You can always tell the movies that Will Ferrell and his friends come up with themselves, or at least have a significant hand in developing. First off, those movies are almost always funnier than the ones they just agree to appear in. Second, they always extend the characters they play into the real world. At least that’s the case most often with Ferrell himself. He’ll appear on talk shows or do other promotional activities in character, more to amuse himself, it seems, than because he and others think it’s a solid promotional tactic.
The latest movie Ferrell and his band of regular cast-mates appear in is Semi-Pro. Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, the owner of an American Basketball Association team in Flint, Michigan, a team he also plays for. The movie is set in the 70’s, allowing for the story to have a bit of a laugh at the decade in general and providing an excuse for Moon’s outrageous behavior, which would be considered horribly inappropriate if it took place today.
New Line has kind of gone all out for this movie, so let’s see how the studio is selling it.
The first teaser poster for Semi-Pro didn’t so much show off Ferrell as much as it did the outrageous Afro hairdo he sports in the movie. It’s that hair that takes up much of the space of the one-sheet, and it’s obviously meant to just make people giggle at how ridiculous it is. It achieves that goal pretty well, just bringing people’s attention to the fact that there’s a new Will Ferrell movie coming out and that it’s highly likely he’ll be acting like an absolute doofus in it.
The theatrical poster did a bit more to set up the setting of the movie, the plot and also gave some real estate to two of the movie’s co-stars, Woody Harrelson and Andre 3000. Still there is Ferrell’s hair, but now we see he’s not alone in the bad hair department. Ferrell also is sporting a just awful coat, showing that he seems to be intent on dressing like a white pimp who, like many Ferrell characters, is blissfully unaware of just how ridiculous he looks. It’s not quite as singularly funny as the teaser but is alright at setting up the plot.
It’s almost impossible to describe the teaser trailer that was first released. An awful, stereotypically 70’s soundtrack played while the camera moved up Ferrells’s luxuriating body.
Oh, and he’s stark naked, save for a basketball covering his…umm…area. He introduces himself as Jackie Moon, the player and owner of the Flint Tropics. It’s pretty funny and, much like the teaser poster, is just supposed to get people laughing about Ferrell as he acts like an ass. And it succeeds.
During the trailer an 800 number appeared. I did call it and it’s Jackie Moon encouraging us to come to a Tropics game and offering a whole list of incentives for attendees. That sort of idea would be revisited in other aspects of the campaign. I was pleasantly surprised at the phone tactic, the first indication that there would be more of an experiential aspect to the campaign.
The theatrical trailer, following the lead of the second poster, showed quite a bit more of the plot. We were shown just how arrogant Jackie Moon is about his team and their skills, which would roughly be none. Instead this seems to be a team made up of misfits and losers.
Also shown in the trailer is the general plot of the movie, which is that the ABA will be shutting down soon and most of the teams shuttered. So Moon must guide his team to a winning season, something that is extraordinarily out of their reach, so that the Tropics will survive the purge.
The trailer shows a very funny movie that is pretty much in line with other Ferrell movies, which is going to be the key to turning out his core legion of fans. The movie needs to be attractive to the same people who thought Anchorman and Old School were funny and I think it achieves that goal pretty well.
New Line also wisely released a red-band, age-restricted trailer for the movie that featured a bit more swearing, more references to alcohol use and other such forbidden topics. It’s not the most outrageous red-band trailer I’ve seen, but the release of this was more about getting people buzzing about the release of the trailer than anything else, so good job.
The official website is surprisingly sparse but doesn’t do anything to honk the audience off, so there’s little to complain about aside from the lack of content.
When the site loads, the first things on the entry page are links to the trailers, including the restricted version and the TV spots. There’s also a link to enter the “Love Me Sexy” music video contest.
Let’s discuss Love Me Sexy for a minute. One of the conceits of the movie is that Jackie Moon bought the tropics with the money he earned from recording that song and releasing it as a single. So what did Ferrell and the studio do? First the created a music video of clips from the movie as well as performance clips that was really quite funny.
Then they released the single as an actual single that could be bought on iTunes and through other online storefronts. While I think the idea of releasing the song was a great one I disagreed with the idea that it should be a paid download. I think it would have gotten better play and spurred more interest if it had been a free promotional download. But I guess New Line needs to make as much money as possible to settle the various Lord of the Rings-related lawsuits it’s facing. (I’m just kidding about this (kind of)).
So anyway, there was then a contest surrounding the video encouraging people to create their own Love Me Sexy videos. Available on the site were a variety of versions of the song that people could download, remix and then use in their videos. It’s a good idea, and the entrants’ videos could then be viewed via widget that people could add to their blogs or other sites, which was a nice touch.
Back to the site, once you enter the rest of the content you’ll see just how sparse it is.
The first thing you’re greeted with is “Go All the Way with the ABA” which is actually the site’s Games section. There are two games available. The first is “Funky Dunkers and the Sweet Shooters” that actually recreates a scene that was shown in the trailer. You basically try to get a tiny little Jackie Moon to jump as far as possible after rolling down a ramp, a stunt that concludes with you trying to slam dunk the ball on the other side of the court.
The other is “Spin King” which is just you trying to keep a basketball balanced and spinning on Ferrell’s finger.
Both games, though, are embeddable, with code being made available that lets you put it on your own site.
“Downloads” contains a variety of stuff, most of which is just the ordinary AIM icons, a screensaver and some Wallpapers. There’s also a ringtone you can get by pinging a certain number. Finally, the one clever offering here is a PDF download that lets you make your own Tropics basketball. The joke there is that it’s really just something you download, print out and then crumple up to throw into the nearest garbage can. The funny bit is that those are the actual instructions on the downloaded page.
The “Player Profiles” section contains some really skimpy information on the three lead players on the Tropics laid out like a trading card. It’s kind of just…lame. “Hot Shots” is the photo gallery, with a handful of stills that can be downloaded or, again, embedded by grabbing the appropriate code.
The final portion of the site is an e-commerce shop where you can buy a poster or a plush sun that will be familiar to those who have watched the trailer.
There’s also a YouTube channel that collects the trailers (except for the red-band), has some other clips and also is where you can view some of the Love Me Sexy video contest entries.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
New Line has certainly dived in with both feet when it comes to advertising for the movie. There have been an absolute ton of television spots, some really interesting online ads created (including a banner/tower combination that is part of one unit, with the ball Ferrell shoots in one part flying over to the other) and quite a bit of print ads that I’ve seen.
In addition to the spots for the movie itself, there were a couple consumer brands that Ferrell created (largely ad-libbed) co-branded commercials for. One of them is a client of my agency so I won’t mention that. The other is Old Spice, which Ferrell created an absolute handful of shorter spots for. They were really funny and did a good job of raising the awareness of the movie while giving the deodorant a fun, sassy (oh yeah, I just said that) attitude for an audience that probably associates it with their dads more than anything.
One of the spots for the movie was a 15-second version that ran during the Super Bowl. Unfortunately the first six of those seconds was spent on setup about the fact that they were advertising during the Super Bowl, leaving little time to show the movie. The spot was pretty unfunny, I thought, and a disappointment considering the huge stage the movie was now on.
Much like he did when promoting Talledega Nights, Ferrell decided that appearing alongside a scantily clad, gorgeous woman would not only be a good way to get in front of an audience but also make his extraordinarily doughy body all that much funnier. Good call on both counts. In this case the magazine was Sports Illustrated – specifically their Swimsuit Issue – and the woman was Heidi Klum.
Ferrell also leveraged his association with the FunnyorDie.com video site to only promote the movie there but also to launch a promotional tour. Will Ferrell’s FunnyorDie Comedy Tour Presented by Semi-Pro went around to college campuses with Ferrell and a bunch of other comedians and basically brought them the funny even as they also brought the movie’s brand to those campuses. That’s a good way to get the movie in front of people and also increase traffic to the site at the same time.
In one of my last columns someone commented that I paid too much attention to the online aspect of the campaign, giving the Website and such outsized weight in my overall evaluation. That may be a fair point, even if I would take issue with it in terms of specifics.
But the website here is a great example of just why I do that. On the one hand it’s incredibly light-weight, barely containing much content at all that’s going to keep people on it and really engage them with the movie’s brand. On the other hand it does allow you to grab embed code for a lot of the content that is there, which is a great way to get people to spread the word of the movie on their own blogs or other sites.
That site, though, is the weakest part of an otherwise solid campaign. The posters are really funny, the trailers are really funny and the cross-promotional stuff is all contextual and solid, hitting a good amount of the audience no matter where they might be. So the push gets major points for awareness.
Now it just remains to be seen if that awareness can be turned into box-office sales.