Category Archives: Print

Movie Marketing Madness: The Social Network

Believe it or not – and based on the extent to which issues surrounding it are discussed both amongst friends and colleagues but also in the press – there was a time where online social networking did not exist. Back in the dark days of 1999 there were no sites where one could upload photos, post status updates on what you were feeling, watching or thinking about or feel really conflicted about the fact that someone who used to beat you up in high school has sent you a friend request and maybe that means they’ve grown and want to amend for past problems and maybe it means they just want to laugh at how your life has played out and ask if you still drive that ’92 Cavalier that you put white-wall tires on because you like them, dammit.

The extent to which you miss those days is probably largely dependent on how closely you can relate to the above.

Facebook certainly wasn’t the first social network and it probably won’t be the last. Friendster was launched in 2002, MySpace in 2003 and there have been a host of others since then. Facebook itself didn’t launch until 2004, and then only to students of Harvard, where Mark Zuckerberg and his friends and cohorts were attending college. It wasn’t until 2006 that the company dropped the requirement in order to join you had to be enrolled either in high school or college, a milestone that opened up the floodgates and started it down the path to where it is now – trying to take over the world.

It’s the days before all that, when Zuckerberg was still a student and hacker, that are chronicled in The Social Network. Written by superstar writer Aaron Sorkin and directed by superstar director David Fincher, the film stars Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg and takes us back to the halls of Harvard and the years immediately following that, as Zuckerberg and his allies, including Napster founder Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake), fight various attempts to either wrest control of the nascent network from his hands or score a payout that’s commiserate with just how big Facebook seems to be getting.

The Posters

The movie’s first and only poster took a number of unfamiliar paths to presenting what should have been a straightforward sell. First, the movie’s title is hidden over in the right side of the design, in the toolbar where the Facebook name and logo would usually be appearing. Second, the face of Eisenberg is largely obscured by the copy “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies” in the middle well of the poster. Lastly, because of the arrangement of the navigation bar on the right side, it throws off the viewer’s orientation a bit since it, combined with the fact that the scroll bar is along the bottom, means we’re in essence looking at a computer screen that’s sitting on its side. So that’s a bit disorienting until you overcome that.

All that does work, despite the unconventional manner in which the movie is presented to the audience. Also working is the way Eisenberg is standing there in a hoodie with his mouth slightly agape, like he can’t even believe you just said that. So he comes off as someone who knows he’s smarter than you or at least doesn’t care about your opinion.

Sorkin and Fincher are nowhere to be found on the poster, which makes the fact that this was the one and only poster a bit more surprising than it would their absence would have been if this were just a teaser.

The Trailers

The movie’s first teaser trailer wasn’t all that much different from the first teaser poster. A series of words describing Zuckerburg flash on a black screen while snippets of dialogue beginning with a conversation about the initial launch of Facebook right through one about a federal lawsuit play over the visuals. At the end of the spot the mosaic that’s slowly been building finally comes in to focus as the same image of Eisenberg that was seen on that teaser poster.

The spot works primarily for those members of the audience that are looking forward to the writing of Sorkin in that it shows off the dialogue without the actual performances getting in the way. For those looking for their first real glimpse of Eisenberg in action as the founder of the titular social network it probably came off as a little disappointing. But with its appearance shortly after that of the teaser poster it came off as a nice one-two punch to get people talking about the movie and raise some anticipation.

A second trailer took a similar path by featuring primarily dialogue presented as voice over on the screen. But this time, instead of the camera pulling out to reveal the movie’s poster, the dialogue was accompanied by similar text that appeared on the screen in the form of Facebook status updates. So as the character was saying something the text appeared alongside an avatar of theirs, news feed style. Clever.

The third trailer starts out making you think it will be in a similar vein to the first two. A choral version of Radiohead’s “Creep” plays while we see a montage of Facebook photos and updates, all with the “Like” or “Comment” features alongside them. But then we start to see some actual footage from the movie, most of which features the same dialogue we’ve heard in the previous trailers and which now we can finally see come to life.

It’s clear that Eisenberg is comfortable making Zuckerberg seem like an arrogant bastard who is focused on making a splash and achieving the status he sees himself as deserving of.

There’s not a whole lot more to say since, as I stated, the scenes we see here we’ve heard before in the previous trailers. So there’s not a lot of new ground being broken in this spot, it’s just finally presented in a more traditional way. Notably, though, that more traditional way wouldn’t work nearly as well, I don’t think, if the groundwork hadn’t been laid by the earlier spots.

An interactive version of that third trailer later debuted on MySpace (more on that later) that let the audience click in to the video to learn some factoids about movie or the subject matter that inspired it.

The trailers and their unique visuals inspired a host of imitators, most of which transferred the action from Facebook to some other online entity, from MySpace to YouTube to Twitter, each with varying results but all generally pretty funny.


The movie’s official website opens with a huge reproduction of the poster art alongside a rotating series of quotes from early reviews of the film. Also along the right rail on the site are prompts to watch the interactive trailer and read some news, which actually takes you to a Tumblr blog where the studio has put some of the choicest bits of press and publicity the film has received.

That use of Tumblr is interesting since, as we’ll see later, the movie didn’t have a Facebook page and so was in need of an outlet for this story-sharing feature. Plus it comes with Tumblr’s built-in sharing features, which are significant. I could be wrong but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a studio use Tumblr like this and it’s cool, but I wonder if anyone realizes what a full-featured blog could do for them?

Entering the site you’re greeted with a mosaic of images and when you mouse-over some of them you can find bits of content such as video clips, filmmaker profiles and more. That’s a cool and engaging way to access some of that material but if you’re concerned you’ll miss something, all of that is also available via a more traditional menu at the top of the screen.

Actually what happens when you click on, say “Video” at the top is that the squares containing video material are lit up and the rest dimmed. But no matter what you click here you’ll have access to the rest of the videos, in this case all the trailers, a TV spot and four Movie Clips that extend out scenes, most of which we’ve seen teased in the trailers.

Clicking “Photos” you’ll see that the stills on the site are broken up in to sub-galleries by character for the most part, with a few general catch-all groups as well. If all the photos in each gallery are unique and there aren’t any dupes (which I can’t confirm) there are well over 80 stills here, the largest amount I’ve seen on just about any site.

“About” will highlight the sections where you can read a Synopsis, Cast and Filmmaker information and download Production Notes.

“News” opens up the same Tumblr blog that was on the front page and the last two sections are just for the i-Trailer and the movie’s Soundtrack where, in a much-publicized stunt, you can download five sample track’s from Trent Reznor’s album.

For obvious reasons, the movie did not have a Facebook presence. But on the official site there is a button where you can “Recommend” the movie’s site on Facebook.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

As mentioned above, the movie did not have a Facebook profile but the studio did take part in Twitter’s “Promoted Trends” ad option to raise awareness of the movie, specifically right around the time the third trailer debuted. And while it didn’t have a Facebook presence it did get an ad run on the *other* social network, MySpace, where it was one of the premiere advertisers in that network’s new Movies section. It would later essentially take over MySpace for a day (Mediaweek, 9/22/10) with ad units both static and video in nature.

While there don’t appear to be any specific guidelines that would be violated by advertising the movie on Facebook itself, the studio – and third parties such as online movie ticket sites – shied away from it (ClickZ, 9/27/10). Since, if followed, the rules wouldn’t rule such ads out entirely my guess – and this is just a guess – is that part of the discussions between the studio and Facebook included an agreement that they wouldn’t run such ads, which would put Facebook in the awkward position of becoming an ad platform for an unflattering portrayal of itself.

More traditional TV advertising was also done, basically beginning with a spot that aired during MTV’s 2010 Video Music Award broadcast (Hollywood Reporter, 9/13/10) and then expanding to the rest of television. These spots weren’t nearly as artistic and etheral as the trailers, instead opting for more club-sounding music and a series of clips that emphasized Eisenberg’s somewhat sleezy portrayal of Zuckerberg and the relationships he left dead in his wake.

Media and Publicity

Interestingly much of the early publicity came from Caroline McCarthy at CNET, who was among the first to notice that Sorkin had created a Facebook profile and group and announced there that he was writing a movie about the network. She later reported on the casting of that movie as well as an edict issued by Facebook to its employees not to cooperate in any way with its production.

Of course the movie got a ton of free publicity in the form of the continued privacy hand-wringing about the site and how much information it was collecting from users and what it was doing with that. As McCarthy states in the story, all of that news and commentary was coming just ahead of the anticipated marketing for the movie and so was going to put the spotlight on the site in a bunch of unfavorable ways.

Some more buzz picked up when it was announced it would debut at the New York Film Festival, an engagement that meant it would not be appearing at other festivals in the fall. That announcement along with the positive buzz generated by the first few components of the marketing created the sense that the movie could be (Los Angeles Times, 7/8/10) this year’s big word-of-mouth hit.

Related publicity came when Facebook announced it had indeed reached the 500 million user mark that was touted in the movie’s campaign to that point. That milestone was accompanied by a TV interview with the real Zuckerberg where he addressed some of the issued facing Facebook at the time and in which he stated he would not be running out to catch the film.

Despite the movie’s negative tone, though, it was roundly agreed that it was unlikely to do any serious damage to Facebook itself.

That didn’t mean Facebook was taking a “whatever” attitude toward the movie though. While the public face may be one of benign disinterest, behind the scenes things are reported (New York Times, 8/20/10) to be a bit more tense. Zuckerberg himself has been trying to minimize the damage the movie might do to his personal reputation and other executives at the social network are said to be less than thrilled with how the film depicts the circumstances surrounding the site’s founding.

As things moved toward the release date, legitimate questions were raised as to whether the movie would be hit or a flop (CNET, 8/27/10), largely depending on the audience’s taste for seeing its own generation on screen, how effective the cast would be at drawing in crowds and what impact the early reviews would have on perceptions.

Sorkin himself even had to come out and make statements on how the movie was not meant to be an attack on Zuckerberg (LAT, 9/13/10) but instead is intended as a dramatization of the events that led to Facebook’s launch and eventual rise.

While the movie didn’t screen at the Toronto International Film Festival (though it did sneak to various reviewers around that time), Kevin Spacey, one of the producers on the movie, took time from promoting his own film that was at TIFF to talk about the somewhat unorthodox path (New York Times, 9/13/10) the movie took during production.

After those press screenings talk began to turn to the possibility of awards nominations (Hollywood Reporter, 9/17/10) and how the studio wanted it to be the kind of movie that got some serious kudos and critical recognition along with box-office success with the audience.

Close to release press started to appear (NYT, 9/19/10) that had the creators and producers pointing out that really it’s a timeless story of betrayal and ambition that just so happens to take place just moments ago. Whether stories like this were meant to calm concerns that it was perhaps too timely a topic or whether this was to make the movie more palatable to critics and taste-makers who want nothing to do with anything Facebook-related is unclear.

There were also stories about how executives at Facebook, while obviously still not thrilled with the whole thing, were at least complimentary of the producers of the movie and the experience they had working with them. Still, it was company was in full “prepare for impact” mode (LAT, 9/24/10) leading up to its release because of the way it portrayed its history.

Perhaps to counter the negative press that had been accumulating and was sure to only get more intense, Zuckerberg (the real one) announced just a week before the movie opened a major charitable contribution to New Jersey schools, part of a PR tour that included a stop at Oprah’s show.

Just a week or so before release it was announced the movie would open the 2010 New York Film Festival (NYT, 9/24/10), marking its own festival appearance this season.


This is a really good campaign that works so well because it establishes early on a clear brand identity and then sticks with it throughout the rest of the marketing. All the material here on the marketing side works well together and is instantly recognizable by the audience as being for the same movie no matter where they encounter it.

It also strikes the right tone because there’s a definite sense of artistic vision about the entire campaign. The trailers all come off not so much as advertisements but as mini-films in and of themselves, albeit ones that tease a much longer one but one that isn’t going to be markedly different in style than the trailers you’re watching. That artistic tone is all the more attractive if you already are familiar with Sorkin and Fincher, especially the former since it’s his writing that really is the star of the campaign, starting with the first teaser trailer and continuing through the release of several clips and other promotional material.

Where the movie really gets a boost, though, is by virtue of the fact that it has been endlessly covered not just by the movie trade press but also the tech and social-media press, who have been all over many of the film’s elements due to its overlapping with their own coverage areas. That’s allowed not only for plenty of discussion about whether the movie is or isn’t close to reality and how Zuckerberg and the rest of Facebook is reacting to it but also for guys like Sorkin and Fincher to come out and make their presence known, which plays in to the campaign’s overall strengths of putting them on the front lines.


  • 10/01/10 – The Hollywood Reporter goes into detail on how those within and working with Facebook chose a strategy of non-engagement to deal with the movie, instead opting for chances to brush up Zuckerberg’s image and make him a more fully understood, and therefore hopefully more relateable, person and character.
  • 10/04/10 – While the face Zuckerberg was on the big screen, the real one was on the small screen portraying himself in an episode of The Simpsons.

Movie Marketing Madness: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

I’m guessing that many guys in the audience – and even some of the girls – have in their past a person who they wanted to date but who was completely uninterested in them, someone who they thought was absolutely right for them but who remained unconvinced as to the utter rightness of this plan. Or perhaps it was someone who you were interested in but who made you jump through a series of hoops in order to win her heart. Or perhaps it was someone who still seemed to have some sort of weird connection to one or more of their exes, connections that were constantly getting in the way of the relationship you were working on building.

The latter forms the rough idea behind Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. An adaptation of a series of comics published by Oni Press, the movie takes stories from these books and puts them in to a single film. Those stories follow the titular Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a hipster slacker who plays in a band (thereby hitting most all the stereotypes for such a character), as he tries to win the heart of one Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a comely lass who delivers items for But the path to Ramona’s heart runs squarely through her seven exes whom hold her romantic future in their hands. So in order to be free and clear to be with her he must defeat them in battle.

If that sounds more like the plot to a video game you’re not far off. The Scott Pilgrim books and now the movie are heavily influenced by video games, especially the early Nintendo games that introduced storylines in to the game play. Each ex becomes increasingly hard to defeat until at last Scott encounters “The Boss,” or the most difficult foe to vanquish. With its genre-bending nature it’s only fitting that the movie has been directed by Edgar Wright, director of such recent classics as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Wright knows how to bring disparate genres into accord with one another and create a finished product that appeals to obsessive geeks, making him a perfect fit for this material.

So all that being said let’s take a look at the campaign.

The Posters

The first bit of official marketing material for the movie outside of the occasionally photo release was a teaser poster that debuted at ShoWest 2010 and went public shortly after that. The poster was pretty simple and just showed Cera as Pilgrim wielding his guitar, head bowed down to the ground in an outpouring of musical emotion. With the title treatment pouring out of the guitar like smoke and the copy “An Epic of Epic Epicness” this is a fun poster that conveys a playful attitude for the film and it works. It’s also reportedly a decent recreation of one of the first panels of the source comic so it has that geek factor going for it as well.

Later on a series of seven character posters were released, each of which featured one of the evil ex-boyfriends Pilgrim must defeat on the road to winning Ramona’s heart. The UGO feature where these posters were released also had a brief bit of background on who that guy was and and what kind of relationship they had with Ramona.

Surprisingly there does not seem to have been a final theatrical poster created and released, something that would have summed up what had come before.

The Trailers

The first trailer quickly shows Scott catching his first glimpse of Ramona, which has him instantly smitten. We then get shots of them having a warm and loving relationship before he’s clobbered and the premise that he has to defeat all those ex-boyfriends in order to date her is introduced. The trailer wasn’t so much about laying out extensive plot elements as it was about introducing the audience to the visual look and feel of the movie with its crazy special effects and video game aesthetics.

The second trailer (released only after Wright engaged in a little campaigning, mainly on Twitter, to get the “Likes” on the movie’s official Facebook page to 100,000) doesn’t add a whole lot to the audience’s understanding of the plot but does have a bunch of additional cool visuals. We get more shots of Scott and Ramona meeting at the party and it’s clear this isn’t love at first sight for both of them. Only after he orders something from Amazon, where she works as a delivery person, does she agree to go out with him. But from then on out it’s one battle after another as the evil ex-boyfriends come after Scott and again we get a few additional scenes from their clashes. It’s still fun – especially as you look around the screen and see all the little onomatopoeia and graphics that pop out randomly such as “dong” when the doorbell rings and the video-game power-up graphic that shows up when Scott says he’s going to “get a life.” Those are very cool touches and make the trailer worthy of repeat viewings.

Close to release an interactive version of the second trailer was released that allowed people to click anywhere withing the video at any time and access information about the movie or the specific scene, featurettes or other deeper info about the movie. Pretty cool but mostly only for those that are deeply interested in the movie and the world Wright has created.


You certainly can’t say that the opening of the official website for the movie is subtle. With video, crazy graphics and more the splash page is quite the eye-catcher.

In the left-hand column is the same key art that’s seen in the teaser poster the most static thing on the page. In the middle is a mini-menu of items that starts with “Watch Videos,” which opens up a video player that lets you check out the trailers, the game trailer, TV spots, clips and featurettes. Then there’s more video under “Remixes,” which takes you to a stand-alone YouTube channel that mashes up various clips from the movie with some funky beats.

“Socialrama” is basically a landing page for the movie’s social profiles, including Wright’s Twitter stream, a Facebook social page badge and more. “Free Ringtones” has exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to find under that section.

Moving to the right-hand column you’ll find first the “Mega Avatar Creator,” which lets you create your own avatar in the style of the original comic book art. When this feature first debuted about half my Twitter followers created theres and it became difficult to see who was who.

The i-Trailer we discussed previously is next, followed by a prompt to download the “Pilgrim’s Punch-Out” iPhone/iPad game/app. After that is an add to get the Beck tune “Summertime” by pre-ordering the movie’s soundtrack. Finally there’s a link to find out more about the source comic from Oni Press.

And that’s all before you “Enter the Site.”

Over on the right there’s a wheel of the relationships in Scott’s life. So mousing over one of the headshots of the people there shows you who they’re dating, who they’re related to and such.

The first section in the main site is “The Story,” which lays out what the movie is about and what the conflicts are going to be.

Next is “People” where you can read biographies and career overviews of the cast and the crew, overviews that are far better written than some I’ve seen.

“Pics” has about 30 stills from the movie, including a handful of behind-the-scenes shots with Wright. “Downloads has all kinds of stuff, from the usual Wallpapers and Buddy Icons to Twitter backgrounds and even CubeCraft downloads that let you create little paper figures of the characters in the movie. The same videos that were on the front page are in the “Videos” section here.

“Notes” is a downloadable PDF of production notes. What’s fun is that instead of the usual “Click to Resume” that sites show when something else is going on this site has “Insert Coin to Continue,” which fits with the video game ideas behind the movie.

Also carried over from the front page are the “Avatar Creator,” “Socialrama” and the “iTrailer.” But there’s also a “VideoBlog” that features a handful of behind-the-scenes videos from the film’s production and which are a sub-set of a larger blog on the movie’s making.

The movie’s official Twitter feed has updates a plenty on the release of new marketing materials, new publicity events with the cast and crew and other information that’s designed to get people excited about the film. Likewise with the Facebook page, which not only has similar updates and conversation on the Wall but also plenty of photos and videos as well as links to the Avatar Creator and other features from the full website. And you’ll find most of the videos that are on the official site also on the movie’s YouTube page.

In addition to those official studio-run outlets the blog and Twitter profile of Wright became pretty influential outlets for information about the movie and updates on what either had been released or was about to be released. As we’ve seen with other directors such as Kevin Smith and Jason Reitman, the ability of the director to get personally involved in the conversation has only increased the desire of the audience to see the movie and led to a lot of goodwill towards the movie among those he’s been interacting with.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

In early June the TV advertising campaign kicked off with the release of the first two spots. For the most part both of them followed the basic outline of the second trailer – we see Ramona deliver the Amazon package and then explain the conflicts Scott is about to face – but the first one diverges at the end and adds some new material, namely the showdown between Scott and the girl Ramona went through a bi-curious phase with, a girl who now according to her is a little bi-furious. Which is such a good line.

Further TV spots would similarly focus on something specific from the movie, presenting paired down versions of the trailer with maybe one or two new scenes that hadn’t been seen before.

A featurette on the movie that was largely clips from the trailers with brief interviews with the cast interspersed ran on in-theater ad networks in order to introduce the movie to other audiences.

A very literal adaptation – sort of akin to the motion comics that are being produced for various titles – of two scenes from the books that didn’t wind up in the movie was created as an animated special airing on Cartoon Network. Based on the trailer for that special it features the voices of the movie’s cast, at least for those characters who are in both things.

A massive amount of online advertising was done, most of which featured the teaser poster art of Cera and his guitar. Banners, towers and block ads were run as well as a few full video units that had the trailer or at least segments of it.

There only appear to be two promotional partners on board here. One is shoe company Adidas, though that company’s website doesn’t seem to have any efforts that are being highlighted to it’s hard to know what the specifics are.

The other partner is the Toronto Convention and Visitors Association. That’s not surprising considering the story is set there and Cera himself is from north of the border. The Toronto CVA site has lots of good stuff, including an audio interview with Cera, fan-submitted photos from Oni’s Comic-Con party and other related events and, of course, information on visiting Toronto.

Media and Publicity

Everyone loved it when the first official images from the movie were released by Wright. Lacking any other official material, these constituted the first real glimpses of the movie and how the characters were being translated to film that the audience, which was quite literally salivating over the release of such images, got.

One of the first long-form clips from the movie (outside the trailers, obviously) came during the 2010 MTV Movie Awards and showed Pilgrim going up against the action movie star ex-boyfriend played by Chris Evans. Except things get more complicated when Scott realizes he doesn’t just have to fight him but also his cadre of stunt doubles.

The select few who attended the Los Angeles Film Festival got to see another extended look at the movie – nine minutes worth of footage – accompanied by a Q&A with director Wright that was conducted by another big name director, J.J. Abrams.

Cera and Wright sat down for what was supposed to be an interview by the former of the latter but which quickly digressed into a banter session (Wired, 6/22/10) where they discussed Comic-Con, socks and whatever else crossed their minds.

Of course the movie’s comics pedigree and embracing of the source book’s myriad gaming references meant it was going to be primed for a big explosion (LAT, 7/15/10) at Comic-Con 2010. That big explosion entailed panel discussions, outdoor advertising and promotions and a big “Scott Pilgrim Experience” event that brought attendees into the movie’s world. A bunch of clips were also released right around the time of Comic-Con to take advantage of the general positive buzz that was being generated there by showing people extended scenes from the movie. There was even a special badge created by Gowalla that people could earn by attending events at the convention and a stand-alone Twitter feed just for the movie’s activities there.

Culkin even got the occasional spotlight such as this story (New York Times, 8/2/10) where he talks about his love of classic video games and otherwise establishes his hipster credentials.

Also benefiting from the increased press awareness was Oni Comics, the publisher of the source book and which actually set up a production company of its own (LAT, 8/5/10) in order help some of the titles it published make the transition to the screen.

Believe me when I say, though, that what I’ve included above is nowhere near being representative of the amount of buzz this movie has. These are just some of the highlights of the concerted and coordinated press effort. If I were to include everything that had been written about Scott Pilgrim in the last year or so this column would be somewhere around 78 pages long.


It’s really hard to argue with anything about this campaign. Not only is it fun, presenting a bright and interesting movie that seems to positively crackle with its own unique energy but the entire campaign has been designed to appeal as strongly as possible to an audience of obsessive pop culture junkies, the kind of people who immediately recognized little “1UP” graphics and who are going to find visualized sound effects on screen in the same manner they are in comics really, really funny.

Many movies that have such strong word-of-mouth elements tend to skimp on the actual marketing, apparently under the theory that spending money on formal marketing efforts is just a waste of money with so much positive buzz almost assured. This campaign suffers from a slight case of that – no final poster and just two trailers – but in this instance it makes sense. With a likable star, a director that is completely invested in helping to promote things through his Twitter account and a cast and crew in general that’s willing to shill the movie in any conceivable way, the need for lots of marketing collateral disappears to an extent.

What there is of the actual campaign, though, works just as strongly as the geek appeal portion has. The poster is kind of awesome and the trailers certainly present the movie as a fun and unique way to spend a Friday night. All that then comes together along with the other components of the campaign on a website that is more full-featured than most any of the other sites I’ve looked at recently and which showcases most of the other elements of this campaign.

A very good effort for a movie I’m excited about seeing.


  • 8/12/10 – Cinematical has a fan-made video that takes the audio from the trailer and imposes it over scenes from the graphic novel.

Movie Marketing Madness: Inception

We all have our own personal experiences with dreams. Some of us dream in black and white, some in full Technicolor with Dolby surround sound and eye-popping special effects. Some of our dreams are pretty boring and deal with driving to work while others meld together different areas of our life into one disorienting (especially when we wake up) new reality. What always struck me as fascinating, though, is that according to most people we don’t remember 90 percent of our dreams. They’re just gone and don’t leave that residue others do when we wake up.

But what if someone could invade your dreams? Not only that, what if they could manipulate them to an extent that they use those dreams to penetrate the recess of your mind and learn whatever secrets you hold?

That’s the premise for Inception, the new movie from director Christopher Nolan. Seeking to extend the enormous goodwill from both audiences and critics he has following 2008’s The Dark Knight, Nolan has created another highly-glossed thinking-man’s thriller. The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio as an agent of a company who has the ability to invade anyone’s dreams, a talent his company puts to use by trying to steal the corporate secrets of their client’s rivals. Before embarking on the biggest job of his career, though, he seeks to recruit an assistant and potential successor. To that end he enlists the aid of his mentor (Michael Caine) and finds a young woman (Ellen Page) who may be even better at the job and he is. Cillian Murphy, another veteran who has worked with Nolan before, plays the mark targeted by DiCaprio.

Inception was pegged early on in its production as one of the most-anticipated movies of 2010 and one that, despite it being almost wholly original and not based in some way on an existing franchise or property, could be a break-out hit this summer. As we’ll see all that thinking will come up more than once in the campaign and publicity. So let’s take a look.

The Posters

The initial teaser poster presented a suitably, in light of the previously released trailer, surreal image. DiCaprio stands knee deep in water in the middle of a city street, seemingly perfectly calm. This sort of image has been used plenty of times before in movies from Vanilla Sky to I Am Legend. The copy at the top “Your mind is the scene of the crime” compliments that design nicely since it makes it more clear to the audience that this is a psychological drama and that we can expect plenty of such weirdness in the film itself.

The second poster actually comes off as more of a teaser than the first one, with the movies title written on the tops of buildings that the camera is looking down on. It sports the same copy as the other one-sheet, with both also not naming Nolan specifically (outside the credit block) but making the claim that this comes from the director of The Dark Knight.

The next poster put most of the cast on the street, but this time instead of being knee-deep in water for no apparent reason you’ll see not only are they standing on the street, but they’re standing in front of another street that’s rising directly behind them. That continues to tell the audience that this movie is going to be about shifting realities – or at least shifting perceptions of reality. Despite getting top billing, DiCaprio is not that featured in the design of the poster as he’s just as far away from the camera as the rest of the cast. That, combined with his face not being directly seen on the first poster, tells me the studio is selling the premise more than the star power, despite the formidable cast.

A fourth poster brought the cast more in to focus but continued with the reality shifting motif. Yes, the actor’s faces were more front and center and easy to make out but they were all at odd angles walking along the outside of buildings that were upside down or in some other way contorted. It’s as if they were all walking around a Salvidor Dali painting, only without the melting clock in the background.

A series of seven character posters were later released that featured each of the main actors from the film as well as an identifier as to what their character’s role is. So DiCaprio is “The Extractor,” Murphy is “The Mark” and so on. All of them had the actor’s face appearing amidst the bent, rolling sea of buildings that’s similar to what we’ve seen in the trailers. They almost look like photo mosaics and come off with the same sort of cool vibe.

The Trailer

The first teaser trailer definitely set a spooky and mysterious mood for the movie. It plays up the movie’s artistic pedigree, especially director Nolan’s involvement, and while it’s light on plot it’s heavy on weird visuals, from the two guys bounding after each other on the walls of a hotel hallway to DiCaprio gasping for breath after emerging from a bathtub to that cool shot of the glass of water that’s on a severe angle. Again, this is all about setting a mood and not necessarily telling anyone what the movie is actually about and on that level it works really well.

The second trailer went a little – but only a little – bit deeper into the story. Through narrated voiceover, DiCaprio makes it clear that this is a psychological battle being waged as he intones about ideas being the most persistent parasites and most potent weapons. All this while various trippy visuals unfold around him as city streets fold over on themselves, various people seem to drown and buildings collapse around our main characters. There’s also a bit about his character needing to steal an idea which, combined with the on-the-nose text about the your mind being the scene of the crime, makes it clear that much of the movie will take place outside the physical world and its constraints.

A third trailer went even deeper into the plot. It more or less opens with DiCaprio recruiting Page into his operations, offering her a job as part of his sub-conscious intelligence gathering force. Much of this spot’s running time is spent hearing him explain what the job is and how it’s done to her, including the limited amount of rules that seem to exist for the job. Aside from and underneath that exposition we’re treated to all sorts of amazing visuals that represent the dream worlds that the characters create or have to navigate, from buildings folding up on themselves to entire seaboards collapsing. In addition to that there’s some brief nod to this being DiCaprio’s last job, or him hoping this will be his last job so that he can reunite with a lady love. At least that’s how it comes across in the trailer, though that aspect of the story is not fleshed out all that much.


The landing page for the movie’s official website is quite different from those for most sites in that I’m not immediately assaulted by 17 options to click or view right at the outset. Instead the only prompt there aside from the Enter the Site button is an invitation to watch footage from the movie’s premiere and a performance of the score by Hans Zimmer and Johnny Marr.

After you do Enter the Site and it loads, the first thing you see is a recreation of one of the poster’s key art with Zimmer’s score playing over it.

The first section in the Menu is “About the Film.” The Synopsis that’s there does a better job in one paragraph of explaining what the movie’s about – at least from a plot standpoint – than all the trailers combined. There are also Cast and Filmmaker backgrounds and some PDF Notes you can download.

“Videos” has all three trailers and an extended spot that’s sort of a trailer called The Characters that introduces each of the main characters more individually. Unfortunately none of the many TV spots that have been running are here, which is too bad since some of them were quite good.

There are all the movie’s Posters, a Screensaver, a dozen or so Wallpapers and eight Buddy Icons in “Downloads.” About 40 stills, mostly from the movie but also including some featuring director Nolan, are found in the “Gallery.”

The “Sweepstakes” section just has links to the sites that have partnered on running sweepstakes in conjunction with the movie.

“Protect Your Thoughts” takes you to information from Verizon on the app they’ve created that is discussed more fully below.

The “Mind Crime Game” is kind of cool. You can play as either an Architect or an Extractor and, respectively, design your own maze or play someone else’s. If you play as an Extractor you run around a virtual city collecting clues to unlocking a safe with the mark’s secrets while trying not to be noticed by the pedestrians who populate the dream.

Finally, you can create your own poster by uploading an image to one of the templates and then having your image become part of the cityscape. Once you’ve finished you can share the result with your social networks or download it to admire forever.

The movie’s Facebook page is pretty standard, with updates on publicity and sweepstakes and such on the Wall and plenty of photos and more to view and download. There’s a heavy emphasis, especially in the last week or so, on the streaming (now archived) video from the movie’s premiere and other events. There are also a couple of tabbed sections such as Videos, Downloads and Gallery that are lifted straight from the official site, including the graphics and overall navigation.

An online ARG campaign that was pretty similar in execution to that of The Dark Knight though nowhere near that scale was run as well.

The first component of the ARG came when visitors to the official site in December realized they could click through to another site, YourMindIstheSceneoftheCrime, and after building and completing a maze game people were shown the first poster for the movie.

Next, a QR code included with swag that was handed out after Nolan’s appearance at WonderCon brought people to PasiDevice, a site that contained a user’s manual for the mysterious device used by DiCaprio’s character in the film.

The ARG continued with a video with researchers and scientists talking about REM sleep and the potential that exists for taking part in other people’s dreams in a more active and cognitive way than people participate in their own. Eventually a user’s manual for the PasiDevice was sent to Wired Magazine, who posted the pages online and asked readers to help decipher some of the instructions and clues that it included.

The game at that point moved further into the real world with outdoor posters and even TV spots that warned audience members about the dangers of mind crimes and dream theft and other issues that related to the movie’s plot. But the site QR codes on the posters pointed people to didn’t immediately provide clues or further the game, leading to some confusion among those actively playing along.

A very cool mobile game was developed called SCVNGR (MediaPost, 6/24/10) that asked people to get involved using their smart phones. Apps for iPhones or Android-powered devices were needed for people to check in at locations in 100 cities – including major landmarks and movie theaters – and then complete some sort of challenge tied to that location. In response players were given exclusive movie content and special badges. Some of those challenges involved taking photos and then sharing them across social networks, helping to spread the word of the movie.

There was also a Mind Crime Prevention app that was created exclusively for Verizon’s Droid (AdAge, 7/12/10) that was more about getting movie information than playing a game, though the corresponding website promised an experience in helping you learn how to protect your thoughts.

More straightforward was a 15-page preview comic that debuted on Yahoo! Movies that provided the lead-in to the movie’s story. We see DiCaprio’s character and his team engage on a mission that doesn’t go quite right but which then provides the lead-in to what we’ll see in the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Despite the fact that this movie is not based on a comic book and not an animated kid’s film there was quite a bit of TV advertising done. A number of commercial spots were produced that more or less follow the format of the third trailer, introducing us to DiCaprio’s job and the weird worlds he deals in. Most of them also make it clear that it’s Page’s character who will be the audience’s “in” within the movie, the one who’s learning things so that we can learn them and the touch-point for the audience, giving us someone we can relate to as we’re shown one unbelievable thing after another.

Three later spots really upped the dramatic ante, making it clear that there were major stakes the characters faced and real consequences if they should fail to achieve those goals. They diverged quite a bit from the trailer’s format and showed much more action-filled plot elements, the better to lure in summer movie audiences looking for big guns and chase sequences.

In addition to more traditional outdoor ads that used just the title treatment or some sort of variation on one of the poster images, some really creative outdoor units were created in New York City that made it look like buildings were peeling or water rushing out of their windows. The photo below comes courtesy of Moishe Friedman.

Media and Publicity

Much of the publicity around the movie focused on just how big and different the movie was and how far director Nolan was reaching (Los Angeles Times, 1/13/10) with his artistic vision. Future features would follow suit (Los Angeles Times, 4/4/10) and be timed around the movie’s junket-esque appearance at WonderCon, where Nolan also spilled a few more details about the plot and showed up a clips package.

What was interesting was that since the movie was not, unlike so many others this summer, part of a franchise, the constant attention by the press on the director turned Nolan into the brand that audiences were expected and encouraged to latch on to. From those early stories through later features (New York Times, 6/30/10), Nolan was the hook in place of a toy line or comic book character that became the brand the publicity was rallying around and which the studio sought to turn into the familiar and nonthreatening audience draw.

There were even stories about just how hard the movie was to market (Hollywood Reporter, 7/9/10) and which made it sound like any comment about it being “brainy” or something similar was to be read as vague at best. The crux of this seemed to be an attempted level setting for the movie’s expectations in case it doesn’t turn out to be the smash of the summer that early buzz has set it up to be.

The supporting cast got a bit of notice as well as Nolan, as Page and Gordon-Levitt got interviewed (Los Angeles Times, 7/11/10) and profiled as being part of a group of young actors who are more concerned about their art and craft than in being on the party scene.

Whatever the primary focus, the overall theme in the press stories was that Inception was an unknown property (LAT, 7/13/10) and therefore represented a risky move by Warner Bros.

Buzz, of course, begets more buzz and the conversations around the movie spiked up in recent days (AdAge, 7/15/10) as people began to discuss the film more and more and anticipation began to mount.


The focus on Nolan in the publicity section of the push was, I think, a smart move since much of the rest of the campaign showed a movie that was potentially more challenging intellectually than the average summer blockbuster. So this was the attempt to make it clear to the audience that there was an accessible entry point for them in the form of the director of that Batman sequel they enjoyed so much a couple years ago.

But that puts a lot of pressure on the director and it’s extremely likely that within Hollywood the campaign’s emphasis will mean that the movie’s success is seen as a referendum on his future. If it winds up being a well-reviewed hit he will probably be able to write his own check on whatever  future projects he chooses. If not then it winds up tainting how he’s treated the next time he steps up to the plate, most likely when he starts revving up Batman 3.

Putting aside the issues of the movie not being based on an existing property, I really dig this campaign. Does it fully explain the movie? Not by a long shot. But it does something better: It actually has me anticipating the journey the movie will take me on. It’s not just selling me something I’m already inclined to purchase and then more or less enjoy. It’s making me want to see the movie because I want to figure out what the heck is going on. I’m anxious to see how the movie’s story unfolds and how it is going to engage me. That hasn’t happened in a long time with a mainstream Hollywood campaign and, honestly, it’s a feeling only truly original movies can create.

That’s also only created by an effective campaign and this very much fits that description. The posters are interesting and confusing, as are the trailers. The ARG is just fully-featured enough to be interesting without becoming overwhelming. While most of the rest of the online campaign is good as well, my favorite part is the prequel comic since with a movie which has dealt with so much “What’s it about?” conversation, any sort of table-setting it can do for the movie is a good thing.


Movie Marketing Madness: I Am Love

Repression is an inherent and essential component of most dramas. In order for there to be any dramatic tension created the audience has to feel the characters are holding back something they really want. Glengary Glen Ross, for example, is driven by characters who are holding in their desire to really tell their boss what a little prick he is, which is what makes Jack Lemmon’s monologue at the end where he does just that to Kevin Spacey so cathartic. Look at any drama and you’ll find characters who are holding back.

That’s especially true in romantic dramas, where the repression usually takes the form of one character feeling like he, or usually she, is part of a passionless marriage or relationship. So the movie is often setup in a way that we get a sense of how bad the situation is for that character before then following her on a journey of throwing off the shackles of that repression.

That’s very much the case with I Am Love. The movie is a romantic melodrama set in 1950’s Milan and features Tilda Swinton as a Russian emigre who moves there with her husband, who now owns the family textile business. But while being indoctrinated to the family way of doing things she meets a friend of her son’s, a young chef who awakens – through food, a favorite movie metaphor for the sensual – the passion within her. As the two begin a love affair the long-standing walls around the family she’s married in to crumble.

The Posters

A wonderfully artistic one-sheet, the design clearly highlights Swinton as she’s the only member of the cast who doesn’t have her face obscured by the over-sized and flourish-filled title treatment. The rest of the family stands around her in a very stilted and formal portrait, with the uncomfortable feeling only accentuated by the fact that they’re standing in a very elegant room, the kind you’d find in an old-world castle or other mansion of the sort. It certainly makes an impression, showing that the movie is about stilted emotions and how the person who’s going to break out of that mold will impact the lives of everyone around her.

The Trailers

The trailer starts off by clearly setting up for the audience where the movie’s conflict is going to come from. Swinton’s character voice-overs how she moved to Italy and learned to become Italian, a move presumably made in some way because of her husband. At a dinner party the patriarch of the family stands and gives a toast to the unity of his family, a unity that has given it its longevity. But then a flirtation begins between Swinton and the cook in her house, a flirtation that eventually becomes much more and which awakens the sensual desires within her. So there are lots of shots later on of her enjoying food, sniffing flowers or other activities all in a new and exciting way. But it’s clear her actions are going to have repercussions on those around her as everyone else seems to be going their own way as well and there are lots of furtive glances and turned heads.


The movie’s rather humble official website opens with the trailer playing automatically, which is alright since it’s well worth watching again. Below that is a synopsis and a list of the film’s Cast and Crew. There’s also a batch of Press quotes that can scrolled through, though there are not links to read the full review, which is unfortunate.

Above the trailer there are sections titled Theaters, which shows you where the movie is and will be playing in the near future, a Photo Gallery with a handful of stills and a Press Kit where you’ll find smaller versions of the stills as well as Production Notes and an actual Press Kit you can download as PDFs.

The site also features rather prominently a Facebook Fan Widget that allows you to “like” the profile right there on the site and a stream of updates from Twitter that talk about how much people are looking forward to the movie or have enjoyed it. The “Join the Conversation” link on that widget takes you to a Twitter search for the movie’s title and presumably this is a curated subset of those search results.

The film’s Facebook page has a steady stream of updates related to the movie’s publicity and news stories as well as the usual mix of marketing materials that have been released.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing that I’m aware of on either front.

Media and Publicity

A sizable chunk of the movie’s publicity has been centered around appearances it has made at various film festivals. That circuit started with 2009’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it not only generated plenty of good reviews but also was quickly acquired by Magnolia Pictures.

It then hit Sundance 2010, where it received many rave reviews and where the cast and crew, appropriately, discussed the movie over a lavish dinner party.

In addition to Sundance the movie also was screened at the Venice Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Dallas International Film Festival and probably some others as well.

In addition to the buzz that’s resulted from those festival appearances there has been plenty of other press as well, not surprising for a movie this high-end and which has received this much positive word-of-mouth. Much of that focused, naturally, on Swinton who was profiled as an object of beauty (Style, 5/24/10), a talented minimalistic actor (NY Mag, 5/23/10) and part of a now three-movie-strong artistic partnership with director Luca Guadagnino (New York Times, 6/13/10).


While certainly not as extensive as something like Iron Man 2, the marketing campaign here is focused and elegant, befitting the movie it’s supporting. The poster and trailer both portray a high-class tale of one woman’s struggle to rekindle the passion in herself and all that is supported effectively by the press campaign that has generated positive buzz and sentiment around the film. Well done and executed pretty much across the board as there are no weak spots that can be pointed to. Even the lack of any advertising support isn’t a negative since that wasn’t going to be expected for a movie of this size and style and any campaign that would have been launched likely would have watered down the movie’s profile a bit.

Movie Marketing Madness: Get Him to the Greek

Rock and roll excess is always fun to talk about. Those rock star bad boys are getting in trouble or having fingers wagged at them about their sex and drugs, even while many people aspire to be rock stars themselves and enjoy the hedonistic lifestyles they see portrayed in the media. Societies fascination with the no rules lives led by guitarists and lead singers, which you’d think would be out of date, is in fact very much alive, as exemplified by the mountains of press given to the recent re-release of The Rolling Stones’ “Exile of Main Street,” an album famously recorded in a French villa with non-stop parties happening upstairs while the album was being cut in the the basement.

Taking the idea of rock and roll excess to the level of satire is Get Him to the Greek. A sort-of-sequel to 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it takes the character of Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from that movie and gives him the spotlight. Snow, in this movie, must be retrieved from London by Aaron Green, a mid-level music label executive (Jonah Hill, but in a different role from the one he played in Sarah Marshall), and brought to L.A. for a concert commemorating the 10th anniversary of a ground-breaking live album. But Green’s straight-laced nature and the tight time-frame he’s working within clashes with Snow’s debauchery and general failure to feel like he has to play within society’s rules, a clash that, of course, will wind up fueling much of the film’s comedy.

The movie’s Facebook page has a Wall full of updates on various promotional appearances by the cast and crew, a bunch of video clips from the movie and more.

The Posters

It’s a pretty simple poster here and one that’s supposed to bring the comedy based on the contrast between the two characters. In front you have Hill’s wide-eyed and innocent record company employee, a look of confounded confusion on his face as behind him screams Brand’s rock star. There’s a little bit of copy about the movie’s story and what the mission of Hill’s middle-management character is. The addition of “Pray for him” in conjunction with the wild look on Brand’s face is what’s designed to show the audience that this is a comedy about a clash of attitudes and lifestyles. It’s a pretty basic design so a lot hinges on that tiny bit of copy and Brand’s expression. Whether or not it delivers is probably in the eye of the beholder.

The Trailers

The first trailer is all about selling the film as being a chaotic, mayhem-filled adventure. We’re introduced to Hill’s character, an assistant at a record company that’s not doing so well. When he suggests recruiting Snow for a nostalgia concert he’s then tasked with going to London and bringing the singer back for said concert. But, as you would expect, things aren’t quite that simple as it proves difficult to pull Snow away from his debauchery-filled lifestyle and Hill’s character eventually has to compromise his morals and potentially break a few laws in order to achieve the goal.

This spot is filled with fast cuts and fast music, creating a sense of chaos and excitement in the audience that might be difficult to sustain throughout the film. It’s funny, there’s no doubt, but this is very much one of those cases where it seems like the studio is selling a mood more than a movie. And it brings to mind that it’s been a couple years since Russell Brand was all anyone could talk about in the wake of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and, similarly to the first point, it will be interesting to see if his character works on its own without a larger ensemble to fit in to.

The later red-band trailer is not all that much different and seems to have earned its restricted status through the inclusion of a few off-color words and the appearance of one gigantic dildo. Other that that we get the same basic jokes and same plot outlines. In fact it’s a little remarkable how little is different here from the previous version which was supposedly appropriate for all ages.


The official website opens up with a lot of things flying around the screen, chief among them Brand himself, who is swinging from a chandelier while Hill stands aghast and confused while a super model lounges behind them in a chair and two others are in bed. This image actually comes from one of the international posters for the movie, which makes its appearance here a little odd. Scattered in front of all that chaos are prompts to find Tickets & Showtimes, check out a bunch of movie content on iTunes and watch some of the red carpet premiere footage.

There’s also a couple of interactive elements. First there’s an “Interactive Trailer” where you can also view video comments/responses that have been left, though how exactly this is supposed to work isn’t clear. Below that on the site is a prompt to record your own version of “Bangers, Beans & Mash,” the song from Infant Sorrow. There was a contest attached to that to win a trip to the LA premiere, but that has obviously already passed.

Over to the right of the page are options to Watch the Trailer, Watch the Red Band Trailer or visit the sites for the band Infant Sorrow or the fictional record label they belong to, Pinnacle Records.

Once you get around to entering the site, the content is laid out under one of the cities at the bottom of the screen which correspond to the locations in the movie.

First up, under London, is “Videos,” which has the Trailer, the Restricted Trailer and More Videos, which is where you’ll find a couple of TV Spots and a whopping eight Video Clips.

New York has the “About” section, which includes a Synopsis that goes into the movie’s plot a bit, Production Notes you have to download as a PDF and Cast & Crew information.

“Downloads” is what you’ll find under Vegas. Here there are over a dozen Wallpapers you can download with various stills from the film and about eight AIM Icons to grab if you see fit.

Finally, Los Angeles is the photo Gallery with about 30 stills from the film.

At the top of the page is a prompt to Explore the Music Industry and by expanding that menu you’ll find links to the sites for Infant Sorrow, Pinnacle Records and Jackie Q., another Pinnacle artist who in the film is played by Rose Byrne and who, I’m guessing, plays in to the plot in some way that’s not hinted at in the trailers.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There’s been a pretty decent TV advertising campaign as well as a handful (at least based on what I’ve seen) online ad push. The TV spots were structured much like the all-access trailer, with the first half of the running time spent in the record label meeting that sets the plot in motion, including the joke about Diddy’s kids needing a lot of Air Jordans. Then it was on to London and the same montage of Brand’s character’s behavioral antics.

Media and Publicity

Oddly there hasn’t been that much press about the movie outside of whatever was generated as a result of the release of each bit of marketing material, particularly the red-band trailer. There were interviews with Brand, Hill and the rest of the cast and plenty of coverage of the recent red carpet premiere, but other than that most of the publicity has been in the form of mentions of this movie within stories about the cast’s future movies. For instance Greek gets mentioned in stories about Brand starring in a remake of Arthur and stories about Hill writing and starring in a remake of 21 Jump Street. Not sure what that says about this movie, but that seems to be the case.

There was a bit of press generated by the appearance of Infinite Sorrow, the fictional band fronted by Snow/Brand, but that was about it.

Much of the press, though, was about Brand and many stories took the angle of examining how the fictional character of Aldous Snow paralleled Brand’s real life experiences with drug and alcohol addiction. So there was a pointed effort to show how he was mining what he’d really gone through, but now turning that into comedy instead of tragedy.


It’s a pretty good campaign that, taken for what it is, I like quite a bit. The trailers certainly show a funny movie and the campaign is pretty consistent from one element to the next. It does seem a bit light – only one trailer, only one not very funny poster – but what there is works more than it doesn’t.

But it is a raunchy campaign. As some others have mentioned, the fact that a green-band, all-ages trailer depicts someone trying to smuggle drugs between their butt cheeks is kind of out there and certainly seems like an example of a form of “ratings creep,” where things are acceptable now that would not have been 10 years ago.

I’m also surprised by the lack of mention that the movie is produced by Judd Apatow. Perhaps Apatow’s time at the top of the comedic heap is coming to an end but it’s worth pointing out that a year or so ago any movie Apatow had anything to do with was immediately branded as coming from the writer/director/producer. It may be that hand was over-played between 2007 and 2009 since the lack of mention that he was involved with Greek is notable.

Overall this is a decent campaign for a raunchy comedy that is meant, in large part, to bring back up awareness of Brand in advance of some other high-profile efforts he has coming up as well as sell tickets to this movie. On both those counts the marketing does a pretty good job.

Movie Marketing Madness: MacGruber

I’m not – I repeat not – going to rehash the sordid and spotty history of film versions of skits originating on “Saturday Night Live” here. We all know the anecdotes, about how for every Blues Brothers or Wayne’s World there’s a Stuart Saves the World or It’s Pat.

No, what I want to discuss is the art of the parody when the audience has little connection to the material being parodied.

In the case of MacGruber, which is indeed the big screen upconversion of an “SNL” skit (with the character also being used in a Pepsi Super Bowl spot), the source material for the parody would be the fantastic 1980’s action series “MacGyver,” about a secret spy who could construct a machine gun from a couple of thread spools and a square foot of aluminum foil. But how many of the teens today have ever actually seen an episode of the show? Do they have any connection to it other than other pop culture references? Does that change how the subsequent spoofs and parodies are received?

While the fictional McGyver may have been super smart and incredibly well versed in the field of physics, MacGruber is a bit less knowledgable though substantially more deluded about just how smart he is, with skits often ending with him and his cohorts exploding as he failed to save the day.

The new movie ups the ante, pitting MacGruber against Deiter von Cunth (Val Kilmer), a terrorist who has stolen a nuclear warhead and is now threatening Washington, DC. Recruited to stop him after faking his own death, MacGruber reunites with his long-time partner Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wig) and a young soldier assigned to help him (Ryan Phillippe) and heads out to stop von Cunth.

The Posters

The movie’s first poster is more than a little disappointing. It’s just Forte, Wig and Phillipe standing there looking at us. There’s no copy there or anything other than a few critic’s quotes and the credit block. If you didn’t know this was a comedy there’s nothing about the poster that’s going to fill you in on that score.

The second one-sheet is not all that much better. This time the cast is set against some sort of explosion. At least this one has some sort of nod to the property’s comedic aspirations with the copy at the top reading “The Ultimate Tool.” That’s something.

The Trailers

First up on the trailer front was a red-band version that tried to sell the movie on the basis of the language used, which works best on a situational basis. But along with the language we also get the bare outlines of a plot that involves a Russian nuclear warhead being stolen, a situation only MacGruber – who is thought by just about everyone to be dead – can resolve. To do so he recruits Wiig’s character and is assigned by the military a young assistant who is a bit more by-the-book than MacGruber.

There are a couple genuinely funny moments in the spot, including MacGruber’s description of what an Upper Decker is and his initial reaction to the amount of wires contained in a nuclear missile, a case where the addition of the R-rated language actually does help to sell the comedy.

The all-ages green-band trailer that was released later covers mainly the same territory and includes many of the same jokes. What gets expanded here is just how self-involved and incompetent MacGruber is. After talking about how he doesn’t use guns but instead uses home-made explosives (meant to reinforce the McGyver association), the van behind him explodes on him, for instance. There are also a couple scenes of Wiig dressing up like MacGruber, a plan she doesn’t clearly understand since he’s the one the bad guys want to kill, and then being left all alone at the meeting place while MacGruber sits in the van 20 blocks away…because the closer spots had meters.

After that came another red-band trailer, though it wasn’t that different from the first one. We get the same “upper decker” joke and the same reaction to there being a lot of wires in a nuclear missile. There are a couple additions in the form of an extended look at the van MacGruber is hanging out in and what happens to it.

Take all those and throw them together and you have the final theatrical trailer for the movie. There’s little that’s new here, so the spot acts kind of like a greatest hits reel of the funniest moments we’ve seen from the previous trailers.


The official website at first redirects to a Rogue Pictures page but from there you can keep on going to the movie site. When that loads you can choose to help MacGruber attempt to defuse a bomb that’s about to blow up the internet by handing him various logos and images from around the page. Of course this ends the same way most of MacGruber’s missions do.

Diving in to the site’s content, the first section is “About” and it’s there that you’ll find a Story synopsis, multi-part Production Notes that show just how quickly the movie went from conceptualization to finished product and Cast & Crew information.

There are about 20 or so stills in the Images gallery. Video has one trailer, four of the TV Spots and a half-dozen Clips that show extended looks at the movie.

“Downloads” has a collection of Wallpapers, Buddy Icons, a Screensaver and some Ringtones you can grab.

“Mullet Maker” is a tool that lets you upload a photo and instantly add a MacGruber-esque mullet to the image that you can then share with your friends. There’s also a “Soundboard” with some audio clips from the movie that you can either listen to or mix up into your own longer creation that, again, you can then share. Finally on the entertainment front is MacGruber Academy where you can play a handful of games to become the expert MacGruber fancies himself.

The “Restricted” section has both red-band trailers, as well as a third video that has Forte offering not so insightful commentary on the second of those trailers.

Down at the bottom of the page there are boxes that contain the latest updates from the official @Grubes69 character Twitter account, which is mildly amusing and the latest updates from other Twitter users that mention how much they’re looking forward to the movie. The movie’s Facebook page is the usual mix of publicity and marketing updates with some photos and videos as well.

An iPhone app was also created that featured a game which mimicked the movie’s plot, pitting MacGruber, his wits and a bunch of everyday items against Deiter von Cunth. There was also a soundboard, photos and more, all of which are rated R but which are pretty funny.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Part of the movie’s promotional presence at SXSW included the launch of a tie-in with online video platform Tongal. That partnership allowed people there to create MacGruber-inspired concepts in 250-characters or less, including a line from the movie. A list of semi-finalists will then be chosen and participants encouraged to create and submit 90-second videos around that concept, with the creator of the winning video then given a hometown screening of the movie.

Other than that a decent amount of TV and online advertising was done, at least based on what I’ve come across. Most of the TV spots recreated the trailers, albeit in abbreviated form and therefore worked on much the same levels.

Of course the movie’s actual campaign overlooks the fact that the 2009 Super Bowl commercial featuring the character – as well as his Richard Dean Anderson, the actor behind MacGyver – was widely seen as a testing ground for the audience’s potential taste for more of the clueless MacGruber. So in essence this movie kicked off in the form of a commercial.

Media and Publicity

Unfortunately it wasn’t all sunshine, roses and low expectations on the road to the film’s eventual release. The producer of “MacGyver,” of which this movie – and the source SNL sketches – is clearly a parody sued the studio behind MacGruber in February saying it infringed on his rights. Considering it’s been known that a movie was in the works for quite a while now and since the suit is coming after the marketing for MacGruber had kicked off, it would appear to an outsider that the MacGyver team is looking for a quick payday since Relativity can’t at this point grind the whole machine to a halt. Assuming, that is, they don’t get laughed out of court.

There was a high-profile debut for the film at SXSW, an unusual appearance considering the film festival there has a tradition of being more hipster-oriented and not quite the venue one would predict an SNL sketch film would appear at.

The movie unfortunately fell off much of the press radar for the while prior to release, save for the unearthing of some pictures from MacGruber’s early attempts at being a nude male model and some reminiscences of how much we all want to be as ingenious as McGyver (Los Angeles Times, 4/16/10) in high pressure situations.


Not a bad campaign and certainly one that, aside from the posters, conveys the title character’s sense of self-importance, lack of social skills and general craziness. By relying on Forte’s ability to play the character completely straight even while he utters the most ridiculous things and does the most ridiculous things the campaign really sells what appears to be the strongest thing about movie itself.

The trailers emphasize Forte, as does the website and that’s a good thing. The posters, though, are a huge weak spot. Surely there was some way to convey the movie’s key selling points in a clearer way that wasn’t so…boring for lack of a better word. The problem is that if people aren’t familiar with the character there’s nothing about the one-sheets that is going to provide a compelling reason for them to see the movie.

Other than that it’s an alright marketing push for a movie that, among movie fans, has at least some anticipation around it.

Movie Marketing Madness: Iron Man 2

Expectations were high in 2008 when Iron Man was about to be released. This was, many considered, a second tier comic book character who wasn’t nearly the household name that Spider-Man, Batman and Wolverine were. So a movie starring The Armored Avenger, especially one that was being eyed as the launch of a new and hopefully lucrative franchise, was seen as a something of a wild bet.

That bet was even greater considering this was the premiere release from Marvel Studios, the newly-launched film division of Marvel Comics and its effort to take control of its stable of characters, at least the ones that it hadn’t already licensed out to other studios. So this was the premiere film that would, the talk ran, prove just how viable this venture could potentially be.

With the loose, improvisational direction of Jon Favreau and the equally loose and charismatic acting by Robert Downey Jr. in the role of Tony Stark, the movie proved to be a massive success both commercially and critically as audiences lapped up the mix of action and humor and critics praised the better-than-expected writing, direction and acting.

So the sequel, if anything, has to do more to live up to expectations than the first one. That’s true not only because of the reactions to the first one but also because the intervening time has brought Marvel’s cinematic plans more clearly into focus. While 2008 also saw the release of The Incredible Hulk, the next couple years will see big screen adaptations of Thor, Captain America and ultimately The Avengers, where all these characters come together into, that’s be honest, the culmination of my childhood comic-reading wishes.

While the first movie had the task of setting up the character of Iron Man and largely introducing him to the mainstream audience, this one gets to continue the storyline of how Stark is trying to reshape his image from one of a war monger to one of a more philanthropic playboy super hero. But the machinations of business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and his alliance with the mysterious villain known as Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) bring complications in to that journey. Aiding Stark, though, are his loyal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) as well as friend James Rhodes (now played by Don Cheadle), who will wind up taking on armor of his own under the guise of War Machine, a more military-minded version of the Iron Man design.

So with even more on the line than last time let’s look at how Marvel…oh, and Paramount Pictures, which now distributes all the Marvel Studios films…are selling Shellhead’s second cinematic outing to the public.

The Posters

The first teaser poster that was released cleared up a lot of speculation as to whether or not a certain character would make an appearance in the film. Behind Iron Man himself, who seems to be sporting a somewhat sleeker version of his armor, is War Machine, the more heavily armed version of the Iron Man armor that’s worn in the comics by James Rhodes. With Rhodey being part of the film series from the very beginning the debut of War Machine has been long-anticipated and this poster makes it clear that we’ll be getting more than one set of armor in this sequel.

Second came a look at one of the movie’s primary villains, Whiplash. Standing with his electronic whips splayed out on either side of him and with his…what are we calling this, a harness?…glowing on his chest, his appearance is interesting enough. But adding to that is the fact that behind him are all sorts of press clippings about Tony Stark, making it clear that we’re dealing with someone who seems to have a personal vendetta against Stark and who is going to wind up using his technology, or a bastardized version of it, against him.

Two more posters were released a few months later, one with Iron Man and one being War Machine’s first solo appearance in the campaign. In both cases they’re positioned against a giant “2” and provide the audience with a pretty clear shot of both sets of armor.

The theatrical poster was a nice continuation of the same one-sheet from the first film. Iron Man looms in the background, with War Machine slightly off to the side and a little in front of him. In the middle and lower parts of the design we see the human beings that are in the movie, Tony Stark (striking roughly the same pose he did in the first movie’s poster), James Rhodes, Natasha Romanov and Pepper Potts. The way the characters are arranged, as I said, makes this a nice brand continuity from the first entry’s theatrical poster, which had a similar layout.

Notably – and a lot of people did indeed point this out when it was released – missing from this poster are either of the film’s villains. That’s a little surprising considering what a big component Whiplash especially has played in the trailers. But considering what the campaign is trying to sell are the heroics of the main cast it doesn’t strike me as completely odd.

After that a character-specific poster for Black Widow was teased online in advance of it being available at WonderCon, an event roughly similar to Comic-Con though nowhere near that scope. The poster shows off the Widow’s look, including the skin-tight outfit that’s unzipped just enough to show off Johansson’s best acting attributes and the wrist-shooters that the character uses.

Two more posters came later that were specifically aimed at promoting the movie’s appearance on IMAX screens, with one featuring Iron Man wearing the “suitcase armor” and one with Whiplash looking relatively despondent despite the big glowing whips he’s holding on to.

The Trailers

The first trailer debuted in December of last year at the end of an online clue-seeding campaign by Paramount that lasted two or three days. Over the course of that handful of days various sites were sent close-ups of some of the newspaper clippings that appear behind Whiplash with one word in the headline highlighted. When four of those words were put together they led, as expected to a website, in this case, which resolved to the Apple trailer page for the movie.

That trailer opens with a shot of, of all people, Garry Shandling as a U.S. Senator who’s questioning Stark and making it clear the government is intent on having him turn over the Iron Man armor, something Stark says he has no intention of doing. After that we get a scene of Stark and Pepper Potts flirting in an airplane (Paltrow seductively kisses the Iron Man helmet when Stark requests a smooch for luck, a scene that personally I felt the need to watch three or four times) before he jumps out and lands in the middle of a celebration that includes dancers sporting skimpy Iron Man-type outfits. But that then gives way to a scene of Whiplash making his own armor and talking about how Stark has tried to re-write history and has forgotten the people his family has hurt in the past.

We then get a few quick shots of the supporting cast – Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Don Cheadle as James Rhodes and Scarlett Johansson as both the innocent-looking Natasha Romanov and as the body-slamming Black Widow – before Whiplash reveals himself by cutting Stark’s race car in half with his whips. The spot then ends with Iron Man out-flying a jet and then, finally, with Iron Man and War Machine back to back and fighting against what appear to be robots that look a lot like they’re based on the Iron Man armor.

The spot did a good job of kicking off the excitement for the movie and certainly showed the audience there were lots of good moments in the movie for them to look forward to.

A second trailer was then scheduled to be debuted a couple months later during the broadcast of “The Jimmy Kimmel Show” Downey was slated to appear on immediately following the 2010 Oscars telecast.

That second trailer was pretty cool, starting out with the same shot of Iron Man flying in to the glitzy event with the crowds and the dancers and such. We then get a scene of Pepper Potts letting “the notary” in to see Stark but since the woman who walks in is Johannson we know she’s no simple notary but instead the Black Widow, someone we’ll later see kicking some security guard butt and getting a turn to try the Iron Man glove and fire a repulsor ray. Before we get to that, though, it’s time for Whiplash to get some time in the sun as we see him preparing his costume and it’s whips before then slicing up Stark’s race car with those whips. After a shot of him facing down Stark in prison he’s brought to see Rockwell’s Justin Hammer – his first appearance in the campaign – who tells him he can provide the resources to make Iron Man a thing of the past.

After that it’s time to showcase War Machine a bit, starting with Cheadle as Rhodey telling Stark he doesn’t need to be a “lone gun slinger” anymore, a scene that gives way shortly to the sequence of Iron Man and War Machine back to back against a host of, presumably, Hammer’s mechanized menaces.

The two best shots in the spot, though, are where Stark is face to face with Nick Fury and reading a report which labels him as having traits of textbook narcissism, to which he simply responds, “Agreed” and the last sequence, which debuts Stark’s “suitcase armor,” something that’s been around for quite a while in the comic books but which is making it’s cinematic debut as, apparently, a stripped down version of the Iron Man armor that Tony uses to battle Whiplash after his race-car attack.

An interactive version of that second trailer was later released that allowed people to view some of the geekier details of what they were seeing, something that was especially helpful if you’re not completely steeped in Iron Man comic mythology.

A later trailer was released that specifically promoted the movie’s appearance on IMAX screens, with footage that combined bits from both of the previous trailers.


After the main landing page of the official website loads it becomes clear what the intent of the site is pretty immediately. There are prompts to not only watch the trailer and get showtimes but also nice full color graphics of all the movie’s promotional brand sponsors right there below Iron Man’s glowering visage. That’s pretty nice placement for those brand logos, which are usually relegated to a page well within the site where only the most dedicated and interested are going to find them. And it’s a statement to how powerful those promotional partners have become that they can command such placement.

When you opt to Enter the Site you’re given the option to experience the Iron Man or War Machine versions of the site, though I doubt there’s any difference in the actual content that’s subsequently available.

On the first page upon entering you’re shown a close up of whichever armor you chose, with little swirling circles that you can click on to find out more about that part of the armor technology. As you navigate through the site different sections of the armor become available and more of the features are detailed. Off to the right are boxes that make available various video content, including the Trailers, some of the TV Spots and a Clip or two.

Finding the Nav bar to the opposite side of those video clips, the first section is “About the Movie” and the first section there is Cast, which is where you can read an overview of the characters in the movie as well as the biographies and career histories of the actors who play them. A similar tack is taken with the Filmmakers sub-section, which explains who all the folks behind the scenes are. There’s also a Story area that gives a quick synopsis of the movie’s plot.

“Videos” just recreates the same video content selection that was available earlier in the site navigation. There are about 28 stills from the movie in the “Gallery” section. A collection of Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and a Screensaver are all found under “Downloads.”

You’ll find out all about what those other companies have done to help promote the movie – and their own products as well – under “Partners,” which includes not just the consumer brands but also links to all of Marvel’s various stores and content hubs as well.

Finally, “Extras” has links to the Interactive Trailer, the Stark Expo site (more on that below), an Augmented Reality site that allows you to put yourself in the Iron Man or War Machine armor and the Whiplash Slash and Burn game.

The movie’s Facebook Page (note the re-branding that’s gone on there as the network no longer uses “Fan Page”) is a pretty standard affair with photos, videos and updates on the movie’s reviews and such being posted to the wall.

The online portion of the campaign kicked off a week or so after Comic-Con 2009 with the launch of a website for Stark Industries. The site was pretty bare aside from a job application and a scan of a napkin with a note from Tony Stark written on it saying “For Immediate Release: We no longer make weapons” with a directive to Pepper Potts to post this “exactly as is.” It’s a fun little tactic that starts and extends the movie’s story in a nicely concise way.

Just a little over a month before the movie’s release a site launched for Stark Expo 2010, an event begun by Tony Stark’s father and which Tony, as he says in an invitation letter, wants to restart. The site features concept art for the expansive location the event will be taking place on – on a date that matches the release date of the movie – and a brief promotional video. There’s even a promo video for the 1974 event that shows Howard Stark – now played by John Slattery from “Mad Men.” At the bottom of the page there’s a 360-degree view of the building wire-frames and clicking on one of them shows you which supporting company is sponsoring that pavilion, a list of companies that closely resembles the promotional partners for the movie itself. This is an interesting way to get those partners some extra screen time while at the same time fleshing out a part of the movie that has appeared in much of the campaign to that point.

One of the fictional companies taking part in Stark Expo 2010 is AccuTech, a subsidiary of Stark Enterprises that got its own website on the event’s site and so which, it could be safely assumed, figures somehow into the story, at least a bit of it. The AccuTech site also features a video that shows the same sort of sonic weapons used in The Incredible Hulk, which actually takes place continuity wise after the events of this movie.

The second spinoff company was CordCo, which along with the debut of a website also premiered a trade show demonstration video of a new sonic blaster for fighting forest fires. After that Stark Fujikawa showed off their innovative heads-up display technology.

A pretty immersive iPhone game was also created that let you play as either Iron Man or War Machine. It also featured promotional material (MediaPost, 5/1/10) such as posters and character profiles, as well as functionality that let users buy tickets for the movie from within the app itself.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first TV spot appeared during the “Kids Choice Awards” a little over a month before the movie’s release and while it featured the same opening as the trailers there was a bit of new dialogue from Cheadle, Jackson and Johannsen as well. Future spots would expand on footage we were initially shown in trailers and carry the same format, essentially, as those trailers in how they open and their general pacing.

Plenty of outdoor advertising was done, with Shellhead being plastered all over New York City as well as, one would suspect, other major cities. Indeed while walking through downtown Chicago recently I noticed a bus shelter that was completely draped in movie posters, both inside and outside, featuring both Iron Man and War Machine.

Also noticed were some cool digital billboards that I spied along I-294 on the way to O’Hare. The billboards recreated the movie’s poster key art, but in two segments. First the pictures of Downey, Paltrow and the others appeared and that was then replaced by the images of Iron Man and War Machine. Along with the armored characters was a big display showing the number of days until opening, which is a great thing to include and is much more dynamic – and therefore engaging and noticeable – than the standard “In theaters everywhere XX/XX/XX.” Very cool.

Of course there was also a ton of advertising done online, both for the movie itself and for the promotional partners that were part of the campaign. For the movie itself, most of the ads simply took Iron Man, either by himself or with War Machine depending on the size and layout of the unit and placed him alongside a prompt to get tickets or find out more about the movie.

Continuing a tradition begun with, really, Spider-Man 2, Marvel used the cinematic debut of The Black Widow to give the character a starring turn in the comics. The publisher announced – around the same time first pictures of Johannsen in costume were released – that the Widow would be getting a new mini-series that reworked parts of her origin and reintroduced the classic costume (not her original but the later one that is similar to what’s featured in the movies). The first issue of that series even featured a variant cover that used one of the publicity stills of Johansson in costume.

There was also the “Iron Man Vs. Whiplash” limited series that not only pit the two characters against each other and re-did some of the details of their previous relationship but it also refashioned Whiplash’s costume a bit to fit more closely with how he would look in the movie. Of course this was before the full costume from that movie was revealed, so this acted as a sort of teaser for that look.

Marvel also brought more direct tie-ins to their lineup, launching a new limited series title called Iron Man 1.5 that took place within the movie universe’s continuity and which filled in the story between the first and second movies. Indeed Marvel’s April lineup was lousy with Iron Man tie-in and launches, including that month’s issue of his ongoing title being the debut of newly designed armor. Two other series were created that existed within the movie’s world as well, “Public Identity” and “I Am Iron Man,” both of which extended the story between the first and second movies.

That was complemented by Marvel running Iron Man Month on its website and focusing on the character in the updates it published. That included histories of the many incarnations of the Iron Man armor, a list of the must-read trade paperbacks that include essential stories, a look at the rivalry between Stark and Justin Hammer and more.

There was also a tie-in in the form of an Anime version of the character that revisits the character with a completely different artistic spin on him that is used in a direct-to-home video release that also was teased at Comic-Con along with the rest of the film.

Usually I don’t write about soundtracks, but in this case I’ll make an exception. That’s because the soundtrack to the film is, essentially a AC/DC greatest hits album. Featuring 15 of the band’s biggest hits, the selection is obviously meant to cement the film’s appeal among hard rock crowd, starting with an announcement that included the debut of a new music video for Shoot to Trill that featured footage from the movie.

The second batch of teaser posters were re-purposed slightly to act as an in-theater standee of Iron Man and War Machine that was pretty cool.

Diesel was one of the first corporate promotional partners to get press for their efforts, which involved the release of a men’s cologne that came in a bottle shaped like one of Iron Man’s gauntlets.

Car-maker Audi provided five cars for the movie’s production, including its new R8 Spyder which is featured as one Stark drives. TV spots such as this one were created as well as in-theater commercials and more as part of the company’s overall promotional campaign (MediaPost, 5/28/10). That campaign also included a microsite where people could upload videos detailing their invention ideas, with the idea receiving the most votes receiving $15,000 in funding to make it happen.

If you go into a Verizon Wireless store you’ll see in-store ads from LG, which for this movie is expanding the scope of its partnership from just being the Mobile division to their entire Electronics sector. That includes more LG products being shown within the movie. The effort will be supported by TV commercials and placement of Iron Man shots in printed and digital ads. A limited edition Iron Man 2 comic is also being given away with purchase of select models of LG handsets.

7-Eleven jumped on once again (MediaPost, 4/9/10) for a promotion that ran for two months and included not only the convenience store’s Slurpees, for which there were special cups and straws, but also a contest that sent the winner on a lavish trip to Hollywood and advertising for the movie on its in-store video network. The retailer has also bought some co-branded TV time.

Soft drink brand Dr. Pepper supported the movie with the usual movie-branded cans – 14 in all – as well as a TV spot that featured Stan Lee himself as one of the janitors cleaning Stark’s workshop, a nice touch that extended the spot’s word of mouth into the movie and comics blog worlds. The Dr. Pepper promotions page also let people enter to win an LG Arena Multimedia smartphone.

Reese’s, a movie tie-in case study in and of itself, created (MediaPost, 4/13/10) movie-branded packaging and co-branded TV spots for its candies and ran a sweepstakes that awarded a trip to the set of a future Marvel movie, which is kind of cool. It also sponsored a competition between three teams of students at MIT to see who could drive more traffic via online promotions to the tie-in campaign’s page, something I’m interested to see the results of should the be published later on.

Technology company Oracle ran a pretty massive campaign that included print and TV ads featuring Iron Man, most of which used the idea that while Iron Man was the perfect combination of man and machine, Oracle is the perfect combination of software and hardware. I saw the co-branded commercial for this partnership *a lot* while traveling as it was everywhere in airports, both on TVs and on other digital signage. Combine that with the print ad on the back of Wired and, presumably, elsewhere, and you can see the company was targeting the IT manager crowd.

Also on the technology front is Symantec, which co-branded its 2010 Norton AntiVirus with movie imagery and included an exclusive comic in boxes.

Burger King was once again on board with Kid’s Meals that featured eight movie toys, some of which appealed to boys (the action figures) and some that were meant to appeal more to girls (the Black Widow’s bracelet and others), as well as a “Whiplash Whopper” that takes its name from the movie’s villain. The chain supported that with a decent TV campaign as well as the usual in-store signage.

Land O’Frost lunch meats ran a sweepstakes, supported by TV, print and in-store advertising, that awarded people a Marvel-centric prize package including trips to exclusive Marvel events and more.

Taking advantage of the fact that racing plays a prominent part in one of the movie’s key action sequences, motor oil company Royal Purple showed off cars at select races that featured heavy movie branding, an effort that was also supported by TV and in-store ads.

Overall the promotional partners for the movie spent over $80 million in media buys that were part of a $100 million total effort (AdAge, 4/19/10) when you take contest prizes and other efforts into account.

Media and Publicity

The initial media coverage (outside, of course, of the stories in early 2008 about Cheadle replacing Terence Howard as Rhodey) started in earnest in early April, 2009, as online geeks converged around every update director Favreau put on his Twitter stream. He started the updates toward the end of pre-production on the film, which coincided with the release of I Love You, Man, which he had a supporting role in, and really kicked into high-gear when the production itself began. He posted updates about sets being completed, actors reporting to the set and more.

Also coming via Twitter was an announcement that the first approved publicity shot from the movie would be debuting in USA Today at the beginning of May.

That first image turned out to be pretty darn cool. The image of Downey as Stark sitting in his lab surrounded by previous iterations of his armor isn’t exactly going to set the world on fire in terms of showing stuff off, but for comics fans it was a direct homage to various scenes from those comics of Stark in his Hall of Armor or whatever it was called – the place where he kept copies of all the different prototypes and versions of his suit that had been worn and tested over the years. This was all about getting people to not only write about it but also place it in context of the comic mythology and history, which is exactly what most people did.

Another round of publicity was created around the release of yet another image, this time a first look at Mickey Rourke as Whiplash. The shot showed him in costume, which Scott Mendelson at FilmThreat was good enough to point out remained relatively true to the feel, if not the actual detail, of the character’s costume in the comics.

The first look at Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow came when she, along with Rourke and Downey, appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly just before Comic-Con 2009. Within the issue was a clearer picture of her donning the character’s tight black leather outfit, complete with the little shooter wrist-bands she wears,

At Comic-Con – which marked a triumphal return for the filmmakers, who kicked off the buzz for the first flick there two years ago – representatives of Stark Industries were manning a booth where they were recruiting new employees. That booth included a recreation of the “Hall of Armor,” including all three versions of the Iron Man suit from the first movie and the Mark IV version that would presumably be featured in the new one. There was also the requisite panel session with Favreau, Downey, Cheadle and Johannson as well as a sizzle reel of footage from the movie – just enough to get people excited and provide super-fast looks at not only the heroes but also the villains.

Giving us a first look at Whiplash in action and continuing the trend so far of behind-the-scenes being the campaign’s focus to date was an “Entertainment Weekly” set visit that everyone on the internet was talking about after it aired. It provided a few good looks at the characters and there may even have been a clue or two as to some unknown plot elements contained therein.

Around the time the AccuTech site appeared online Paramount also sent out a handful of swag packages with items bearing the AccuTech logo – mouse pads, coffee mugs and such, the kind of thing you’d expect from a company like this. Even marketing trade pubs picked up (ClickZ, 4/12/10) the AccuTech effort as the latest online effort for a movie that more fully extends the film’s story in an effort to keep fans engaged and thinking about the movie well in advance of its release.

Some wind was taken out of fans’ sails when an interview with Favreau (Los Angeles Times, 4/14/10) had him saying the film was more or less self-contained and didn’t have a big cliffhanger that would be followed-up in a third movie. That restrictor plate was put on due to the plans for movies featuring Thor, Captain America and ultimately The Avengers (all of which were generating their own press just prior to the release of this movie), which would bring all of those characters together. That’s not at all a bad thing, though, since a sense of continuity is exactly what Marvel has been shooting for since taking back control of its properties and anything less would have left fans feeling frustrated.

Favreau also weighed in (LAT, 4/19/10) on how AC/DC has become a thing in the Iron Man movies now, with “Shoot to Thrill” playing a big role in the second one after “Back in Black” was featured prominently in the first movie.

The publicity tour – and a cloud of volcanic ash over much of Europe that prevented the cast from appearing at the London premiere – brought Favreau and Downey to the Alamo Drafthouse, where they showed a group of eager critics and blog writers the movie and had some fun with their appearance.


Much like the feeling I had after reviewing the campaign for the first movie, I look at this marketing push and see something that’s simply too big to fail. Not that I don’t think there are issues with some of the individual components, but…actually I kind of don’t I really like this campaign pretty much from top to bottom. The posters are sharp and effectively show off characters both old and new, the trailers are fast and slick and do likewise, as well as throwing in bits like the appearance of Nick Fury that are going to have specific appeal to fans who are excited about the expanding cinematic Marvel Universe. The advertising is full-bore and contains the same attitude as the trailer and the publicity is well placed and effectively messaged.

The sheer scale of the campaign, though, is one of those things that’s quite impressive to behold. There’s just a ton going on here, from the trailers to the cross-promotions and more. Even more impressive, though, is that all these individual elements manages to stick with a consistent sense of branding, both in objective measures like use of the title treatment and such and in more subjective areas such as attitude. The spots for partners like Dr. Pepper and 7-Eleven all have the same playful spirit as the studio-created materials, meaning when the audience comes across each element they’re going to get the same brand perception experience they did when they saw something previously.

As an admitted geek, especially one whose favorite super hero comic when he was a kid was The Avengers, I’m predisposed to liking this campaign just as I was the campaign for the first one. I’m very much one of the target audiences for this movie. So if there’s a problem with the marketing I’m not seeing it because it looks to me like Paramount and Marvel have put together another strong campaign for Shellhead’s continued adventures.


  • 05/11/10: There were even more comic tie-ins Marvel published as digital editions that go into the backstories of Agent Coulson, Natasha Romanov and Nick Fury.
  • 05/14/10: Adweek takes a look at the brands that signed on for promotional partnerships with the studio for this movie and measures how much buzz they got for their cross-promotional dollars.
  • 06/23/10: An augmented reality app for LG Mobile users put them inside the Iron Man armor so they could see what Tony Stark sees when he’s wearing the helmet.