Movie Marketing Madness: Due Date

We all have our share of travel horror stories. Whether they involve being on a plane next to a baby who won’t stop crying between New York and Los Angeles or spending the night on the floor of both Newark International and Dulles International airports, odds are if you travel enough in any way, shape or form you’ll have some sort of experience you just can’t believe is happening in this day and age. And while delays when you’re going *to* wherever it is you’re heading are bad enough, they take on an additional level of heinousness when you’re trying to go *back* and return to your loved ones.

Due Date, the new movie from director Todd Phillips, is about one man doing just that: Crawling through hell to get back to his wife. When Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) finds himself on a no-fly-list his attempts to get home in time to see his wife deliver their first baby he’s left in a tough spot. But Ethan (Zach Galifianakis), a guy he met before he was kicked off the plane, and his rental car may just be the solution he needs. Unfortunately things do not go as smoothly as Peter hoped for as they encounter one obstacle after another on the road, with the two alternatively hating each other and relying on each other to get just a few more miles down the road.

There are obvious similarities to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the classic Steve Martin/John Candy flick from the mid-80s. But it’s a new era and there are new comedic sensibilities in play so let’s try to put that out of our minds and look at how the studio is selling this movie to this audience.

The Posters

The poster for the movie certainly gets to the point when it comes to putting the relationship between the two main characters on display. Downey Jr. is standing there looking very disheveled and more than a little annoyed – probably having something to do at least in part with his broken arm – while Galifianakis looks like he’s having the time of his life standing there in some sort of ridiculous scarf while holding his precious dog.

When it comes to the credits Philips is noted as the director of Old School and The Hangover, certainly his two most memorable films to date.

There’s nothing about the story that’s hinted at or stated here. It’s all about playing off the potential drawing power of the two stars and hoping that audiences find the idea of Downey Jr. and his easy charm and Galifianakis and his knack for playing ridiculous characters with complete believability alluring without needing to know what the actual storyline is.

Four character posters were later created and released, each featuring a key character from the movie. So Galifianakis and Downey Jr. each get one, as does the dog and the can that contains the ashes of Galifianakis’ character’s father. Along with the photo is a quote from the movie either from them or about them.

There was also a series of four images that were combined into one poster/banner, each one depicting a stage of the travel the two characters are engaged in. They’re all familiar shots taken from the trailers and show where in terms of miles to go that action is taking place.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out with Downey Jr. sharing a heart-wrenching story about how his dad left him and his mother when he was a young child, a story that Galifianakis simply laughs at while saying his own loving father would never have done that. So it immediately shows how the relationship between these two will be enormously dysfunctional, with one being incredibly serious and the other being incredibly clueless.

It basically presents the movie as a buddy comedy, with the two getting in to one outrageous situation – Galifianakis shoots Downey Jr. in the leg, they drive off a bridge etc – after another. So it’s one reacting to the other at any given time. What’s cool to see is that Downey Jr., while appearing to play it straight, holds his own against Galifianakis as a source of comedy that goes beyond just reacting to his antics.

The second trailer makes more of an effort to show off the movie’s story. So we get shots of the phone call between Downey Jr. and his wife about her having a baby shortly, shots that are juxtaposed with a scene of him being told he’s on the Do Not Fly List, which explains to the audience why he’s not taking the fastest and easiest mode of transportation.

Everything else here is just additional humor, with more great shots of Galifianakis and Downey Jr. riffing off of each other. Downey Jr. plays it so believably straight and Galifianakis is such a destructive force of nature that they compliment each other incredibly well without the relationship ever appearing to be cliched or anything like that. It’s a nice mix of story elements and gags, which is likely a good representation of the movie itself.

Online

The movie’s official website opens with the second trailer and then makes most of its content extremely hard to find. There’s a tiny little “Menu” button at the very top of the screen that you won’t see unless you’re looking for it. Instead the main real estate of the opening page is devoted to a handful of things for the visitor to do. That includes a “Driving Game” that lets you test your vehicle handling skills, a “Trembely Yourself” photo uploading tool, a link to the “Disaster Meter” Facebook app and an invitation to “Meet Sonny” is you’d like more information about the dog that accompanies our main characters on their journey.

After you move past all that, the first section of content under that almost-hidden menu is “About,” which contains a pretty good Synopsis as well as Cast and Filmmaker information and biographies (Galifianakis was on “Boston Common”?) and some downloadable Production Notes.

The “Videos” section just has the two trailers while the “Gallery” has about two dozen stills, including a few behind the scenes shots showing Phillips and his two actors on the set.

You’ll find the whole compliment of Posters as well as the usual array of Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and a Screensaver under “Downloads.”

The “Soundtrack” has samples of the songs on that album as well as a link to buy the tunes from Amazon.com and “Sweepstakes” has links to outside sites that were running giveaways or other promotions in conjunction with the movie.

That menu bar is then rounded out with the same group of more entertaining options as were found on the front page.

Links at the bottom of the page take you to the movie’s Facebook page or the general WB Twitter profile, which is a far better strategy than having a movie-specific feed. The Facebook page has updates on new TV spots and when new features have been added to the website as well as incentives to click over to that site and the usual batch of photos and other information.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

At least four TV spots were created for the movie, all of which were quite funny. Most of them at least started off – although they all used different scenes to do this – with the setup of Downey Jr. needing to get cross-country to be with his wife. But then they digressed into the antics that he gets into with Galifianakis. Again, all of them use slightly different arrangements of scenes to portray the insanity and there’s about 25 percent new footage in the collection, the rest being pulled from throughout the trailers. They present the movie as a comedy with lots of craziness but also a good relationship foundation, especial between the two leads.

The studio partnered with location-based check-in service Whrrl for a promotion (ClickZ, 10/27/10)  in conjunction with the Murphy’s gas station chain. When a Whrrl user checks in at a Murphy’s location they can win movie tickets, concession coupons, free gas or free merchandise from Murphy’s.

Media and Publicity

I’m kind of shocked, actually, by the lack of major press coverage for this movie. There have been the usual rounds by Galifianakis and Downey Jr. to the talk shows and a few profiles of the actors, but nothing in the way of major stories. The movie seems to be getting lost in that regard amidst the coverage of other movies from Galifianakis and Phillips (the shooting of The Hangover 2 and all the hand-wringing over Mel Gibson’s disappearance from that production) and Downey Jr. (the beginning of shooting of Sherlock Holmes 2). That’s a bit unfortunate since it means that, despite the constant barrage of advertising, the movie isn’t really being allowed to find its voice.

Overall

Again, I’m a little shocked by the lack of press that seems to have been generated for the movie, at least press that wasn’t tied primarily to another film from the actors or directors that just so happened to mention this particular movie. These are two of the biggest stars of the moment and one of the funniest directors of the last 10 years or so and therefore I would have expected a much bigger press effort.

The advertising for the movie in the form of TV spots does make up for that in some way since it’s going to reach a mass audience that may have missed the press coverage, though. And just based on the quality of the material – including the trailers and posters – that was released it’s easy to see this movie reaching an audience that wasn’t so much interested in the horror and scares that have been dominating the box office recently but isn’t quite ready for the heavy nature of the awards-season releases. The series of posters work almost as well as the trailers in telling the story, something that’s pretty rare.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 11/03/10 – Galifianakis gets profiled more extensively by the LAT in a piece that explores what he thinks is funny and his now officially frequent collaborations with director Phillips.
  • 11/03/10 – While the story doesn’t mention the movie tie-in, the partnership between Murphy’s gas stations and Whrrl has some very positive statistics to show.