Movie Marketing Madness: Our Idiot Brother

How we manage the slings and arrows daily life throws at us greatly depends on our overall point of view, the perspective that we hold that we view things through. We can be optimistic, in which case things will almost always appear manageable. Or we can be pessimistic, in which case every new situation is, we’re just sure, going to turn out badly. There are different shades of these two extremes, of course, but when we talk about someone’s general demeanor these are the two categories that are broadly used.

Ned, the character played by Paul Rudd in the new movie Our Idiot Brother, is an eternal optimist. Not the brightest bulb in the room, Ned has bounced through life from one thing to another. After being arrested for selling a little pot Ned is trying to get things back on track and so turns to his three sisters Liz, Natalie and Miranda (played by Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschenel and Elizabeth Banks respectively) all of whom are at doing different things with their own lives but all of whom fancy themselves more sophisticated and worldly than Ned. But, of course, it’s likely that everyone will have a little to turn from everyone else.

The Posters

The first poster is kind of odd. It looks like a concert poster you’d find stapled to a light pole in 1976, with Rudd’s face in the middle of an orange and yellow designed one-sheet, with his name at the top and those of the actresses at the bottom just below the copy “Everybody has one.” I’m not sure what they’re trying to sell here since this doesn’t do a very good job of playing up Rudd as the central component and gives, outside of that sparse copy, no indication of what the story is about. Just kind of a missed opportunity here.

The second poster was just as odd, telling me that someone has no idea how to sell this movie through a print campaign. It shows Rudd laying in a field of grass with a bemused and naive look on his face, orange Crocs clearly visible on his feet in the background. There’s nothing here again about the movie or anything related to the story and I feel like this is another huge missed chance to convey something – anything – about the overall movie to the audience.

A third poster (never a good sign when a movie like this has this many posters – it shows clearly there’s no clue how to sell the movie) finally puts Rudd in the context of his character’s family. He’s laying sideways on a couch looking very slackerish while the three ladies are sitting next to him looking very proper and serious. It’s the best of the three but that’s not saying very much.

The Trailers

The first trailer for the movie opens with Rudd selling pot to a uniformed police officer, a scenario designed to show just how stupid he really is. That’s followed by him telling his family about the “Tumion” a cross-pollination between a tomato and an onion he’s developing. He’s back to living with his family, specifically his mom but also interacting more with his three sisters, who don’t quite know what to do with him and whose lives he’s constantly getting in the way of.

It’s not terrible but it also doesn’t show anything that might set the movie apart from other kind of amusing comedies. If this really was such a hit at Sundance this trailer doesn’t show exactly why that might have been.

The second trailer was much, much better. It starts out much the same way, with Ned being arrested for, basically, being an idiot and then eventually needing to crash with his various sisters while he tries to sort things out. We see him acting all irresponsible and such and how his behavior impacts the lives of those around him. But then we see more of the redemptive second act, as his family begins to realize that he’s not just a bungling moron who’s out to destroy their lives but a well-meaning person who loves them and loves life even as he bounces from one thing to the next. It’s much more structured and shows off more of what’s to like about the story and the performances and should appeal to a much larger audience.

Online

The official website for the movie opens with some cheery music before giving way to one of the trailers.

Once you get rid of that though there’s some cool stuff there on the main page. If you mouse over one of the pictures on the wall in back of the couch where the characters are sitting you’re prompted to add your photo to the collection by connecting with your Facebook account. And clicking on one of those characters will take you to that actor’s career history and backgrounds. Except for the dog – when you click on him you’re taken to an “interactive” feature that lets you control what the dog does by pushing one of a number of buttons on a little doggie remote control. Kind of cute.

Going back to the navigation menu the first section of content listed there is “About” which just has a Synopsis of the film’s story. “Video” then has both trailers as well as another way to access the Play With the Dog feature. There are 11 stills in the “Photos” section as well as more opportunities for you to add your own portrait via Facebook.

“Cast & Crew” offers you histories on the entire list of major players and creators in addition to whatever you already viewed by clicking through from the front page. You can grab Posters, Desktop Wallpapers and Icons in the “Downloads” area.

Down at the bottom of the page are links to features titled “The Search Begins” and “Photo Booth Tag.” The latter simply takes you to the Albums that are hosted on the movie’s Facebook page (which also has videos, updates on marketing activies and so on) while the former is supposed to let you vote on where Willie Nelson (that’s the dog) should search for Ned next after the two got separated when Ned was arrested. There are a series of videos on the TWC YouTube channel that show the dog’s attempts.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some TV spots were run that focused on the sort of hippie life being led by the none-too-bright Ned. The commercials obviously couldn’t get too deep into the movie’s story but that didn’t seem to be the point as the emphasis is on selling the movie as a variation on the stoner comedy model. A bit of online advertising may have been done as well that featured the poster key art but that’s about it.

Media and Publicity

The movie was first screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, though it had already started generating some chatter prior to that event. At the festival there were plenty of interviews with Rudd, who worried the movie may have come in with expectations that were too high (Los Angeles Times, 1/23/11), Banks talked about working with Rudd (Hollywood Reporter, 1/22/11) and comedy in general and everyone shared their opinions (LAT, 1/23/11) on how it was to work on a movie that seemed to straddle genres like this one does.

Paul Rudd shared some of his own thoughts on potential angles for the movie’s marketing as well.

More seriously there was also a nice story (New York Times, 8/21/11) on how while the movie isn’t autobiographical of the brother/sister team that wrote and directed it their worldview and sensibilities do some out in the characters to a great extent.

Overall

There’s some good stuff here but there’s also a lot of so-so material. The poster component never seems to have fully hit its stride with a string of misfires and even the first trailer did nothing to show the general audience what it was about the movie that festival-goers found so charming. The website is probably the strongest thing here and that’s usually not the case, which unfortunately says something about the rest of the campaign.

Things in general never seemed to come together until close to the end and, honestly, make that Funny of Die video of Rudd’s seem more painfully funny for how accurate it is than anything else. I want to like this campaign since I think the movie is likely quite a bit better than what’s being sold here but if you weren’t tuned in to the festival buzz you probably won’t have that opinion.

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