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.

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