I was going to write something about how Imax is still missing the point and fumbling in their attempts to respond to the controversy swelling about the size of their screens, but Peter Martin at Cinematical basically sums up my thinking.
Download PDF: MMM_253_Terminator_Salvation
If there’s one thing that I’d encourage you not to do, it’s try to figure out where Terminator: Salvation fits in with the timeline of the installments in the franchise that have come before. Just don’t. From what I understand of the plot of this new movie it kind of cobbles together bits of the plot from Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and creates a mythology that fits in with some parts of those movies but not others and completely ignores “Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles” TV show completely because hey, it’s a TV show and of necessity needs to create its own free-standing mythology, at least as it pertains to what would come after it chronologically.
Terminator: Salvation picks up the story in 2018, several years after the events of Rise of the Machines. But some of the things young John Conner was expecting to take place have not and, in general, events are unraveling in unexpected ways. It’s still 11 years before Conner will send one of his lieutenants, Kyle Reese, back in time to 1984 to prevent the robot’s attempts to kill his mother before he’s born. So there’s still a long road ahead for him to lead his resistance against the machines.
In this installment Conner is played by Christian Bale, looking to either cash in on or burn off the goodwill he’s accumulated among fans with his portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne in the last few years. It’s a tossup. And it’s directed by McG, who’s looking to find a franchise he can make into his own after running Charlie’s Angels into the ground, which was admittedly a pretty short trip.
I’m getting a little snarky here but I do have high hopes for not only the marketing campaign that we’re about to review but also the movie itself.
Comic-Con 2008 saw the release of the first official teaser poster for the film. It’s not much, at least not in terms of being anything surprising. Just the familiar metallic skull with the menacing glowing red eyes. But its main purpose was to whet the appetites of the folks both at the event and then online and it pretty much achieved that goal.
Next to be released was a one-sheet that once again used the basic idea of the Terminator’s metallic skeleton but twisted that notion just a bit. The skeleton was actually being formed on this one from the ruins of a bombed-out city map. That might sound pretty cool in and of itself it got a very cool execution online, with an animated version being released that started off with just the map but then had explosions forming the eyes and the rest of the face’s shape slowly coming to form
After that came a series of posters that featured various nasty looking Terminators in various positions, most of which were probably not pleasant for the humans on the other end of their boom sticks.
One of those posters eventually got sandwiched in-between two similar looking images of the humans in the cast, one of Christian Bale and one of Sam Worthington. I think these were available individually but mostly they appeared in a triptych format.
All the posters are certainly consistent with each other, with all featuring the same sort of color scheme and background look, that of a muted battlefield of some sort. I also think they work at appealing to a new audience than the last two entries have. Their campaigns have been all about the slick look and feel. But this one is more raw and I think it’s a much better approach for today’s audiences.
Let me try to explain what I mean.
Right now there’s a very anti-polish movement taking root in Hollywood and in the entertainment culture in general. If you look at recent reboots, remakes and sequels most are taking their characters back to a more raw place. There are exceptions to this, of course (I’m looking at you Star Trek) but mostly it’s felt that audiences are connecting more with what are perceived to be more “realistic” because they look more gritty, with less cartoonish violence and a more grim on the heroes. Those heroes too often are featuring less clear moral guidelines, willing to make calls that would garner disapproving glares from Superman and more upright characters.
So these posters very much play into that ideal to a great extent and so are ideally suited to the current societal mindset.
The first teaser trailer was released right around the time of the 2008 Comic-Con, when geek buzz was likely to be the highest. It’s light on plot details, aside from the narration by Bale that this is not the future his mother warned him of and therefore a war he’s not sure the humans can win. It’s heavy on effects, though, with quick fleeting glimpses of the robots that are picking off people and just a short close-up of Bale himself. The whole thing is presented like it’s a transmission that is breaking up, something that is likely due to the fact that the effects aren’t yet finalized (the static will help hide the flaws) as well as to convey the idea that this is a pirate broadcast of some sort.
The second trailer features a bit more exposition, but still not anything that will come close to giving away much in the way of spoilers about the plot or anything like that. There are lots of shots of humans being crowded in camps and prisons and lots of screaming of people’s names. The biggest bit of exposition is when Bale stares down a chained-up Worthington and talks about how they’ve been at war since forever and how he tried to kill his mother and did kill his father. Unfortunately this is given without any context. I’m not sure when this trailer was released and how widely known certain plot elements were at the time, but knowing the nature of Worthington’s character certainly makes this showdown more effective. Without it the audience is kind of left scratching their heads and drawing conclusions. That’s all well and good but it works better if you know.
The third trailer actually works the best of the bunch, largely because it focuses on that Worthington-centric plot point. It has a bunch of new action sequences and a few new shots of Bale as Conner encouraging anyone who is capable of listening to his broadcasts, and there’s also a lot more of Conner expressing his doubts about whether or not the humans can win this war. But it’s the bits about Worthington’s character and how he plays into those doubts as well as the bigger struggle Conner and his resistance are in that make the trailer pop, upping the emotional ante to something far beyond a standard action movie and introducing something new into the Terminator franchise.
After the official website counts down to the loading being complete, the familiar, chunky theme music begins to play and then gives way to the third trailer playing in the main part of the screen. You’ll notice a red band across the top of the screen, with boxes along that which allow you to choose to have either of the two previous trailers play there instead.
If you mouse over the main screen you’ll see a little targeting site that prompts you to open the menu. Click anywhere and it does just that and it’s that content that I’m going to work down.
“Video,” disappointingly, just has the three trailers. After you choose any of the three you’ll see a Viewing Options button at the bottom of the player that allows you to watch it in different Quicktime or Windows Media sizes and qualities. “Gallery” is similarly disappointing, with a series of stills from the film that you can scroll through but lacking any sort of thumbnail listing that lets you choose from the whole batch.
Production Notes are the sole feature under “About the Film.” It’s a decent write-up of the movie’s story that hits many of the same notes as the narration found in the trailers, but that’s alright I think. There’s also the usual mentions about the producers and others behind the scenes of the film’s making. You can also download these as a PDF.
“Posters” has all the domestic one-sheets that you can view and download, which makes sense that it is followed by “Downloads,” where you can grab some Wallpapers, Icons and Screensavers.
Biographies and other information on the cast and crew can be found under “Cast and Filmmakers.” The information is actually quite nicely arranged in two columns, a much better arrangement than most sites give this section.
“Games” just has links to information on the console game tie-in as well as the mobile/iPhone games you can buy and download. There is an online game that’s also linked to that allows you to go up against other players as either machines or resistance fighters, battling to control the grid and destroy as much of your opponent’s materials as possible.
Next is a link to the Terminate Yourself site, which is one of those tools that lets you upload a picture of yourself or a friend and turn the person in the picture into a Terminator hybrid machine. That same sort of feature was used as the basis for the Terminate Me iPhone app.
“News & Updates” I was hoping to link to a blog – Warner Bros. has launched them for other movies. Instead it’s just a feed of brief updates that don’t really have any news in them and don’t seem to be fully fleshed-out. Even the “update” titled “Official RSS Feed” doesn’t actually contain the RSS feed. The message there actually says “Coming Soon.”
Also on the menu are links to sites that attempted to create the sense of some sort of ARG being organized. Skynet Research has its own site, as well as a Distributed Computing Platform that you can download to make your computer part of the Skynet grid. As a counter-point to that is ResistorbeTerminated, a blog that appears to be by someone who’s fighting the growing influence of Skynet, but it’s kind of odd. It seems to be set before the war in that there are infomercials about the company that are being broadcast. But then there are videos of soldiers fighting against machines that seems to be taken from the battlefield. It’s an alright idea but I think it’s not fully fleshed out enough to be truly engaging.
Finally on site are links to “Tickets & Showtimes” and “Partners & Promotions.”
Warner Bros. launched a Twitter game that got a lot of notice, including by some social media publications like Mashable. Basically players were asked to follow the @Resistance2018 Twitter account and then log onto the game’s micro-site in order to get the full rules and find out how they can accumulate points for answering the questions the official account sent out. That site also had Twitter skins you could add to your own site
The re-release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (which I’ll get to later on down the road) even got its own Facebook Page that included video and screengrabs from the Blu-ray edition of the film.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
As one of the highest-profile releases in the early part of the summer Warner Bros. has failed to pull out few stops in the advertising of Terminator: Salvation and has also lined up a handful of partners to help promote the film with efforts of their own.
TV advertising has, of course, been a huge component of the paid media effort. At last count over a dozen different spots were created and released, most of which took footage from the trailers and recut it, occasionally interspersing it with a bit of a new scene here and there, enough to get people to continue paying attention.
Online advertising was also a big part of the campaign, mostly working in elements of the key art from the posters and other print components. You can see an example of one of the online tower units at Adverlicious.
Out-of-home venues also got some love. Cars run by Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello in the Grand Prix of Spain got Terminator-themed paint jobs. And subways in Vancouver, and presumably elsewhere, were invaded by statues of giant Terminators glaring down commuters on their way to their train.
Where X-Men Origins: Wolverine had Papa John’s, Terminator: Salvation has Pizza Hut as their token pizza chain promotional sponsor. Pizza Hut was a major partner with the film, running a contest that awarded a grand prize winner to the movie’s premiere and awarded other lesser winners prizes like a life-size Terminator replica, a pack of video games or other items like that. It also publicized a promotion that gave everyone named either John Conner or Sarah Conner who came into a Pizza Hut restaurant with a government ID a free pizza, a great way to get people to come in and buy more than one pizza.
Pizzahut.com later on hosted an exclusive clip from the film as well as a host of other content such as downloads and photos and trailers and all that kind of good stuff.
In its second movie promotion of the still-young summer, convenience store 7-Eleven signed a more wide-ranging deal than it has in the last couple of years. In stores there were the same sort of lenticular cups with artwork from the movie and miniature action figures attached to straws that the chain has offered for previous movies. Those cups also featured codes that could be entered on Slurpee.com to enter yourself in a sweepstakes for various prizes.
I have to stop and give a shout-out to the post on I09 by Graeme MacMillan detailing his many and varied problems with this promotion, many of which I share myself. Not only did the timing of the promotion mean that the chain’s Wolverine promotion got bumped a bit prematurely but it just seems kind of…off. I get that while the movie is rated PG-13 (and that’s the source of plenty of other problems) both it and the previous series installments are very adult oriented and this is promotion that has the potential to attract a lot of kids. I know this deal doesn’t actually violate any sort of line regarding the promotion of inappropriate movies to kids, but it certainly pushes the spirit of that restriction to an uncomfortable degree.
Anyway, 7-Eleven also got some product placement within the movie, despite the fact that it takes place in a post-apocalyptic robot-dominated future. The placement actually worked with that and had a burnt out store appearing in a key action sequence in the film.
Two apparel-related companies joined the push. MyVu offered shoppers a discount on some of their personal media viewing glasses for those entering the promo code “conner.” And Oakley ran a promotional image on their site that linked that image to their Military footwear section. I get the connection, I guess, but there’s no contextual relevance here and nothing movie-specific about the products.
I don’t see any movie-related content on the SlimJim site.
Motorbike company Ducati launched a limited promotion on their site that had a co-branded trailer for the film on the front page. But they’ll get plugged plenty, with a featurette about how they created the motorcycle Terminators in the movie appearing on the DVD release.
Financially struggling car company Chrysler also announced a partnership with the movie that had some of their Jeeps and other vehicles appearing within the film. At the time of the announcement it was unclear what the scale of the deal would be and it turned out to be a little on the light side, largely because the company found itself with not very much money to put into the ads and other marketing that was planned in support. Just a handful of print ads were created and placed in just a couple of key publications coupled with a promotion that awarded a trip to a Six Flags theme park were actually executed.
Media and Publicity
As with any high-profile film, especially when it’s the continuation of an existing franchise, there were plenty of media opportunities for the cast and crew to take advantage of and get the word out about the film through. Some of that included an appearance at Wonder-Con by many of the principle cast members, an appearance that included the debut of the third trailer. Much of the publicity too focused on how this entry takes the franchise into darker and less morally clear territory.
The release of extended clips from the movie was a major component of the marketing campaign. Some of those appeared on partner sites as in the case of Pizza Hut and some appeared alongside trailers as on the movie’s page on Apple’s Trailers page. Others were just released to the net in general and fleshed out certain scenes that we’d seen previewed in the trailers.
One of the biggest spikes in media coverage came just a few weeks before the movie’s release, when it was finally confirmed that Arnold Schwarzenegger would indeed appear in a cameo in the movie. The news was mentioned by one of the film’s co-stars and confirmed rampant speculation about the now California Governor’s involvement in the project. That news was perhaps premature and speculation continued to abound with rumors flying this way and that. It seemed to be locked down in a report that Schwarzenegger allowed a digital model of himself – or at least the version of himself from when the original movie was made – to be created and utilized in the movie, allowing him to appear without having to actually do anything.
Just a week before the movie’s release, when the cast and crew were in full publicity-rounds mode, there arose a story about how MGM had a first look deal that meant it would be able to take control over distributing a potential fifth franchise film . The news wasn’t that MGM *was* distributing the fifth film, but that it had the option to make a play for those rights. Some people pointed out that MGM was on the same day reporting massive debt loads that would be difficult to repay and so it would be a long-shot chance that the studio would have the cash to finance such a massive production.
While I’m not sure I agree with David Poland’s speculation that Terminator: Salvation might be the summer’s first $100 million opener, I do agree with his point that the marketing of the film has seemed not dismissive of but certainly not dependent on the franchise’s history. Aside from the images of the iconic Terminator skeleton there’s been almost no play at nostalgia in the campaign at all. Trailers didn’t feature footage from the first three movies and there’s been nothing that I’ve seen from other sequels like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Some of my thoughts on this are contained in the section above about the posters when I’m talking about how the grittier, more realistic style is meant to appeal to the new demographic instead of relying on an audience that was 16 years old when Terminator 2 came out and is now 34, with a lot of other things on their mind. There are probably some people who feel nostalgic for the Terminator characters and the franchise, but I’m suspecting that that feeling is not as strong as their nostalgic feelings for something like Star Wars or Indiana Jones or something along those lines. So there’s little point in adopting that tactic when there’s a stronger case to be made for new directions and new audiences.
The campaign does do a good job in achieving that goal. There are some things that work better than other and there are some things that wind up coming across a little disappointing – I’m thinking here particularly of the website – but they’re actually only amounting to minor points. I look at the campaign from top to bottom and think Warner Bros. did a decent job marketing the movie in a crowded early summer season.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 5/29/09: Warner Bros. partnered with Machinima Inc to create a machinima animated prequel to the events of Salvation. The six-episode series, released on iTunes, follows the character Blair Williams on a mission taking place two and a half years before the events of the new movie. You can view a trailer for the series here and a preview of Episode One here. The only problem I see is that it’s being released in weekly installments beginning now, when I think it would have been a better tactic to get them out before the movie hit theaters when interest was still high.
- 5/29/09: Pizza Hut’s promotion to give a free pizza to anyone named Sarah Conner or John Conner got a good amount of publicity but also might have been really smart considering there seem to be very few such-named people.
- 5/29/09: Warner Bros. is releasing comics that act as prequel lead-ups to the events of the movie that can be downloaded and viewed on iPhones or iPod Touch devices.
- 6/12/09: TV spots for the movie that started airing shortly after it opened included one of the film’s biggest “spoilers” or surprises, at least for those that weren’t paying attention to much of the film’s publicity: A scene of a digitally composed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic T-800. The shot in the commercial is, according to those that have seen the film, just about the entirety of this appearance but is obviously meant to draw people in that might have been sitting this one out because it didn’t tie directly back to that character or the previous films in quite that way.
- 6/26/09: James dropped me a line to let me know he had snagged an online ad that Visa created as part of a promotion they were running for Terminator: Salvation.