It’s easy for some people to get caught up in their surroundings. Some people are just more susceptible than others to the influence of crowds around them, the opinions of particularly charismatic individuals and so on. That’s not necessarily a knock against them as individuals – it’s just a truth. Some people are more easily swayed and more likely to fall under the influence of another, particularly if that person is the kind of charming personality that naturally commands respect and pulls people in around them.
The new movie Martha Marcy May Marlene is about just such a susceptible individual. Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has escaped a cultish enclave run by Patrick (John Hawkes) somewhere and rejoined her family, including Lucy (Sarah Paulson). But her re-assimilation back into the real world is problematic as she struggles to undo the psychological manipulation she’s been subjected to in the cult’s compound.
The first two posters were more than just posters. The one-sheets, which were placed in outdoor locations, had QR codes with the faces of Olsen and Hawkes hidden behind them. That’s all that was on the posters but when people scanned those QR codes with their smartphones they unlocked two new trailers.
The final poster then had Olsen lying in bed, her face visible through the transparent “M” that makes up most of the design in the same way it had through the QR code on the previous one-sheet.
The trailer starts with Martha calling someone unsure of where she is and in trouble. From then on in the trailer we flash between the present, with Martha staying with her family and the past when she spent time (for some unknown reason) on a weird cultish the compound in rural New York State where she was indoctrinated into all sorts of strange goings on. Back in the present, though, her behavior is becoming increasingly erratic as the effects of her time on the compound break through and she lashes out against the people she’s living with.
It’s an effective trailer that builds up a sense of mystery and shows it’s the performances of the lead actors that are going to drive the movie. Based on this it’s easy to see where all the Sundance hype was coming from.
The next trailers – which as I mentioned above, Searchlight released by making them available through the QR codes that appeared on posters placed in out-of-home locations – were a mixed pair. One is all about setting the atmosphere, showing the psychological problems Olsen’s character goes through as she struggles against the two identities she has been assigned, one from her family and one from the community that brings her in and manipulates her. The other is mostly about her time in that community and the damage that’s done to her there, both physically and mentally. Both are equally spooky for different reasons but both show clearly that Olsen is the one that carries the film’s story.
The movie’s official website is pretty good. Using the standard Fox Searchlight template there are news updates that you can share across various social networks, a photo album and lists of videos to watch as well as links to the IMDb pages for the actors.
In addition to that site there were two other sites setup that served various purposes. The first, I Am A Teacher and a Leader, is full of trippy visuals that you move through by clicking your mouse on various parts of the screen. There’s not any content there – at least not that I found – but it does give you a sense of the head games being played by characters within the film. The second, Martha Marcy May Marlene Monolith, seems to be tied to the QR code part of the campaign since when you click on different parts of the image that each have one of the two first posters you get the same trailers that were unlocked through those.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Surprisingly (at least to me) for a movie this size there was some advertising done on television. Spots were released in late September that worked on the same level as the trailers, showing the basic plot of a young woman running away from something that’s obviously troubling. We see some of what happens to her at the camp and some of her attempts to get back with her family but, of course, not much and just enough to give the basic outlines of the plot.
There was also some online advertising done that primarily used variations on the poster art and other images from the movie.
Media and Publicity
The movie was identified as one of those that were debuting at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival that were likely to breakout of that festival into something bigger and much of the cast and crew were in attendance there. Particularly of note in much of the press generated by that debut was the potentially star-making performance of Elizabeth Olsen (Los Angeles Times, 1/21/11), who appeared to be the “It Girl” of 2011 at Sundance.
Fox Searchlight would pick the movie up for distribution shortly after that Sundance debut, though questions remained as to how to market something like this (LAT, 1/26/11) to the general audience as opposed to the refined festival crowd.
The single most interesting thing about the campaign is obviously the use of QR codes to drive the campaign forward. It’s not a huge usage of that tool but it’s certainly, at least from my perspective, the most extensive use of them in the service of a movie marketing effort. So that’s interesting in and of itself.
Outside of that the publicity has been primarily about Olsen’s performance in the lead. Based on that positive word of mouth my guess it will attract a decent independent film audience anxious to see what could be a breakout performance from the actress. The rest of the campaign should work to cement that appeal among that audience.