Category Archives: Print

Movie Marketing Madness: Get Him to the Greek

Rock and roll excess is always fun to talk about. Those rock star bad boys are getting in trouble or having fingers wagged at them about their sex and drugs, even while many people aspire to be rock stars themselves and enjoy the hedonistic lifestyles they see portrayed in the media. Societies fascination with the no rules lives led by guitarists and lead singers, which you’d think would be out of date, is in fact very much alive, as exemplified by the mountains of press given to the recent re-release of The Rolling Stones’ “Exile of Main Street,” an album famously recorded in a French villa with non-stop parties happening upstairs while the album was being cut in the the basement.

Taking the idea of rock and roll excess to the level of satire is Get Him to the Greek. A sort-of-sequel to 2008′s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it takes the character of Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from that movie and gives him the spotlight. Snow, in this movie, must be retrieved from London by Aaron Green, a mid-level music label executive (Jonah Hill, but in a different role from the one he played in Sarah Marshall), and brought to L.A. for a concert commemorating the 10th anniversary of a ground-breaking live album. But Green’s straight-laced nature and the tight time-frame he’s working within clashes with Snow’s debauchery and general failure to feel like he has to play within society’s rules, a clash that, of course, will wind up fueling much of the film’s comedy.

The movie’s Facebook page has a Wall full of updates on various promotional appearances by the cast and crew, a bunch of video clips from the movie and more.

The Posters

It’s a pretty simple poster here and one that’s supposed to bring the comedy based on the contrast between the two characters. In front you have Hill’s wide-eyed and innocent record company employee, a look of confounded confusion on his face as behind him screams Brand’s rock star. There’s a little bit of copy about the movie’s story and what the mission of Hill’s middle-management character is. The addition of “Pray for him” in conjunction with the wild look on Brand’s face is what’s designed to show the audience that this is a comedy about a clash of attitudes and lifestyles. It’s a pretty basic design so a lot hinges on that tiny bit of copy and Brand’s expression. Whether or not it delivers is probably in the eye of the beholder.

The Trailers

The first trailer is all about selling the film as being a chaotic, mayhem-filled adventure. We’re introduced to Hill’s character, an assistant at a record company that’s not doing so well. When he suggests recruiting Snow for a nostalgia concert he’s then tasked with going to London and bringing the singer back for said concert. But, as you would expect, things aren’t quite that simple as it proves difficult to pull Snow away from his debauchery-filled lifestyle and Hill’s character eventually has to compromise his morals and potentially break a few laws in order to achieve the goal.

This spot is filled with fast cuts and fast music, creating a sense of chaos and excitement in the audience that might be difficult to sustain throughout the film. It’s funny, there’s no doubt, but this is very much one of those cases where it seems like the studio is selling a mood more than a movie. And it brings to mind that it’s been a couple years since Russell Brand was all anyone could talk about in the wake of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and, similarly to the first point, it will be interesting to see if his character works on its own without a larger ensemble to fit in to.

The later red-band trailer is not all that much different and seems to have earned its restricted status through the inclusion of a few off-color words and the appearance of one gigantic dildo. Other that that we get the same basic jokes and same plot outlines. In fact it’s a little remarkable how little is different here from the previous version which was supposedly appropriate for all ages.

Online

The official website opens up with a lot of things flying around the screen, chief among them Brand himself, who is swinging from a chandelier while Hill stands aghast and confused while a super model lounges behind them in a chair and two others are in bed. This image actually comes from one of the international posters for the movie, which makes its appearance here a little odd. Scattered in front of all that chaos are prompts to find Tickets & Showtimes, check out a bunch of movie content on iTunes and watch some of the red carpet premiere footage.

There’s also a couple of interactive elements. First there’s an “Interactive Trailer” where you can also view video comments/responses that have been left, though how exactly this is supposed to work isn’t clear. Below that on the site is a prompt to record your own version of “Bangers, Beans & Mash,” the song from Infant Sorrow. There was a contest attached to that to win a trip to the LA premiere, but that has obviously already passed.

Over to the right of the page are options to Watch the Trailer, Watch the Red Band Trailer or visit the sites for the band Infant Sorrow or the fictional record label they belong to, Pinnacle Records.

Once you get around to entering the site, the content is laid out under one of the cities at the bottom of the screen which correspond to the locations in the movie.

First up, under London, is “Videos,” which has the Trailer, the Restricted Trailer and More Videos, which is where you’ll find a couple of TV Spots and a whopping eight Video Clips.

New York has the “About” section, which includes a Synopsis that goes into the movie’s plot a bit, Production Notes you have to download as a PDF and Cast & Crew information.

“Downloads” is what you’ll find under Vegas. Here there are over a dozen Wallpapers you can download with various stills from the film and about eight AIM Icons to grab if you see fit.

Finally, Los Angeles is the photo Gallery with about 30 stills from the film.

At the top of the page is a prompt to Explore the Music Industry and by expanding that menu you’ll find links to the sites for Infant Sorrow, Pinnacle Records and Jackie Q., another Pinnacle artist who in the film is played by Rose Byrne and who, I’m guessing, plays in to the plot in some way that’s not hinted at in the trailers.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There’s been a pretty decent TV advertising campaign as well as a handful (at least based on what I’ve seen) online ad push. The TV spots were structured much like the all-access trailer, with the first half of the running time spent in the record label meeting that sets the plot in motion, including the joke about Diddy’s kids needing a lot of Air Jordans. Then it was on to London and the same montage of Brand’s character’s behavioral antics.

Media and Publicity

Oddly there hasn’t been that much press about the movie outside of whatever was generated as a result of the release of each bit of marketing material, particularly the red-band trailer. There were interviews with Brand, Hill and the rest of the cast and plenty of coverage of the recent red carpet premiere, but other than that most of the publicity has been in the form of mentions of this movie within stories about the cast’s future movies. For instance Greek gets mentioned in stories about Brand starring in a remake of Arthur and stories about Hill writing and starring in a remake of 21 Jump Street. Not sure what that says about this movie, but that seems to be the case.

There was a bit of press generated by the appearance of Infinite Sorrow, the fictional band fronted by Snow/Brand, but that was about it.

Much of the press, though, was about Brand and many stories took the angle of examining how the fictional character of Aldous Snow paralleled Brand’s real life experiences with drug and alcohol addiction. So there was a pointed effort to show how he was mining what he’d really gone through, but now turning that into comedy instead of tragedy.

Overall

It’s a pretty good campaign that, taken for what it is, I like quite a bit. The trailers certainly show a funny movie and the campaign is pretty consistent from one element to the next. It does seem a bit light – only one trailer, only one not very funny poster – but what there is works more than it doesn’t.

But it is a raunchy campaign. As some others have mentioned, the fact that a green-band, all-ages trailer depicts someone trying to smuggle drugs between their butt cheeks is kind of out there and certainly seems like an example of a form of “ratings creep,” where things are acceptable now that would not have been 10 years ago.

I’m also surprised by the lack of mention that the movie is produced by Judd Apatow. Perhaps Apatow’s time at the top of the comedic heap is coming to an end but it’s worth pointing out that a year or so ago any movie Apatow had anything to do with was immediately branded as coming from the writer/director/producer. It may be that hand was over-played between 2007 and 2009 since the lack of mention that he was involved with Greek is notable.

Overall this is a decent campaign for a raunchy comedy that is meant, in large part, to bring back up awareness of Brand in advance of some other high-profile efforts he has coming up as well as sell tickets to this movie. On both those counts the marketing does a pretty good job.

Movie Marketing Madness: MacGruber

I’m not – I repeat not – going to rehash the sordid and spotty history of film versions of skits originating on “Saturday Night Live” here. We all know the anecdotes, about how for every Blues Brothers or Wayne’s World there’s a Stuart Saves the World or It’s Pat.

No, what I want to discuss is the art of the parody when the audience has little connection to the material being parodied.

In the case of MacGruber, which is indeed the big screen upconversion of an “SNL” skit (with the character also being used in a Pepsi Super Bowl spot), the source material for the parody would be the fantastic 1980′s action series “MacGyver,” about a secret spy who could construct a machine gun from a couple of thread spools and a square foot of aluminum foil. But how many of the teens today have ever actually seen an episode of the show? Do they have any connection to it other than other pop culture references? Does that change how the subsequent spoofs and parodies are received?

While the fictional McGyver may have been super smart and incredibly well versed in the field of physics, MacGruber is a bit less knowledgable though substantially more deluded about just how smart he is, with skits often ending with him and his cohorts exploding as he failed to save the day.

The new movie ups the ante, pitting MacGruber against Deiter von Cunth (Val Kilmer), a terrorist who has stolen a nuclear warhead and is now threatening Washington, DC. Recruited to stop him after faking his own death, MacGruber reunites with his long-time partner Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wig) and a young soldier assigned to help him (Ryan Phillippe) and heads out to stop von Cunth.

The Posters

The movie’s first poster is more than a little disappointing. It’s just Forte, Wig and Phillipe standing there looking at us. There’s no copy there or anything other than a few critic’s quotes and the credit block. If you didn’t know this was a comedy there’s nothing about the poster that’s going to fill you in on that score.

The second one-sheet is not all that much better. This time the cast is set against some sort of explosion. At least this one has some sort of nod to the property’s comedic aspirations with the copy at the top reading “The Ultimate Tool.” That’s something.

The Trailers

First up on the trailer front was a red-band version that tried to sell the movie on the basis of the language used, which works best on a situational basis. But along with the language we also get the bare outlines of a plot that involves a Russian nuclear warhead being stolen, a situation only MacGruber – who is thought by just about everyone to be dead – can resolve. To do so he recruits Wiig’s character and is assigned by the military a young assistant who is a bit more by-the-book than MacGruber.

There are a couple genuinely funny moments in the spot, including MacGruber’s description of what an Upper Decker is and his initial reaction to the amount of wires contained in a nuclear missile, a case where the addition of the R-rated language actually does help to sell the comedy.

The all-ages green-band trailer that was released later covers mainly the same territory and includes many of the same jokes. What gets expanded here is just how self-involved and incompetent MacGruber is. After talking about how he doesn’t use guns but instead uses home-made explosives (meant to reinforce the McGyver association), the van behind him explodes on him, for instance. There are also a couple scenes of Wiig dressing up like MacGruber, a plan she doesn’t clearly understand since he’s the one the bad guys want to kill, and then being left all alone at the meeting place while MacGruber sits in the van 20 blocks away…because the closer spots had meters.

After that came another red-band trailer, though it wasn’t that different from the first one. We get the same “upper decker” joke and the same reaction to there being a lot of wires in a nuclear missile. There are a couple additions in the form of an extended look at the van MacGruber is hanging out in and what happens to it.

Take all those and throw them together and you have the final theatrical trailer for the movie. There’s little that’s new here, so the spot acts kind of like a greatest hits reel of the funniest moments we’ve seen from the previous trailers.

Online

The official website at first redirects to a Rogue Pictures page but from there you can keep on going to the movie site. When that loads you can choose to help MacGruber attempt to defuse a bomb that’s about to blow up the internet by handing him various logos and images from around the page. Of course this ends the same way most of MacGruber’s missions do.

Diving in to the site’s content, the first section is “About” and it’s there that you’ll find a Story synopsis, multi-part Production Notes that show just how quickly the movie went from conceptualization to finished product and Cast & Crew information.

There are about 20 or so stills in the Images gallery. Video has one trailer, four of the TV Spots and a half-dozen Clips that show extended looks at the movie.

“Downloads” has a collection of Wallpapers, Buddy Icons, a Screensaver and some Ringtones you can grab.

“Mullet Maker” is a tool that lets you upload a photo and instantly add a MacGruber-esque mullet to the image that you can then share with your friends. There’s also a “Soundboard” with some audio clips from the movie that you can either listen to or mix up into your own longer creation that, again, you can then share. Finally on the entertainment front is MacGruber Academy where you can play a handful of games to become the expert MacGruber fancies himself.

The “Restricted” section has both red-band trailers, as well as a third video that has Forte offering not so insightful commentary on the second of those trailers.

Down at the bottom of the page there are boxes that contain the latest updates from the official @Grubes69 character Twitter account, which is mildly amusing and the latest updates from other Twitter users that mention how much they’re looking forward to the movie. The movie’s Facebook page is the usual mix of publicity and marketing updates with some photos and videos as well.

An iPhone app was also created that featured a game which mimicked the movie’s plot, pitting MacGruber, his wits and a bunch of everyday items against Deiter von Cunth. There was also a soundboard, photos and more, all of which are rated R but which are pretty funny.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Part of the movie’s promotional presence at SXSW included the launch of a tie-in with online video platform Tongal. That partnership allowed people there to create MacGruber-inspired concepts in 250-characters or less, including a line from the movie. A list of semi-finalists will then be chosen and participants encouraged to create and submit 90-second videos around that concept, with the creator of the winning video then given a hometown screening of the movie.

Other than that a decent amount of TV and online advertising was done, at least based on what I’ve come across. Most of the TV spots recreated the trailers, albeit in abbreviated form and therefore worked on much the same levels.

Of course the movie’s actual campaign overlooks the fact that the 2009 Super Bowl commercial featuring the character – as well as his Richard Dean Anderson, the actor behind MacGyver – was widely seen as a testing ground for the audience’s potential taste for more of the clueless MacGruber. So in essence this movie kicked off in the form of a commercial.

Media and Publicity

Unfortunately it wasn’t all sunshine, roses and low expectations on the road to the film’s eventual release. The producer of “MacGyver,” of which this movie – and the source SNL sketches – is clearly a parody sued the studio behind MacGruber in February saying it infringed on his rights. Considering it’s been known that a movie was in the works for quite a while now and since the suit is coming after the marketing for MacGruber had kicked off, it would appear to an outsider that the MacGyver team is looking for a quick payday since Relativity can’t at this point grind the whole machine to a halt. Assuming, that is, they don’t get laughed out of court.

There was a high-profile debut for the film at SXSW, an unusual appearance considering the film festival there has a tradition of being more hipster-oriented and not quite the venue one would predict an SNL sketch film would appear at.

The movie unfortunately fell off much of the press radar for the while prior to release, save for the unearthing of some pictures from MacGruber’s early attempts at being a nude male model and some reminiscences of how much we all want to be as ingenious as McGyver (Los Angeles Times, 4/16/10) in high pressure situations.

Overall

Not a bad campaign and certainly one that, aside from the posters, conveys the title character’s sense of self-importance, lack of social skills and general craziness. By relying on Forte’s ability to play the character completely straight even while he utters the most ridiculous things and does the most ridiculous things the campaign really sells what appears to be the strongest thing about movie itself.

The trailers emphasize Forte, as does the website and that’s a good thing. The posters, though, are a huge weak spot. Surely there was some way to convey the movie’s key selling points in a clearer way that wasn’t so…boring for lack of a better word. The problem is that if people aren’t familiar with the character there’s nothing about the one-sheets that is going to provide a compelling reason for them to see the movie.

Other than that it’s an alright marketing push for a movie that, among movie fans, has at least some anticipation around it.

Movie Marketing Madness: Iron Man 2

Expectations were high in 2008 when Iron Man was about to be released. This was, many considered, a second tier comic book character who wasn’t nearly the household name that Spider-Man, Batman and Wolverine were. So a movie starring The Armored Avenger, especially one that was being eyed as the launch of a new and hopefully lucrative franchise, was seen as a something of a wild bet.

That bet was even greater considering this was the premiere release from Marvel Studios, the newly-launched film division of Marvel Comics and its effort to take control of its stable of characters, at least the ones that it hadn’t already licensed out to other studios. So this was the premiere film that would, the talk ran, prove just how viable this venture could potentially be.

With the loose, improvisational direction of Jon Favreau and the equally loose and charismatic acting by Robert Downey Jr. in the role of Tony Stark, the movie proved to be a massive success both commercially and critically as audiences lapped up the mix of action and humor and critics praised the better-than-expected writing, direction and acting.

So the sequel, if anything, has to do more to live up to expectations than the first one. That’s true not only because of the reactions to the first one but also because the intervening time has brought Marvel’s cinematic plans more clearly into focus. While 2008 also saw the release of The Incredible Hulk, the next couple years will see big screen adaptations of Thor, Captain America and ultimately The Avengers, where all these characters come together into, that’s be honest, the culmination of my childhood comic-reading wishes.

While the first movie had the task of setting up the character of Iron Man and largely introducing him to the mainstream audience, this one gets to continue the storyline of how Stark is trying to reshape his image from one of a war monger to one of a more philanthropic playboy super hero. But the machinations of business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and his alliance with the mysterious villain known as Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) bring complications in to that journey. Aiding Stark, though, are his loyal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) as well as friend James Rhodes (now played by Don Cheadle), who will wind up taking on armor of his own under the guise of War Machine, a more military-minded version of the Iron Man design.

So with even more on the line than last time let’s look at how Marvel…oh, and Paramount Pictures, which now distributes all the Marvel Studios films…are selling Shellhead’s second cinematic outing to the public.

The Posters

The first teaser poster that was released cleared up a lot of speculation as to whether or not a certain character would make an appearance in the film. Behind Iron Man himself, who seems to be sporting a somewhat sleeker version of his armor, is War Machine, the more heavily armed version of the Iron Man armor that’s worn in the comics by James Rhodes. With Rhodey being part of the film series from the very beginning the debut of War Machine has been long-anticipated and this poster makes it clear that we’ll be getting more than one set of armor in this sequel.

Second came a look at one of the movie’s primary villains, Whiplash. Standing with his electronic whips splayed out on either side of him and with his…what are we calling this, a harness?…glowing on his chest, his appearance is interesting enough. But adding to that is the fact that behind him are all sorts of press clippings about Tony Stark, making it clear that we’re dealing with someone who seems to have a personal vendetta against Stark and who is going to wind up using his technology, or a bastardized version of it, against him.

Two more posters were released a few months later, one with Iron Man and one being War Machine’s first solo appearance in the campaign. In both cases they’re positioned against a giant “2″ and provide the audience with a pretty clear shot of both sets of armor.

The theatrical poster was a nice continuation of the same one-sheet from the first film. Iron Man looms in the background, with War Machine slightly off to the side and a little in front of him. In the middle and lower parts of the design we see the human beings that are in the movie, Tony Stark (striking roughly the same pose he did in the first movie’s poster), James Rhodes, Natasha Romanov and Pepper Potts. The way the characters are arranged, as I said, makes this a nice brand continuity from the first entry’s theatrical poster, which had a similar layout.

Notably – and a lot of people did indeed point this out when it was released – missing from this poster are either of the film’s villains. That’s a little surprising considering what a big component Whiplash especially has played in the trailers. But considering what the campaign is trying to sell are the heroics of the main cast it doesn’t strike me as completely odd.

After that a character-specific poster for Black Widow was teased online in advance of it being available at WonderCon, an event roughly similar to Comic-Con though nowhere near that scope. The poster shows off the Widow’s look, including the skin-tight outfit that’s unzipped just enough to show off Johansson’s best acting attributes and the wrist-shooters that the character uses.

Two more posters came later that were specifically aimed at promoting the movie’s appearance on IMAX screens, with one featuring Iron Man wearing the “suitcase armor” and one with Whiplash looking relatively despondent despite the big glowing whips he’s holding on to.

The Trailers

The first trailer debuted in December of last year at the end of an online clue-seeding campaign by Paramount that lasted two or three days. Over the course of that handful of days various sites were sent close-ups of some of the newspaper clippings that appear behind Whiplash with one word in the headline highlighted. When four of those words were put together they led, as expected to a website, in this case StarkSecretConfessionRevealed.com, which resolved to the Apple trailer page for the movie.

That trailer opens with a shot of, of all people, Garry Shandling as a U.S. Senator who’s questioning Stark and making it clear the government is intent on having him turn over the Iron Man armor, something Stark says he has no intention of doing. After that we get a scene of Stark and Pepper Potts flirting in an airplane (Paltrow seductively kisses the Iron Man helmet when Stark requests a smooch for luck, a scene that personally I felt the need to watch three or four times) before he jumps out and lands in the middle of a celebration that includes dancers sporting skimpy Iron Man-type outfits. But that then gives way to a scene of Whiplash making his own armor and talking about how Stark has tried to re-write history and has forgotten the people his family has hurt in the past.

We then get a few quick shots of the supporting cast – Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Don Cheadle as James Rhodes and Scarlett Johansson as both the innocent-looking Natasha Romanov and as the body-slamming Black Widow – before Whiplash reveals himself by cutting Stark’s race car in half with his whips. The spot then ends with Iron Man out-flying a jet and then, finally, with Iron Man and War Machine back to back and fighting against what appear to be robots that look a lot like they’re based on the Iron Man armor.

The spot did a good job of kicking off the excitement for the movie and certainly showed the audience there were lots of good moments in the movie for them to look forward to.

A second trailer was then scheduled to be debuted a couple months later during the broadcast of “The Jimmy Kimmel Show” Downey was slated to appear on immediately following the 2010 Oscars telecast.

That second trailer was pretty cool, starting out with the same shot of Iron Man flying in to the glitzy event with the crowds and the dancers and such. We then get a scene of Pepper Potts letting “the notary” in to see Stark but since the woman who walks in is Johannson we know she’s no simple notary but instead the Black Widow, someone we’ll later see kicking some security guard butt and getting a turn to try the Iron Man glove and fire a repulsor ray. Before we get to that, though, it’s time for Whiplash to get some time in the sun as we see him preparing his costume and it’s whips before then slicing up Stark’s race car with those whips. After a shot of him facing down Stark in prison he’s brought to see Rockwell’s Justin Hammer – his first appearance in the campaign – who tells him he can provide the resources to make Iron Man a thing of the past.

After that it’s time to showcase War Machine a bit, starting with Cheadle as Rhodey telling Stark he doesn’t need to be a “lone gun slinger” anymore, a scene that gives way shortly to the sequence of Iron Man and War Machine back to back against a host of, presumably, Hammer’s mechanized menaces.

The two best shots in the spot, though, are where Stark is face to face with Nick Fury and reading a report which labels him as having traits of textbook narcissism, to which he simply responds, “Agreed” and the last sequence, which debuts Stark’s “suitcase armor,” something that’s been around for quite a while in the comic books but which is making it’s cinematic debut as, apparently, a stripped down version of the Iron Man armor that Tony uses to battle Whiplash after his race-car attack.

An interactive version of that second trailer was later released that allowed people to view some of the geekier details of what they were seeing, something that was especially helpful if you’re not completely steeped in Iron Man comic mythology.

A later trailer was released that specifically promoted the movie’s appearance on IMAX screens, with footage that combined bits from both of the previous trailers.

Online

After the main landing page of the official website loads it becomes clear what the intent of the site is pretty immediately. There are prompts to not only watch the trailer and get showtimes but also nice full color graphics of all the movie’s promotional brand sponsors right there below Iron Man’s glowering visage. That’s pretty nice placement for those brand logos, which are usually relegated to a page well within the site where only the most dedicated and interested are going to find them. And it’s a statement to how powerful those promotional partners have become that they can command such placement.

When you opt to Enter the Site you’re given the option to experience the Iron Man or War Machine versions of the site, though I doubt there’s any difference in the actual content that’s subsequently available.

On the first page upon entering you’re shown a close up of whichever armor you chose, with little swirling circles that you can click on to find out more about that part of the armor technology. As you navigate through the site different sections of the armor become available and more of the features are detailed. Off to the right are boxes that make available various video content, including the Trailers, some of the TV Spots and a Clip or two.

Finding the Nav bar to the opposite side of those video clips, the first section is “About the Movie” and the first section there is Cast, which is where you can read an overview of the characters in the movie as well as the biographies and career histories of the actors who play them. A similar tack is taken with the Filmmakers sub-section, which explains who all the folks behind the scenes are. There’s also a Story area that gives a quick synopsis of the movie’s plot.

“Videos” just recreates the same video content selection that was available earlier in the site navigation. There are about 28 stills from the movie in the “Gallery” section. A collection of Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and a Screensaver are all found under “Downloads.”

You’ll find out all about what those other companies have done to help promote the movie – and their own products as well – under “Partners,” which includes not just the consumer brands but also links to all of Marvel’s various stores and content hubs as well.

Finally, “Extras” has links to the Interactive Trailer, the Stark Expo site (more on that below), an Augmented Reality site that allows you to put yourself in the Iron Man or War Machine armor and the Whiplash Slash and Burn game.

The movie’s Facebook Page (note the re-branding that’s gone on there as the network no longer uses “Fan Page”) is a pretty standard affair with photos, videos and updates on the movie’s reviews and such being posted to the wall.

The online portion of the campaign kicked off a week or so after Comic-Con 2009 with the launch of a website for Stark Industries. The site was pretty bare aside from a job application and a scan of a napkin with a note from Tony Stark written on it saying “For Immediate Release: We no longer make weapons” with a directive to Pepper Potts to post this “exactly as is.” It’s a fun little tactic that starts and extends the movie’s story in a nicely concise way.

Just a little over a month before the movie’s release a site launched for Stark Expo 2010, an event begun by Tony Stark’s father and which Tony, as he says in an invitation letter, wants to restart. The site features concept art for the expansive location the event will be taking place on – on a date that matches the release date of the movie – and a brief promotional video. There’s even a promo video for the 1974 event that shows Howard Stark – now played by John Slattery from “Mad Men.” At the bottom of the page there’s a 360-degree view of the building wire-frames and clicking on one of them shows you which supporting company is sponsoring that pavilion, a list of companies that closely resembles the promotional partners for the movie itself. This is an interesting way to get those partners some extra screen time while at the same time fleshing out a part of the movie that has appeared in much of the campaign to that point.

One of the fictional companies taking part in Stark Expo 2010 is AccuTech, a subsidiary of Stark Enterprises that got its own website on the event’s site and so which, it could be safely assumed, figures somehow into the story, at least a bit of it. The AccuTech site also features a video that shows the same sort of sonic weapons used in The Incredible Hulk, which actually takes place continuity wise after the events of this movie.

The second spinoff company was CordCo, which along with the debut of a website also premiered a trade show demonstration video of a new sonic blaster for fighting forest fires. After that Stark Fujikawa showed off their innovative heads-up display technology.

A pretty immersive iPhone game was also created that let you play as either Iron Man or War Machine. It also featured promotional material (MediaPost, 5/1/10) such as posters and character profiles, as well as functionality that let users buy tickets for the movie from within the app itself.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot appeared during the “Kids Choice Awards” a little over a month before the movie’s release and while it featured the same opening as the trailers there was a bit of new dialogue from Cheadle, Jackson and Johannsen as well. Future spots would expand on footage we were initially shown in trailers and carry the same format, essentially, as those trailers in how they open and their general pacing.

Plenty of outdoor advertising was done, with Shellhead being plastered all over New York City as well as, one would suspect, other major cities. Indeed while walking through downtown Chicago recently I noticed a bus shelter that was completely draped in movie posters, both inside and outside, featuring both Iron Man and War Machine.

Also noticed were some cool digital billboards that I spied along I-294 on the way to O’Hare. The billboards recreated the movie’s poster key art, but in two segments. First the pictures of Downey, Paltrow and the others appeared and that was then replaced by the images of Iron Man and War Machine. Along with the armored characters was a big display showing the number of days until opening, which is a great thing to include and is much more dynamic – and therefore engaging and noticeable – than the standard “In theaters everywhere XX/XX/XX.” Very cool.

Of course there was also a ton of advertising done online, both for the movie itself and for the promotional partners that were part of the campaign. For the movie itself, most of the ads simply took Iron Man, either by himself or with War Machine depending on the size and layout of the unit and placed him alongside a prompt to get tickets or find out more about the movie.

Continuing a tradition begun with, really, Spider-Man 2, Marvel used the cinematic debut of The Black Widow to give the character a starring turn in the comics. The publisher announced – around the same time first pictures of Johannsen in costume were released – that the Widow would be getting a new mini-series that reworked parts of her origin and reintroduced the classic costume (not her original but the later one that is similar to what’s featured in the movies). The first issue of that series even featured a variant cover that used one of the publicity stills of Johansson in costume.

There was also the “Iron Man Vs. Whiplash” limited series that not only pit the two characters against each other and re-did some of the details of their previous relationship but it also refashioned Whiplash’s costume a bit to fit more closely with how he would look in the movie. Of course this was before the full costume from that movie was revealed, so this acted as a sort of teaser for that look.

Marvel also brought more direct tie-ins to their lineup, launching a new limited series title called Iron Man 1.5 that took place within the movie universe’s continuity and which filled in the story between the first and second movies. Indeed Marvel’s April lineup was lousy with Iron Man tie-in and launches, including that month’s issue of his ongoing title being the debut of newly designed armor. Two other series were created that existed within the movie’s world as well, “Public Identity” and “I Am Iron Man,” both of which extended the story between the first and second movies.

That was complemented by Marvel running Iron Man Month on its website and focusing on the character in the updates it published. That included histories of the many incarnations of the Iron Man armor, a list of the must-read trade paperbacks that include essential stories, a look at the rivalry between Stark and Justin Hammer and more.

There was also a tie-in in the form of an Anime version of the character that revisits the character with a completely different artistic spin on him that is used in a direct-to-home video release that also was teased at Comic-Con along with the rest of the film.

Usually I don’t write about soundtracks, but in this case I’ll make an exception. That’s because the soundtrack to the film is, essentially a AC/DC greatest hits album. Featuring 15 of the band’s biggest hits, the selection is obviously meant to cement the film’s appeal among hard rock crowd, starting with an announcement that included the debut of a new music video for Shoot to Trill that featured footage from the movie.

The second batch of teaser posters were re-purposed slightly to act as an in-theater standee of Iron Man and War Machine that was pretty cool.

Diesel was one of the first corporate promotional partners to get press for their efforts, which involved the release of a men’s cologne that came in a bottle shaped like one of Iron Man’s gauntlets.

Car-maker Audi provided five cars for the movie’s production, including its new R8 Spyder which is featured as one Stark drives. TV spots such as this one were created as well as in-theater commercials and more as part of the company’s overall promotional campaign (MediaPost, 5/28/10). That campaign also included a microsite where people could upload videos detailing their invention ideas, with the idea receiving the most votes receiving $15,000 in funding to make it happen.

If you go into a Verizon Wireless store you’ll see in-store ads from LG, which for this movie is expanding the scope of its partnership from just being the Mobile division to their entire Electronics sector. That includes more LG products being shown within the movie. The effort will be supported by TV commercials and placement of Iron Man shots in printed and digital ads. A limited edition Iron Man 2 comic is also being given away with purchase of select models of LG handsets.

7-Eleven jumped on once again (MediaPost, 4/9/10) for a promotion that ran for two months and included not only the convenience store’s Slurpees, for which there were special cups and straws, but also a contest that sent the winner on a lavish trip to Hollywood and advertising for the movie on its in-store video network. The retailer has also bought some co-branded TV time.

Soft drink brand Dr. Pepper supported the movie with the usual movie-branded cans – 14 in all – as well as a TV spot that featured Stan Lee himself as one of the janitors cleaning Stark’s workshop, a nice touch that extended the spot’s word of mouth into the movie and comics blog worlds. The Dr. Pepper promotions page also let people enter to win an LG Arena Multimedia smartphone.

Reese’s, a movie tie-in case study in and of itself, created (MediaPost, 4/13/10) movie-branded packaging and co-branded TV spots for its candies and ran a sweepstakes that awarded a trip to the set of a future Marvel movie, which is kind of cool. It also sponsored a competition between three teams of students at MIT to see who could drive more traffic via online promotions to the tie-in campaign’s page, something I’m interested to see the results of should the be published later on.

Technology company Oracle ran a pretty massive campaign that included print and TV ads featuring Iron Man, most of which used the idea that while Iron Man was the perfect combination of man and machine, Oracle is the perfect combination of software and hardware. I saw the co-branded commercial for this partnership *a lot* while traveling as it was everywhere in airports, both on TVs and on other digital signage. Combine that with the print ad on the back of Wired and, presumably, elsewhere, and you can see the company was targeting the IT manager crowd.

Also on the technology front is Symantec, which co-branded its 2010 Norton AntiVirus with movie imagery and included an exclusive comic in boxes.

Burger King was once again on board with Kid’s Meals that featured eight movie toys, some of which appealed to boys (the action figures) and some that were meant to appeal more to girls (the Black Widow’s bracelet and others), as well as a “Whiplash Whopper” that takes its name from the movie’s villain. The chain supported that with a decent TV campaign as well as the usual in-store signage.

Land O’Frost lunch meats ran a sweepstakes, supported by TV, print and in-store advertising, that awarded people a Marvel-centric prize package including trips to exclusive Marvel events and more.

Taking advantage of the fact that racing plays a prominent part in one of the movie’s key action sequences, motor oil company Royal Purple showed off cars at select races that featured heavy movie branding, an effort that was also supported by TV and in-store ads.

Overall the promotional partners for the movie spent over $80 million in media buys that were part of a $100 million total effort (AdAge, 4/19/10) when you take contest prizes and other efforts into account.

Media and Publicity

The initial media coverage (outside, of course, of the stories in early 2008 about Cheadle replacing Terence Howard as Rhodey) started in earnest in early April, 2009, as online geeks converged around every update director Favreau put on his Twitter stream. He started the updates toward the end of pre-production on the film, which coincided with the release of I Love You, Man, which he had a supporting role in, and really kicked into high-gear when the production itself began. He posted updates about sets being completed, actors reporting to the set and more.

Also coming via Twitter was an announcement that the first approved publicity shot from the movie would be debuting in USA Today at the beginning of May.

That first image turned out to be pretty darn cool. The image of Downey as Stark sitting in his lab surrounded by previous iterations of his armor isn’t exactly going to set the world on fire in terms of showing stuff off, but for comics fans it was a direct homage to various scenes from those comics of Stark in his Hall of Armor or whatever it was called – the place where he kept copies of all the different prototypes and versions of his suit that had been worn and tested over the years. This was all about getting people to not only write about it but also place it in context of the comic mythology and history, which is exactly what most people did.

Another round of publicity was created around the release of yet another image, this time a first look at Mickey Rourke as Whiplash. The shot showed him in costume, which Scott Mendelson at FilmThreat was good enough to point out remained relatively true to the feel, if not the actual detail, of the character’s costume in the comics.

The first look at Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow came when she, along with Rourke and Downey, appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly just before Comic-Con 2009. Within the issue was a clearer picture of her donning the character’s tight black leather outfit, complete with the little shooter wrist-bands she wears,

At Comic-Con – which marked a triumphal return for the filmmakers, who kicked off the buzz for the first flick there two years ago – representatives of Stark Industries were manning a booth where they were recruiting new employees. That booth included a recreation of the “Hall of Armor,” including all three versions of the Iron Man suit from the first movie and the Mark IV version that would presumably be featured in the new one. There was also the requisite panel session with Favreau, Downey, Cheadle and Johannson as well as a sizzle reel of footage from the movie – just enough to get people excited and provide super-fast looks at not only the heroes but also the villains.

Giving us a first look at Whiplash in action and continuing the trend so far of behind-the-scenes being the campaign’s focus to date was an “Entertainment Weekly” set visit that everyone on the internet was talking about after it aired. It provided a few good looks at the characters and there may even have been a clue or two as to some unknown plot elements contained therein.

Around the time the AccuTech site appeared online Paramount also sent out a handful of swag packages with items bearing the AccuTech logo – mouse pads, coffee mugs and such, the kind of thing you’d expect from a company like this. Even marketing trade pubs picked up (ClickZ, 4/12/10) the AccuTech effort as the latest online effort for a movie that more fully extends the film’s story in an effort to keep fans engaged and thinking about the movie well in advance of its release.

Some wind was taken out of fans’ sails when an interview with Favreau (Los Angeles Times, 4/14/10) had him saying the film was more or less self-contained and didn’t have a big cliffhanger that would be followed-up in a third movie. That restrictor plate was put on due to the plans for movies featuring Thor, Captain America and ultimately The Avengers (all of which were generating their own press just prior to the release of this movie), which would bring all of those characters together. That’s not at all a bad thing, though, since a sense of continuity is exactly what Marvel has been shooting for since taking back control of its properties and anything less would have left fans feeling frustrated.

Favreau also weighed in (LAT, 4/19/10) on how AC/DC has become a thing in the Iron Man movies now, with “Shoot to Thrill” playing a big role in the second one after “Back in Black” was featured prominently in the first movie.

The publicity tour – and a cloud of volcanic ash over much of Europe that prevented the cast from appearing at the London premiere – brought Favreau and Downey to the Alamo Drafthouse, where they showed a group of eager critics and blog writers the movie and had some fun with their appearance.

Overall

Much like the feeling I had after reviewing the campaign for the first movie, I look at this marketing push and see something that’s simply too big to fail. Not that I don’t think there are issues with some of the individual components, but…actually I kind of don’t I really like this campaign pretty much from top to bottom. The posters are sharp and effectively show off characters both old and new, the trailers are fast and slick and do likewise, as well as throwing in bits like the appearance of Nick Fury that are going to have specific appeal to fans who are excited about the expanding cinematic Marvel Universe. The advertising is full-bore and contains the same attitude as the trailer and the publicity is well placed and effectively messaged.

The sheer scale of the campaign, though, is one of those things that’s quite impressive to behold. There’s just a ton going on here, from the trailers to the cross-promotions and more. Even more impressive, though, is that all these individual elements manages to stick with a consistent sense of branding, both in objective measures like use of the title treatment and such and in more subjective areas such as attitude. The spots for partners like Dr. Pepper and 7-Eleven all have the same playful spirit as the studio-created materials, meaning when the audience comes across each element they’re going to get the same brand perception experience they did when they saw something previously.

As an admitted geek, especially one whose favorite super hero comic when he was a kid was The Avengers, I’m predisposed to liking this campaign just as I was the campaign for the first one. I’m very much one of the target audiences for this movie. So if there’s a problem with the marketing I’m not seeing it because it looks to me like Paramount and Marvel have put together another strong campaign for Shellhead’s continued adventures.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 05/11/10: There were even more comic tie-ins Marvel published as digital editions that go into the backstories of Agent Coulson, Natasha Romanov and Nick Fury.
  • 05/14/10: Adweek takes a look at the brands that signed on for promotional partnerships with the studio for this movie and measures how much buzz they got for their cross-promotional dollars.
  • 06/23/10: An augmented reality app for LG Mobile users put them inside the Iron Man armor so they could see what Tony Stark sees when he’s wearing the helmet.

Movie Marketing Madness: Kick-Ass

There are, as we likely all know, two levels of comic adaptations. There are super-heroes that are brought to life on the big screen with lots of special effects, costumes and a little dash of questionable casting. Then there are “the others” that are adaptations of less splashy visuals and have, in most cases, a hint of the independent vibe that their creators infused them with and which has then translated to the screen.

But lately there’s a middle ground that has grown increasingly prevalent. 2008′s Wanted was based on a comic that wasn’t a super-hero story exactly, though the film certainly featured visuals that would have been comfortably at home in any of those movies. Likewise the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is an adaptation of a comic that features exaggerated characters and situations that are born of the super-hero world but which are not about any such hero.

In that sort of middle ground also is Kick-Ass, one of this year’s most anticipated films among the geekarati. The story is about a world without real super heroes and so, some people start thinking, why can’t they become costumed avengers? You don’t actually need powers, just a mask and a mission. And so a handful of kids put together a costume and start fighting “evil” in some form or another. The source book (which I’ll admit to not having read) is reportedly crass and violent and, based on the marketing we’re about to take a look at, the movie doesn’t seem to deviate from that too wildly.

The Posters

With such a colorful cast of characters there were bound to be a plethora of posters created and the marketing team has certainly delivered on that front.

The first batch of teasers placed each of the main characters – Red Mist, Kick-Ass himself, Hit Girl and Big Daddy – in that most cliched of super-hero poses, that of standing atop a building and looking over the city they’ve sworn to protect triumphantly and with a sense of entitlement and ownership. When you put the four posters together in the order outlined above the title of the movie is spelled out in the sky, which is a nice touch and certainly an incentive for collectors excited about the movie to seek out the one-sheets and webmasters to reprint this group excitedly.

A second batch of teaser one-sheets again featured each individual character, but in different poses and with more color-coded backgrounds. Each one also got it’s own little saying that deflated the idea they were actually had any powers but did emphasize what they could do, which is kick your ass. So Kick Ass’ poster says “I can’t fly. But I can kick your ass.” and so on. Each also contained a URL to what appeared to be a character-specific website but those addresses, when entered, just redirected to the movie’s official site.

Not content with two bites at the apple there was a third set created and released that toned down the clever and just presented the four characters bursting through the title treatment with a burst of color in their wake.

While three series of character-centric posters for a movie with only four main characters it’s showing off might seem…excessive…it did serve the purpose of creating a steady stream of publicity on movie blogs and elsewhere. That kept the movie in the audience’s mind and kept them talking about it in the interim between filming and release.

A theatrical poster took the same visual style as the last of the teaser series, with the bold, block letter title treatment in the background and the four characters standing in the front and above the little bit of non-credit block copy on the poster that states definitively “Shut up. Kick ass.” It certainly looks like the kind of image that might be created for a comic trade paperback and is pretty cool, finishing off the poster component of the campaign nicely, even if I think it was developed and released before series three of the teasers.

The Trailers

The first all ages trailer starts off with a shot of a winged hero standing atop a building ready to take flight. As he prepares we get voiceover asking why no one has thought of being a super-hero before since their lives can’t be so interesting as to not need a little adventure mixed in. When the winged figure takes off he plummets straight down, eventually landing with a deadly thud on top of a taxi as the voiceover informs us that’s not him, that’s some dude with mental problems.

After a brief shot of the main character and his friends discussing whether or not becoming a hero is possible we get a “putting on the costume” scene we’re then shown quickly the other everyday heroes before we finally get the “I’m Kick Ass” scene.

The second trailer starts off with the friends discussing how probable it is that anyone who tried to be a super hero would wind up seriously injured very shortly but then provides a little more background into the guy who would be Kick Ass before showing him suiting up. That initial appearance, we’re told via news footage, inspires others to take up similar mantles and so we’re introduced more fully to Big Daddy, Hit Girl and Red Mist as they seek to fight crime on their own terms. We also get a better idea of what they’re going up against as we see a crime leader of some sort (played by Mark Strong) and what his reaction to the rise of costumed vigilantes is and what sort of havoc they’re playing with his operations.

A third and much shorter trailer really served as a greatest hits compilation of the ones that had come before. I don’t think there’s any new footage in there but it does introduce all four characters once again and get to the idea that these are just ordinary people who have decided to take the law into their own hands. Or at least that they’ve decided to stop allowing innocent people to take a beating without doing anything.

Because the movie was rated R and it was doing so well in establishing its hard core cred, a red-band trailer was also introduced that included more language and mentions of the primary hero’s masturbatory tendencies. It also contained a few more graphic shots of the backs of people’s heads being blown off. Some of that language would come out of the mouth of the young girl who plays Hit Girl, which would result in some hand-wringing by media and other critics that we’ll talk more about later on.

Online

When you load the official website the primary menu shows briefly before giving way to the trailer, which you can also share on a variety of social networks or embed on your own blog. Closing that you’ll see the main page has prompts to Buy Tickets Now as well as a list of theaters showing sneak peeks which seems to be generated based on the location of your computer’s IP address. So when I visited I got a list of theaters in the western suburbs of Chicago. There are also links to read reviews on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, which is somewhat unusual and shows what faith the marketers are putting in word of mouth peer reviews.

When you enter the site the first thing you’re prompted to do is play some light games, which if you register will get you points you can redeem later on. Each character icon brings you to a different game that’s associated with that character’s skills in the story.

Moving to the site’s content menu, “About” has a decent paragraph write-up of the film’s story and characters. The “Cast and Crew” section is one of the best-designed such executions I think I’ve seen with its big icons for each actor that leads you to information on their background and biography.

There are 12 stills from the movie in “Photos” and “Videos” contains the Teaser and Theatrical Trailers as well as a handful of clips from the movie that extend scenes that are teased in the trailers. “Downloads” has four character-centric Wallpapers and Icons that use the same images from one of the teaser poster series.

The “Restricted” section contains direct links to things like Watch Hardcore Videos (the restricted trailer) and an Adults Only Soundboard as well as more that prompts you to take various actions with foul-mouthed language, including a call to grab an embeddable widget, something I haven’t seen in a while.

“Partners” has links to the content hubs at sites like IGN and UGO as well as information on buying movie-branded goods by French Connection and Vans. There are also links to the Lionsgate YouTube channel and information on the film’s soundtrack.

The “News” section has photos from the movie’s screening at SXSW, a music video from Mika and photos from the UK premiere. There are also embedded updates from the studio’s Twitter feed and when you click “See All Updates” you’re taken to that profile.

Finally the “Store” lets you buy movie t-shirts and other goodies from Gold Label.

Each character also got their own Facebook page, something that must have cost the studio a healthy sum considering Facebook’s policies on making sure you are who you say you are on the network. When you visited the pages for Kick Ass, Red Mist, Big Daddy or Hit Girl you were prompted to both enter a sweepstakes to win a trip to the premiere or enter a contest by uploading video of you in your super-hero costume and showing off your moves. Each character’s page also had plenty of information about that particular character as well as links ot the other’s profiles, the official site, links to the Demand It campaign and a Wall’s worth of links to coverage of new marketing materials and more about the movie.

The movie’s MySpace page had the trailers, some clips and links to the same contests and sweepstakes mentioned before.
There was a sited called Real Life Superheroes that was kind of…weird. It’s obviously part of the campaign for the movie – banner ads for the flick are all over the place – but it also seems to exist in a world of such characters, encouraging people to create profiles for their own heroes.

The Lionsgate YouTube channel was retro-fitted to be a hub for people to submit their own video review after seeing the movie. The main channel page also contained a stream of commentary about the movie from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, a stream powered by a service called @ThisMoment, integration it and the movie got a bit of press out of. Likewise the studio’s Twitter channel contained steady updates on the movie’s publicity and links to what it felt was important commentary.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A ton of advertising has been done, including the creation of quite a few TV spots, many of which took the form of trimmed trailers and featured little new material. Still, they’re effective at conveying the overall attitude of the movie to an audience, though there’s the concern that without the additional time that can be used for more explanation there’s going to be the belief that this is a straight super-hero movie. The expanded trailers make it more clear that it’s taking a drastically different approach to the genre but that doesn’t come through as loudly in 30-second spots.

There has been a good amount of outdoor advertising as well as well as some online and, one would assume, in print. Most of that as would be expected has repurposed any of the poster campaign’s art.

Media and Publicity

After an early appearance at Butt-Numb-a-Thon, the movie had it’s official coming out party with a screening on opening night of SXSW 2010. In fact the movie’s presence there included a number of vans to shuttle people around that were decorated with key art elements, which is kind of cool since transportation at festivals is always an issue.

In terms of media coverage a good amount came after the release of some restricted clips that featured foul language, some of which came out of the mouth of young Chloe Grace Moretz, the girl who plays Hit Girl. That led to a lot of commentary about not only whether red-band trailers are appropriate given their propensity to appear on non-age restricted sites (New York Times, 2/24/10) but also on the the fact that an 11 year old girl was saying such things, including lots of references to sexual themes. That focus on Moretz and her role in such a graphic, both verbally and physically, movie continued to be covered in the press (New York Times, 4/11/10) and actually became a central component of a lot of stories (Los Angeles Times, 4/14/10) even those stories that were just about how offensive and incendiary the movie is in general, as well as leading to discussions of gender politics and related issues.

Regardless of what traditional mainstream or trade press coverage the movie has gotten, the real thing going for Kick-Ass is the word of mouth that has been building up for well on a year now. Fans have been absolutely salivating for this movie and have eaten up every new clip, every new trailer, every new preview at a festival or convention. And that campaign has fed that hunger with a steady release of material that has kept the movie never far from top-of-mind and so fueled the conversations about it and therefore the anticipation for it. Indeed it seemed to be pegged by some as the pinnacle (Los Angeles Times, 4/15/10) of the comic/movie geek’s world. As with previous movies in this category, though, how festival and convention buzz translates to box-office success remains to be seen.

Overall

For as sprawling as it can sometimes seem, Lionsgate has actually put together a tight and amazingly consistent campaign here. All the components come back to the same four or five themes and hit the same notes, even if they take different paths to get there, leading to an overall campaign that feels familiar wherever you encounter it while also seeming fresh and new in each venue.

What it does is play to its strengths – and presumably the strengths of the movie – time and time again. So there’s violence, language and a “Hey you know what, let’s just go for broke and let the chips fall where they may” attitude that pervades the entire campaign. It knows fans are expecting the outrageous and so, whenever possible, delivers on that expectation.

It also works really hard to get the audience’s approval. That’s why there are three waves of teaser posters and so many released clips and other elements to get people talking. It really wants people to like it and so will deliver just what it needs to in order to achieve that, which is actually different from most marketing. The marketers don’t just want the movie to be chosen, they want it to be chosen above all else because people are excited and have devised a campaign to create that level of appreciation and excitement, which is where it succeeds as a whole aside from any of the individual elements.

Movie Marketing Madness: Clash of the Titans

I can’t imagine I’m the only member of my generation who remembers clearly the VHS tape that contained a recorded-off-HBO version of the original Clash of the Titans, a copy that was all but unplayable after countless summers of playing it over and over again. I probably haven’t seen it in 20+ years but can still remember Zeus moving his little action figures around the game board, the Kraken being turned to stone by Medusa’s disembodied head and countless other scenes that were genuinely thrilling for 1981, mostly because of the masterful special effects work from the iconic Ray Harryhausen. There was action, there was adventure and there were a couple of hot chicks in tight-fitting white robes, meaning it had all the essential elements for a sub-10 year old boy of the time.

That classic movie has now been remade into a new version of Clash of the Titans. This one stars Sam Worthington, who is seemingly in every other movie being released, as Perseus, taking that role from the original’s Harry Hamlin. Where the first movie had Perseus on a quest to save and marry the beautiful Andromeda, this one has Perseus going up against the gods themselves, particularly Hades (Ralph Fiennes) who is attempting to unleash hell on Earth and stop him from taking over Olympus from Zeus (Liam Neeson). So the plot seems to have shifted from one of chivalry to one of embracing your inner hero and embracing the power you have, which is very 21st century I guess. Joel Osteen would probably love this.

The Posters

The first poster features Worthington as Perseus in one of the iconic scenes we all remember from the original film as he victoriously holds up the severed head of Medusa. The look and feel of the poster is certainly meant to evoke memories of 300 with its washed out background and dust and dirt flying everywhere. But it’s very cool and shows this is a high-emotion swords and sandals flick that’s coming our way. The copy point “The clash begins” is a bit on the nose but hey, what are you going to do about that.

A second poster put Worthington on Pegasus as they fly into battle. Again, this is about recreating an image from the first movie that’s going to be recognizable to fans, though in this version Pegasus is obviously a bit darker – blacker and almost more lizard-looking – than the pure white steed that he originally was.

The third teaser one-sheet unveiled the look for the Kraken, the monsterous beast from the depths of the sea that Perseus must defeat when his love is about to be sacrificed on the cliffs. Again, Perseus is seen riding Pegasus into battle, and the long horizontal mouth of the monster draws more than a few comparisons to the creature in 2008′s Cloverfield.

There was also a triptych of images that had the same kind of color-saturated look and feel but different photos. One was of a set of mystics that appear in the trailers, one had Worthington’s Perseus fending off Scorponok in the desert and one of the three blind witches that help, albeit unwillingly, the hero on his journey.

What I’m not seeing anywhere in this campaign is a final, more traditional theatrical poster. All the one-sheets have teaser-focused language but there’s nothing that combines these elements or creates a new image where there’s a stronger central image and a full credit block. That seems like a huge missing gap in the push but might, I suspect, be a symptom of the “franchises, not stars” mentality that’s currently gripping Hollywood. It’s not important that the audience know who the director is, I guess, because what’s being sold is simply the visual rush.

Also notable in this aspect of the campaign is the fact that 3D presentation is being put at the forefront, with the fact that it’s “Also Playing in 2D” put below the title in small type on some of these posters. Avatar’s posters, of course, were all about promoting the fact that people should watch it in 3D but they didn’t include that caveat, which is now mentioned as an afterthought for audiences to consider.

There’s also the issue of the copy that appears on the posters, “Titans Will Clash,” being completely redundant considering two of those words also appear in the movie’s four-word title.

The Trailers

If you grew up like I did with the original movie you’re going to recognize a one of scenes from the first trailer. From the giant scorpion to the hunt for Medusa to the eyeless witches there’s a lot here that’s familiar, even if it does look quite different from the versions we might remember. There’s no dialogue aside from an intonation that “someone’s going to have to make a stand” and this very short spot is full of special effects, quick cuts and an orchestral hard rock score that highlights how this new movie has been updated somewhat in an attempt to appeal to a new generation.

The second trailer contains a lot of the same footage, with a few additions that primarily make it clear to the audience that the story is about the gods unleashing their fury by turning humans against each other in attempt to instill a sense of humility among the mortals. It’s a bit more fleshed out but not by much, though the added sense of perspective make the trailer feel more complete, I think, and presents a better end product to the audience.

Plus we get to see the updated Kraken, which really does look like a reworked version of the monster from Cloverfield but still looks pretty cool.

Both trailers are fast-moving, full of gritty visuals and slick effects and both are absolutely wafer thin. They’re as easily forgotten as a Filet-o-Fish. I’m sure they’re going to evoke some levels of nostalgia among people of my age and more than a few younger folks but in terms of substance there’s nothing there.

Online

The official website starts with the second trailer, which you can skip to get in to the site. Once you do so there’s full-motion video, much of which is pulled from the trailer.

The first section under the Menu is “About” and that section has a Synopsis that lays out who the characters are and what the stakes are for Perseus and his band of heroes. It also includes the following bit of copy which I can’t decide is awesome or awful:

“The Film will be presented in 3D wherever possible, making the gods even more formidable, the creatures even more fearsome and taking audiences even deeper into the mythological realm of Perseus’ quest.”

(Note: I’ve not included a comma that shouldn’t be there and have included an apostrophe that they missed. Cause I can.)

Grammatical notes aside, I can’t help but think making such a case for the movie being markedly better because of the presentation is an admission that judged on its own merits it’s a little weak. Direction, set design, acting, cinematography and screenwriting should be what add weight to the movie and its story, not post-production 3D formatting.

Having seen Avatar in 3D I can honestly say it looked great but the 3D presentation did not add anything at all to the stakes I felt like the story was trying to convey, which didn’t come through at all anyway. And that was shot specifically for 3D so if any movie was going to it should have been that one. So I’m not overly optimistic that Clash is going to be all that much better simply because it’s been modified to be in 3D at the last minute and making that argument shows a knowledge of the movie being, as I said before, wafer thin.

Back to the content of the site, the rest of this section is filled with Cast and Filmmakers areas that have backgrounds on the folks who have mad the movie.

There are 12 stills in the “Photos” section and “Videos” just has the two trailers. I’m shocked by the latter since there have been a ton of TV commercials and extended scenes that were released.

“Downloads” has all the Posters and banners that can be grabbed as well as Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and a Screensaver.

You’ll see all the tie-ins and other promotions under “Partners & Sweeps” which I’ll dive into more later. “Soundtrack” has snippets of the movie’s score that you can sample.

“Games” has a couple of light games that pit you against either the Skorpioch or Medusa.

Most of the website’s content as well as features like a Profile Picture Generator and Twitter Skins are on the FanKit site, which is similar to what WB has done with Watchmen and other movies recently.

“Release the Kraken” is an augmented reality tool but, since I didn’t actually waste the printer ink to try it and since there’s no explanation as to what it is given I’m not sure what the tool actually is. Similarly, “The Mark of Medusa” is a photo-upload tool that turns your picture to stone.

There’s also a Facebook page that has showtime information, a few photos and some of the TV spots in addition to the trailers and links to some of the external promotional coverage of the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Quite a bit of TV advertising was done, especially during the broadcast of the Winter Olympics, with spots airing there that used imagery of athletes and voiceovers about champion spirits eventually leading to footage from the movie that was for the most part pulled from the trailer. The spots also emphasized that not only was the movie coming soon but that it was coming soon in 3D, something the marketers obviously felt was going to appeal to the guys watching Olympic Games.

The rest of the TV spots, many of which are viewable on Warner’s YouTube channel, are variations on the trailers, though most all of them have some new footage and dialogue that’s also been included. They work on about the same level as those trailers, which is to say good enough.

Yoplait was one partner, signing on the movie’s Izabella Miko, who plays Athena, to help launch its new line of Greek yogurt. The idea is to encourage women to embrace and unleash their inner goddess, which apparently is done through the consumption of Greek yogurt. A PDF download on the Yoplait site also has a few Greek-inspired fashion tips as modeled by Miko.

Tablet PC company Shuttle has a variety of exclusive downloads that are tied to the movie as well as a prompt to enter to win one of their devices.

Visa is a partner though there aren’t really any details on the extent of that.

Retailer Hot Topic doesn’t have a Clash section on their site but it’s safe to assume their mall stores will have movie-branded merchandise available to sell to DJ Jazzy Trevor and his cohorts who are cruising down from the food court.

Buttkicker, a company that sells devices which enable you to rig up your couch or chair to make them rumble with the movie you’re watching or game you’re playing, has a sweepstakes to send people to Las Vegas and award them a bunch of electronics gear.

Finally, Floyd’s Barbershop (yeah, really) lets you enter via text message to win a trip for two to Greece.

Media and Publicity

Being a high-profile remake of a classic movie there were lots of stories about the film’s production and such, especially since it stars Worthington, who gained a lot of residual buzz from his appearance in Avatar just a handful of months ago.

Star Sam Worthington, seemingly in half the movies that have been released in the last 12 months, was given one of those conveniently timed awards when it was announced (Hollywood Reporter, 3/1/10) ShoWest would name him Male Star of the Year at their trade show later in the year.

Other than that most of the press coverage focused on the film’s conversion to 3D despite not being filmed in that format. The move was one designed to take advantage of the buzz around 3D and the success of other movies released like that. The theory seemed to be because it was filled with special effects the audience would clamor to see those effects flying at them from the screen and be more than happy to pay the premium ticket prices – which have even gone up at many chains in the last couple weeks – for the privilege.

Overall

There are some great visuals in this campaign but ultimately I think it falls flat. Those visuals do nothing to sell any sort of story or impart any sense of the stakes the characters are facing other than a couple of toss-off lines in one of the trailers and a paragraph of copy on the website.

The campaign doesn’t seem to care, though, and knows all it has to do is keep hitting the audience with those visuals since they’re going to be what the studio thinks people are going to be swayed by. It may very well be right, but I also think what we might be seeing is something that falls in the middle ground between effects-driven movies that are grounded in good acting and decent writing (Iron Man being a great example here) and ones that are gigantic spectacles with little in the way of story (I’m looking at you, Avatar). So this kind of movie that just seems generic might wind up connecting on neither level.

I may very well be wrong, but this campaign has left me cold on the remake but with a powerful desire to reconnect with the original.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 04/02/10: There was a really, really awkward marketing integration with “American Idol” the week the movie opened, with footage from the movie being interspersed with the usual shots of contestants lining up to hear their results. It was just…odd.

Movie Marketing Madness: Alice in Wonderland

There are very few films in director Tim Burton’s film history that aren’t visually striking on some level or another. Whether it’s the pastel suburbia of Edward Scissorhands, the dark palette of Batman or the dark grays of Sweeney Todd his best films always seem to thrive on being extensions of Burton’s arguably unique (and sometimes downright twisted) visual sense. Being an illustrator in the early part of his career and someone who’s obviously drawn to stories about those are definitively not part of normal society that makes sense and when he’s given the room to create an entire world he obviously thrives artistically.

He seems to have been given that very opportunity with Alice in Wonderland, the latest movie he’s directed and the latest such effort that features a starring turn from his frequent collaborator Johnny Depp. Depp plays The Mad Hatter in this story, which has Alice returning to Wonderland a few years after the events of the first, most commonly known story. Wonderland has fallen upon hard times as The Red Queen has become more powerful and the inhabitants, from the Hatter to the White Rabbit and everyone else who’s on the side of the good guys, need Alice’s help to restore order to their world.

The movie is largely done in computer animation in much the same way Avatar was, where minimal sets were created for the actors – in costume and not motion-captured, though many of them have their appearance altered to be more cartoonish – to move around before all the details were filled in by computer artists doing their thing. And, like Avatar, it’s being positioned as a movie not only to be enjoyed but to be enjoyed in 3D as a way to fully appreciate and immerse yourself in the director’s vision. So let’s see how the marketing has played out.

The Posters

The first set of teaser posters featured the first four main characters against backgrounds that more or less fit with their settings. So the Red Queen is set against heart-covered wallpaper, the White Queen against a series of white hearts, the Hatter against a kaleidoscope of hats and Alice is placed on a tea set with a background of key holes. A later set added one-sheets for Tweedledee/Tweedledum, The White Rabbit and The Cheshire Cat. They all are pretty good and certainly lay out each character fairly well, giving each on a moment to shine for the audience.

The second set of teasers took each of those characters – as well as others like Tweedledee/Tweedledum, Cheshire Cat and the Rabbit, and placed them within the film’s world. So the series of three posters features the characters standing amidst gigantic looking mushrooms and flowers and such. The three were then combined into a single banner with the Hatter in the middle, providing a nice look at the film’s style that compliments the trailers nicely.

The middle one of those posters, the one featuring The Mad Hatter, also then served as the theatrical one-sheet for the movie, with a credit block added to the bottom and Depp’s name added to the top. It makes a ton of sense for this to be used since Depp is going to be the main draw here for audiences who have been wowed by him and his performances in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie and more.

The Trailers

The teaser trailer, released a couple months after Comic-Con, starts off with Alice – now a grown young woman – falling once again down the rabbit hole and once again swallowing the potion that shanks her down to size. We get quick introductions to most of the main characters – the White and Red Queens, the Cheshire Cat and everyone else – before we’re finally shown Depp as the Mad Hatter, who chides Alice for being late. There’s no plot to speak of, this spot is just about showing the audience the look and feel of the movie and hoping we’re intrigued by and sucked in to the visuals.

The trailer, unfortunately, got leaked a bit early and wound up resulting in some negative press for Disney, who then got blasted for requesting that the trailer be pulled from the sites hosting it. I’m firmly on Disney’s side in issues like this as I don’t think leaked items should be posted.

The later theatrical trailer shows off a bit more of the film’s story. While we get the same voiceover intro from the Hatter and shown the rest of the characters as they realize Alice is back, we’re also shown why her return to Wonderland is important. It seems the Red Queen has taken over most of Wonderland and the Alice’s help is needed to set things right and restore order to the world. So in addition to showing off the fantastic visuals Burton has created for the film we get a good amount of scenes of battles taking place between the good guys and the bad guys as they seek to ether squash this rebellion or complete it.

Both trailers are fast-paced and fun and certainly create a wave of excitement for the audience to get caught up in. It’s clear from the combination that Depp’s performance is the centerpiece of the film and that, while Alice is the title character, it’s the Hatter that’s driving the story forward.

Online

The movie’s official website gets bonus points right off the bat for opening with some of Danny Elfman’s fantastic score work playing in the background.

After the site finishes loading you get a line-up of the main characters to choose from, with The Mad Hatter of course being the first option and the others being Alice, the Red Queen and the White Queen. Clicking any of those images brings you to a section where you can view photos, watch videos, grab downloads and read a biography, all specific to that character. Each one also gives the viewer the ability to share their experience on Facebook and play the “On the Spot” trivia game that tests your knowledge of the Alice mythology.

Off to the left there’s a traditional Menu that gives you access to the content you’d expect on a movie site.

First up is “Film” where you’ll find a brief synopsis of what to expect in the story as well as brief shout-outs to the cast and crew.

“Video” is next and has the Teaser, the Trailer, the Super Bowl TV spot and a number of featurettes that are devoted either to the overall look of the movie’s world or to the Mad Hatter specifically since he’s the central character here.

The “Gallery” is divided into two sections, Stills and Concept Art, with a number of items in each section.

“Games” has a Hat Yourself photo uploader that puts your face on the Mad Hatter’s body, Hidden Wonderland asks you to find the hidden image in the same way something like the I Spy books work and Adventures in Wonderland has you playing as Alice to navigate various parts of the film’s world, from successfully navigating your fall down the rabbit hole to other more complex tasks.

You can sample the tracks that appear on the Almost Alice album (not really a soundtrack, more a collection of songs inspired by the movie) under “Music” as well as find links to buy the CD or download the album.

Just days before Comic-Con, where the film would have a presence, started Disney launched an interesting Facebook campaign. Fan pages were launched for the Red Queen, the White Queen and the Mad Hatter and people were encouraged to choose a side. Members of the page with the most fans as of July 23rd would then be the first to see the first, exclusive trailer for the film. That’s a great way to drum up activity and engagement, even if it everyone assumed the trailer would be ripped and posted to YouTube and everywhere else within hours.

Most of the subsequent activity happened around the movie’s main Facebook page, which featured a number of videos, photos and other materials, including previews of the movie’s console video games. There was also Twitter account @ImportantDate that was launched, as we’ll see later, at Comic-Con and used after that to push out updates to the movie’s fans.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Disney ramped up the TV advertising for the movie toward the end of January, with the debut of new spots being made into events on ABC, ESPN and ABC Family. That push then culminated with a Super Bowl commercial in early February that exposed the film to a broad swatch of the movie-going public. Before this was announced I was skeptical Disney would make this buy but in retrospect I think I wasn’t taking fully into account the 3D factor, something that was going to be latched on to in the wake of Avatar’s success with 3D exhibition.

The studio also engaged in a a bit of outdoor advertising, re-purposing elements similar to those of the triptych poster that was created into billboard and another out-of-home ads.

Disney also created an iPhone-specific wireless campaign (ClickZ, 2/17/10) that placed ads within apps using a handful of mobile networks that led uses to a custom iPhone site that featured games, e-cards and a variety of other movie content.

Fashion designers and cosmetics companies got on board with clothes and accessories inspired by the looks of the movie’s characters.

Cosmetics company OPI is one of those, with a series of nail polish colors that are inspired by the movie along with a section of their website devoted to those offerings as well as a sweepstakes that awarded people sets of those products and gift certificates to buy more.

Book retailer Barnes & Noble set up an Alice-specific section that showcased the various books, movies and more that were available at their stores as well as allowing people to download a collection of Tim Burton’s sketches for use as screensavers on their Nook e-reader devices.

Fashion outlet Hot Topic created a series of Alice-inspired items ranging from hoods to necklaces to t-shirts and more.

Tetley Tea set up a contest that let people enter to win a Mad Hatter Tea Party.

Finally, Beauty product company Organix also had a contest running that awarded a trip to London

Media and Publicity

The release of a handful of photos were part of the first major wave of publicity for the movie. First there were very stylized character shots released and then more followed in an issue of Vanity Fair that used similar pictures but were more “normal” in how they were composed.

Burton made a rare trip to the 2009 Comic-Con with a “semi-trailer” for the movie that contained what little footage he said was ready for the viewing public. That limited amount of available material was due, he said, to the fact that the meshing of filmmaking styles was proving to be challenging and so he still had a lot of work to do.

At the end of that panel discussion the @ImportantDate Twitter account was mentioned, an account that seems to have been used solely for a series of meet-ups around San Diego right around Comic-Con but little else. Kevin Kelly at Cinematical attended one of those and recounts the experience, which included displays of costumes and props from the movie and more, including a recreation of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

Disney used the film as an inspiration point for a new fashion line it hoped to debut in conjunction with the movie’s release, unveiling the clothing creations it commissioned at a flash-mob style event in early September. And the film was on friendly ground when it debuted some new promotional artwork and more at Disney’s “D23″ fan event, which included an appearance by Burton (Variety, 9/11/09) to show off some of the film’s 3D look and feel.

Alice in Wonderland was also one of the movies making a promotional appearance at the Scream Awards (AdAge, 10/27/09), with Tim Burton acting as a judge for the awards and Johnny Depp appearing to introduce new footage from the film.

Also on the “event” front was a retrospective of Burton’s artwork and design at MoMA, an exhibit that included props from some of his movies as well as drawings he has done, either just random pieces or personal concept art done in preparation for some of his movies.

Disney also drummed up a bit of publicity by sending out high-quality promotional books to select bloggers that contained books of material and more for them to check out.

As the release date drew near it was announced by Disney CEO Bob Iger that Alice would be the first test case in his plan for shortening theatrical windows on a case-by-case basis. So Alice would get a scant three month theatrical release before hitting home video, a plan that was preceded by lengthy discussions with theater owners wherein it was explained this would not be a universal change in policy and that ultimately this would be in everyone’s best interest. Despite those discussions the plan had a number of U.S. and international chains questioning (LA Times, 2/19/10) whether or not they would book the movie, though most ultimately did (LA Times, 2/23/10).

Director Burton took to MySpace about a month before the movie in much the same way James Cameron did for Avatar to interact with fans there and answer their questions about the movie.

Overall

What I really like about this campaign is what I usually like about campaigns: The visual consistency that it uses to establish a brand in the minds of the audience. The trailers, the posters, the website and much of the other promotional activity all use the same backgrounds and images, meaning that whenever or wherever someone encounters a component of the marketing they know immediately what they’re looking at.

The push is obviously centered around two idea: That the film is filled with deep, rich and fully textured visuals and that Johnny Depp is having a blast playing The Mad Hatter. Both trailers have the Hatter as being the central figure in the story – Alice, the titular character I don’t think gets a single line in either spot – and he’s put front and center on the website as well. And the entire campaign is meant to immerse you in the world Burton and his designers have created. So on those two counts it succeeds rather well.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 03/05/10: The Los Angeles Times sold pretty much its entire above-the-fold real estate in a manner that allowed Disney to place a full-color image of The Mad Hatter on the outside of the paper.
  • 03/09/10: One of the clothing lines with a tie-in was the one bearing teen icon Avril Lavigne’s name. Lavigne was also one of the artists recording a track for the “Almost Alice” album.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Wolfman

(ed note: I should have published this last Wednesday but, between traveling and other work responsibilities, I just didn’t get to it. But considering I had it 85% done, though, I didn’t want it to go to waste and so I’m going ahead and publishing it now. –CT)

You have to love a good horror flick. I’m talking real horror – scary monsters and lots of shadows that might be moving – and not the recent spat of movies that are all about psychopaths torturing innocent people for no reason, movies that are supposed to be deep explorations of human depravity but which can’t hold a candle to the mythology and genuine terror the classic stories told.

Back in the early and mid-1990s there were a couple of revamps – today they’d be called reboots – of some of those classic characters. Francis Ford Coppola took on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Kenneth Branagh directed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (both movies I seem to have a higher opinion of than most professional critics). This was supposed to be part of a revitalization of these stories and the next entry was logically going to be The Wolf Man. But while there was Wolf, which starred Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfieffer, there was no direct adaptation of the original story of Lawrence Talbot and his tendency to wolf-out.

Now that gap has been filled, with Universal enlisting Benecio del Toro to don the fur and become The Wolfman. The story revolves around Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) coming back to visit his father (Anthony Hopkins) at the family estate after his brother has been mysteriously killed. There he becomes attracted to his late brother’s fiance (Emily Blunt) and eventually becomes the victim of an attack that leaves him changed, with that change then making him the object of a pursuit by an investigator from Scotland Yard (Hugo Weaving).

The Posters

The first two teaser posters were all about mood and attitude. The first featured half of the title character’s face, with the rest obscured by shadow, gazing menacingly at the audience. This one does a good job of showing off that character while not giving away the entire look that has been created. The second shows Blunt hiding behind a tree in a forest, obviously on the run from something. I like that what she’s on the run from isn’t directly shown but instead only hinted at with the barest of shadows on the ground in the background. It establishes a sense of terror without going over the top and that’s a rare and admirable show of restraint on behalf of the campaign. There was another teaser that showed nothing but a pair of hands gripped around the top of a walking stick, with smoke rising from those hands since there’s a silver ornamental top to that stick.

The final theatrical poster again brings plenty of atmosphere to the table but there’s also a big heaping portion of Big Floating Heads syndrome. The noggins of Hopkins, Del Toro, Blunt and Weaving are all arrayed around the top of the one-sheet and are arranged to be glaring at the audience, at each other or into the middle distance. Below them stands the wolf himself surrounded by forest trees and an eery light, while the copy “When the moon is full, the legend comes to life” is placed below the title treatment.

The look of the poster – washed out skin tones, lots of black and other such elements – all evoke to the audience that the movie takes place sometime in the 18th/19th century time period since we all know from other movies those years did not have any bright colors. The arrangement of the actor’s heads is designed to create the tension and show the audience how, in broad strokes, the characters relate to each other.

It’s not bad but it comes off as a little generic, with nothing all that striking about it, certainly nothing as striking as some of the teaser posters and the way they were able to create a feeling of suspense with simple images.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with an old man telling stories in a pub about the death long ago of a man who was torn to shreds and how the dead man’s father then wouldn’t leave home after arming himself with silver bullets. At that point we’re introduced to Del Toro’s character, who’s returned home after his brother’s death in the same manner. He begins to comfort his late brother’s fiance and the two of them begin a romance that takes a turn with Del Toro’s character is himself bitten by the beast and he begins to show signs of being something terrible. An inspector from Scotland Yard is poking around amidst all this and is on the trail of the killer, who at this point appears to be Del Toro. But his transformation is something he’s having trouble with and being tortured over, a conflict which appears to drive much the film’s story.

The second trailer takes more of a atmospheric approach, focusing less on the plot and more on the mood and look of the film as the relationships between the characters are less fleshed out while we get more shots of people being beat down here and there. There’s till the hint of romance as we see, from behind, a naked Blunt and so on and you can assume that Hopkins is the father figure with an agenda of his own, but the rest is all quick cut action that doesn’t burden the audience with an abundance of plot points.

Online

The official website opens by playing one of the trailers but you can close that and get to the first menu. Before jumping in to the content there are a couple things here that are notable.

First, there’s a “Share” button up in the right-hand corner that allows you to post the site to your social network/bookmarking site of choice. That option is on a lot of sites but this is probably the best implementation of that function.

Second there’s a prompt to post to Twitter a line from the movie and a link back to this official site. All you need to do is select one of the three available options and enter your Twitter credentials and you can become a marketing outlet for your friends.

There are also some nods to the cinematic history of the Wolfman at Universal with a link to a “Monster Legacy” site and an ad to buy the original Wolf Man movie’s special edition DVD.

Finally on this splash page are opportunities to download a mobile game, get free ringtones and more.

Once you enter the site the first options you see are opportunities to dive deeper into the film’s settings.

“Discover Lycanthropy” which opens a new site with history on this mythological condition. “Explore Blackmoor” takes you in to the history behind the myth, including a timeline of events that inspired the story and a deeper exploration of the physical locations the story takes place in. Then there’s another link to Universal’s “Monster Legacy” site, on which the Wolf Man is currently playing a starring role.

Going back to the site and opening the Menu, the first section is a “Synopsis” that lays out the film’s story and who many of the main characters are in a decent manner.

“Cast” and “Filmmakers” are the next two, providing bios and film histories on those who contributed to the film both in front of and behind the camera.

How the film got made is covered in “Production,” though all of the six sub-sections it’s broken into are pretty safe and just discuss the casting, design and other aspects of the movie’s making without getting in to the troubles it encountered, which is understandable.

The next two sections are devoted to video content, with “Trailers” containing both trailers, two TV spots and a behind-the-scenes featurette and “Clips” giving you access to seven extended bits of footage from the movie.

The same three things that were on the front page – Monster Legacy, Discover Lycanthropy and Explore Blackmoor can be found again in the “Features” section.

“Gallery” has about 15 stills you can view and “Downloads” has Desktops and Buddy Icons you can download to your computer if you so choose.

The site also has links to Universal’s Twitter feed and to the movie’s own Facebook Fan Page, which includes an app you can add so you and your friends can hunt each other in addition to all the usual information, materials and updates.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There was a pretty decent advertising push for the movie from Universal which seems to be born of a desire to revitalize a more…traditional horror genre, many of the characters of which they hold the rights to.

Outdoor billboards were out and about bringing the movie’s message to the commuting masses. And there were a good number of online ads that I came across.

There were also a fair amount of TV spots created which mainly took the tactic of repurposing footage from the trailers, showing quite a bit of various transformation sequences, a bit of the romance, some scowling and crazy-looking laughing from Hopkins and a bit of Weaving going on the hunt for the monster.

In addition to those regular TV commercials the studio also bought 15 seconds of airtime during Super Bowl XLIV, using it to bring an even more slimmed-down version of the trailer to that broadcast’s audience. It goes by awfully quickly and opts for title cards instead of voiceovers, the inclusion of which eats into that sparse running time and leading to a spot that features even less footage than the others.

Media and Publicity

Unfortunately most of the movie’s publicity throughout 2009 was the constantly moving release dates Universal gave it. Originally slated for November 2008, then February 2009, then April 2009, then November 2009 it eventually got pushed to February 2010, a state of flux that didn’t do a whole heck of a lot to instill a lot of faith in the strength of the finished product, rightly or wrongly.

There was also a good amount of coverage devoted to Rick Baker and his mastery over the visual effects of the movie. Baker being a Hollywood legend there was lots to discuss, including his adherence to the idea of traditional, practical effects for the title character. While he did oversee the digital process that was used for the transition from human to wolf, the end result is an actor in makeup and that’s a good thing.

Closer to release there was the usual round of press interviews with the primary cast and crew (again, often involving Baker) along with a rehashing of the many and varied problems the film had through the production process, problems that included a director leaving just weeks before filming, an editor leaving halfway through production and more. That’s unfortunate but could serve to lower industry expectations significantly so a modest win this weekend looks favorable in comparison.

Overall

There’s an odd sense of inconsistency running through the campaign that I’m tempted to say is the result of so many delays and so many people looking to get their input registered since the stakes are so high. Sometimes the materials feel very atmospheric and spooky, sometimes they feel very overt as if they’re trying to make it fit in with recent horror genre offerings.

But there’s still some good stuff here, most of which falls in to the former of the two categories above. I love the early teaser posters (especially the one that shows Blunt hiding behind a tree) and much of the trailers are well done. And you’ll never go wrong in my book by acknowledging history, in this case the prominent placements of the classic Universal Studios horror film catalog.

Unfortunately the publicity aspect of the campaign has been mired in stories about the numerous delays, reshoots and other things that hampered production. But there’s an otherwise solid effort on display here that, with a few missteps, at least should get people re-interested in the character and its cinematic history.

Movie Marketing Madness: Sherlock Holmes

“Get a new attitude and come back when you’re ready.”

That phrase seems to be a favorite both of parents with children who need an attitude check (especially around this time of the year as stress levels are approaching “Chernobyl”) and movie studio execs who have been thumbing through the list of properties they own and find one that hasn’t been rebooted in the last 90 days. Any characters that might be seen as old fashioned and “classic” are given to a screenwriter or two with orders to go ahead and retain the setting but revamp the attitude, giving them more of a 21st century feel, dialogue and mindset.

Such seems to be the case with Sherlock Holmes. Born in the novels of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the world’s greatest detective was a character who could walk in to a room and immediately take in his surroundings and make deductions about everything – and everyone – in it. A lifelong bachelor, he would then retire to his humble Baker Street flat and practice his violin, preparing for the next adventure with his business partner and roommate Dr. Watson.

Holmes has now been given a facelift and the requisite new attitude in Sherlock Holmes, the new film from Warner Bros. that stars Robert Downey Jr. as the titular hero, Jude Law as his right-hand man Watson and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, one of the only female characters to make any notable appearance in the Holmes mythology. Far removed from the classic Basil Rathbone films, this movie portrays the detective as a slovenly playboy who, while retaining some stock Holmes characteristics as being an excellent boxer and a master of deduction, recasts his persona as being more quirky than stoic. Directed by Guy Ritchie, this version of the character is, as I said above, meant to bring the character into the 21st century and make him more of a conflicted hero of the kind we’re meant to relate to in this day and age.

The Posters

The first batch of posters, which began appearing a while ago at the ShoWest trade conference, were designed to introduce us to the characters and give us a sense of the attitude and style the movie would be giving to them. Character-specific one-sheets were created and released for Irene Adler, Lord Blackwood – the film’s primary villain – Watson and Holmes himself, all of which also sported a quick little bit of copy meant to describe that character. So, for example, McAdams’ Adler is given the line “Dangerously Alluring” since she’s supposed to be both more dangerous than she seems and exactly as alluring as she seems. All of these characters are given a foggy, kind of grimy London background, with Big Ben and Parliament (I’ll give you all a moment to go to YouTube and look up the National Lampoon’s European Vacation clip…..alright ready to continue?) barely visible through the fog behind them.

The final theatrical poster brought Holmes and Watson together in the center of the design, with a variety of things behind and around them. Pictures of Adler and Blackwood are on opposite sides of the poster, with other items such as the 221 Baker St. streetlamp, a pistol, a variety of medicine bottles and Watson’s dog arranged around the like they were on bookshelves or something. The color scheme is the same – that sort of iron gray/green – and this time there’s an absolutely awful copy point just above the credit block, “Holmes for the Holidays,” that proves almost all puns are unnecessary puns.

The Trailers

The first trailer, released quite early this year, is, whatever it’s faults might be, a lot of fun. Starting off with ominous voiceover by the film’s villain Lord Blackwood we’re quickly told that this is a game being played between him and Holmes that stretches the boundaries of nature itself. Holmes isn’t seen until well into the spot’s running time and Watson well after that. But we get the general idea that the film is an amusement park ride that’s equal parts Jack Sparrow and Indiana Jones, with lots more action sequences and humor than you’re going to remember if you grew up on the Basil Rathbone flicks being shown Sunday afternoons on “Family Classics.”

The second trailer is 92 percent the same, with the addition of just a few bits of dialogue and footage. But there’s barely enough additional material her to even call it a second trailer. Instead it’s more of a re-edited version of the first spot since the timing is identical on the character reveals, Rachel McAdams still doesn’t get any dialogue and we’re still no closer to anything resembling a clear idea of the plot outside of the initial warning from Blackwood and a brief bit about him rising from the grave. Unfortunately those omissions, which were excusable in the first trailer because it could be written off as teasing the film, become more noticeable when you realize the second one has not filled in any of those gaps.

Online

The official website for the movie opens, as many do, with the theatrical trailer playing, something you can bypass by simply opting to “Enter the Site.”

Expanding the menu at the bottom of the screen shows that “About the Film” is the first content section available. There you’ll find a Synopsis that’s short on plot but heavy on its attempts to convey the fact that the movie is “dynamic” and exciting before going into the credits of the cast and crew. That then leads directly into “Cast” and “Filmmaker” sections that give more information on the actors and creators of the movie. Finally there are some decent Production Notes that you can download as a PDF.

“Video” is the next section and has the Teaser Trailer, the Main (theatrical) Trailer and two TV Spots. By my count there are well over 30 stills – including a nice mix of production photos and behind-the-scenes shots – in the “Photos” section. You can download a handful of Wallpapers, all the Posters, some Icons and a Screensaver in the “Downloads” section.

Under “Soundtrack” you’ll find samples from Hans Zimmer’s score for the movie as well as links to download it from iTunes or buy it from Amazon.

We’ll come back to “Partners” later but that’s the next section listed. “Sweepstakes” just has links to the sites that offered prizes to their readers connected to the movie. The “Twitter” section opens a pop-up window filled with recent tweets regarding the movie.

The “Solve the Mystery at 221B.sh” section is actually tied to a “viral” campaign that kicked off around the time of 2009′s Comic-Con, when people were handed cards by Warner Bros. that, when the numbers on them were put together, formed an IP address that eventually resolved to the actual URL. The game that’s housed there is actually tied to Facebook Connect and requires you to play via Facebook to find a partner and then solve a mystery that leads directly into the opening scene of the film. While I think that such a continuation or expansion of the story is a great idea, I think the fact that it requires a Facebook account and limits game-play to Facebook is an unnecessary hurdle.

Also along interactive lines is “Unlock Your Sherlock,” which takes you to an MSN site where you can try to hone your powers of deduction to solve a couple of simple mysteries just like Holmes would.

The movie’s Facebook page has videos, photos and updates on the movie’s publicity campaign as well as continued prompts to play the online game that’s tied to the social network. But other than the inclusion of more TV spots than the official site it’s as unremarkable as most profiles are.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Despite the fact that only two were included on the official site there were six or more TV spots created and put in pretty heavy rotation, especially in the week before the movie opened. That week also happened to be the one *after* Avatar opened and so I would imagine air time was a little easier to come across in the wake of that campaign.

The Warner Bros. marketing department stepped in (Los Angeles Times, 10/31/09) after Microsoft reportedly pulled out of a deal to sponsor a TV special from “Family Guy” creator Seth Mcfarlane that the software company at the last moment deemed inappropriate. But WB was only too happy to take advantage of the opportunity, which would give them access to an audience of young hipsters that would then, hopefully, find the more action-oriented and sarcastic tone of the Holmes revamp appealing

There was an interesting promotional package worked out between Warner Bros. and MTV Networks (Mediaweek, 12/13/09) that had the actors and director basically shooting interviews for each of MTVN’s nine cable channels that framed the movie as being in-line with the brand identity of that channel. So interviews for VH1 focused on the romance in the movie, interviews for Comedy Central focuses on the humor and so on. These “takeovers,” with the interview segments framing entire programs or blocks of programming, were then aired on each channel in the week or so leading up to the film’s release.

For a period picture there were a decent number of promotional partners, which are usually hard to round up for such a film since the opportunities for product placement within the movie are pretty limited.

One such partner is the California Lottery, which is giving away studio tours and the eventual Holmes DVD to players of the Sherlock Holmes VIP Movie Experience.

The VisitBritian campaign has the movie’s key art and trailer on its site as well as a a promotion to take a tour of all the Holmes-related locations around London.

Visa offered users of its Signature card the opportunity to attend an advance screening of the movie, a trip on which they could use all the other advantages the card could bring them by way of amenities and perks.

7-Eleven’s promotion was kind of odd, with something about collecting all four coffee traveler mugs, which then had fingerprints you needed to match to the examples on the chain’s website, which then just encouraged more playing of the 221b.sh game. In stores you could also pick off scratch-off tickets that had clues and gave away other prizes.

Online security firm LifeLock seems to have signed on just because they were looking to draft off the movie’s name recognition and hopefully be subsequently associated with reliability and security.

kgb542542 also inked a cross-promotional deal (MediaPost, 12/16/09) with the studio to promote the movie through a deal that let users send questions to the text answer company that it would then answer as usual. kgb created a TV spot featuring movie footage to promote the partnership and advance tickets will have trivia questions about Holmes that those getting the tickets can send in and receive responses to. There’s also exclusive marketing material being offered to those to send the message “sherlock” to kgb in the lead-up to the movie.

Popular Twitter (and other social network) software TweetDeck got in on the act by creating a custom skin for the film that turned the background of the application into a slate-grey color, changing all your friends’ avatars into black-and-white photos and adds little Victorian-type decorations to the bottom of each column. The themed skin is actually part of the 221b.sh game and the Tweetdeck page about the skin points to that.

Media and Publicity

As you would expect with the film being such a vivid re-imagining of a classic character, much of the publicity focused on just how this film departs (New York Times, 1/21/09) from previous cinematic outings by the character. That story and many others like it also centered around how director Ritchie was bringing his own visual style to this re-imagining and how much of the success would be dependent on Downey’s considerable charm and swagger, with his stock (both within Hollywood and among the audience) higher than ever in the wake of Iron Man.

Unfortunately one of the first events designed to start word of mouth buzz for the movie, an appearance at the ShoWest trade show, didn’t turn out as positively as the studio was probably hoping for. In addition to the debut of the previously mentioned posters the first trailer was also shown there and was greeted with mixed to negative reactions, with some in attendance criticizing the visual style of the footage, some taking issues with accents and some just saying it looked corny. It wasn’t all bad, though, with some saying it looked pretty good, akin to what was done with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Warners got some of that momentum back a few months later by being one of two studios to have Downey – along with others from the movie – appear at Comic-Con in San Diego. There the cast and crew tried to work the uber-geek crowd by positioning their interpretation of Holmes as a precursor to the superheroes of today.

Three months before the first movie was even released came news that the studio was already beginning development on a sequel, such was their faith in the success of this relaunch and their desire to be in a position to move quickly on another installment should this one do well.

In addition to all this the last couple of weeks before release were filled with the usual cast and crew interviews on TV, newspaper stories about how this version of Holmes differed from preceding ones and so on and so forth.

This being the internet and all it shouldn’t be surprising that there are whole communities of people who are fans of the Holmes character and mythology and have come together online to share their interests with each other. One of those sites, The Baker Street Blog, is run by Scott Monty, he of Ford Motors fame. When’s he’s not curating conversations around Fiesta Movements and other such Ford initiatives he’s getting his Sherlock on – and has been since 2005 – talking about this, that and the other thing, with much of his updating lately, of course, being about the developments with the movie.

Overall

While I dig the consistency in branding the campaign shows – the movable type used for the title treatment is repurposed on the website, in the trailers and elsewhere and all the promotional partners did a good job of incorporating the look and feel of the poster art – there are a few areas I feel the effort falls short.

That’s particularly true of the trailers, with the second one being so similar to the first as to be almost indistinguishable. And while I realize the studio is trying to reinvent the character of Holmes for the 21st century, I thought the lack of acknowledgment of its history on the web is almost inexcusable. The producers and everyone else involved in the movie had no problem staying on message in their media interviews about how their vision of Holmes is, in their opinion, more true to the original character than previous films have been so it shouldn’t have been that hard to create a section of content to that effect on the site – something that gives a bit of background and introduces the reader to the whole history of Sherlock and his world.

But all in all this campaign does deliver where it needs to, which is in making Sherlock Holmes appear to be relevant to today’s audience by recasting him as a scoundrel more than a stuffy private investigator. The trailer(s) convey that attitude nicely as do the posters and various supporting materials. Many of the promotional partners feel wedged in (7-Eleven? Really?) but a movie with this many expectations all but demands some level of tie-in support.

Movie Marketing Madness: Avatar

Avatar Poster 2How do you follow up Titanic?

That’s the question that’s been on everyone’s mind for the last 12 years or so, ever since director James Cameron released what would go on to become the highest-grossing film of all time and a star-making vehicle for its two young stars. While various rumors have circulated through the decade-plus since the pride of the White Star line met its cinematic fate about what the director would do next there’s been nothing in the way of actual output aside from producer credits on a couple of documentaries, including at least one the revisited the Titanic’s history but without the schmaltzy bookending.

Of course it’s not as if Titanic was Cameron’s arrival on-screen. He had already built up an amazing list of credits, including both (to date) Terminator movies, Aliens, True Lies and others that had already cemented him as a Hollywood powerhouse, meaning he was going in to Titanic with a lot behind him.

So the anticipation has been huge about how Cameron would return after such a long absence. But whatever it was going to be, the one thing that everyone was more or less agreed upon was that it was going to be huge.

And huge it is.

Avatar is the story of colonization. In the distant future Earth is in need of a special mineral, one that is found in relative abundance on a far off world. But that planet is already inhabited by a native species and they are not thrilled with Earth’s efforts to mine that mineral, a process that of course is not the most gentle. So in order to convince – with extreme prejudice – that native species to part with the mineral Earth sends in the Marines. In advance of a full-frontal assault, though, a young Marine is given the opportunity to live with the aliens as one of them. A process has been developed where a human can have his or her conscious mind control the body of an avatar that looks like one of the native aliens, a more subtle and under-handed tactic to weaken them from within.

Avatar is being billed as the most expensive movie ever produced and a grand, dramatic return for Cameron that is fitting of the now extraordinarily outsized expectations that have built up in the last 12 years. It’s also the subject of a long-lived and massive marketing campaign, and that’s what brings us here today.

The Posters

For a movie this huge it’s a bit surprising that only two posters have been created.

Avatar Poster 1The first, what could be called a teaser even though to me it doesn’t *feel* like a teaser – features just the blue face of one of the alien natives. There’s little explanatory text beyond the name of the movie and that it’s coming from Cameron or, more accurately, “From the director or ‘Titanic.’” This was all about teasing the look of the aliens that inhabit the movie’s primary setting and are the form of the avatar that is taken on by the main character.

The second and final theatrical poster was a bit more fully-featured, but also is a little more odd and I think works quite substantially less than it probably should have.

The same blue alien is in the background of this poster as was in the first one-sheet. But this time she shares space with the profile of Sam Worthington, or at least a Photoshopped version of Worthington, with their faces in front of a giant planet looming in the background. Below them is the forest landscape we’ve seen in the trailers, with a native of the planet on one of his winged mounts in the foreground and a flock of Marine fighter planes coming from the back.

This time the top of the poster pegs the movie as coming from the director of both Titanic and Terminator 2. Then – and this winds up seeming a little weird – the movie is labeled at the bottom as being “James Cameron’s Avatar,” as if he were the author of an original novel on which this movie were based. I mean I get what they’re going for, but that seems like a heavy-handed way of branding the film as being form Cameron, an excuse to put his name above the title.

I’m a little surprised there not only weren’t more posters created but that there weren’t IMAX specific one-sheets as well. So much of the rest of the campaign, as we’ll see, is about promoting experiencing it in IMAX 3D that the little throw-away line at the bottom of this poster seems oddly underplayed.

The Trailers

Avatar PicThe first trailer is, appropriately for what needed to be communicated to the audience, primarily a showcase for the visuals of the film. With only one line of dialogue in it, the trailer shows what appears to be a more or less sequential order of events from the film: Marines arrive on Pandora, Sam Worthington’s wheelchair-bound character has his mind uploaded into the body of a native “avatar” and then those Marines and the natives of Pandora engage in a couple of battles between gunships and dragons in the air, all focused seemingly around some form of love story.

It’s not bad but doesn’t come close to conveying any sense of epic scale or anything like that, a notion that the rest of the movie’s campaign – especially the copious amounts of press it’s received – more or less relies completely on. Indeed there was plenty of chatter after it’s release that the trailer was tamping down some of the fanboy excitement around the movie since it didn’t live up to either the Comic-Con footage or the scenes shown as part of the “Avatar Day” promotional event. (More on those later.) But it’s a traditional trailer that’s meant to appeal to a wide audience so what was it supposed to do? More than that, what were people expecting? It’s not even two minutes long and so is extremely condensed, something that those expanded looks haven’t been and so naturally it’s going to fall short of expectations.

The theatrical trailer definitely expand and expounds upon the movie’s plot. At 3:30 it’s a full minute or so longer than most standard trailers and fits a lot into that running time.

We’re introduced first to Jake, the character played by Sam Worthington, a Marine who has lost the use of his legs but is now on a mission with others to a distant planet named Pandora. That planet is important to humankind because it’s rich in an important and therefore valuable mineral, though that’s as far as that string of thought goes.

To help the group’s mission – and with the promise that should he be successful he’ll regain the use of his legs – Jake volunteers to control an avatar, a physical body that resembles the planet’s indigenous people who the Marines are trying to move, with his mind while his body is still on the ship.

But as with most stories, the humans here aren’t above moving a civilization whether it wants to be moved or not. And soon Jake – in his avatar form – must choose which side he really believes in and belongs to, the humans who are destroying and invading or the blue-skinned aliens who were originally there, one of whom he has of course fallen in love with.

The trailer, though, just uses the story as an excuse to show off all the special effects Cameron has used to tell that story. We see lots of ships and leathery animals flying through the air, lots of aliens gathering for war and lots of supposed emotion on the faces of those aliens.

I’d say this is a moderately effective trailer that probably packs much more of a wallop on the big screen and in 3D. It certainly makes a strong case for seeing the movie and shows it has more of a legitimate plot than other SFX extravaganzas like 2012. But I see no way this carries the same universal appeal of Cameron’s previous films and, like it or not, that’s the yardstick that’s going to be in place.

Avatar Trailer - InteractiveAbout a month before release a new version of that second trailer was released that caused a ton of discussion, not only among movie fans but also social media technology folks.

That’s because this was an “interactive” version of the trailer. Littered throughout the trailer were prompts to click and engage within the spot, with those clicks taking you to behind-the-scenes videos that expanded on a particular point, whether it’s a technical how-to or a character profile. It also brought in feeds from discussions that were happening about the movie on social media sites like Twitter and YouTube and others. To play the interactive trailer required the viewer to download Adobe AIR, which a lot of people who regularly use Yammer, Tweetdeck or other applications might already have but which members of the general audience might now and which might present a stumbling block to viewing for those folks.

While some people saw this, the requiring of the AIR application, as a big downside I actually view it as part of the general attitude of the campaign, which is that it’s aiming primarily NOT at a general audience but at the cool kids in the room so as to get them excited and hopefully influencing all the rest of the folks.

Online

Avatar Pic 2The official website opens with the movie’s second trailer, with the option to download the interactive trailer just below that. You also have the choice to enter the site and that’s just what we’re going to do.

When the site then loads again there are two ways you’ll find to access the content. First is a standard site navigation menu in the top-left corner and the other is a series of window panes that glides across the bottom of the screen. There’s some overlap between the two so I’m going to start with the drop-down menu at the top and then hit the other items from the bottom.

So the first section there is “Videos” and that’s where you’ll find the Theatrical Trailer, a featurette titled James Cameron’s Vision, a Jake Sully Profile and a Neytiri Profile, that latter two of course being deeper looks at two of the main characters in the movie. Odd that the first trailer is nowhere to be found here. The “Interactive Trailer” is found in the next section.

After that is “Images” which has about 18 stills from the movie, including the option to view them on Flickr, which is a nice touch. “Cast” is a pretty basic look at the main actors on the movie and gives you an overview of their career to date and other information.

“Story” gives you a good outline of what the movie is about, including quite a few details (but none of the spoiler variety) that are kind of hinted at but not spelled out clearly in the trailers.

“Downloads” just has nine Wallpapers you can grab.

The next few sections all open up new tabs/windows for outside sites so keep that in mind.

Avatar Pic 3First is “Video Game,” which takes you to Ubisoft’s official page for the tie-in game, which doesn’t appear to have any sort of demo but which does have more images – this time from the game, obviously – that you can view on Flickr.

Second, “Toys,” brings you to Mattel’s page for their toy products, something that’s going to be useful if you’ve already purchased one of those toys and need to activate the i-Tag to play with the enhanced online version of those toys.

“Mobile” takes you to Gameloft’s page for their iPhone app/game, a game that takes place prior to the events of the film. The page has Info, Story background, Screenshots and a Video of gameplay you can view.

The “News” section links to the movie’s official Twitter handle, which is updated with links not only to the official site and the release of marketing material but also information on some of the promotional appearances the cast is making and links to early reviews.

Finally there’s the “Music” which of course takes you to the soundtrack’s site. That site lets you order in either Physical or Digital formats as well as grab a score-specific widget for your blog or social network page.

There are a couple sections in the panes at the bottom of the page that aren’t in the main content menu.

One of those is a link to Pandorapedia and shows the Featured Entry from that site. Pandorapedia, as you might suspect, is a site devoted to entries related to the world of the movie, though this is presented in a straight ahead promotional way, meaning it’s clear this is a movie-related site, and not like it’s something from the actual universe of the movie that people in that universe have created.

There are also links here to Coke’s AVTR site and to the TypePad Blogging Community.

The film’s official Facebook page opens with a promotional prompt to watch clips from the live MTV-hosted chat (more on that later) but from there you can navigate to the usual areas containing Photos, Videos and more.

There are also, down at the very bottom of the page’s main screen, links to the variety of other social networking profiles set up for the movie. In addition to the aforementioned Twitter and Facebook pages there’s the Flickr set and YouTube channel in addition to a handful of others. Both the Flickr and YouTube profiles are pretty well stocked with images and promotional videos and it’s nice to see these being utilized so thoroughly.

Advertising and Cross-Promotion

Like many movies this one got a tie-in video game. But unlike many of those games, this one benefited not only from the two-plus year lead time that the filmmakers have been working on the film but also from an unusually high level of involvement by those filmmakers, a relationship that even resulted in Cameron bringing some of the shots created for the game into the movie itself.

Panasonic signed on as a promotional partner, using the high profile of the movie to promote its line of TVs and Blu-ray players that bring 3D presentation to the home theater. That all could lead to an announcement (well after Avatar has left theaters) that the movie could be the first 3D home video release.

Avatar Tie-In - CokeZeroCoke was a major partner (Adweek, 11/25/09) on a couple of levels as well for their Coke Zero product. The soft drink company created AVTR.com, a site that was half ARG and half straight promotion. On the one hand it featured video reports that were supposed to have come from the planet of Pandora, where the reporter is supposed to be introducing the viewer to the planet and what the human explorers are doing there. There are also “Field Report Photo Journals” and an Applicant Test System to see if you are qualified to join the program.

On the other, more straight ahead promotional hand, you can view the tie-in TV commercial and a “nanodisk” spot that played like a Coke Zero commercial from the future. At the top of the screen there are a bunch of “F” buttons to push that, when you do, give you a bit of information on some of the tech that’s used by the humans in the movie.

Coke was also one of the handful of companies in the campaign that utilized Augmented Reality. People who bought one of the AVTR-branded cans of Coke Zero could hold that can up to their webcam when visiting AVTR.com and control helicopters, fire missiles and more.

In addition to the official site for the AVTR campaign there was a Twitter feed that was updated, as of this writing, a whopping three times between September 11 and December 8.

McDonald’s, for its part, also included an augmented reality component in their tie-in effort. The fast food chain is launching a campaign (MediaPost, 12/11/09) that includes TV spots, in-store displays and more. Customers who purchase a Big Mac between 12/18 and 1/7 will receive a “Thrill Card” that will unlock an exclusive augmented reality experience when help up to a webcam. That’s part of an overall “PandoraQuest” game that has been created that take people on an adventure to become part of the research team from the movie, an adventure that is moved along by the promise of unlocking exclusive movie content as they progress.

Avatar Pic 6Mobile phone company LG Mobile jumped on with its own cross-promotional plans (MediaPost, 12/8/09). The company created a TV spot that features movie footage being watched on the screen of its LG eXpo phone, with characters from that spot also showing up on lgexpo.com, which contained more videos of them using their phones to display movie content as well as exclusive promotional material in and of itself. LG Mobile also sponsored special additional weapons Gamespot players of the Xbox and Playstation-based tie-in game could unlock.

There was also an interesting promotion with SixApart, the company behind blogging software MovableType, TypePad and others. Bloggers using the TypePad platform were able to get Avatar-branded themes for their blogs and other exclusive movie content they could publish on those blogs. That availability extends to users of the recently launched free micro-publishing software. As Tameka at PaidContent says, this sort of thing is an interesting way to build a community of online users without making a significant investment in building it themselves. SixApart also worked with Fox on creating an Official Avatar Community on a TypePad blog that allowed fans to get together and chat as well as being automatically entered to win tickets to see the movie.

Parent company Fox also managed to work the movie into an episode of “Bones.” In an episode airing just a couple weeks before the movie’s release the plot has the team of characters taking their investigation to theaters where people are lining up for Avatar and openly talking about how they were excited to see it. The episode takes on a level of pseudo-meta since Joel David Moore is a semi-regular on “Bones” as an intern and also has a significant role as a pilot and friend of Worthington’s character in the movie.

YouTube turned on the live-streaming for the movie’s London premiere a week or so before the theatrical release, with the site sending three of its high-profile video bloggers overseas to conduct interviews and provide other red-carpet coverage from the event. That post also announced a massive ad buy from Fox in support of the movie that would take place on the YouTube homepage. 

Media and Publicity

Avatar Pic 4Some of the first bits of buzz – aside from just the very notion that James Cameron was making another movie – the movie generated was actually focused on the technology. The innovative cameras being used, the unique shooting techniques and the film’s general mixture of live-action and CGI all became focal points of the discussion, beginning what was sure to be a long string of stories about the tech Cameron was using, a discussion that was likely to overshadow any mentions of story or characters.

Then, of course, there was the budget. Time Magazine came out swinging (3/19/09) with a piece that pegged the budget as being in the range of $300 million just for production, before any marketing costs were added on, a number that got many, many tongues a-wagging about how massive a success – or failure – the movie was going to be. That story was also meant to bring 3D back into the discussion at a time when Monsters vs. Aliens was being positioned as the first real must-see-in-3D flick. The $300M number was walked back shortly after the story went live, with Time posting a corrected version that said the budget was more in the $200 million range.

There was also plenty of talk throughout the year about how Avatar was going to be the movie that will “change filmmaking” (New York Times, 4/24/09) on some sort of fundamental level. All of this was more than a little overblown since, at its core, the movie was made the same way but with some cool special effects.

The movie next got some publicity not for something about the movie itself but about its distribution. In mid-May IMAX (struggling for some positive buzz as they fought criticism around screen sizes and ticket prices) announced they were planning to run Avatar on their big, big screens for three whole months, an incredibly long run. To some extent this is based on thinking that combines the anticipation this film will be as groundbreaking technically as it’s being made out to be as well as the idea that, simply by virtue of it being James Cameron film, it will be popular with audiences for a sustained period of time. Time will tell whether either turns out to be true.

Also related to the exhibition of the film was the round of glad-handing theater owners and others the director made in the months before the movie’s release. Cameron hit the road with footage to show people in part of make the case for as many 3-D screens as he could muster up. While theater owners are happy to have Cameron back in the director’s chair, the technical specifications for the movie combined with it not being a franchise film in any way was the cause of a little unrest, unrest that this media tour was meant to quell.

Avatar Pic - ComicCon ImageThe movie, unsurprisingly considering it’s expected to be a big old geek fest, made a promotional appearance at Comic-Con this year. Banners for the movie that gave a sneaky look at the film’s aliens began appearing around San Diego in the weeks leading up to the event, building up a little bit of hype around the idea that this appearance would give fans some sort of look at the movie beyond the couple of pictures of James Cameron that made up the lion’s share of the publicity campaign to date.

All that teasing ultimately led up to a Comic-Con presence that was pretty significant. Full-size mock-ups of some of the technology and vehicles from the movie were displayed in the hallways and a panel appearance by director Cameron, the center-piece of which was the showing off by him of something like 25 minutes of footage from the film, which of course was shown in 3D. Reaction to that footage was pretty unanimously along the lines of “ZOMG” with most everyone praising how fantastic the special effects looked and how complex the environments Cameron had created seemed to be. There were, though, some dissenters from that opinion, with a handful of people admitting that it was super-cool stuff but not necessarily a game-changer in terms of technology or filmmaking. Part of that was, some folks said, because the hype had just gotten out of hand and expectations were set impossibly high for what anything could actually deliver.

One of the announcements made by Cameron at that panel was that Fox would be releasing 15 minutes of footage from the film to IMAX screens on August 21st, about four months prior to the film’s release, that people could go see for free. While the release of footage has become commonplace in online movie marketing, this move to put it in theaters is one that comes with the acknowledgment that that’s where it needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. Online apparently just isn’t going to cut it so it needs to be seen on the IMAX screen in order to get people excited and buzzing about the film.

When that did happen it produced what seemed to be exactly the desired results. It didn’t start off smoothly, though, with the website where fans could order tickets to the screenings going down for a long time under the massive demand of so many people logging on at once. But once those problems were ironed out “Avatar Day” resulted in a good deal of not only positive word-of-mouth from those in attendance but also a great number of media stories about the promotion and how it was meant to appeal to the audience by showing off an extended look of the movie.

Even the appearance of Avatar toys at the convention became a news story because they were touted as including “augmented reality” technology that allowed people to extend their playing with the toys to their computers and such, with each product including a tag that would unlock exclusive content.

Shortly after Comic-Con ended, Fox released the first official look at one of the movie’s aliens. It’s not much – just a blue-skinned face and a single eye – but it was more than had been seen before by the general public.

That was followed by various critics reporting on their various opportunities to see the movie, including lots of mentions of “the uncanny valley” when describing the movie’s special effects.

With all the hype of Cameron’s return going on it was more than a little surprising when a feature story turned the spotlight on Worthington for a change. Stories like this (Los Angeles Time, 10/28/09) focused on Worthington’s career and how a couple of star turns in high-profile films in the last couple years have turned him in to one of the most in-demand young actors working today.

The release of the second trailer was even turned into a media event. The spot made its debut at the new Cowboys football stadium in Dallas to a crowd of 80,000 or so spectators, a number Fox promoted (Variety, 10/29/09) as being the largest live audience for a trailer ever, clearly signaling the studio was interested in making every single last bit this campaign into huge event. The trailer also was shown on TV during the game’s broadcast, of course, significantly expanding that audience and bringing it more to the general public than vast portions of this campaign had been prior to that point.

Avatar Pic 7The topic of the movie’s budget came back up in November, this time as the hook for a story about the audacity of spending that much money at a time of falling DVD sales and diminishing returns on high-profile cinematic investments. The latest figures presented in that article (New York Times, 11/8/09) peg the total budget – production and marketing somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million. There is also in that story the question of when Fox and its partners could reasonably expect to see a profit based on that budget, which is sometime about a week after not likely.

Peter Bart in Variety (11/27/09) took up the issue the budget as well. He poses the question of who exactly benefits when filmmakers go hog wild with massive budgets like this. His first answer is the audience (we pay the same for a ticket whether the movie cost $500,000 or $300 million to make) but then he points that ultimately the audience loses since it’s just part of Hollywood’s continued emphasis on “tentpole” releases at the expense of small or mid-range riskier films.

Whether or not the film could be profitable – especially given its unknown nature – was also the subject of an LA Times story (11/15/09). Once again the entire thing is being framed within Cameron’s self-congratulatory nature and looked at it as a big, bold experiment.

Reading that story, which looks at the movie being risky because it’s not part of an existing franchise of some sort, it occurs to me that the breadth and depth of the campaign, including the focus on Cameron in all the publicity, made me realize that Fox is actually trying to sell it as a franchise – a franchise in and of itself. You look at the blue-skinned aliens and you automatically know it’s Avatar. At this point It’s a franchise already and that’s exactly what I’m guessing Fox was shooting for.

The focus continued to be on Cameron as he sat down with “60 Minutes” for an interview. And the filmmaker’s instinct to debut the movie on friendly territory emerged with reports he would bring it to Harry Knowles’ annual Butt Numb-a-Thon screening festival.

Cameron and some of the cast also participated in a webcast (Variety, 11/29/09) hosted by MTV in conjunction with Facebook. The event had MTV editor Josh Horowitz beginning the interview but then transitioning over to questions fans submitted via Facebook. That event even got its own round of online advertising to drive people to the streaming chat.

Overall

Avatar TitleFor the most part, as I look at the campaign from top to bottom, I still find myself agreeing with Pete Vonder Haar:

But I stand by my assertion that – while visually arresting – Avatar just doesn’t look all that interesting to me. I have nothing more than a gut feeling telling me it will open decently, and have some legs early on because of people’s desire to see it in IMAX. It will probably perform well, but “well” versus almost $2 billion for your previous movie, when this one cost maybe twice as much to make, isn’t what Fox is hoping for. And whatever the spin when the smoke clears, not topping Titanic is going to be viewed as a disappointment.

This campaign is huge – it’s one of those where the scale is almost so massive you begin to lose perspective on whether one component or another works or not on its own merits. And since the target audience seems to be “everyone” here it makes it tough to put any thought into whether perceived goals are achieved.

I do think Fox has put together the best campaign they could but, honestly, the actual “marketing” that’s been done seems kind of lightweight. Just two posters, just two trailers and a website that doesn’t seem to be all that innovative.

I actually, though, think that’s kind of a smart move. Because instead of focusing a ton of content Fox has instead:

  1. Let their promotional partners (McDonald’s, LG, Coke, Panasonic, etc) do their marketing for them.
  2. Maximized the conversational aspect of each component.

The latter point is important. Is the Facebook profile all that interesting? No, but the live chat that took place there was and had people talking. Was the second trailer all that engaging? No, not in and of itself. But by pushing the boundaries a bit and making it “interactive” they were able to create a ton of buzz around it that otherwise would not have existed. Is it that unusual for a movie to show off extended footage? No, but by doing it for a select group of influencers, making it an event and doing it in 3D it became a much discussed component of the campaign.

So from that perspective this is a tremendous success.

But what, to Pete’s point, is the landscape going to look like once this mass-appeal campaign releases its product to the masses? Does Avatar have the repeat-viewing appeal of Titanic? My guess would be that it does but not to the extent Titanic did.

Part of the problem with engaging in a campaign that showed off the movie – or at least good-sized chunks of it – to so many people is that those folks, who might have come back two or three times once it was released, now have less impetus to do so. They’ve already, in some cases, seen it once. So they’ll see it upon release and then be good. They don’t need to buy a second ticket. So by co-opting them into the word-of-mouth marketing Fox may have cut into the repeat ticket buyer group a bit.

Still, the marketing for Avatar is nicely executed and certainly robust. Now it simply remains to be seen if the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on production and marketing have created something not only profitable but memorable.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 12/15/09: The LAT’s Hero Complex blog has a look at how creating the tie-in toys took Mattel out of their comfort zone via an interview with the company’s marketing director.
  • 12/18/09: Public Radio’s Marketplace program has a brief piece up about the influence of the film’s marketing campaign.
  • 12/18/09: AdAge’s Simon Dumeneco has the announcement of Avatar Day being declared. OK, not really, but that’s more or less where he arrives after analyzing the last week’s buzz.
  • 12/29/09: Blah blah blah Twitter mentions blah blah blah.
  • 01/04/10: Yeah, Fox spent a lot of money on the marketing effort that has turned Avatar into a success.
  • 01/04/10: I think I missed any mention of Fox using MySpace to livestream the red carpet premiere but The Cycle has my back.
  • 01/06/10: Panasonic’s partnership with Fox on the movie, something that’s designed to herald the arrival of quality 3D home video, was a major part of the technology company’s presence at CES.
  • 01/08/10: I’m going to remain skeptical as to how much social media helped Avatar hit its box office records. Oh sure it played a part, but I’m thinking that even the very nice social media push that was put together represented a small part of the huge mainstream campaign that was executed.
  • 02/08/10: PBS’s MediaShift blog dubs the Avatar campaign the “most comprehensive” online campaign to date, with its bevy of social media touchpoints and other interactive elements.
  • 04/14/10: Fox set up a booth at The Grove mall in LA that featured facial recognition technology that let people create Na’vi versions of their face around the time the DVD was released.
  • 06/09/10: Despite the fact that there are no near- or long-term plans for a cinematic follow-up, Fox is looking for continued licensing opportunities for the movie that keep it at the top of people’s minds.
  • 07/17/10: The absolutely expected re-release of the movie, which features additional footage, got some advertising of its own.

Movie Marketing Madness: Invictus

Invictus PosterThere’s a lot of good stuff in Clint Eastwood’s film history. He’s been especially active the last couple decades as a director and, while everyone’s going to have their opinions on which ones were more interesting or successful artistically than others, there’s no denying that his legacy is secure not only as an actor but in that role as a director. Some films have had him merging the two jobs but a strong argument could be made that the director part of his career is equal to, if not possibly surpassing, the portion as a pure actor.

His latest effort behind the camera is Invictus. The movie tells the story of the days immediately following Nelson Mandela’s, portrayed by Morgan Freeman, release from the South African jail he’d spent decades in. Coming out of that prison and seeing the racial divide in his nation, he begins to look at the South African rugby team as a way to bring the country together and so pushes them to make a play at the World Cup. To put this into action he approaches the team captain, played by Matt Damon, and convinces him to push the team toward that goal and therefore begin to heal the country.

The Posters

Just one poster here but it’s a good one. In the forefront is Damon, smiling and triumphant as the soccer team captain standing in front of a roaring crowd. Above him is the image of Freeman – or Mandela himself, I honestly can’t be sure from the angle he’s presented at – who’s kind of looking over and past the scene as if he were some form of benevolent deity.

Not only does the image present the characters very clearly in addition to a quick glimpse at the plot, the design also just works in terms of selling the movie as an inspirational and uplifting story. That’s not just from the smiles on both actor’s faces but also from the stature with which they’re carrying themselves

The Trailers

Invictus Pic 4The one trailer is, to say the least, dramatic. We open with a voiceover by Freeman, beginning with a shot of his prison and then going into the fact that he’s now free. But as a news announcer proclaims he’s taking office as President, his motorcade passes a group of children being told by their coach that “this is the day our country went to the dogs,” a shorthand for the racism that was prevalent in South Africa.

But then we transition to the story that includes Damon as he’s brought in to Mandela’s plan to unite the country through a rugby win. We get a few shots then of Damon’s white team playing with black children and whites and blacks cheering together. As it shifts into montage mode we get plenty of footage of rugby being played in a variety of locations, Damon and Freeman shaking hands and such and overall a very triumphant tone is what it ends with.

Eastwood’s involvement at the director level is not a major theme of the trailer, with his name not appearing until halfway through the spot and then again in the ending credit block. That says to me that they’re not pegging on his name being a major draw for the general audience but instead are selling it as an inspiring true story with two fine actors. Take that interpretation for what it’s worth, but that’s my read of how it’s presented.

Online

Invictus Pic 3The movie’s official website opens up with a recreation of the poster art on the left as pull quotes from early reviews of the movie scroll on the right, a scroll which eventually gives way to the film’s trailer, but you can alternate between the two by clicking on the quote that appears at any given time along the bottom strip.

Accessing the Menu, the first section is a “Synopsis” of the story, a synopsis that gives a good overview of the film before segueing into the credits of the actors and filmmakers.

Those individuals are the subject of the next section, “Cast and Filmmakers.” While the only cast members to get the spotlight are Damon and Freeman, there are a number of the behind-the-scenes folks, starting with Eastwood, that are have their profile shared here.

“Videos” has the trailer and four TV Spots, while “Photos” just has about four or five stills from the film. You can grab any of the three Wallpapers or three Buddy Icons from “Downloads.”

Rounding out the site is a section devoted to the music featured on the film’s “Soundtrack” that’s complete with prompts to buy the album on iTunes or Amazon and “Sweepstakes” section that links to the sites who were running contests in conjunction with the movie.

The Facebook Fan Page for Invicutus contains a good stream of updates with links to reviews, the trailer and TV spots and other information to keep people engaged.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Invictus Pic 1A surprising number of TV commercials were created and then aired in heavy saturation. I say “surprising” simply because the movie isn’t exactly a Michael Bay blockbuster with unlimited franchise potential. So the fact that there were four spots pushed out – and that even with my limited TV watching I saw them pretty regularly – says something about Eastwood’s power both within the studio and with the audience.

There was also a fair amount of outdoor advertising done. Again, in my limited travels I saw billboards which re-purposed the key art for the film pretty regularly along major highways and other high-traffic areas.

Aside from the substantial paid media support there was also a 35-DVD box set (Variety, 12/4/09) of Eastwood’s films, right up to last year’s Gran Torino, put together by Warner Bros. that celebrated the actor/director’s entire history with the studio.

Media and Publicity

Of course the release of a new Eastwood film wouldn’t be complete without multiple tributes to the actor/director, including a batch of endorsements from actors he’s worked with (Variety, 11/30/09) and other collaborators (Variety, 12/2//09)

Of course there were plenty of other stories in and around the movie, including the requisite Oscar buzz for Eastwood and Freeman in particular.

Overall

Hard to complain with the campaign as it exists. The tone is appropriately earnest and inspirational – in keeping with Eastwood’s reputation and the subject matter. And the reach of the marketing, especially in the unexpected paid advertising campaign shows the studio isn’t slouching on trying to sell this to the public as a serious movie this Oscar season.

I like the trailer and the poster and while I feel the online component is where it begins to fall down a little – why not include more biographical information on Mandela and the history behind the true event – that’s not a big thing I’m going to harp on. A good effort for a movie that’s certainly going to be making a mark this week.