Movie Marketing Madness: We Bought a Zoo

“Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again” is a phrase that’s familiar to most parents. It’s usually recited after a toddler falls and skins their knee or has something similarly tragic happen to them and are in need of a bit of encouragement. It’s meant to convey in simple terms the same sentiment behind it not being our failures that define us but the way that we recover from those failures and move on with our lives.

We Bought a Zoo, the new movie from writer/director Cameron Crowe, is about just that kind of turning moment in a character’s life. Faced with the struggles of being a single dad after the death of his wife to a young daughter and teenage son Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) uproots the family and buys a rural house in the middle of nowhere. But upon buying it he finds there’s a zoo attached to it that’s facing hard times. The remaining staff, led by Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johanson), though is very loyal and Mee and his family decide to make a go of running it themselves, a process that proves cathartic for all of them and has other unexpected (to everyone but the audience) consequences as well.

The Posters

You know what’s kind of fantastic? The first poster for the movie. Instead of using the very safe and predictable option of using the heads of the cast what is here instead is a tree that has as its leaves green versions of different animal’s paw prints, with a red kite floating above it. It’s original, it’s artistic, it’s creative and it works to convey what is hopefully the spirit of the movie and it’s attitude instead of just promising some attractive looking people doing something or another. Great stuff.

The second poster was markedly less awesome, showing heavily Photoshopped images of Damon with the little girl who plays his daughter on his shoulders and Johansson off to the side, all of them staring off blankly toward some middle distance object while the zoo’s sign is in the background. The top of the poster plays up the fact that it comes “From the director of Jerry Maguire” so it’s clear which part of the Crowe-knowledgable audience this one’s being aimed at.

There was also a poster featuring just a zebra with a bow around its neck that was released to make it clear to everyone that this was a Christmas release.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts out with Damon dropping his kids of at school, embarrassing his teenage son and getting hit on by one of the moms who is doing likewise, nicely setting up the fact that he’s a single dad. He’s struggling with how well he’s doing as a dad and with some other things in his life and encouragement from a friend to start over leads him to quit his job and buy a house that, they discover, is attached to a zoo. That leads to all sorts of complications but it’s clear from the rest of the trailer that it winds up being just the kind of emotional shakeup that everyone in the family needed. There is, of course, a romantic connection at this zoo in the form of Johannson’s character and it’s shown as being generally uplifting all around.

Online

The movie’s official website opens by playing the trailer again. There’s also an invitation to enter the “20 Seconds of Courage” sweepstakes that enters you to win a vacation to the San Diego Zoo.

Moving past that and going ahead to “Enter the Site” you’re immediately prompted to connect with Facebook for some reason that I’m guessing has to do with “The Zoo of You,” the first section listed in the menu bar at the top.

After that is “About the Film” which has a Synopsis, several sections of Production Notes and some background on the Music and how Crowe worked with an artist named Jonsi on the soundtrack for the film.

“Videos” has the Trailer as well as four extended film clips, all of which you can share in various ways online. The “Photo Gallery” has about nine stills from the film and the “Cast” and “Filmmakers” sections give you information about the cast and filmmakers, respectively.

The Facebook page has photos and videos as well as more information on the sweepstakes, soundtrack and more. There was also a Twitter feed that shared with Facebook updates about the movie’s marketing and publicity.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

I caught quite a bit of TV advertising that was done, with spots that emphasized the heart-warming nature of the story and such to make it as family friendly as was possible. The relationship between Damon and Johansson was emphasized in a couple of the commercials, most of which hit the same basic beats as the trailer.

Media and Publicity

The publicity for the film kind of started when Crowe joined Twitter and started sending out pictures from the shooting set.

The next big piece of news came when it was announced (New York Times, 11/16/11) that Fox would be doing a sneak-preview strategy to promote the film, showing it to audiences almost a month in advance of its release, likely in the hope that positive word of mouth would be generated that would be more powerful in the long run than whatever critics might say closer to release. That strategy seemed to turn out well, with most of the early reviews that resulted being pretty positive in nature.

Some more press was generated when a parody Twitter account was discovered (Los Angeles Times, 12/7/11). I’m not sure what made this one notable from the hundreds of other fake or parody accounts that surely exist for other movies, but it was eventually found that the creators of this one were fans who were excited about the movie and not anyone who was trying to take the film down in any way. That being said things did get kind of weird toward the end, there.

I’m sure the cast also make several appearances on TV talk shows to promote the film.

Overall

Well I like it but I’m more or less predisposed to like it being a Cameron Crowe fan. It might look quite a bit different from Crowe’s earlier movies – it certainly doesn’t look like a movie from the guy who brought us Singles though it does seem similar to Jerry Maguire. But the campaign is designed to make the film as attractive as possible to as broad an audience as possible and on that mark I think it succeeds rather well, even if it can’t quite complete on sheer volume with some of this week’s other releases. Quite a nice little campaign, though, for a movie that looks pretty good.

Movie Marketing Madness: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

The Mission: Impossible franchise has probably at this point gone on longer than anyone originally involved could possible. What started out as a high-concept TV series has now become a film series that’s already spawned three movies that have achieved success of varying levels under the directorship of a variety of helmers. 1996’s debut film came from director Brian DePalma and was more of a drama than a straight action flick. The second entry went in the other direction with action icon John Woo behind the camera. Number 3 in 2006 had J.J. Abrams, then mostly known for his TV work at the helm. But all three starred Tom Cruise (in what’s oddly the only franchise of his career) in the role of Ethan Hunt, the top field operative in the Impossible Mission force.

Now Cruise is back with another director calling the shots, Pixar veteran Brad Bird. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol takes Cruise as Hunt back to the role of rogue agent. After a mission in Moscow goes pear-shaped as, oddly, the Kremlin explodes in his wake. Disavowed (again) by the U.S. government he’s intent on clearing his reputation and that of his team. So he takes tech guru Benji (Simon Pegg) along with Jane (Paula Patton) and the enigmatic Brandt (Jeremy Renner) on a mission to find out who’s behind the conspiracy he finds himself and the others caught up in.

The Posters

The first teaser poster for the movie was actually a repurposing of a previously-released publicity shot, with Cruise staring at the camera with a hood drawn over his head. Random numbers appear like some sort of code around him and the familiar M:I fuse that’s burning down appears at the bottom.

The second one-sheet was one designed specifically to sell IMAX presentations. It also reused an earlier-released publicity shot, though this one was significantly more spectacular, showing Cruise in the middle of the tower-climbing sequence that was highlighted in the first trailer. It certainly sells the big scale of the movie – at least parts of it – and that makes sense for this IMAX-specific pitch.

A third poster finally got the rest of the cast some recognition as they flanked Cruise – who was still wearing his Zartan hoodie – in walking toward the camera as sparks flew around them and the whole area was apparently in the middle of sandstorm.

Next up was a series of character banners for each of the four main characters, with a different phrase for each one.

A fourth poster was specifically meant to promote the IMAX release of the film and nicely worked the image of the Dubai tower into the lit fuse that’s so associated with the M:I franchise.

The Trailers

The first trailer opens with dire intonations about the Kremlin being bombed and warnings that the incident is going to be blamed on the members of the IMF team, who will be made into scapegoats. So their mission is to find the people who are really behind the attack and clear their own names. That’s about all the exposition we get as the trailer then transitions into shot after quick shot of very beautiful people infiltrating parties, kicking other not-quite as beautiful people and, of course, a glimpse of the movie’s key action sequence with Cruise scaling a glass tower. It’s not bad but it looks pretty generic at this point.

The next trailer, which on Yahoo started with an introduction from Bird, throws us into the middle of a mission by our crack team that goes very wrong when the Kremlin blows up and the team gets disavowed. But then the team is really on their own when their boss gets killed, meaning this mission is very personal to the remaining team members. There’s some humor, there’s lots of action and more as we see how everything plays out, including the possibility that one of the members might not be playing straight with everyone else. It ends with more of the building-scaling sequence that we’ve seen elsewhere and which is obviously the focal point of the campaign.

Online

There’s a lot thrown at you when you first hit the movie’s official website. The main element is a recreation of the final poster key art but over on the right there are a bunch of small video windows that rotate through scenes from the trailer. Then just to the side of that there’s a series of prompts to play a game on Facebook, see it in IMAX and more. There’s also a Partners box that opens up, when you click on it, some invitations to find out more about the companies that were promotional partners on the film.

Over on the right is the main content menu, where the first option is “Videos.” There you’ll find both trailers, a couple of Featurettes, some TV spots and a handful of extended clips from the movie.

By my count there are about 16 stills in the “Gallery.” “About the Film” has a decent synopsis of the movie’s story.

“Cast and Crew” has career information on the stars of the movie and those who made it happen behind the camera. Finally “Downloads” has collections of Wallpapers and Buddy Icons for you to grab if you like.

The movie’s Facebook page has videos and photos along with publicity and marketing updates, many of which can also be found on the Twitter profile that’s specific to the film.

That Twitter handle was one of the first ones to get access to new tools on Twitter that allowed brand managers to keep an update at the top of the stream, in this case an update containing the movie’s trailer.

The studio also ran an effort on Twitter and Facebook that promised fans that with people using the #mission hashtag at a sufficient volume they could unlock an exciting new clip from the film.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one started running that promised the audience a rip-roaring good time. There’s lots of action sequences and lots of humor. We get the basic outline of the story – that a mission has gone so sideways that the entire IMF team has been disavowed and must now seek out the truth behind what happened – conveyed mostly through big explosions and more.

BMW signed on as a cross-promotional partner with co-branded ads running to play up the carmaker’s inclusion in the movie. Toshiba and Coke Zero were also promotional partners though their programs didn’t get quite as much press as BMW’s and less information was available on what exactly they were doing.

30- and 60-second spots were run with the NHL, another promotional partner, where it was also the leading sponsor of some special events by the league.

Media and Publicity

After all the news of casting and who would direct the movie had died down and production begun the first real bit of press came when the movie’s full title, a departure from the numeric structure of the previous sequels, was announced (Los Angeles Times, 10/28/10) though not everyone was a fan. At the press conference where that news broke Cruise said no numbers was always his goal but I’m guessing it had more to do with the overall trend of subtitled sequels that feel more like chapter installments than anything else.

It would be a little while before more press activity picked up, with marketing filling in the gap. But when it did it was in the form of interviews with Bird (LAT, 11/4/11) on how he wanted to go back to some of the spirit that the first movie had with this new entry and get some more inspired performances out of the cast.

Some decent press was generated around activities on Facebook, specifically the launch of a game there (THR, 11/21/11) that was meant to appeal to those who were no longer tied to video game consoles and the studio’s decision to make the previous three films available to rent on Facebook to appeal to those who were looking to no longer be tied to traditional rental outlets.

Brad Bird’s involvement as director generated a lot of news stories as they focused on this being a departure for the guy (NYT, 12/11/11) who usually helmed Pixar-created family friendly fare. Other stories, though, drew the line between those movies and this one in terms of Bird’s flair for visual storytelling (Wired, Dec. 2012)

When the movie opened in IMAX a week before it did in regular theaters audiences were treated to a “prologue” of footage from 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, a promise that had some wondering of the film’s opening weekend would have a “Batman bump” (LAT, 12/19/11) from people who bought a ticket for the movie for the sole reason of seeing the Batman preview, something that would be noticable in the second week.

I’m sure the cast and crew also made sufficient rounds to the talk show circuit in the weeks before release as well.

Overall

It’s a pretty good campaign that, like the push for the last movie and even (if my memory is accurate) the one before that has zero interest in making sure the audience remembers the first one. There’s no winking at the previous installments or anything like that in the marketing that requires people to know what happened before, which is the case wiht the movies themselves in addition to the campaigns.

Everything works pretty well here. It’s nice to see Simon Pegg back in the same role from the third movie since he’s always welcome on screen. The trailers certainly make it out to be a big action movie and I like the way there’s a consistant touchpoint in the form of the sequence around the big tower break-in. That lets everyone know exactly what the movie has to offer in a clear way, marking this film as some holiday-season escapism.