Movie Marketing Madness: Tower Heist

The last several years have left more than a few folks feeling like they’ve been willing participants in their own robberies. Money that we were assured would be available to us dried up and disappeared because of the greed and subsequent shady dealings of certain individuals who are in the financial system. Not that things need to be no more complex than the dimmest person can understand but some of the ways that money was moved around – and eventually lost – are confusing even to the most logical of laymen.

The new movie Tower Heist is about a group who decides to do what many of us have wanted to do: Get even with those who lost our money. The residents and employees of a high-end apartment building, including Josh (Ben Stiller), Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and Charlie (Casey Affleck) among others all trusted a wealthy resident (Alan Alda) with substantial amounts of their money But one day they find he’s embezzled it and it’s all gone. So they enlist Slide (Eddie Murphy), a thief who once hit the building, to help them steal their money back. Wackiness, of course, ensues.

The Posters

The movie’s first poster is primarily concerned with selling the movie as an ensemble film. So Stiller, Murphy, Broderick and the rest of the crew are shown leaning against a building and looking very cocky. The copy “It’s not a robbery, it’s payback” does a decent job of setting up the story without actually telling the audience very much. But honestly the campaign is probably designed just to convince people that they should just sit back and not worry about plot holes because the cast is so charming. So the lack of any story points here beyond what are obvious is likely by design and not something that’s keeping anyone up at night.

The second one-sheet cut out everyone aside from Stiller and Murphy and, oddly, took out any and all copy aside from their names and the rest of the credits. The idea here, obviously, is that the audience should be attracted to the film by the presence of these two stars and little else. No plot description is necessary apparently and the fact that these two are in the film should in and of itself be enough to fill seats.

The Trailers

The first trailer is all about laying out the basic premise of the movie’s story. We meet the gang that works at a posh New York City high rise apartment and one of its residents, a high-profile Wall Street type. Everything is going fine until he’s arrested for fraud and the workers in the building find out the pensions he’s been managing for them are now completely gone. Stiller and a few others determine to get what they can back, though, and set out to steal whatever cash that might be laying around in order to exact some revenge and get their losses back. Being novices, though, the need and expert and so recruit Murphy’s character, a professional thief. But of course things don’t go very smoothly and lots of wackiness ensues as they run into all sorts of problems.

The trailer shows that the movie hits all the notes you’d expect such a story to but the most surprising thing about is that Eddie Murphy actually looks like he’s legitimately funny. That’s something that hasn’t happened in 10+ years and, honestly, his interplay with Stiller looks like it might be worth checking out in and of itself. It reminds me of some of Murphy’s best work in the 80’s and hopefully marks a return to form for him.

Unfortunately not everyone was thrilled with the trailer, as actor Greg Grunberg reacted very badly to the line about Stiller’s character being a “seizure boy.” That outrage was the result of Grunberg having an epileptic son, something that’s sure to change your perspective on things.

A second trailer hit many of the same notes though slightly rearranged. We still get the setup that Alda’s banker has lost money from all of the employees of the building he lives in and that a select few are determined to rob form him to get it back. We get a few different scenes, particularly of Murphy teaching the group how to be criminals but that’s about it that separates it from the first one.

Online

The official website loads and the first thing I notice (aside from the recreation of the poster key art that makes up the primary image) is how devoted to social sharing the top of the site is. There’s a scroll of updates from people on Twitter who have used the hashtag #towerheist or who have otherwise mentioned the movie. It’s a curated feed, of course.

Outside of that the front page allows you to get some ringtones, download a song from iTunes from the movie’s soundtrack and play the “Heist it Back” game that is mentioned more below. There’s also prompts to check in on GetGlue to unlock character stickers and more and an invitation to play an 8-bit game version of the movie.

Moving beyond all that end Entering the Site the first thing there are images of the main characters that, when you mouse over them, give you a one-sentence description of the character and their motivations.

Accessing the Menu, which is arranged like the schematics of a building, the first section is “Video” and there you’ll find just the two Trailers. “Downloads” has some Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and Ringtones.

Hitting “The Film” section you’ll be able to read a halfway decent Story synopsis but the Cast and Crew information along with the Production Notes are all only available as PDF downloads. That’s odd for Cast/Crew.

The “Gallery” has just five stills from the movie, though the way they’re arranged in a nice endless scroll gives the initial impression that there are many more.

Finally the “Features” just has links to play the same games that are listed on the front page.

The movie’s Facebook page ports over or links to a lot of the games and other features from the official site and, of course, hosts the games that use Facebook as part of their mechanisms. There are also lots of videos – including tons of 30-second TV commercials – and photos along with the regular updates on press and marketing activities. There was also a Twitter profile that contained many of those updates.

There was a kind of cool online scavenger hunt run, with clues hidden across Facebook that, when found, gave people Facebook Credits that could be used for playing the “Heist it Back” game that brought them into the movie’s story and allowed them to interact with characters.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots began running in late September that certainly sold the movie as an ensemble comedy, setting up the basic plot of a group of people working together to exact a pound of flesh from the corrupt finance guy who stole from all of them and lost their money. A whole bunch of spots were eventually produced though they all, for the most part, hit the same three or four notes though in different ways and in different orders.

Outdoor advertising was done as well, with posters that sold the movie primarily as a Stiller/Murphy partnership, which is hardly surprising.

Media and Publicity

There was a lot of publicity for the film when Ratner, the director here, announced that he had chosen Murphy to host the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony (Hollywood Reporter, 9/6/11), which he was also directing.

Other than that the biggest news around the movie came when it was announced Universal would make it available for video on demand just three weeks after its initial theatrical release (Los Angeles Times, 10/5/11) for $60, though only in a couple markets and only through Comcast. That led to as much outrage from theater owners as it did interest from the press and industry pundits, who will then be watching closely whether its promised availability has an impact in those markets on box-office receipts.

Cinemark and other theater chains later announced they would refuse to book the movie (LAT, 10/10/11), saying they wouldn’t support the studio’s plan to go VOD so soon, something that ultimately led Universal to back down and cancel the experiment (THR, 10/12/11).

Overall

There’s a lot I like about this campaign. As I said before it’s single biggest accomplishment may be that I’m somewhat interested in a new movie starring Eddie Murphy, something that hasn’t happened for upwards of 15 years or so. Aside from that this is selling a movie that appears to be entertaining and light weight for the most part, something that’s professionally put together and, unlike many of Brett Ratner’s movies, may not make me actively want to jam a pointed stick into my thorax. Which is a win, really.

More than that the movie is arriving at the time of the Occupy Wall Street movement that’s gripping the nation. I’m sure the studio has at least flirted with the idea of tying this in with that more overtly through the press but the fact that hasn’t happened tells me the idea was rejected. But the coincidental timing may still wind up benefiting the film as people look to it as a fictionalization of the rage they feel and enjoy seeing a group of people act out the kind of personal revenge they’d like to see exacted themselves.

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