Capturing attention

I really think this post by Louis Gray on the deluge of information streams that are vying for everyone’s attention is among the smartest and more important things I’ve read recently. Gray focuses on the social technological interruptions that are impacting our lives but all that has application for those who are creating “bigger” content in the form of the books, TV shows and movies that he says are being interrupted. Not only is it harder to have a nice, quiet experience with those things but the decision is occasionally made to skip them altogether because we’re afraid we’re going to miss an email or can feel the RSS items building up in the two hours we’re in a theater seeing a movie.

He’s dead on when he says that early adopters are already burning out on this constant drumbeat of updates and have begun not only pruning our inputs – cutting down on our RSS subscriptions, trimming the number of people we follow on Twitter – but personally I’ve just had to make a concerted effort to turn these things off. For an hour a day I sit down and actually read a book. On the weekends I barely open the computer. These are coping mechanisms to get out of the rush of information.

Gray says this non-stop influx of information is creating short-term memory loss and I think he’s right. We’re also losing some critical thinking skills. If someone were to ask what the latest study on Facebook usability said what would I do? Run a search and accept whatever the first seemingly legitimate result was at face value? Search my RSS feeds for the latest information? Those both are full of potential problems. What needs to happen is more concerted study that looks at a handful of results, measures their scope and takes into account any potential gaps or biases and delivers a thoughtful result. But it’s easier to say “Oh, someone just talked about that on Twitter.”

We need to reclaim our attention and prioritize it effectively. It’s a problem I have myself and need to work on and it’s the only way we can slow down and maintain our sanity.

Movie marketing in an on-demand world

Reports have been circulating recently of Netflix’s plan to launch a streaming-only plan (Los Angeles Times, 10/20/10) and Redbox looking for a partner to help launch a streaming effort (LAT, 10/28/10), both for customers who feel they have no need of any discs whatsoever. Couple that with this trend story (LAT 10/19/10) about consumer behavior increasingly shifting to emphasize renting over buying, whether we’re talking about physical discs or on-demand, and the question has to be asked: How will movie marketing change when we live in a fully on-demand world?

This question might be limited to the home video market, but the it’s increasingly common for movies to get simultaneous theatrical and on-demand releases. Barry Munday and other recent titles from Magnolia and a couple other distributors have been available on-demand at the same time as they receive a limited theatrical run. And this week’s Nice Guy Johnny from Edward Burns is forgoing theatrical release completely and is available immediately either on-demand through cable providers, on iTunes for rental or purchase and as a physical DVD, again for either renting or owning.

What Burns has done for Johnny is, I think, indicative of what’s going to happen when movies are available through online outlets. He’s been out there beating the bushes to raise awareness and spur interest himself since he lacks a studio’s usual support mechanism. And since he’s built up a personal brand (yes, I’m going to go play in traffic after using that phrase) he has been able to leverage the fanbase he’s built up over the last 15 years to promote this new movie.

More importantly, all of that press has the potential to pay off in immediate action on the consumer end because the movie is available, as Burns has often intoned, everywhere and in whatever home viewing format people prefer. So if someone sees him on “The Today Show” (where he appeared the morning of 10/27/10) and is interested in the movie they have the opportunity to turn that interest in to action by going to their computer and searching iTunes or checking out the VOD options during the next commercial break.

That’s where the future of marketing in an on-demand world lies. Whether we’re talking about a “Today Show” interview or a profile on a niche interest group website, the availability of the movie at that particular moment makes all the difference. Connecting the marketing and the ability of the audience to take immediate action is going to be extraordinarily important.

Even today, that importance is evident by looking at examples of that connection not being made. Word-of-mouth might be great for a small movie that is just loved by those who see it. But if the people they’re talking to don’t live in one of the 12 markets that it’s been released theatrically to the hearers are unable to complete the circuit. But as more of these movies move to hybrid or strictly on-demand/home video release patterns that barrier will fall and we’ll see more success stories where these releases are able to find their audience strictly because the audience was able to act on their interest and find the movie.

Movie Marketing Madness: Wild Target

What compromises or last-minute adjustments have you made while doing your job for some personal reason? Maybe you were having a good day and so decided not to impose a late fee or some other penalty. Or maybe you made the decision to skip doing your job altogether because you realized life was short and hey, you can’t beat an 85-degree day in Chicago when the Cubs have a 3:20 game. Depending on the type of employee you are and how forthright you are about that call will likely impact how your employer reacts to such as decision.

The new movie Wild Target is about someone making just such a compromise. A hit man (Bill Nighy) decides not to actually carry out the contract he’s been handed by an art-loving gangster (Rupert Everett) to kill the woman who conned him (Emily Blunt) in his attempt to buy a famous painting. Instead he winds up saving her and protecting her from other assassination attempts, eventually picking up a young straggler (Rupert Grint) and the three form an unlikely trio as they attempt to stay one step ahead of those who are gunning for them.

The Posters

The poster makes the character the focus, with Blunt up front (well that’s just common sense) looking lovely, Nighy in the middle ground looking armed and Grint in the back looking slightly confused. The copy at the top gives a brief description of each character and it’s pretty clear that these three are going to be bound up together in some sort of misadventure, though what that is isn’t spelled out or even hinted at here. The only clue as to what the audience is being sold is the gun that Nighy is holding, and that’s not much.

I like the bright red block at the bottom, complete with the white cat sitting in the middle of the title for an absolutely unknown reason. The copy below the title is a little on the nose, but I think graphically the differentiation between the photo of the actors and the title/credits at the bottom works.

The Trailers

The trailer starts off by introducing us to Victor in the middle of the act of carrying out a hit and then Rose as she pulls a job of her own, pulling a con on a shady art collector. That puts Rose in Victor’s sites, but he can’t pull the trigger and in fact winds up saving her from another hit man. Escaping that brings Grint’s character into their path and the three have to rely on each other to stay safe as they’re still being sought by the unhappy mobster.

It’s a fast and funny trailer that relies heavily on the charm of Nighy to propel the action and make you care about what happens to the whole lot of them. It’s clear there’s just one insane situation after another and that the three characters really do begin to see each other as a family of sorts, though an extremely dysfunctional one.

Online

The movie’s official website opens with the trailer playing over a variation on the poster’s key art and “Trailer” is the first section of content listed in the menu below.

After that is a “Synopsis,” which gives the audience a decent overview of the plot. There are about 17 stills in the “Gallery” and the “Cast” section gives us the bios of the players in front of the camera.

Finally, the “Press” section has assets including Photos, Clips and the Synopsis that can be downloaded for use in write-ups about the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There have been a few banner ads that I’ve come across, mostly on sites geared toward independent film fans, that have used the poster art as the main graphical element.

Media and Publicity

Not much here, either, outside of the release of marketing materials and some casting news coverage.

Overall

It’s not a bad little campaign. The poster and trailer are obviously the most important components and those sell the movie pretty well, showcasing its story and overall sense of humor. Those people in the audience who are fans of British comedies are likely to find this an attractive option at the box-office. It’s nice to see some advertising has been done since that will raise the movie’s profile a bit as well.

Planning for disappointment

My latest AdAge column is my thinking-out-loud about the fascination the Hollywood trade press (and the blogs that riff off them) with writing postmortems on those movies that fail to live up to the expectations that have been set out for them.

One point I didn’t make in the column is that many of the movies that get Monday-morning-quarterbacked seem to be those that have accumulated a fair amount of positive buzz from the movie geek crowd and taken on something akin to the role of a cause for them. Scott Pilgrim, Kick-Ass, Buried…these are all movies that have become much beloved through their production cycles and subsequent festival appearances but, after failing to find a mainstream audience, had their obituaries written by the press.

I’m not sure what to make of that, but it does seem to say to me that the influence of these professional opinion-havers and aspiring tastemakers isn’t as widely felt as conventional wisdom might dictate. So even if these guys all rally behind a movie it isn’t enough to push it into mainstream success because their reach isn’t broad enough and the movie winds up not living up specifically to the amount of hype that has come to surround it.

Movie Marketing Madness: Nice Guy Johnny

We all are, to some extent, the amalgam of the expectations those around us in our lives have had for us. We act this way to please our parents, that way to please someone we’re dating or married to and another way to please the people we’re friends with or work with. The best that can be hoped is that what we feel most passionate about matches up with at least some of those expectations and that we’re able to go through life doing what we love with the approval of those most important to us.

The story of living up to someone else’s expectations is at the core of Nice Guy Johnny, the new movie from writer/director Edward Burns. The movie tells the story of Johnny (Matt Bush), who is giving up his dream of continuing to host a sports talk radio show to meet the desires of his fiance. On a trip that’s supposed to be about him interviewing for a boring day job he spends time with his Uncle Terry (Burns), who’s still a roustabout bachelor who thinks Johnny’s getting married is ridiculous. So he takes Johnny to The Hamptons for a few days and into Johnny’s life comes Brooke (Kerry Bishé), who proves a disruptive influence on his decision making process.

The Posters

The poster is pretty simple, just showing a shot of the two main characters walking along with a minor lens flare in the corner. There’s no tagline, no description and no overdoing it. it makes the clear statement that what you’ll be getting with this movie is the story of these two people and almost nothing else. So it works on that level.

The Trailers

The movie’s trailer is just fantastic as a piece of work in and of itself. The trailer starts with a guy and a girl sitting on the hood of a car, she telling him that he needs to tell some other girl how he really feels, something he’s not sure of himself.

That’s as much of the plot as you’re going to get, though, as the rest of the spot is all about showing how these two are not dating but are obviously enjoying each other’s company. they hang out on the beach, they go for drives together and otherwise hanging out. It’s also obvious, even without the one shot of them almost kissing, that these two have feelings for each other that they’re not quite ready to admit or deal with.

While, as I mentioned above, the trailer shows almost nothing of the movie’s story it does show that the film will live or die on the performances of the two leads, both of them unknowns. The performances seem raw and emotional and promises that the audience is going to live and die based on what these characters do and the choices they make.

It doesn’t hurt as well that the music playing over the visuals is perfect and the cuts to the scenes are often timed to the beats, adding to the overall enjoyment of the trailer.

A second trailer was much more traditionally structured. We meet Johnny as he’s about to go off on a trip for an interview for a “real” job as opposed to the sports talk radio host gig he currently has. It’s on that trip that he spends time with his Uncle Terry, who’s an aging man-boy who still runs around and is perplexed why Johnny is both getting married and taking a job he has no passion for. So Terry takes Johnny to the Hamptons, where he sets him up with Brooke, who he starts hanging out with and is just as confused about Johnny’s choices. Eventually we see he has to make a decision between what’s expected of him by those around him and and what he really wants to do, a decision that the combined influences of Terry and Brooke push him to make.

Online

There’s unfortunately not very much information about the movie at all on its official website. The trailer is there but most of the emphasis is, rightly in the case of this movie and how it’s being distributed, on selling things. There are many packages that are available that give you everything from just a digital download of the movie and its soundtrack to one that includes a t-shirt and the physical media in addition to digital downloads.

There are also plenty of links to Burns’ personal website, Twitter account, Facebook page and YouTube channel, showing that he understands that selling himself is just as important – if not moreso – than selling this particular movie. Fans of his who connect with him on multiple platforms are likely to be repeat buyers, interested in this and his future movies, so playing up that connection has long term benefits.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Not much that I’ve seen.

Media and Publicity

Most of the movie’s publicity, as exemplified by this profile (Chicago Tribune, 10/6/10) around its appearance at the Chicago International Film Festival, focused on the film’s low budget and non-theatrical distribution, which Burns is quick to emphasize are all by design and attempts by him to maintain his artistic freedom and bring movies more directly to the audience.

Burns’ do-it-alone thinking continued to the focal point of much of the movie’s buzz as he discussed why, creatively, this approach works well for him and his movies.

It all amounted to what was probably the largest amount of buzz for a Burns film in quite a while. Like one of his other recent movies, Purple Violets, much of that is about distribution (Violets debuted on iTunes at the same time it got a limited theatrical run) and has positioned the writer/director as one of the biggest names to do truly innovative things in terms of distribution.

I also have to mention that Burns co-hosted a recent episode of Filmspotting, a movie podcast that originates from Chicago and he absolutely killed it. Not only did he do a good job talking movies with Adam Kempenar but he also did a good job of selling his new film.

Overall

It’s a good campaign with engaging and interesting trailers and a clear, uncluttered poster. The website is obviously a sparse affair even as measured against some other independent movies, but the fact that so many people were talking about the movie and it’s innovative distribution model makes the case that Burns is still able to get people buzzing about his movies. That buzz really comes off as the strongest part of the campaign. And considering the movie will be available to just about anyone immediately, that word-of-mouth is going to be crucial to the movie’s success in a way that other limited-release movies can’t capitalize on because their distribution patterns don’t match the spread of the audience’s recommendations.

The continued relevance of corporate blogging

My latest post on Voce Nation deals with a study on the continued rise of blog use as a corporate communications and marketing tool.

Again, I think studies like this – and the points behind the decision to launch a corporate blog, many of which are articulated in the study I reference – are important for Hollywood studios to consider since they are in, by and large, an industry that leaped over blogging but has embraced social networking as part of their marketing strategy.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Company Men

I thank my lucky stars every day that the longest period I’ve been involuntarily unemployed for since the age of 16 (meaning I’m not counting periods in college where I didn’t work) was about four days. Only once have I gone through the humiliation of actually losing a job and even then, well, I couldn’t really blame them. Besides, it led me to the job I have now and I’ve never been more satisfied. So, praise be to God, I don’t have horror stories of my own. But I know people who do and it scares me to know end.

Too many people are in that kind of situation in recent years and the story of corporate downsizing is the one that’s told in the new movie The Company Men. Three men played by Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Carpenter all lose their jobs at a company and all three deal with it in different ways. They cycle through denial, anger and the other stages of grief as they try to deal with a life they’ve never known, one without gainful employment.

The Posters

The movie’s poster takes an interesting tone and one that doesn’t seem to be fully in line with the marketing materials that had been released before it.

All four of the men – Jones, Affleck, Cooper and Costner – are shown here along with Maria Bello, who’s only briefly seen in the trailer but who’s included here for some reason I’m not quite clear on. They’re all looking up at a couple of figures who are walking on tightropes above them, an image I assume represents these characters being on the outside of the corporate stresses and looking in on them from that vantage point.

It’s an alright poster but it doesn’t really provide any interesting points that it’s trying to sell the movie by. Having a bunch of actors standing around looking at something isn’t exactly the most dynamic image in the world and there’s little here that goes in to the movie’s story or makes us care in any meaningful way about the characters.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released just a week or so in advance of the film’s debut at Sundance ’10, is wordless but full of emotion. Because no dialogue is featured it can be, at times, hard to follow completely but you do get the general overview of this being a film that follows the three main characters as they navigate the difficulties resulting from major life upheavals. Most of the relationships are more or less sorted out but there’s very little time where all three core actors are on screen together so it’s assumed that it’s a sort of “bobbing in and out” story with everyone’s arc touching the others at various points.

While that was more of a promotional reel, the first official trailer was much more traditional though no less impactful.

The official trailer sells Affleck as the main focus of the movie as we follow his story from an ordinary day at the office through the process of finding himself laid off and struggling to find a new job to the extent that he agrees to sign on with his brother-in-law’s construction company and through him eventually on the verge of starting something new with Jones’ character, who also finds himself without work. Jones’ character is obviously a high-ranking executive who attempts to struggle against the massive layoffs coming. Cooper is shown only a few times but it’s clear he’s a mid-level executive who is laid off along with thousands of others but who takes it particularly hard.

As I said, the trailer emphasizes Affleck and makes the movie appear to be a vehicle for him but the hints there involving Jones and Cooper make it appear to be more of an ensemble movie, which is actually more interesting.

Online

I’m not even entirely sure the movie has an official website. Back around the movie’s appearance at Sundance a teaser site was put up but it very much looked like a small affair that was meant to act partly as a sales tool for interested distributors to find or for people to check out after hearing some of the festival buzz.

When the movie was acquired by TWC it got one of their placeholder sites but with a full site promised there. But it opens tomorrow and that link to the site is still labeled as “Coming Soon” and doesn’t go anywhere, so it’s entirely possible there is no site to even discuss here other than that placeholder, which just has the poster, a synopsis and the trailer

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here that I’ve come across.

Media and Publicity

The vast majority of the movie’s press and buzz have come either the movie’s appearance and activities at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival or the release of various marketing materials. It’s been mentioned as a movie some people were excited about seeing in the last part of the year, but there haven’t been any major stories that I’ve seen that have been coordinated to help raise the movie’s profile.

Overall

It has a good trailer and a decent poster, but the missing components of this campaign are just too glaring to really overlook. No website to speak of? That’s just bad. And while the lack of advertising isn’t completely surprising, the fact that press opportunities don’t seem to have been taken is, and all that combines to a lackluster campaign for a movie that has some decent word-of-mouth behind it.

More than a little disappointing for a movie that has such a hefty cast.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 10/23/10 – The movie’s place in Hollywood’s history of examining the issue of jobs, success and related topics gets examined by The New York Times.
  • 11/07/10 – Another story along the same lines was published by The Los Angeles Times, though this time looking at how Hollywood doesn’t seem to be paying attention to focusing on recession themes.

Movie Marketing Madness: Hereafter

“No man should know too much about their own future.” Those famous words of wisdom were handed down from Dr. Emmett Brown at the base of the Hill Valley clock tower in 1955 but hold true for all of us. It can be dangerous for us to know what’s coming down the road for us because it can significantly change our outlook on life, including sending us into frantic despair or other problems because we see that 30 years down the road we do, indeed, become every bit the asshole we were worried about in 1985.

But what if you knew what was coming even later than that. What if you knew what was coming in the afterlife? And what if you were able to see what other people’s futures held as well?

The story of three individuals and their experiences with near-death experiences form the core of Hereafter, the new movie from director Clint Eastwood.

Matt Damon, Ceclie de France and twins Frankie and George McLaren all play individuals who are touched by death in some way shape or form. Damon’s character George is able to see into people’s future, a gift he’s come to reject after once using it to achieve a level of fame. de France experiences death herself but comes back and begins to see her life change because of the experience. And the McLaren twins plays Marcus, who looks for an answer to the question “Why?” after a loved one passes away. Eventually all three come together, of course, as they seek to find peace with what they either know or don’t.

The Posters

The poster plays up the spooky even more than the trailer, released a bit before this, did.

Damon is front and slightly off-center here staring into the camera with a glassy look in his eye, a sort of odd smile playing out on his face. de France is behind him looking off-camera while off to the left a figure is walking toward us out of the horizon but above the clouds, a bright ball of sunlight behind it.

There’s no copy here, which is alright since it probably saves us from a bad bit of writing about the afterlife. But the whole thing is coated in an eery blue that gives it an ethereal feeling that feels more than a little creepy.

The Trailers

The trailer, which debuted right around the time of Toronto, sets a mildly spooky tone about the movie but doesn’t lay out many specific plot elements.

What we get instead is a trailer that has a pretty broad picture of the movie. We see most all (I’m assuming) the main characters, of whom Damon’s seems to be just one, all of whom have been touched by death in one way or the other. Damon’s character is able to somehow see the afterlife of certain people and so is sought out, having once been famous, but now simply wanting to be left alone. What many of these characters have in common is that they have actually died but been brought back, giving them connections to the hereafter as well as with each other.

In addition to some fine-looking performances and lots of talk and speculation about death we also see a scene of a tsunami crashing into an island village. It’s there to setup the death of one of the characters but really it’s unneeded and likely there only because it cost so much and the assumption is that some sort of spectacle is needed to bring in the audience to a movie that’s more about talk than action.

It’s also clear that, while there are lots of characters whose stories we’ll be following, Damon’s is the central one. This is communicated through the shorthand of showing scenes where many of the rest of the characters pull up his website. Decent trick and a nice way to get his face on screen as much as possible.

Online

The movie’s official website certainly isn’t bursting at the seems, but that’s kind of to be expected for a low key movie like this. “Video” has the trailer, “Photo” has just a single still (not even a gallery) and “Synopsis” has a decent write-up of the plot and the some brief information on the cast and crew.

That’s about it. It’s a little disappointing that more of an effort wasn’t made here but, again, I’m not all that surprised.

There was a Facebook page that featured a bit more content, including links to some of the press and promotional activity as well as more photos and videos. Not sure why those couldn’t have been put on the official website, though.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were at least three TV spots produced for the movie. All of them present a very epic type of movie and all three feature the huge fake wave that represents one of Eastwood’s deepest forays into special effects, apparently because spectacle is what will bring in the audience. They mostly focus on Damon’s character, which isn’t a surprise, but also give time to the rest of the cast. They come off mainly as sub-sets o the trailer, each one taking a different arrangement of clips from that longer spot and re-purposing them in a condensed format.

Media and Publicity

The first round of publicity came when it was announced the movie would be the closing film at the New York Film Festival, a slot that would give it plenty of exposure and buzz heading in to the late parts of the year. The movie also slated an appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a somewhat mixed reception.

The themes of the movie, what they mean in relation to this stage in Eastwood’s career and other matters all got covered in stories (Los Angeles Times, 9/9/10) about the movie, with the director eschewing any suggestions that just because the story touches on the topic of the afterlife it meant he was contemplating his own mortality. Quite the opposite, the interview with Eastwood shows him as vigorous as ever, even as each movie lately becomes a reason to assess the man’s entire career.

There was also speculation as to whether this movie would return him to the good graces of the awards-dispensing crowds (LAT, 9/16/10), a group that has been snubbing him for the last few years despite the fact that he’s still turning out the same consistently high quality product.

Overall

I’m not sure what to think about this campaign. The trailer and poster are good enough but the online components are pretty lacking and the whole thing never really seems to come together. Never manages to, as I keep harping on, find a strong and consistent brand identity and communicate that across channels.

Part of this may just be because movies like this – serious adult dramas that aren’t overly gimmicky – make it hard to find that one consistent hook, but that fact doesn’t change the fact that the campaign does feel somewhat disjointed. How much that winds up impacting the audience who has just been exposed to the TV spots or some other single element remains to be seen, though.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 10/21/10 – Warner Bros. bought out an advertising pod during one of the Rangers/Yankees playoff games during which it ran the entire theatrical trailer, a move that was either brilliant or desperate. I lean toward the latter.

Movie Marketing Madness: Paranormal Activity 2

Scaring someone once is easy. Pop out from behind a door and yell “BOO” when someone’s not expecting it and you can get them to shriek like a little girl, jump back a couple feet and maybe, if you’re lucky, they soil themselves just a little. But the next time they walk through that same door, unless they know you’re not back there waiting for them, they’re going to be a little wary and will probably be expecting some sort of shock and so aren’t going to be caught as off-guard as they were the first time.

How to scare people a second time with the same – or at least a very similar – setup is the dilemma faced by the creators of Paranormal Activity 2. When the first one arrived last year it was almost out of nowhere. It had been screened a couple times but the vast majority of the public had never heard of it and until a couple weeks before release there was almost no marketing done for it. But with a genuinely scary movie and a legitimately engaging campaign that was powered largely by a setup where people could “Demand It” to come play in their area it became a tremendous success, hugely profitable because it was shot for less than $100,000.

Now the sequel attempts to recreate that cultural phenomenon. Once again the story is based around the idea of “found footage” that was shot at someone’s house where strange happenings have been occurring. Where the first movie simply featured a young married couple this one has a whole family – including a small baby – involved, the better to apparently up the emotional ante.

The Posters

The movie’s poster uses almost the exact same design as the one-sheet for the first installment. A pull quote from an early review is at the top and the movie’s title and the prompt to “Demand It” is at the bottom. In-between is a grainy photo seemingly from a security camera that shows, instead of an adult’s bedroom, a child’s room, with that child standing up in his crib while a dog barks at something unseen off camera but obviously coming from the bathroom.

I like the fact that they carried over the major graphic elements from the first movie since it creates a nice brand franchise consistency. Some might think it’s lazy design but I think it works for what it’s trying to accomplish, which is to sell audiences on the idea of having an experience with this movie that’s similar to the one they had with the first.

The Trailers

If there’s anything about the actual story here it’s hidden in quick cuts and mystery.

The first trailer starts off by reminding us that the first one was a hit because we demanded it, which this one will then ask us to do as well. But all we get in terms of movie footage is some grainy security camera footage of a child’s bedroom, which the family dog is also sleeping in until it senses something and starts barking. What it is remains unseen until something suddenly, after one of those quick cuts, is there standing in the doorway, the dog nowhere around.

That’s about it, though, aside from a slightly revised version of the same trailer that was released well after the initial debut which had a couple of hidden scenes that lasted only a fraction of a second. One of those was a shot of the baby being held by a girl but without any additional context.

The next trailer (second or third, depending on how deep into symantics you want to get) was dubbed a “fan trailer” and released first through Twitter. It features a bit more detail about the plot, including introducing us to the family whose house we’ll be watching get torn to shreds and how they initially react to the strange goings-on around them. It once again features lots of surveillance camera footage along with some that looks like it was captured on a video camera and is fairly spooky, with lots of quick cuts and people yelling at the camera.

Online

The movie’s official website opens with an abridged version of the trailer and then changes to a still photo taken from the surveillance camera that’s in the baby’s room that we see from that trailer. That image then zooms in and you can move it to some extent with your mouse and you’ll hear a static like noise as you get closer to what you’re supposed to be looking at. It culminates in a close-up of the shot of the baby (there may be some other hidden images there but I couldn’t see anything) before the screen goes to black and the title reappears.

Before all that happens there are links on the site to Tweet Your Scream” – which just lets you send a Twitter update related to the movie and pre-populates that update with some recommended text and links – and such but afterward your only option is to share the page on Twitter or Facebook.

I’m not going to point out how sparse this site is since that’s largely, I think, by design. There’s no need on a movie like this to overburden the visitor with options. Just try to scare them, make the ask with the Tweet Your Scream thing and be done. It’s about setting up the mystery, not providing a lot of information.

The movie’s Facebook page has the trailer, some photos and a heavy emphasis on buying tickets. But as far as I scrolled down the Wall there were no official updates from the studio. Instead it was given over entirely to the fans and their discussions of the film.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Once again a core component of the movie’s marketing is the “Demand It” portion, where the audience expresses their desire publicly to see the movie.

This time things were a little different though. Instead of simply demanding the film in general, the carrot was held out that the 20 cities that generated the most demands for the film would receive screenings a day before it opens in the rest of the country. So the studio was offering audiences the chance to be first movers, early adopters, the ones who were the first to talk it up to their friends and thereby hopefully convincing them to go see it again over the weekend – this time buying tickets.

That effort ultimately resulted in about 250,000 people winning advance screenings of the movie, a number that will hopefully have a ripple effect when they see it and then encourage their friends to check it out the next day.

There were other, more traditional tactics (AdAge, 10/18/10) utilized as well. TV spots ran that featured the same sort of footage as was found in the trailer and there probably was some online advertising done as well. In fact the size of that traditional campaign was estimated to be between $14 and $17 million, far higher than what was spent on the first movie.

Media and Publicity

Much of the marketing seems to have been done on the assumption that by presenting a mystery similar to the first one the movie will sell itself to the audience that’s presumably just chomping at the bit to be scared again.

The studio sent out USB drives to a bunch of movie bloggers with a single video on it, video that looks like it was pulled from the same security camera the trailer takes the point of view of. The primary scene there is relatively tame – just a man checking on the baby in the crib – but there are spooky things hidden in the footage.

Overall

On the surface this seems like a decent campaign that, while small in nature and execution, is supporting a low-budget horror movie and so is more or less appropriately scaled. And that’s true to some extent.

What’s missing here is the same sort of emotional build-up that accompanied the first one, that sense of something truly unique and special that’s about to happen. I’m not sure it’s even possible for that to be recreated considering just how out of left field the first movie came, and there was plenty of buzz about the movie from the movie blogging press.

It comes down to trying to put the genie back in the bottle. So it doesn’t quite feel the same as the first movie from last year but does, in the end, work for what it’s trying to do here. Whether or not it works to bring in the same sort of crowd that made the first movie a word-of-mouth success story remains, of course, to be seen.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 10/21/10 – The Los Angeles Times looks at how Paramount has tried to recreate the phenomenon that was the first movie, from the story creation to the marketing.

Movie Marketing Madness: RED

“An old man is twice a child” is one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines, meant to highlight the fact that as we age we once again rely on our loved ones to care for and provide for us. We all get older and rely on our children – or our grandchildren – to make sure things are taken care of, that our lawns are mowed, gutters cleaned out and other chores are done. As we get older we are simply capable of less than we were in our prime and so our lifestyles need to adjust.

But what if you’re just an ornery SOB who used to carry out covert operations for the U.S. government?

The characters in RED certainly fall in to the latter category.

The movie, an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, is the story of a group of CIA agents (Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich) who have been deemed to old for the game and so have been put out to pasture. But then suddenly they find themselves the target of that same agency, having been deemed dangerous because of the secrets they know after so many years of service. So they find themselves banding together to get to the bottom of who it is within the CIA that’s targeted them for elimination and stop them.

Red appears to be another one of those “middle ground” graphic novel adaptations that aren’t about super-heroes but are about a group of highly-trained individuals who are capable of fantastic feats. It’s also another one that has as much of a self-referential sense of humor as it does action sequences, making it akin to The Losers from earlier this year and some other movies that are based on comic source material. So let’s see how it’s being marketed to the mainstream.

The Posters

The first posters from the movie introduced us to the main characters in turn. First was Bruce Willis standing there looking intimidating with the copy “He’s got time to kill” not meaning what it usually means. Then Helen “A high caliber woman” Mirren, John “Doesn’t get out much” Malkovich, Mary-Louise “Looking for a Little Action” Parker and Karl “Killer Company Man” Urban.

The movie’s title forms what might be a typical tri-band look on each of these posters but the fact that it’s just each individual actor makes it at least a little original.

A final theatrical version tool the images of each of the actors, with the exception of Urban, and combined them into a design that again used the tri-band format but put the title of the movie along the right-hand column and added the copy “Still armed. Still dangerous. Still got it,” a nod to the fact that these group of older folks should not be trifled with.

The Trailers

The first trailer certainly contains a sense of action-oriented fun and promises loose, funny performances from most of the leads.

We’re introduced to each of the main characters, Mirren, Willis and Freeman, a group of former CIA specialists who have been put out to pasture by the agency. But they’re missing the life and are anxious to get back into it. So when something – what it is only hinted at and involves the CIA being hired out as a hit squad – happens that requires their special skills they’re more than eager to, as Freeman intones, “Get the band back together.” In some way what they decide to go after involves another former operative played by Malkovich who gets to act like a sound lunatic most of the time and a current agency played by Mary Louise-Parker. So this motley crew is, as usual, the only group that can set things right.

A second trailer, released around the time the movie appeared at Comic-Con, worried less about the character introductions and just proceeded to sell the movie as an action comedy. So Willis, Malkovich and everyone else get lots of funny lines. We also get appearances by Richard Dreyfuss and Ernest Borgnine, both of which are kind of awesome.

What the second trailer also does is make the overall plot a bit more clear. Someone within the CIA is trying to have this group of former agents killed, with Urban’s character leading the hunt for them, and they have to break in to CIA headquarters and figure out who and why that is.

Online

The movie’s official website opens by playing the second trailer. If you close that you can also access the game “Marvin Boggs’ Field Training, which allows you to enter the URL of any website and then takes you to that website with machine gun in tow so you can destroy it. After you’ve done your damage you can then share your handiwork you can share the image of the destruction with your social network friends. You can also play the “Red Challenge, which actually is a Facebook app that taps in to your network to help Frank, Willis’ character, assemble his team.

If you’re all done with that you can Enter the Site and the first section that pops up is “Video,” which contains both Trailers, two TV Spots and a couple of extended Clips, though not as many as can be found on Hulu or other outside sites.

Moving over to “The Gallery” you’ll find seven stills from the movie, each featuring one of the main characters, though here Urban gets featured twice.

“About the Film” features a brief Story synopsis that begins by pointing out its graphic novel origins and also has Cast and Crew sections, though both of those are still labeled as “Coming Soon,” which is odd considering the movie opens in two days.

Both of the games that are on the front page are also in the “Play Games” section.

The “Meet the Team” section has background information, presented as a partially blacked-out dossier, as well as the TV Spot that is specifically focused on that character.

The movie’s Facebook page has lots of updates on the press activities the cast and crew have been involved in as well as photos, videos, links to some of the official sites features and a bit more.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots were created that largely mimicked the trailers and had the same pacing and sense of humor. Oddly there’s little time devoted to action sequences – don’t get me wrong there are still plenty of explosions – but at least some of the spots made the comedic interplay between the characters more of the selling point. Others were more focused on introducing each individual character and showed off their scenes specifically.

To coincide with the movie’s release it was announced that series creator Hammer would be returning to this universe with a new limited series, one that was largely brought about as a result of all the talk that had started about the movie.

Media and Publicity

Because the movie is based on a comic book it makes a lot of sense that it was brought to Comic-Con 2010, with a panel featuring many of those in the cast as well as the filmmakers all proclaiming what fun the movie was. A couple months after that it was announced the movie would be taken to Fantastic Fest.

The cast made some of the usual press stops, including Willis’ obligatory appearance on Between Two Ferns that’s all different kinds of awesome.

Overall

I like a lot about this campaign, mostly because as a whole it feels more complete than the pushes for some other recent action movies have. There’s actually a final theatrical poster (even if it is just a mash-up of the character posters) and some well-rounded trailers that deliver some genuine action as well as a few laughs. There’s also decent selection of TV spots that sold the movie in the same way as the trailers, which is nice to see.

Is it the best campaign ever? No, not by a long-shot. But it works for what it’s trying to do, hits most of the right notes to sell it to a couple different audiences and never takes itself too seriously, which in retrospect is a trap some other recent action-comedy campaigns have fallen in to. Maybe it’s the quality of the talent involved that is pushing this ahead of those other campaigns for me – a very real possibility – but I think it just works on more levels that some previous movie pushes.