Movie Marketing Madness: Hugo

One of the many things that can keep parents awake at night is the question of what we’re leaving behind for our children. Not just material or financial but also emotional. If we should pass away before our children are grown – or even if our passing is after they’re older – we want them to be prepared for the rest of their life and we also want to leave them something tangible that they can use, that reminds them we were there and part of their lives. We want, in short, to be sure of our legacy.

The book The Invention of Hugo Cabaret, now the inspiration for this week’s new release Hugo, is about just that type of question. After his father (Jude Law) dies Hugo (Asa Butterfield) struggles to survive in a London train station. One day while evading the strict police man (Sacha Baron Cohen) he encounters a young girl (Chloe Moretz) who surprisingly seems to hold a very literal key to a mystery about his father that Hugo has been trying to figure out for some time. This leads to a journey of mystery and wonder, all seen through the eyes of a child.

The Posters

The first poster for the movie works in a lot in a single image. The primary image of a boy hanging off the hand of a large clock (an homage to a Buster Keaton movie in spirit if not intention) shows that we’re on some sort of child-like adventure of imagination, while the snow that’s circulating around him gives us the time of year that the story is set in, which just so happens to coincide with the time it’s being released in. At the top is the biggest thing, though, as it’s noted the movie comes from a legendary director and tells a huge story. The fact that Scorsese isn’t name-dropped at the top isn’t surprising since his name carries certain assumptions that the studio obviously doesn’t want to weigh the film down with.

The Trailers

The movie’s first trailer is kind of fantastic even if it doesn’t look anything like what you’d expect a Scorsese movie to look like. It starts off with a father showing his wide-eyed son an intricate model that’s been built and which he’s found and which has a keyhole in the shape of a heart. We then learn the father dies and the boy is to taken into another’s care. He runs afoul of a policeman while at a train station and is chased around until running in to a young girl. He shows her he still lives in the place with the figure and they discover she has the right key for it. The machine starts whirring around and that’s when things start getting fantastical as trains run off their tracks, dragon floats appear and more.

It’s certainly sold here as a big adventure and something that shows the spirit of friendship between the two kids and the love he keeps for his father. Like I said, this is nothing like what a Scorsese film traditionally looks like but does look visually rich and intriguing.

The second trailer starts us off in the middle of the action, as Hugo is already on his own and thinking about his father in dreams. We then get more of the backstory of the character played by Ben Kingsley and see that their two stories are very connected. But from there on out it’s just about selling the movie as an adventure from one thing to the next for Hugo and his gal-pal as they try to piece together what the mysterious message is he believes his father is sending him and how all the things he encounters are connected to that. I don’t think it works quite as well as the first one aside from those additional character details it fleshes out but it also, I don’t think, does any damage.

Online

The official website for the movie opens by playing one of the TV spots and then, when it’s finished, encourages you to share it on the social network of your choice.

The first section of content is “Video” which is where you’ll be able to watch two Trailers, two TV Spots, a behind the scenes featurette and a Q&A video about the movie.

The “Story” section has a synopsis that isn’t so much a plot summary as it is an exercise in hyperbole as well as Production Notes that go into, in the barest detail, the making of the movie.

“Cast” lets you read about the actors involved and “Filmmakers” does likewise for Scorsese and the rest of the behind-the-scenes talent.

In the “Gallery” you’ll find, by my count, about 30 stills from the movie. “Downloads” then has Wallpapers and IM Icons you can save. “Partners” talks about some of the companies that are helping promote the movie and “Reviews” has pull quotes from early reviews of the movie as well as a “Certified Fresh” badge from RottenTomatoes.com, which is something I haven’t seen on an official site before.

The Facebook page for the film has publicity and press updates along with photos and videos but it’s not nearly as tricked out as some of the pages I’ve seen for other recent movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Lots of TV advertising was done with commercials that emphasized the magical and wonder-filled elements of the movie and made the case for it being a great family adventure for the holiday season. Those spots also played up the fact that it was coming in 3D, which is I guess a major selling point.

Two promotional partners were listed on the official site: Audible.com, which was promoting the audio version of the source novel and the American Library Association, which was offering a promotional poster of the movie.

Media and Publicity

The movie first started generating buzz when it was revealed to be the “mystery movie” at the New York Film Festival, appearing there as an in-progress cut that wound up getting pretty good, though not universally positive, word-of-mouth.

After that it was a while before the press started to pick back up with stories about how Scorsese opted to make this movie (New York Times, 11/4/11) and what it was about the story that attracted him to it when it was so far outside his normal wheelhouse.

There were also interviews and stories about the director where he talked about how his experiences as a parent (Los Angeles Times, 11/20/11)  informed his decision to make the movie and his approach while doing so. There were also stories about him that covered his entire career (Hollywood Reporter, 11/21/11) as well as the inspiration behind the new film.

Overall

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this. I like the campaign a lot but I’m not sure what audience it’s being sold to. There’s too much wonder and fantasy here for it to be aimed strictly at adults, but there’s too much emphasis on the story about an absent father to be aimed strictly at kids, who may not be interested in that kind of thing. It’s not that it’s a bad campaign – it’s not – but I think this may be a case of trying to reach multiple groups and failing to reach anyone. It also has the problem of coming out against The Muppets, which is more clearly a kids flick with definite adult crossover appeal and that may draw away anyone who’s curious about this movie.

But that’s not my concern – the campaign presents an interesting movie that, for adult fans of the director, presents something interesting he’s obviously trying that may need to be checked out. I hope it succeeds simply because I like it when directors and storytellers zig instead of zag and I hope Scorsese and others do more of just that.

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