There is much more to the production of a film than just creating the film itself. One major challenge is the marketing campaign to get audiences to see the movie.  A lot of money is sunk into the trailers, posters, TV spots, promotional material, and merchandising to ensure that the film will have a considerable audience on opening night. Even recognizable brands like Walt Disney and Marvel Studios pay top dollar to ensure that their latest films stay in the public eye. The latest released film, Spider-Man: Homecoming, may be one of the most controversial since the misleading trailers of Iron Man 3.  With Sony taking over promotional duties this time around, it seems to be appropriate to take a look back at the bumpy road that led to the third incarnation of everyone’s favorite web-slinger.

Before jumping into the analysis of the film’s promotional marketing campaign, there is one important aspect that may offer an insight into the relevance of marketing. In simple terms, there is the distinction between Push and Pull marketing. The former is established to bring a product to the customer, which is commonly used in stores to sell Blu-rays for example, while cinemas have to rely on Pull marketing techniques. They need to bring people into the cinema and create an awareness for these films.  Hardcore fans of franchises will actively keep an eye on releases, but the general populous needs reminders that will motivate them to leave the comfort of watching shows on their couch in order to visit the cinema.  Homecoming‘s investment in marketing was a massive $140 million, which even tops Marvel Studios’ investment of $80 million for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and may even top that of their last film in the franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Posters Galore: Effective Simplicity & Chaotic Photoshop

Marvel Studios has always had a rather bumpy history when it comes to their overall poster designs. In the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they tended to stick to the usage of photoshop so that most of the important characters are visible on the main poster. This trend has spread throughout most major blockbuster films for quite some time and for a simple reason: it is cheap. Films nowadays push out quite a lot of posters for their individual films that need to grab someone’s attention.  The classic photoshop posters that feature the “floating head” effect tends to show the many actors involved with the film.  This allows the general movie-going audience to quickly see who is in the film and get a quick glance at the direction of the plot.  Due to its overuse, this design is easily recognizable as a poster for a blockbuster film, so it is not too surprising that they still stick with it.

One has to make a distinction between the different varieties of posters that are published. Their publication can be split into three distinct phases.  The first is a teaser poster that correlates with the first trailer.  This is mainly due to the distribution companies wanting viewers to remember the release date of the film.  Its main goal creatively speaking is to establish a feel for the film and highlight the position of the main character in the film. There was promotional material featuring Spidey hanging from a web upside-down while saluting to the camera, but due to its main use at fairs, one would consider the true public teaser poster to be the ones seeing Spider-Man in his home environment of New York City.  It highlights his distinct connection with that very city, the Avengers tower reminds the audience of the connection with the overall MCU, and the yellow jacket with his high school logo sets the main setting for the character.  These aspects truly pushed the character into the forefront and highlights that this is a Spider-Man film while downplaying the overall MCU connection.

Sadly, this simplicity that worked so well for the first few posters was slightly halted by the trailers that heavily used Tony Stark’s presence to push the fact that this is indeed created by Marvel Studios. This also influenced the direction of the second phase, which is where the dreaded photoshop posters commonly are published. This phase is pretty much the official push building up to the film’s release. Sony had a great start and ended up going a few steps too far with these designs, as suddenly they pushed Iron Man full force.  In general, it makes sense from a marketing standpoint, as the most financially successful MCU films from Marvel featured Tony Stark in some capacity.  This phase of posters focuses on truly allowing the general audience to decide if they want to see this film or not. It also is the time we get our look at the classic character posters that highlight the main players throughout a film.

Ironically, when the poster featuring Stark the most (the one that had the photoshopped floating heads) was considered quite controversial, Sony got even more publicity. There is an old saying, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”  The photoshop poster certainly fulfilled that role.  All these posters led to the final phase that is the simple build up to the final release. The focus here is to not only build up attention but also sell posters in cinemas. Offer them as goodies for those attending premieres or the rather expensive IMAX showings. Here they hire some talented artists to offer their own take on the film and this luckily gave Homecoming some of its best posters. The film’s main villain, Vulture, was getting more and more attention so one poster highlighted Peter Parker’s life as a normal high schooler and a superhero, as well as the inevitable challenge he would have to face. A personal favorite does a tie-in to the overall “Look, Iron Man is in this film too!” narrative Sony was going for, but uses simplicity to highlight their relationship shown throughout the trailers.

There is an odd aspect to the overall poster campaign. Some posters stick out for not only having great designs but also perfectly summarizing the main feeling one can expect from this film.  On the other hand, the photoshop on that one controversial poster is extremely off-putting, even for blockbuster poster standards.  There is this duality between wanting to focus on a pure Spider-Man film, while also highlighting the fact that Marvel Studios is involved with the film and banking on Robert Downey Jr.‘s star power.  Sony certainly learned from Marvel’s playbook by getting more creative posters out and using exclusive releases, such as the one recently revealed by Nerdist, to get the attention out much more effectively.

Trailer Issues: Sony’s Classic Strategy of Over Saturation

While posters grab people’s attention when they enter cinemas or are waiting at a bus stop, what truly gets people to visit a cinema or buy a Blu-ray are the trailers.  Similar to the posters there is a three-stage process that builds up towards the film’s official release.  There is a certain formula to how films are marketed and poster releases tend to correlate with trailers. This trend has its origin in the way media planning is commonly handled.  Creating awareness requires more than just one medium, which is why stuidos push a combination of trailers through TV, YouTube, and cinema, in addition to posters in the so-called “out-of-home” and digital media format.  These elements are essential to ensure a wide-spread reach.  In reality, this builds up interest towards the product that is being pushed so that an audience is effectively pulled into a cinema.

Trailers in general start with the most important one of all, the teaser trailer that brings a public awareness to the existence of a film. Not many people follow productions actively.  Outside of an announcement from the production studio, such as the one made by Marvel when they announced they would co-produce the films featuring Spider-Man, Studios haven’t given much information at this point.   That is why a teaser trailer plays an essential role in making the public aware this film exists and when it will be released in cinemas.

Sony went for a route that seems traditional for Marvel Studios’ productions, as the first teaser trailer was officially revealed during Jimmy Kimmel Live about six months before its official release. Given the July release date, they could push it out before Christmas, which is the high season from a marketing perspective.  A show that already has an existing audience is the perfect place to push out the trailer, instead of just throwing the film out without much attention.  The teasers for the teaser trailer, which is a rather bizarre trend from the last few years, tied it into the events of last year’s Captain America: Civil War and highlighted his MCU connection.  In the trailer, we get to see Stark talking to Spidey to highlight the connection even more, which was also the main point made by the teaser posters that were released in tandem.  This was a great introduction to the main focus of the film, a high school-focused look at Spidey’s life while being mentored by Tony Stark.

The second trailer came as the release was just about three months away.

The first trailer focuses more on creating an atmosphere and feel of the film, while the second one tries to offer the first look at the plot one can expect from the film. Here lied the largest mishap from Sony during the entire campaign.  They gave away the three-act structure of the film so that they could push Tony Stark and the villain to the forefront.  It does not truly reveal every single aspect of the film but this is similar to how Sony treated The Amazing Spider-Man 2 back in 2014.  This approach carried over in the way they handled short snippets from the film in TV spots.  This oversharing tends to be a strategy that Sony relies on mainly due to their over-reliance as a studio on the biggest IPs they own, Spider-Man and James Bond.  Given rumors of Sony’s potential bankruptcy, it is not too surprising that they want to make as much money as possible.

The final trailer is a summary of the first two, it offers a closer look at the overall flair of the film and offers more insight into the film’s trailer.  In general, it actually would have been a much better trailer to release after the teaser.  As the final trailer, its job is to finalize in the audience’s mind if they will go to the theatre or not.  Tt makes sense that a combination of both elements would get the most attention, while also adding a higher pace to the editing would get more attention overall.

Quite a few spots were also released, featuring more footage, even before the third and final main trailer was released.  Instead of keeping many aspects of the film’s footage for exclusive showings, something Marvel Studios tends to rely on, they released the four minutes from the start of the film online. In general, Sony has an issue with over saturating the market. This may also lead into the fact why Sony is rushing out films featuring famous characters from the web slingers rogue gallery, such as the Venom film, to bank on this success.

Outside of the Box: Promotional Surprises

While Sony’s approach to their trailers and posters have ranged from great to questionable, they certainly did not go cheap when it came to promotional tie-ins.  This gave the director Jon Watts the opportunity to direct an ad spot for the company Dell and a promotional tie-in to the ESPN NBA Finals that featured Robert Downey Jr.Tom Holland, and Jon Favreau in their respective roles. This one was a highlight for many viewers, as it offered more sequences with their favorite characters, but did not spoil any important plot points from the film.  In a way, it felt like an extension of the original Marvel Studios One-Shots and could be included in the official home release.

This promotional material not only was a great way to tie in to the importance of Parker’s relationship with New York City and Stark, but also highlighted how storytelling can be used to further advance marketing.  Jeffrey Godsick, the group chief behind Sony’s partnerships, certainly seems optimistic about how these kinds of publicity stunts will be handled in the future.

“We have been evolving our promotional campaigns to go well beyond the 30-second spot. With longer form pieces of content, digital games and activations, and publicity stunts and events, the Spider-Man: Homecoming program best reflects this evolution.”

Actors can function in and out of character for these types of ads.  (This can backfire, like the time when The Lorax, an anti-pollution character become a spokesperson for a car.)  A positive Spidey example is the Audi “Driver’s Test”, which not only garnered a considerable audience of 4.1 million but also has a 99% positive response.  This is another ad that goes beyond the classic 30′ second video, lasting about two minutes.  These two minute shorts are not only an additional way to expand upon characters, but also to give viewers something memorable before the film comes out.

What makes this TV spot stick out even more is the fact that it also functions as a natural extension to one of film’s oldest forms of promotion, product placement.  The Audi A8 was also featured in the film, as Jon Favreau‘s Happy chauffeurs Parker in the very car he then ends up with during the driving test.  The exact same approach was also used to highlight another brand new product, a Dell gaming laptop.  Promotional material went beyond just posters and trailers, such as Pizza Hut featuring famous character drawings as part of the box design or a famous scene from the film being replicated between two parking garages.  This also does not include the countless toys and merchandise that are created for the film by Funko, Hasbro, and other toy companies.  Spider-Man has proven to be one of the most popular characters when it came to toy sales, earning approximately $1.3 billion a year.  The fact that Sony made the mistake of selling the merchandising rights back to Marvel may not only have played a role in why Marvel was willing to create a film they do not earn money off of, but also why they would want to push the character out as a new mainstay of the MCU.

Misfires Mixed With Creativity

Overall, the Spider-Man: Homecoming campaign has been a rather fascinating one.  It does in fact show a lot of potential for having rather creative ways to establish cross-promotional opportunities, especially with the Audi and NBA tie-ins.  Some of the posters showed great promise, especially the visually well-done teaser posters evoking the tone of the film and highlighting the overall MCU connection through the usage of the Avengers tower.  This strategy of using the Marvel landmark was also used by the Netflix shows promotional materials.  Sadly, the over abundance of footage used in TV spots and trailers also hurts their attempts at keeping some potential surprises for the movie-going audience.

Even the over saturation of footage did not seem to hurt Sony’s success, as it is nabbed a $117 million domestic debut.  The reception of the rather badly photoshop poster helped boost awareness of the film and Spider-Man always had a great draw for audiences overall.  It must be noted that the campaign was less focused on classic advertisement, which was one downfall for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and tended to use promotional tie-ins to attempt a stronger storytelling approach.  This may be a future direction for Marvel Studios in general, as they would create unique advertisements that could later be used as one-shots.  Even with its many controversies, Homecoming had an effective campaign that pushed forward the notion that this is a new and younger Peter Parker, built on his MCU connection from Civil War,  and did something unique to distract from some of the more questionable directions it took.  Sony and Marvel Studios’ partnership may be a jumping point for a brand new direction of what we can expect for future MCU marketing campaigns.

Source: Deadline