Movie Marketing Madness: Sucker Punch

By now any serious aficionado of science-fiction/fantasy will acknowledge that even if they wouldn’t rank “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” as the best example of using metaphorical demons to represent real life struggles it certainly belongs near the top of that list. Even if you’re among those who feel the high-quality declined somewhat in Seasons 6 and 7 (I don’t agree, by the way. Both seasons have incredible highs and no more cringe-inducing episodes than any other one.) there’s little worth in denying that when the show was firing on all cylinders it was nigh unbeatable.

Looking to tread equally metaphorical ground is the new movie Sucker Punch from director (he’s not being referred to in this campaign as a “visionary director” since that label was widely mocked when used in the marketing for Watchmen) Zach Snyder. The movie tells the story of Babydoll (Emily Browning), who’s brought to a an all-girls detention facility following the murder of her father. The head mistress there is consistently trying to break the wills of Babydoll and the others there. But then Babydoll tries to lead them out of the drudgery of their existence there and into a fantastical realm where they battle robot soldiers, gigantic monsters and more in a quest for freedom that could have implications in the real world.

The Posters

The initial posters for the movie, which like the trailer first hit in the same time period that it was appearing at Comic-Con, were a series of six one-sheets that each showed off a different one of the lead girls. The actress’ name doesn’t appear on them but their character’s name does. All of them are obviously meant to appeal to the fanboy crowd who like their girls showing lots of skin while at the same time being heavily armed.

The series of scantily-clad females were all put together, albeit in separate images, on a promotional banner that was likely used in theaters and other out-of-home locations.

While all the girls were there it was Baby Doll that was at the front and center of the next poster. That one-sheet had all the girls with weapons out and guns a-blazing at whatever the menace they’re facing was while a huge robot thingy marched in the background and masses of soldiers came at them on the ground as well. In the sky we see a burning plane being chased by a dragon. So it comes across as a very, very trippy poster that promises a unique series of visuals to the audience, a promise that’s reinforced by the copy at the top that makes it clear this movie is coming from the same guy behind Watchmen and 300, both of which were notable for their look and feel.

Another series of five more posters, again with each one featuring one of the girls from the boarding house in the midst of some whacked-out battle, was then released. Basically these were another opportunity to show off the insane visuals that are featured in the movie but also the tight and occasionally revealing clothing these girls are wearing.

While I don’t usually cover international posters, this series of retro-designed one-sheets is just to cool not to mention. They’re a bit more sexually explicit where the U.S. posters rely more on innuendo but they are very cool.

The Trailers

The first trailer, which debuted right around the time of it’s Comic-Con 2010 appearance, rightly puts the focus on 1) girls kicking some serious hinder and 2) the outrageous visuals.

It starts off with one of the girls being taken to some sort of sanitarium and being told via voice-over that it’s safe right before she’s told she needs to begin her fight for survival.

Aside from something about escaping, there’s not much story laid out here nor is there one really called for. Instead we get lots of shots of girls with swords, girls with guns and girls fighting monsters with guns and swords. There are Nazi zeppelins, dragons chasing World War II bombers around and other such ridiculousness. The only thing that we can infer about the plot is that it’s Baby Doll’s story we’re following since she’s the one that’s being dragged into the building and whom we see doing the most damage.

The second trailer does go more into the movie’s story, which by definition it would almost have to compared to the first one. We see that Baby Doll has had a troubled life, from losing her parents at an early age to an abusive guardian while older. So she’s shipped off to some sort of penal boarding school where she meets the other characters but dreams of escaping. But then she does escape, only it’s in to some sort of dream world of flying dragons and air battles where she must find five mysterious items in order to be set free.

It’s nice that there’s more emphasis here on revealing the story even if the focus is still squarely on the ridiculous visuals that are exploding all around the characters, particularly once the action shifts to Baby Doll’s dream world. This second trailer, though, manages to find as much of a balance as we can reasonably expect it to given the film it’s tasked with selling. Also, we get to see Scott Glenn, which is cool even if he does seem to have been given the role because he kind of looks like David Carradine sometimes and audiences might draw the connection.

The final trailer eliminated all pretense that story was going to be a major factor in convincing the audience to see the movie or in making the movie cool at all. Instead it’s basically just a music video that starts off with some of the same shots of Baby Doll being abused and fighting back and being dragged off to the asylum and then fighting, along with the other girls, all sorts of crazy monsters and villains. But there’s no dialogue of any sort and instead is just all about showing off the visuals for the movie at enough of a breakneck pace that, it’s hoped, no one notices the fact that character and plot are being put completely on the back burner. It works well enough in that regard.

Online

After the official website takes its sweet time loading up the second trailer begins loading but you can skip that and begin the next wait for more content to load. When that’s finished one of four backgrounds appears that is presented as a scrollable horizontal mural, though with some motion animation. The first shows the five girls brandishing machine guns on the war zone, one shows a samurai statue come to life and attacking Baby Doll and so on.

Activating the menu at the bottom of the page, the first section is “About the Film.” There you’ll find a decent Synopsis that gives more detail on the story than anything else I’ve seen to date as well as Cast and Filmmaker information and PDF Production Notes you can download if you want to read through them.

Surprising for how much video content was produced, the “Videos” section just has one trailer, a Featurette and the footage that was shown at Comic-Con last year. Also surprisingly for such a visual-centric movie there are only five stills in the “Gallery” to view.

The “Downloads” section is much more fully stocked, with lots of Wallpapers, a handful of Buddy Icons and almost (but not quite all) the posters available to download to your desktop. “Art” is somewhat similar but it just has what appear to be concept drawings for the main characters that can be grabbed. There are also the final batch of the originally-released character posters in the “Comic-Con Banners” section.

The tie-ins begin to get some promotion in the “Soundtrack” section, where you can listen to some samples of the tunes on that album. Then there’s “Art Book” which has information on the coffee table edition that showed off the movie’s style and design. Then “Partners” has links to the companies that helped promote the movie in some way and “Sweepstakes” has links to sites that ran some sort of promotional contest.

“Image Factory” is pretty cool, allowing you to create a customized version of one of the wallpapers for use on a desktop or mobile device. You select an image and then can zoom in, crop and so on to optimize that image for the desired device. Similarly the “Trailer Painter” allows you to get a bit creative with the trailer, adding in your own colors and art sensibilities. So some people have inserted painted frames to replace what’s there in random spots. You can then share your creation in a variety of ways.

Finally there are links to the “Sucker Punch Annihilation” game and to the “Shop” where you can buy movie-branded goods.

There’s also, of course, a Facebook page for the movie (though it doesn’t seem to be linked to from the official site) that features Wall updates and more as well as ported-over versions of many of the features from that official website.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A bit of TV advertising was done, with spots being released around the middle of February that take the same basic arc as the second trailer. They start out by showing the events that lead Baby Doll to being sent to the prison/sanitarium/boarding school and then move on to the more fantastical visual elements from the story, all the while tying the fight she’s in with robots and dragons to her emotional journey and desire to escape from where she’s being held.

There were also tons of online ads plastered around the interent, most of them variations on one or more of the character posters and thereby relying on the idea of young women clothed in shorts, high-heel boots and all sorts of leather will prove to be popular online. Other full motion video units also displayed portions of the trailers to try and entice clickers.

Zippo, Hot Topic, Buttkicker and Shuttle were all companies that signed on as promotional partners. The latter two ran sweepstakes rewarding either trips to the movie’s premiere or product of their own while Zippo seemed to be promoting their product integration within the film and Hot Topic was selling movie-branded merchandise as it often does.

Media and Publicity

The initial publicity push was definitely when the movie made an appearance at Comic-Con 2010, with cast and crew in tow. A panel appearance complete with footage being shown made sure the movie received at least a preliminary round of buzz in anticipation of it being released in early 2011. As stated above, the first rounds of marketing materials were released at the same time to continue to try and get people talking.

Later on, after some more marketing materials had been released, there was more discussion about the movie’s look and feel, specifically what influences Snyder brought with him to the production, influences that ranged from Anime to the Terry Gilliam classic Brazil.

The look and feel of the movie got not only a fair amount of press but also its own book, titled “The Art of Sucker Punch,” that went in-depth on how the unique vision of the film was achieved, including concept art, character sketches and more.

Overall

Since the campaign’s main goal seems to have been to show off the amazing visuals that Snyder and his creative team have once again put on display then you have to concede the campaign was a success at achieving what it set out to do. What remains to be seen is how much that translates to audience interest.

It’s easy to see a good portion of that audience watching the trailers with their loud, pounding music and corresponding visuals and writing it off as the likely source of a future headache. But it’s also easy to see (because I follow many of them on Twitter) a lot of people in the audience seeing scantily glad girls in amazing anime-inspired visual sequences and thinking this is the coolest thing on the planet.

Snyder’s not becoming the franchise I think many people were expecting him to. Instead he’s someone who caters mainly to the Comic-Con crowd and even then not always successfully. But if I had to guess I’d say this campaign has served primarily to reinforce the desire to see it among those who got first looks at Comic-Con and elsewhere and not expand much beyond that niche, basically becoming the next Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

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