Movie Marketing Madness: Green Lantern

(Disclosure: Voce has been doing some work with DC Comics of late, but much – around 90% – of this column was written before that project started. Just want to get that out there.)

There are some superheroes who are meant to go into space and some who just aren’t. If you read any of Spider-Man’s cosmic adventures you can’t help but have the feeling (often knowingly articulated by the character himself) that he’s just massively out of his depth. Characters like Spidey, Daredevil, Green Arrow and others are what are generally termed to be “street level” heroes, meaning they’re natural environments are alleyways, city streets and other areas where the ground is firmly under their feet. These are the ones who can’t fly, aren’t invulnerable and who are more suited to helping people as opposed to saving the planet.

There are others who, because of their power sets and origins, are extremely natural in space, with many of their adventures being set there. One of those is the character whose movie we are discussing today, Green Lantern. Fast-living and stubborn test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) comes upon the wreckage of an alien spacecraft with a dying purple humanoid in it. That alien bequeaths to him a power ring that transforms Jordan into a costumed warrior, the protector of the sector of space Earth inhabits and one of thousands of Green Lanterns who similarly police the rest of the galaxy. After training in how to harness his will and determination into the ring to achieve fantastic feats the newly minted Green Lantern comes back home to fight the threat of Parallax, a creature that taps into the yellow-tinted power of fear.

The movie represents DC Comics’ first foray into waters Marvel ventured into in 2008 with Iron Man, specifically those of releasing a big-screen version of what is roundly considered to be a second-tier character in their comics pantheon. Not that Green Lantern hasn’t been an integral part of the DC Universe for decades, but he’s not Superman or Batman and so is widely seen as having less name recognition outside of those who meticulously manage their pull lists each week. That may or may not be true but, again, that’s what the mindset seems to be and so that’s the environment it’s being released into. So let’s take a look at how this was sold.

The Posters

The first posters released to promote the movie hit just after Comic-Con 2010. The four images were a set and showed off four of the movie’s main characters, with the two featuring the good guys combining to form the Lantern logo and the two with the bad guys doing likewise, though note that Sinestro’s poster fades to yellow. The four also each contain one line from the famous Green Lantern slogan, a nice touch for the fans.

Around the same time the first trailer was released a new poster also debuted, this time a banner-type image that showed GL in the foreground but the rest of the Green Lantern Corps on the planet Oa, their base of operations, in the background including a huge ring that’s been carved out of stone. The poster upped the galactic ante a bit by showing the movie was more cosmic in scope.

When the movie made a publicity appearance at CinemaCon 2011 (more on that below) a new poster was released that continued the more cosmic-scale that the movie’s marketing was taking by showing Jordan standing defiantly once again on the planet Oa, looking like he’s fully embraced the hero’s role that’s been thrust upon him. A later one shows Tomar-Re in a similar setting and with a similar attitude and further posters had Kilowog, Abin Sur and Sinestro. Later on one for Hector Hammond was created that showed him looking very sinister.

A huge banner was released that showed off not only the characters already featured on posters and in the trailers but also others from the Green Lantern Corps from across the galaxy.

Finally, the theatrical poster combines many of the elements we’ve seen on previous installments and puts them in one place. All four of the major characters from the Green Lantern Corps are shown on Oa looking ready for battle, with the oath they swear just above the title. Another version showed Hal and some of his extra-terrestrial pals with their arms outstretched and rings lit up. It’s a good cap to the poster campaign and, again, sells the audience on a very cosmic adventure film.

The Trailers

The first trailer is very focused on setting up Hal Jordan the man both before he becomes the hero and as he is coming to terms with his new responsibilities. It opens with a scene of him waking up with a lovely young lady in his bed before realizing he’s late and dashing out to get the Air Force base where he’s a test pilot. Later on he’s seen deep in thought one night when a mysterious light streaks across the sky and a strange ship that’s piloted by a pink alien crashes near him. It’s then that he gets the ring that will be source of his power and from there on out we get shots of him flying (with the ring’s help) through the sky and creating various forms with the ring as he figures out just what it can do and what he’s now been called to do, which is protect the galaxy.

This first spot, as I said, seems to primarily focus on Jordan leaning about and becoming acclimated to the role that’s been thrust upon him. There are a couple of scenes that show the film’s cosmic setting, including a few brief shots of the alien world that is the home to the Green Lantern Corps one of which shows a still-good Sinestro, which is a nice touch for fans who know the story that will likely build out of that. But it’s mostly about a cocky test pilot realizing he has to know protect others and work to overcome whatever fears or uncertainties he has since, as we all know, the ring is only as good as the willpower of its bearer.

The second trailer starts out by setting up the threat that is faced by the galaxy, a threat that has commanded the attention of the entire Lantern corps. The ring comes to choose Jordan and he’s whisked off to Oa to undergo training, which we see being doled out. Then we finally get a look at the bad guys in the movie as we see Sarsgaard, his assistant and his father as he becomes the face of the evil on the Earth. At the end Jordan seems to be fully embracing his destiny as a hero, calling his allies to his side to help defend the planet.

This is a much better trailer, showing much more of the movie and the overall story. There’s less of an emphasis on Reynolds’ antics before becoming the latest Lantern recruit and more on him fighting a bad guy, which is apparently what the studio thinks the audience wants to see.

It’s important to note that this trailer came after a lot of other marketing had been done, including numerous extended TV spots, nearly 10 posters and more. So this is coming at the audience with the benefit of hindsight and with some of the lessons learned by the early parts of the campaign clearly on display here.

The next trailer, released specifically to play in front of the summer’s early 3D films, starts off by explaining the mythology of the rings and the Green Lantern Corps itself and the role they play in the universe. It then introduces Parallax and the threat it presents, eventually showing how it defeated Abin Sur and came to choose Hal Jordan as its next bearer. We then get some hots of how he wields the ring, including some of his constructs, and how epic the story is going to be. Like the one immediately before it – and to an even greater extent – this trailer sets up the story as a massive space epic.

Online

The movie’s official website opens by playing one of the movie’s trailers but you can skip that if you so choose. There are a lot of options that hit you once you get past that but let’s stick for the time being to the Main Navigation menu that’s over to the left of the screen.

The first section there is “Videos” and there you’ll find all three trailers as well as the exclusive Wonder-Con footage that showed up at that event but, unfortunately, none of the many TV spots that were released. There are eight stills from the movie in the “Photo Gallery.”

“About the Movie” has a totally decent Synopsis of the film’s story, as well as Cast and Filmmakers biographies and filmographies and Production Notes you can download as a PDF if you want to get more information. You’ll find Buddy Icons, Posters and Wallpapers in the “Downloads” section. “Soundtrack” has snippets of the music from the movie and links to buy the album.

You’ll find links to the companies that helped promote the movie under “Partners” and some of those same companies along with other sites that ran contests in the “Sweepstakes” section.

Things begin to get more interactive with the “Take the Oath” area, where you can recite your own Green Lantern Corps oath and view the videos of others who have done likewise. The “Join the Corps” allows you to insert the headshots of you and your friends into a picture of the Corps. The “Character Creator” lets you build your own Lantern and assign them to a sector of space. “Green Lantern Combat” puts you in the Corps training regime and the “Sector Map” lets you explore the galaxy that the Corps protects.

Most of those interactive features along with sections devoted to the movie’s console game tie-in and the straight-to-DVD movie are in a rotating menu that’s on the site’s front page.

The movie’s Facebook page has updates on the publicity activities, photos, videos and more.

A number of fictional sites were developed that tie into the movie’s story in some way, shape or form. Those include Newton Astronomers, a group devoted to finding extra-terrestrial life, a blog by Dr. Waller, the character played by Angela Bassett in the film and a Green Lantern training site where you can develop your ring-handling abilities.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Two TV spots debuted right around the time the movie appeared at CinemaCon that used a lot of footage from the extended sneak that was given there. One used the same scene of Jordan learning the oath he must take while charging his ring for the first time as its central component and gets very cosmic while the other is more straight-forward action in tone. They’re both fast and well done and speak to the core target audience here, though in slightly different ways.

Later on an extended commercial that clocked in at about 90 seconds aired during an episode of “American Idol” that featured a bit of new footage and continued promising lots of cosmic-level action with more of an emphasis on that action with just a smattering of humor included here and there. Two more extended TV spots were then released, one running a full two minutes (basically a trailer, no?) and the other a single minute. They didn’t really show anything new – they setup the threat, make it clear that Hal Jordan’s call is unique and show off the very cool visuals that are in the movie – but continued to make the case for the movie as a very cosmically oriented comic book adaptation.

It’s interesting that the focus would shift to longer videos since it would presume the studio found that the more it showed people the better the reaction was, whereas maybe with shorter spots the point of the movie didn’t really come across or the audience was confused.

More traditional 30-second spots would, of course, come later, but the focus continued to be on the cosmic-reaching story that the movie contained. It would also be among the movies receiving promotional exposure during this year’s MTV Movie Awards, acting as the official sponsor of the post-show coverage.

Out-of-home advertising would be a big component as well, with billboards/outdoor ads featuring the title character all over the place and some very cool in-theater standees like this one that feature the whole array of supporting members of the Green Lantern Corps.

One of the first promotional notes to come out about the movie was news (MediaPost, 9/16/10) that it would be featured as part of a new roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure theme park in New Jersey.

A new edition of a collection of GL comics was also scheduled to come out around the time of the movie, a collection that was focused on the character’s origin and which featured an introduction written by Reynolds.

There was also a new Green Lantern cartoon that was put into production for debut in conjunction with the movie and the marketing for that series got some publicity as well, adding to the overall Lantern buzz that was happening. There was also the tie-in with the recently released “DC Universe Online” game that allowed for the character to get some extra exposure. And has been the case with many recent comic-based theatrical films an animated direct-to-DVD feature was released around the same time as the feature film, this one with Nathan Fillion (who was rumored for the live-action movie for a while) voicing Hal Jordon.

Warner Bros. also revved up some of those corporate partnerships by introducing a new Green Lantern-themes roller coaster at one of its Six Flags theme parks.

The character was used for the latest “got milk?” ad, with a milk mustache painted on and carton of milk suspended in mid-air by his ring. Part of that campaign also included a site called LanternWorthy.com that put new recruits through a series of tests using either a keyboard or webcam (the latter using augmented reality technology) to see whether you were up to the challenge of being part of the Lantern Corps.

Subway was a promotional partner, launching a mobile content (MediaPost 6/3/11) that prompted people to download the SCVNGR-powered app and complete various tasks in an effort to win movie tickets. TV and other ads supported this effort and tied it to a new sandwich being offered that featured avocados, which is green.

Lipton launched a new flavor of its Brisk Iced Tea line called Brisk Green Tea with Mango Dragonfruit with newly designed bottles that featured movie imagery (MediaPost 6/9/11). The bottles also promoted a contest where people could enter to win movie tickets, comics or other prizes.

Kodak was also a partner, engaging in a number of activities including holding scavenger hunts in a number of cities across the country that rewarded people with movie swag and more.

Media and Publicity

Well before filming even started director Campbell was talking about the movie (Los Angeles Times, 1/16/10) and what sort of story it would encompass and what sort of tone it would take, specifically saying it would be an unusual sort of superhero film.

The first big wave of publicity started when the costume’s look debuted on the cover of Entertainment Weekly just prior to Comic-Con, where the movie would have a presence as well. The photo showed Reynolds in costume and coming at the reader with his power ring front and center. The reaction to this was muted since the photo appeared heavily manipulated – not a surprise since the costumer is completely CGI and not a physical outfit at all – and honestly didn’t look a whole lot better than some of the fan art that had been created around the time Reynolds was announced as the star.

The movie’s Comic-Con 2010 appearance included a panel presentation that gave fans a glimpse at some of the film’s footage and featured the cast and crew, who worked to prove their comics credibility with the crowd.

In advance of another movies starring Reynolds, Buried, the star got a loving profile overview of his career (Vanity Fair, 10/10) that included glowing comments from Lively as well as a look at the humiliation and misery he endured shooting this movie with all its high-tech features and needs.

As usual with comic book movies like this, every little clue and hint as to how certain things from the comics would be translated on screen became huge buzz generators. That ranged from the costume to the power battery, which appeared with Reynolds and Lively at the 2010 Scream Awards.

The first real look at the movie came on “Entertainment Tonight,” which previewed the about-to-be-released trailer just days before it came online.

The movie got some nice coverage when People Magazine announced Reynolds as its Sexiest Man Alive for 2010 (Associated Press, 11/17/10), something that probably brought awareness of the film to a much broader audience.

This release also served, apparently, as an opportunity for an assessment of Lively’s career to date. Specifically there was a pretty big story (New York Magazine, 1/14/11) that took the opinion that Lively was going to grow more and more into a reliable movie star – and here comes the kicker of the story – despite the fact that the “insiders” providing quotes labeled the movie as a almost surefire flop. That sort of kneecapping of a movie so far in advance of its release smells of someone who isn’t so much tied to Lively but who comes from someone with a grudge against the studio but who still wants to hire Lively in the future.

The tie-in toys and other products for the movie were also among those debuting or otherwise making a big show at the annual Toy Fair convention (Hollywood Reporter, 2/10/11).

Later on it was announced that much of the cast would be making an appearance at WonderCon, where the studio was going to be heavily promoting not only the movie but also the character in general with a number of activities throughout the event.

Reynolds also got some additional promotion when he was named Male Star of the Year (THR, 3/17/11) at CinemaCon, where a bit of the movie’s footage was shown to exhibitors. Around the same time a presence for the film was also made at WonderCon (THR, 3/31/11), the more geek-attracting convention.

The marketing campaign – or the lack thereof – became a story in and of itself in the months between the release of the first trailer (in November 2010) and the second (scheduled for May of 2011). Studio executives were finally forced to confront the deafening silence, which happened to coincide with ramped up pushes for Marvel’s Thor and Captain America movies, by admitting that things were on hold until work could be completed on more special effects shots (LAT, 3/30/11). Taking the time to fine-tune things would, the execs said, insure that fan reaction would be better to the second eventual trailer than it was to the first, when many people said the effects didn’t look quite up to par.

The campaign rebounded shortly after that, though, when extended footage – footage that was deeply steeped in the character’s mythology and therefore was geared primarily at the comic’s fans in the audience – from the movie was screened at CinemaCon 2011 (Hollywood Reporter, 3/31/11), the exhibition trade show, along with Reynold, Lively and others making an appearance on a panel for those in attendance and two new posters being unveiled.

The showing of that extended footage definitely did mark a turning point in the movie’s word-of-mouth. Where prior to that people were talking more than a little about how silly various aspects of the movie seemed or looked all of a sudden it was being taken seriously and even considered as a legitimate contender in this summer of so many comic book movies.

Continued press would focus on how the movie was very much a deep space adventure (LAT, 4/27/11) that has lots of potential for future entries because that galactic scope means the filmmakers can take the character just about everywhere.

Overall

There are two overall things that strike me as most interesting about this campaign:

First, there’s the way Warner Bros. was able to rebound after some initial missteps. Even the marketing folks involve admit in hindsight that they went out too early with the first trailer and peaks at the movie when things weren’t quite ready for public eyes. But unlike with some other comic book movies that have made the same mistake the strength of what came afterward seems to have more than compensated for that and, as I mention above, there was a palpable shift in the tone of conversations around the film after the studio took a deep breath and got things going in earnest.

Second, as I also mention above, there’s the way the focus in the marketing is squarely on the cosmic nature of the character. Where other super hero movies have been marketed with an emphasis on the Earth-bound story elements (cough, Thor, cough) this one makes no bones about how it’s a very large story told across the stars. In fact it does so largely at the expense of showing much of anything about the conflicts that presumably drive the story. So while we get plenty of shots of that yellow Parallax cloud attacking buildings and some shots of Hector Hammond twirling his proverbial mustache we don’t get how the story plays out in a linear fashion.

So aside from the very first bits there’s a really good campaign here that definitely hits vastly different notes than most super hero movies of late. That’s enough to be interesting in some new and intriguing ways and certainly work to setup a character that, all jokes aside, many people may only be peripherally aware of. It remains to be seen if that translates to box-office success but I think the studio has done just about as good a job of creating interest as they can.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 06/20/11 – The relationship between the movie and Mattel, which produced many of the tie-in toys and other products, gets explored in its own feature that also touches on how toy makers are becoming more adept at being entertainment companies themselves.