Movie Marketing Madness: Up

up-poster-2Download PDF: MMM_254_Up

Pixar movies have rarely delved into pure fantasy. That might seem like an odd statement but think about it for a minute. Most of their films deal with the fringes of the world that we would consider “normal.” Toys come to life, fish or ants embark on adventures, monsters have their own dimension and use ours for fuel, our future is one of a trash-filled world and endless space wandering. Only Cars can really be said to take part in a world that’s completely outside ours, one where the primary sentient being are automobiles.

The studio’s new movie and the one we’re here to discuss today, Up, looks like it begins to introduce some of that pure fantasy thinking into the Pixar mix. This, their tenth movie, follows an old man named Carl who one day decides he’s done with life in general and so ties thousands of balloons to his house in an effort to go on an adventure. It’s not exactly a fairy tale in that Carl is a human being and it all appears to take place in the real world, but the notion of just lifting up a house in order to escape the mundane certainly qualifies as being the thing of fairy tales.

Carl’s journey takes on a complication when a persistent Wilderness Explorer named Russell, undeterred by the old man’s refusal to buy whatever he’s selling for a fundraiser, winds up inadvertently tagging along on the porch of his now floating house. Together they wind up exploring distant locations and, of course, learning from each other how important it is to have a friend and other such life lessons.

The Posters

up-posterThe first teaser poster took a very, very cool less is more approach to the design. The movie’s title is there in the sky, almost like it’s been formed out of a wispy cloud. In the middle ground is Carl’s house, floating above the clouds thanks to its massive array of balloons that are all attached to the inside of the house’s chimney. I kind of love this because, with the addition of the “Disney/Pixar” text at the top of the one-sheet it’s the kind of thing that makes the passer-by look at it and instantly be attracted. The listing of the two studies create brand recognition in the mind of the audience and go a long way in making the movie attractive in and of itself. But then when you add the hyper-colorful balloons and the idea of a floating house, it’s a solid all around package that I’m sure had a good number of people putting this on their list of movies to see this summer right then and there.

The theatrical poster took the same basic idea but added the characters themselves and, along with them, a little bit of action. Once again, the Up title appears like a word written in the sky just below the Disney/Pixar names. The house still floats thanks to its bevy of balloons but this time the three main characters – Carl, Russell and a dog named Dug – are dangling precariously from a garden hose below that flying house. It’s every bit as effective as the teaser because it gives the audience a look at the characters in the film, characters who seem a bit cartooney and ridiculous looking and whose personalities are immediately identifiable just from this one look.

In-between those two releases there were a set of character-centric one-sheets that hit. Dug the dog appears in one in full cone-around-the-neck mode. Russell seems to be having the time of his life at the end of that hose in his. Finally, Carl looks resigned to there just being way too much going on in his, which is probably the funniest of the batch if only because the animators so perfectly capture that expression.

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As was the case with Ratatouille, a series of retro-style art posters were commissioned by Pixar and displayed in the studio’s headquarters. The posters were designed by a handful of artists and aren’t exactly promotional for the movie but kind of for things within the movie. So there’s a recruitment poster for the Wilderness Explorers, an ad for travel to Venezuela and more. These aren’t actually for the film’s marketing campaign but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them as they’re very cool and very collectible.

The Trailers
The first teaser footage appeared at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2008, showing just a house being lifted up, up and away by a giant collection of balloons. As he goes by, the old man who lives in this house non-chalantly says, “Good afternoon,” making this possibly my favorite trailer ever. It very clearly shows the visual look of the movie, something that’s always as important to Pixar’s releases as the stories are.

up-pic-2The first official teaser trailer starts off much the same way that other Pixar teasers have, with a recounting of the wonderful journeys the studio has already taken us on. Footage from all nine previous films is incorporated before the narrator introduces us to the star of the latest movie, Carl, who opens the door to his home, sizes up the audience, grunts and shuts the door right in our face, which is perhaps the…ballsiest way to open a trailer for a kid’s film EVER. After that we get introduced to the basic premise of the film as Carl sets sail in his house, only to discover Russell outside on the porch. He initially refuses to let him come in only to then open the door again, giving us a good sense of how Carl really is and how these two will interact as they set about on this adventure together.

The theatrical trailer starts off by introducing us to Russell first as he attempts to do a good deed by helping Carl cross the street or just about anything else. Russell rebuffs all his offers as we’re given a brief glimpse at the title treatments for a handful of Pixar’s previous efforts. We then get the same “Please let me in.” scene of Russell on the porch but from there on out the focus is more on the movie’s action and adventure. We see sequences of them flying through storm clouds and ultimately arriving at some exotic location, where they befriend an exotic bird and are pursued by the movie’s villain, a dirigible flying character who looks an awful lot like Kirk Douglas.

It’s in this trailer that we also meet Dug, the dog with a collar around his neck that allows us to hear what he’s thinking. I’m not going to make any fancy predictions or anything, but I think Dug may wind up being the greatest talking animal ever to appear on-screen, if for no other reason than the way the animators and director of the film have him say, “Squirrel!” It’s just awesome.

Online

The official website for the movie opens with the theatrical trailer and not much else before you should go ahead and Enter the Site.

Once you do, a sequence with the house flying through the sky plays while the site loads, eventually giving way to Carl and Russell walking through the jungle, still tethered to the house above them by a rope and a garden hose. Site content is listed at the top of the screen.

up-pic-3The first section is “About the Film.” There you’ll find a brief Synopsis, information about the Filmmakers and a long series of Production Notes. All of that is presented in a travel diary type book.

After that is “Characters” where you can learn more about the characters in the film. Each one gets a brief bio, as well as their own specific Wallpapers and AIM Icons that you can download. I like it when sites package character-specific content like this as it hits the audience right when they’re interested with an opportunity for engagement as opposed to just hoping they grab something from elsewhere on the site.

The way the stills in the “Gallery” are presented is actually pretty cool. There are no thumbnails to surf through, but when the pictures change, either by clicking the arrows or as the AutoPlay moves through them, they’re picked up and moved to the back like you’re shuffling through a stack of real photographs, complete with a sound effect of one dragging on the next as it’s moved. The idea of sorting through pictures like this might be a bit anachronistic to those of the digital age, but it’s super cool and very clever to those of us how can appreciate it.

“Videos” is a huge collection of material. Both Trailers, a Video Game Trailer, four TV Spots, four Clips, all three Upisodes and three Featurettes can all be found here, pretty much allowing the audience to get to know the characters of the film in as many ways as possible, however they’d like. This is *exactly* what studios need to be doing – putting as much video on their sites as possible to serve as an archive and one-stop-shopping point for whatever the audience is looking for.

“Downloads” has Wallpapers, Icons, Posters (awesome, love it when these are available) and Screensavers. “Games” has a handful of games to play and “Mobile” just prompts you to send a text message to a number in order to get exclusive content and more.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

In addition to the TV spots that have been running in relatively heavy rotation and sizable print and outdoor campaign I’ve seen, Disney has partnered with a sizable number of companies as promotional partners for the film.

First up is Color Me Mine, one of those places you find in downtown locations and shopping malls that offer pottery and other items kids and paint and decorate themselves. Locations are offering special kids nights where youngsters can come in and create Up-themed (and that’s interpreted pretty broadly) designs and receive a movie-based activity sheet. The store’s website features a promotional video as well as information on the events.

up-picThe partnerships with Boys & Girls Club of America and retail outlet Party City are actually entwined. When you buy an Up paper balloon at Party City locations, 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the charitable organization.

Insurance company Aflac is also a partner. The company’s duck has been integrated into footage from the movie in a TV spot, viewable on their site, that uses Carl’s younger days as a way to show how life’s responsibilities need to be planned for and how Aflac can help. The promotion is actually part of a much bigger campaign by Aflac to rebrand the duck as a friend who’s there to help that you can read about here.

Home furnishings company Carpet One is offering a $25,000 Home Makeover sweepstakes on their site. And the AARP is offering seniors a sweepstakes where they could win a vacation at Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort. The organization even has an online community on their site for the promotion. JCPenney’s Portrait Studio is offering a free 8X10 photo with minimum $20 purchase. All American Pet is running a “Does Your Dog Look Like You” contest. And Airship Adventures is offering a discounted family package when you bring your Up movie ticket stub to one of their locations.

Media and Publicity

Interesting, this seems to be a campaign that doesn’t seem to have a heavy earned media or publicity effort. Any Pixar film is going to have a certain number of stories about it, but the fact that their films aren’t built around having so-and-so hot talent of the moment doing the voices and their creators seem to enjoy letting the film speak for itself, there isn’t the usual round of talk show appearances and such like that. There are occasional interviews with the director and some of the talent, but not anything approaching the level of other summer films.

Unfortunately there was, as has been the case with the last several Pixar movies, the usual stories containing little but hand-wringing about this latest release’s commercial potential. Like all its predecessors, this story seems to peg the idea that Pixar is actually being artistically creative as a major point against it, apparently under the assumption (which has been proven false in each previous instance) that people will be turned off by anything that doesn’t include 28 fart jokes.

These appear with such regularity – despite their being proven false each and every time – that I’m beginning to suspect there are two possible sources for them being written:

  1. They’re part of a whisper campaign mounted by those with an interest in seeing the movie fail
  2. They’re part of the publicity team’s efforts to tamp down expectations around the film so that if it does flop (unlikely) people aren’t all that surprised but if it succeeds it looks like Pixar pulled out yet another nail-biter.

You can draw your own conclusions about which you think is more likely. Scott Mendelson at FilmThreat has a good overview of all the inaccuracies in this latest story as well as some well-worth-reading thoughts about how facts are often cast to the side in favor of broad statements that fit a writer’s desired narrative.

Disney and Pixar felt so strongly about Up that they decided to take it to the Cannes Film Festival (though out of competition) which took place just a couple weeks before the film’s opening date, allowing it to fit nicely into the overall publicity plan. The film actually served as the festival’s opening film, with a big outdoor event including a small house being lifted by a massive amount of balloons just like in the movie. The film’s creative team at Cannes even posted updates to an @UP_dates (that’s actually kind of funny) Twitter account that included their own pictures of the events at the festival.

Overall

up-title-treatmentFun, entertaining and colorful, it’s hard to imagine who isn’t going to be attracted to this campaign. Of course there are going to be some who decry the lack of strong selling points to young girls or some other demographic, but I think Pixar’s movies have overcome similar criticism in the past to prove they’re appealing to all groups and I don’t really seeing this being an exception to that. If young girls can become fans of movies as boy-centric as Cars and The Incredibles this shouldn’t present a challenge.

What I dig about the campaign – and this often goes for Pixar movies themselves – is that it’s not afraid to present the unconventional. The main character, by all conventional thinking, should not be a 78-year old grouch who lives alone, much less a 78-year old who slams the door in the audience’s face in the trailer. I mean come on. Who does that? That’s just asking the audience to stop watching if you follow the advice of consultants and others of their ilk.

But not Pixar. Their unconventional approach and strong focus on original and interesting storytelling is actually a strength according to them and they’re going to do things their way. Considering that’s proved out alright in the past I’m going to go out on a limb and say it will work out fine for them this time around as well.

This is a strong campaign with fun and creative elements that combine into a nice, solid, cohesive whole. No one element really stands out as being heads and shoulders above the rest in terms of quality because they’re all strong. Nice job.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 5/29/09: The Newseum in Washington, DC is helping to promote the film by giving away rides in an easy-chair attached to a bunch of balloons that will take people 50 feet up in the air.
  • 6/12/09: Kofi at Screenrant has some problems with he calls the bait-and-switch tactics used by Disney/Pixar in advertising Up, saying the emphasis on the talking dogs and other comedic elements doesn’t accurately represent a film that’s more serious. He says there are reports of parents leaving the theater with upset children who thought they were getting something more akin to Bolt. I haven’t seen the film yet, but have these parents seen anything Pixar has done? Of course their movies are more contemplative than the advertising makes them out to be. Almost all of them fit that mold.
  • 7/10/09: Disney/Pixar took to the skies in what seems like an obvious promotion for Up over the 4th of July weekend. They brought a Zeppelin airship over from Germany and decked it out with a picture of the movie’s floating house and title treatment and flew it over the Los Angeles area. Airship Ventures, the company that manages this particular Zeppelin, was a promotional partner with the movie, offering discounted family packages for a sight-seeing trip when you presented a ticket stub from Up.
  • 7/10/09: The Wall Street analyst who made headlines with his predictions that the “commercially questionable” Up would lead to box-office failure and troubles for Disney stock has come out and admitted that yep, he was pretty wrong about that.

I think they can count on zero fan support of this idea

The director of the original 1992 Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, who still holds the rights to that story, is reportedly working on an updating of that movie that might launch its own franchise, work that’s being done without input or support from creator Joss Whedon.

Really bad idea from a number of viewpoints, not the least of which will be the gigantic &$!storm that erupts from fans of the show and will result in the biggest, most unholy PR nightmare any studio has ever had to deal with.

Girlfriends sign off

I was never a devoted listener to Kathy & Judy on WGN. I tuned in occasionally but I’m not their target demographic and so it never really “spoke” to me, even if I did find their banter and style entertaining and funny.

Despite that I’m a bit shocked and saddened by their ousting from the airwaves last Friday. The move was made apparently because their ratings were shown, according to the new Personal People Meters being employed by Arbitron, to be dropping pretty fast. That, combined with the station’s desire to reshape its identity and appeal to younger listeners, means there was no room for the Girlfriends, as they were known, on the air.

I get what WGN is trying to do by undergoing a brand reidentification process right now. But I hope they don’t go too far down this road and start to turn off the people like me who have, quite literally, been listening to it all their lives and who still turn to it first for news, weather, traffic and talk radio that is more like listening to a really interesting community conversation than like someone shouting at you over whatever the Outrage of the Day is.

Marketing Madness in 60 Seconds: 5/22/09

static4Advertising/Marketing

Alan Wolk and others weigh in on how to get people talking about your brand online in a recap of a panel on social media marketing that’s good to read if only for the reminder there are things that can be controlled and things that can’t and it’s important to know the difference.

Setting goals and communicating through channels your target audience actually pays attention to are good tips from Forrester Research in a recent report , even if they are so commonly accepted as to occasionally go without saying. But it’s also a good idea not to let a channel go unused – especially one that’s relatively low-maintence and with high-reward – just because it doesn’t reach X percentage of the population. Companies might find that what starts out as a 15-minute/day exercise becomes much more productive because there’s an unexpected audience there.

Brian Morrissey once again tackles the issue of cause-marketing being a tactic some brands are using in order to become part of the conversation stream.

It’s interesting to read this story about how advertisers are trying to buy single network shows as opposed to being forced to buy ads in lower-rung programs in addition to audience favorites. What’s interesting about it is that it mimics to some extent the practices of the movie industry that led to the Paramount Accords, practices that forced theaters wanting the new star-filled film to also agree to book B-movies. Along with that, advertisers are wanting to follow a show across multiple platforms in leiu of just buying a bunch of TV programming.

An agency, a network and a consumer retail brand walk into a bar. And test video ads.

Another nice piece about in-theater advertising and how it’s becoming more attractive to marketers look to reach that audience.

TNT and TBS are introducing a product called TV in Context that attempts to pair commercials with contextually relevant scenes in the shows the spots appear during. The idea is to bring the same sort of contextual feeling to TV that people are accustomed to on the web.

Corporate Communications

Shel Holtz is relaunching his Employee Communications Manifesto wiki. That could be an interesting and informative resource for just about any company, but especially, as Holtz mentions, for companies bringing on a bunch of new staff.

Media

Minyanville Media president Kevin Wassong thinks that networks are destroying their own brand equity as they feed content to Hulu and push for that venture to succeed and create an “uberbrand” there. I think what brand equity networks had they lost a generation ago. I don’t care what network “Castle” appears on and never really did. It’s on ABC, it’s on NBC…who cares? I just want to watch the show. Hulu allows me to create my own program schedule, which is what I’ve wanted all along. Ironically the one area where networks can still build a unique brand – the news side of the organization – is the one they’re most likely to make cuts in whenever times get tough. So they’re doing things backward. Create the entertainment uberbrand. Make news your differentiating feature. [via Lost Remote]

Cision (my former employer lo these three years ago) has introduced JournalistTweets, a directory of journalists on Twitter. Neville Hobson has more information about it.

Gavin Hall and Alex Rudloff, two of the miscreants I’ve met at BlogOrlando the last couple years, get profiled in The Orlando Sentinel around their Twitterholic creation.

Wait…Really?

I forgot to include this in my TV-centric post below, but have to note it.

In the latest episode of 3o Rock, “Kidney Now,” Alan Alda is walking across the scene and sees Tracy Jordan’s character in the midst of an emotional moment. Alda says:

“A man crying about a chicken and a baby? I thought this was a comedy?”

I’m not going to state why this was so funny, but if you’re familiar with Alda’s previous work you might have, like me, found yourself staring with mouth agape at the screen as you wonder whether that actually just happened.

Movie Marketing Madness Turns 5

Today, April 21st, marks the fifth anniversary of the first Movie Marketing Madness, a review of the campaign for Shrek 2 that fit on one Word page, appearing on FilmThreat.com. Thus was born MMM, something that’s undergone multiple iterations since that first incarnation.

For one thing, the columns are much longer. Watchmen weighed in at 10+ pages and the average now seems to be about five or six. They’re also much more inclusive, covering not just the big three (poster, trailer, online) but also including all the advertising and publicity surrounding a movie as well. I also think they’re just better written, but that’s an opinion that not everyone might share.

To mark such an important date I’ve done a number of things.

First, as I previously mentioned, all 5,500+ posts on MMM are now categorized. The transition from Blogger to WordPress left thousands of posts without a category and it was a months-long process to remedy that.

Second, all MMM columns have been cleaned up a bit, basically just making sure the poster I used at the top of the column was a standard size. I also made sure all the columns were posted in their entirety, even the ones initially published on FilmThreat. You’ll now be able to find all columns under the Movie Marketing Madness category, which kind of makes sense.

In addition to that I went through the Google Docs (which I use to write and edit everything) files of all 250+ Movie Marketing Madness columns and cleaned up and standardized the source text a bit. I basically did the following:

  • Made the poster at the top of the column a standard 180 pixels wide
  • Made all text a uniform size
  • Made all section titles (The Posters, The Trailers, etc) uniform in their verbiage. Some columns had TRAILERS some had Trailers some had The Trailers and so on and so forth. Now they’re all presented in one consistent way.
  • The sections in all columns now follow the pattern I’m currently using and am happy with: The Posters, The Trailers, Online, Advertising and Cross-Promotions, Media and Publicity. That necessitated some rearranging of content from the way it was originally published but I felt that was alright in order to create a uniform presentation. Not every column has every section, but those that do are now presented appropriately.
  • Cleaned up some proofreading stuff. This was met with much weeping and rending of garments as I re-read some of my columns and found writing so bad I didn’t even get some typos correct.
  • Removed links. Most had expired or were no longer representative of what was on the site and it just looks better.

I didn’t do all that work to the posts on the site, just to the files. I then saved the clean versions and downloaded them as PDFs. Those clean PDFs are now available for download on a new page titled, appropriately, Download MMM. So if you really want a nice archived copy of my column for Wicker Park, this is your lucky day.

Of course on such an auspicious date it would be negligent of me not to thank the many people that make Movie Marketing Madness what it is, either through the links they’ve thrown me over the years that have helped to grow my audience or simply by publishing their own fantastic content that I read and digest, content that has helped me grow my own thinking.There are too many to name and I’d wind up forgetting someone so I’ll just say “thanks” and leave it at that.

In short I can’t believe it’s been five years that I’ve been doing this one idea. It’s one thing to have a movie blog, it’s another thing to have a marketing blog. But to have a movie marketing blog that has not only survived but even grown and thrived for five years…that seems kind of impossible. It’s been a fun five years, though, and I’m hoping this ride will continue for some time.

–Chris

TV thoughts

A bunch of things I’d like to say about some television happenings and news.

  1. Dollhouse renewed: Great news. The show really hit its stride in the last five or six episodes. Every first season has some groaners but once Joss and his crew just said “screw it” and started telling the story they really wanted to tell those evaporated quickly. I actually really like that Season Two will be just 13 episodes since it means they can focus on the character arc and not have to write 10 episodes of “assignment of the week” filler.
  2. Castle renewed: No, it’s not ground-breaking or anything revelatory. But it’s funny and bouncy and entertaining and sometimes that’s all you need from a TV show. It’s not actively insulting me, which is a nice plus. It’s also nice to see Nathan Fillion break his streak of canceled series.
  3. American Idol finishes: It was nice to see Kris Allen win simply because he was one of the few contestants that wasn’t a ringer. So many of the others had 1) Already won some sort of singing competition (Allison) 2) Been in the industry for years without a big break (a lot of them) or 3) Just weren’t very good/likable. He was a nice guy who was looking for a shot and who hadn’t already had a dozen opportunities in the industry. In other words, the kind of person “Idol” is supposedly on the lookout for. I kind of was hoping he would come in 2nd just so he could make a record that wasn’t filled with schmaltzy crap, but whatever.

Rt. 59 parking gets expensive

One of the biggest pluses to working from home is that I don’t have to do the commute downtown anymore. It was never really a problem in and of itself, but logistically it was a headache.

Those who are still using the Route 59 parking lot on the BNSF line will soon have a new option for finding a parking spot (often the biggest of those logistical headaches): condo-style parking spots. A developer is building a lot next to the existing lot that people can buy spots in, spots that not only have an upfront cost but also ongoing property taxes and assesments being levied.

I guess if you can afford it that’s a good option. And it has the benefit of opening up those regular-lot spots for those who can’t.

Movie Marketing Madness: Terminator – Salvation

terminator-salv-poster-finalDownload PDF: MMM_253_Terminator_Salvation

If there’s one thing that I’d encourage you not to do, it’s try to figure out where Terminator: Salvation fits in with the timeline of the installments in the franchise that have come before. Just don’t. From what I understand of the plot of this new movie it kind of cobbles together bits of the plot from Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and creates a mythology that fits in with some parts of those movies but not others and completely ignores “Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles” TV show completely because hey, it’s a TV show and of necessity needs to create its own free-standing mythology, at least as it pertains to what would come after it chronologically.

Terminator: Salvation picks up the story in 2018, several years after the events of Rise of the Machines. But some of the things young John Conner was expecting to take place have not and, in general, events are unraveling in unexpected ways. It’s still 11 years before Conner will send one of his lieutenants, Kyle Reese, back in time to 1984 to prevent the robot’s attempts to kill his mother before he’s born. So there’s still a long road ahead for him to lead his resistance against the machines.

In this installment Conner is played by Christian Bale, looking to either cash in on or burn off the goodwill he’s accumulated among fans with his portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne in the last few years. It’s a tossup. And it’s directed by McG, who’s looking to find a franchise he can make into his own after running Charlie’s Angels into the ground, which was admittedly a pretty short trip.

I’m getting a little snarky here but I do have high hopes for not only the marketing campaign that we’re about to review but also the movie itself.

The Posters

Comic-Con 2008 saw the release of the first official teaser poster for the film. It’s not much, at least not in terms of being anything surprising. Just the familiar metallic skull with the menacing glowing red eyes. But its main purpose was to whet the appetites of the folks both at the event and then online and it pretty much achieved that goal.

terminator-salv-poster-teaserNext to be released was a one-sheet that once again used the basic idea of the Terminator’s metallic skeleton but twisted that notion just a bit. The skeleton was actually being formed on this one from the ruins of a bombed-out city map. That might sound pretty cool in and of itself it got a very cool execution online, with an animated version being released that started off with just the map but then had explosions forming the eyes and the rest of the face’s shape slowly coming to form

After that came a series of posters that featured various nasty looking Terminators in various positions, most of which were probably not pleasant for the humans on the other end of their boom sticks.

One of those posters eventually got sandwiched in-between two similar looking images of the humans in the cast, one of Christian Bale and one of Sam Worthington. I think these were available individually but mostly they appeared in a triptych format.

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All the posters are certainly consistent with each other, with all featuring the same sort of color scheme and background look, that of a muted battlefield of some sort. I also think they work at appealing to a new audience than the last two entries have. Their campaigns have been all about the slick look and feel. But this one is more raw and I think it’s a much better approach for today’s audiences.

Let me try to explain what I mean.

Right now there’s a very anti-polish movement taking root in Hollywood and in the entertainment culture in general. If you look at recent reboots, remakes and sequels most are taking their characters back to a more raw place. There are exceptions to this, of course (I’m looking at you Star Trek) but mostly it’s felt that audiences are connecting more with what are perceived to be more “realistic” because they look more gritty, with less cartoonish violence and a more grim on the heroes. Those heroes too often are featuring less clear moral guidelines, willing to make calls that would garner disapproving glares from Superman and more upright characters.

So these posters very much play into that ideal to a great extent and so are ideally suited to the current societal mindset.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer was released right around the time of the 2008 Comic-Con, when geek buzz was likely to be the highest. It’s light on plot details, aside from the narration by Bale that this is not the future his mother warned him of and therefore a war he’s not sure the humans can win. It’s heavy on effects, though, with quick fleeting glimpses of the robots that are picking off people and just a short close-up of Bale himself. The whole thing is presented like it’s a transmission that is breaking up, something that is likely due to the fact that the effects aren’t yet finalized (the static will help hide the flaws) as well as to convey the idea that this is a pirate broadcast of some sort.

Terminator Salvation: The Future BeginsThe second trailer features a bit more exposition, but still not anything that will come close to giving away much in the way of spoilers about the plot or anything like that. There are lots of shots of humans being crowded in camps and prisons and lots of screaming of people’s names. The biggest bit of exposition is when Bale stares down a chained-up Worthington and talks about how they’ve been at war since forever and how he tried to kill his mother and did kill his father. Unfortunately this is given without any context. I’m not sure when this trailer was released and how widely known certain plot elements were at the time, but knowing the nature of Worthington’s character certainly makes this showdown more effective. Without it the audience is kind of left scratching their heads and drawing conclusions. That’s all well and good but it works better if you know.

The third trailer actually works the best of the bunch, largely because it focuses on that Worthington-centric plot point. It has a bunch of new action sequences and a few new shots of Bale as Conner encouraging anyone who is capable of listening to his broadcasts, and there’s also a lot more of Conner expressing his doubts about whether or not the humans can win this war. But it’s the bits about Worthington’s character and how he plays into those doubts as well as the bigger struggle Conner and his resistance are in that make the trailer pop, upping the emotional ante to something far beyond a standard action movie and introducing something new into the Terminator franchise.

Online

After the official website counts down to the loading being complete, the familiar, chunky theme music begins to play and then gives way to the third trailer playing in the main part of the screen. You’ll notice a red band across the top of the screen, with boxes along that which allow you to choose to have either of the two previous trailers play there instead.

If you mouse over the main screen you’ll see a little targeting site that prompts you to open the menu. Click anywhere and it does just that and it’s that content that I’m going to work down.

terminator-salvation-pic-31“Video,” disappointingly, just has the three trailers. After you choose any of the three you’ll see a Viewing Options button at the bottom of the player that allows you to watch it in different Quicktime or Windows Media sizes and qualities. “Gallery” is similarly disappointing, with a series of stills from the film that you can scroll through but lacking any sort of thumbnail listing that lets you choose from the whole batch.

Production Notes are the sole feature under “About the Film.” It’s a decent write-up of the movie’s story that hits many of the same notes as the narration found in the trailers, but that’s alright I think. There’s also the usual mentions about the producers and others behind the scenes of the film’s making. You can also download these as a PDF.

“Posters” has all the domestic one-sheets that you can view and download, which makes sense that it is followed by “Downloads,” where you can grab some Wallpapers, Icons and Screensavers.

Biographies and other information on the cast and crew can be found under “Cast and Filmmakers.” The information is actually quite nicely arranged in two columns, a much better arrangement than most sites give this section.

“Games” just has links to information on the console game tie-in as well as the mobile/iPhone games you can buy and download. There is an online game that’s also linked to that allows you to go up against other players as either machines or resistance fighters, battling to control the grid and destroy as much of your opponent’s materials as possible.

Next is a link to the Terminate Yourself site, which is one of those tools that lets you upload a picture of yourself or a friend and turn the person in the picture into a Terminator hybrid machine. That same sort of feature was used as the basis for the Terminate Me iPhone app.

“News & Updates” I was hoping to link to a blog – Warner Bros. has launched them for other movies. Instead it’s just a feed of brief updates that don’t really have any news in them and don’t seem to be fully fleshed-out. Even the “update” titled “Official RSS Feed” doesn’t actually contain the RSS feed. The message there actually says “Coming Soon.”

terminator-salvation-web-skynet-researchAlso on the menu are links to sites that attempted to create the sense of some sort of ARG being organized. Skynet Research has its own site, as well as a Distributed Computing Platform that you can download to make your computer part of the Skynet grid. As a counter-point to that is ResistorbeTerminated, a blog that appears to be by someone who’s fighting the growing influence of Skynet, but it’s kind of odd. It seems to be set before the war in that there are infomercials about the company that are being broadcast. But then there are videos of soldiers fighting against machines that seems to be taken from the battlefield. It’s an alright idea but I think it’s not fully fleshed out enough to be truly engaging.

Finally on site are links to “Tickets & Showtimes” and “Partners & Promotions.”

terminator-salvation-web-twitter-contestWarner Bros. launched a Twitter game that got a lot of notice, including by some social media publications like Mashable. Basically players were asked to follow the @Resistance2018 Twitter account and then log onto the game’s micro-site in order to get the full rules and find out how they can accumulate points for answering the questions the official account sent out. That site also had Twitter skins you could add to your own site

The re-release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (which I’ll get to later on down the road) even got its own Facebook Page that included video and screengrabs from the Blu-ray edition of the film.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

As one of the highest-profile releases in the early part of the summer Warner Bros. has failed to pull out few stops in the advertising of Terminator: Salvation and has also lined up a handful of partners to help promote the film with efforts of their own.

TV advertising has, of course, been a huge component of the paid media effort. At last count over a dozen different spots were created and released, most of which took footage from the trailers and recut it, occasionally interspersing it with a bit of a new scene here and there, enough to get people to continue paying attention.

Online advertising was also a big part of the campaign, mostly working in elements of the key art from the posters and other print components. You can see an example of one of the online tower units at Adverlicious.

Out-of-home venues also got some love. Cars run by Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello in the Grand Prix of Spain got Terminator-themed paint jobs. And subways in Vancouver, and presumably elsewhere, were invaded by statues of giant Terminators glaring down commuters on their way to their train.

terminator-salv-tiein-pizza-hutWhere X-Men Origins: Wolverine had Papa John’s, Terminator: Salvation has Pizza Hut as their token pizza chain promotional sponsor. Pizza Hut was a major partner with the film, running a contest that awarded a grand prize winner to the movie’s premiere and awarded other lesser winners prizes like a life-size Terminator replica, a pack of video games or other items like that. It also publicized a promotion that gave everyone named either John Conner or Sarah Conner who came into a Pizza Hut restaurant with a government ID a free pizza, a great way to get people to come in and buy more than one pizza.

Pizzahut.com later on hosted an exclusive clip from the film as well as a host of other content such as downloads and photos and trailers and all that kind of good stuff.

terminator-salv-tieins-711-cupsIn its second movie promotion of the still-young summer, convenience store 7-Eleven signed a more wide-ranging deal than it has in the last couple of years. In stores there were the same sort of lenticular cups with artwork from the movie and miniature action figures attached to straws that the chain has offered for previous movies. Those cups also featured codes that could be entered on Slurpee.com to enter yourself in a sweepstakes for various prizes.

I have to stop and give a shout-out to the post on I09 by Graeme MacMillan detailing his many and varied problems with this promotion, many of which I share myself. Not only did the timing of the promotion mean that the chain’s Wolverine promotion got bumped a bit prematurely but it just seems kind of…off. I get that while the movie is rated PG-13 (and that’s the source of plenty of other problems) both it and the previous series installments are very adult oriented and this is promotion that has the potential to attract a lot of kids. I know this deal doesn’t actually violate any sort of line regarding the promotion of inappropriate movies to kids, but it certainly pushes the spirit of that restriction to an uncomfortable degree.

terminator-salv-tieins-711-storeAnyway, 7-Eleven also got some product placement within the movie, despite the fact that it takes place in a post-apocalyptic robot-dominated future. The placement actually worked with that and had a burnt out store appearing in a key action sequence in the film.

Two apparel-related companies joined the push. MyVu offered shoppers a discount on some of their personal media viewing glasses for those entering the promo code “conner.” And Oakley ran a promotional image on their site that linked that image to their Military footwear section. I get the connection, I guess, but there’s no contextual relevance here and nothing movie-specific about the products.

I don’t see any movie-related content on the SlimJim site.

Motorbike company Ducati launched a limited promotion on their site that had a co-branded trailer for the film on the front page. But they’ll get plugged plenty, with a featurette about how they created the motorcycle Terminators in the movie appearing on the DVD release.

Financially struggling car company Chrysler also announced a partnership with the movie that had some of their Jeeps and other vehicles appearing within the film. At the time of the announcement it was unclear what the scale of the deal would be and it turned out to be a little on the light side, largely because the company found itself with not very much money to put into the ads and other marketing that was planned in support. Just a handful of print ads were created and placed in just a couple of key publications coupled with a promotion that awarded a trip to a Six Flags theme park were actually executed.

Media and Publicity

As with any high-profile film, especially when it’s the continuation of an existing franchise, there were plenty of media opportunities for the cast and crew to take advantage of and get the word out about the film through. Some of that included an appearance at Wonder-Con by many of the principle cast members, an appearance that included the debut of the third trailer. Much of the publicity too focused on how this entry takes the franchise into darker and less morally clear territory.

The release of extended clips from the movie was a major component of the marketing campaign. Some of those appeared on partner sites as in the case of Pizza Hut and some appeared alongside trailers as on the movie’s page on Apple’s Trailers page. Others were just released to the net in general and fleshed out certain scenes that we’d seen previewed in the trailers.

One of the biggest spikes in media coverage came just a few weeks before the movie’s release, when it was finally confirmed that Arnold Schwarzenegger would indeed appear in a cameo in the movie. The news was mentioned by one of the film’s co-stars and confirmed rampant speculation about the now California Governor’s involvement in the project. That news was perhaps premature and speculation continued to abound with rumors flying this way and that. It seemed to be locked down in a report that Schwarzenegger allowed a digital model of himself – or at least the version of himself from when the original movie was made – to be created and utilized in the movie, allowing him to appear without having to actually do anything.

Just a week before the movie’s release, when the cast and crew were in full publicity-rounds mode, there arose a story about how MGM had a first look deal that meant it would be able to take control over distributing a potential fifth franchise film . The news wasn’t that MGM *was* distributing the fifth film, but that it had the option to make a play for those rights. Some people pointed out that MGM was on the same day reporting massive debt loads that would be difficult to repay and so it would be a long-shot chance that the studio would have the cash to finance such a massive production.

Overall
terminator-salvation-titleWhile I’m not sure I agree with David Poland’s speculation that Terminator: Salvation might be the summer’s first $100 million opener, I do agree with his point that the marketing of the film has seemed not dismissive of but certainly not dependent on the franchise’s history. Aside from the images of the iconic Terminator skeleton there’s been almost no play at nostalgia in the campaign at all. Trailers didn’t feature footage from the first three movies and there’s been nothing that I’ve seen from other sequels like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Some of my thoughts on this are contained in the section above about the posters when I’m talking about how the grittier, more realistic style is meant to appeal to the new demographic instead of relying on an audience that was 16 years old when Terminator 2 came out and is now 34, with a lot of other things on their mind. There are probably some people who feel nostalgic for the Terminator characters and the franchise, but I’m suspecting that that feeling is not as strong as their nostalgic feelings for something like Star Wars or Indiana Jones or something along those lines. So there’s little point in adopting that tactic when there’s a stronger case to be made for new directions and new audiences.

The campaign does do a good job in achieving that goal. There are some things that work better than other and there are some things that wind up coming across a little disappointing – I’m thinking here particularly of the website – but they’re actually only amounting to minor points. I look at the campaign from top to bottom and think Warner Bros. did a decent job marketing the movie in a crowded early summer season.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 5/29/09: Warner Bros. partnered with Machinima Inc to create a machinima animated prequel to the events of Salvation. The six-episode series, released on iTunes, follows the character Blair Williams on a mission taking place two and a half years before the events of the new movie. You can view a trailer for the series here and a preview of Episode One here. The only problem I see is that it’s being released in weekly installments beginning now, when I think it would have been a better tactic to get them out before the movie hit theaters when interest was still high.
  • 5/29/09: Pizza Hut’s promotion to give a free pizza to anyone named Sarah Conner or John Conner got a good amount of publicity but also might have been really smart considering there seem to be very few such-named people.
  • 5/29/09: Warner Bros. is releasing comics that act as prequel lead-ups to the events of the movie that can be downloaded and viewed on iPhones or iPod Touch devices.
  • 6/12/09: TV spots for the movie that started airing shortly after it opened included one of the film’s biggest “spoilers” or surprises, at least for those that weren’t paying attention to much of the film’s publicity: A scene of a digitally composed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic T-800. The shot in the commercial is, according to those that have seen the film, just about the entirety of this appearance but is obviously meant to draw people in that might have been sitting this one out because it didn’t tie directly back to that character or the previous films in quite that way.
  • 6/26/09: James dropped me a line to let me know he had snagged an online ad that Visa created as part of a promotion they were running for Terminator: Salvation.