There are numerous pieces written whenever a new movie from Pixar is about to hit theaters about the studio’s vision, their superb storytelling ability and the way they’re able to craft movies that turn out to be darn near masterpieces every time out. All of this is, of course, true. Their movies notonly are wonderfully written and beautiful to look at but they also studiously avoid the “let’s just have a mouse say a line from The Godfather because that’sfuuuuunny !” trap that animated films from almost every other studio latch on to like it’s gold and they’re not going to let that rabbit or the genie try to take if from them.
What also impresses me time and time again is that Pixar consistently creates original films, going against conventional industry wisdom that it’s all about sequels and franchises that can be easily marketed, easily sold to promotional partners and easily sold to shoppers roaming up and down the toy aisles atWal-Mart. While everyone else is running as fast as they can to find some property they own and can resuscitate, Pixar defiantly tells the story the people there want to tell and not the story they think will sell the most action figures. The studio’s history is littered with movies that were not seen as commercially viable, from the first Toy Story to its most recent, Ratatouille, which couldn’t find a fast-food partner willing to put plastic rats in its kids meal boxes.
They are, in other words, the definition of creative chutzpah. And I kind of love them for it.
The latest film, the one that brings us here today, is WALL-E. WALL-E tells the story of a maintenance robot that has been tasked with cleaning up Earth, a task it’s been diligently performing in the hundreds of years since humans abandoned the planet as it became too polluted to be inhabitable. But WALL-E has developed a sense of his place in the world and begun longing for companionship. One day a ship lands near him and he eventually encounters the human remnant, embarking on an adventure that will let him take on the role he was meant for.
Amid a summer heavy on movies that have been marketed, sometimes inappropriately (cough, Iron Man, cough) at young audiences, let’s see how Disney/Pixar is selling this one.
The first teaser poster that was released was pretty simple. It just showed WALL-E himself standing there in what we would come to recognize as his customary inquisitive pose, with his head tilted to one side. There’s not much to it – it’s just the robot against a white background – but it communicated to the audience the key selling point, that this robot is incredibly cute. Really that’s all that needed to be said up-front in order to hook audiences. This is a character that is not only a robot (appealing to boys) but is cute and funny (appealing to girls) and certainly doesn’t look like anything that would do anything offensive (appealing to parents). Plus, it’s incredibly easy to visualize the character as a toy to play with, something that increases the audience’s connection with the poster and, by extension, the film itself.
A second teaser one-sheet served the purpose of transitioning the audience into the idea that there was actually a story to the movie in addition to the cuteness. WALL-E stands on top of a pile of garbage and stares longingly – those eyes of his are designed in such a way they can convey just about any emotion the audience sees fit to assign them – into the open space above him. It does a great job of establishing a base point for WALL-E’s emotional journey in the movie as well as making sure the physical setting was conveyed. I especially like the appearance of a cooler behind WALL-E, a little nod to the workman-like nature of his job, at least that’s the way I read it.
The theatrical poster spoke more clearly to the movie’s plot and definitely took a more sci-fi angle in selling the audience. WALL-E is still front and center, but this time he’s placed amidst the refuse he’s tasked with cleaning up through eternity. In the background is the ship that disrupts his routine, which just looks very cool, and above him flies EVE (her name isn’t on the poster, we just know that), another robot that becomes a central figure in WALL-E’s journey, both physical and emotional, if such a thing is possible for a robot.
The title treatment on this poster is, surprisingly, right in the middle of the real estate, above WALL-E’s head. The Disney andPixar logos are right there as well as the movie’s title and the release date. At the very top is the copy, “From the humans who brought you ‘FindingNemo’,” reminding audiences of the studio’s rich history of family-friendly and yet immensely entertaining films.
There’s a nice little arc that you can see if you watch all three trailers one after the other. They progress nicely from each other and follow the same sort of slow revealing of the movie’s plot points that was used in the poster campaign, creating a strong sense of a campaign that’s in harmony with itself and not working at cross-purposes.
The first teaser trailer devoted about half its running time to an overview of the Pixar history. We’re taken by Andrew Stanton through the early days of the studio as he recounts the brainstorming session between the main players there that resulted in the rough sketches that would eventually become A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc, FindingNemo and, finally, WALL-E. When the story hits that mark we’re shown the first bits of footage from the film, but really it’s very much a teasing glimpse. All we see is a brief shot of WALL-E cleaning up some garbage and eventually looking up into the stars. It’s not much, but it’s really not meant to be. Instead the goal here is to place WALL-E within the broaderPixar picture and associate it with those other movies, most all of which are now firmly entrenched as modern classics. We’re told, essentially, that the same genius that brought us those movies is also at work here. That has the effect of already creating the mindset of this being a great movie.
The second teaser also does a bit of brand association between Pixar as a whole and WALL-E. The famous Luxo, the lamp that comes on-screen to eventually take its place as part of the Pixar logo, does his thing as usual. Only this time his bulb goes out. It’s at that point that WALL-E treads out to replace the bulb. After accomplishing that he heads on his way back but knocks over the “R” at the end of the name and decides to go ahead and turn himself into that “R.” Again, this is all about associating the movie withPixar’s previous works and it’s pretty effective at doing just that.
After that introduction is over we once again transition into movie footage. It’s pretty similar to what we saw in the first spot, but with the notable addition of a look at the descending spaceship that will bring with it a disruption of WALL-E’s existence. Title cards interspersed within the footage let us know that the little robot has been performing his task for 700 years but that, after all that time, he’s about to fulfill his true destiny.
The theatrical trailer does the least bit of setup, instead diving right into the story. Because it has more room to breathe it also contains the most footage and most fully conveys the movie’s story points.
We start out with a bit of narration about how humanity has left Earth and put its clean-up in the care of this tiny, but very curious, robot. WALL-E is shown trying out things like ping-pong paddles and fire hydrants and even a bra. But along with thatcuriosity , we then see, is a profound sense of loneliness, something that’s exemplified by a scene of him watching an old movie and then seeming to fold his hands in prayer. It’s as if he’s asking for some sense of companionship. Shortly thereafter he has his prayer answered when the spaceship arrives and another robot – a slick littleiPod -looking thing named EVE – disembarks. Their relationship goes from her shooting at him to the two of them holding hands before she’s snatched back up by the ship, which WALL-E latches on to. After that we’re introduced to the human occupants of the mother ship, occupants which seem to have transported their culture of over-consumption to their new home. There’s then a series of scenes showing WALL-E engaging in some sort of mission to communicate something or get something done – it’s never really explained but it’s clearly something the human leaders aren’t thrilled about.
When the trailer debuted I felt – as I still do – that it’s filled with Judeo-Christian overtones and messages. From the prayerful stance he takes to the idea that WALL-E is reluctantly chosen as the one to lead the remnant out of their aimless wanderings, it’s pretty clear to me that there WALL-E is being setup as a Moses/Aaron sort of character. That’s only amplified by the notion that he’s fulfilling his mission despite the aggression of the corpulent captain who wants to maintain his control over the lives of both the humans and the robots on his ship, making him the Pharaoh surrogate in this story.
And notice I’m not even mentioning the fact that the robot WALL-E meets is named Eve? Or that it’s obvious these two could live on the polluted Earth as if it were a garden paradise until they’re forcibly expelled? Nope, not even mentioning it. But honestly, you can of have to be willfully avoiding the issue if you don’t see these themes poking through what’s presented here.
While much of the rest of the campaign is meant to present the movie as an attractive option not just for kids but for adults as well – a theme that’s persistent throughout much of the media coverage surrounding the film – the official website is clearly and definitively an effort that’s all about the younger set. That shouldn’t be all that surprisingconsidering it’s put together by Disney, but does create a bit of a contrast for someone who is looking at the campaign as a whole and not just at one component or another.
The first stop, either on the menu at the top or among the options that WALL-E throws out when he comes on-screen is “Build-A-Bot.” The feature takes you inside the factories of Buy-N-Large to build your own robot. Pick a torso, pick a way for it to get around and so on and then try out your creation on a game that’s specially designed for its characteristics. If you don’t feel like going through the creation process you can also just skip that and go right to the games, which is nice if you don’t have a lot of time or the desire.
“Games” has a handful of games to play, most of which are contextual to what we’ve seen in the other parts of the campaign so far. For instance Space Escape has you navigating WALL-E through space with the help of a fire extinguisher. Treasure Round-Up has you driving WALL-E around the spaceship to pick up things like flower pots and other items like the ones we see him goofing around with in the trailers. There’s also Cup Shuffle, but only tourists fall for that, and a link to more information on the console video game that’s available.
You’ll find the latter two trailers as well as some, but not all, of the vignettes that have been released within “Video,” the next section of the site. I’m a little disappointed to not see the teaser spot there considering that’s my favorite in a number of regards, but I can actually see why they wouldn’t include it. Remember that this site is designed more for kids and the first spot is going to be more attractive to adults since one of its goals is to position the movie as a safe choice for parents to make and part of the adult-leaning cinematic traditionPixar has established. There’s also a video called A Hero’s Journey, which is just a brief introduction to the main character and the movie’s premise. It’s pretty basic but it’s not bad if you need some background.
You’ll find a handful of pictures in “Gallery.” It’s not much but it definitely reinforces just how beautifully the movie has been designed and drawn.
Under “About” you’ll find a nicely written Synopsis and some Production Notes that, as of now, are still said to be coming soon. But the Synopsis is great if for no other reason than that it kind of fills in the gap of why EVE has to leave Earth, something that never quite comes through in the trailers.
“Downloads and Widgets” is surprisingly sparse, with an admittedly large number of Wallpapers and some AIM Icons to download as well as a Widget to grab and add to your blog or social network profile that contains pictures, video and more from the full site.
“Mobile” has directions on how to get WALL-E content and a game on your mobile phone. The game seems to be exclusive for Verizon Wireless devices, at least that’s how I’m taking the presence of the Verizon logo there.
I’m going to deviate a bit from the top menu and go back to the windows that WALL-E has thrown out. To this point the two have been more or less parallel but there is some deviation.
The first section that’s here but not there is “Characters.” You’re taken, when you click on it, to the bridge of a starship where the main robots that populate the movie are. Click on one of them and you get a brief backgrounder as well as the technical specs for that robot. The information contains some plot points that, again, help fill in some gaps that the trailer and other parts of the campaign have not so far.
The other two sections that are unique to this area are options to “Explore WALL-E’s Truck” or “Explore the Axciom.” Both take you into those respective transportation units, where there isn’t really much to do. If you find hidden items you’re taken to games or to a clip, but those things are found elsewhere on the site as well. What they do is take you into the movie’s universe just a little bit more, but the lack of something to actually do in those areas tells me it’s still designed with the youngest kids in mind.
Advertising and Cross Promotions
There was, as you would expect, a pretty significant advertising campaign that accompanied the release of the movie. A good deal of this was in the form of TV spots but there was also a bit of online advertising as well.
One of the first major salvos in this paid media campaign was a Super Bowl spot. The commercial was actually only about fifty percent devoted to WALL-E, with the remaining 50 percent taken over by Toy Story stars Woody and Buzz. The spot had the two of them eating popcorn on a couch and talking about the latest entry to thePixar universe, this character WALL-E. It was a pretty good spot, but it goes back to the idea that Pixar /Disney was actively trying to place this latest movie amidst its legacy of film by giving it the tacit endorsement of its two original stars who are still among its best-loved creations.
Disney lined up a number of promotional partners for this movie, which lends itself better to such efforts than Ratatouille likely did.
The first is BP. Yes, that BP, the gas company. The link on the movie’s official site take you to BP’s kid-friendly site where there are games to play and other activities to engage in that make you think that gasoline and fossil fuels are just the best, most thing ever. Hook them while they’re young, right?
Leapster, the company that makes those interactive games for the younger set, ran a sweepstakes on its site awarding a trip to Pixar’s studio’s. The page there also helpfully reminded visitors that there was a Leapster WALL-E game available.
The National Raisin Company created a downloadable WALL-E game to play that tied into branded packaging that was available. I have to say this sort of thing, because it has legs beyond just the movie’s opening date, is among the better cross-promotional deals I’ve seen. Very nice effort.
Oral-B’s page just promoted the fact that it had created toothbrushes and toothpaste with WALL-E on them.
Battery company Rayovac ran a simple “send in proof of purchase” promotion that exchanged said items for a rolling toy of the main character.
The government site Safercar.gov is also listed as a promotional partner, but I don’t see anything on their site about the movie.
Among the “WALL-E with…” spots was one that had him playing with a basketball that aired during the NBA playoffs. I’m not sure if this was an actual cross-promotional spot but it more or less served the same purpose as one, hence its inclusion here.
Bulk retailers Sam’s Club included a trip to the movie’s world premiere as one of its summer Gift Packages that shoppers could win. The “Animation-Lover Dream Vacation” included travel to Los Angeles then on to Pixar Studios.
NASA of all entities even got in on the action. The organization used the movie as a platform to launch an education initiative to school kids on the realities of space travel. Disney created a WALL-E starring public service announcement, a video that was meant to drive kids to NASA’s website. NASA’s California operation also launched a display of the most recent rovers and other technology to tie the story of the movie to the reality of the space program.
One of the major components of the campaign was the release by the studio of clips and images from the movie. This ranged back to the very first release of a teaser image back before Ratatouille was released through the release of all sorts of character spots that paired WALL-E with objects like magnets and a vacuum cleaner. Most of these were featured on the official site, but each one got heavy coverage in the online press as excitement for the movie built, which was exactly what the studio intended.
Buy & Large
One of the more interesting things Pixar did to promote the movie was to create a full identity for Buy & Large, the corporation that more or less rules the movie’s universe and which made WALL-E and the other robots. The really went the full nine for this, creating a corporate website that included B&L products to buy, information on the available robot models and more. If you didn’t know any better you might actually think this was an actual company. It includes a press room and everything just to complete the illusion.
Some videos were created that extended the story, including a commercial for the WALL-E model, an introduction to the other robots that were available and more. On the movie’s official site there was a spot on how the company could meet all the luxury needs of the customer base.
One of the components of this aspect of the campaign that got the most coverage was the release of several posters that were designed to look similar to 50′s-era advertisements for futuristic products. Posters were created for some of the robots and other aspects of the Buy & Large corporation. The retro-style definitely evoked real efforts in the past of real-life companies – including Disney itself – and also had the advantage of being similar to other promotional efforts from Pixar, most recently the pre-release artwork the studio released from Ratatouille.
This sort of tactic is not only a lot of fun but it’s also definitely meant more for the adults who are going to be aware of what’s going on and who can enjoy experience.
Pixar has, as usual, put together a great top-to-bottom campaign. As you probably know, I’m a big fan of a consistent brand identity being built and in this case that identity is built around the character itself, which is a nice way to achieve that goal. WALL-E and hiscuriosity are all over this campaign, from the TV spots to the vignettes and even to the posters. It’s easy to create a connection with the character since that sort of wonder at the unusual is exactly the same which is seen in kids and makes them so lovable.
The only problem I have with the push is that it’s a two-sided and creates a bit of confusion in the mind of someone looking for a consistent experience. Where the trailers and posters are selling one movie, one that might be a bit more geared toward adults and has some real cinematic themes to explore, the website is solely about selling one that is a silly little comedy about a wacky robot. Neither is really better than the other, but they’re certainly distinctive. It makes it hard to look at the campaign as a whole since it’s split so identifiably.
But that doesn’t get in the way of this being a solid campaign that, above all, emphasizes WALL-E’s place in the Pixar canon. Most all the components are entertaining and engaging and, most importantly, make the viewer want to learn more about the movie and the character and that’s exactly what it should do.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 6/25/08: Game maker THQ shipped the video game tie-in to the movie early to maximize its promotional impact on the theatrical release. The game largely recreates many of the key components of the movie and includes a tie-in to videos that have appeared on Disney.com.
- 6/25/08: A Twitter message from Lish Dorset tipped me off to the fact that Pixar had, in the words of Tom Biro, dropped some madd coin on a ton of gifts you could give on Facebook. The gifts, as you can see, included images from not just WALL-E but all the other Pixar movies as well.
- 7/9/08: Pixar has given a shout-out to a woman who created a YouTube video showing herself crying at the teaser trailer for WALL-E. The woman was given some Pixar memorabilia and invited her to the movie’s wrap party and everything. It’s a very cool story, the kind of thing that reinforces the notion that Pixar is far from a faceless corporation.
- 7/30/08: Rob Walker discusses the marketing of WALL-E, specifically the portion of it that involved the fictional Buy-N-Large corporation. And he nicely ties that to the notion that much of the movie’s design was inspired by Apple’s products, including Eve, who looks like a more angular, floating iPod.
- 8/29/08: WALL-E has been co-opted by Greenpeace for use in a new campaign that’s meant to highlight the tremendous waste of natural resources that goes on in the production of tissues and other similar products. It’s not an actual tie-in, but the character that’s part of the campaign is unmistakeably inspired by Pixar’s environmentally conscious robot.