Movie Marketing Madness: The Extra Man

I think any self-respecting guy has, at least a few times in his life, bought a tool using the logic “Well, I know I’ll need it some day.” Likewise I’m sure women have bought some sort of beauty product or pair shoes that they have no immediate use for but which may be perfect at some point down the road. Until the appropriate situations warrant under either scenario, though, the item in question remains in the toolbox or closet as an “extra” item.

But what if what’s needed or wanted is a person? That’s the premise of The Extra Man, a new movie starring Kevin Kline and Paul Dano. Kline plays an “extra man” who, when called upon, serves as an escort to old women or other people in need of an someone to go somewhere with. He’s not a jiggilo, he’s like the prefect purse these women pull out for a specific occasion. Into his life – and his apartment – comes Dano’s character, who becomes interested enough in what Kline’s character does that he begins to dabble in being an extra man himself. This complicates, though, the fact that he’s romantically interested in a young woman he works with, played by Katie Holmes. It’s this, as well as the navigating he does of the strange lifestyle circles Kline runs in that forms the basis of the movie so let’s look at how it’s being sold.

The Posters

it’s a pretty simple design, dominated by Kline staring deadpan into the camera as he affects a look that’s simultaneously dapper and charming but also a bit smarmy. He’s the centerpiece of the poster, with Dano relegated to the background, where he is seen staring off-camera while dangling a red bra from a finger. Above them Katie Holmes and John C. Reilly are seen in ornate picture frames, clearly positioning them as supporting players.

The two bits of copy more clearly hint at the the movie’s plot. “A sexless new comedy” combined with “They’re not gigolos, they’re gentlemen” give the audience the notion that we’re not about to watch a raunchy flick filled with nakedness, despite the appearance of that bra in Dano’s hands. Instead it seems to say, combined with the look on Kline’s face, that this is a comedy of the absurd.

The Trailers

The trailer opens with Dano and Kline meeting for the first time, a meeting that’s the result of Kline looking for a roommate in his apartment. We’re then introduced to Kline’s role, which is an “extra man” who provides companionship for lonely old women. Dano is eventually pulled in to that role as well when an extra extra man is needed one night.

In-between bits about Kline’s job entertaining the ladies we see that there will be a tentative, awkward romance between Dano and Holmes as well as conflict between Dano and Kline, who’s completely uninterested in the personal details of his new roommate’s life.

Kline – not surprisingly – dominates the trailer not only in terms of screen time but also in sheer acting ability. The scenes where he shares the screen with Dano are exactly the opposite of The Long Hot Summer, where a young Paul Newman stood toe-to-toe with Orson Welles. So it’s clear that if you’re going to enjoy this movie it’s going to be because Kline gives a loose and very funny performance.

Online

The movie’s official website is not exactly a robust affair. The Trailer begins playing as soon as the page loads and below that is a decent About the Film synopsis and a list of the Cast and Crew, though without any other information about them. Toward the top of the page is a Photo Gallery that has seven stills from the film and its production in it, a Press Kit section where you can download information about the movie and then an area where you can Buy Tickets.

The movie’s Facebook page does not exactly extend the picture greatly. Links and updates on the marketing materials as well as a few additional promotions are on the Wall while the rest of the profile contains the usual photos and such.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nada that I’ve seen.

Media and Publicity

Again not much. The film has gotten some decent word of mouth but in terms of concerted press efforts there’s little but this profile of Kline (Los Angeles Times, 7/25/10) that has come through the system.

Overall

A nice enough campaign, especially for a small movie that is getting hybrid distribution wherein it’s available on VOD at the same time it’s in theaters. The trailer is pretty charming and the poster works well enough. The website is about what you’d expect for a movie of this size, maybe a little smaller, but not unexpectedly so.

For what appears to be a small movie it’s a well put together campaign that, I would guess, is primarily going to attract those longing to see Kline in more roles. Everything about the campaign positions him as the main selling point for the movie whereas Dano, who for whatever reason seems to enjoy some level of indie-success, is very much extra.

Movie Marketing Madness: Dinner for Schmucks

There’s an old saying that if you look around the room and can’t figure out who the dumbest person at the party is, it’s you. Which is why I try to avoid parties.

What’s the worst thing you’ve done to get a job or secure the promotion you’ve been anxious for? Did you not loop a co-worker into an email conversation so he or she would look out of touch? Did you spread a rumor that so-and-so was cheating on his wife that made their way to your family-values boss? Did you fudge a little bit on your resume and cross your fingers that no one would ever ask you to speak Mandarin Chinese?

The new movie Dinner for Schmucks posits the question just what would you do to succeed at work? In this case what’s asked of the character played by Paul Rudd is that he has to participate in the humiliation of strangers. Specifically, as he’s being considered for a move up the corporate ladder, his boss (Bruce Greenwood) informs him that the final hurdle is to find some sort of eccentric character and bring him to a dinner party he hosts where he and other executives are able to mock these seeming losers. To that end he one day bumps into an IRS agent with no discernible social skills and a startling lack of self-awareness (Steve Carell) who is perfect for this dinner. But Rudd’s character can’t quite get over the ethical qualms he has with the whole situation but continues with the plan because gosh-darnit he wants that job.

It must be noted, of course, that this is the reunion of Brian Fontana and Brick Tamland, which automatically makes it worth checking out.

The Posters

The first poster just put the two actors cheek to cheek next to each other, Rudd looking serious and Carell looking idiotic and both of them staring at the audience. It’s alright and relies largely on the idea that another team up between these two is going to be inherently funny, especially since Carell is wearing glasses.

A second poster has Carell making the same face but this time standing behind Rudd who has a “I can’t believe I’m in this situation” look on his face, which is appropriate for the character. But the positioning here makes it look like a J.C. Penney Portrait Studio shot that isn’t going Rudd’s way. Again, we’re supposed to read the comedy into the presentation here of Rudd reacting to Carell, which the audience is supposed to find irresistible.

The Trailers

The first trailer first introduces us to the two main characters, Tim and Barry and then lays out the stakes. Tim is seeking a promotion but that advancement seems to be contingent on participating in the titular dinner. He’s about to do the right thing and say “no” but then he runs into – literally – Barry, who’s the answer to his problem. All of this is complicated by the fact that Tim’s girlfriend has understandable moral qualms with this little exercise.

The rest of the trailer is devoted to various sight gags showing just what a nincompoop Barry is, from not knowing John Lennon lyrics to shouting at Animal Planet programming. Stealing the show, though, is Zach Gallifinakis, a friend of Barry’s who winds up being the idiot someone else invites to the dinner.

Oddly the second trailer winds up starting off more like a teaser, with an ominous intro about an elite group gathering in a secret location. This one is more about showing off a handful of funny scenes, with very little plot being forwarded beyond the basic setup of holding a dinner full of odd human beings. It’s still good, but I would have expected this one to be first since it’s more hinting at plot lines instead of laying them out fully as the first one does.

Online

The movie’s official website is…kind of odd. It shows the cast of characters arranged around the table and if you mouse-over most of them you’ll see their name pop up. Clicking that will take you to more information about that character, presented as if it were their own official site. You can also find that under the “Meet the Schmucks” drop down in the right hand corner of the screen.

“Learn About the Film” is where you’ll find the movie’s information.

First up is a “Synopsis” that’s one sentence long. Seriously, one sentence. And it covers about 1/3 of what you learn in the trailer.

“Videos” has just one of the trailers and one of the TV Spots that was created and released as well as three extended clips. There was at least one more trailer created and I’m sure there wasn’t just one TV spot so this is pretty lacking. But after each video is done you can send it to your Twitter or Facebook friends as well as through email.

“Downloads” has four Wallpaper and four Icons and “Cast + Crew” contains the usual sort of biographies and film histories of those in front of and behind the camera for the movie.

The film’s Facebook page is filled with updates on new marketing materials being released as well as plenty of chatter from fans who are expressing their excitement over how funny they are anticipating the movie being.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV commercials were certainly created that more or less imitated the trailers but also featured an outsized portion of Galifinakis, which is not that surprising considering he’s kind of the star of the moment. I also think there was some online advertising that I’ve come across that featured the image of Rudd doing a facepalm while Carell looks on excitedly behind him.

Media and Publicity

Interestingly the initial round of publicity for the movie focused on its title (New York Times, 5/4/10), particularly the use of the word “schmuck” and what its ethnic vocabulary roots are. There’s also the interesting history of the word and its usage in entertainment, with it being one of the words Lenny Bruce was arrested for using on stage and one that was banned from usage on many TV shows. But now it’s just fine to use, correctly or incorrectly, offensive or inoffensive, as the title of a mainstream comedy staring two big movie stars. Yay progress.

Carell and Rudd appeared in a taped segment during the ESPYs in a bit that mocked the recent “Decision” infomercial starring LeBron James on ESPN.

Overall

I’m just shocked – and maybe this is because I’m coming off a few weeks where campaigns seem so paired down – by just how little formal effort seems to have been put into this marketing. Two rather bland posters and a website that has little information on the movie it’s seling…I don’t know. It’s almost like studios are beginning to take the approach of putting as little effort into everything as possible and just buying a bunch of TV time for two or three ads and hoping that savings turns in to net profits.

What there is of the campaign is alright. I like the trailers best of all but that’s almost the robust section of this push. Otherwise it’s alright in that it probably reached the middle suburban audience with what looks like a funny enough movie to head out and take a night off from the kids to enjoy.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 07/29/10 – Carell made an appearance on Galifinakis’ “Between Two Ferns” Funny Or Die show.

Movie Marketing Madness: Get Low

What do we want people to say about us when we’re dead? Nice things, of course, as we want our friends and family to remember us well. Some of us might hope that whatever the get-together is after we pass is more of a party and less of a traditional wake, with its somber tone and serious nature. Personally I hope everyone cries, not because they’re sad I’m gone but because of what I say on the video-taped rants I’ve instructed be played on a big screen above my casket which identify all the problems I’ve had with people over the years. I’ve striving for catharsis in this life over peace in the next.

Going a different route is Robert Duvall’s character in the new movie Get Low. Set in what appears to be the 1920s or 30s, Duvall plays a hermit of sorts who lives outside a small rural town where he’s burned most of the bridges he once had with the local citizens. But nearing the end of his life he decides he would like to make amends of sorts and so decides to throw a funeral for himself before he dies so he can see just exactly what people think of him. He enlists the town’s funeral director (Bill Murray), who helps him throw what will be a wholly unusual party. As he reconnects with those from his past, he also sees again a woman he used to be in love with played by Sissy Spacek. The two find a spark is still there even in their advanced age and Duvall finds he just might have something to live for.

The Posters

The movie’s poster unfortunately contains little of the charm or character that will be seen in the trailer. Duvall and Murray stand or sit in a field of grass, Murray looking slightly annoyed at Duvall with his long beard. It’s a simple design – aside from the grass the background is otherwise bright, clear blue sky – and seeks to sell the movie apparently based solely on the idea that we’ll be eager to see these two engage in some sort of wacky buddy scenarios. The “A True Tall Tale” copy at the top doesn’t help, making it sound like the movie is going to be some fantastical travel comedy instead of a moving character drama about embracing one’s mortality and making peace with those around you.

The Trailers

The first trailer for the movie is kind of fantastic. It sets up Duvall’s character in a general audience sort of way very well, showing that he’s a lonely old hermit who lives out in the forest and doesn’t take kindly to strangers visiting, talking about him or generally doing anything that’s going to interfere with him being alone. But then he goes and visits Murray’s funeral director and convinces him to help through a funeral party that he can attend while still alive. This leads to a sort of reconnecting with the town’s folks, including Spacek who’s character obviously has a history with Duvall’s.

It’s a nicely paced, gentle and funny trailer that should resonate at least reasonably well with the audience. Duvall obviously shoulders the greatest burden but that’s not a problem for anyone who’s at all familiar with the actor. Murray gets a lot of screentime, likely in an effort to broaden the film’s appeal at least a little but it’s mostly Duvall’s show here and he sells it.

A second trailer, which followed shortly after the release of the official poster, matched that considerably. It spends much of its time focusing on the interplay between Duvall and Murray, with the latter being inquisitive and trying to figure out how to make a unique situation work to his advantage while the former continues to be a stubborn character. It’s not quite as lyrical as the first because it seems to spend less time on Duvall but still works to compliment the previous one and maintains a nice, gentle tone about it.

Online

The official website is laid out pretty nicely, with content areas hanging off of tree branches or on road-side signs.

Under “About the Film” the first section is the Synopsis, which does a good job of laying out what the movie is about in much more detail than is usually found on movie sites, especially lately when the idea of “high concept” is all but extinct. The About the Production section goes in to the story behind the movie, including the historical figure Duvall’s character is based on. That context is fleshed out further in the Archival Article, which is a reprint of a story from the Roanne County Banner about the 1938 event. Casting and Shooting, then, begin to go into the filmmaking process a bit, with Reviews containing excerpts of some reviews (sadly without links) and then Links to cast interviews, historical information and the cast’s IMDB and Wikipedia pages.

There are about 25 sills in the “Photos” section and “Trailer” is exactly what it sounds like.

The “Cast and Crew” section, then, finish the site with background information on the major players in the movie.

The movie’s Facebook pageis pretty good, with plenty of updates on where the cast was appearing on the publicity tour or what articles were being written about the film. There are plenty of photos and other material.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing to note here, which is not at all surprising.

Media and Publicity

The first time this movie crossed my radar, almost out of nowhere, when some very positive buzz started emerging from the film’s appearance at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, where it was making its debut. A lot of people came out screenings of the film with glowing reviews and other positive word-of-mouth about it, almost more than some of the other more highly-anticipated films that were there. The producers followed that up by showing it at 2010′s Sundance Film Festival and then at SXSW, where the cast was greeted rather well and some named honorary Texans.

Murray wound up being the focal point of much of the press, with high-profile interviews in which he unloaded (GQ, 08/10) on what he does or doesn’t watch and how he really feels about being part of Garfield, appearances on late nigh TV where he engaged in a little dumpster diving (New York Times, 7/22/10) and more.

Overall

What a nice little campaign Sony’s put together. For anyone who feels like Sony consistently drops the ball on the marketing for movies that it acquires out of film festivals that have plenty of buzz I think this offers a nice counter-point. While I certainly like some elements better than others there’s nothing – not even the poster that I don’t particularly care for – that I don’t feel speaks well to the target audience for the movie or which sells the movie short in any way. It’s a nice, gentle and charming campaign for what appears to be a nice, gentle and charming movie.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 07/23/10 – Duvall got a career overview in the press (New York Times) that while completely worth reading seems very similar to the overviews that are published any time this venerable actor releases a new movie.
  • 08/05/10 – Murray’s rather unconventional approach to the press in recent years is the subject of a Time story that is quite funny in and of itself.

Content scraping

In light of the ridiculously positive accolades heeped upon the new iPad app Flipboard in the last couple days it’s important to note where the service falls in the sense of copyright.

The key nut is when it’s stated that publishers – or any content owners – don’t have to actively ask that their copyright not be violated. If you’re violating copyright that’s enough.

But of course the early adopters are all about innovative consumption and don’t have time to worry about copyright or other arcane matters. They just want the pretty.

Movie Marketing Madness: Salt

Here’s an admission that I need to make right upfront: I don’t think Angelina Jolie is the sexiest, most beautiful woman in the world. Oh she’s pretty enough, but I’ve never found her that attractive and give most stories that sing her praises as such a hearty rolling of the eyes. But my “type” has never really been this sort of hyper-sexualized woman. Let’s put it this way: Have you seen the movie The Truth About Cats and Dogs? Yeah, I was the one guy who did who was more attracted to Janeane Garofalo than Uma Thurman. So there’s that.

But it seems I’m in a significant minority in my position, with Jolie continuing to be seen as the embodiment of female perfection. Part of that has been her athleticism, which has made her one of the few bankable female action stars working today.

The latest movie to let her show off those skills is Salt. In the film she plays a CIA agent who suddenly comes under suspicion of being a Russian spy tasked with assassinating the President of the United States. Apparently unable to prove her innocence through conventional methods she goes on the run in an attempt to find proof that will exonerate her. In pursuit are her partner, played by Liev Schreiber and the lead investigator on the case, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in what’s basically the same role Tommy Lee Jones played in The Fugitive of someone who doesn’t care about guilt or innocence, he just wants to catch Salt.

The Posters

One of the first teaser posters featured Jolie staring intently at the camera while wearing a dark black wig, all the better to heighten the sultry feel of her glare. The movie’s title is imposed over her face while the “Who is Salt?” copy is below. So it’s clear that this aspect of the campaign, at least, has chosen to just go with Jolie being the hook for the movie and the most sure-fire way to get people in to the theater along with a little bit of mystery.

The second poster…wait…there was no second poster? For a major action tentpole starring Angelina Jolie? Honestly I’m just dumbfounded here.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens with a Russian spy being interrogated by the CIA, including Salt. He comes bearing tidings of a Russian agent who’s planning to assassinate the President. But the name he gives them is hers, which sets up the rest of the trailer, which plays out like a variation on The Fugitive as she bolts and tries to prove her innocence.. Schreiber’s character, a friend of Salt’s, wants to help her but Ejiofor simply wants to catch her so they can conduct their own investigation.

The trailer contains multiple action set-pieces, including Salt jumping off a bridge, knocking out the cops who have her in custody and veering a cab off another bridge and generally kicking ass. So it’s clear this is being sold on the notion that Jolie is one of the few actresses out there currently who the audience can believe as an action hero.

A second trailer opens with Salt in custody and escaping but then rewinds to the same interrogation of the Russian spy. We then see that she goes home and finds things amiss before running. Again we see that the two agents on her tail – Schreiber and Ejiofor – have different agendas and reasons for wanting to bring her back home.

This one ends with not only the movie’s official site URL but also the Twitter handle which it encourages people to follow for updates.

Online

The movie’s official website starts off subtly enough, with the main landing page just being a prompt to Enter the Site that contains clips from the trailer, a widget to find showtimes near you, the option to share what you’re doing with your social network friends and an invitation to Play the Day X Exists game, which we’ll get into more later.

Once you do Enter the Site, the first bit of information in the sidebar menu is The Salt Dossier, which basically moves you through the outline of the movie’s plot with a combination of biographical information on the characters and clips from the film. It also hints at the “Day X” program that forms the online game. At the end of it you’re prompted to play the “Day X Exists” game, or play the more generic Salt Game either online or through a mobile app.

Moving to the more traditional content, “The Story” is a pretty simple one-paragraph overview of the film’s plot that ends with the tagline that’s being used everywhere, “Who is Salt?”

The “Cast and Filmmakers” section contains no information on the people in either of those categories, just a headshot of the actors. You know, in case we forgot what Angelina Jolie looked like.

There are a whopping five stills in the  “Gallery” and it’s appropriate that the next section is just labeled “Video” since there’s only one video – the second trailer – there.

“Downloads” has five Wallpapers and two Twitter Skins if you’d like to show off your love of Jolie that way.

“Mobile” has the iPhone/iPad game for the movie, as well as an invitation to get exclusive content from the film delivered to your iPhone by installing the WiMO app and the scanning a QR code with it.

Finally there are sections for the movie’s online game and the Day X Exists game.

The very last section is “Partners,” a list that’s limited to Visa and Royal Purple, a maker of synthetic motor oil.

There was an online game created called Day X Exists that enlisted the player in a series of spy missions that were loosely tied to the movie’s story. Basically the game has each participant participating in the search for Salt to try to bring her back for questioning, which is the same idea most of the characters in the movie have.

The movie’s Facebook page and Twitter profile are filled with promotional updates with new clips, photos and links to the appearances Jolie and others were making in support of the movie as well as healthy prompting to play the Day X Exists game.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The TV spots run for the movie more or less retain the basic framework of the trailers, that of showing how Salt is on the run because of some misunderstanding over whether or not she’s a Russian spy. Most of the conventions used in the trailers are re-used here, with the emphasis placed on the action sequences and showing Jolie putting on or taking off her disguises.

Despite her obvious presence in the rest of the campaign Jolie was oddly missing from the outdoor ads, which chose to focus on the mysterious “Who is Salt?” idea to hook the audience and not a women who’s continually named one of the most gorgeous on the planet. Yeah, I don’t know either.

There was no information on the websites for either of the two partners the movie’s page mentions of what those partnerships entailed. The Royal Purple site had a trailer and poster but that’s about it.

Media and Publicity

There was even some publicity and news stories around the Day X Exists game that came from outside the usual movie fan-boy press and blog space, as is the case with this story (New York Times, 5/16/10) that tied the emergence of games such as this into the casual and social networking-based gaming trend. It also turned some people into mainstream film fans (AdAge, 6/3/10) where they usually favor more refined selections.

Other press stories focused on how, as I said before, Jolie is one of the few female stars who can believably star in an action movie (Hollywood Reporter, 7/14/10) and how Jolie came to star in a movie that originally was meant as a vehicle for Tom Cruise (Hollywood Reporter, 7/20/10). The latter was actually a revisiting of some of the movie’s first press, which talked about how powerful Jolie was that should actually change the gender or a main character.

Overall

Well I guess it’s alright. But for a movie of this caliber I kind of expect more. I mean…only one poster? A couple of trailers that are 85 percent the same footage? A website that can’t bother with a write-up of the main actor’s careers? Is this cost cutting in action at the studios or is it assumed that actually running a campaign may wind up discouraging people who aren’t just going to be beaten into submission by the constant running of TV spots?

I feel like the only winners in this campaign – and it remains to be seen how the movie itself does – are the folks who designed the Day X Exists game. It seems like massive amounts of the campaign’s attention are turned to promote that at the expense of directly marketing the movie, hoping that getting people engaged with the game will have a spillover effect. That’s probably not a sure bet since it’s relatively easy to play a game off and on without thinking too much about what property it might be supporting.

So we have hear a much more full-throated effort for the game than for the movie itself. Which seems backwards.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 7/22/10 – The movie’s cast and crew made a brief appearance at Comic-Con 2010, just hours before the film was scheduled to open in theaters and probably too late to significantly impact the word-of-mouth around it.

When an advertising agency runs a PR campaign

(Update – W&K released some of the stats from the effort, including sales numbers. So good on them for reporting that but my points below remain that this looks and smells like a PR push.)

Unless you’ve been completely disconnected from the internet for the last 48 hours you’ve no doubt heard about the campaign being run by Old Spice. The effort involved having The Old Spice Guy – you know, the guy from the commercials who seamlessly went from a shower to a boat to a horse all while telling women that their guy could be as naturally attractive and appealing as him if he’d use Old Spice body wash – not only tweeting but also sending out select personalized responses to people who requested a message.

The effort has received considerable buzz not only from social media insiders and marketing types but also the general public, largely because the personalized nature of the responses appeals to the fact that we’re all narcissistic fools. So even if we didn’t get a personalized response ourselves, we were thrilled with the fact that others did because hey, playing to everyone’s feeling that they’re special is the best way to get attention. It’s funny, sure, but take the rampant “OMG he said my name!” out of it and it’s a lot less noteworthy.

What sticks out in my mind is that this effort, an extension of a previous ad campaign, was conceived, created and run by the same ad agency, Weiden & Kennedy.

So, being an ad agency, they presumably have to show some ROI, correct? ROI that goes beyond the YouTube video views and Twitter followers. Actual sales numbers, I mean. In other words, it must answer the question “How did this move the sales needle?”

It’s one thing for a PR agency to point to those sorts of numbers because PR is, traditionally, more involved in changing the public’s perception of and attitude toward a brand, with sales and other monetary metrics following as a result of that work.

Advertising, though, is supposed to be more directly accountable for sales figures. If you can’t move sales up, the campaign is a failure. That’s just kind of rule in traditional advertising and marketing. Impact sales for the better. Or be done.

So I’m going to look forward to the advertising press running stories six months from now or so on how exactly this campaign has increased sales of Old Spice. If, as someone said on Twitter, this is going to take the place of Subservient Chicken as the new gold standard for online campaign case studies, I trust the press won’t give W&K the same free pass on this issue they gave to CP+B for so many years in the wake of Subservient Chicken. After all, getting press for a stunt is success for PR but not the end goal for advertising.

To be clear – I like this effort and think it’s funny and interesting. But I’m tired of PR be looked down on because it’s not as solid and quantifiable (despite that fact that PR programs can be just as directly influential on sales if that’s what they’re designed to do) as advertising only to have advertising measured by statistics that are commonly associated with PR and which would undoubtedly be viewed as successful here.

Movie Marketing Madness: Inception

We all have our own personal experiences with dreams. Some of us dream in black and white, some in full Technicolor with Dolby surround sound and eye-popping special effects. Some of our dreams are pretty boring and deal with driving to work while others meld together different areas of our life into one disorienting (especially when we wake up) new reality. What always struck me as fascinating, though, is that according to most people we don’t remember 90 percent of our dreams. They’re just gone and don’t leave that residue others do when we wake up.

But what if someone could invade your dreams? Not only that, what if they could manipulate them to an extent that they use those dreams to penetrate the recess of your mind and learn whatever secrets you hold?

That’s the premise for Inception, the new movie from director Christopher Nolan. Seeking to extend the enormous goodwill from both audiences and critics he has following 2008′s The Dark Knight, Nolan has created another highly-glossed thinking-man’s thriller. The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as an agent of a company who has the ability to invade anyone’s dreams, a talent his company puts to use by trying to steal the corporate secrets of their client’s rivals. Before embarking on the biggest job of his career, though, he seeks to recruit an assistant and potential successor. To that end he enlists the aid of his mentor (Michael Caine) and finds a young woman (Ellen Page) who may be even better at the job and he is. Cillian Murphy, another veteran who has worked with Nolan before, plays the mark targeted by DiCaprio.

Inception was pegged early on in its production as one of the most-anticipated movies of 2010 and one that, despite it being almost wholly original and not based in some way on an existing franchise or property, could be a break-out hit this summer. As we’ll see all that thinking will come up more than once in the campaign and publicity. So let’s take a look.

The Posters

The initial teaser poster presented a suitably, in light of the previously released trailer, surreal image. DiCaprio stands knee deep in water in the middle of a city street, seemingly perfectly calm. This sort of image has been used plenty of times before in movies from Vanilla Sky to I Am Legend. The copy at the top “Your mind is the scene of the crime” compliments that design nicely since it makes it more clear to the audience that this is a psychological drama and that we can expect plenty of such weirdness in the film itself.

The second poster actually comes off as more of a teaser than the first one, with the movies title written on the tops of buildings that the camera is looking down on. It sports the same copy as the other one-sheet, with both also not naming Nolan specifically (outside the credit block) but making the claim that this comes from the director of The Dark Knight.

The next poster put most of the cast on the street, but this time instead of being knee-deep in water for no apparent reason you’ll see not only are they standing on the street, but they’re standing in front of another street that’s rising directly behind them. That continues to tell the audience that this movie is going to be about shifting realities – or at least shifting perceptions of reality. Despite getting top billing, DiCaprio is not that featured in the design of the poster as he’s just as far away from the camera as the rest of the cast. That, combined with his face not being directly seen on the first poster, tells me the studio is selling the premise more than the star power, despite the formidable cast.

A fourth poster brought the cast more in to focus but continued with the reality shifting motif. Yes, the actor’s faces were more front and center and easy to make out but they were all at odd angles walking along the outside of buildings that were upside down or in some other way contorted. It’s as if they were all walking around a Salvidor Dali painting, only without the melting clock in the background.

A series of seven character posters were later released that featured each of the main actors from the film as well as an identifier as to what their character’s role is. So DiCaprio is “The Extractor,” Murphy is “The Mark” and so on. All of them had the actor’s face appearing amidst the bent, rolling sea of buildings that’s similar to what we’ve seen in the trailers. They almost look like photo mosaics and come off with the same sort of cool vibe.

The Trailer

The first teaser trailer definitely set a spooky and mysterious mood for the movie. It plays up the movie’s artistic pedigree, especially director Nolan’s involvement, and while it’s light on plot it’s heavy on weird visuals, from the two guys bounding after each other on the walls of a hotel hallway to DiCaprio gasping for breath after emerging from a bathtub to that cool shot of the glass of water that’s on a severe angle. Again, this is all about setting a mood and not necessarily telling anyone what the movie is actually about and on that level it works really well.

The second trailer went a little – but only a little – bit deeper into the story. Through narrated voiceover, DiCaprio makes it clear that this is a psychological battle being waged as he intones about ideas being the most persistent parasites and most potent weapons. All this while various trippy visuals unfold around him as city streets fold over on themselves, various people seem to drown and buildings collapse around our main characters. There’s also a bit about his character needing to steal an idea which, combined with the on-the-nose text about the your mind being the scene of the crime, makes it clear that much of the movie will take place outside the physical world and its constraints.

A third trailer went even deeper into the plot. It more or less opens with DiCaprio recruiting Page into his operations, offering her a job as part of his sub-conscious intelligence gathering force. Much of this spot’s running time is spent hearing him explain what the job is and how it’s done to her, including the limited amount of rules that seem to exist for the job. Aside from and underneath that exposition we’re treated to all sorts of amazing visuals that represent the dream worlds that the characters create or have to navigate, from buildings folding up on themselves to entire seaboards collapsing. In addition to that there’s some brief nod to this being DiCaprio’s last job, or him hoping this will be his last job so that he can reunite with a lady love. At least that’s how it comes across in the trailer, though that aspect of the story is not fleshed out all that much.

Online

The landing page for the movie’s official website is quite different from those for most sites in that I’m not immediately assaulted by 17 options to click or view right at the outset. Instead the only prompt there aside from the Enter the Site button is an invitation to watch footage from the movie’s premiere and a performance of the score by Hans Zimmer and Johnny Marr.

After you do Enter the Site and it loads, the first thing you see is a recreation of one of the poster’s key art with Zimmer’s score playing over it.

The first section in the Menu is “About the Film.” The Synopsis that’s there does a better job in one paragraph of explaining what the movie’s about – at least from a plot standpoint – than all the trailers combined. There are also Cast and Filmmaker backgrounds and some PDF Notes you can download.

“Videos” has all three trailers and an extended spot that’s sort of a trailer called The Characters that introduces each of the main characters more individually. Unfortunately none of the many TV spots that have been running are here, which is too bad since some of them were quite good.

There are all the movie’s Posters, a Screensaver, a dozen or so Wallpapers and eight Buddy Icons in “Downloads.” About 40 stills, mostly from the movie but also including some featuring director Nolan, are found in the “Gallery.”

The “Sweepstakes” section just has links to the sites that have partnered on running sweepstakes in conjunction with the movie.

“Protect Your Thoughts” takes you to information from Verizon on the app they’ve created that is discussed more fully below.

The “Mind Crime Game” is kind of cool. You can play as either an Architect or an Extractor and, respectively, design your own maze or play someone else’s. If you play as an Extractor you run around a virtual city collecting clues to unlocking a safe with the mark’s secrets while trying not to be noticed by the pedestrians who populate the dream.

Finally, you can create your own poster by uploading an image to one of the templates and then having your image become part of the cityscape. Once you’ve finished you can share the result with your social networks or download it to admire forever.

The movie’s Facebook page is pretty standard, with updates on publicity and sweepstakes and such on the Wall and plenty of photos and more to view and download. There’s a heavy emphasis, especially in the last week or so, on the streaming (now archived) video from the movie’s premiere and other events. There are also a couple of tabbed sections such as Videos, Downloads and Gallery that are lifted straight from the official site, including the graphics and overall navigation.

An online ARG campaign that was pretty similar in execution to that of The Dark Knight though nowhere near that scale was run as well.

The first component of the ARG came when visitors to the official site in December realized they could click through to another site, YourMindIstheSceneoftheCrime, and after building and completing a maze game people were shown the first poster for the movie.

Next, a QR code included with swag that was handed out after Nolan’s appearance at WonderCon brought people to PasiDevice, a site that contained a user’s manual for the mysterious device used by DiCaprio’s character in the film.

The ARG continued with a video with researchers and scientists talking about REM sleep and the potential that exists for taking part in other people’s dreams in a more active and cognitive way than people participate in their own. Eventually a user’s manual for the PasiDevice was sent to Wired Magazine, who posted the pages online and asked readers to help decipher some of the instructions and clues that it included.

The game at that point moved further into the real world with outdoor posters and even TV spots that warned audience members about the dangers of mind crimes and dream theft and other issues that related to the movie’s plot. But the site QR codes on the posters pointed people to didn’t immediately provide clues or further the game, leading to some confusion among those actively playing along.

A very cool mobile game was developed called SCVNGR (MediaPost, 6/24/10) that asked people to get involved using their smart phones. Apps for iPhones or Android-powered devices were needed for people to check in at locations in 100 cities – including major landmarks and movie theaters – and then complete some sort of challenge tied to that location. In response players were given exclusive movie content and special badges. Some of those challenges involved taking photos and then sharing them across social networks, helping to spread the word of the movie.

There was also a Mind Crime Prevention app that was created exclusively for Verizon’s Droid (AdAge, 7/12/10) that was more about getting movie information than playing a game, though the corresponding website promised an experience in helping you learn how to protect your thoughts.

More straightforward was a 15-page preview comic that debuted on Yahoo! Movies that provided the lead-in to the movie’s story. We see DiCaprio’s character and his team engage on a mission that doesn’t go quite right but which then provides the lead-in to what we’ll see in the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Despite the fact that this movie is not based on a comic book and not an animated kid’s film there was quite a bit of TV advertising done. A number of commercial spots were produced that more or less follow the format of the third trailer, introducing us to DiCaprio’s job and the weird worlds he deals in. Most of them also make it clear that it’s Page’s character who will be the audience’s “in” within the movie, the one who’s learning things so that we can learn them and the touch-point for the audience, giving us someone we can relate to as we’re shown one unbelievable thing after another.

Three later spots really upped the dramatic ante, making it clear that there were major stakes the characters faced and real consequences if they should fail to achieve those goals. They diverged quite a bit from the trailer’s format and showed much more action-filled plot elements, the better to lure in summer movie audiences looking for big guns and chase sequences.

In addition to more traditional outdoor ads that used just the title treatment or some sort of variation on one of the poster images, some really creative outdoor units were created in New York City that made it look like buildings were peeling or water rushing out of their windows. The photo below comes courtesy of Moishe Friedman.

Media and Publicity

Much of the publicity around the movie focused on just how big and different the movie was and how far director Nolan was reaching (Los Angeles Times, 1/13/10) with his artistic vision. Future features would follow suit (Los Angeles Times, 4/4/10) and be timed around the movie’s junket-esque appearance at WonderCon, where Nolan also spilled a few more details about the plot and showed up a clips package.

What was interesting was that since the movie was not, unlike so many others this summer, part of a franchise, the constant attention by the press on the director turned Nolan into the brand that audiences were expected and encouraged to latch on to. From those early stories through later features (New York Times, 6/30/10), Nolan was the hook in place of a toy line or comic book character that became the brand the publicity was rallying around and which the studio sought to turn into the familiar and nonthreatening audience draw.

There were even stories about just how hard the movie was to market (Hollywood Reporter, 7/9/10) and which made it sound like any comment about it being “brainy” or something similar was to be read as vague at best. The crux of this seemed to be an attempted level setting for the movie’s expectations in case it doesn’t turn out to be the smash of the summer that early buzz has set it up to be.

The supporting cast got a bit of notice as well as Nolan, as Page and Gordon-Levitt got interviewed (Los Angeles Times, 7/11/10) and profiled as being part of a group of young actors who are more concerned about their art and craft than in being on the party scene.

Whatever the primary focus, the overall theme in the press stories was that Inception was an unknown property (LAT, 7/13/10) and therefore represented a risky move by Warner Bros.

Buzz, of course, begets more buzz and the conversations around the movie spiked up in recent days (AdAge, 7/15/10) as people began to discuss the film more and more and anticipation began to mount.

Overall

The focus on Nolan in the publicity section of the push was, I think, a smart move since much of the rest of the campaign showed a movie that was potentially more challenging intellectually than the average summer blockbuster. So this was the attempt to make it clear to the audience that there was an accessible entry point for them in the form of the director of that Batman sequel they enjoyed so much a couple years ago.

But that puts a lot of pressure on the director and it’s extremely likely that within Hollywood the campaign’s emphasis will mean that the movie’s success is seen as a referendum on his future. If it winds up being a well-reviewed hit he will probably be able to write his own check on whatever  future projects he chooses. If not then it winds up tainting how he’s treated the next time he steps up to the plate, most likely when he starts revving up Batman 3.

Putting aside the issues of the movie not being based on an existing property, I really dig this campaign. Does it fully explain the movie? Not by a long shot. But it does something better: It actually has me anticipating the journey the movie will take me on. It’s not just selling me something I’m already inclined to purchase and then more or less enjoy. It’s making me want to see the movie because I want to figure out what the heck is going on. I’m anxious to see how the movie’s story unfolds and how it is going to engage me. That hasn’t happened in a long time with a mainstream Hollywood campaign and, honestly, it’s a feeling only truly original movies can create.

That’s also only created by an effective campaign and this very much fits that description. The posters are interesting and confusing, as are the trailers. The ARG is just fully-featured enough to be interesting without becoming overwhelming. While most of the rest of the online campaign is good as well, my favorite part is the prequel comic since with a movie which has dealt with so much “What’s it about?” conversation, any sort of table-setting it can do for the movie is a good thing.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Movie Marketing Madness: Cyrus

You ever walk into someone’s house and think how it smells so uniquely “them?” And then you think how that’s odd since your house doesn’t have any smell like that but then realize that, yeah, it probably does but you live there and so it’s normal to you whereas someone coming in from elsewhere thinks it smells unique to your family? Every family has its own unique dynamic and that smell to their home is just one part of that.

Sometimes that dynamic is even more odd than usual and can even impede how potential new members – say, a suitor to a single parent – is able to become part of that existing family unit. That’s exactly the plot of Cyrus, the new movie from the writing/directing brothers Mark and Jay Duplass. John (John C. Reilly), a divorcee who has trouble not being a complete spaz in social situations, meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), a single mom whose grown son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) still lives at home and who she still coddles because he’s a bit awkward. Not only does the relationship between Cyrus and Molly appear to John to be a bit odd but Cyrus also appears to be actively trying to get rid of John, seeing him as a threat to the attention from his mother that he’s currently the sole recipient of.

The Posters

The movie’s poster is a simple one. Reilly, Tomei and Hill are all right there and it’s clear Reilly is the one intruding into an established relationship. Hill looks smug and satisfied being held by his mother and Reilly just looks annoyed. That conflict is exemplified by the copy just above the title that the romance is going to get complicated with the third wheel of Hill’s character. Other than that the primary elements are the two festival badges, one from SXSW and one from Sundance, that give the movie the credibility installed by those appearances.

The Trailers

The trailer, which debuted right around the time of the Sundace premiere, opens up by introducing us to John, Reilly’s character, and just how much of a social misfit he is. We see him primarily at a party where he very unsuccessfully tries to hit on various women who are there. Eventually, though, he starts talking to Tomei, who he can’t believe is flirting with him when he, as he says, looks like Shrek. But at about the half way point things take a turn when we meet Cyrus, her grown son who still lives with her. Cyrus and John soon find themselves in conflict as the one is unwilling to let go of the special relationship he has with his mother and the other is unwilling to let go of the romantic relationship that’s just being formed.

While the stars are bigger in this movie the vibe is still very improv, befitting the roots of the filmmakers. So there’s a loose feeling to the spot that likely only heightens the uncomfortable feelings that the story and characters are likely to create.

Online

Coming from Fox Searchlight it’s not a surprise that the movie’s official website is a classy if minimal affair.

The site’s main page has a bevy of information about the film, including a section where you can find quotes – with links – to some of the movie’s early reviews and other press coverage, a photo gallery, a variety of videos and a schedule of release so you can find out when the movie’s playing near you.

From the top Menu, the first section is “About,” which has an outline of the movie’s story that comes complete with pictures of the main characters so you can easily see who’s who.

“Cast and Crew” has some of the most interestingly-written profiles of the actors and creators that I’ve seen on a movie website. It’s standard stuff but it’s well written and that makes all the difference.

There are three “Videos” in that section, the trailer and two extended clips. Then there are 12 stills from the movie under the “Gallery” section.

Most all of the individual bits of content on the site – videos, news stories and much else – have buttons alongside them that allow the reader to easily share what they’re checking out on Twitter or Facebook.

Searchlight’s Twitter and Facebook pages have been turned over to Cyrus-specific updates as well, making sure followers there were up to date on the cast’s promotional appearances and other information.

Given that the movie shares a name with that of a certain pop princess, the marketing team decided to clear up any confusion – and have a little fun – by creating a site called Not Miley Cyrus. It’s a goofy site that is clearly modeled on YTMND to a large extent and all the links you see on the page have some sort of music and dialogue along with a couple hidden goodies for those patient enough to do a lot of clicking.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There was at least one TV spot created for the movie. The commercial, which came out right around the same time Get Him to the Greek was being released, focuses largely on Hill’s character and his very awkward relationship with his mom. It starts with Reilly talking about how a guy like him shouldn’t be with a woman as beautiful as Tomei but then it’s mostly Hill glaring and asking wholly inappropriate questions, as well as him going to bathroom while Tomei is taking a shower.

Media and Publicity

The movie’s appearance at Sundance is where much of the word of mouth was kicked off, mostly around the Duplass brothers and their first excursion into more mainstream filmmaking and the trailer. That was built on a couple months later when it appeared at SXSW.

The fact that the Duplass brothers were coming from such humble, so to speak, beginnings became the predominant theme of the press from there on out, with stories about how they were overwhelmed by the scale of what they had gotten in to (New York Times, 6/13/10), how it was a much different experience working with a larger studio (Filmmaker Magazine, 6/10/10) and how they still worked to make the movie in their own style despite the brighter spotlight being shone on them (Los Angeles Times, 6/13/10).

Fox also got a bit of buzz going by launching a fun publicity campaign revolving around one of Hill’s lines from the movie, specifically “Don’t f**k my mom.”

Overall

It’s an alright campaign that seems to know the key to success will be to get people talking about the movie, whether in regard to the Duplass brothers new level of success, the odd turn by Hill or anything else. If people are talking about it then it will likely turn out well. Regardless of how each aspect of the formal marketing succeeds or doesn’t – and most all of them do, particularly the trailer, which works in that “I can’t watch because it’s so uncomfortable but I want to watch because it’s funny” way – the campaign is a success because it got people talking about it, which is essential to the success of a movie like this.

Filmmakers need to help with VOD word-of-mouth

Two conflicting things keep happening: On the one hand, video on demand – whether online or through a cable or other provider – is held up as the next great emerging distribution platform for movies, particularly smaller movies that have had a hard time or outright failed in the quest to secure a theatrical distribution contract. On the other, filmmakers who have gone the VOD route complain that the dollars they see are a pittance of what they were shooting for, often blaming the marketing which never reaches the fever pitch it would have if their movie had gone into theaters.

Each side has its facts correct, unfortunately, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Filmmakers who find VOD in whatever form as the only viable option being presented to them need to immediately get to work on their own promotional efforts for their movie. It’s alright to take a day, be depressed and lament the massive theatrical success that might have been. But after that it’s go time. Get to work getting to know exactly what the distribution plan will be and create a word-of-mouth campaign to support that. Find people who have reviewed the movie and let them know what the situation is. Offer yourself as an interview subject to anyone you can get ahold of, particularly anyone who has already seen the movie at a festival or wherever. Setup coordinated viewing times and create a live chat where people can talk with you – and each other – about the movie in real time as they’re watching it.

In other words, beat the pavement and work hard to make sure that you take what might be seen as a half win and turn it to your advantage. You can be more agile than the big distributors, who are only interested in opening weekend. Because the movie will live on through VOD platforms for what will likely be a longer period of time, meaning you have opportunities to engage in some trial and error. Come up with a plan, execute, measure and iterate. That’s what social media is all about so embrace it.

I’ll admit right off the bat that there may be a ton of filmmakers who are doing just that, but if so I’m not hearing about them.

Now all that I’ve stated above should be taken in the light that the best advice is to start engaging in a word-of-mouth campaign before the movie even hits the festival circuit or distribution deals are being pondered, meaning when the movie is still in production. But the phrase “better late than never” very much applies here. If you held off starting such an effort because you didn’t want to jinx the chance of a major theatrical push then it’s time to get up and running.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Kids Are All Right

Families these days come in all shapes and sizes. Whatever your personal political, religious or other sociological beliefs might be there’s no denying that it’s no longer possible to 100 percent of the time assume a family will be made up of a father, a mother and one or more children.

The new movie The Kids Are All Right seeks to explore the question of just what makes a family by presenting on that could easily be called non-traditional. Two women (Annette Benning and Julianne Moore) have been together for decades and at some point decided to have children. Going the artificial insemination route, the both chose to use the same anonymous donor so that their kids would have the same father but two different mothers. But one day the kids, not teenagers, decide to seek out their biological father (Mark Ruffalo) and get to know him, adding him to the unconventional mix to some extent. The stress that causes and the changes it brings about to the relatively settled household make up the movie’s story. Let’s take a look at how this is being sold.

The Posters

The movie’s poster presents a relatively simple and normal looking family having what appears to be a completely normal meal. We can tell this is a upper middle class family because they have a nice looking bottle of wine at the table and the view from their outdoor table is certainly picturesque. In the design itself the only thing to hint that this is a slightly unusual family is that both the women are on one side and Ruffalo is on the other with the two grown children.

Most of the education that this is an untraditional family comes from the barely readable copy that’s below the last of the names in the middle of the one-sheet. That’s what makes it clear that the women are having their otherwise stable life interrupted by the appearance of this man, who is going to cause all sorts of havoc.

The Trailers

The trailer starts out with a few scenes that set up the basic premise of the movie. Bening and Moore are obviously a couple from the way we see them sitting on a couch together and the way that Wasikowska later refers to them as “moms’s.” We get that they were both impregnated with the sperm from the same anonymous donor but that, now that they’re teenagers, the kids want to find out exactly who it is that provided that material. Once Ruffalo enters the picture, though, complications ensue as it turns into more than a single meeting and it winds up the kids want to explore a relationship with them, a relationship the two moms aren’t thrilled about since it begins to threaten their established world.

It’s a funny trailer with lots of moments that show there’s a genuine heart in the movie that deals with families and how each member of one has a role that’s unique but which takes some defining. The combination of actors certainly is a big plus since all three of the major players here is definitely bringing a lot to the table in terms of both laughs and pathos.

Online

The movie’s official website, a page that comes off the main site for Focus Features, has at the top the ability to watch the trailer again. At the bottom of the main image there are smaller photos of the cast and if you click any of them a new arrangement of photos in that header will emerge along with a choice quote or two from early reviews of the movie from its festival appearances.

Below that is a navigation bar, the first section on which is “Story,” which contains a pretty good write up of the film’s plot that lays out who the characters are and what the conflict in the movie will be. Similarly nice write-ups of the careers of the people in front of and behind the camera can be found under “Cast & Crew.”

There are seven stills under “Photos” and a handful of videos under, of course, “Videos” including the trailer, a behind-the-scenes featurette and some extended clips.

Some long-form information can be found under “Articles” that highlight the cast, talk about the music or go on the red carpet at the movie’s premiere. Unfortunately “Reviews” just has excerpts from some reviews without links to the whole thing.

The movie’s Facebook page has updates on the movie’s publicity efforts and any new marketing materials that have been released. There’s a lot of conversations on the Wall from the audience, though nothing from the studio. There’s also a tabbed section asking “What Does Family Mean to You?” and invites people to share their photos and stories.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing that I’ve seen, though it’s highly likely I’ve missed something.

Media and Publicity

The movie first started getting noticed when it became one of the most-buzzed about movies (Los Angeles Times, 1/26/10) coming out of Sundance 2010. That included a bidding war between a number of studios, eventually being picked up by Focus Features (Hollywood Reporter, 1/27/10) who actually wanted to distribute it theatrically.

Later on the movie would reappear at the Los Angeles Film Festival (Los Angeles Times, 6/17/10)  just a short time before it opened.

Ruffalo and his unconventional acting choices (New York Times, 7/4/10) also got a bit of press in advance of the movie, something that could be said of all three of the primary actors.

Overall

It’s a nice little campaign. There’s nothing revolutionary or even particularly interesting about it. Instead it comes off as completely serviceable campaign, with a good poster and a good trailer that are complimented by a good website for what it is. No, there aren’t any ads (that I know of) to speak about and that’s too bad but there was plenty of publicity, largely around the movie’s festival appearances, to counter that.

The campaign though, while certainly not shocking or large scale in any sense of the term, should work to appeal to fans of independent film and character-driven dramas and if the release pattern is adequate should succeed on bringing those folks to the theater.