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.

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