Movie Marketing Madness: Wanted

In the fifth season of “Angel” there’s a scene that was Wesley delivering some mystical weapons to seemingly bad people. Helping him with this is Fred, and when she brings one of the guns out the bad guy remarks on how hot he is. In retort she says something along the lines of “Wow, a man turned on by a woman holding a big gun. How unusual.”

I bring this up because it’s exactly this..let’s say tendency…that Universal is more or less counting on with Wanted.

The movie tells the story a slightly loser-ish cubicle monkey played by James McAvoy who has his life turned upside down when an assassin played by Angelina Jolie tells him that his father used to also be an assassin and that he’s meant to be one as well. This leads to an adventure that has him discovering his destiny as Jolie shows off just how well she can handle a big gun and just how flexible she is as she contorts her body to avoid oncoming traffic and other problems.

The movie is actually based on a graphic novel but, to my understanding, it excises a big chunk of the source material’s story. In the movie these assassins are simply keeping the balance of power in check or something, but in the comic the group wiped out super-powered individuals, creating a world without heroes but, in their mind, a world without the threat those super-powered people would turn bad one day.

The Posters

The first teaser poster Universal released definitely played into the “chicks with guns are hot” idea by showing Angelina Jolie, in very artistic black-and-white with her tattoos on full display, brandishing her very large sidearm. Her pose seems to be contemplative and dark and all the weird symbols, from the tatoo patterns on her arms to the engraving on the grip of the gun, all allude to their being some sort of secret society at work here. Since Jolie is one of – if not the – main selling point in the movie the use of her on the poster makes the most sense, though I’ll admit I was a little disappointed a whole series of character posters – each with more mysterious symbols – weren’t created. That could have created a whole set that created a larger sense of atmosphere.

The theatrical poster again puts Jolie and her arm-art and big-honkin gun at the forefront. This time, though, her pose is more ready-for-action than deep in thought and we see a little bit more of her. McAvoy joins her this time, with dual guns ready for action. Both of them appear before a high view of a city, giving the impression that their reach is far and wide.

One thing about the poster is the fact that McAvoy gets listed first, but on the poster he’s the smaller of the two people. Jolie is last in the above-the-title credits but she’s the focal point of both posters. And Morgan Freeman, who’s listed second here, isn’t even given a big floating head.

An alternate version of this poster was actually given away at one of the Comic-Con gatherings, at which time I said it likely would not be the same design that wound up being used on the theatrical poster. This should prove that I am often very, very wrong since that’s exactly what wound up happening.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer gets right to the point. McAvoy ambles up to a drugstore counter and is approached by Jolie, who promptly shoots someone who appears to be targeting them. She then grabs him and takes him to meet Freeman and the rest of the fraternity, where he learns how to do that cool bullet stuff and break out of his nothing life. It’s heavy on Freeman’s narration on how important that group is and on showing off a number of the movie’s action set-pieces and does a good job of setting the tone for the rest of the campaign.

The theatrical trailer started off with much more action, showing McAvoy running around a parking lot with Jolie in her hot red car, eventually leading to a chase that shows her performing that cool flexible thing out the car window to avoid a truck. That moves into him being indoctrinated into the fraternity and a montage of many of the same scenes we’ve seen before. There is a little bit of dialogue that alludes to the problems McAvoy’s character has with what he’s being asked to do but that’s it. The rest is all guns and adrenaline and Jolie looking hot.

There was then a third and final trailer. This starts off with the same tone the first one did, showing the pointlessness of McAvoy’s life before bumping into Jolie. Then it’s more training with guns and such and then the same sort of set-piece showing off that has dominated all the trailers. This one will show up just about everywhere else and is obviously the one most favored by Universal.

There’s also a redband trailer that more or less looks and feels like the initial spot that was released. The main difference, beyond the addition of a few bits of new scenes showing some violence and one clip of Freeman saying someone should “shoot this MFer,” is that all the bullets we see loosed in the first trailer we now see connecting with their targets. That’s often accompanied by a bit of blood, including when the one goes through the guy’s head in dramatic fashion.

Online

When you pull up the official website you’re a good amount of options right there on the main page.

Before entering the main site – which there are two ways to do – you can watch the first trailer, which is also available to share via code for either a blog or a social network page.

After that is how you can access most of the site’s age-restricted content, including the redband trailer. There’s also a pretty cool “From Comic Book to Screen” featurette that compares the source material to the movie. It’s the sort of thing that you would expect to see on the DVD. Finally there’s a selection of Russian promotional material in the form of a handful of trailers.

Next down the line is a link to the Fraternity of Assassins Facebook application/game. It pits you against other friends on the site that have installed the app in shootout-type contests. The app also has the Curve the Bullet and Panic Attack games that are available on…

…the widget you can grab that not only contains the games but also trailers and a story synopsis.

Finally at the bottom there’s a number to text in order to enter a contest awarding video game goodies and movie-branded swag on the mobile social network Zannel and a link to publisher TopCow’s page on the original graphic novel, which is heavy with movie news.

So let’s go ahead and enter the site.

The first thing you see is a bunch of small pictures of the main characters. Mouse over the one you want to choose and you’ll see it expand for that character. Clicking the link takes you to a full biography of them, including information on things like weapon of choice, parts of the mythology that apply to them and more. It’s one of cooler features I’ve seen like this and provides a good background foundation for those in the audience who might feel weighted down by what’s going on in the movie’s story.

Most of the site’s content, though, is housed under that little bug in the upper-right-hand corner. Click that and a menu expands with the usual content sections listed.

“Story” is actually a pretty cool description of the movie’s plot. That’s because it sticks to describing said story and doesn’t devolve into becoming just a credit block. It lays out who everyone is and what happens to them on the way very nicely, providing a good starting point for people to familiar with the movie before deciding to see it.

Not much to say about “Cast & Crew” – it’s pretty much the standard stuff about the major players in the movie.

Far cooler is “About the Film” which contains extensive information on how the movie traveled through production, including sections on the design of the Loom of Fate to the story’s translation from it’s comics origin to the special effects and more. All well-written and engaging and most of the sections actually contribute to the reader’s appreciation for the movie, which is a bit unusual.

Unfortunately “Video” is a bit disappointing, containing just one trailer, the same one that’s on the front page of the site. There are 20 still photos from both the film itself and some behind-the-scenes shots within “Gallery.”

You’ll find four Desktops, an AIM Expression and eight Buddy Icons you can grab and use under “Downloads.”

Finally, “Training” contains both the Bullet Curve and Panic Attack games, both of which are a lot of fun.

A short while before the movie’s release, portions of the Internet went crazy for what was being called a viral video of some random office worker completely wigging out and trashing his office. It was later revealed to be a stunt from director Timur Bekmambetov and developed by him as an effort to highlight the movie’s message of breaking out from the drudgery of office life. I’m not sure I completely get the connection, but it seems to have worked to some extent by simply getting people talking.

There was also a site created that played into the a couple of the key themes of the movie. The Fraternity of Weavers (also found at FraternityofAssassins.com) site explored the history of weaving and its cultural significance. It’s actually kind of neat in execution, including links to Wikipedia entries and other pages that provide background on the ideas the site forwards, namely that we can link weaving and civilization in general together, an idea that is deeply engrained in the movie.

The movie’s MySpace page recreates a lot of the content from the official site. You’ll find there the trailer, some photos and a handful of downloads. Likewise the Facebook fan page doesn’t have a whole lot more than that same stuff, but does add a promotion for the Facebook game into the mix. There was also a MySpace for the movie’s soundtrack.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

One of the biggest shots in the paid media campaign was a Super Bowl spot that aired this past February. The spot’s footage draws largely from the trailer that had been released at this time. But the audience targeting – a movie about big guns, both of the metal and Jolie variety – and with lots of cool special effects is a perfect fit for the Super Bowl audience.

Universal also partnered with online music service Rhapsody on a contest that let people create a video featuring their own remix one of composer Danny Elfman’s tracks from the soundtrack. The winner will have his video included on the DVD release of the film.

There’s a “Most Wanted Videos” section on video site Break.com that’s sponsored by the movie. Again, that fits with the target audience since Break is commonly known as a guy-oriented site.

Media

Much like many of this summer’s other biggest releases, Universal has used a series of extended clips from Wanted as part of the publicity campaign, something that is lapped up by bloggers like they’re kittens with warm milk.

There are quite a few such clips that can be found around and about online. Universal also used the MTV Movie Awards last month to premiere a new one, which seems a bit odd considering I don’t know how far MTV’s audience these days includes the over 17 set, which is the only group that’s getting in to this R-rated flick.

The last such clip was released just a few days before the movie hit theaters and was age-restricted, something designed to convert any last minute stragglers that yes, the flick was that hard-core and that they should go see it after they drop their kids off at WALL-E.

In a major coup, at least if you’re hip to the online scene, the studio lined up TechCrunch to host an exclusive preview of the movie, something that resulted in a number of posts about Wanted in general and the event in particular appearing on theuber-popular online technology site.

Overall

At first I was a bit tempted to call the campaign “one-note” because of the constant use of the same clips and images from the movie, but I’ve decided it’s “consistent” instead. It’s a lot of fun and certainly makes a strong case for being an entertaining action film if not something that’s going to require a lot of deep concentration or anything. But it knows what it’s selling – Angelina Jolie and a lot of special-effect-laden gun-play – and it makes sure the audience knows that those two things are prominent throughout the flick.

While there are things I can identify as missing from the campaign – more character posters and a little bit more backstory in the trailers – I can’t count any of them as actual flaws because of that singular focus. It hit its key points over and over again, knowing just where to find the target audience and how to make the movie appealing to them. It’s certainly a strong option for action-seeking adults who feel inundated by WALL-E buzz this weekend.

And that makes the campaign a success.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 7/9/08: An MMOG (massively-multi-player-online-game) has been created that mimcs the “fraternity” idea from the movie, enlisting people who can rise through the ranks of the organization. It was actually released before the movie, according to the story, and was a component in the online buzz-building effort then.
  • 9/4/08: A pair of posters for Wanted have raised the ire of the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority, saying that the appearance of Angelina Jolie and lots of guns on the posters glamorized the idea of violence to young people. Universal responded by pointing out the elements on the posters did contain those things, but that doing so simply reflected the movie’s comic book roots. The regulatory group eventually conceded that the posters might be offensive to some but were unlikely to cause widespread public harm.
  • 2/9/09: Common is reprising his weapons-maker role for a new video game based on the movie. I’m a little surprised it’s coming out so loate but there must still be a market for this.