Movie Marketing Madness: J. Edgar

There are certain individuals who have had an out-sized impact on history. Most often these individuals are presidents or other rulers or someone who contributes some meaningful piece of artistic work to society. They are the outstanding ones, the ones who make the big decisions and make a big impression on the world around them. Occasionally, though, one of these outstanding individuals aren’t real leaders and aren’t great creators. They’re just people who have managed to amass an extraordinary amount of power.

One of those individuals would definitely be J. Edgar Hoover, the man who basically founded the FBI and certainly built it into a full organization. Hoover’s story is being told in the new movie J. Edgar, directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood. Playing the title character is Leonardo DiCaprio, who portrays Hoover through all portions of his life from his young days through his old age. The movie deals with not only Hoover’s professional accomplishments and amassing of political power but also with his personal life, which has been much discussed since his death. Specifically what’s examined is his relationship with his right hand man Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and what exactly what that might have been.

The Posters

The first two posters were really just one with the other being a variation on that theme. In the primary one-sheet we see DiCaprio’s face leaning forward, presumably over a desk or table and clearly not in the best of moods with the person on the other side from him. We get DiCaprio’s name as well as Eastwood’s along with a gorgeous title treatment in the form of Hoover’s signature.

The other one is the same image, only manipulated so the photo looks sort of black and white while the background has been changed from a standard room to the American flag. The first one is better simply because it’s simpler and more stark but I get what they were going for with the second.

The Trailers

The first trailer plays, quite frankly, like gangbusters. We start out with some scene setting with archive shots of peace demonstrations and photos from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and so on like that. Eventually we see DiCaprio as Hoover first as a younger man then as an older one. After some setup about his relationship with his mother we see him rising to power in the FBI, encouraging men to lead uncorrupted lives and working to build files on important people, including the President. He sees himself as the strongest of heroes compared to the bad men out there.

It’s clear there are a number of strong performances from DiCaprio and everyone else. There’s more than a little innuendo in the trailer about Hoover’s personal life and his sexual orientation, something that is purposely placed in stark contrast to the heroic, upright image he insists those under his command maintain and the way he doggedly pursues anyone who he might have the slightest bit of dirt on. It’s a solid trailer that shows (unsurprisingly) what seems to be a solid film from Eastwood and his cast.

Online

The movie’s official website opens by playing the trailer. You can skip that, though and go straight to the site’s content.

The first section there is “About the Film” which has a very good Synopsis complete with cast list as well as Production Notes that are downloadable as a PDF.

“Videos” just has the one trailer and so is incorrectly plural and “Photos” has several dozen – over 60 by my count – stills both from the movie itself and some behind-the-scenes shots.

The Facebook page has plenty of updates about the marketing and publicity as well as photos and videos.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Shortly after the first trailer debuted TV spots started running that played basically like a shortened version of that trailer, showing Hoover as someone with ambition that stretches into collecting dirt on other people’s lives even as his own becomes filthier and filthier.

Media and Publicity

The first major publicity for the movie came when it was announced (Los Angeles Times, 9/7/11) it would open AFI Fest 2011, a pretty prestigious slot for a movie that had some serious awards buzz before a single frame was seen.

That news was soon followed by a big profile (GQ, Oct, 2011) of DiCaprio that talked about the actor’s career to date and why he was anxious to work with Eastwood. Further profiles of the actor would focus on how he was attracted to complex, hard to define characters (New York Times, 11/6/11) and more on working with Eastwood (Hollywood Reporter, 11/2/11).

Overall

It’s not a bad campaign but I’m wondering what the target audience is here. While everything comes together to make the movie seem very attractive, the people that it seems are most likely to feel that way are award voters. To the general public this is likely to seem cold and slow and almost homework like. The trailer does what it can to make the drama fast and compelling but it’s impossible to not feel like it’s going to be a long 2+ hours in the theater. For some people that’s not a problem but for others it’s going to turn them off immediately.

Movie Marketing Madness: A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas

I have to admit that when I first saw the original Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle years ago I was extraordinarily underwhelmed. Sure there were some funny moments and it was enjoyable overall but by the time I’d gotten around to seeing it the expectations were built up so that I expected it to be an instant classic. I’m not sure what conventional wisdom currently holds as to how well it has or hasn’t held up over the intervening years but it’s obviously still seen as popular enough that it’s spawned not just one but now two sequels.

The newest installment sees the titular pair not in the pursuit of good eating but on a mission to save Christmas. A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas puts Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) accidentally being brought back together after years of growing apart, the reunion a result of some misunderstandings and comedic irregularites. They, of course, encounter all sorts of wacky situations and people on that journey, including Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris) who isn’t letting the fact that he died in the second movie get in the way of appearing here. The movie, as the title suggests, is being released in 3D for, as far as I can tell, no discernible reason other than the fact that someone thought it would be funny to do so.

The Posters

A series of four posters were the first one-sheets released. The first showed Harold brandishing a rifle with Santa lying just off screen and only his boots visible. The second had Kumar with a bow on his crotch and mistletoe burning around him. The third showed NPH looking smugly at the camera as he shoved a giant candy cane toward the audience. The fourth brought all three together and showed a bunch of other random stuff that’s going to be in the film.

Another series of eight – eight! – character one-sheets was released after that. That included ones featuring NPH, Kumar and Harold as well as Jesus, Santa Claus and other supporting characters. Most of them feature copy that alluded to drug usage and in some cases it was far more than just an allusion.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off like it’s selling a standard high-end Christmas movie, with lots of shots of New York City at that time of year. But then Harold shoots Santa Claus in the face and things turn weird. We get a girl telling Kumar why she won’t date him, the guys accidentally getting a toddler high and all sorts of other hijinks, including a very painful looking homage to A Christmas Story. Harris, of course, appears and we see what’s happened to him after he met what appeared to be his demise in the last movie as well as what he’s doing with the fact that he’s come back to life.

It’s completely random and pretty funny. It’s obvious that they’re poking fun at the whole 3D thing with lots of winks to the audience and such. There’s also an obvious attempt to make it clear to the audience that the main characters haven’t lost a raunchy step since the last outing but all in all it’s pretty good. It jettisons anything resembling plot reveals after the first 45 seconds in favor of random gags but that’s alright for this first trailer.

Close to release there was a red-band trailer released that opened with Santa Claus smoking a bong before getting shot by our two protagonists. There proceeds to be shot after shot from the movie show there are lots of naked woman, lots of jokes involving drug use and lots of foul language. It’s funny enough but it is definitely positioning the movie as being a lot more extreme in the humor department than I remember the first two movies being.

Online

There’s a lot of material here on the front page of the official website.

The first option on the top content menu is to watch the “Red Band Trailer” and then there’s a link to “Bong Along,” some sort of app that I couldn’t get to load in a browser window for whatever reason. After that is “Munchies,” which takes you to Facebook and the the “Poster Creator” is also a standalone site that is exactly what it sounds like. “Mistle-Toasted” is another Facebook game that, because I don’t connect things with my Facebook account, I can’t tell you more about though I presume it’s something vaguely drug-related. The “Ecard” tool also uses Facebook to, I presume, send one of your friends there a movie-themed electronic card of some sort.

We finally move beyond Facebook with the “Videos” section, which has the one all-ages Trailer as well as two TV Spots. “Photos” then contains 11 stills from the movie that show many of the same scenes we’ve seen in the trailers.

“About” has a Synopsis as well as Cast and Filmmaker sections that give you an idea of what everyone involved has been doing for their careers as well as Production Notes to download as a PDF if you want to do some reading.

There are Posters, Wallpapers and Buddy Icons to grab in the “Downloads” section.

Likely because of the age-sensitive material that’s there you have to be logged in to Facebook in order to access the movie’s page there. The page has information on the “Munchies Truck Tour” that will bring the movie’s attitude to colleges across the country as well as the usual assortment of videos and photos along with publicity updates on the Wall, including questions from fans that have been answered by the movie’s stars.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A variety of TV commercials were created and released that hit most of the comedic high points – Claymation, a toddler getting high, NPH’s womanizing return, lots of implied drug use – in various ways. They all served their purpose of making sure people were aware that, after a six-year hiatus, the characters were returning and that they were more offensive than ever, which is the point of the entire campaign so it’s not like anything here can be argued with in terms of effectiveness.

Media and Publicity

There wasn’t a ton of publicity. Some basic pieces about the return of the franchise and such but the only one of note was a story (Los Angeles Times, 10/24/11) about Penn and this being his big return to acting after taking a bit of time off to, of all things, work at the White House. Outside of that there were various interviews with the actors and all that and some shilling by them on the talk show circuit.

Overall

It’s not bad but it’s definitely intended to show today’s audience – which is quite a bit different from the one that existed just six years ago when the last installment was released – just how extreme the humor is. So the same gags showing the baby getting messed up on drugs, the claymation sequence that’s supposed to hit all sorts of nostalgic chords and the sexual antics of Neil Patrick Harris are repeated over and over again to make the comedy here as much of a known quantity as possible.

It’s presumed that by giving the audience what is meant to be just a sample of what’s in store that they’ll be interested enough to come and get the whole lot but I suspect that what we’ve seen here, especially in the red-band trailer, is a fair representation of the movie as a whole.

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.

Movie Marketing Madness: Puss in Boots

(Brief programming note: Yeah, this came out last week. But I was 85% of the way done with it and just had it on my calendar wrong so have decided to break a rule and publish it anyway. Take any complaints up with the management.)

There’s a real danger when you’re trying to spin off a character from one franchise into their own. Mostly that comes from the notion that a character who has worked in a supporting role can manage to hold the audience’s attention all on their own, without the others there to help them along with that. Taking a secondary character and giving them their own story always contains an element of risk that it will be the equivalent of when a drummer from a band that’s broken up tries to put out a solo record. No one wants to be that guy.

But here we are looking at Puss in Boots, the new movie starring the character of the same name, a character that’s been a supporting player in the last three Shrek movies at various levels. Voiced by Antonio Bandaras, the new film sees him starring in his own adventure. Along with him in his solo outing – something involving gold at the top of a beanstalk – are a female cat that has her own eyes on that gold (voiced by Salma Hayek) and a whole new batch of fairy tale type characters. But while there might be a lot of similar themes when compared to the Skrek films this one seems to be less about pop culture references that are already dated and more about telling a funny story. Let’s see how that plays out in the actual campaign.

The Posters

The first teaser poster just shows Puss from the back, his sword drawn and his eyes darting behind him toward the camera. It’s a little dark, something that is obviously meant to convey mystery, and features one of the character’s signature catchphrases, “Beg for mercy” at the bottom.

The second one-sheet isn’t all that much more informative, just showing Puss walking toward the camera this time with a fireball coming behind him as he walks majestically toward us.

After that a motion poster was released that had Puss standing heroically until a small dot of light appeared on the street in front of him, taunting him until he gives in and pounces on it before finally recovering his composure and standing back upright. That’s a scene that’s essentially pulled right from the second trailer so is already likely to be familiar to audiences.

The next one kept that same heroic stride but moved Puss to a village street, flanked by the supporting characters including Humpty Dumpty, the female cat that he encounters along with a few villagers. Not all that different but its primary purpose seems to be to finally show off the film’s look and feel, appealing to people who will recognize that look and feel from the Shrek movies.

The third poster goes back to showing Puss solo, with him standing in profile to the camera as the copy says “Looking good never looked so good.” It’s funny on the same level the others are should work to bring people’s interest around but it’s not terribly original or interesting.

The Trailers

The main purpose of the first teaser trailer is simply to announce to the audience that the character is back and starring in his own feature. So we see him strutting down a village street casting off his cloak, throwing away his sword and so on before jumping in his signature way onto a rock and announcing that all he needs is his boots. That’s about the extent of it and it’s not even clear whether this footage is in the movie or was created especially for the trailer, which is kind of what it seems like.

The next theatrical trailer starts off by making it clear that we’re looking at the backstory to the characters here, learning where the legend began. Then we start to get into the plot, which involves some vague threat that’s now possessed by a wizard or someone and which could destroy the world. Enlisting the help of Humpty Dumpty, Puss is teamed with a female cat adventurer who’s his equal not only in talent but also in attitude and it’s that dynamic as well as the promise of lots of thrilling carriage chases that the audience is asked to see the movie based on. It’s kind of funny and entertaining if you were a fan of the Shrek series though this seems far less referential of current culture and old fairy tales than those movies, at least based on this trailer.

A third trailer starts off with Puss intimidating some folks in a small tavern before we get to more scenes from the film. There’s not really a narrative here until halfway through, when we see he’s after a treasure hidden in a castle in the sky. We see some of those he goes up against and some of the dangers he encounters. All in all it kind of adds up to the most effective – at least the most all-around entertaining – of the trailers that were released.

Online

The official site opens with a few stills from the movie interspersed with some quotes from critic’s positive reviews of the movie. You can watch the trailer there or you can enter the site. Let’s do the latter.

First dealing with the main menu options at the bottom the first section there is “Video” and there you’ll see both trailers as well as a big old link to the movie’s YouTube channel, which has a bunch of additional video.

“Characters” lets you read a brief description of each of the main characters as well as view pictures of them.

Links to the various apps that are either directly or as a result of a cross-promotional deal designed to market the movie are found in “Mobile.” Next is “Games” has a buck of casual-type games you can play as well as a Coloring Book to download and information on the console-based game.

“Partners” has information on the companies that have been good enough to sign on to help out in promoting the film. And finally “Downloads” has all sorts of stuff – from Ringtones to Twitter Skins to printable craft projects – that you can grab.

There’s lots to do on the movie’s Facebook page as well, though a good amount of it is just ported over content from the official site. But there’s enough here that it doesn’t feel like a tossed-off effort but like the folks behind it were really going for something here.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The studio created a mock commercial featuring the title character promoting “No Pants Pants” that had a little bit of extra dialogue and then a lot of footage that was pulled straight from the trailer. Another spot cast Puss as “the most interesting cat in the world,” a take off on the popular beer commercials and then another had him doing his own version of the Old Spice guy.

There was some outdoor advertising done as well as I saw some bus ads that had Puss preening and asking if it was hot out or if it was just him, a line made all the more funny because they started appearing in Chicago in October, a time when the word “hot” is rarely used in relation to the weather.

The movie got a tie-in with the popular mobile game Fruit Ninja, where the title character was inserted into a new level of the game of trying to slash fruit while avoiding falling bombs.

HP and Intel were both on board as promotional partners as well as they are with most all Dreamworks Animation films since they’re the studio’s technology partners. In addition to that there were tie-ins from McDonald’s (Happy Meals), Friskies, Sun-Maid, Avacados from Mexico, Great Day Farms (all co-branded packaging), Save Mart Supermarkets and Marsh grocers (free movie ticket with $15 of qualifying purchases).

Media and Publicity

The movie was one of several brought by Paramount to the CinemaCon trade show, where it apparently (Hollywood Reporter, 3/29/11) got some decent reactions from the theater owners in attendance.

Some more press came later (Los Angeles Times, 9/4/11) on that focused on the involvement of Guillermo del Toro, who came in and helped the other filmmakers shape the story a little bit and work out some plot points they were stuck on.

Overall

I like this campaign a lot. That’s mostly because it seems to have been created with the mindset of not just playing off the audience’s fondness of Shrek (something I think declined with each subsequent installment) but by presenting a product that appeared to stand on its own and was more or less an original item. So everything has a fresh sort of energy that’s no longer dependent on us finding Mike Myers’ Scottish accent amusing or not.

As much as that there’s a good consistency to the brand positioning here that helps the audience feel comfortable with all the different components of the campaign, which come together nicely into a single whole. I was really expecting to not like this at all but it won me over more than I was anticipating.