Movie Marketing Madness: Cars 2

How does that song go? “We hate it when our friends become successful?” The idea, of course, is that when someone we know and who’s been close to us all of a sudden becomes successful at something not only are we jealous of them doing well where we haven’t but are also resentful of how this new responsibility of theirs will cut into the time they have to hang with us.

In the first Cars movie a handful of years ago we were introduced to not only the main character of Lightening McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) but also the residents of Radiator Springs, the small town where McQueen becomes stranded on his way to achieving his dream of winning the Piston Cup. When he eventually got to California and the big race he found his new friends were there to support him, teaching McQueen a valuable lesson about loyalty and the power of working as a team.

Now in Cars 2 (an effective if unimaginative title) McQueen is back along with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and some of the other townscars. But this time, as with most sequels, the scope of the story has expanded significantly. Now a world-famous race car, McQueen is invited to participate in the World Grand Prix, a series of races in cities around the world featuring all sorts of cars. He takes Mater with him for support but the two soon find themselves on different, albeit converging, paths. Mater becomes entwined in an espionage plot that he has no idea how to manage, though he’s kind of helped by Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) and others who mistake hm for an American spy. McQueen, meanwhile, is having increasing troubles on the race circuit as it appears someone is looking to take him out of the competition.

The Posters

The movie’s initial teaser poster was pretty simple: It’s just the film’s title treatment put seemingly inside a blue hologram-type image of the Earth. So it works in that it publicizes the film’s release and conveys to the audience that the action is probably shifting outside the comfortable confines of Radiator Springs in this second installment.

The second posters really was just an extension of that initial concept, showing the same hologram-style globe and title treatment, but this time tilted a bit and with McQueen, Mater and a couple of the new cars racing toward the camera.

As is pretty usual for Pixar movies, a series of “vintage” style posters was created. One of them looked like an old James Bond-type one-sheet, with a villain in the background and lots of action happening in the forefront while the other two used the conceit of the world racing tour that the film focuses on. Also as usual these are really cool.

Shortly after that a triptych poster was released that continued the worldwide focus, with one third focused on McQueeen in Tokyo, Finn in London and Mater parachuting over France.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released in October of 2010, was simply an announcement type of spot. It’s mostly voiceover intonations of dangerous situations and advanced technology before introducing us to the newest secret agents on the block at which point it cuts to a very confused Lightening McQueen and Mater. Like I said, not much there but it does promise that the action has shifted from Radiator Springs and into some new territory.

The second trailer made the story more clear. We have indeed left Radiator Springs and are now in the high-speed international racing world of with McQueen and Mater. But it’s while participating in a world championship race there that they get mixed up with opposing groups of spies who think they’re also intelligence agents from America.

What strikes me about this second spot is that 1) We’ve apparently left the rest of the cast behind. I get that the action has shifted and bringing everyone along on the trip would have a distinct “I Love Lucy – The Hollywood Season” vibe to it, but it’s still a little disappointing that this movie, at least based on this trailer, is focusing just on McQueen and Mater and not the whole gang that helped us fall in love with the first firm; and 2) That the two returning main characters seem to have completely different story arcs.

I’m sure we’re not getting a completely accurate picture of the movie here, but this trailer does little to make me completely comfortable with the direction this installment has gone in.

The next trailer offers even more details about the story. We open with lots of ominous stuff including Caine’s character traveling to sketchy locations to find his contact. We then get a little more background on how McQueen has been invited to a big international series of races and brings Mater along with him. The two get caught up in the spy happenings and most of the danger comes from that direction while a disturbing amount of the humor comes from areas including the bathroom.

It certainly sells the movie as being broader in scope than the first one but I’m not sure there’s much here that shows it has the same heart and emotion that the first movie does.

The next trailer starts off with McQueen starting off at the World Grand Prix along with some of his Radiator Springs friends. A rivalry starts up with one of the French racers and we cut between that and the footage of the spy plot that Mater’s involved in. This one is definitely unique from the previous versions not only in how much we get of McQueen’s racing storyline, something that’s only briefly mentioned as setup before, but in how the two stories are eventually brought together. It’s not bad.

Online

The official website opens by playing one of the TV spots for the movie. Once you go ahead and enter the site you can choose what locale you’d like for your background, with each image featuring a different set of characters as well.

The first section of content is “Characters,” showing just where the emphasis is in the campaign. When you click any of the character images in this section you’re taken to their profile, which includes a bio, videos and various downloads that are specific to them.

“Movies” has not only a synopsis of this movie’s story but also the stories of the first movie and the “Cars Toons” that were created and run on TV in the time between then and now. “Games” then has some online casual-type games to play that tie in to the movie as well as a few holdovers from the last film. There’s also some information here on the console tie-in games. Some of that is replicated in the “Video Games” section later on.

You’ll find all the Icons and Wallpapers collected in the “Downloads” section.

“Videos” is chock full of all sorts of things, ranging from TV spots and character introduction videos to behind the scenes featurettes and more. Some are organized by category, others by character but there are a ton to choose from here. “Activities” has some things for youngsters to do if you need to occupy them for an hour or so.

Sweepstakes” lets you enter to win prizes from State Farm (they get branding throughout the site, a nice perk for them that expands their sponsorship dollars). Similarly “Events” lists where a road show sponsored by the insurance company will be stopping across the country.

Disney also launched (Los Angeles Times, 2/24/10) a Cars-themed virtual world called, appropriately, World of Cars that took advantage of the talent they acquired Club Penguin.

The movie’s Facebook page either ports over or links to many of the official website’s features and also includes a few videos and photos as well.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot for the movie takes a similar approach as the second trailer, focusing on Mater’s involvement with the British spies and McQueen’s attempts to win the race even as some mysterious elements seek to do him in. There’s plenty of humor from Mater, including an actual toilet joke at the very end, which I’m not sure what to do with.

Later spots would also emphasize the international nature of the movie and specifically focus on the hijinks Mater gets into and the spay movie nature of the story.

State Farm, a returning partner from the first movie, launched a nationwide tour dubbed “Agents on a Mission.” Traveling to a dozen or so cities across the country the tour brought cars similar to those in the movie to malls and other locations along with events and sweepstakes for attendees to take part in. The company also ran co-branded TV spots with Mater causing problems that a team of State Farm worker cars then readily came by to help clean up.

Goodyear Tires also got in on the fun with a campaign that included a complete rebranding (MediaPost, 6/21/11) of their website for a short period of time as well as a revamp of their iconic blimp. Considering the were the focus of a good amount of good-natured gags in th efirst movie it’s nice to see they’re on board here and having fun with things.

Kimberly-Clark was a major promotional partner for the movie, putting Cars-branding on a number of products across their lines and across audience demographics (AdAge, 5/23/11) in an effort to have a big impact on store shelves. The company also engaged in some advertising to support this campaign and even some campaigns involving top parenting bloggers.

Media and Publicity

Over a year before the movie’s release was scheduled for a quick look at what we could expect came via concept art that was included as part of Disney’s annual shareholder report.

The movie came up again briefly when news circulated in the wake of Toy Story 3 that the characters from that movie would make a future appearance in a short before Cars 2.

A continued stream of publicity was created through the steady release of character images and introductions that showed that, despite the fact that they hadn’t appeared in any of the marketing to date, much of the population of Radiator Springs would be returning as part of McQueen’s pit crew. Eventually the entire cast was assembled into a character guide so we could see who’s returning and who’s being newly introduced.

Some early stories took the other approach and focused on the new characters that were going to be introduced in this second installment (Los Angeles Times, 1/16/11), including some characters that were originally considered for the first film but who then served as the inspiration for this new movie.

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). Also on the trade show front was an appearance by Larry the Cable Guy at CinemaCon 2011 (THR, 3/29/11) where some footage was also shown to exhibitors in attendance.

There was some publicity drummed up when a weird clip of a faux local used car sales ad popped up online that, after some decoding was done, unlocked an exclusive clips from the movie that showed Caine’s character eluding danger. It’s kind of odd but it got a lot of people talking.

More traditional press came after with a story (Fast Company, 5/11/11) about how the story in the film is, to some extent, a mash-up of elements the creators had wanted to use in the first movie but had cut for various reasons. That’s not to say it’s an after-thought, just that the sequel afforded them the opportunity to revisit some ideas they had liked the first time around and were anxious to bring to fruition.

Inevitably the focus shifted toward Pixar’s John Lasseter (LAT, 6/19/11) and how he continues to be one of the primary creative forces within the company regardless of what specific role he plays in each individual film.

Overall

I’ve pointed out in the individual sections above a few things that work for me and a few things that don’t. It’s a pretty even split between those two categories but, if I had to pick one side or the other I’d say that by and large this campaign comes up a bit short. I’m not all that surprised since the fact that I never quite wrapped by head around the campaign for the first one was a big reason why I didn’t cover that marketing push here years ago. That’s not to say there’s not good stuff here but considering the inconsistent nature of most of the marketing it just doesn’t work when balanced out.

I’m almost positive the movie works better than the campaign makes it seem but there’s a lot of places here where the movie gets mis-sold or oddly sold to the audience as it works to appeal just to kids who are paying attention with the shortest possible attention spans. That’s not a mistake in and of itself but it leads to a campaign that doesn’t have a lot that is meant to work for the older folks who are going to be buying the tickets.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 06/23/11 – The movie was one of those that advertised through a tie-in with the popular Facebook-based Farmville game.
  • 06/27/11 – For some reason almost all discussions of the movie involved mentions of how it was just an excuse to move more toy cars off of store shelves, something exemplified by this story, though this is neither the first nor the most egregious example of a movie that’s been made with merchandising considerations in mind.

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