Movie Marketing Madness: Limitless

We all know the old saw about how the average person only uses something south of 10% of their brain, though Rip Torn uses significantly more. This statistic is usually thrown out when someone is discussing how much more the human race could potentially achieve if they were to unlock the true potential of our species. Wars would be a thing of the past, true justice would be available and so on is usually how such speculation goes.

But there’s also the potential for individuals to really get creative as the world opens up around them. That’s the basic premise of Limitless. Bradley Cooper plays a struggling writer who is one day offered a drug that will unlock the inhibitors in his mind and allow him to achieve fantastic success. But nothing comes without a cost and he quickly finds that while he can suddenly write anything he wants, play the stock market flawlessly and more he’s also still begotten to someone, particularly his supplier since if he were to stop taking the drug he could die. The movie seems like an interesting exercise in science fiction as it looks to examine just what lengths people are willing to go to in order to be successful.

The Posters

The designers of the movie’s poster aren’t winning any awards for originality, using the tri-strip design that has been used countless times before on movie one-sheets. We see a variety of scenes, ranging from Cooper’s face set in front of a cityscape to him in the throes of passion with Cornish to about to jump off a building. All the images have lots of streaking light around and about them, something that’s probably meant to give the images a sense of whirling motion that matches how the main character is now experiencing his life. It’s pretty standard stuff.

The Trailers

We’re introduced in the trailer to Eddie as a writer whose life is adrift as he finds he can’t get his book finished and is having other problems. But then an old friend turns him on to this pill that lets him unlock the full potential of his mind and things turn around. He finishes his book, becomes interested in art and culture and winds up making a ton of money with his newfound math analytics ability. He becomes so successful he gets on the radar of DeNiro’s character, who wants to understand the secret behind his success. But then the dark side of the drug becomes clear as he experiences cognitive problems and finds he’s dependent on the drug to flat-out live, setting him up for conflicts with DeNiro and the others around him.

It’s a flashy, interesting trailer that presents the movie as a slick sci-fi type of story with slick performances from Cooper and the others. It’s highly likely we’re not going to get any profound messages out of the film about the dangers of moving too fast but it does make the case for enjoying the rise and then downfall off Cooper’s character, something that’s always fun to watch.

Online

The movie’s official website (after you Enter the Site) starts off with the trailer playing. The first section of content you can access is the “Photo Gallery,” which displays full-screen photos that you can scroll through in a very inefficient manner. “Videos” just has a TV Spot and the Trailer.

“About the Film” has a Synopsis that gives some good information as to the movie’s story as well as Cast and Filmmaker profiles. The only things I saw in the “Downloads” section is a Wallpaper that can be grabbed in formats ideal for either your desktop or a varity of mobile devices. And “Partners” has links to the companies that have entered into some sort of promotional arrangement with the studio.

Finally there’s a “Take the Pill” game that has its own site ands which allows you to try and beat the stock market and accomplish other tasks. Unfortunately you need to sign-in with Facebook Connect to play so I didn’t.

The splash page for the Facebook profile has a pretty decent amount of information. There’s video including the TV spots and trailers, a link to the “Take the Pill” game and a stream of updates from Twitter that mention the movie. Elsewhere on the profile are photos and more, including updates on the wall that talk about new materials that have been released or other links back to the official site. There’s also a Twitter feed that has similar updates as well as a fair amount of conversational responses to people posing questions.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The movie got some initial advertising exposure with a TV spot that ran just before Super Bowl XLV. The spot setup the basic premise that Cooper’s character takes some super-secret drug in order to improve his brain. We get shots of him partying and enjoying his success but there are little hints – it’s not emphasized here – about the dangers he’s going to be facing as we see him having some problems focusing and hitting other walls. The dangers are also mentioned in the text that appears on-screen, which asks people how much they think they could take in exchange for achieving our true potential.

Later TV advertising focused on the hedonistic excesses that the drug allows Cooper’s character to reach, though there’s also more than a little danger mixed in as well. It’s shown here as a thriller that has Cooper diving off cliffs and getting in subway fights for some reason or another.

A number of promotional partners are listed on the movie’s official site. Virgin America, Virgin Mobile, Starwood Hotels, Netflix and BoConcept are all given a shout-out but there’s nothing on either the movie’s site or those of the other companies. So my suspicion here is that they’re not so much cross-promotional partners but those who have some form of product placement within the movie.

Media and Publicity

The main push for buzz came about four or five months before release, when the studio sent out samples of NZT, the drug that gives Cooper his smarts, to a handful of movie site writers for them to sample. That came shortly after the release of a video of Cooper’s character giving an endorsement of the pill, though the side effects seem to be chilling since they include short-term memory loss and possible death. That testimonial also played on a phone line that people could call to find out about the drug, though that was largely a dead end. A website also supported that effort.

Other than that there wasn’t a whole lot of press or publicity outside the conversations around the release of new marketing materials.

Overall

I’m more than a little surprised by the scale the campaign has taken on, particularly in terms of the number of TV spots and the frequency with which they’re being aired. When the movie first started popping up it seemed to me a high-concept story that was being executed on a smaller scale and in a slipshod manner. That’s just how it initially played to my mind. But somewhere along the line this turned into a real marketing push.

That may still not be enough to actually get people to turn out, which is why said high concept is often superseded in the messaging by the more straight-ahead action elements. It remains to be seen, though, whether whatever audience does venture out finds the story itself interesting enough to recommend to friends in later weeks.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 03/17/11 – The New York Times looks at the “viral” videos that were created for the movie and how they’re supposed to get people interested without seeming like marketing.
  • 03/21/11 – An online video that showed someone hacking into a Times Square billboard was part of the “viral” campaign but didn’t actually mention the movie at all.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Lincoln Lawyer

We all have a unique routine to our business days, don’t we? Some of us might be most comfortable if we walk to work along a certain route. Some might have a particular seat on the train that we immediately gravitate to and get out of sorts if someone else beats us to it. It might even be that the clerk at the donut shop knows us so well that they know we’ll arrive at a certain time and have our coffee and cruller all ready for us as soon as we walk in.

Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is the main character in the new movie The Lincoln Lawyer. Haller is a Beverly Hills lawyer who eschews the normal office and instead conducts most of his business from the back of his Lincoln Town Car, which he’s consistently driven around in. One day a case involving Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) the son of a rich and influential family is given to him. Roulet has been accused of assaulting a young woman and he and his family want the charges to go away. But as Haller investigates so that he can mount a vigorous defense he uncovers some dark corners of Roulet’s life that cause him to question his innocence, something that doesn’t square with Roulet’s controlling family, who will go to any length to protect their name.

The Posters

The poster for the film doesn’t exactly make any great imaginative design leaps, featuring simply McConaughey sitting atop his car, the encapsulation of both the “Lincoln” and “Lawyer” portions of the movie’s title. There’s no copy on the one-sheet that hints as to the movie’s story or plot or anything like that, not even the sort of quick synopsis of McConaughey’s character I was half-expecting. Instead the only copy here outside the title and the standard credit block points out the name of the director, screenwriter and the writer of the book on which the movie is based.

The addition of a weather-worn veneer to the image doesn’t do much here, though it’s obviously an aesthetic attempt to make the photo more interesting by playing with the look a bit. If you were to be generous you could say that manipulation gives the image a sense of world-weariness, but that would be a stretch and is something that should be rightly conveyed by the actor, not an image processor.

The Trailers

The first trailer is all about setting up the broad strokes of the movie. McConaughey gets in his car and is pulled over by a motorcycle gang, but it turns out one of them is is client so it starts off by trying to muck with our expectations. We then move in to the main plot of him defending Phillippe’s character from an assault charge, with him protesting his innocence even as we get a handful of shots that show he’s not being fully truthful. There’s a lot of quick cuts after that which show brief glimpses of the rest of the movie but overall this comes off as simply a story of a lawyer who has to outsmart his lying client and decide whether or not to do the right thing.

The second trailer starts out the very same way as the first but then we get a more linear presentation of the story. We see the status of the relationship between her and Tomei, his ex-wife before getting into the details of the case he’s taking on. Phillip’s character comes from a wealthy family that wants this all to go away but McConaughey and his rag-tag team of assistants find he’s just an all around bad dude. So instead of proving his client innocent this trailer makes it appear as if he eventually turns the other way and is working to connect him not only to the crime he’s charged with but others as well. But the rich defendant isn’t going down without a sleazy fight, threatening McConaughey’s family and so on, making this a very personal fight for him.

Online

As is so often (and largely frustratingly) the case, the official website opens with the trailer playing. Closing that though you can get to the site’s main content. At the bottom of the page there’s a scroll of updates displaying Twitter updates that mention the movie.

The first area of content here is “Story,” which just has a paragraph-long synopsis of the movie’s plot. “Photos” has 11 stills from the movie that are displayed as full-screen images you can scroll through. “Videos” has both the Teaser and Theatrical Trailers as well as two TV Spots. Lastly there’s “Cast/Crew” which has exactly what you would expect that section to have.

When you hit the Facebook page you’re actually shown a lot of information, more than what’s on the official site. There’s a feature that asks what you might need a lawyer for, the ability to add this page’s profile picture added to your own Facebook profile, download some wallpapers and Buddy Icons, view photos and more. There’s also both trailers and a TV spot, a photo gallery and links to information on the book as well as information on how to earn GetGlue stickers for watching the movie or its marketing materials.

This is actually one of the better Facebook pages I’ve seen recently in terms of presentation, though once again I’m a little confused at how there’s all sorts of content here but relatively little – certainly not as much as what’s here – on the official site.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots for the movie like this one didn’t try to get clever and weren’t weighed down by attempts to play up the conceit of the film’s title, instead simply aiming to present the movie as a dramatic confrontation between a couple of strong-willed characters.

There’s probably a higher sense of action in spots like that than is present in the actual film but it’s looking to amp up the adrenaline so the audience doesn’t think it’s just a long-form kind of “Law & Order” episode.

Media and Publicity

McConaughey in particular made the media rounds of TV shows and such talking about the movie but that seems to be about it. There was discussion about the release of marketing materials but not much else, which is a little surprising since we’re moving out of the period where all the movie conversations are about awards, festivals or the movies being dumped to theaters in January. Really don’t know what to make of the lack of publicity here.

Later on there was a story (Los Angeles Times, 3/13/11) right before release about how McConaughey was cast and how Michael Connelly, the author of the source novel, went about creating the character he plays. This was probably the most extensive profile of the movie that I’ve seen.

Overall

I’m getting an odd vibe off this campaign. Things seem alright on the surface but then the lack of publicity or serious press push is more than a little surprising. What I’m thinking here is that audiences have gotten so used to seeing McConaughey in the romantic comedies he’s specialized in for the last decade or so that there’s going to be a disconnect between their expectations and what the movie presents. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the marketing here, it just might not be what the audience is looking for at this time.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 03/17/11 – The Onion has it’s own take on the scale of the movie’s marketing campaign.