Movie Marketing Madness: Cedar Rapids

Expectations are wonderful but fragile things. We should all have expectations for what we want to do in life, how are children should act in public settings and other circumstances. Occasionally, though, we let our expectations get the better of us. Not every trip to the museum is going to be an enchanted time with the family. Not every job opportunity is going to be the most fantastic. Not every Cubs season is going to end with a World Series ring or even a winning record.

The main character is Cedar Rapids has pretty low expectations for himself and the world around him. Ed Helms plays Tim Lippe, an agent for a small insurance company who sort of stumbles through his life living up to the low expectations everyone around him also has. He’s sent to represent his firm at a regional industry convention in Cedar Rapids despite his obvious cluelessness. Tim’s innocent nature runs headlong into the regular attendees (John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr.) of that convention, a bunch of wild party animals who go there for a few days of expense account-fueled madness.

The Posters

The main point of the poster is to sell the audience on the idea that Ed Helms can carry a movie all on his own. To that end it shows him carrying all sorts of baggage and other junk (I swear I’ve seen this guy on just about all my travels) from two suitcases AND a duffel bag to one of those little neck pillows so many people use. He’s standing there with a big dumb smile on his face so it’s obvious that the movie is going to use him as the foil for the humor and that the jokes are often going to come at his expense. It’s simple but it works well enough.

The Trailers

We first get introduced to Helms’ character in the trailer by being told, via Stephen Root, what a disappointment he’s turned out to be. But now he’s being sent to a convention in Cedar Rapids, which is apparently an exotic city to this guy. Then he meets Ziegler, the one guy he’s been told to avoid. Zeigler is a wild man and gets the group, including a nearly unrecognizable Heche, into all sorts of trouble, from drinking to late night nude swimming and so much more.

The trailer is primarily meant to show all the antics Helms’ character gets into during his weekend at the convention and, as suspected, it shows that he’s the butt of many of the jokes as he gets caught with a prostitute and otherwise acts like a teenager on spring break. There are lots of genuinely funny moments in the trailer, selling the movie as what might be a pretty dry comedy and one in which Helms does appear able to carry the story all on his own.

Online

The movie’s official website is exactly what you’d expect for a film from Fox Searchlight, meaning there’s a ton of good content and no wasted motion in terms of flashy, irritating design.

The top of the site has the Trailer as well as a link to the BrownStar Insurance company that’s featured in the movie.

“About” has a Synopsis and profiles of the Filmmakers and Cast. The “Gallery” has about a dozen stills from the movie, most of which are framed in a “Be Prepared” graphic that makes it look like the photos are part of the company’s website or other materials.

“Gallery” just has the trailer and “Downloads” just has a couple of Desktops and a half-dozen “AIM Icons.”

Down in the bottom of the page there’s the usual array of good stuff, from another photo gallery as well as one that’s specific to the movie’s appearance at Sundance to an array of extended clip videos and more. There’s a widget of Fox Searchlight’s Facebook page and a stream of Twitter updates that mention the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some online advertising was done that took a slightly different pose of Helms but the same overall concept – that he looks ridiculously happy to be wearing that lanyard nametag – and used it for banners or box ads. Some units included links not only to the movie’s official site but also the Fox Searchight Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Media and Publicity

A bit in advance of its premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival a handful of movie blog writers received calendars from the insurance company in the movie, Brownstar Insurance, much like you’d get from a real agency. There was even a website for the company to continue the illusion.

Much of the overall buzz centered around how this was Helms’ first big shot (Los Angeles Times, 2/6/11) as a solo leading man and the road the actor has taken to get here that’s filled with supporting turns in movies like The Hangover and a history on TV.

Overall

I really like this campaign. It’s low-key for the most part but it seems to be pretty assured in what it’s selling and so comes off very strongly. Helms is certainly the star here and the marketing makes the most of the fact that he’s a charming actor who doesn’t have a clearly defined public personality who the audience can just latch onto without any preconceived notions.

The marketing is funny to different audiences for different reasons. To those on the coasts they get to to laugh at the silly Midwesterners thinking they’re all that staying at a hotel for a couple nights. For those of us here in the Midwest we get to laugh at a highly exaggerated version of themselves.

Either way, the campaign presents an amusing low-key comedy that is reliant on the strength of the leads to make it rise above the depths that a comedy like this could fall to.