Movie Marketing Madness: Wall Street – Money Never Sleeps

The financial world sure has changed in the last couple of years. In case you missed it, news stories have been circulating in the last week or so that the recession which brought so much havoc to the banking world and which sent so many people out of work was the longest in U.S. history since World War II and, while it ended last year, a full recovery is still quite a ways off. In the time since mid-2007, when things started turning downhill, we’ve all become some level of financial market expert and more people can probably name a major investment house than ever before.

Compare that to the go-go 1980s, when personal ambition was the ultimate good and global-level bankers were still held in some sort of awe. These wheeler-dealers must know what they’re doing because look at the cars they drive, the places they live in and other marks of success. This was the height of the de-regulation era, when just about anything was forgivable in the name of profit.

That was the world in to which director Oliver Stone brought the classic Wall Street 20+ years ago. But the more down-to-earth one, where greed is no longer as good as it once was and philanthropy and humanitarian concern is held in higher esteem, is the one which Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is being released.

The new movie catches us up with Gordon Gecko, the slightly slimy finance banker played by Michael Douglas. Gecko is being released from prison, where he’s spent the last 20 years, and is looking to get back in the game. His estranged daughter (Carey Mulligan) wants nothing to do with him but her fiance (Shia LaBeouf) is in awe of Gecko and angles to become his apprentice. That puts him in-between Gecko and his new rival (Josh Brolin) as they seek to out-scheme each other and may come between him his fiance as he gets deeper and deeper into something he can’t find a way out of.

The Posters

The first poster takes the two main stars and puts them back to back. Douglas and LaBeouf both stare down the camera as they look somber in their expensive suit. The photo looks kind of grainy, which is odd, like the designers couldn’t decide whether to make it a straight forward photo or something a little more painted looking. There’s no copy other than the names, the title treatment and the credit block.

The primary problem is that, even discounting their age difference, the poster shows the difference in the two actors in stark contrast. The one looks like he’s been there before and will command any scene he’s asked to be in, thank you very much, and he’d appreciate it if you would not get in his way or he will absolutely bury anyone who feels differently.

The other looks like he’s just trying to keep paddling strongly enough to keep up.

I’ll leave it to your imagination to decide which is which.

A second poster, a theatrical one, was later released that was really just a rearrangement of the actors from the same shoot. This time instead of standing back to back, LaBeouf is seated and that takes some of the pressure off of him to go toe-to-toe with Douglas, something that makes this one work just slightly better that the previous version.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer brought us up to speed on where Gordon Gecko is in 2010: In prison. He’s seen collecting his personal belongings from the desk (try not to think of the same scene in Blues Brothers…I dare you), a sequence that ends with him being handed a mobile phone, which is supposed to get a laugh from the audience since it’s a 1988 brick-sized phone. We get brief glimpses of the supporting cast – including LaBeouf and everyone else as Douglas reprises his “greed is good” line from the first movie but with a slight twist. It then ends with him telling LaBeouf’s character to call him “Gordon,” which decently sets up the relationship those two will have.

The second trailer goes a bit more in-depth on the story, showing some of the same footage but also giving more background on the broken relationship between Gecko and his daughter, a relationship that then impacts the ambition of her fiance as he gets more involved with Gecko’s business. It also shows more of the rivalry that exists between Gecko and Brolin’s character. All that adds up to a more compelling picture of the movie, even if it does still primarily skirt the details of the story.

Online

The movie’s official website is surprisingly sparse. The trailer begins playing in the background of the site and continues playing as you navigate through the content.

“Synopsis” has a brief outline of the movie’s plot that highlights the conflict of the characters. “Video has the trailer and “Gallery” has 11 stills from the movie and its production.

That’s it. That’s the sum total of the official website for a major release and a sequel to one of Hollywood’s most recognizable director’s return to one of his defining movies. I’m not even sure where to start with this. Was there a sense that more content was unnecessary? Or was there little else produced? Whatever the case, putting less effort into the website than most independent movies seems like an odd tactical decision.

The movie’s Facebook page has updates on the cast’s promotional tours, the release of new clips and other marketing materials as well as photos, links to early reviews and more. Most of those updates are also found on the Twitter profile while clips, the trailers and TV spots have been put on a YouTube channel.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A good amount of TV spots were created and broadcast. They’re all arranged slightly different from each other and take most of their footage from the trailers, but there’s enough new footage there to make them worth watching and there are some nice moments that aren’t seen elsewhere.

I’d be surprised if there weren’t some online and outdoor advertising done as well, though I can’t say there definitely has been since I haven’t been made aware of any.

Media and Publicity

Outside of the usual initial news about casting, filming starting and other more production-oriented events, the first big publicity splash came with a full spread in Vanity Fair (February, 2010) that really gave the audience their first official look at, as the article title says, the return of Gordon Gecko. The article not only gave some background on the film and, as many such stories about big upcoming films do, features photos by Annie Lebowitz.

There were later rumors the film would debut at the Cannes Film Festival, a major coup for a decidedly Hollywood movie, especially one that was a sequel to a 20+ year old movie.

When that rumor did indeed become fact, the result was a ton of press about Stone’s return to mainstream filmmaking, the return to the wheeling, dealing era of the 1980′s and other topics. There were stories about how the movie was spurred in no small part because of the financial meltdown that’s occurred over the last couple years (New York Times, 5/13/10). According to reports the reception from the foreign press was a bit chilly (Hollywood Reporter, 5/14/10), but generally among the U.S. press it was seen as a return to fine form (Los Angeles Times, 5/17/10) from Stone. It also gave the famously opinionated director a chance to opine on the state of the financial system (Los Angeles Times, 5/14/10) and talk about other upcoming projects.

There were other occasional stories like one about how LaBeouf engaged in some trading of his own and other activities (New York Times, 9/13/10) in preparation for the role.

Overall

I’ve found myself more and more liking this campaign in the last couple weeks as the elements have come together in a more cohesive way, largely because the TV spots have focused the marketing in an interesting way. They’ve condensed the trailer in to the essential elements and so made it more immediately engaging.

The poster is alright, though as I said it can’t help but show off just how mis-matched the power of the two primary players really is. The skimpy official website, though, is ridiculously low on content and provides almost no reason for anyone who stumbles upon it to see the movie. That’s not completely undone by the inclusion of more media on Facebook and YouTube.

But the marketing, primarily through the trailers and TV spots, does present the movie as being an intriguing update to what was, more than 20 years ago, a snapshot of an era by presenting this new one as a snapshot of a more recent one. How many people will be interested in that, especially considering the general loathing with which Wall Street is now regarded, remains to be seen.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 9/29/10: Oliver Stone said the movie’s production benefited greatly from product placement deals that helped it stay within its budget but, he says, in a very organic way that didn’t dilute the film or its story.
  • 12/16/10: The movie’s home video debut came with an outdoor ad campaign in New York City that wrapped subway cars that provided free rides to professionals, shoppers and others through the holiday season.
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