Twitter updates coming to theater pre-shows

Trending and interesting entertainment content from Twitter and Vine are about to start showing up on movie theater screens thanks to a deal between Twitter and National CineMedia, according to Variety.

The deal will add a segment to NCM’s “First Look” pre-movie programming that will include curated material from Twitter and Vine, the latter being owned by the former.

While I have issues with the NCM side of this – I don’t know why mainstream media outlets like this, MSNBC or others think pulling in social media will somehow help them be more relevant – it makes a ton of sense for Twitter. For that company this marks a big stake in the ground in the fight against Facebook (and so some extent Tumblr) as they battle for supremacy in the media conversation circle. Each one wants to be *the* place people talk about movies, TV shows and more. If Twitter can get the content people are publishing there in front of a big audience it goes along way toward that goal, as well as the more fundamental “What is Twitter?” issue that has hampered mainstream adoption.

Quick Takes: 6/5/13

20130604-newconstellation-x600-1370358957Toad the Wet Sprocket, Sting and U2 all have new albums coming out later this year and I’m very excited about all of them, but especially Toad.

An interesting look at free speech and how social network companies are trying to regulate “hate” and other distasteful speech by people while not infringing on stuff that might be caught by an algorithm.

The Onion’s AV Club has a full appreciation of The Kids in the Hall along with what they think are the 10 best episodes of the show. But aside from that it’s worth reading just for the breakdown of what sort of overall role each member of the troupe played in shaping its direction.

Adweek looks at the windowing issues that are going to increasingly crop up for consumers as more and more studios sign exclusive distribution contracts with various online video streaming and on-demand services. We’re basically entering a world that’s the equivalent of the VHS/Betamax wars of the 70s/80s.

By not engaging in the price discount mutually-assured-destruction game Ambercrombie & Fitch has managed to retain the sense among its target audience that it’s hip, relevant and still hot.

Quick Takes: 5/31/13

This piece about why niche media is important is not only spot-on but also more than a little distressing as it evaluates some recent mainstream foul-ups. But aside from that I think it exemplifies why newspapers in particular missed an opportunity back in 2003 or so to reach out to the emerging independent blogger field and work with subject matter experts, bringing them into the fold in a way that was mutually beneficial instead of playing around with paywalls and so on.

An interesting perspective on why Marissa Mayer is making the moves at Yahoo she is.

Poynter has a great rebuttal of Buzzfeed’s much-discussed “The Social Media Editor is Dead” piece. In my opinion there’s still a strong need for there to be one – two is actually better – who act not just in a traditional editorial capacity but who also are kind of the heart and soul of the program, who keep it true to itself, who know what the goals are, who knows the nuances of the fan base and more. This is’t a dead role, it’s one that is vital and necessary if if the responsibilities are and will continue to evolve over time.

I think this hand-wringing story about the demise of high school newspapers falls victim to the trap of getting hung up on form-factor. So what if a high school is producing a Tumblr blog instead of a print paper if the content is similar? It’s not about the printing press (or the blog platform or anything else) it’s about training kids to be writers, photographers, coders and more in a way that gets them excited about the process, not the distribution form.

This article shouldn’t be necessary as everyone should already be in complete agreement that The Monkess are and always have been cool.

Medium is a platform that I’m super-intrigued about. The closed beta that it’s been in for an extended period has allowed it to highlight and curate some high-quality material from some great folks. But when it does open up and it loses the mystique of being a high-end, prestige magazine of sorts it will have to use it’s cool set of tools and functionality to compete with WordPress, Tumblr and everything else in the platform market.

Movie theater chains want to force studios to make trailers shorter by 30 seconds, or about 1/5 of their current running time. The hilarity starts when the theater owners start talking about shorter trailers creating a better movie-going experience when they’ve done everything in their power to make that experience almost excruciating while grabbing every ad dollar they can.

Long story short: We’re not going to Mars any time soon, though it will be super cool when we do.

No, we don’t want Facebook – or any other company – deciding what is hate speech. That’s largely because at any scale it needs to be algorithm-driven and that leads to an incredibly faulty system that will penalize a lot of innocent people while still letting lots slip through.

NCM encroaches on the TV upfront

Add one more digital media company that will be looking to take advertising share away from the TV business this spring with a glitzy upfront presentation to Madison Avenue. NCM Media Networks, which digitally programs ads across 18,300 movie-theater screens in the U.S., will be aiming to sell about 60 percent of its annual inventory based on its presentation to advertisers at the May event in New York.

In-Theater Programmer NCM Seeks Piece Of Upfront TV Ad Dollars | paidContent.

As the article says the in-theater advertising world has grown a lot in the last several years and this is a big example of that.

Movie Marketing Madness: Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows

2009’s reimagination of Sherlock Holmes via a big-screen adaptation starring Robert Downey Jr. in the title role was something of a mixed bag for me. While I enjoyed the performance and the chemistry and banter between him and Jude Law as Dr. Watson this was certainly something far different than the Basil Rathbone classics I’d grown up with. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself but I think it took a little while for me to acclimate to this far different portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective and accept it for what it was: Something that required little of the audience but sought to entertain by any means necessary for two hours or so.

Now Downey Jr. and Law – as well as director Guy Ritchie – are back in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Picking up shortly after the first movie left off this entry pits Holmes against his most formidable adversary, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). Holmes is on Moriarty’s trail, believing him to be at the center of a vast web of conspiracy and criminal activity but to find him he enlists the aid of a young woman (Noomi Rapace) who has secrets of her own.

The PostersThe first bit of official marketing for the movie came in the form of two teaser posters, one with an up-close picture of Downey Jr. with Harris as Moriarty in the background and the other with Law being the focus and Rapace off to the side. They effectively showed that there would be a consistency in the look and feel of both movies as well as in the marketing efforts.

The next two posters had Downey Jr. on one and Law on the other, both of them clutching weapons and in profile to the camera with France and London, respectively, in the backgrounds. They continued the brand consistent blueish gray look from all the rest of the marketing and certainly showed some expanded settings but that’s about it.

Then a series of six action-shot type of character posters were released, with one each for Downey and Law and two each for Rapace and Harris, with everyone brandishing a gun or other weapon or in some other kind of action shot.
The final theatrical poster has Holmes and Watson in a dark Paris alley, fog behind them and the imposing shadow of what we can presume to be Moriarty against the wall to the side. It continues to sell the atmosphere of the movie and what’s hoped to be the wide appeal of the two lead actors.

The Trailers

The first trailer promises those who enjoyed the first movie more of the same here. We open with Holmes getting a tarot card reading, which of course becomes more complicated. From there we see what appears to be Holmes and Watson reuniting after some time apart, with Holmes intoning that he’s on the most important case of his career as he investigates Moriarty. From there on out we’ve done away with most exposition or plot setup as we move to straight action. There are train shoot-outs, huge cannons firing and chases through the woods. We get glimpses of the same slow-motion special effects that were used in the first movie as well as lots of inventions and tools that give the movies a distinct steampunk vibe.

The second was more of the same, though with a good amount of different footage. There’s lots of explosions and gun play and lots of time devoted to the run through the forest the main characters engage in that has lots of exploding trees and bullets whizzing by. Not much more than the barest of plot outlines is given here, though, other than some menacing glances and a bit of exposition about Moriarty being Holmes’ biggest case and the most dangerous criminal mind of their time. It’s all about selling some gothic action here and not about anything resembling a plot.

The next trailer starts off with two people playing chess, which serves as a metaphor for the struggle between Holmes and Moriarty. We see a bit of the same footage we’ve seen in other trailers but with occasional short interview snippets with Ritchie, Law and Downey talking about the conflict of the characters and the story and why people will be interested in seeing it.

Online

The official website opens by playing a nearly full-screen version of the second trailer.

Once that’s done playing the first section of content is “About” which has a short but mostly decent Synopsis, Cast and Filmmaker bios and Production Notes to download.

The “Photos” section has over three dozen (at which point it became difficult to count” stills from the movie. “Videos” has both Trailers, a couple of TV spots and two behind the scenes looks at the recording of the film’s soundtrack score.

“Downloads” has Wallpapers, IM Icons, Posters and specialized wallpapers for iPhones and iPads. You can listen to samples from the score in the “Soundtrack section.

The companies that helped to promote the film are listed under “Partners” while “Sweepstakes” has information on a contest run by the Carl’s Jr. fast-food chain.

“Special Features” has a couple games for you to play as well as a Facebook app that lets you find out who from among your friends there is a your nemesis.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A number of TV spots were run that continued to sell the movie to the general public as a known quantity, with lots of action and humor. It’s clear this is in the same style and tone as the first movie, which was popular so the hope is this one will be likewise. Interestingly some of these spots are where we get our first look that Rachel McAdams is back but to what extent isn’t as clear.

Plenty of online and outdoor advertising was also done, mostly using the film’s key poster art and images of Downey and Law and usually also involving a picture of the train that figures into one of the movie’s key action set pieces.

Among the film’s promotional partner companies were French Connection (which displayed fashion “inspired by” the movie in store windows), Shuttle Computers, English Tea Store, Delta Airlines (which offered a contest to win tickets to the movie’s premiere), Hershey’s (which promoted theater snacks as being perfect while enjoying the film) and Hardee’s, whose Carl’s Jr. franchises have already been mentioned.

Media and Publicity

The one constant theme of the early press about the movie was “confusion.” While casting details were leaked out and reported no one involved in the production was spilling any information about the film’s story or plot (Los Angeles Times, 1/13/11), which apparently was part of the plan to keep people guessing and ramp up expectations in the audience that way. One detail that later got released was the movie’s subtitle.

Outside of that there wasn’t a whole lot that happened in the press as release day grew closer. The cast, Downey in particular, made the talk-show rounds and gave plenty of other interviews so it’s not as if there wasn’t a lot of activity happening. But there weren’t many, if any, sort of big industry stories that pegged it as an “important” picture in any regard. Or if there were they never got on my radar, which is also completely plausible.

Overall

This is one of the most clear cut cases of “If you liked the first one here’s more of the same” sequel marketing that I’ve seen. It might even beat efforts for the second Transformers movie and a couple other blatant offenders. Everything here (except the odd way Rachel McAdams barely makes an appearance…does something untoward happen to her character in this one?) is designed to make sure that the audience is completely sold on the notion that very little original will happen here. Instead it’s made clear that this is, while not recycled, certainly very familiar material that covers well-worn ground.

So if you liked the first one – and I did overall while at the same time recongnizing it was completely disposable entertainment that I barely remembered a half-hour after watching it – you should be sold on this one and will make your way to the theater. Which is fine.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Muppets

If you ask me it doesn’t get much better than good old fashioned Vaudeville. Marx Brothers, Hope and Crosby, Burns and Allen…even one of my favorite Billy Crystal movies is Mr. Saturday Night, an homage to that era of comedy. It’s all about the writing and the timing with this sort of comedy and that’s what works for me. Talented performers delivering superbly crafted word-play is just about as good as it gets. It’s why I always preferred Looney Tunes to just about every other sort of animated short – it was just a cartoon version of a Vaudeville routing, with the funniest bits coming from Bugs and Daffy’s verbal sparring as opposed to any sort of elaborately setup situation.One of the clear spiritual descendants of the Vaudeville tradition, at least in their original incarnations, was Jim Henson’s Muppets. Especially on “The Muppet Show” but also in what are considered the three canonical films – The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan – these characters were always at their best when it was simply about a zinger of a joke or a bit of deft word-play.

Now these characters are back after decades of secondary status in a new movie The Muppets. Written by and starring Jason Segal, best known from his role on “How I Met Your Mother” and an avowed fan of the characters, the movie seeks to revitalize the franchise for a new generation. To do that Segal and his collaborators have created a story that has Kermit, Fozzy, Gonzo, Piggy and the others having gone their separate ways years ago after some rough times. But now Walter (a new Muppet character created for the film), the roommate of Segal’s character and the world’s biggest fan of the Muppets is trying to get the group back together to save the historic theater where they first became famous. In the best tradition of those classic films this new one features lots of star cameos and more and, quite frankly, looks awesome. Let’s see how this reintroduction of some beloved characters is being sold to the families of 2011.
The Posters

The first teaser poster wasn’t all that revealing, with the image being just that of Kermit, Piggy and a few others walking (their entire bodies are shown, not just their torsos and heads) toward the camera in a very determined fashion with the copy “They’re closer than you think” at the top reading just a tad ominously.

After that a couple fun posters that were along the same lines as some of the early trailers appeared, with Kermit decked out like Green Lantern just before that movie came out, Sam the Eagle dressed as Captain America just before that movie was released.

The next poster was a more theatrical-esque version that showed Segal and Adams in front of the mob of Muppets like they’re trying to hold the crowd back. Again it’s not all that much but it does show to the audience that the entire cast of characters will be featured, something that should have lots of appeal to those who enjoyed the earlier movies as kids and have been looking for a quality newer movie to use as an introduction for their own children. It’s quite good on that front and makes the movie look like a lot of fun.

Four more posters were later released, three of which showed extreme close-ups of the eyeballs of Kermit, Animal and Piggy with the fourth pulling the camera out a bit and showing those three along with Beaker and Gonzo.

The parody aspect of the campaign that had primarily been confined to trailers (see below) spilled over into the posters toward the end with a series of one-sheets featuring Kermit, Piggy and Rolf as characters from the Twilight movies.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer debuted in front of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean earlier this year but both the real-life and online versions of it took a very fun approach.

The trailer starts out like it’s selling a romantic comedy starring Segal and Adams. The two are very much in love but he messes up and has to try and make it up to her and so on. It’s only when the voice over guy starts introducing the cast and gets to Kermit and Piggy that we realize this is a Muppet movie. The studio went all in with the conceit, initially releasing the trailer under the name “Green With Envy,” which is how it appeared on Apple’s trailer’s page – complete with poster – and was used for the YouTube channel and Facebook page as well.

Outside of that bit of good natured bait-and-switch, the trailer doesn’t show very much. We get that there is a romantic story in here and that there will be lots of singing and big production numbers, which should be fun, but not much else. That’s alright since this is just about announcing the movie and not much else. So it works very well.

Another one followed shortly thereafter that played kind of like a parody of The Hangover, with scenes of chaos and fake quotes from fake publication about how funny these movies occasionally are.

The next one would use the just-about-to-come-out Green Lantern as its source material, with Kermit reciting a variation on that character’s iconic oath, before there were actually a couple of plot points revealed, the first such indicators in the campaign to date. There was also a winking at the audience about how long the creators are going to milk this parody hook before they get to the real marketing. As with the others this is kind of great.

Finally the trailer marketing began in earnest with a spot that outlines what the plot of the movie is, at least in general. Kermit is working to get the whole gang back together again after some hard times have fallen on the franchise. While we see plenty of Walter, the new character that’s introduced in the movie, we don’t get a proper introduction to him here. There are challenges put in the groups way that lead to hijinks and all in all it looks very clever, funny and charming. While it does indeed play more straight than the previous trailers in that it’s not an outright parody of something else that doesn’t mean it’s any less meta, with lots of inside jokes and winks to the audience, but that’s all good since it comes off as being very funny. The only fear here is that all those jokes are in the trailer here so when they’re put into the context of the movie as a whole they could land more flatly than they really should.

After that there was another parody trailer created that, in my opinion, was the best one yet. This one took on the trailer for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, featured an awesome song and lots of winking at the audience via on-screen text.

Then there was a “Fan-a-Thon” trailer released that had Piggy making a personal appeal for people to Like the movie’s Facebook page in order to get an early advanced look at the movie. Fozzy, Kermit and Gonzo would also appear in similar videos.

The next trailer – not a parody or spoof – gets even more into the story by introducing Segal, Adams and their little friend – as the troop’s biggest fans. We see that they’re not exactly welcome in Hollywood anymore and that their name recognition isn’t what it used to be. So they have to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and prove themselves all over again. We get lots of scenes from the show they eventually put on and everything else and it continues to look like it’s just a lot of fun all around.

The meta circle was complete with one that started out by having a little bit of fun by creating a parody of their own trailers while also working in some nods to Paranormal Activity, Happy Feet, Twilight and more. It was more or less exactly what was needed to put a bow on this effort, especially since this one included a “Thank you, internet” note as well as one at the end saying this completed that part of the campaign. Good stuff.

Online

The official website for the movie opens by playing one of the later, non-parody trailers.

After that finishes or you choose to skip it the first thing you can do either by clicking the “Characters” menu item or just by selecting one of the images that’s presented on screen is dive into the characters of the movie. Each one of those sections has information about the character as well as Wallpapers, Buddy Icons, games and film clips that are specific to them.

The next section, “About the Movie” has a Story synopsis that goes into the adversity the Muppets have to overcome to regain success as well as a Cast section that’s still more about the characters and a Crew section that is still labeled as “Coming Soon.”

“Video Clips” has most of the trailers, both parody and non-parody as well as other videos, some of which are the great Muppet song covers from the last couple years, some of which are Disney channel coverage and then a bunch of other stuff.

There are about 14 stills in the “Gallery.” “Products” has information on the stuff you can buy, from the soundtrack to a mobile game to various toys and more.

There’s then a link to the “Fan-A-Thon” that’s been mentioned before. “Games has some fun casual games featuring different characters.

There are plenty of Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and a Screensaver in the “Downloads” section. “Activities” stuff to make that ranges from a theater playset to instructions on making candy with the faces of Kermit and the others.

Finally there’s a link to the “never-ending  manna manna phenomena” that asks you to make your own video with those famous lyrics, which will then be inserted in a never-ending stream of clips, which is kind of a fun idea.

That last feature is the first thing you see when you hit the movie’s Facebook page, though there are of course lots of tabs with links to the various trailers and more along with plenty of updates on the Wall that track the movie’s publicity activity.

The @muppetstudio has been been taken over by Statler and Waldorf, who use it to sling their usual barbs at the the other Muppets and discourage people from seeing the movie. The Muppet Studio YouTube page, which has been the hub of Muppet activity for the last couple years, has all the trailers and clips and other video snippets.

The Muppets were also one of the first brands to get a Google+ Page, which has been used to share videos and other updates.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A new Marvel-published comic was announced that would act as a reintroduction to the characters who, in the story, trying to revitalize their careers.

The return to the big screen also came with some promotional partners, including Wonderful Pistachios, which produced a commercial with Kermit promoting the naturally green snack.

The Muppets would also appear in a promotional video that also served as a message to not talk or text while at the theater. The spot was produced specifically for AMC Theaters and presumably ran during their pre-show entertainment blocks.

In addition to that there was a campaign that partnered the characters with Underwriters Labortories for a household safety based effort. There was also a cool partnership with Threadless that offered some nice custom designed t-shirts featuring the characters.

Media and Publicity

The film certainly got a dramatic launch. After rumors and reports had been circulating for a few months that Segal and others, avowed fans of the Muppets and such (see the inclusion of the puppet vampire musical in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) were circling a Muppets project and may have even been signed to create a new movie. Then at Disney’s D23 fan conference in September of 2009 the movie was officially announced and a title revealed, officially kicking off the buzz campaign for it.

It then continued to solidify its hipster credentials with the announcement the film would be directed by James Bobin, one of the co-creators of “Flight of the Conchords,” which also served the purpose of giving the film some musical bonafides to fall back on. That was followed by news that not only was Segal helping to write the script but that he would star in the film as well.

A steady amount of buzz around the Muppets in general was created through the release of a steady stream of videos featuring the characters singing songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Dust in the Wind” and plenty of others. The idea behind these – all of which were fun and many of which bordered on brilliant – was to get the Muppets back at the top of people’s minds well in advance of the movie’s release so that when that time came the audience was large, multi-generational and comfortable with the idea of once again spending time with these characters.

Much like the Tron sequel, the movie benefited from some insights from the Pixar crew, with reports the script was taken to Pixar HQ for a table read (Hollywood Reporter, 7/21/10) that was intended to solicit feedback from the Pixar “Brain Trust” and get their thoughts before filming started.

After a period of silence, a new round of publicity started with an Entertainment Weekly spread that featured Segal surrounded by the characters, including Walter, the new Muppet that is the audience’s main point of entry into the story. This contained not only a good look at the characters but also the clearest and most official synopsis of the plot to date.

Later on there was news that Disney was putting a Toy Story short, the second or third that’s been produced, in front of the movie, something that got everyone talking once again about the Muppets and also made going to see the film even more attractive.

The movie was one of several that Disney brought to the CinemaCon exhibition trade show, where footage from the film was shown to attendees and Segal and Adams appeared (THR, 3/29/11) and talked about the film, including the challenges Segal faced in writing the movie(Los Angeles Times, 3/29/11) as he tried to stay true to the spirit of the franchise, the financial restraints he was operating in and just the logistics of shooting, all of which forced him to come up with inventive solutions to various problems.

There were also feature stories (New York Times, 4/11/11) about how this was the franchise’s big bet on a revival and how previous efforts in the last 10 years or so have all hit some sort of roadbump that’s killed them. So Disney is betting on a big, star-studded motion picture to finally kick things off in a manner befitting the characters and finally see some value to owning the characters.

Two years after its first appearance there the movie returned to Disney’s D23 fan convention (LAT, 8/17/11). There the studio put on a brief presentation with Segal and Kermit showing some clips from the movie that, much to her dismay, did not involve Miss Piggy.

Unfortunately the next bit of press would not be completely positive, as many of the “old hands” that were involved with the Muppets in years past and other “purists” started to question whether the movie was a worthy entry into the canon or something that distorted the characters they loved or were involved with (THR, 10/20/11). Odds are good, though that those fears are overblown and that while maybe not the movie *they* would have made it’s still respectful of the characters while also bringing them into a new generation that’s only been exposed to the lackluster straight-to-DVD entries of the last few years.

Closer to release things turned around with profiles of Segal (Wired, 11/1/11) and assurances from him that there would be lots of zany antics (LAT, 11/4/11) and how the mood on the set was generally upbeat (LAT, 11/6/11) with everyone having lots of fun. Further positive press stories would be scored that talked about how hands-off Disney was during the creative process (NYT, 11/20/11) despite the risks and potential rewards there were to be had by bringing the characters – and the franchise – to a new generation of moviegoers. There was also plenty of general stories about reviving the franchise (Fast Company, Nov 2011) and so on.

The Muppets also joined Segal in the opening of “Saturday Night Live” when he was hosting just before release.

Overall

Hey, what’s not to like here? This is a big campaign, that’s for certain but there’s something here for everyone, from those of us who grew up with “The Muppet Show” on TV every week and saw all the three original movies in theaters to those who are the kids of folks my age.

The main thing, at least the component that has garnered the most press attention, is the part of the campaign made up with the parody trailers. And while those were fun and all I’m more excited about the other stuff, the parts that sold the film more directly since they showed a movie that seems to be very much in line with the spirit of the original incarnations of this franchise. So the posters, trailers and website are what have me anticipating the film.

But it certainly isn’t a small effort. Disney is obviously hoping this is the kind of relaunch that it can capitalize on for several years on a number of fronts and has given it a campaign of suitable size. But again it’s the talent of those involved and the promise of a good-natured time at the theater that has most broadest appeal here and that comes through loud and clear.

Movie Marketing Madness: Tower Heist

The last several years have left more than a few folks feeling like they’ve been willing participants in their own robberies. Money that we were assured would be available to us dried up and disappeared because of the greed and subsequent shady dealings of certain individuals who are in the financial system. Not that things need to be no more complex than the dimmest person can understand but some of the ways that money was moved around – and eventually lost – are confusing even to the most logical of laymen.

The new movie Tower Heist is about a group who decides to do what many of us have wanted to do: Get even with those who lost our money. The residents and employees of a high-end apartment building, including Josh (Ben Stiller), Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and Charlie (Casey Affleck) among others all trusted a wealthy resident (Alan Alda) with substantial amounts of their money But one day they find he’s embezzled it and it’s all gone. So they enlist Slide (Eddie Murphy), a thief who once hit the building, to help them steal their money back. Wackiness, of course, ensues.

The Posters

The movie’s first poster is primarily concerned with selling the movie as an ensemble film. So Stiller, Murphy, Broderick and the rest of the crew are shown leaning against a building and looking very cocky. The copy “It’s not a robbery, it’s payback” does a decent job of setting up the story without actually telling the audience very much. But honestly the campaign is probably designed just to convince people that they should just sit back and not worry about plot holes because the cast is so charming. So the lack of any story points here beyond what are obvious is likely by design and not something that’s keeping anyone up at night.

The second one-sheet cut out everyone aside from Stiller and Murphy and, oddly, took out any and all copy aside from their names and the rest of the credits. The idea here, obviously, is that the audience should be attracted to the film by the presence of these two stars and little else. No plot description is necessary apparently and the fact that these two are in the film should in and of itself be enough to fill seats.

The Trailers

The first trailer is all about laying out the basic premise of the movie’s story. We meet the gang that works at a posh New York City high rise apartment and one of its residents, a high-profile Wall Street type. Everything is going fine until he’s arrested for fraud and the workers in the building find out the pensions he’s been managing for them are now completely gone. Stiller and a few others determine to get what they can back, though, and set out to steal whatever cash that might be laying around in order to exact some revenge and get their losses back. Being novices, though, the need and expert and so recruit Murphy’s character, a professional thief. But of course things don’t go very smoothly and lots of wackiness ensues as they run into all sorts of problems.

The trailer shows that the movie hits all the notes you’d expect such a story to but the most surprising thing about is that Eddie Murphy actually looks like he’s legitimately funny. That’s something that hasn’t happened in 10+ years and, honestly, his interplay with Stiller looks like it might be worth checking out in and of itself. It reminds me of some of Murphy’s best work in the 80’s and hopefully marks a return to form for him.

Unfortunately not everyone was thrilled with the trailer, as actor Greg Grunberg reacted very badly to the line about Stiller’s character being a “seizure boy.” That outrage was the result of Grunberg having an epileptic son, something that’s sure to change your perspective on things.

A second trailer hit many of the same notes though slightly rearranged. We still get the setup that Alda’s banker has lost money from all of the employees of the building he lives in and that a select few are determined to rob form him to get it back. We get a few different scenes, particularly of Murphy teaching the group how to be criminals but that’s about it that separates it from the first one.

Online

The official website loads and the first thing I notice (aside from the recreation of the poster key art that makes up the primary image) is how devoted to social sharing the top of the site is. There’s a scroll of updates from people on Twitter who have used the hashtag #towerheist or who have otherwise mentioned the movie. It’s a curated feed, of course.

Outside of that the front page allows you to get some ringtones, download a song from iTunes from the movie’s soundtrack and play the “Heist it Back” game that is mentioned more below. There’s also prompts to check in on GetGlue to unlock character stickers and more and an invitation to play an 8-bit game version of the movie.

Moving beyond all that end Entering the Site the first thing there are images of the main characters that, when you mouse over them, give you a one-sentence description of the character and their motivations.

Accessing the Menu, which is arranged like the schematics of a building, the first section is “Video” and there you’ll find just the two Trailers. “Downloads” has some Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and Ringtones.

Hitting “The Film” section you’ll be able to read a halfway decent Story synopsis but the Cast and Crew information along with the Production Notes are all only available as PDF downloads. That’s odd for Cast/Crew.

The “Gallery” has just five stills from the movie, though the way they’re arranged in a nice endless scroll gives the initial impression that there are many more.

Finally the “Features” just has links to play the same games that are listed on the front page.

The movie’s Facebook page ports over or links to a lot of the games and other features from the official site and, of course, hosts the games that use Facebook as part of their mechanisms. There are also lots of videos – including tons of 30-second TV commercials – and photos along with the regular updates on press and marketing activities. There was also a Twitter profile that contained many of those updates.

There was a kind of cool online scavenger hunt run, with clues hidden across Facebook that, when found, gave people Facebook Credits that could be used for playing the “Heist it Back” game that brought them into the movie’s story and allowed them to interact with characters.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots began running in late September that certainly sold the movie as an ensemble comedy, setting up the basic plot of a group of people working together to exact a pound of flesh from the corrupt finance guy who stole from all of them and lost their money. A whole bunch of spots were eventually produced though they all, for the most part, hit the same three or four notes though in different ways and in different orders.

Outdoor advertising was done as well, with posters that sold the movie primarily as a Stiller/Murphy partnership, which is hardly surprising.

Media and Publicity

There was a lot of publicity for the film when Ratner, the director here, announced that he had chosen Murphy to host the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony (Hollywood Reporter, 9/6/11), which he was also directing.

Other than that the biggest news around the movie came when it was announced Universal would make it available for video on demand just three weeks after its initial theatrical release (Los Angeles Times, 10/5/11) for $60, though only in a couple markets and only through Comcast. That led to as much outrage from theater owners as it did interest from the press and industry pundits, who will then be watching closely whether its promised availability has an impact in those markets on box-office receipts.

Cinemark and other theater chains later announced they would refuse to book the movie (LAT, 10/10/11), saying they wouldn’t support the studio’s plan to go VOD so soon, something that ultimately led Universal to back down and cancel the experiment (THR, 10/12/11).

Overall

There’s a lot I like about this campaign. As I said before it’s single biggest accomplishment may be that I’m somewhat interested in a new movie starring Eddie Murphy, something that hasn’t happened for upwards of 15 years or so. Aside from that this is selling a movie that appears to be entertaining and light weight for the most part, something that’s professionally put together and, unlike many of Brett Ratner’s movies, may not make me actively want to jam a pointed stick into my thorax. Which is a win, really.

More than that the movie is arriving at the time of the Occupy Wall Street movement that’s gripping the nation. I’m sure the studio has at least flirted with the idea of tying this in with that more overtly through the press but the fact that hasn’t happened tells me the idea was rejected. But the coincidental timing may still wind up benefiting the film as people look to it as a fictionalization of the rage they feel and enjoy seeing a group of people act out the kind of personal revenge they’d like to see exacted themselves.

Movie Marketing Madness: Real Steel

Setting a story “in the not too-distant future” is kind of a great narrative get out of jail free card. You can still do whatever you want, really, but also don’t have to create a whole new world in order to tell the story. Cars are likely still cars and houses are still houses. And it’s possible to take something that’s widely accepted now and push it out a few years (whether or not you disclose how many is up to you and your tolerance for news stories when that year is reached about how wrong you got it) to where it’s not or some such and you’re pretty much golden.

One such movie that’s set just a few years out from our own is this week’s Real Steel. The movie stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a down-on-his-luck former fighter who’s barely been making ends meet since they outlawed human boxing and the sport shifted to giant brawling robots. Yeah, you read that right. One day at the very bottom of his fortunes he reunites with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goya) and the two work to piece together a hard-scrabbled fighting robot that just might be Charlie’s ticket back to the big time.

The Posters

The first teaser poster sets up the movie’s premise to a pretty decent extent, showing just a robotic hand coming up and grasping the heavy metal ropes of a boxing ring. You don’t see the entire robot but you do get some copy that promises “Champions aren’t born. They’re made.” It’s pretty good and looks kind of cool.

The next poster at least showed the primary human star of the movie. Jackman appears in the foreground in a boxer’s pose with a large robot behind him mimicking his movements. The copy at the bottom “Courage is stronger than steel” gives us the hint that the story will cover an emotional arc of Jackman’s character that ties in to the part of the story involving the huge machines. It’s not bad but just looks kind of odd because of the manipulation of Jackman’s photo. Other than that it’s alright.

Four posters hit next that featured four of the robots from the movie, including Atom – the one that Jackman and his friends build – and three of the bots that it will presumably go up against.

The Trailers

The first trailer introduces us to the idea behind the movie’s world, which is that the sport of boxing has evolved to no longer feature human beings but instead has people using massive robot surrogates to fight in the ring instead.

That’s about all the information you’re going to get from this spot, though. Jackman’s character is obviously known in the professional robot boxing world but why that is doesn’t get explained. And while there are lots of shots of robots doing the fighting it’s difficult to tell if Jackman is actually controlling any of them and why he’s doing so. Still, it’s a decent first teaser that gives a look at the robots and is probably effective at generating some excitement among some audiences.

The next trailer is much more informative. It opens with Jackman’s character ducking the phone call of someone he owes money to. We then meet a woman and her kid as she tells him about the great fighter Charlie used to be, though now he’s obviously fallen on harder times. The boy convinces Charlie to help him find a robot and teach him to box and he does so, but with a robot that’s not designed for all out fighting. Eventually, though, the two of them turn out a winner despite the robot not being a traditional fighter.After a series of losses things turn around and we see this is, ultimately, a redemption story for Charlie and everyone else involved.

Online

The movie’s official website starts by playing the trailer in full-screen video. After that finishes or after you click to skip it you’re taken to the main site, featuring the poster key art.

The first section in the left-hand navigation menu is the “Gallery,” which kind of tells you right off the bat the emphasis is on the visuals of the film. After that is “Downloads” which has several Wallpapers, a Screensaver and some IM Icons to save if you’re so inclined.

“Story” has a pretty decent overview of the movie’s plot. “Video” has the Teaser and Theatrical Trailers as well as a Featurette on the making of the movie. “Cast and Crew” has career biographies of the major players involved in the film’s making.

You can listen to snippets of songs featured in the movie in the “Soundtrack” section as well as buy it on iTunes.

After that is a link to “Join the WRB,” which there’s more information on below. Then there’s “Video Game” that takes you to the site for the official tie-in game. “Paper Models” is just what it sounds like – instructions on making your own paper version of the movie’s robots.

The Facebook page for the film brings over a lot of the official site’s features but adds some additional extended clips and more video as well as updates on the publicity and marketing.

An online-based ARG kicked off at the PAX East gaming convention, where attendees were given a paper version of the controller that’s used in the movie for the boxing matches. Each of those had a code on it that could be entered on the soon-to-be-launched site for the fictional World Robot Boxing organization. When the code was entered an achievement was unlocked and the user was prompted to register on the site to save that achievement, something that hinted at further tasks to come down the road.

The site did indeed continue to evolve, with more information (that you could unlock with additional codes, which were shown on the site) on the history of the WRB and how it was founded, became the most popular sport in the world and more.

That ARG continued into the E3 gaming conference where robot fighter trading cards were handed out that prompted people to visit a new branch of the WRB site where they could design their own robots.

After a brief period of inactivity things ramped back up in early September as more mailings were sent out that included cool movie swag as well as instructions on how to create their own robot avatars on the WRB site.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots started running in early September that of course focused on Jackman and his journey toward career redemption by building a plucky, less than sophisticated fighting robot that he would use to get back in the game. There’s nothing about the kid or any other relationships here, just lots of flashy visuals showing robots beating up on each other.

Outdoor advertising was done as well, with billboards that featured four of the robots from the movie with arms outstretched. And while other outdoor ads that were placed on the sides of buses were also run nothing matched the scale of having a Virgin America A320 plastered with an image of Atom.

There were a bunch of companies that were on board as promotional partners. HP, Virgin America and Bing were such companies, though the details on their partnerships are unclear. Partnerships with Del Taco and Royal Purple were more clear, the former running a sweepstakes giving away either restaurant or video game related prized and the latter running co-branded TV spots.

Media and Publicity

Some of the early press outside of marketing materials and such came in the form of a piece (Los Angeles Times, 1/28/11) that was meant to position the movie as a heartfelt and human drama and not just a sci-fi, robotic boxing movie that was more about the special effects than any sort of meditative story. Whether or not that positioning is accurate with the finished product remains to be seen but it’s an interesting early salvo in the press effort for the movie.

At the 2011 CinemaCon trade show for exhibitors Jackman and director Levy were in attendance to promote the film (Hollywood Reporter, 3/29/11) as part of Dreamworks’ overall presentation to attendees.

Stories began to circulate eventually that had the star and director talking about the tone of the film (Entertainment Weekly, 5/10/11) and how it’s not actually about the robots, who are just there to help the human characters along on their story.

Rumors began to swirl that Jackman would make a surprise, unscheduled appearance at Comic-Con 2011, something that did indeed happen (Los Angeles Times, 7/21/11) as he worked a crowd of folks that gathered in a parking lot to talk and answer questions.

The robots got some press in a piece (LAT, 9/1/11) that looked at the virtual fighting they engage in.

Overall

There’s a nugget of a great campaign here but I don’t feel like it’s fully realized. There’s some nice consistency between all the elements – it certainly feels like a nicely unified campaign from a branding perspective – but I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s no follow-through here, no final push to bring it home and put a bow on it.

But that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of energy thrown into the marketing. Everything comes off as very high-powered, something that’s exemplified by Jackman and the way he, as is usual, goes full throttle on promoting anything he’s involved in. Even that, though, can’t overcome the feeling that this is a summer movie that’s being marketed in the early fall, something that may wind up coming back to bite the film with audiences.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Smurfs

There’s a whole tradition of Saturday morning cartoons that kids today just aren’t familiar with. Back in the 80’s my younger brother and I would wake around 6AM (earlier than that and the news was still one) and bounce between CBS, NBC and ABC at various times to catch the best animated shows of the era. That included, at any given time, “Snorks,” “Thundar the Barbarian,” “Pac-Man,” “The Real Ghostbusters” and countless others. If available breakfast would be cold pizza from the night before and more than likely we would be arranging our Star Wars, G.I. Joe or Transformers figures while enjoying the best (a loose description) commercial broadcasting had to offer between 6AM and 10AM.

But the rise of cable channels and the increased insistence that all children’s programming be educational soon pushed these fun, though certainly commercial, programs off the air.

One of the stalwarts was certainly “Smurfs” and the characters from that series and the preceding comic strip have now graduated to the big screen with the appropriately titled The Smurfs. The story is pretty familiar while also catering to the latest trends in semi-animated kid’s fare. While trying to escape from Gargamel (Hank Azaria), a band of Smurfs falls through a portal that dumps them into present day New York City. There they latch on to two humans (Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Hays) who help to hide them while the three-apple-high visitors try to find a way back home.

The Posters

The first poster is every bit as simple as the first trailer. It just has Papa Smurf, Smurfette and the other Smurf looking away from the camera and over the cityscape of New York with the copy “Where the Smurf are we?” attempting to be clever by inserting “Smurf” in place of another word.

The next poster wasn’t a whole lot different, showing a bunch of Smurfs caught in a New York subway door and looking back at the camera. The fact that their little Smurf behinds are the main design component here should let most people know which direction the humor in the movie is coming from.

A series of character-specific one-sheets, each featuring one of the main cast of Smurfs, was released that had some sort of saying that doubled as a character description. Many of these were also later repurposed for outdoor and other advertising.

The Trailers

The first teaser trailer showed almost nothing. After an introduction in the Yahoo premiere from co-star Harris, the spot starts off with narration about something big coming to our world that’s accompanied by shots of world landmarks such as the Sphinx, The Eiffel Tower and Mount Rushmore all of a sudden turning blue. Then we cut to Times Square where three little Smurf heads pop up and just as suddenly duck back down from the screen. Finally we see the three of them hanging on for dear life to the roof-top ad on top of a cab, with the ad showing the movie’s web address. It’s an extreme teaser so it’s not like much was expected and it delivers along those expectations.

The first full length trailer doesn’t go much into the plot (whatever there might be of it, mostly just telling us that the Smurfs’ arrival is heralded by lots of mysterious lights over New York City. We’re quickly introduced to the humans they latch on to. We get a couple shots of Gargamel that show Azaria might be the best thing in the movie but mostly this one is about making a bunch of jokes using the word “smurf” in place of various bodily functions. Not much to go on here but anyone who really couldn’t get enough of the Chipmunks movies will likely find this right up their alley.

The next theatrical length trailer gives the audience a bit more information. We start out in the Smurfs’ village and see their idyllic lives which are interrupted by the presence of Gargamel, who’s finally found what he’s been searching for. All the Smurfs scatter, with one group falling through some sort of rift and winding up in our world. There they cause all sorts of problems in the lives of the humans who find them but still must continue to elude their nemesis who has followed them through to this dimension as well.

In addition to a bit more about the actual story (such as it is) this trailer also shows off how “hip” and self-aware the movie is, with jokes – primarily from Harris – about how they can’t just use “smurf” as a replacement for all sorts of words or how annoying their little song is. It’s not a terrible trailer but you definitely get a sense of the movie’s attitude so your perception of it will be based on your tolerance for this stuff.

Online

The movie’s official website opens by asking if you’d like to watch the trailer again. There are also promotions there for the Smurf Dance Party video game, the Smurf Village iPhone/iPad app and other Sony DVDs. There’s also a link to BeSmurfed, which lets you dress up a Smurf of your choice and then attach a message to the image that you can send to a friend.

Once you Enter the Site the navigation there is actually quite fun. You can access most things from the menu at the top but you can also control a Smurf and have him run or walk to the left or right to hit all those content areas as well.

First up is “Videos” which has both all three Trailers to watch and there are a whopping nine options to choose from in the “Games” section that range from regular games to quizzes that will test your Smurf knowledge and help get you informed.

“About” just has a synopsis to catch up on the plot. Then you can see what actors voice what characters in the “Cast and Crew” section but not view anything about them. Nine stills from the movie can be found in the “Gallery” and “Downloads” has Wallpapers, a Twitter Skin, a Soundboard of audio clips from the movie and Profile Pics that are really just the movie’s posters all collected.

The Facebook page for the film invites you to Like it in order to access the same sort of stuff you can find on the official site and in addition has a Wall full of publicity and marketing updates as well as various media assets. Twitter is similar with the updates.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV advertising began in earnest in mid-May with a spot that ran during the penultimate episode of the current “American Idol” season and which was, obviously, heavy on the singing components of the movie’s story. It also showed there’s a Katy Perry “inside” joke that makes me want to smack someone around quite a bit.

A couple different approaches were taken with the outdoor advertising. On the one hand there were pretty traditional ads that showed one or more of the Smurfy characters. On the other there were bus-side and other ads that looked like warning signs, letting people know the Smurfs were on the loose and not to be distracted by their cuteness, a line that’s stolen from the trailers.

One of the first bit of hype-building promotions was announced way back in December of 2008. Cosmetics company Too Faced launched a line of Smurfette-branded style products for women  to enjoy either straight-faced or in ironic fashion.

Macy’s was also an early promotional partner, announcing that Smurfs would be a big part of their 2010 Thanksgiving Day Parade and that stores would feature exclusive merchandise as well as signage for the movie.

Media and Publicity

Aside from a few “leaked” design mock-ups of the characters that had appeared now and again the first major volley in the publicity campaign was a story in USA Today (6/16/10) that gave readers an overview of what the movie’s story would be, what situations the characters would find themselves in and when the first teaser trailer could be expected. That story also included the first official publicity still from the movie, giving people their first sanctioned look at the Smurfs as they would look in the movie as well as making it clear the story took place in modern day New York City. Of course the secondary explosions around this story on various movie blogs likely dwarfed the scale of the original media hit so this definitely got people talking in advance of that trailer.

The tie-in toys and other products for the movie were also among those debuting or otherwise making a big show at the annual Toy Fair convention (Hollywood Reporter, 2/10/11).

As release neared the studio tried to get the fans involved in the marketing a bit by declaring June 25th Global Smurfs Day (New York Times, 6/12/11) and encouraging those fans to gather in cities across the country dressed as Smurfs in an effort to set a world record for such an activity.

Smurfette even took on the role of high fashion model in a spread for Harper’s Bazaar (June, 2011). And the Smurfs became the focal point of a new campaign from New York’s tourism company, which announced “Smurfs Week” with activities at retailers and other locations throughout the city.

Overall

What strikes me most about this campaign is that it’s almost 100% geared toward kids and not at all toward people of my generation who grew up with the cartoon. Unless you count by proxy as the studio seeks to make sure parents know that this movie is basically the same as Alvin & The Chipmunks from a few years ago and so, depending on your parenting decisions, suitable for the little ones.

Other than that it works so hard to be inoffensive that it winds up being just the opposite, with the only redeeming factor apparently being Azaria’s scene-chewing performance as Gargamel. There’s little here for anyone above the age of 12 to latch on to or find interesting aside from that, not even from a morbid curiosity perspective. It’s almost identical to not only Alvin but all the other recent movies featuring humans interacting with computer-animated cartoon characters and so holds little interest to anyone who knows any better.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 07/28/11 – NBC Universal signed on for lots of Smurfs-related promotions, inserting characters into shows on NBC and the variety of cable networks it owns and running other Smurfy stuff.
  • 07/29/11 – Apparently the movie is also the latest McDonald’s Happy Meal tie-in.
  • 07/29/11 – Christopher Campbell at Spout looks at the rampant product placement in the movie, including for what looks to be the biggest shill for New York itself.

Movie Marketing Madness: Cowboys and Aliens

Ever since 1991′s release of Unforgiven the Western movie genre has been forever altered. All of a sudden the stakes were higher, the emotions deeper and the overall gravitas just that much greater. Eastwood’s movie took a genre of film that had been a symbol for the American male ideal of stoicism and grit and showed its dark, painful underbelly. Westerns since then have also been, to varying degrees, about showing the emotional impact actions have on characters and not so much about the simple virtues of defending the weak and doing what’s right.

That’s not to say filmmakers can’t still have a little fun with the genre now and again.

Based on the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Cowboys & Aliens is a mash-up of the traditional Western with elements of science-fiction/fantasy, something you can probably get from the title alone. The story follows Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), who awakes one day to no memory of who he is or where he’s been but with a strange glowing blue gauntlet around one wrist. Stumbling in to town he eventually crosses paths with Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a wealthy rancher who more or less runs the town and who has long-lived gripes with Lonergan. As Dolarhyde is about to take him away to exact his revenge, alien ships appear in the sky. It’s eventually reasoned that these ships have something to do with the mysterious disappearances of folk in the area and may hold the key to unlocking Lonergan’s memory. Together with Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) the two rivals must work together to solve the problems that plague both men and maybe do a little good in the process.

The Posters

The first poster certainly let the audience know what it would be in for even while the specifics were still vague. A lone gunman stands in the desert with his back mostly turned to the camera, a Winchester rifle in one hand and some sort of crazy blue-glowy high-tech thingamajig wrapped around his other forearm.

It’s a nice and atmospheric teaser poster that is all about making it clear the audience that the story is a mix of two genres, Western and science-fiction. Oddly, none of the movie’s stars are listed anywhere on the one-sheet though at the top of the poster we are told this is coming from “The director of Iron Man,” so it’s clear that it’s being sold based on the public’s affinity for that movie in lieu of this being a franchise entry itself.

The second poster took the more straightforward approach of trying to sell the movie based on its stars. So Craig and Ford are front and center, this time facing the camera and looking above it into the far distance, with cowboy hats on both of them and the weird glowy gun strapped to Craig’s wrist. It too highlights the fact that this comes “From the director of Iron Man” and looks consistent with the first in how the design and colors are used as well, making it a nice second entry into the poster aspect of the campaign.

A final poster would include Wilde and for some reason opt to ditch the cowboy hats, something that results in Ford’s hair looking kind of ridiculous. It’s an odd choice that seems to be about downplaying the Western aspects of the story, but not fully since Wilde is clearly in Western garb and the two guys are still sporting old fashioned pistols. It’s the weakest of the bunch, unfortunately

The Trailers

The first trailer for the film starts out with a jolt as Craig’s character comes to in the middle of nowhere, a strange object around his wrist. When he’s accosted by a group of ruffians he dispatches them handily before heading in to town, where he encounters Wilde, who he doesn’t remember, and the law man who’s looking for him. Also looking for him is Ford and his group of men. And that’s when things get weird as what appears to be a spaceship appears in the sky and starts blowing things up.

We eventually see Craig take down one of those ships with the doohickey that he’s wearing but the rest of the trailer is a little back and forth. The action cuts between the showdown in town and what appears to be a journey Craig and Ford have to go on since we see a couple shots of them on their own.

What the trailer does well is make the audience say “Wow…that looks cool.” There’s just enough of a story to get people interested but not enough to ruin anything. And there are just enough special effects to sell the movie as an action film. Some of the story’s conflict is established and overall it’s a very effective teaser.

The second full trailer (which debuted during an episode of “American Idol”) once again opens with an amnesiac Lonergan waking up in the desert, unsure of who he is, where he comes from and what that glowing thing on his wrist is. He’s thrown in jail and Dolarhyde tries to take him, which is when the alien ships start to fly around overhead, with the mysterious glowing wristband seeming to be the only thing that can shoot them down. The ships capture some of the townsfolk and the two, along with Ella, decide to work together to try and rescue them. Finding the survivors becomes not only the primary mission but also seems to hold the key to Lonergan unlocking his memory problems and discovering who he really is. So we get lots of shots once again of fast-moving ships in the sky as horses ride along the ground and we’re told there won’t be any survivors.

This trailer has a little more story background in it but it’s still primarily about showing off the movie’s cool visuals and playing up the slick sense of humor that the film seems to have, something that’s most clearly displayed in the last sequence that’s shown. It’s fast moving and has the same sort of rock-and-roll beat that Iron Man’s first trailers did, so it’s clear that the trailers are making the same sort of appeal that those did.

A third and much shorter – just over a minute in length – trailer was released that only hinted at the mystery of the story in favor of lots of shots of alien ships, including what I think was the first look inside one of the ships as the cowboys try to find the people who have been abducted.

Online

The movie’s official website loads with,as the primary element, an invitation to watch the TV spot that debuted during the “Spike Guys Choice Awards” (more on that later) or view some Images, Video or Downloads right from the front page here. There are also prompts down at the bottom to do all sorts of things, including play a Coke-sponsored game, download an iPhone game or the special movie-themed Hipstamatic Facebook app and more, including an invitation to check out the conversation unspooling on Socialrama, an aggregation site.

Once you go ahead and Enter the Site the first section of content (after the alien ship crashes to earth) is “About the Film” which has a pretty good synopsis in The Story, lots of information about the people involved in “Cast and Crew” and then more information you can download in the “Production Notes.”

“Videos” has both the Theatrical and Teaser trailers, the Spike TV spot exclusive as well as a few other TV Spots and a featurette to watch. There are about 15 stills in the “Gallery” from the film’s production. A collection of Buddy Icons, Wallpapers and even a Twitter Skin can be found in the “Downloads” section.

The “Games and Features” has two things: The Landscapes, Lawmen and Outlaws feature is just another way to grab some wallpapers for your desktop while “Absolution Training Grounds” is a shooting game that has you taking out various alien ships.

There was also a tie-in site launched that let people send an old-fashioned telegram for free to someone with a customized message, something that’s a nice twist on the idea of encouraging people to mention a movie to their friends and which usually takes place on social networks nowadays.

The movie’s Facebook page ports over a lot of the official site’s features to its front page along with lots of graphics promoting some of the corporate marketing partners like Coke and 7-Eleven. Outside of that there are plenty of photos and videos and marketing updates, many of which are also published to the movie’s Twitter profile.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The movie was one of the first to be pegged as being supported by a commercial during 2011′s Super Bowl, news that broke when Favreau announced on his Twitter account that he was cutting the spot.

That Super Bowl spot was pretty cool. It starts off in much the same way as the trailer, by showing Lonergan being confronted in a bar. After dispatching those who would arrest him the aliens start appearing and we see lots of ships flying overhead and snatching people up. It certainly plays up the action aspects of the film, which isn’t surprising. It’s fast-paced and all that, showing off to the broad audience that tuned in for the game a movie that looked like it was trying to live in two worlds. What’s unsure is how that then translates to audience interest.

Further TV commercials would play up the action aspects of the movie while still hinting at the missing identity story, with the first one even giving one of the first looks at the mysterious aliens that make up the movie’s title. More commercials would continue in this vein, including one that ran during the much-watched season finale of “American Idol.”

Then another, this time debuting during the SpikeTV “Guys Choice Awards” would make the movie look tougher than some of the previous had, with more footage of Craig’s character actually being the badass that everyone around him seems to think he is, something the previous trailers and spots haven’t emphasized very much.

There was quite a bit of outdoor advertising done as well, mostly with images of Craig aiming his wrist gauntlet gun, something that obviously became the most recognizable image of the campaign.

On the promotional front there was a partnership with 7-Eleven (MediaPost, 7/5/11), which developed a new “Alienade” flavor of Slurpee and offered “Wrist Blaster” cups that actually lit up with the same mysterious glowing light from the movie and featured the three main characters. The promotion there was supported with radio and other media advertising.

Coca-Cola also was a sponsor of a movie-themed augmented reality game that awarded $5,000 in gold to the winner of a related sweepstakes. And photo app Hipstamatic offered a movie-specific version to users for a limited time.

Media and Publicity

Outside of the casting news, the first bit of news came (as was the case with Iron Man 2) from director Favreau tweeting out a picture from the set, in this case an image of Craig in costume, though he’s heavily backlit so you can’t make out his face or many other details.

A fuller view of Craig in costume came when the movie appeared at Comic-Con 2010, an appearance that included director Favreau’s bringing out both Harrison Ford and Craig, neither of whom had been announced and neither of whom had been to the convention before.

The release of the first poster and trailer generated the next swell in publicity about the movie, though with that came a bit of discussion about the movie’s apparent confusion-inducing nature. It seems audiences at some screenings where the trailer was shown started laughing (New York Times, 11/30/10) while the trailer played, seemingly thinking the title “Cowboys & Aliens” meant some sort of genre-mixing spoof or comedy. That audience confusion (initially noted by Aris at AdAge) was, in some respects, expected and much of the media outreach that’s been done has been to convey the fact that there are no tongues in cheeks in the film but instead that it plays both genres as seriously as possible, something Favreau has noted in numerous interviews.

A good chunk of the movie, about 40 minutes, was screened at the 2010 installment of Harry Knowles’ Butt-Numb-A-Thon festival, where it picked up some mixed and some fantastic buzz for its look and feel as well as its performances. That screening even produced legitimate press stories (Los Angeles Times, 2/5/11) about how Favreau, Howard and others considered that screening the “Iowa caucus” for the film, especially since the property itself was coming in with pretty low public recognition in the public.

A panel for the movie was held at WonderCon (THR, 3/31/11), the little brother to the bigger Comic-Con, where Favreau held forth on the film for the assembled geeks and press and showed off about 10 minutes of the film to the assembled crowd. The cast and crew continued to talk to the press (LAT, 4/25/11) about the tone of the film, how Ford was brought into the project and more about the crossing of the genre streams. Chats between the filmmakers and the press continued when Favreau dropped in to the Hero Complex Fest and continued to establish his geek credentials.

While it was certain that the movie would have some sort of big presence at 2011 Comic-Con it was nonetheless big news when it was announced (THR, 6/13/11) that the it would have its world premiere at San Francisco.

Overall

I can’t stop thinking of the campaign for Inception from last year whenever I’m looking at the marketing for Cowboys & Aliens. In both cases the movie itself is an original story (Yes, C&A is an adaptation but it’s not a sequel, superhero movie, franchise reboot or some such like that). But also in both cases the marketing has emphasized the fact that it comes from the director of a popular franchise, thereby attempting to create some sort of familiar ground for the audience. “You liked Iron Man so you should feel right at home here” is the message that’s being conveyed by making Favreau so prominent in the campaign in various ways.

Aside from that this is a fun campaign that, even with stars like Ford and Craig, still has a long way to go to convince people it’s worth their time and money to see. Genre mash-ups are notoriously hard to pull off and can confuse moviegoers who may not be completely on board with the conceit of the film, finding not enough staples of either kind of movie to fully latch on to and writing off the whole shooting match as too confusing. While film critics might love it and completely get what it’s going for because they are down with all those conventions the average moviegoer may just want to be entertained.

That being said, I think this campaign does a decent job of making sure the focus remains squarely on the adventure components of the film’s story, making the case that regardless of what genre talk there might be that this is a fast-paced ride with a mystery at its core, something that’s more understandable to the larger audience and therefore hopefully more attractive.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 07/29/11 – Again we have Mashable taking a look at the use of social media in the campaign.
  • 08/02/11 – 7-Eleven was also chosen as a promotional partner for the movie’s tie-in video game.