Lessons from Hollywood

Posted January 17, 2018, under Gee Whillickers!

Can we just talk for a moment about how beautiful and well-executed the ad campaign is for the American Gods show? We think it’s appropriate to take a moment to bask in its glory.

If you’re unfamiliar with the title: The show is based on a 2001 novel by Neil Gaiman. The Wiki describes it as, “A blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on the mysterious and taciturn Shadow.”

We’re not going to get into an in-depth discussion; suffice to say, this ad campaign perfectly evokes the themes and beats of the story. It drums up excitement from existing fans of the property, while certainly attracting the interest of newcomers.

While not everyone can wield an ad campaign at the level of the studios, there are yet lessons that apply to every level of marketing reach.

A New Class of Superhero

Quirky, thy name is Wade Wilson. The ad campaign for one of 2016’s absolute breakout hit movies was nothing if not of a tone with the movie and the character. Insouciant, subversive, and self-aware, the Deadpool movie campaign gleefully broke through the fourth wall and mooned the audience.

This ad plays up the romantic aspect of the film — which, if you haven’t seen Deadpool, just know that said romance is…somewhat unconventional.

This is one of the tamer ads. Honest!

But if the film needed a secret weapon, they had it in the form of star Ryan Reynolds. A decade-long champion for the film, when it came to ensuring the film’s success, Reynolds was all-in for the maximum effort. Not only did he take a direct hand with the print ad campaign, he also appeared in-character all over the Internet, making cameos in YouTube videos, iTunes ads, and social media.

Then he came back and did it all over again for the DVD release.

Needless to say, all the hard work was effective. Deadpool brought in the #1 domestic opening weekend earnings for an R-rated movie, ever — and when all the dust had settled, was second only to Passion of the Christ in (R-rated) theatrical earnings. In total, this little film with a production budget of $58 million had a worldwide gross of $783,112,979.

Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds with the Fox Studios marketing team.

Join the Club

Premiering in 2009, Glee was an odd, mishmash show. Involving the dramedic antics of a fictitious high school “glee club,” it combined the usual coming-of-age and personality clash stories one would expect of a high school show, while being a backstage and onstage musical showbiz romp. The show amassed a huge and devoted following over its six-year run.

That all started with an inspired ad campaign.

Right away, the tone of the show is on display. It’s a character-driven show whose light heart is revealed by bright colors, and you know it’s about the scrappy underdogs because of the “L-for-loser” motif.

You Know You’re Hooked

The undisputed king (or queen, if you like) of high-concept, yet nuanced marketing is HBO’s True Blood. The show ran for seven seasons, and the ad campaign ran with it. The show’s central conceit is that vampires not only walk among us, but have (metaphorically) come out of the shadows. So, the campaign’s hook was to market to those “actual” vampires.

This includes very realistic advertising for the eponymous product.

But that’s not all. The crown jewel of the campaign came when HBO got other brands to join the fun.

These included job finder site Monster.com, GEICO insurance, Harley Davidson motorcycles, Gillette shaving products, and MINI Cooper.

Tuning In

Say what you like about “the industry,” those studios have some very sharp people working for them. Missteps obviously do occur, and no campaign can make a bad show good — when they do well, everyone notices. It’s worthwhile to acknowledge and learn from those times when an advertiser knocks it out of the park.

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