Movie Marketing Madness: Bad Teacher

Jobs are taken for a variety of reasons. In some cases a given position is selected because of its benefits, because of its proximity to where we live or because of the flexibility of the hours allows us to manage the rest of our lives efficiently. There’s even the remote possibility that what we do for a living is, in fact, our dream job. Sometimes, though, a job is just about making ends meet while we bide our time for something else to come along.

The latter is very much the rationale of the main character in the new movie Bad Teacher. Catherine (Cameron Diaz) is just teaching for the paycheck. She doesn’t care about the kids, she doesn’t care about education and she doesn’t care about the gym teacher (Jason Segal) that’s trying to date her. Her perspective on the job changes when a handsome, wealthy new substitute teacher (Justin Timberlake) shows up and she decides to get his attention any way she can so she can quit the teaching gig and be spoiled the rest of her life. That desire leads her to show some

The Posters

The first poster for the movie is clearly intent on using Diaz’s legs as the primary selling point along with the promise of some foul-mouthed humor. Diaz is shown here in a scene straight out of the trailer that was released prior to this, sleeping behind her desk with her sunglasses over her eyes and hair clearly out of sorts. The two bits of copy – the note on the apple that says “Eat me!” and on the desk saying “She doesn’t give an ‘F'” make it clear that we’re not exactly in family-friendly territory here.

The Trailers

The first trailer, a red-band version, starts off by making it clear that Elizabeth is massively unqualified to be a teacher. She doesn’t seem to like kids, she smokes pot and like most of her students would rather be sleeping through class. While she’s pursued by the school’s gym teacher she’s trying to get in the pants of the new substitute teacher. But then she finds an opportunity to raise money for some…cosmetic surgery…with a state sponsored contest.

The whole thing is just an excuse for Diaz to say some wholly inappropriate things and for the editors to show how she smokes pot in one scene. It’s moderately funny but one has to wonder how long this premise can be drawn out and if the raunchiness can be sustained for an entire feature fill.

Later on the green-band version was released that hit many of the same notes as the first trailer but cut out the more offensive bits, mostly in terms of language. Most of the same scenes are shown but with strategic cut-offs or alternate dialogue. I actually don’t think there’s anything new here, just some rearranging of the deck chairs.  For me at least this comes off as a bit funnier since it doesn’t seem to be trying so deliberately to be going for laughs based solely on dirty words.

Online

There’s not much information on the official website’s splash page, just a couple invitations to view the green-band and restricted trailers as well as links to the social networking profiles and a prompt to buy some older comedies on DVD/Blu-ray.

Once you enter the site the first section of content is “Videos” which just contains the all-access trailer. Next is “Gallery” which has eight still photos from the movie. “About” has a plot synopsis and lists of the Cast and Filmmakers but neither of those sub-sections has anything further, just their names and photos. The last section is “Dodgeball,” which asks a series of trivia questions. If you answer them correctly you get to throw a ball at an avatar of Diaz’s character and if you botch one you get a ball thrown at your face. Let me restate that: The point of this game is to win so you can hit a girl with a ball.

The “Restricted Content” portion of the site that sits behind an age-gate has the red-band trailer as well as a “Boobie Prize” game that asks you to try and catch money in a jar to win some bigger jugs.

The Facebook page leads with a prompt to Like the page in order to view the restricted content as well as photos, videos and of course updates on promotional activities from the cast. Similar updates are found on the Twitter feed that’s specific to the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There was quite a bit of TV advertising done, with 15- and 30-second spots run that, of course, highlighted how outrageous the movie is and how lazy and unmotivated Diaz’s character is.

There’s little in the vast majority of the spots about her eventually getting into teaching, even if it is for the wrong reasons, instead just focusing on her avoiding responsibility and being mean and uncaring to the kids in her care.

Media and Publicity

Press started to surface in the wake of the release of the first red-band trailer, with some early speculation pegging this as a possible come back role for Diaz (Los Angeles Times, 2/25/11), who has had a string of disappointing films in recent years. Diaz continued to the be focal point of the publicity when it was announced (Hollywood Reporter, 3/21/11) that she was being named the CinemaCon Female Star of the Year. She was also named one of Maxim’s Hot 100 for 2011 and featured in the magazine in a racy school-themed photo shoot.

Perhaps sensing a distinct lack of buzz a relatively non-raunchy (and unfunny, which is more worrisome) “gag reel” was released that showed some outtakes that involve swearing by the actors.

Overall

It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just one of those cases where you can sense a campaign trying so hard to get people all sorts of excited that the seams begin to show. In this case there’s such a strong effort to get people interested in the movie by showing how outrageous the material is that it comes off as sort of desperate. So much so you begin to feel bad for the campaign as it becomes obvious it’s selling an experience that can’t possibly match with reality as it works to win opening weekend against all sorts of other, bigger movies.

I’ll be honest, part of that comes straight from Diaz. Never one of my favorite actresses, here she comes off as sort of delusional herself playing a similarly delusional character. Both she and the marketing are working so hard against the tide to appear hip and edgy and all that that nothing works as well as it otherwise should have.

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.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Art of Getting By

Sometimes the best laid plans we have for our lives can be interrupted by the sudden appearance of just one variable. In some cases that’s a person in others it’s a choice between one path and the other but in each case there’s the distinct possibility that whatever we had planned and however we thought things would play out those plans are now out the window.

In the new movie The Art of Getting By George ( Freddie Highmore) is doing just enough to get by as he goes through his senior year of high school. He’s done enough not to cause trouble but also nothing that will bring him any great success, despite being a talented artist. Similarly Sally (Emma Roberts) is trying her best to not be noticed as she goes through life. But when the two meet and strike up a friendship they wind up bringing out the best in each other and pushing each other in new directions. While each starts out thinking this is just a friendship it becomes clear that there’s something deeper going on but those feelings complicate their tendency to not rock any more boats than absolutely necessary.

The Posters

I’m honestly not sure what’s supposed to be going on in the movie’s poster. Highmore and Roberts are passing each other on a  New York City street, with him carrying a stack of sketches and something covered by a green cloth. He’s watching where he’s going while she’s turned toward the camera, which is just dangerous.

There’s nothing else on the poster outside of the movie’s title. Nothing about the story or characters or anything like that. It’s just two people walking past each other on a city street. I guess if you’re selling a movie that’s just that this could work but I think there might be more to the plot of this film.

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer starts off by introducing us to George, who is a talented artist but who’s’ also a talented slacker at the other responsibilities he has at school and elsewhere. Then he meets Sally and the two start hanging out, their quirks kind of working with each other but with both of them keeping the relationship in the “friends” zone, something one of George’s friends then takes advantage of. The two continue to not talk about how they feel but George is obviously going to be the one to get over that as well as using his interest in her to find his artistic passion.

It’s a fun trailer that relies heavily on the charms of the leads but in that respect it works quite well. There’s lots of new music playing over the footage to let us know how hip the movie will be but more than anything it shows that the relationships between the two characters is what will really matter.

Online

The movie’s official website lets you, at the top of the page, choose to either watch the trailer or read a Synopsis. There’s also a prompt to “Help your friends get by this summer” which prompts you to connect to a Facebook app that is designed to help you suggest some things to your friends to help them lead more productive summers, suggestions that of course include the notion of seeing this movie.

The rest of the site has a Photo Gallery, a stream of Twitter updates from people that mention the movie and a widget of Fox Searchlight’s Facebook updates as well as a block of news from the studio’s blog that deal with the film.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here that I’ve come across. There may have been some online advertising done but I haven’t seen – or don’t remember if I have – anything.

Media and Publicity

The movie first started getting some word-of-mouth as the result of screening at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival (Hollywood Reporter, 1/23/11), where director Gavin was interviewed (Filmaker Magazine, 1/23/11) before it was quickly picked up by Fox Searchlight for distribution.

In the first half of 2011, well before its release, the movie was brought up again as it underwent a change in title from Homework, which is what it premiered at Sundance as, to The Art of Getting By.

Overall

It’s small scale but I like the way this campaign sells the movie in an enjoyable and consistent manner. Some might find the way Highmore and Roberts are shown as too-hip-for-their-own-good teens annoying but I don’t see that, instead looking at how they’re presented as being interesting in its own way. But for those whose tolerance for precocious teens is low this campaign – and this movie – will most definitely not appeal to them.

And there is a good amount of consistency to the campaign, with the trailer and poster working well together and presenting a nice unified message to the audience. Outside of that the emphasis is, wisely, on the word-of-mouth that came out of Sundance and while there hasn’t been a ton of work (that I’ve noticed) to capitalize on that there also hasn’t been anything that outright contradicts or detracts from it.

Movie Marketing Madness: Mr. Popper’s Penguins

What’s the weirdest thing you ever got from a relative? The easy visual many of you probably went to was the bunny pajamas from A Christmas Story but I’m also talking here about something you may have received as an inheritance as well as for a more common gift. It might have been a jelly of the month club subscription, it might have been the antique cigarette holder that will go unused because you’ve never smoked or it might be the kids your sister and brother-in-law had that you’ll have to raise because they died despite the fact that you’re a confirmed bachelor and your apartment isn’t kid-proofed but maybe that woman across the hall who you’re always bickering with can help.

In the new movie Mr. Popper’s Penguins the title character gets a very unusual gift from an adventuresome relative. Tom Popper (Jim Carrey) has carved out a life separate from his world-traveling father and is successful in his own business but divorced from but still friends with his ex-wife (Carla Gugino), with whom he shares custody of their kids. One day he gets a package from his late father containing six penguins and the impact they have on his life are equal parts comedic and heartwarming.

The Posters

The first poster didn’t exactly break a lot of new ground or go out on any limbs. It’s just Carrey standing there looking slightly annoyed and puzzled with a gaggle of penguins surrounding him and chirping at him. It’s just selling the premise that he’s going to be reacting to the antics of these animated birds for the majority of the movie.

The Trailers

The first trailer is very much a teaser, with various shots of Carrey interacting with the computer-generated penguins, both with his family and on his own. There’s the promise of plenty of exasperating situations, with Carrey clearly “on” here, though there’s almost nothing in the way of plot or anything like that. It’s alright for setting up audience anticipation but that’s about it.

The next trailer, a fuller version, definitely gets more into the story. Popper is on the outs with his family, who feels he’s always disappointing them because he’s too focused on his job. But then his newly deceased father sends him a bunch of penguins from his expedition and he becomes an unwilling overseer of those birds, at first resisting their presence but then, once he finds they help him connect with his kids, embracing them and their antics, despite the problems they cause for his professional life. It’s not unfunny, certainly hearkening back to movies like Liar Liar and such from earlier in Carrey’s career.

Online

The movie’s official website opens by playing one of the trailers but you can also “Meet the Penguins,” which puts a brief character description of each penguin on-screen.

The first thing that appears once you Enter the Site is an invitation to record your own video and send it as an e-card for Father’s Day. You begin by selecting what kind of penguin you want to have in the video and then using your computer’s camera to record yourself dancing. Also right there at the top of the page is a game called “Mr. Popper’s Trailer Hunt” that’s basically just a prompt to get kids to watch the trailer again and click whenever they see a penguin in the video.

After that there are just a few are areas of further content, the first of which is “About,” which just has a brief synopsis of the movie’s story. “Cast” isn’t so much about the cast as it is about the penguins and their personality traits. The one human there is Mr. Popper but even that’s about the character and not Carrey.

There are just five stills in the “Photos” section and just the trailer, a TV spot and the penguins roll call spot in the “Videos” area.

The Facebook page has lots of updates on new videos and other promotional and publicity activities that Carrey in particular has been engaging in as well as photos and more, with most of those same updates (sans the multimedia) on the official Twitter profile.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Advertising for the movie kicked off in earnest with a spot that aired during the “American Idol” season finale. The commercial was pretty basic and just showed off the physical (and CGI) humor that’s in the film.

Kind of a short trailer/long-form TV spot was released next that was also a sort of music video that introduced us to each of the penguins and their defining characteristic.

There was plenty of outdoor advertising run as well, with billboards and sidewalk ads featuring the same key poster art above.

Media and Publicity

The first publicity for the movie came in the form of an USA Today story (1/13/11) that featured a gallery of the first official photos from the film. It was then a while before more press was generated, in fact it was just a few weeks before release when Carrey appeared at the “2011 MTV Movie Awards” wearing a crazy green screen jacket (Hollywood Reporter, 6/6/11) and generally trying to get his career back on track.

Overall

I’m not sure there’s much of a campaign here. Sure there are all the elements of a marketing campaign but it all never seems very…enthusiastic. This is one of those campaigns that seems to be an example of “going through the motions.” The emphasis on the penguins throughout the campaign means the studio seems to be more interested in selling the film to the Alvin & the Chipmunks crowd than to anyone who might be a Jim Carrey fan, meaning the comeback this was supposed to be for him might not wind up materializing. I just can’t help but think that the expectations here are low in the face of an opening against Green Lantern this week and so the marketing never really achieved “full throated” status.

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.

Movie Marketing Madness: Super 8

There’s a generation of filmmakers who are as known for the movies they made as young children or students as for anything they may have produced during their adult years. These are the guys who hit their stride in the late 60’s and early 70’s and whose backyard productions and student films have become the stuff of legend. The two primary examples of this are, of course, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Speilberg’s biography is always heavy on references to how the director created all sorts of single reel shorts in his backyard and Lucas’ on his unique film school productions. In both cases these match up with the public image of the directors, with Spielberg still being seen as that excitable little boy with a handheld camera and Lucas (more or less) as someone who’s going to do whatever he wants regardless of what anyone else thinks.

The new movie Super 8 uses as its starting point the story of a group of friends in a small Texas town in 1979 who have set out to make their own movie using a Super 8 camera. It’s a group of misfits with Joe (Joel Courney) as their director. Because of their fascination with monster movies and science fiction stories Joe’s dad Jackson (Kyle Chandler), who’s also the local deputy, doesn’t want his son hanging around with them as much as he thinks they’re all a bad influence. One night while shooting near the local railroad tracks a train derails and strange things begin happening around town. Over the next few days dogs disappear, electronics stop working, engines are torn apart and more, all completely baffling to the sheriff. When the military comes into town to take over the investigation things turn from mysterious to ominous as more questions arise than are answered.

Directed by mystery-man J.J. Abrams and produced by Spielberg himself, the movie isn’t meant to be so much a story about what life was like back in the 1970s or anything like that but instead a love letter to the type of movies Spielberg and others made in this era, the kind of wide-eyed wonders that captured the imagination of a generation of moviegoers who watched with wonder as Richard Dreyfuss built a mountain in his living room and such like that.

The Posters

The first – and only – poster for the movie was every bit as interesting as the movie itself promised to be. While the title and main credits for Abrams and Spielberg are oriented traditionally, the image of the five kids and their small camera standing on the landscape and everything around them is sideways so you have to turn your head to the right to see it correctly. That additional real estate gives the design not only a unique perspective but it also simply gives the image more space to breath and gives you a sense of the scope of the action, which is simultaneously huge and very small-scale. Great stuff.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released in May, famously contained no footage that would be in the actual movie since it hadn’t, of course, been shot yet. Instead it’s all about setting the table for the movie and beginning to build anticipation.

The trailer shows a train speeding down the track as on-screen text informs us about a government plan to shut down portions of Area 51 in 1979 and transport materials to a location in Ohio, with the train presumably then being the method of said transportation. But suddenly a pick-up truck slams through the gates on a dark night and then turns to run head-on into the train, making it clear it’s not an accident. The wreck that ensues sends the entire train careening off the tracks, with all the cars flying around wildly. When the dust settles a bit the camera focuses on one car laying on its side. Suddenly something starts pounding from the inside of the car, dents appearing in the metal until the door of the car comes flying off. And with that the on-screen text informs us that whatever it is that’s inside is arriving now.

It is an enormously effective trailer in terms of getting people talking about the movie. Indeed because it didn’t contain any film footage (at least according to Abrams), the entire point seems to have been to generate buzz, not only based on the fact that it debuted in front of Iron Man 2, the biggest movie of the summer at that point, as well as the fact that it served as a jumping off point for the online ARG aspect of the campaign.

Quite a while later the first full-length trailer (released on Twitter) was released that gave quite a few more details as to the plot. It starts off by setting up the main characters we’ll be watching, a group of kids in a small rural town that are trying to make their own monster movie. But the one kid’s dad isn’t thrilled about that and wants him to find other friends. Then a train derails right in the middle of downtown, a train containing something mysterious. The kids continue to film despite the military presence that descends on the town, the disappearance of people and dogs and other strange goings-on. The kids take it upon themselves to figure out what’s going on and seem to be the only believers in town.

The trailer shows very clearly that the movie is just going to ooze with the aura of both Spielberg and Abrams, combining the strengths of the two into something that just might be glorious. The action here moves along nicely and almost nothing of any substance is shown. Instead it’s all about playing into the emotions of the audience, promising a couple hours in the theater that are filled with an intriguing story and interesting characters as well as kind of a cool monster movie.

The trailer does, though, contain some of the same footage that was seen in the teaser so some of the hype from earlier might have been just that.

Just a half a week from release another trailer, a 90-second version that was also sort of a TV spot, debuted during the “2011 MTV Movie Awards.” This one starts off in much the same way as the previous version – with the train accident that happens while the kids are filming – but then goes into some new territory. It highlights much more the mysterious happenings and the military response to those happenings, with lots of scenes of military people acting very suspiciously about what they are or aren’t looking for. While the short running time means there’s an inherent tightness to the spot there’s also a lot of new stuff here in terms of the investigations being run – one by adults and one by kids – into what has broken loose in this small town.

Online

The official website opens and begins playing one of the 30-second TV spots that was produced and released. That in and of itself says something about how the campaign here is trying to reach a mass audience who’s more interested in some spectacle than with deep stuff about shooting a movie and an emotional investigation into the mystery.

The “Story” section just has a one-paragraph synopsis of the plot while the “Gallery” has 20 stills from the movie and “Videos” has both trailers and six TV spots, including the Super Bowl commercial. “Cast, Crew & Notes” is still labeled as Coming Soon, unfortunately.

There are also links to a couple sections that will be covered down below.

As with Cloverfield there was a wide-ranging ARG that launched at about the same time as the first teaser trailer.

The game started off with a link, barely visible at the end of the trailer, to the site ScariestThingIEverSaw which took people to the remote desktop of an old green-screen computer monitor. The biggest thing there was a countdown clock that, once it expired, prompted people to print out the screen. Only what they printed wasn’t the screen but a series of newspaper pages containing an ad for the Rocket Popppeteers.

When the pages were printed and re-aligned, more clues began to emerge involving a PO Box in Minot, North Dakota and what might potentially have been a warning from the same person whose computer was being accessed previously.

The Rocket Poppeteer viral was revitalized briefly around Comic-Con, with an ice cream truck featuring that branding tooling around the San Diego convention center including a Twitter account that informed followers where the truck would be. Someone was also there handing out t-shirts. Shortly after that an official website for the Poppeteers was launched that played in to the brand’s “legacy.” The efforts continued at other events appealing to fans, including New York Comic-Con.

The viral continued with other websites, occasionally coming back into the real world as those who had signed up to become Poppeteers received their certificates and such. Eventually more chats and clues were unveiled after the discovery of the Hook, Line and Minker website, which gave some clues as to the passwords to access new material.

A more serious online “viral” effort kicked in after the release of the first full-length trailer. That trailer contained an Easter Egg URL that led to an Editing Room portion of the official website that contained filmstrip footage from government cameras, most of which was missing aside from a few clips of scientists talking about something’s biology and such. More clips were unlocked after packages of actual 8mm film were sent to various press outlets that prompted them to check out the footage online as well. Updates would continue to be made to the Editing Room as more clips were unveiled and more promotional material sent out to the press. There was also a section of the official site called the “Development Room” but you had to request access to that by using Facebook Connect and only select people were approved. How exactly that paid off I haven’t heard yet.

The movie’s Facebook page has the usual array of photos, vidoes and updates on promotional and marketing activities. Similar updates can be found on the Twitter profile, though that was also put into serious duty surrounding the release of the first full theatrical trailer and for some other purposes and I have to say it was nice to see someone actually figure out how to use Twitter effectively for movie marketing purposes.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The movie was one of those that Paramount announced it would be advertising during Super Bowl XLV this year. The spot that aired feels very much like a cross between Abrams and Speilberg but tells very little about the story. We see the same sort of train accident we did in the teaser trailer, but this time there’s also some human beings involved. There’s a young boy, a camera, a police officer, various army guys looking very put out and more. We never get a shot of whatever the alien or monster or whatever is – some people think there’s a glimpse or two in there somewhere – but we do see the havoc that it’s bringing to this small Americana town, which appears to be substantial.

The version of the commercial that aired didn’t seem to be the final one though, as reports came in that new images were being inserted into the ending of the video on Apple.com on some sort of regular basis that provided different clues about the movie’s story.

Right after the Super Bowl spot aired an online campaign started with ads that featured footage and scenes that were shown in that commercial.

More TV advertising was done in a commercial spot that ran 60 seconds in length and featured just the slightest amount of new footage while bridging the gap between the previous TV ads and the first full trailer. Further TV spots would be run, with some of them playing up the action and horror elements of the movie while others played it as more of a mystery film. Some commercials even included footage and audio of the scientists that are hinted at in the online ARG (more on that below) talking about the mystery of the object they’re studying and what the potential ramifications could be if it escaped. That filled in some of the gaps between the online and more traditional campaigns without giving away too much.

An interactive trailer for the movie was included in copies of the Portal 2 video game that let people run around inside the train that is featured in the movie just prior to and just after the crash that’s depicted. While there wasn’t anything to interact with various clues were seen in the environment. This trailer showed the door being smashed off of the train car the creature, whatever it is, escapes from and overall this is a pretty cool promotion for the movie.

The outdoor/in-theater ad displays that were placed got into the “viral” game, with some of them containing a secret hole to look in and get clues on how to unlock clips in the “Editing Room” part of the online experience.

The movie got some serious screentime during one of the last few episodes of “American Idol” with the finalists visiting the Bad Robot production offices and getting a sneak peak of the movie along with some Super 8 cameras of their own from Abrams to document their trips to their hometowns.

A surprise movie-related insert in some recent DC Comic issues featured a blank panel where people could create their own artwork and submit it, though what happened then is still a bit unclear.

There was an interesting check-in based promotion that was run in conjunction with 7-Eleven. Every 88th person to check-in at one of the chain’s convenience stores won tickets to see the movie and other multiples of 88 were entered to win a zero-gravity flight or even a sub-orbital trip into space. There were also Rocket Poppeteers branded cups for Slurpees and a “Berry Blaster” flavor of the icy treat, though all that was sans any overt branding for the movie. That tie-in (MediaPost, 6/3/11) was supported with radio and online advertising.

Media and Publicity

The movie first hit some people’s radars when rumors began surfacing that a secret teaser trailer for it would be attached to 2010’s Iron Man 2. Few details were available since the trailer seemed to be not a physical print that could be screened beforehand but a digital file that had a date-sensitive lock keeping it safe until Iron Man’s initial screenings.

There then came much speculation as to what the movie was actually about. Half the internet thought it was some sort of tie-in to the Abrams’-created Cloverfield, half the internet insisted it had nothing to do with that movie. It wasn’t until just before the first teaser trailer was released that details started to come into focus, though even those were just about the production and not anything about the movie or its story.

An interview with Abrams at Comic-Con 2010 was not all that insightful in terms of additional plot details, but it did continue the theme of much of the early press coverage in that it emphasized the director’s wanting the movie to be an homage to Steven Spielberg, both as a director and as someone who Abrams idolized as a youth.

At the same time the Super Bowl spot debuted, giving the audience their first look at actual footage from the movie, the first real in-depth story (Los Angeles Times, 2/6/11) about the film appeared, with Abrams giving some (still cryptic) details about the story and how it’s actually the conglomeration of a few different story ideas that never got completely fleshed out. The story talks at length about how Abrams turned to Spielberg and others for inspiration and advice about various aspects of casting and filming, reinforcing the notion that Abrams is first and foremost a huge movie fan.

There was plenty of press generated by the release of the first full-length trailer, not so much for the contents of the trailer or what it showed but the fact that it was released on Twitter (MediaPost, 3/11/11) and utilizing Twitvid for hosting the video. That tactic was specifically utilized because, according to the studio, they wanted to go for the most efficient way for people to spread the trailer themselves. The claim was that this was the first time it had happened (CNET, 3/11/11) but that’s up for interpretation.

More buzz was created after Paramount screened 22 minutes of the movie’s footage for the press as part of their 2011 preview presentation. The footage, by all accounts, played like gangbusters for the crowd and eliminated any nagging concerns in the audience that the movie wouldn’t live up to its potential.

The screening of some footage was also the centerpiece of the presentation at the CinemaCon (Hollywood Reporter, 3/29/11) exhibition industry trade show, where it was one of the titles Paramount brought to impress theater owners, and the studio brought 40 whole minutes of footage to the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for the insiders there.

Just a week or so out from release there was a huge feature on Abrams (New York Times, 5/29/11) and how he was so interested in mysteries, creating movies, TV shows and more – as well as their attendant marketing campaigns – that were wrapped in question marks and the unknown, something that keeps the audience always guessing as to what might be coming next. Similar, though smaller scale, features would eventually run that made it clear how much this movie is true to Abrams’ small-scale production philosophy (Wired 6/7/11) and how the director was constantly trying to channel Speilberg and the Amblin mindset (Time, 6/7/11) as he was in production.

Just about a week from release a new site, Super8Secret.com, appeared and seemed to be tied in some way to a Twitter hashtag and Facebook page. It was eventually revealed as a site where people could sign up for free advance screenings of the movie, something obviously being done to get people talking about the film to their friends and connections.

As mentioned above the movie got some promotional love during the “2011 MTV Movie Awards” with Speilberg, Abrams and much of the younger cast hitting the stage to introduce the new trailer and make an unstated appeal for young people to be in the audience (LAT, 6/6/11) when the movie opens.

Overall

Because the movie comes from Abrams it’s inevitable that the campaign will be judged against that for 2008’s Cloverfield, which he may not have directed but was no less integral in making. That campaign featured what was at the time a revolutionary usage of online video, hidden clues on mysterious websites and other really innovative online techniques, all of which kept people talking about the movie in advance of its release. That alternate-reality-game was so massive it dwarfed, to some extent, the more traditional campaign that was run closer to the film’s release and which was meant to reach the average moviegoer who couldn’t care less who Jamie and Teddy were.

The ARGs for this movie don’t seem to be quite as substantial in scale but, I suspect, are at least somewhat more closely tied to the movie’s story. That’s particularly true of the “Editing Room” component, which has been dealing out small clues relating to what it is that has escaped in the small town the movie’s set in.

Aside from that there’s a very good campaign going on here that sells the intent of the movie as well as the movie itself quite well. Watch the shot of XXX warning about the coming train collision and it takes you right back to similar reaction shots in any Spielberg movies from the late 70s through the mid 80s. The TV spots and trailers all work together nicely and there’s certainly brand consistency throughout all the marketing elements here.

What remains to be seen, though, is if the average moviegoer is up for any sort of mystery this summer. Last year Inception broke out as a largely unexpected hit despite its being more challenging for the audience to wrap its collective head around than any of the sequels, franchise launches or adaptations that were sold with campaigns that told people exactly what they could expect. Lightening could strike again and audiences could give in to the curiosity that’s been created here, giving the movie a shot despite not having everything laid out for them in clear block letters.

NOTE: A big thanks to Super 8 News, which has been following all aspects of the campaign, including lots of the ARG developments, very closely.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 06/08/11 – A fan-made poster done in the style of the legendary Drew Struzan caused a bit of ruckus for a while when people thought it was really from that artist, something mildly believable because of his long-standing connections with Spielberg.
  • 06/08/11 – The Twitter tie-in got a lot of press from ClickZ, WSJ and many other tech-oriented publications and sites.
  • 06/09/11 – The full “Editing Room” video was released just the day before the movie hit theaters, an obvious attempt to get people who may have felt some of the mystery was off-putting more comfortable with things. I’m surprised to see it released, though, since this would have made a great easter egg on the DVD.
  • 06/14/11 – Simon Dumeneco at AdAge theorizes that positive buzz on Twitter helped the movie achieve its opening weekend win but I remain a little skeptical on that front since I still see Twitter as only a fraction of overall word-of-mouth.
  • 06/14/11 – Abrams made a brief appearance on Quora to answer a few questions and engage in some dialogue.

Let’s not get hung up on affirmation

So here’s what I was thinking about as I was thinking about how Google’s +1 might be implemented on various web pages: What’s the incentive for people to click on it? What +1 does is signal to Google that you think this page is a good one and that will then influence what the people you’ve connected with on Google services (Gmail, Reader, Talk and such) will see when they perform a web search.

Every other button on sites is about showing off who you are. We can share things on Twitter or Facebook because it’s something we want to curate and share with our friends. We can save a link on Delicious so we can read it later. But there’s no personal and immediate benefit to +1 and certainly not one that taps into the same egotism that many of the others are meant to. Instead it’s about helping others, and in a delayed manner at that since the people we know might not run a related search for months.

I bring this up as an introduction to my latest Voce Nation post, which points out how there seems to be a shift in publishing problems toward only allowing for positive reinforcement by the audience, a shift that has a lot of potential problems for both publishers and readers.

[blackbirdpie id="76710765498871808"]

Learning About New Tools

A couple months ago I had the privilege of speaking to a class of communications students at Northwestern University, having been invited to do so by a friend who used to work at a PR firm and now is pursuing some higher education goals.

The conversation was ostensibly about best practices for participation in conversations by brands and individuals – how to find them, how to measure them and how to have a meaningful role in that conversation while being respectful to those who started it – but of course it wound up being a bit more wide-ranging than that.

One question particularly resonated with me because it’s something that I ask myself fairly regularly:

When is the best time to know about a new tool that could be of use in a communications program?

The specific answer to that question, of course, is a moving target and depends on what sort of programs a practitioner is helping to manage for their clients along with other things. But the general answer is pretty obvious and is more or less always applicable: Before your clients ask you about it.

We don’t always need to have specific tactical plans for a new tool or service that has debuted recently when a client comes asking about it. But we need to have our hands around what it does, what it’s potential upsides and downsides are and what our opinion of it is.

Generations of marketing and communications professionals have gone before us with only one new tool – the fax machine, the television, the internet – to evaluate at a time. Now, though, these core platforms, particularly the internet, have splintered to an extent that new sites, apps, tools and such are popping up all the time. If it’s not this new messaging service it’s that new reputation tracking system or another check-in tool.

Some are going to be useful. Some won’t. But it’s important to make sure that these debuts are met not with either disinterest or wild enthusiasm that has more to do with an individual’s early adoption than anything else. Thoughtful consideration based on listening to others and playing around with it yourself is essential to giving measured, useful guidance to those we work with and work for.