It features Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie walking along in a bright pink dress, laughing and care-free, below the movie’s huge, Broadway-billboard looking title treatment, which is also pink. The “Get Carried Away” copy point below her is just kind of terrible while at the same time being the most predictable ever. That tagline also manages to do double duty as a potential headline for media writers to use in their coverage of the movie since we all know easy-to-remember marketing hooks make for great heds.

There’s actually nothing all that wrong with the poster since it’s certainly going to be appealing to the movie’s target audience, women who want to go to the movie and aspire to the lives lived by the characters. So selling the movie as the epitome of “I’m so pretty!” feminism is a good idea that’s going to resonate with those who want that sort of attitude for themselves.

It was quite a while, though, between the debut of that poster and the next round of one-sheets, which appeared just a month or two out from the release of the movie.

The next two posters both again showed just Parker, but this time instead of a frilly dress she’s decked out in, as I called them before, hooker outfits. She’s pictured wearing, alternatively, leather jackets and fishnet stockings, with hair so huge it threatens to devour her entire head. Completing the street-walker effect is the fact that the shots actually show her walking the New York City streets at night.

Now I know that the setting of the photos is meant to convey the franchise’s other key message, which is that New York is the ONLY PLACE YOU CAN LIVE A FULLY REALIZED LIFE, a goal that’s presumably dependent on your proximity to all-night Thai food. But they just come off as photos of someone who’s dressed inappropriately for anyone who doesn’t spend half her night hashing out a price with businessmen visiting Times Square.

What you can’t help but notice about these first three posters is that, while the entire cast is part of the allure of the show, it’s just Parker that’s shown. Reportedly that’s due to a clause in the contract of Parker, who also served as a producer on the movie, that she be the sole focus of the print campaign since she’s the star of the show. I’m not sure how true that might be but, considering she’s the one who always seemed to be the holdout on making the movie in the first place, it has the ring of truth.

The whole cast did eventually turn up in a poster released just a couple weeks before the movie was scheduled to hit theaters. It follows the same rough format as the two previous posters, only now acknowledging that this isn’t a Parker solo movie but that all the characters are indeed back. Because of that it dispells a lot of the lady-of-the-night feeling about the previous efforts and just comes off, a bit more accurately I think, as a poster for a movie about four friends who hang out an awful lot, largely because they make each other laugh. Much better in terms of communicating the movie, which acutally works against it in terms of doing anything at all to appeal to those of us who are not women.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer released some time ago is very much a teaser, running a scant – and I mean scant – 48 seconds or so. And the first 10 of that is city porn, showing the glowing Manhattan cityscape, leaving just over half a minute for any sort of look at the characters in the movie. That’s all the viewer gets too, a few glimpses of the characters. There’s nothing at all about any potential story or, indeed, anything to suggest there’s anything more than lots of fashion and frivolity.

Much of the trailer is focused on Parker’s Carrie, from her gliding down the street in some awful dress with a big flower on it to the multitude of shots of her in, well, some other questionable dress. When it was released I said it played more like an ad for a Macy’s two-day sale than a movie trailer and I think that assessment holds up. The ridiculousness to which this trailer is designed to be an ego reel for Parker, who gets to twirl in a wedding dress while a photographer calls her gorgeous as well as prance around organizing shoes in her underwear, is quite amazing. The rest of the cast only gets a few reaction shots while they’re all together, signaling their new position as inconsequential supporting players instead of key cast members.

Both it and the theatrical trailer to come continue the pink-hued branding, with both the New Line and HBO Films logos getting the same treatment that appeared on the posters, all dazzley with pink marquee lights, just in case anyone was under the impression this was not a movie meant almost exclusively for girly girls.

Moving on to that theatrical trailer, it suffers from exactly the opposite problem as the teaser, something that may do more than anything else to impact the movie’s chances for success. Instead of whooshing by like the train that just passed us on the next track this one goes on, at 2:25 or so, about twice as long as it really needs to and features a saggy middle.

This trailer does begin to offer some glimpses into the prefunctory story arcs each character has been given. Carrie is marrying Mr. Big but as usual those two crazy kids just don’t seem to be on the same page emotionally. Carrie also gets to exclaim that she’d rather have a really big closet than a diamond, accomplishing the difficult goal of coming off MORE materialistic than if she had asked for a huge rock. Miss Spider is pregnant, another one is apparently dealing with an adultorous husband, and Mannequin is still wolf-whistling at all the hot young guys and suggestively biting down on crackers.

It’s when the focus is pulled off of the light and breezy entertainment that the trailer goes soft and you begin to look at the clock to see how much time has gone by. It’s obvious that emotional depth is just out of character for these…ummm…characters and it does the trailer a disservice. I know the studio is using a variety of moral conundrums as a way to present the movie as containing a serious message, but it comes off as natural as if Indiana Jones stopped to recite lines from Horton Hears a Who. It just doesn’t work, and if that’s going to be the driving force of the movie as opposed to the bikini wax joke that gets the trailer slightly back on track (and which Karina said went over well with a group of middle-aged women) the movie is going to be facing serious box-office problems as word begins to leak out.

Online

The movie’s official website is, appropriately, light on content but heavy on style.

If you find the page sliding to the left or the right a bit when you load it up don’t be alarmed – that’s what it’s supposed to be doing. While most of the content is right there in the middle you can also move it to the right or the left to find more stuff but don’t worry about doing so too much since everything outside the main margins can be found via the main menu at the bottom.

The first option on that menu is “About the Movie” which is just a few paragraphs of text briefly covering the movie’s plot but which exist mostly to reassure the audience that all their favorite actors have been lured back to reprise their roles from the show. More unexciting fare awaits under “Cast & Crew,” which gives beautific profiles to all the major players in a movie that is already teetering on the presipece of being wall-to-wall celebrity adoration as it is.

“Photo Gallery” contains just 15 stills, most of which are either previously released through outlets like Yahoo Movies or which are taken straight from one or the other trailer. What’s frustrating is that there are open slots on the scrolling photo menu that show the studio might have planned to expand the selection but just hasn’t. Ten Wallpapers, nine AOL Icons and a Screensaver are found under “Downloads.”

I was a bit surprised when I realized “Video and Trailers” contained theatrical Trailer but not the teaser version. There’s no reason I can think of for both versions to not be included on the site other than someone decided they both simply didn’t need to be there, which is a mistake since, as I’ve said repeatedly, the website should provide as much of the archived content as possible, lest the audience leave the site and go to YouTube or eleswhere to find it. In addition to the trailer there’s a behind the scenese reel titled “Back in Fashion” that features movie clips and cast and crew interviews.

The “Soundtrack” section unfortunately doesn’t let you explore most of the songs on said soundtrack. It just plays “Labels or Love,” the theme song performed by Fergie but you can’t check out any of the other selections, thereby doing a little bit to insure people just buy that song from iTunes instead of the entire album.

Moving into more interactive content, the first feature is the “Match Your Man” game. It’s basically a quiz that asks women about the man in their life like you’d find in any number of female-targeted lifestyle magazines. With this, though, the woman is told at the end which guy from the Sex and the City world their man most resembles.

“Save the Date” is the name given to a widget you can grab and add to your site or your social network profile page. The widget displays a countdown to the movie’s release date as well as information on the soundtrack and more.

Something that’s actually kind of cool is “Carrie’s Macbook.” Launch this portion of the site and you’re taken into a virtual representation of Carrie’s Macbook screen, complete with chats between her and her friends and video. Much of the content under each “application” is tied to the movie – the trailer is housed under the Quicktime icon, for instance, but it’s at least a pretty good effort to get site visitors engaging with the brand a little bit, something that most of the rest of the site ignores.

Finally there’s a blog that’s housed off the New Line site that has been posting updates on the release of some of the marketing materials, promotional appearances by the cast and stories in other publications that mention the movie. It’s not a bad effort, a little lightweight and certainly not in line with best practices advice like that offered recently by Chris Brogan on how to run a successful corporate blog, but it does what it needs to do. My major issues with it are that the posting seems a little scattershot (only one poster is mentioned and no trailers get linked to, for instance) and that there didn’t seem to be any effort to raise any awareness of the blog.

The movie also got a MySpace page that mostly featured content from the official site like trailers and photos from the movie. There’s also on that page the ability to select a character-specific theme and then apply it to your own profile page, which isn’t a bad idea. There’s also something called “My Fab Four” that appears to let you assign one of the character’s personality types to four of your friends.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

As many articles have said, the focus on fashion and materialism make this movie a brand advertiser’s absolute dream. The movie, being the extension of a brand-conscious franchise that espouses a full closet and the right labels as the key to happiness, certainly seems to be a good fit for marketers looking to associate themselves with the aspirational lifestyle the characters perpetuate. A number of big name brands have been only too happy to latch onto that.

One of the biggest is Mercedes-Benz. The carmaker is using the movie as part of the campaign for two models, the GLK-class SUV and its S-class sedan. Both models appear in the movie, one in a scene that takes part at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week annual event. Benz dealerships have had clips playing and posters displayed for a while now and dealers in 30 markets hosted screenings of the movie that had the benefit of aiding the “Dress for Success” charity. It also created a co-branded TV spot that aired in the final weeks before the movie’s release and which is included on the similarly co-branded microsite created for the movie.

As you can see from this photo from Julia Allison, Mercedes-Benz also got significant placement on the placards along the pink carpet at the movie’s New York premiere, a premiere that also featured decor provided by Swarovski, which blanketed the pink carpet and other items at and after the event in crystals.

Retailer Steve & Barry’s launched a line of t-shirts and other tops featuring the movie’s title treatment that were designed by Sarah Jessica Parker as part of their “Bitten” line of clothes. Some shirts feature lines from the series or pictures of some of the characters. S&B’s also ran a sweepstakes awarding everything from a trip to New York City to store gift cards.

Skyy Vodka launched a serious campaign of its own for the movie, rolling out print, online and out-of-home ads. It also created recipes for drinks based on each of the characters in the film that use, of course, Skyy Vodka or one of the company’s other alcohol brands such as Cabo Wabo (I’ll give everyone a chance to sing “Way down in Cabo…” Done? Let’s move on.) tequila that you can read here or find more details on at the drink company’s microsite for the movie.

VitaminWater created its own microsite that featured a bit of movie content, including the trailer, some wallpapers, a handful of photos, as well as links to Vitaminwater’s MySpace page and the movie’s official site. The main attractions are a (now closed) sweepstakes that, like those everyone else was running, awarded a trip to New York City and an interactive quiz about your relationship with your friends.

The third drink brand to get in on the action was Bacardi, which used its promotion to highlight its Silver Mango Mojito drink. The Bacardi site lets you watch the trailer and also find early screenings, complete with after parties, in major cities across the country.

Since there seems to be this idea that visiting locations from the show is some sort of religious experience it’s not all that surprising that tourist-centric VisitNYC.com created its own section of SaTC content that comes complete with information on booking tours of the locations around the city. The New York Times also took advantage of the indelible association the franchise has with the city by creating a sponsored crossword puzzle, a page that features numerous ads for the movie as well as movie-specific clues.

The story behind Bag Borrow or Steal’s involvement in the promotional campaign is kind of backwards. The site, which acts as a sort of Netflix for fashion accessories, heard it was mentioned in the movie and so decided to launch an effort to make the most of that happy turn of fate. The site launched a new section featuring fashions from the movie as well as a YouTube contest that invited people to submit videos of themselves explaining which character they were most like. What wound up being interesting is that this promotion got more coverage after a Wall Street Journal article about it and how it didn’t exactly set the world on fire than it probably otherwise would have. Both BL Ochman and Donna DeClemente talked about it, which may have done more for this smallish, not really planned beforehand promotion than everything that had come before.

Online ticket seller Fandango ran a sweepstakes in conjunction with The Westin hotel and American Airlines with the winner receiving tickets for four to New York City and a two-night stay at The Westin at Times Square as well as a tour of locations associated with the show and the movie. Fandango is supporting the effort with emails to its users as well as ads across the web, from Comcast’s home page to message boards devoted to Sex and the City.

Party-planning site Celebrations also ran a contest that awarded two passes a week to go see the movie as well as a grand prize private screening for 200 people. The site also added a number of SATC-themed party ideas and recipes to get everyone in the mood for the movie.

Media

Of course the media seemed, as much as they did for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, lap up any and all hooks on which to hang a story about the triumphant return of the four ladies and their men to the entertainment world. Loving profiles by Entertainment Weekly and a photo shoot in Vogue (that was apparently distributed at Cannes despite the relatively late decision by New Line not to bring the movie there) are but a small sample of the kind of earned press the publicity team at New Line garnered. If you do a Google New search for “Sex and the City” you’ll see what I’m talking about. Apparently magazines and newspapers felt this was a great opportunity to hook some female readers they wouldn’t otherwise get and so rolled out story after story about the movie and its cultural impact. Glam Media and the IMDb even created special sections of content that were listed on the movie’s official partners page.

Overall

Before I begin, let me give credit to Richard Laermer’s post on the Bad Pitch Blog thanking the heavens that the campaign for Sex and the City will soon be over and that we will no longer have to endure the glitz and glamour we’ve been subjected to as New Line aggresively marketes the film. There’s also Jeff Wells, who says the movie’s devotion to all things superficial makes it a “Taliban recruitment film.”

I’ve taken a lot of easy shots at the movie, some of which it deserves and some it probably doesn’t. But while I’ve hit some slow pitch softballs just crying out for having a laugh at there’s actually no denying the movie’s campaigns works at its most fundamental level and in its basest goal, that of trying to turn out fans of the series to pay $10+/- to see a two-hour episode of the show. The campaign takes the easist hooks it can find, the return of four old friends and their lifestyle that you wish you had, and hammers it home in every conceivable way. It’s completely consistent throughout the different executions and, because of superficial nature of the movie’s story and themes, it even manages to remain consistent across the promotional partnerships as well.

So all in all I have to say that the Sex and the City campaign is a success, at least from a marketing objectives point of view. How motivated it’s made the audience remains to be seen. It’s not even attempted to appeal to younger girls and, as I stated at the outset, has worked to repel men at every turn, so the key to success is going to be getting women to go with their girlfriends in groups. It won’t have repeat viewers to count on since the women in the target age group likely have jobs and/or families so New Line needs one woman to convince three possibly reluctant friends that this is a good girls night out activity. If the campaign has been able to do that – and the poll from Moviefone pegging this as the most anticipated film of the summer among that site’s visitors says it’s been at least partially successful – then the movie should at least be a moderate hit.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 6/5/08: Both Jake McKee and Rachel at Behind the Buzz cover the “Carrie’s Macbook” portion of the SATC official website. I like Jake’s perspective on this being a “fourth wall campaign,” something that brings the audience more deeply into the actual world of the movie’s characters, something that he pegs (rightly) as a tactic that can greatly help drive interest and eventual sales.
  • 6/5/08: Vanity Fair put together just an insane round-up of the products and brands that appear in the movie, ranging from fashion labels to publications and everything inbetween. Some of those, like Skyy Vodka and others, were paid placements that were reciprocated with cross-promotional efforts and others were there just to add to the label-conscious focus of the movie’s characters.
  • 6/5/08: It’s just that sort of focus that, as Larisa at The Buzz Bin covers (as others have as well), makes the movie such a target rich environment for marketers.
  • 6/11/08: Bonnie Fuller at AdAge looks at “What the creators of Sex and the City know about marketing that you don’t,” an insight that seems be summed up by the idea that the character of Carrie is flawed and human, that the banter between the women was familiar and that the whole affair was just friendly. Fuller seems to dismiss the notion that the aspirational lifestyle exemplified in the movie is any sort of draw, which I don’t think is completely accurate, but other than that it’s a good article.

The best part is I actually sound coherent

Unlike some of my other appearances on traditional media outlets, I’m actually quite happy with how this interview I did for New Hampshire Public Radio turned out. I talk about things like how Warner Bros. is marketing The Dark Knight in the wake of Heath Ledger’s death, the use of Facebook in the Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull campaign and more. It’s about 16 minutes long if you have a quarter hour to kill.

Picking up the Spare: Speed Racer, Iron Man and Indiana Jones

Have a bunch of stories that have come through since the various MMM columns on the movies below were published but which should be mentioned as extensions of the campaign.

Speed Racer

Something interesting has popped up in the wake of Speed Racer’s sub-expectation performance at the box-office. Warner Bros. now finds itself in the position of needing to appease promotional partners that got far less exposure than they were hoping for by attaching themselves to the movie. The studio could even wind up offering “make goods” to those partners to get them the level of audience exposure they had been promised when it looked like Speed Racer was predicted to be a hit.

Make goods are common in the television world when shows that are promised at the upfront as potentially huge successes wind up flopping, resulting in a lot of bought and paid for ad time that never winds up happening or doesn’t reach the audience guaranteed by the network. They’re just one reason I believe the upfront model to be flawed.

The problems with maintaining partner relationships are going to be much more prevalent for those who paid for placement in the movie itself than with those who just did co-branded advertising deals.

Iron Man

The Better Business Bureau has referred two ads from Paramount Pictures that aired during shows with audiences mostly under 12 to the MPAA for investigation as to whether the studio violated the agreement not to advertising PG-13 movies to young kids.

An ad for Drillbit Taylor that ran during “Zoey 101″ on Nickelodeon and an Iron Man that aired during “Zoey” and “Drake & Josh” are the ones being specifically questioned.

The discussion of what sorts of movies are appropriate to advertise to kids is an ongoing one. The MPAA will, presumably, take all the facts into consideration and then probably not do anything at all.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Men’s Vogue has a short feature up on the maker of the Adventurebuilt, the fedora made by hat maker Stephen Delk first as a challenge for himself and then in the big show, becoming the supplier of hats to the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull shoot.

Poster artist Drew Struzan receives a loving profile in the Los Angeles Times on his long history of creating one-sheet artwork for the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises as well as countless other films. Struzan even addresses the issue of not making Ford look any younger than he actually is. I especially love director Frank Darabont’s comments about how Struzan’s artwork “honors your film instead of just merely trying to sell it.”

The LAT also talks about the push Paramount made to make Indy 4 appealing to kids who might not be familiar with the franchise. It’s also taking the tack of enticing parents who grew up on the earlier movies to bring their kids to introduce them to the hero and the movies. Of course that kid-focused campaign has found some detractors, such as the one Jeffrey Wells points to who takes Paramount to task for so many fast food tie-ins, partnerships which the complainer feels is doing nothing but contributing to the glut of obese kids.

The movie has prompted Paris’ Quai Branly Museum to pull out its own crystal skull despite the fact that it knows it has no ties to Aztec culture and was created sometime pretty recently as a fake that took advantage of the mythology that had sprung up around the skulls.

ClickZ gives Paramount’s Facebook efforts for the movie under the microscope and finds the studio did a pretty good job of marketing the film there. The movie’s fan page signed up over 62,000 fans just prior to release and all 250,000 Indy Fedoras that were offered as gifts the day before opening sold out in a matter of hours.

Movie Marketing Madness: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I made a big deal back in 2005 about how my desire to review the marketing campaign for Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith was one of my principle reasons for starting Movie Marketing Madness the year prior to that. Star Wars was – and still is – my all-time favorite movie series and the notion of writing a column covering its campaign was very alluring. I wanted to contribute, in my own little way, to the buzz on the movie as well as use that column to express my long-time fandom of the movies, even the prequel series.

But I never even entertained the notion that there would be another entry in the Indiana Jones franchise for me to cover.

Rumors of a fourth Indy movie have circulated since about a day and a half after 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade opened. There have been, in the intervening years, countless times where star Harrison Ford was said to have been prepping for a return to the role. Or where producer/creator George Lucas was finally happy with a script (something we now know to put into perspective). Or where director Steven Spielberg was clearing his schedule for an immanent shoot. But all of these have, of course, failed to come to fruition as the series’ devoted fanbase debates whether a fourth entry would be welcome, with new mysteries Indy could explore, or if they should just leave well enough alone, that Crusade closed out the trilogy by bringing the main character full circle and showing us so much of his personal life.

Myself, I almost always fell in the former camp, feeling that if Spielberg, Lucas and Ford were all excited about a new idea than I would gladly go to see it since it must be at least passably good to earn all three seals of approval.

My first memory of Indiana Jones involves seeing a promotional special for Raiders of the Lost Ark on TV, I’m not sure if it was HBO or broadcast TV, while staying with my grandparents while my parents went to see the movie. I was hooked even with that behind-the-scenes special. A swashbuckling hero with a whip and an awesome hat AND he was played by the same guy who brought Han Solo to life? Please. To my six-year old self (I wouldn’t turn seven until later that year) that wasn’t even fair.

The only problem was the snakes. Like Dr. Jones himself I had – and still harbor to this day – a fear of snakes. But, having received assurances from my parents that when they took me to see it we could sit in the back row so as to be as far away as possible (yes, I’m psychotic, let’s move one) I was sucked into Indy’s adventure as he sought to keep the Ark of the Covenant out of Nazi hands.

My last memory of the Indy franchise, at least in theaters, was of course The Last Crusade. Not only did I love the movie, but it also contained a powerful motivator but un-related reason for me to see it: The first trailer for Tim Burton’s first Batman movie was reportedly running in front of it and I was anxious to see that, having doubts at the time about Michael Keaton’s ability to play that role.

Once again, 19 years later, Indiana Jones and Batman share a summer release year. But where The Dark Knight is all about continuing the re-invention of the Batman character, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is about reviving an iconic figure with all the audience’s favorite components intact.

Once again, Harrison Ford takes up the whip and fedora as he seeks to find some mysterious but powerful object. This time, though, it’s the 1950s and its Russian Communists that are after the Crystal Skull, a mystical artifact that bestows unlimited power to whomever returns it to its rightful place.

Helping Indy out on this quest are new characters played by Ray Winstone and Shia LaBouf, who plays Mutt Williams, a young man who may or may not (but probably is – he too would be named after a dog) the child of Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood, played by the returning Karen Allen.

The interesting thing is that, as with the other Maguffins Indy and his band of cohorts have been after, there is a ring of truth to the legend of crystal skulls. There are said to be 13 genuine such skulls that were created and which hold some sort of mystical power.

As Indy said, it’s not the years but the mileage. While a lot of years have passed – someone born in 1989 has been driving for three years now – that’s but one of the problems facing Paramount’s campaign for the movie. Not only do they have to sell the movie to fans of the original AND younger folks who might not be steeped in original-release viewing stories, but the movie comes out after 19 years of evolution in film-making. They simply don’t make them like they used to, and a return to the Saturday morning serials may not hold as much water with the crowd that made Transformers a hit last year.

All that is but prelude though. Let’s begin our look at how Paramount is selling the latest movie that can say, “The Man in the Hat is Back.”

The Posters

It took a while for Paramount and Lucasfilm to get around to releasing a teaser poster for the movie. But when they did it turned out to be a great effort. Jones is shown in silhouette as he stands in some sort of ancient looking gateway, his trademark hat on and his trusty whip in hand, all images that are immediately evocative of the Indiana Jones character and films. Even the color palette of orange and brown brings to mind the earlier films.

With all that in place it accomplishes its primary goal, which is to let people know that Indiana Jones is returning to theaters in a new adventure and that everything you loved about the character before is coming back with him. He still has that slightly over-confident half-smile on his face. In short, he’s the same old Indy you loved all those years ago, just in a new story.

Aside from the title treatment the just what that new adventure is really isn’t addressed on this poster. That’s largely because, let’s face it, the one area where this movie could stumble is in the story, so it’s best to not address that just yet. This is all about evoking feelings of nostalgia in the audience and maybe, just maybe, getting the people who remembers the original series to explain to their kids what Indiana Jones is all about, thus setting the stage for a new generation of fans.

The later theatrical poster took the opposite tack, though was no less seeped in nostalgia. It’s designed very much like the one-sheets for earlier movies, with the cast of characters arrayed around the giant floating head of Harrison Ford.

Moving clockwise from Ford, we first see a giant snake slithering down the wall of some sort of temple gateway, reminding us all of the famous snake-pit scene from Raiders and the subsequent gags that play on Jones’ paralyzing fear of snakes. Next to that is LaBouf’s Mutt Williams on his motorcycle, doing a bit to not only set the shifted time setting but also establishing that there’s some new blood being introduced into the series.

Down at the bottom we get Indy in another pose that’s meant to remind us of Raiders as well as the character’s general lot in life: Running away from a group of tribal warriors and not looking quite sure how he’s going to get out of this one. Above them is the crystal skull of the title, which we’re led to assume by the positioning on the poster has some connection to that tribe. It certainly does look mystical and mysterious, with the light shining from it meant to invoke the presence of power as well.

Continuing around the horn is Marion Ravenwood, albeit a much more smiley Marion than we seem to remember from Raiders. But still, she’s there and letting us know that she’ll be back to cause some problems for Indy emotionally as he navigates all the physical dangers around him. Next to her in the “sidekick” role is Ray Winstone, who seems to be taking the position in this movie that John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah did in the first and third films. Finally, above him is Cate Blanchett, dressed as a totalitarian dominatrix. Well maybe not that, but obviously she’s the villain here.

The poster is certainly in line with the overall design and feel of some of those for the previous movies, especially The Last Crusade, which used a similar circular layout. So it brings with it a certain amount of graphic familiarity. That, added to the nostalgia created by placing familiar objects like Marion and the snake around the image and you have a poster that’s certainly meant on a lot of levels to remind the audience of the previous movies and why they loved those films.

The inclusion of plenty of new stuff in a familiar setting is likely meant to convey the message that while this might be a new movie it’s treading familiar ground and that the audience shouldn’t be worried too much about the unknown. There’s plenty that’s new there to convey, in bits and pieces, the story of the movie so it’s not ceding the entire playing field to nostalgia.

Of course the familiarity is helped immensely by the fact that both posters were designed by legendary poster artist Drew Struzan, who worked on the one-sheets for all three earlier movies, all six Star Wars movies as well as tie-in materials like books for each of those properties. He’s almost as synonymous with the Indy and Star Wars franchises as John Williams.

So, as you might have surmised, both trailers work pretty well at achieving their needed goals, specifically of raising audience awareness and passing on the feelings of both newness and familiarity through design and coloration and other means. They both fit the established Indy brand extremely well and would look perfect on a wall alongside one-sheets from the earlier movies, which is a big win for the print campaign here.

The Trailers

To say the teaser trailer was highly anticipated by the audience would be among the bigger understatements I can think of in recent history. Debuting in theaters in front of The Spiderwick Chronicles, online at Yahoo and the official site and on TV during “Good Morning America,” the build-up to the trailer was tremendous. Up to this point we had just gotten the barest wisps of a marketing campaign for the movie. The teaser poster had already been released but aside from that the campaign to that point consisted mostly of the occasional set photo and some promotional videos that appeared on the IndianaJones.com site (which we’ll deal with in full later, of course). So this was our first real solid look at the new movie and its new and returning characters.

The format of the teaser trailer should be familiar to anyone who remembers the first teaser for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The first third of the trailer’s running time is devoted to a trip down memory lane, showing us all that Indy did in the first three movies, although being careful to not to show Harrison Ford in full in any of the shots, much like he was seen just in shadow and silhouette at the beginning of Raiders.

After the character has been appropriately setup comes our first look at the new movie, a look which comes, appropriately in the same sort of slow-reveal style. We look down from high up to see Indy being thrown to the ground and then the camera cuts to a shot of his feet scuffling to pick up his fallen fedora. The camera continues up with him and we see the shadow of Indiana Jones, hat now back in place, an immediate return to how we first met him and an immediate trigger for everyone watching to shout “OH YEAH!”

The rest of the trailer, less than a minute from here to the ending, is not concerned at highlighting the movie’s story but instead is focused on selling the action set-pieces to the audience. So we see Indy and his friends running down a set of rapidly disappearing stairs, engaged in a car chase and otherwise alternately pursuing or fleeing the bad guys. There are a few minor hints dropped, the biggest of which is a military storage case that as “Area 51” stenciled on it that magnetically attracts Cate Blanchett’s dog-tags, but that’s about it.

Finally, the action gives way to an image similar to that on the teaser poster, of Indy standing against a red-lit background as the title treatment and release date are displayed.

Nothing is really explained and nothing is really laid out, but doing that isn’t the goal of this trailer. This is all about awareness raising and on that level is succeeds pretty darn well. The idea of a new movie is certainly generated in people’s minds and it’s placed well within the context of the larger series thanks to the footage from the earlier movies.

Paramount was certainly happy with the reaction to the trailer, crowing a couple weeks after its release that it had generated 200 million views in the first week of its release. It wasn’t stated exactly how it had arrived at that number or what got added up to reach it (did they count YouTube vids? Are the using Nielsen numbers for the GMA debut? These are the kinds of questions I have) but any measure that’s an impressive milestone and something Paramount was understandably eager to hype as the busy early summer movie season approached.

It was quite a well then, at least in Internet terms, before the release of the first theatrical trailer, something that didn’t happen until the first week of May in front of Paramount’s first summer release Iron Man. That put the trailer’s debut just three weeks out from that of the movie, which is seriously cutting it close.

Unlike the teaser, this trailer was all about the movie’s story. It opens with Indy explaining to someone (and sounding a little exasperated to be doing so) about the legend of the crystal skulls and the power they’re said to contain. All this is accompanied by shots of ancient temples and vine-covered walls and ghostly natives moving through the corridors of those temples. Finally we break out of exposition mode and rejoin Indy facing the same array of soldiers that we’d previously seen throwing him around.

Let me pause here and make a note: Both trailers include a line from Indy that, while not directly acknowledging his advance age, certainly play up the idea that things aren’t quite as easy as they used to be for our hero. In the teaser he swings from a warehouse rafter but fails to make it to the truck he was aiming for, instead falling backwards into another truck with two bad-guy red-shirts. When that happens he intones, “Damn I thought that was closer.” In this trailer when Ray Winstone says “This isn’t going to be easy” Indy retorts, “Not as easy as it used to be.”

I like the fact that the studio is acknowledging, at least in a subtle way, the age factor because it more or less takes the piss out of people who are going to use that to lambast the idea of a 60+ year old swinging around on a whip. It’s usually better to have a laugh at yourself before your detractors do it for you because it, on some level, allows you to maintain control of the situation. It doesn’t make it any less real of an issue, but at least you’re the one bringing it up and not them.

Back to the trailer, the rest of the spot gives us a pretty good look at all the major characters bounding around with – and against – Indy. We see John Hurt’s ragid professor, more of Winstone, our first good look at Shia LaBouf’s greaser and a little bit more of Marion Ravenwood, who again is there to provide a call-back to the first movie as she explains to Mutt Williams that she doesn’t think Jones “plans that far ahead” just before he emerges from the back of a truck with a rocket launcher. Some of the same footage we saw in the teaser is used and some of it is expanded, but not so much that this doesn’t feel like a new effort that provides a lot more detail on the movie.

The third trailer, released just about two weeks before the movie hit theaters, was not that much different from the first theatrical spot. It utilized the same format, with Indy explaining the mystery of the crystal skull before it gives way to a bevy of action sequences. The biggest addition was a single shot that showed the Nazca Lines in Peru, a formation that many believe to be the work of or evidence of alien visitation to Earth. Since aliens have long been rumored to be part of the movie’s plot it seemed logical to conclude that this was a further tip of the hat to that notion.

Online

Again I’m going to compare the movie to Star Wars, simply because like that franchise the official website is not movie-specific but instead a portal for the entire series of movies and meant to promote all four movies. Indeed my buddy Kirk Skodis even compared the look and feel of the site to a portal, albeit one that’s specifically devoted to helping you find information on Indiana Jones and his universe.

So because there’s a lot of information thrown around I’m going to try to do this in as logical an order as possible, using the menu that’s included toward the top of the page as my guide.

Our first stop (you’re going to have to imagine a the site as a map and our journey around it will be tracked with a red line. You’re welcome.) is “News” where you can find some of the major announcements dating back to early 2007, when the movie was first officially announced and moving all the way up to the release of some branded icons. This certainly isn’t comprehensive in terms of news about the movie or site updates but does include notes on major magazine stories and the release of new trailers and casting announcements and such. Unfortunately there’s no permalinks for the individual items, at least none that are easily found. I know the site has enabled deep-links but I don’t see how to access them once you’re on the site. But that’s a minor quibble.

Next up is “Adventures.” There are Adventures for each of the three previous movies in the series, with a slot open for the new entry. Diving into each one you get sort of a mini-site for that film, with a selection of still photos, videos and a brief story synopsis for the movie. There’s also an option to buy the new edition of that movie’s DVD at the IndianaJones.com online shop. Kind of cool and a nice way to bring all four movies (eventually) into a logical progression.

“The Film” offers a decent About description of the movie’s story and does a good job of explaining who some of the characters we’ve seen in the trailers and elsewhere are in case you were unsure. After that there’s a good selection of Production Notes that maybe lean a little too heavily on nostalgia, but mostly just try to place this movie within the context of the larger series. It’s not exactly hard-hitting or extremely informative but does provide not-bad background and quotes in case you were wondering whether or not everyone had a great time filming the new movie. (Spoiler: They did.)

“Cast” and “Filmmakers” are not surprising in the least, providing filmographies and biographies of the major cast and crew members, with the most important folks getting more depth and shading than the more minor players.

There’s a good amount of stills included under “Galleries” that are divided into a handful of, well, galleries. There’s one labeled Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that obviously contains production shots from this movie. You’ll also find some behind the scenes shots from filming and production under On Location & Behind the Scenes. All tallied up, though, there seem to be fewer pictures here than have been released to the press. And considering there are still plenty of open spots on the grid for each gallery that’s a little surprising. I would have thought the studio would fill that up as much as possible. There are also galleries for Raiders, Temple of Doom and Last Crusade. You can enlarge each picture, which opens a pop-up that also allows you to download the picture to your hard drive.

“Video” is again broken up into a handful of galleries. I’ll start off with Trailers, which contains not only the trailers for Crystal Skull but also teasers and theatrical spots for the first three movies too. That’s very cool and it’s a lot of fun to watch them and get a glimpse into what constituted a major trailer back in 1981. All nine TV spots for the new movie are under TV Spots, which right there makes this site a cut above most others, which decide people don’t really want to watch those or reference them at all. I’ve long said the official website should be an archive of all the movie’s marketing materials and this is a great example of doing just that.

The last gallery, at least among those that are active, is On Location. This section has played a major part in the movie’s campaign, with videos from the set being added to it all the way back in June of 2007, when the movie was just beginning shooting. These provided some of our first looks at the movie and created tremendous buzz online, with fans scouring them for glimpses of Indy and other characters and creating screengrabs for their sites so others could get a look as well. Videos range from cast interviews to compilations of Spielberg directing to the cast video that was created for last year’s Comic-Con. The release of these short videos has allowed Paramount/Lucasfilm to create an ongoing source of buzz for the fans anticipating the franchise’s return by whetting their appetite just a little bit every now and again, especially before the actual marketing campaign began with the release of posters and trailers. Some of these are obviously better than others but they all form a nice collection of spots.

Moving on, the next section is “Downloads.” There are over 25 Wallpapers that are specific to Crystal Skull, as well as a handful from each of the earlier movies as well. If you want Buddy Icons you’ll have 15 to choose from and there are also a wide selection of Posters to choose from and download, again with the entire series represented here.

Here, as well as on the site’s main page, is where you can grab the widget for the movie. I’ve had that widget here on MMM for quite a while now and it functions quite well as a mini-site. Through it you can view trailers and other video, check out photos and read news updates on the movie. There was also a contest you could enter by grabbing the widget that would give the publisher with the most secondary grabs a trip to the movie’s premiere. Paramount used that widget as a distribution platform for the first theatrical trailer as well, exponentially increasing that trailer’s reach since it now had its own little syndication network in place, a network made up of willing fans who had decided to trade site space for the ability to display their love of Indiana Jones movies.

The next section, “Community,” is really kind of cool and not something I’ve seen a whole lot of on other movie sites. It’s got a bunch of stuff to download that’s almost specifically meant for publishers of blogs and other sites as well as those with social networking sites. You can download sets of banners you can add to your sites as well as a whole package of high-quality version of posters, photos and banners. That’s kind of awesome since the studio is then encouraging fans to grab this stuff and use it on their sites or elsewhere. There are also page skins you can grab and sets of desktop icons – one for each movie – to download and start using on your personal computer. All of this gives fans and enthusiasts exactly the kind of high-quality collateral that enables them to express that enthusiasm in the best manner possible. I love it.

The movie is also on MySpace and Facebook , something that just kind of blows my mind.

The MySpace page, as such pages are apt to do, largely recreates the official site only in miniaturized form. There are pictures and posters and more to download and trailers to watch. The biggest addition is a contest you can enter by becoming a friend of the site that awards the winner a six day “Indiana Jones inspired” trip to Venice. (Cue, “Ahhh…Venice.”)

The Facebook page is kind of in the same boat. Because of the different limitations of the site there isn’t as much to download, but you still see pictures and trailers and other material like that. The coolest thing about what Paramount did on Facebook was to add Indy’s whip to the SuperPoke application that’s super-popular among users of the social network. As I explained earlier, the thing I like about that move was that they added on to a tool people were already using instead of trying to change behaviors and adding their own application.

Since they were the host for the teaser trailer’s premiere, Yahoo also has its own little Indiana Jones site going, with trailers and pictures from all four movies available there, as well as the movie’s widget.

In the final days before the movie came out, while the cast and crew were at the Cannes Film Festival (more on this below), each of the principle players did interviews on video streaming site Seesmic (I’m streaming live now, come chat!!!) something that went over like gangbusters with the Web 2.0 crowd. Ford, Blanchett, Spielberg, Lucas and Allen all had profiles created where they answered questions and generally interacted with the people there, which was a great move at the last minute. The reaction there was that this was not only a fantastic effort to make the actors and creators more approachable, but also a singular moment for Seesmic, which obviously benefited from the celebrity presences. Of course the adulation wasn’t universal, with TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington griping that he wasn’t notified of it and therefore wasn’t prepared for the technical problems to come.

Cross Promotions and Tie-Ins

My, the world has certainly changed in the last 19 years, hasn’t it? Maybe it’s my brain filtering things out to the point where I’ve become convinced the earlier Indiana Jones films were never sullied by something as crass as promotional tie-ins, but I have to think this is the first Indy movie to feature such a wide array of marketing partners and co-branded products. I know there were collectible glasses at Burger King for at least Raiders and I’m sure there were other things, but all that has been lost to the vacuum of time as I now remember them being as pure as freshly-fallen snow when it comes to be tie-ins and the like.

But instead of fooling myself like this further let’s look at what brands have signed on to help promote Dr. Jones’ return to the big screen.

Let’s start off with M&Ms. The candy brand used the cross-promotion to launch a new “Mint” flavor of M&Ms and created movie-branded packaging for both the mint ones as well as their regular milk-chocolate and peanut versions. The promotional site not only provides information on those candies but includes a pretty fun game that takes you through an adventure to find the mint M&Ms. There were also print and TV ads that put cast the M&M characters in the role of Indy. Finally, Kyle Busch’s #18 M&Ms car received a new Indiana Jones-themed makeover for the Dodge Challenger 500 on May 10th, just a couple weeks before the movie’s opening. The promotion even extended to M&Ms’ ice cream products.

M&Ms wasn’t the only partner to think that auto-racing made a lot of sense for a Jones-related promotion. Blockbuster had Marco Andretti’s #26 car re-done with an Indy/Blockbuster paint scheme for the May 25th Indianapolis 500. The rental chain took the car on a 10-city tour across the country to promote the partnership and sold both general Indiana Jones merchandise as well as that specifically created for the “Indiana Jones at the Indianapolis 500” event at stores nationwide.

Expedia highlighted the availability of trips to some of the Indiana Jones-featured locations on its site. The travel site also ran a sweepstakes dubbed the Quest for the Golden Suitcase. By playing you could win anything from movie tickets, toys, games, DVDs to a grand prize of a trip for two around the world to the places Indy has been.

Burger King used Indy’s return to the big-screen as the basis for the second of its three major movie tie-ins of summer, 2008. (The first being Iron Man and Hulk following after Indy.) The fast-food chain added Indiana Jones toys to its Kid’s Meals, with some of the toys recreating scenes from the movies and others just generally “adventure” oriented. In-store signage, especially that featuring the chain’s King character sporting fedora, along with a cross-media ad campaign supported the promotion. BK also has a scratch-off game going where people can enter their codes online for daily prizes. Finally, the chain created a limited-time Indy Double Whopper with some new sauces and such that I totally want to get because it sounds really good.

Dr. Pepper was another big partner, putting their efforts under the “Passport to Adventure” moniker. The effort, which also brought together the promotions from Burger King and Expedia, was built mostly around a 1-in-6 game involving Indy-designed cans that awarded prizes like t-shirts or movie tickets. But each prize also brought with it a code you could enter online that would lead to someone winning a trip to an exotic, Indy-esque location. Codes were also included in print ads Dr. Pepper ran in a variety of lifestyle publications. The promotional site is built like a map, showing each one of these locations along with a brief film clip from a portion of one of the movies that took place there. The soft drink brand also worked with a handful of grocery store chains to build special Indiana Jones/Dr. Pepper displays that included movie tickets or other incentives for buying specific items or a certain amount of product. It too ran TV and online ads to promote the promotion.

Disneyland also helped out by creating “The Summer of Hidden Mysteries” that seems to be built solely around Indiana Jones. Guests to the park are given special maps that take them around and about to various locations where they can shop or watch a stunt show and collect clues that, when put together, give the guest access to exclusive online downloads.

Major League Baseball even got involved, putting Indy’s face on the May 22nd date on all its teams online calendars, something I first saw on Chicagoist but which AOL’s Fanhouse blog also noted and was not a big fan of, saying it messed with the integrity of the game. Personally I think this is about the least intrusive way they could have structured a deal so I don’t have a problem with how it was executed. In fact I thought it was kind of cool and a nice way to reinforce the movie’s release day among sports fans without running an annoying banner ads. People certainly were going to pay attention to the face of Harrison Ford staring out at them, so it’s a good effort I think.

There was also plenty of licensed product support for the movie, with Hasbro and Lego handing the toys, Random House, Scholastic, and DK publishing a series of tie-ins and other printed material for the movie and Hallmark creating ornaments, greeting cards and other products for sale in its stores. Lego even created another video game encompassing the first three movies much the same way it did for the Star Wars trilogy. There’s also an online side-scrolling game you play to get a sense of what a Lego Indiana Jones would look like.

Finally, a mobile game from THQ Wireless has been created to get the younger audience’s interest and start immersing them in the world of Indiana Jones.

Advertising, Press Coverage and Other Media

The advertising for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was…well…it could have been as unavoidable as Iron Man’s ads couldn’t it?

Most of the paid ad campaign is pretty straight-forward. As archived on the official site, there were upwards of 10 TV spots created. Most took the same kind of tone as the theatrical trailers and featured, for the most part, footage we had already seen in those trailers. Each spot took a slightly different route, though, with some featuring more Mutt or more chases or whatever. Most all of them offer brief glimpses of scenes we hadn’t seen previously, but it’s usually just enough to make us want for even more. The spots were pretty common, at least based on my TV viewing, in the last two weeks or so prior to release, likely waiting until the Iron Man campaign was dying down to really start a major push.

I also came across a handful of online and outdoor ads in my travels through the virtual and real worlds. I’m not sure what the overall ad campaign entailed but it seemed to be pretty widespread without being annoying, with movie ticket sites like Fandango also running their own Indy-branded ads online.

The outdoor campaign may not have been all that big in Chicago, at least downtown where I just saw a few posters, but it was apparently huge in New York and Los Angeles. Paramount draped a giant ad for the movie outside of New York City’s Madison Square Garden and reportedly blanketed Los Angeles in billboards and other outdoor signage for the movie. The entire out-of-home campaign is said to have included 2,000 installations of various types.

In terms of other media that are being released in an effort to promote the new movie there are three major components.

The first is the re-release of the original trilogy on DVD. I received a review copy of the new box-set of the three films and have to say that, purely from an enjoyment point of view, this set blows the 2003 editions out of the water.

On the original release there were no bonus features on each movie’s discs. Instead, a handful of retrospective featurettes and some assorted other material were put on a fourth disc that was included in the set. While they were very good, they weren’t quite as in-depth on each movie that I think fans were looking for.

This new set corrects that problem. The movies themselves are the same, even down to the menu animation on each disc. But each movie now gets its own set of features. That includes an “Introduction to…” featurette that has Speilberg and Lucas talking about that movie followed by some sort of behind-the-scenes look at a specific aspect of the film. So the Raiders disc, for instance, has a whole thing devoted to the “Melting Face” special effect. Similar features appear on each disc along with photo galleries and other media related to each movie. There’s also a PC-playable demo of the Lego Indiana Jones game on each disc.

I greatly prefer having the special features on each disc as opposed to a separate one, both for the depth it can offer as well as for the fact that I can then more fully immerse myself in each film’s story and background.

The second major component, also appearing on DVD (but which I did not receive review copies of) in the months leading up to the new movie, were three volumes of the “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV series from the early 90s. This is a huge coup for fans of the franchise as the series released a scrambled and overall sub-par VHS release back in the late 90s or so when the trilogy received a new, re-mastered VHS release. The new DVDs were well stocked with material that explores the historical truth behind the locations and events a young Indiana Jones finds himself tangled up in the middle of.

The third component was taken care of by Dark Horse Comics, who not only released the official comic adaptation of the new movie but also released the old 80s and 90s series in their “Omnibus” format, putting each story arc in chronological order based on the events portrayed. For those of us who remember those old series this is a great item, almost a must-have on the same level as “Young Indy,” if you want to own the archeologist’s complete adventures.

The movie, since it’s such a huge event – this is the return of a popular culture icon at the hands of some of the biggest names in Hollywood, after all – has been helped tremendously by some media coverage that, if you ask me, negates the need for much of the advertising that’s been done.

Positive pieces celebrating the genius of the filmmakers and the importance of the movies have appeared in Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly and Empire Magazine, to name a few. The Vanity Fair piece treads the same ground as Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, being given a not-at-all hard-hitting interview story that’s accompanied by gorgeous Annie Lebowitz photos from the set.

Again, I’m not saying that this coverage isn’t deserved or earned (indeed it defines the phrase “earned media” in public relations terms). What I am saying is that the eyeballs that are going to see the magazine covers with Ford, LaBouf, Spielberg and Lucas on them are roughly equivalent to the eyeballs that are going to be exposed to some of the advertising that’s gone on.

The Sci-Fi Channel also created a conveniently timed special, hosted by Lester Holt, on the legend of the crystal skulls that aired just days before the movie opened.

Not to be outdone by third parties, an official Indiana Jones magazine was launched, with the premiere issue covering the new movie debuting the same day the movie’s been released.

The filmmakers also made the decision to give Crystal Skull the biggest of big stages on which to debut, taking the movie (out of competition) to the Cannes Film Festival, making it the premiere for the film instead of something more traditional in Los Angeles or New York. That brought out a lot of skeptics who believed it would suffer from the critics there for serious films who were just waiting with sharpened knives for a popcorn action movie that they could savage. Mostly it was compared to The DaVinci Code since it made the same move a couple years ago, getting savaged by critics before going on to make $300 million-plus at the box-office. Reaction after the screening, though, seemed to be mostly positive, with many of the critics giving it props for being fun and adventure-filled even if it doesn’t come up to any level of fine artistic statement-making or anything.

Overall

From the moment it was announced that the movie was shooting, through the first look at Harrison Ford on the set to the revealing of the title and up through the last TV spot that was released this campaign has been all about reinvigorating the Indiana Jones franchise, one that’s been dormant for almost two decades.

Looking over the campaign from top to bottom I’m hard-pressed to find something that Paramount and Lucasfilm did especially wrong. They consistently walked a line between invoking feelings of nostalgia in the older audience and creating an allure around what might be viewed as a dusty old franchise in the younger audience.

I think the posters were well-designed, the trailers were well edited and did a good job of re-introducing a old characters were brought into the fold. The Website was nicely put together and nicely tied all four films together into one narrative, giving old-time fans plenty to look over at the same time they were able to check out the new movie. And the movie certainly doesn’t lack for promotional partners, many of which took the same approach they would for a more naturally younger-skewing film.

Some have labeled the campaign for Indiana Jones as “inescapable” but I think compared to some others this early summer movie season it’s downright subdued. Others think Paramount seriously bungled the campaign but I think there are problems with all the alleged mistakes that are pointed out there.

I think they did a great job of appealing to all audiences with a campaign that occasionally poked fun at itself at the same time it presented an epic return of a truly epic adventure. Yeah, I’m naturally inclined to like the movie since I’m such a fan of the character and the earlier movies but even so I think this is a great campaign for a movie I’m looking forward to immensely.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 5/27/08: Men’s Vogue has a short feature up on the maker of the Adventurebuilt, the fedora made by hat maker Stephen Delk first as a challenge for himself and then in the big show, becoming the supplier of hats to the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull shoot.
  • 5/27/08: Poster artist Drew Struzan receives a loving profile in the Los Angeles Times on his long history of creating one-sheet artwork for the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises as well as countless other films. Struzan even addresses the issue of not making Ford look any younger than he actually is. I especially love director Frank Darabont’s comments about how Struzan’s artwork “honors your film instead of just merely trying to sell it.”
  • 5/27/08: The LAT also talks about the push Paramount made to make Indy 4 appealing to kids who might not be familiar with the franchise. It’s also taking the tack of enticing parents who grew up on the earlier movies to bring their kids to introduce them to the hero and the movies. Of course that kid-focused campaign has found some detractors, such as the one Jeffrey Wells points to who takes Paramount to task for so many fast food tie-ins, partnerships which the complainer feels is doing nothing but contributing to the glut of obese kids.
  • 5/27/08: The movie has prompted Paris’ Quai Branly Museum to pull out its own crystal skull despite the fact that it knows it has no ties to Aztec culture and was created sometime pretty recently as a fake that took advantage of the mythology that had sprung up around the skulls.
  • 5/27/08: ClickZ gives Paramount’s Facebook efforts for the movie under the microscope and finds the studio did a pretty good job of marketing the film there. The movie’s fan page signed up over 62,000 fans just prior to release and all 250,000 Indy Fedoras that were offered as gifts the day before opening sold out in a matter of hours.
  • 6/5/08: The Indiana Jones-themed spot for M&Ms topped the list of AdAge’s most-liked spots for the period between April 21st and May18th based on Nielsen research numbers. Sega’s Iron Man video game spot topped the most-recalled list for that same period.
  • 6/5/08: 600,000 copies of the box set of the original Indy trilogy at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club came with coupons people could redeem for a free ringtone of the Indiana Jones March theme song. The campaign was successful not only at getting people to grab the ringtone but also to a lesser extent at spurring the purchase of additional downloads.
  • 10/2/08: The movie’s DVD release is being promoted in part through a partnership with pizza chain Papa John’s, who’s putting the poster art on pizza boxes and including a coupon for the DVD with orders. The chain is also running a series of TV spots for the promotion and will host video clips on their website.

“And you know what, I’m trying really really really hard to cut back on the number of times I try heroin … a day.”

Before I get into things, let me just say that the comments and emails I’ve gotten telling me how much people enjoy MMM have meant a lot to me. They’ve been very encouraging and have played a large part in my thought process about the future of this site.

Now as to that future, here’s where I’ve landed after thinking it over for a week or so:

I love writing Movie Marketing Madness. But the realities of a full time job, a full time family and all the other things I’ve committed myself to means I’m not able to devote the daily time to it that I really want to, at least not if I intend to compete against other sites that are quicker to “news” items than I can realistically be. Here’s the thing, though: I have little to no desire to actually engage in that competition. It’s not all that exciting a prospect to me and I have no intention of bringing on other writers as – and I fully admit this is an ego thing – I prefer to keep MMM to myself. Everything here is from me, not a staff, and I like that positioning.

So here’s how things are going to move from here: I will continue to write my full Movie Marketing Madness campaign review columns as well as the occasional longer piece, whether it’s on something that just occurs to me or some bit of industry trending or whatever. But I think I’m pretty much done with trying to cover every new trailer and poster release, instead devoting my resources to making sure I have everything I need to eventually cover X movie’s campaign in a long column the week it comes out.

I’m also going to be spending a bit of time making sure the house is in good order, so to speak. That will include making sure all my FilmThreat, Brandweek, iMedia and other writings are archived here so that MMM is as complete and accurate a record as I can make it. It also means I’m going to spend some time categorizing everything from the days MMM was on Blogger so that if you’re looking for everything I’ve written about Dreamworks, for example, you can find it easily. I’ve begun this process, appropriately, at the beginning, with Movie Marketing Madness: Shrek 2, the post of which is dated the same day it first appeared on FilmThreat.

All of this happens as we hit and approach two milestones in the life of Movie Marketing Madness. The first one is actually today. MMM: Shrek 2 was published on May 21, 2004, four years ago today. So it’s a good way to celebrate that occasion.

The second will happen later on today (or tomorrow, depending on scheduling) when I publish my MMM column reviewing the campaign for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That column will be #200, which is kind of amazing.

So again, thank you to everyone who dropped me a line and encouraged me to continue on. I hope that by changing around the format and thinking behind this site of mine I can provide more quality to the conversation instead of just churning out quantity, playing a game I can’t really win.

–Chris

LOTD: 5/20/08

  • Sybase says that it’ll have “corporate class email support for the iPhone” maybe as early as this year, according to Macworld UK (TB)
  • The WSJ‘s Peter Sanders writes about news that Disney is set to close down its Virtual Magic Kingdom, and the challenges it is facing from its fans. (TB)

Time off for some thinking

I’ve reached a point where I feel like I need to make a decision on the future of MMM. I just need to figure out where it – and I – am going and how it’s going exist moving forward. There are things I want to do, there are things I don’t want to do and there are realities of my life outside the blog that must take precedence. Work, family and church are all important to me and I need to align my responsibilities in those areas with what MMM means to me – indeed I need to figure out what exactly MMM means to me and why – in order to be the person I would like to be.

So I’m taking a week off from posting in order to, as Bono says at the end of Rattle & Hum, dream it up all over again. Talk to you all later.

–Chris

A few housekeeping notes

Just wanted to share with you all a few quick notes about things here at MMM.

First off, I had been planning on writing an MMM: Prince Caspian column for next week but have decided not to. There are a couple bits of thinking behind this. First, Indiana Jones 4 comes out the week after that and that column is going to need some prep time. Plus, Speed Racer was column number 199 and I kind of like the idea of saving #200 for Indy. Seems fitting.

Also, I’ve taken out the Iron Man widget from the far right sidebar since that movie has opened now. In its place are two new widgets, one for Quantum of Solace and one for Hancock. The Hancock widget comes with a contest that lets you accumulate points for every page you post it on (you have to register but can grab the widget without doing so) and how many other people grab it from you.

That’s about it. Just wanted to keep you all up to date, especially my RSS readers who may not see the widgets on the site.

–Chris

Movie Marketing Madness: Speed Racer

I’ll start off, in the spirit of complete honesty and transparency, with an admission: I do not really share the “Speed Racer” cartoon as a cultural milestone with many of my peers. I think I might have caught it a handful of times in my younger years but it never held my interest to any extent. So while I’m familiar with the general concept (Young and extremely appropriately named young man tries to drive fast while assorted bad guys attempt to thwart him in his attempts to drive even faster) I cannot sing the theme song word-for-word, my first cartoon crush was not on Trixie (I would never cheat on you, Scarlett) and I just generally don’t know the world as well as some others of my generation do.

It’s that audience that Warner Bros. seems to be selling this big-screen adventure of Speed Racer to. At least it’s one of the audiences they’re aiming at. After all, nostalgia is a powerful motivator (cough, Transformers, cough). The movie, which has been directed by theWachowski Brothers of The Matrix Triilogy fame (or infamy depending on where you stopped watching), seems to follow the same basic outline of fast driving and outside interference as the cartoon. Emile Hirsch stars as Speed, with ChristinaRicci as Trixie and Matthew Fox as Jack Racer X, who must lead them off the island who seems to hold the secrets of the greedy corporate interests trying to derail Speed. If, that is, he ran on rails. Cars don’t generally. Unless you’re talking about theme park rides. I may be digressing.

The other audience being sought by Warner Bros. is actually young kids. Visually the Wachowskis have laid out a movie that’s like the trippiest video game ever, with the pumped-up brightness of everything in the film and a camera that never seems to stop moving so fast the background becomes a brightly hued blur. Also, the filmmakers delivered a finished product that’s been rated PG, meaning anyone can get in to the theater without a problem.

The only problem is that the lighter rating has the potential to turn off some of the Generation X audience who might be looking for something that’s a little darker or more violent in their nostalgia (cough, Transformers, cough). But it’s likely the combination of the two audiences could compliment each other, with enough younger kids coming in for the visuals to offset anyGenXers who decided to skip it and go see Iron Man for the second or third time now that they know to stay through the entire credit sequence.

Before diving into the movie’s campaign formally let me share something I said to Tom last week, something that might bode ill for the movie’s prospects: No one is talking about Speed Racer. At least it doesn’t seem to have a fraction of the online buzz Iron Man does. While that movie was positioned largely as an action flick more than a comics adaptation – at least to the mainstream audiences that was what the campaign looked like – it also targeted the same people who obsess over comics and related cultural trivia. And it’s coming just two weeks before Indiana Jones, which is also making a play for theXers who were teenagers when the last installment came out.

Unfortunately for Speed Racer there’s just enough of a lull after Iron Man for Indy to build some last minute momentum. So because it’s not first out of the gate and isn’t the return of an iconic film character Speed might suffer from the exhaustion of an audience catching their breath between gigantic campaigns. That unfortunately is borne out in numbers collected just days before the movie’s release that show it tracking very poorly and potentially losing the weekend to Iron Man should that movie remain strong.

But nothing is set in stone and I’ve been wrong before so let’s just look at the campaign WB put together.

The Posters

The first poster appeared a while ago, showing just the title character’s mid-section as he grasped his helmet in his hand. No face or anything like that, just the helmet with the Mach 5 in the background. While this was very cool to look at online it was even cooler in theaters, where the poster waslenticular and moved as the viewer moved around it. Eventually Warner created a page that simulated that effect for the online audience.

It’s not much but it did certainly set the stage for the rest of the campaign, of which it was the first major element, I believe. The branding was there, alerting people that the movie was coming, and it conveyed the style of the visuals pretty well. The motion of the poster also set the stage for people to expect that speed would be the central focus of the push, with a campaign whose every element would try to include that sense of motion.

Next up were a series of character posters. There was one for Speed, one for Trixie and one for Racer X. Each one is color-coded based on the character’s wardrobe preferences and features their transportation of choice in the background. These were pretty good but, while they’re very exciting to look at with their popping colors I don’t think they do a lot to increase the connection between the audience and the characters. That’s simply because they’re the one character-centric component of a campaign that otherwise is focused on visuals. Still, they’re not bad and would definitely have been a noticeable omission if they hadn’t been created.

Further emphasizing my point, it’s almost impossible to find any human beings on the final theatrical poster. The central component of this one-sheet is the Mach 5 as it speeds around a curved and looped track with Racer X’s car in close pursuit. The people are in there somewhere, but the focus visually is on the car and the track, with everything else being drowned out by those two items. Again, this is a good poster that conveys the movie’s central focus well, but it’s counting on snappy graphics to bring people in.

And right there I think you have a sense of how this movie is differing from most of the other tentpole releases this summer: It’s the only one that seems to be sublimating character for visuals. Iron Man, The Dark Knight, heck even The Incredible Hulk have all taken pains to make sure it’s the character every bit as much as the special effects that are drawing people in. I can’t help but think it’s this sterility in approach that’s contributing to the lack of buzz around the movie and its poor tracking. People are engaging with the characters that they’re seeing as more fully fleshed out rather than something that just looks wicked cool.

The Trailers

Unsurprisingly, the first teaser trailer (though it didn’t really tease much so that’s not a completely accurate description) opened with some cartoonish graphics and the first few bars of the cartoon’s theme song, making it clear this was going to be a nostalgia effort. After that, though, we’re thrown into the action. We get glimpses of all the major characters, including John Goodman as Speed’s father, SusanSarandon as his mom and Ricci as Trixie. The trailer gives off the impression that even the live-action elements are as much a cartoon as the computer-driven special effects that dominate the racing sequences. There’s a little hinting at some sort of conspiracy to keep Speed down by a corporate bigwig but that’s about it before the trailer is over.

The second and third trailers are virtually interchangeable. Neither one goes all that much deeper than the first one did into either character development or story points. Again, there’s a conspiracy that’s hinted at more than anything, with Speed intoning that he has “to do something” but what he’s railing against isn’t made all that clear. Racer X continues to act more than a little mysterious, but no reason is hinted at whatsoever as to why he’s such a shadowy figure. Each one features some new racing footage and it’s all very impressive but the live-action stuff is just about the same between the two.

The fourth and final trailer finally breaks out of the mold a bit. It starts off showing Speed as a young child in school with his teacher frustrated that driving fast seems to be the only thing he’s capable of thinking about. Believe it or not this is substantial character development for this campaign. There’s a little more divulged about the corporate powers that are intent on getting in Speed’s way of becoming the best racer ever, which also makes this trailer a cut above the rest of the pack.

Taken altogether, it’s really easy to cut out those middle two spots. They don’t add all that much more than the first trailer revealed and weren’t as meaty in terms of story revelation as the final one so they don’t contribute much to the campaign. About all they seem to be intended to do is show off the graphics and visuals of the movie, both of which you can see pretty clearly in the bookend spots or even on the posters. But the visuals are a major selling point for the movie so it’s easy to see why the studio would want to highlight them as much as possible, even if nothing is actually added to the audience’s understanding of the film in the process.

Online

The first thing that appears on the official site – which is chock full of content even before you “Enter” – is the trailers and TV spots that begin playing as soon as the site loads. Two trailers and two TV spots are right there in the middle of the page player.

Also there is a Synopsis that actually dives into the story and characters more than I would expect, Downloads that include a handful of Buddy Icons and Wallpapers and a Gallery of about 20 pictures or so.

Also on the page is plenty of information on how to spend your money on the Speed Racer brand. There’s information on the movie’s IMAX release, something that’s likely to be a big draw for those really looking to experience the movie’s look and feel. Also is a link to the official site for the movie’s video game and a mobile store where you can find games and other swag for your mobile device.

Finally before we go into the main site is a link to the movie’s Facebook page. There’s not much there that’s all that exciting, just some wallpapers and other stuff you can download and big ads for some of the movie’s tie-in partners and a couple of videos.

OK, let’s enter the site.

You’re presented with two options for entry, one if you’re a kid one if you’re an adult. Going the adult route first you’re then shown the worst website background ever, a spinning red and white spiral that even caused me to feel like I was having a seizure in the two minutes it took for the content to load.

“Trailers” contains a scant two trailers, one of which is the International version that caused so much of a ruckus when it was released a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure why all the trailers wouldn’t be there, but that seems like a silly place to skimp, especially with all the money that was likely spent on that background that keeps spinning around and around. You can download both trailers, which is a nice touch, but it’s not enough to make up for the lack of content.

Seven posters are included under “Posters,” including two character one-sheets that I hadn’t seen before. For a change you can actually download these by clicking on them, which opens up a pop-up, and then right-clicking.

“About” contains both the same synopsis we saw earlier and some Production Notes. While the Prod Notes look great, it’s impossible to read them with that stupid swirling going on in the background so I couldn’t honestly tell you if they’re any good or not. You’ll find the usual Cast and Crew notes under “Bios” and a list of site updates (but no RSS feed) under “News.”

“4 Min. of Footage” is exactly what it sounds like, a four-minute clip from the movie.

The same gallery of pics we saw before is contained under “Photos” while “Art” has some cool Concept Art and Storyboards you can check out. “Downloads” is again pretty much what we saw before, but with the addition of iPod-ready videos you can grab.

Rounding out the site is a section leading you to all the promotional “Partners” of the movie and a “Coloring Book” that seems oddly out of place on the adults section of the site.

If you go back to the main page and re-enter the site, this time choosing the Kids option, you’ll get more or less the exact same content. Only this time it’s presented with an old-school Turbo-esque video game look to it. You can access content at random by clicking on the billboards that you speed past or just mouse-over the car’s dashboard and select from the labeled button and levers you see there.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

For Joel Silver, the producer of the movie, the realm of product cross-promotions is relatively untrod territory, largely because he’s used to creating R-rated action movies that don’t lend themselves well to such efforts. But in his first outing he’s gone all out, including giving partners access to movie artwork – specifically images of the Mach 5 – early in the process, something that let them get a jumpstart on their individual efforts and give the studio more time to provide feedback.

It should come as no surprise that the partners that signed on to help promote Speed Racer in the hopes the positive brand association will rub off on them skew heavily toward companies related to the automotive industry. There are others, to be sure, but the automobile vertical is heavily represented here.

AutoTrader.com helped out in a big way. The site ran a sweepstakes that awarded the winner $30,000 to use toward the purchase of a car on one of its sites or through one of its print publications. The site also gave tickets for the movie to those buying a special kind of premium ad listing and even created a fake ad for the Mach 5 that ran on the site. It also took a replica of the Mach 5 to three Major League Baseball ballparks in the weeks leading up to the film’s release.

Also in the automotive realm was the deal with B-K Motorsports and Yokohama Tires. B-K’s Mazda LMP2 car was decked out in movie logos and the drivers even sported uniforms meant to resemble that worn by Speed. Yokohama was using the deal for its part to promote its high-performance tires – indeed they were named the “official” tire of the Mach 5 in the same way such racing deals are done – in an effort that included a co-branded commercial you can view on the Yokohama site.

Insurance company Esurance had its own efforts going. A co-branded site featured the movie’s trailer as well as other video content including an exclusive collection of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the movie’s cast. As with many of the rest of the promotions there was also a sweepstakes with prizes including a trip to the movie’s premiere.

They also created a co-branded TV spot that pitted esurance’s spokes-cartoon Erin against Speed Racer’s Mach 5 in a race to a movie theater.

It would make sense for the race car circuit to get in on the game as well, wouldn’t it? Well that’s just what happened, with Bobby LaBonte’s #43 Cheerios car sporting Speed Racer paint at the Crown Royal 400 race a couple weeks before the movie’s release.

One non-auto-related company joining the cross-promotional push was shoemaker Puma, for which this was the first major movie-related deal they’d struck. Puma created a Speed-Racer branded shoe and promoted that shoe – and the movie – in-store with trailers and signage, as well as its own sweepstakes.

Warner Bros.’ corporate sibling Time Warner Cable did its part to promote the movie by tying it to its RoadRunner high-speed internet service. TWC started running spots that pointed viewers to a Speed Racer branded site where they could view view trailers and other exclusive movie content as well as play games and enter a sweepstakes to win a Mazda Speed 3. TWC could also access a 20-minute fake documentary on the Racer family that was put together by the studio and which will be available on DVD exclusively at Target stores.

Another Time-Warner property, AOL, also helped back in December when the trailer for the movie was set to make its debut. AOL’s Moviefone had the exclusive premiere of the trailer and on the same day the first real photos from the film were shown off at Cinematical, which is owned by AOL. In the days after that the trailer would be promoted on the AIM welcome page, with other sites in the AOL network also getting the word out about the trailer’s appearance.

Going back to Target, the retailer is the movie’s official retail partner and creating in-store and print ads that feature the Speed Racer products it’s selling as well as offering special gift cards that come packed with a USB flash drive pre-loaded with exclusive movie content.

In terms of pure advertising, the studio has been running a steady stream of TV spots and also doing a bit of outdoor advertising as well. Like I always mention, it’s dangerous to draw assumptions from personal experiences, but I don’t watch much TV and I’ve seen a ton of commercials. Likewise I’ve seen buses and bus shelters around Chicago sporting Speed Racer ads and character posters for the last month or so leading up to the release.

Speed Racer was also one of the movies included in Warner Bros. deal with National CineMedia that had the studio creating exclusive packages for NCM’s pre-show FirstLook block of content. Standees like this one were also placed in theaters across the country that, as you can see, take the movie’s poster and expand it into three dimensions.

MTV also worked with Warner Bros. on a promotion on MTVN’s cable properties that had two components. One was a text-to-win trivia contest, with winners being sent to the movie’s premiere where they could compete for a real Mach 5 by racing remote-control cars. The other part has MTVN channels speeding up the promos they run for other shows on the networks as well as “shaking” the sites for those networks while the movie’s trailer plays.

Overall

It’s hard for me to contextualize the Speed Racer campaign. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it or with any particular component of it. Far from it I think there’s some excellent stuff in there. Yeah, the trailers were too many and the website gave me an extra-sized headache. But those are minor stylistic quibbles.

I won’t belabor the point of Iron Man sucking the wind out of Speed Racer’s campaign, but it’s certainly a factor that has to be considered when it comes to buzz and word-of-mouth surrounding this push.

But the campaign, when judged on its own merits, is a good one. It hits most of the notes it needs to for the audiences that are trying to be reached and does so with the best selling points it has to offer. I’m not sure it’s great, but there’s certainly nothing “wrong” with it that could be identified. Yeah, the trailers got kind of repetitive and the website design gave me a whopping headache, but those are aesthetic quibbles that certainly don’t have an objective point of view.

If anything, I think I would have liked to have seen more things you could do online with the Speed Racer brand. Some more interactive features that really got you involved in the world of the movie and the characters would have gone a long way to creating the very connection that seems to be lacking from many of the campaign’s components in favor of a focus on the car and the visuals.

Other than that it’s a completely serviceable campaign that, unfortunately, seems to have failed to break through the clutter caused by other movies and other entertainment options in general.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 5/27/08: Something interesting has popped up in the wake of Speed Racer’s sub-expectation performance at the box-office. Warner Bros. now finds itself in the position of needing to appease promotional partners that got far less exposure than they were hoping for by attaching themselves to the movie. The studio could even wind up offering “make goods” to those partners to get them the level of audience exposure they had been promised when it looked like Speed Racer was predicted to be a hit.
  • 5/27/08: Make goods are common in the television world when shows that are promised at the upfront as potentially huge successes wind up flopping, resulting in a lot of bought and paid for ad time that never winds up happening or doesn’t reach the audience guaranteed by the network. They’re just one reason I believe the upfront model to be flawed.
  • 5/27/08: The problems with maintaining partner relationships are going to be much more prevalent for those who paid for placement in the movie itself than with those who just did co-branded advertising deals.
  • 6/18/08: Anne also has a good post-mortem on Speed Racer, identifying problems that plagued Warner Bros. in marketing the movie. There’s a hefty list of reasons, ranging from not deciding to embrace the 14 year olds the movie was clearly made for to the fact that those 14 year olds had no idea what Speed Racer was, all of that with a movie that was obviously aimed at younger kids.