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.