Movie Marketing Madness: Get Smart

I love the old Don Adams-starring television show “Get Smart.” I have a lot of fond memories of watching that on basic cable back in my early/mid-80’s childhood, where it was mixed in with rerurns of “The Munsters,” “I Love Lucy,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and other staples of classic television. The whip-smart writing that accompanied the slight bits of actual spy intrigue made for a potent combination in my mind and certainly fit in with my burgeoning appreciation for writing and delivery being key components to making entertainment actually entertaining.

So it’s with a little bit of trepidation that I’ve been anticipating the release of Get Smart as a feature film. This new, updated version stars Steve Carell of The 40 Year-Old Virgin and “The Office” as Maxwell Smart, a CONTROL analyst that’s recruited into being a field agent when all the others are uncovered and killed by KAOS. Helping him out, of course, is Agent 99, with Anne Hathaway filling Barbara Feldman’s shoes in that role. Rounding out the cast is The Rock as Agent 23 and Alan Arkin as The Chief, a bit of casting that might actually be the most perfect match of actor and role ever.

It’s not that I think that Warner Bros. is messing with an iconic franchise that they’ll likely screw up. I’m kind of going into this assuming it won’t hit the same notes the TV show did, but that’s alright to some extent. What I am hoping for is that the talent involved was able to retain the spirit of the show without taking things in either too much of a slapstick or too much of a technologically slick direction. Carell’s casting as Smart has me feeling good about this new version since his ability to actually act – much of that coming through subtle expressions and the occasional mumble – lends itself well to the feel of the property that I remember.

Let’s look at how Warner Bros. is selling this new movie to an audience that may or may not be familiar with the property.

The Posters

There were, in actuality, five posters created for the movie, but there are some addendums that need to be factored in when counting them properly.

The two teasers were actually variations on one theme. The first showed Carell and Hathaway posing for the camera but with Hathaway’s hair blowing in Carell’s face. The implication being, of course, that Maxwell Smart couldn’t even manage an imposing posture without having something come along and make him look like an idiot. But then the studio released a version that reversed the roles and had Carell’s tie blowing into Hathaway’s face, the implication there being that he still couldn’t do anything right, only this time he was inadvertantly interfering with his partner. Either that or WB realized Carell was the bigger draw of the two and so created the new version, I can’t be sure.

The same dual approach was used on the two theatrical posters. This time the camera was a little closer to the characters and the background changed from basic white to a shiny metal that looks a little more tech-centric, like they’re in a headquarters or something. Considering these were essentially the same images of the actors we had seen before the real message of the posters was, in fact, that the actors couldn’t be bothered to participate in more than one photo shoot. That was just reinforced by the fact that these images pop-up sporadically throughout the campaign.

There was also a fifth version created and released closer to the movie’s release that included not just Carell and Hathaway but Arkin and The Rock as well. I couldn’t find this version online anywhere but it showed up as an outdoor ad around Chicago’s loop a bit and was used in a bit of online advertising trailers. The background is the same, it’s just there are more characters.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer really didn’t amount to much but did serve to whet appetites a bit and hint at things to come. It’s largely made up of Carell first rising into and then trying to exit a phone booth, a direct tie to the classic television series which used a phone booth in the opening credits. After that there is a brief introduction to the other players and their characters and then a couple of brief scenes that serve to show that yes, as we expected, Maxwell Smart is not as clever or stealthy as he thinks he is or tries to be.

Trailer number two was definitely more story-oriented. It opens by introducing Terence Stamp as the head of KAOS, the evil organization that is threatening the world and taking out all of CONTROL’s agents, necessitating Max becoming a field agent. We get looks here at more familiar stuff from the show, including the series of closing doors and a new and improved version of the Cone of Silence. Then there’s more bumbling misadventures (and an only partially dressed Anne Hathaway. There’s also quite a bit of actual action before Carell more or less ends it with the iconic “Missed it by that much” line.

The third trailer is not all that different – there are maybe two or three slight changes – from the second. Neither, really, is the fourth, which features one major additional set piece.

The fifth one, though, was substantially original. Debuting on MTV.com about the time the lead trio from the film was appearing on the MTV Movie Awards, it mostly foregos any attempt at story and instead is mostly about just the sight gags and action. Even then, though, there are a few things that sneak in from the old show, such as Max asking the Chief if he’s “thinking what I’m thinking.” It’s probably the weakest of the three original spots because of the fact that it doesn’t feature much in the way of story points but still manages to be quite funny.

Online

Loading the official website brings up a page that has two of the trailers that were released right there. They’re labeled “Trailer 1″ and “Trailer 2″ but if you follow the number scheme from above this is actually, I think #s 3 and 5, but I’m not going to pick nits over that. At the bottom of the page is a scrolling bar of content but that’s probably going to get replicated inside the site so let’s just go there.

When you do enter the site you’re presented with the option to proceed either as an agent of Control or one of KAOS. If you pick Control you’re taken down the hallway and into the phone booth and then into headquarters. You’ll see all the characters standing around, but clicking on them doesn’t bring you to any new content, just brings them up to the front of the screen and sends the figure that was there into the background. All of the content is housed under the menu at the bottom, which is how we’ll continue.

“Story” contains a brief, though pretty well written Synopsis as well as 14 pages of “Production Notes.” Unlike most multi-page sections like this, though, each page doesn’t have its own heading and is simply labeled Page 2 and so on, which I think is going to be pretty intimidating to a lot of people and turn off reading. By giving them some labels the Notes could have been much more attractive and engaging.

“Cast” has the usual offerings of biographies and backgrounds on the major players in the film. Each actor has their side in the movie’s conflict next to their name, and if you click on someone in KAOS while you’re experiencing the Control portion of the site it kicks you over to the other side, something that’s a little annoying. But the stuff is actually written nicely so if you can get past that you’ll be fine.

“Filmmakers” is pretty much the same deal, only without the team affiliations.

There are Wallpapers, AIM Icons and Posters in “Downloads,” as well as Ecards. The Ecards bit is nice since they seem to be changing as time goes on, originally launching in early February with Valentine’s Day messages but now featuring “school’s out” kind of messages that you can send to your friends. Nice job of keeping that updated.

Far from being a complete archive, “Video” just has the same two trailers on the front page as well as a trailer for a mobile game that was released. “Photos” has, obviously, a bunch of stills, most of which have already been released.

“Promotional Partners” has links to all the promotional partners (natch) for the film, as well as to sites that ran contests and such. Most of those will be covered below.

Up in the upper left-hand corner of the site is a little ticker that shows different sites that you can visit and it’s there where we’ll now turn our attention.

One of those is Control Vs. Kaos. The site looks like a community board/contest type of thing and that’s largely what it is. But it’s also a way to get people enlisted as operatives and get them involved and engaged in the marketing of the movie. There are challenges for embedding trailers and finding swag and news about upcoming publicity appearances and such. It’s actually kind of cool once you figure out what it is. The effort, which included street-teams, was managed by Streetwise, a firm that specializes in these sorts of things.

There’s also Control Versus Kaos (are you sensing a trend?), which lets you pick a side, create a quick profile and see how the teams are stacking up against each other. Once you’ve created your profile you can grab an embeddable badge that identifies your team affiliation.

One of the bigger things they did was create a YouTube contest (now closed, obviously) that encouraged people to submit videos of themselves passing shoes from left to right to someone else while reciting one of the show/movie’s iconic lines. The contest awarded one winner a trip to the movie’s Los Angeles premiere. The page turned out to be pretty popular, with over 1.4 million views of the main instructional video being logged as of the time I looked at it. The page also contained a couple of the trailers and a handful of TV spots.

A couple weeks before the movie’s released Warner Bros. put a seven minute or so clip from the movie, with an introduction featuring Hathaway and Carell, on iTunes as a free download. This complimented other clips that were released elsewhere and was a very neat thing to do in order to show off the movie’s innards a little bit, so to speak. That was part of a larger partnership with Apple that had the cast doing in-store appearances at Apple Stores in New York City and some iTouch devices that were given away to journalists that came with Get Smart content already loaded on them.

The movie’s Facebook fan page is heavily tilted toward being an outlet for the promotional partners Warner Bros. lined up. There are widgets and badges for QVC, Subway and others on the page interspersed between things like agent badges and links to the trailers and such. Not a bad effort, but definitely not the most inspired either.

Over on the MySpace page the theme is customization based on your affiliation with KAOS or Control. You can choose which experience to enter and the page changes accordingly. There’s also the ability to apply similar themes to your own profile and if you do you’re entered into a contest. The page also has links to a couple of the games and quizzes and such. On the day of the film’s release, ads for it created a roadblock on the main MySpace page as well.

All of that wasn’t the extent of the social networking, though. There was also a very cool page created on Bebo that included a very cool movie-themed Friend Counter

Most of the official site’s content was available through a widget that could be added to your site or social network profile that is available on the official site whenever you click the “Share” link that accompanies most all of the content.

Advertising and Cross Promotions

Warner Bros. has lined up an impressive roster of promotional partners for the movie, most of which have also been integrated into the plot of the film as well.

Subway is one of those that is featured in the film and will be helping to promote the movie. The sandwich chain has created in-store signage and redesigned its 32-ounce cups with movie imagery. It’s also created an instant win game that you can play online by collecting clues in stores for a chance to win a variety of prizes. It’s also co-branded ads promoting the promotion through the end of June, a couple weeks after the movie’s opening.

You’ll likely see redesigned bottles of Sierra Mist featuring the cast of the movie, specifically The Rock. The bottles contain the newly created “Undercover Orange” flavor of soda and The Rock will star in commercials for the drink, as well as other in-store materials.

Vespa maker Piaggio has partnered with the studio to promote their little scooters at a time when gas prices are rising, something the company hopes resonates with audiences. The promotional site links to Subway’s, and the two are further linked by the fact that anyone who comes in and takes a test drive gets a $5 Subway gift card. Piaggio also will be doing online, print and in-store advertising for the movie and the partnership.

Swiss Army will promote its placement in the movie – you can already see a bit of this in the iTunes clips that was released – with a round of print ads as well as materials at retailers around the country.

Two companies that were pretty closely tied with their promotions were QVC and beauty product company Peter Thomas Roth. PTR created a “Get Smart Un-Wrinkle Me” kit that was available exclusively through the shopping network. The QVC page for the movie also featured one of the trailers.

Hamilton Watches and Visa also are listed as partners but don’t have anything obvious on their sites, leading me to believe their deals are mainly focused around product placement in the movie.

By my count there were four TV spots created for the movie that range in effectiveness from pretty good to alright. There was also a bit of online and out-of-home advertising done, but not an excessive amount, at least not based on what I saw, as well as in-theater standees that featured all four main characters.

Some pre-feature packages from National CineMedia incorporated footage from the movie – specifically the scene of The Rock breaking the cellphone of David Koechner – into one of the “Please turn off your cellphone” spots.

Overall

There’s a lot to like about this campaign. For one thing, there’s a really strong brand identity that runs through it, one that for the most part puts an emphasis on the conflict between Control and KAOS and asks the audience to choose a side in that conflict.

I do like the focus the studio obviously placed on the web, especially the interactivity that was built into a lot of those elements. It shows that they clearly thought the best thing to do was to draw the audience into the movie’s universe, something that could do a bit to overcome the cultural gap between those who are old enough to know the old show and those who may have heard about it but never really saw the show.

I also think the strongest part of the campaigns are video-based. The trailers are all pretty funny, the seven-minute iTunes clip was great, as were the other clips – especially the one where Alan Arkin says, “Were you thinking a giant swordfish almost went through my head?” That, along with Robert Downey Jr.’s “No, I’m just kidding, throw it up” might be the two best-read lines of the summer.

Overall there are some really strong parts but some weak parts, in all honesty, as well. I would have liked to have seen some variation in the posters, but that’s a minor problem. Overall this is an above average campaign that does what it can to revitalize a property for a new generation.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 6/25/08: Variety has a good story about the generational awareness gap that exists for the Get Smart franchise and how Warner Bros. tried to bridge that, attempting a campaign – and movie – that would appeal to both longtime fans and younger audiences without the existing knowledge of the old series.
  • 6/25/08: I forgot about this when writing the column, but Warner Bros. is releasing a direct-to-video movie featuring Bruce and Lloyd, the two techies who keep Control in gadgets, called Bruce & Lloyd: Out of Control. Her’s the synopsis: Get extra spy-spoof hilarity when Get Smart’s bungling inventors Bruce and Lloyd stumble into their own comedy adventure in a zany story. The R&D smarties are out of the lab and way out of their comfort zones as the scramble to find a nifty new invention they’ve somehow lost.
  • 6/25/08: Adweek has a feature on the efforts by David Brown Entertainment to come up with something interesting and relevant for Sierra Mist’s cross-promotional spots for Get Smart.

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