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.

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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.

QOTD: 6/3/11

Marshall Kirkpatrick:

If social media is reduced from a world where anyone can speak and anyone can be heard to a world where we only listen to what people are saying about us or our companies, with each voice ranked for influence score and ignored if it doesn’t score high enough, then I think some of humanity’s lowest instincts will have triumphed over one of our most potent opportunities to use technology to better human relations.

Movie Marketing Madness: Beautiful Boy

While parenting styles and techniques differ from one family to the next one thing is almost universal: We operate under the belief that our children’s behavior reflects on us. That’s why we insist on good table manners when at a restaurant, polite friendliness at church and so on. To coin a phrase: If they don’t look good we don’t look good. 

The new movie Beautiful Boy is about an extreme example of parents dealing with the repercussions of their son’s bad behavior. Parents Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate (Maria Bello) are having troubles of their own but then one day hear about a shooting at their son Sammy’s (Kyle Gallner) school. Their worry over their son’s safety turns to terror and shame when they find out that it was Sammy himself who was the shooter, ultimately killing himself after going on his rampage. Bill and Kate must then navigate this new world and deal with the fact that everyone in their lives is now, in some form or another, judging them and treating them differently based on their son’s actions.

The Posters

The movie’s poster clearly shows the tension that exists in the marriage that’s at the heart of the movie’s drama. Bello and Sheen are each on the bed, her lying and facing in one direction and him sitting on the edge and facing the other. On the nightstand is a picture of their son and Sheen is clutching a child’s picture of a family.

It’s quite good for the amount of information it conveys, even outside of the “To confront the truth, first they had to face each other” copy. There’s the palpable tension that’s apparent between the two and the placement of the picture on the nightstand nicely makes it know that he’s involved in some way shape or form in what happens to cause that tension. The subdued lighting gives things a suitably dark tone.

The Trailers

We start off in the trailer with a few scenes of suburban tranquility before the TV tells us there’s been a shooting on the campus of this couple’s son’s college. When the police arrive it’s to tell them that their son was the one doing the shooting and that changes their lives, as they are now the subject of news stories and are being told to take some time off of work. The son’s actions naturally cause stress both from the outside and within the marriage as the two question what they might have done that led to the tragedy or what they might have overlooked in the child they loved.

It’s a pretty effective trailers, showing a visual style that seems to be largely made up of hand-held camera work that allows for it to get up into the actor’s personal space and really focus on their faces. That might set it apart from other recent movies that take a more removed visual approach.

Online

The movie’s official website is a pretty low key affair, opening with the trailer for you to watch, share or embed on your own site.

The first section of content is “About” and that contains a three-paragraph synopsis of the movie’s story. The “Video” section just has the trailer and the “Gallery” contains a scant three photos that cycle over and over. You can also view “Showtimes” for the movie or download a “Press Kit.”

The film’s Facebook page at least has a little more information, including Wall updates from fans that contain links to review and other comments in addition to the usual photos and other media.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing here it seems.

Media and Publicity

The movie debuted at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival and received some decent buzz but was largely overshadowed by higher profile premieres of The King’s Speech and other movies that resonated more overtly and substantially with the audiences there.

Overall

There’s some good stuff here. It’s certainly not a huge campaign but what there is works nicely to sell an obviously emotional drama of what has to be some parent’s worst nightmare. The emphasis, even in the poster, is clearly on the performances of the two adult leads and the conflict between those two characters. That’s tricky for posters to pull off but the arrangement of elements and overall composition achieve that pretty nicely. The trailer too does a good job of setting up the story and introducing us to the characters and the situation they find themselves in after the tragic events involving their son unfold.

Movie Marketing Madness: X-Men: First Class

Prequels are a tricky game. The idea, of course, is to tell a story with characters and settings that are somewhat familiar to the audience but in a new way, with some new characters and situations being added in to make it seem more wholly original. This can help provide some interesting backstory to the audience that is supposed to add to the enjoyment of those original entries. It also helps filmmakers do new things with new actors playing the roles originated by increasingly older (and therefore less demographically viable) stars. The danger, though, is that something about the prequel’s story will upset the mythology applecart and either slightly or blatantly contradict what’s been previous established.

No, I’m not going to reference the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy here, though there are plenty of examples of those movies falling into the traps mentioned above. Instead I will mention, because it’s more closely related to the movie we’re discussing today, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Among other problems the movie, which sought to tell of Logan’s early life, had a young Cyclops encountering Wolverine, Emma Frost and others as he sought to extricate himself from the Weapon X program. For continuity obsessives like myself, the movie was just a mess.

Similar problems seem to be afoot in the new movie X-Men: First Class. The movie takes us back to the 1960′s and the foundation of the mutant movement. Charles Xavier (James MacAvoy) is determined to train and educate young mutants to serve humanity. When he meets Erik Lencher (Michael Fassbender) he thinks he’s found a kindred spirit and the two begin searching for mutant teenagers to train. Xavier and Lencher help the kids come to terms with their powers but the latter has a much darker view of the human race and begins to deviate from Xavier’s utopian view, a split that’s only increased by the group’s eventual involvement in government and military activities.

Sounds like a great idea for a movie, but the continuity problems it presents for the previous trilogy of films are substantial. What remains to be seen, though, is how much the average moviegoer cares about such things and whether the movie can prove entertaining enough in and of itself to make even people like me not care why Cyclops’ brother Alex Summers – Havoc – who appears in this entry is never reference in the other movies and other problems.

The Posters

The first teaser poster for the movie was pretty simple but was also clearly identifiable as a one-sheet for an X-Men movie and did a good job of setting the location. All that’s viewable is the emblem of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters with a giant “X” in the middle and, at the bottom of the symbol, “First Class.” It’s effective in how it conveys that basic information and is unique to itself while also being reminiscent of the posters for the first couple of X-Men movies.

The next two teasers were just 17 different kinds of awful. They’re so bad in fact at first I couldn’t believe they were actually real. There are two posters here, one for Xavier and one for Lenscher. We see silhouettes of the characters they will become – the wheelchair bound Professor X and the regal and helmeted Magneto – but within their torsos (actually closer to their crotches) are the faces of how they appear in this movie. I’m not sure what the decision making process behind these two posters was but this is seriously off track in terms of presenting a slick, well-made action flick.

With those making such an impression (and I’m not even mentioning the awful Photoshop hatchet jobs that were distributed as international posters and banners) it’s no surprise not only that people would create their own posters but that those posters would be so freaking cool.

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer, which debuted just a few months ago, starts out setting the scene by juxtaposing the images Charles Xavier and Erik Lenscher we know from the first series of movies with their new incarnations here as much younger men. We then get the time set for us by seeing and hearing a speech by John F. Kennedy talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis. That leads to a montage of of the various characters, including Lawrence as Mystique, Jones turning to diamond as Emma Frost and just about everyone else. We see a couple of shots of military action along the coast of Cuba, action that the mutants are participating in as the swoop in on the Blackbird. It’s not clear what that role is but Erik lifts a submarine out of the water with his hands, which is pretty cool.

It’s a tight and intriguing trailer that, as I said, does a really good job of setting the audience’s expectations in terms of time and place. There isn’t a lot of time for performances or story to come out here but that’s not the point with this initial spot. Instead it’s about announcing to the audience that a new, previously untold story of the mutant community’s past is being told and that there are a host of new characters to latch on to as well as some returning ones.

Later on a 90 second trailer was released that featured not too terribly much in the way of new footage but did reiterate the fact that we’re seeing the origins of the leaders of the two mutant camps before they were rivals. Much of the emphasis here is on Erik/Magneto and the choices he makes to not take the path of the light side. There’s a bit of new footage shown here, including some of Banshee swooping through the sky over Cuba as well as some other battle sequences. it’s pretty good and certainly tighter than the previous one but we still don’t get much exposition aside from the theme that the two friends are going to go their separate ways in the battle to come.

The full theatrical trailer starts our in much the same way as the others, with Xavier and Lencher meeting and getting to know each other. They then assemble the team and test their powers. There’s some new stuff in here that could be called character moments, including one between Beast and Mystique and a little bit more before we once again get into the team’s involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis. It ends, then, with the seeds of the disagreement between the two leaders being sown. It’s probably the best of the trailers but still there’s only about 15% of new footage here so it’s not like it’s going on any untrod ground.

A series of character-specific trailers were created for some of the mutants, including  Havoc, Beast, Banshee (two of which were brand new to the franchise) and Mystique. Each of them showed some extended sequences from the movie that featured those characters, including some bits about how they grew comfortable with their powers. Mystique’s ends, naturally enough, with a bit hinting at the relationship between her and Magneto that we’d see more or in the later movies.

Online

The official website for the movie opens with one of the early trailers auto-playing as a stream of updates from the official Twitter account fades in and out along the top of the page.

Down toward the bottom are the site’s content sections, the first of which is “About the Movie,” which contains a paragraph long synopsis of the movie’s story and explains that, yes, Marvel’s Merry Mutants get all up 1960′s geopolitical events in the film.

Next up is “Downloads” which has a couple of Wallpapers, some Twitter Skins and a collection of Buddy Icons to grab is you’re so inclined. It looks like there are just seven stills in the “Gallery” and just the three main trailers (but not the plethora of TV spots and character profile videos unfortunately) in “Videos.”

“Characters” is a nice section that provides a quick introduction to all the characters that make up the movie as well as an overview of their powers and this area also houses the actor filmographies and histories.

The Promotions section off to the left of the bottom navigation has links to Get Tickets, check out the X-Men Extra App and view various things on the Facebook page.

On that Facebook page there was………There was also an opportunity for people to ask some questions of the “X-Perts,” which was the cast of the movie. Questions could be submitted ahead of time and then, it was promised the cast and crew would pick some to be answered later on down the road. There were also the usual array of photos, videos (this time with the character introduction spots) and more, including a section for the Farmer’s Insurance cross-promotion we’ll read about later.

An iPad/iPhone app was also developed that took people into the setting of the movie and strongly hinted that these mutant characters played some sort of secret role in many of the defining geopolitical events of the last half of the 20th century.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

One of the first bits of advertising done for the movie was in the form of standees and floor decorations that were put in theaters and which featured the same bit “X” symbol for Xavier’s school that was on the first teaser poster.

TV commercials were also created that largely repeated the footage and overall arc of the trailer but with some new footage as well. Mostly, though, we got the same look at Xavier and Lenscher meeting, Mystique covering herself with scales and other sequences. A few of them broke that mold and included elements of the stand off over nuclear missiles as well but by and large they stayed in the mold of the trailers.

Even more spots were later released that expanded on this quite a bit, showing off the team that Xavier and Lenscher put together and getting into the national conflict that team becomes a part of. So the focus shifted from selling this as a reboot of the franchise (though elements of that continued to be worked in) to just a straight ahead action flick with super powered characters.

Some advertising was done by the movie’s promotional partners as well. Farmer’s Insurance, which had already been running a TV campaign with an instructional approach, added Beast to one of their commercials and had one of their insurance students go over to act as a target for Havok to practice on.

Media and Publicity

While various rumors and reports had circulated around the idea (most rubbish) the first concrete plans came to light with the dual announcement (Los Angeles Times, 5/4/10) of Matthew Vaughn as director and June 3, 2011 as the release target date.

That news was doubly interesting. First because Vaughn was the initial director on board X-Men: The Last Stand before he abandoned the movie just before filming over the usually vague “creative differences,” ceding that director’s chair to Brett Ratner, who proceeded to defecate over large chunks of the best parts of the franchise and piss fans off in the process. Second, that date was just over a year from when the news hit, an incredibly ambitious timeline for a movie that was probably going to be largely effects driven but which had no announced cast, script or anything else.

With such a tight timeline, being quick with casting was going to be key. While some roles were filled relatively quickly (still about a month after the film was announced) there were hiccups in the process at well that spoke to potential problems with this relaunch of a potentially lucrative franchise.

After the calendar turned to 2011 things started to pick up publicity wise, whereas the latter part of 2010 was filled mostly with more casting announcements and the occasional set photo that someone was *sure* spoiled a huge plot point.

One of the first stories was an interview with Jones (LAT, 1/4/11) about taking on the role of Emma Frost, with the actress talking about how she tried to get inside the character’s head since because of her TV commitments it was tough to get in the kind of shape that the comics always portray Frost as having. Also focusing on the female stars were stories about Lawrence and the regimen she had to endure (Hollywood Reporter, 1/19/11), including hours of being painted blue, to transform into Mystique on a daily basis.

The tight production timeline continued to be a story-point, with Vaughn commenting on how this sort of schedule – where he’s racing to finish the movie in advance of a pre-planned release date – is absolutely the opposite of what he’s used to in the independent film world where production is complete and then there’s the waiting to find a distributor. Vaughn also expressed his confidence that X-Men, by virtue of being a more well-known franchise, would be the movie to beat in a summer that was chock full of superhero films.

There was also, of course, media around the fact that this was Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise he helped launch, albeit this time in the role of producer and not director. But it’s clear that in that capacity he helped to shape the movie’s focus and tone while also holding out hope (among fans) that he’ll come back and direct another X-Men movie that would be another sequel to the original and not a step back in time or a focus on a single character.

As is increasingly the case with tentpole movies like this, the studio built up some buzz not just about the release of of new marketing materials but with the announcement that, in this case, the first trailer was about to be released (Entertainment Weekly, 2/9/11).

After the debut of the first trailer, which absolutely lit up (THR, 2/10/11)social networks and movie blogs and fan sites, Singer talked more freely (LAT, 2/10/11) about the new characters that were being introduced or slightly revamped for the film and how they related to each other.

Press continued with exclusive covers and coverage in Empire Magazine (March, 2011) and reports in that story that the studio and producers were actively working on continuations of the original trilogy in addition to the other various mutant spinoffs and solo features. There were also some very cool 60′s-retro covers featuring the cast that were created for coverage in Total Film magazine.

While she was conspicuously silent in many of the movie’s trailers the focus on Jones was primarily on her wardrobe, both in the early and late (THR, 5/26/11) publicity for the movie as the studio tried to show off how hot she was in Emma Frost’s skimpy outfits.

Overall

So basically as long as you just completely discount the poster component of this campaign it works remarkably well, right? That’s certainly how I come away feeling. The trailers are uniformly strong, as are the various TV spots and other video elements. The online elements are all interesting and provide not only entertainment but also information for the audience that might not be familiar with the new characters in this entry.

As for my question of whether or not it’s entertaining enough for me to overcome my continuity issues, it’s not quite successful on that front but I don’t know that it ever could have been. I’m always going to have problems with the fact that this version of Emma Frost contradicts the Wolverine solo movie’s and that we never get that Mystique was originally trained by Xavier. But those are my problems to bare and the campaign does make the movie look very attractive (again outside of the posters) in its own right. And as I said, the mass of people who just enjoyed the first movies aren’t likely to be as worried about these things as I am.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 06/01/11: No sooner do I publish this than there’s a story about some massively outdoor advertising Fox did for the movie.
  • 06/03/11: Andrew at AdAge goes more in-depth on the partnership between Farmers Insurance and the movie and how things kind of meshed nicely together.
  • 09/01/11: There was a cool outdoor ad created for the movie’s home video debut that not only included 3D holograms projected on the side of a building but also integrated Twitter and Foursquare components.