Movie Marketing Madness: The Middle Men

I don’t think I can write a better intro than this and since there’s no decent video of the original cast I’m going with the WoW machima version.

Or how about one of Doctor Cox’s comments in this clip.

Set in the distant past of 1995 and telling the story – if in somewhat dramatized form – of how porn started to be big business on the internet is The Middle Men. Luke Wilson takes a break from AT&T commercials to star as the guy with a head for actual business who took the ideas cooked up by two porn-hungry slackers (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht) and turned it into something that actually made money. But not everything is as easy as collecting those credit card numbers as the trio encounter mobsters who want in on their territory and senators looking to shut down their filth, not to mention the potential domestic squabbles that are likely to come up when Wilson’s wife finds out what he’s doing.

The Posters

Slightly reminiscent of a Bond movie poster, the primary element is a silouhette of a woman’s body. Within that framework are shots that show off many of the movie’s main characters, from Wilson to Ribisi to Kelsey Grammar. There are also plenty of shots of the beautiful women that will populate the movie since this is a movie about selling sex. So it makes sense to sell it with sex as well.

The poster also does yeoman’s work in terms of plot explanation. There’s a very large bit of copy above the title that takes the audience back in time to 1995, an era of cultural norms that have now passed us by, including the fact that there wasn’t an internet to speak of much less an internet full of porn. That point is reiterated below the title with additional copy labeling the movie as being inspired by the true story of the guys who first “Brought XXX to the www” which is a nice tagline.

The Trailers

The trailer starts out with the same sort of time-period setting exposition from Wilson that is provided on the poster. But then we see how two guys got the idea of putting pictures of naked women on the nascent internet, an idea that truly blossomed when they meet Wilson’s character, who posits the notion of taking credit card payments over the web. This leads to a nice montage showing how successful the combination of porn and commerce winds up making this ragtag group.

That success comes with temptations and problems, the latter in the form of James Caan and his group of heavies. Later on we see Kevin Pollack warning him to get out and finally Wilson is in the office of a state official played by Grammar, who’s about to lay the hammer down until he’s confronted with his own billing record.

It’s a loose and funny trailer that lays out the movie pretty well and certainly plays up the notion that the internet porn which is now so commonplace was founded on the work of three guys, two of which could barely put a full sentence together.

A later red-band trailer covered the same ground story wise but included a lot more female nudity and swearing, selling the movie as a soft-core porn in its own right as well as a historical document of how all that internet porn got started.

Online

The movie’s official website starts off by playing the all-ages trailer alongside a recreation of the poster art. Above the video player there’s an invitation to watch the “Uncensored Trailer” as well.

Under “About the Film” the first bit of information is a Synopsis that reads a lot like the trailer in that it starts out with setting the technological scene that was 1995. Also there are Cast and Crew biographies that, while not massively long, are good enough and which outstrip by a long shot what have been featured on other movie sites this summer.

“Videos” has both of the trailers as well as three “Clips” that actually appear to be TV spots.

The “Galleries” are stocked with quite a few photos ranging from production stills candids from the movie’s parties during the Cannes Film Festival.

Finally “News” is divided into two sections, Online and Print. The first contains links to various write-ups about the movie, ranging from reviews to blog posts about the red-band trailer or other marketing material. The latter has scans – which unfortunately can’t be enlarged, of some of the press coverage the film has received. There aren’t links to those stories, which is also unfortunate.

The movie’s Facebook page and Twitter feed are well stocked with updates as to the promotional and marketing activities for the film, including the release of new clips and other material. There are also links to early reviews of the movie. There’s a halfway decent amount of conversation on Twitter, which is nice to see from the studio.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

As mentioned above there were some TV spots created for the movie. The spots carry the same basic frame as the trailer (back in the dark ages of 1995 there wasn’t a bevy of porn on the then-burgeoning web) but carry distinctive tones. They seem a bit lighter than the trailer even though there are still scenes of the characters being in danger, but perhaps because they’re briefer those scenes don’t really interfere with the overall sense of craziness that’s created.

There may have been some online advertising done but if there was I haven’t come across it. The only news that I’ve seen about online efforts is a story saying the film’s producer – not Paramount Vantage – placed some pre-roll spots on a video porn site. Can’t say that’s not contextual.

Media and Publicity

The movie’s appearance at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival laid the groundwork for it to be acquired by Paramount Vantage and also got people talking about the film in general.

Other than that most of the buzz was just about the release of the marketing materials.

Overall

Not a bad campaign and certainly one that’s brand consistent throughout all the individual elements. The poster and website give off the same vibes that are found in the trailers, especially in how all these components are focused on taking us back to the mindset of 1995, a year which pre-dates not only the rampant expansion of the web but also DVDs and other things we now view as solid technology.

It’s a smaller movie but the campaign has a swagger about it that seems like it’s trying to be much bigger than it is. So it’s not content playing to the art house crowd or anything like, instead seemingly hoping to become more of a mainstream hit.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 08/05/10: The Los Angeles Times has more to offer on the strategy by the producers – including the real life version of the character Luke Wilson plays – to advertise the movie on porn sites.

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