Ryan Reynolds on a Bear Rug, Milo Ventimiglia's Butt and Hollywood's 10 Best Marketing Campaigns of 2016

7:00 AM 10/20/2016

by Pamela McClintock, Bryn Elise Sandberg, and Kate Stanhope

Ahead of the Clio Key Art Awards, a look at which films and TV shows pulled off the most memorable promotional stunts this year — including ones for 'Deadpool,' 'This Is Us' and 'Mr. Robot.'

Photofest

Everybody takes the credit when a movie is a hit, but it's always one group that takes the blame for a flop — the marketers. This year, in advance of the Oct. 20 Clio Key Art Awards (which THR once again is co-sponsoring), editors took a look at the 10 best campaigns of the past 12 months, both on the big screen and TV, and the marketing mavens behind them. What made them the best? The ads grabbed viewers' attention, piqued their interest and, ultimately, got them to open their wallets for a ticket or subscription.

  • Deadpool (Fox)

    Marc Weinstock, president of domestic distribution; Ryan Reynolds, star and producer

    Joe Lederer/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

    The campaign for Deadpool was as saucy and audacious as the movie itself — including the instantly iconic poster of the raunchy superhero, played by Ryan Reynolds, on a bearskin rug (a riff on Burt Reynolds' famous Cosmopolitan centerfold). "With a lot of superhero films, the first hint of whether fans think you're doing it right is the costume reveal. We knew we couldn't do a typical one," says Weinstock. A Deadpool billboard with a poop emoji was another big win. "Every piece of content served a purpose," says Weinstock. But perhaps the biggest secret weapon was Reynolds himself. "I could email Marc at 3 in the morning with marketing pitches and ideas, and somehow a response would come back within 10 or 15 minutes," says the actor, who spent more than a decade trying to get Deadpool into production.That viral video of Deadpool trick-or-treating with real kids on Halloween? Reynolds' idea. The movie went on to gross $782.6 million worldwide, a record for an R-rated film.

  • The Jungle Book (Disney)

    Ricky Strauss, president of marketing; Asad Ayaz, executive vp marketing; Kristina Hernandez, vp creative film services

    Courtesy of Disney

    Not everyone wanted director Jon Favreau to make a live-action Jungle Book — the original 1967 film (the last Walt Disney supervised before his death) is considered sacred by fans. Disney had to convince moviegoers it wasn't a mere reboot, but a tentpole for everyone. "It was the only movie we advertised in the Super Bowl," says Strauss. "We wanted to make it cool." And Ayaz and Hernandez created print materials showcasing the film's technology and scope. And to soothe the concerns of die-hard Disney fans, Favreau and members of the cast shared exclusive footage at the D23 Expo to a standing ovation. "Doing right by the fans and yet expanding the audience was the biggest challenge," Ayaz says. The campaign succeeded, with Jungle Book grossing a stunning $966 million worldwide.

  • Sausage Party (Sony)

    Josh Greenstein, president of worldwide marketing and distribution; Elias Plishner, executive vp worldwide digital marketing

    Courtesy of Sony Pictures

    Selling an R-rated animated comedy about a talking hot dog voiced by Seth Rogen had its own particular set of challenges. But Greenstein and his team were able to make the film a sleeper hit (it earned $133 million). "The goal was to elevate the marketing to emulate what's a very smart, subversive movie," says Greenstein. Sony and Annapurna Pictures cooked up a screening of an unfinished print at SXSW to strong buzz, and targeted younger moviegoers with a social media blitzkrieg (online advertising was a full 50 percent of the marketing spend). This allowed the studio to give broader play to red-band trailers and design creative materials for specific audiences and platforms. Case in point: Plishner made sure Sausage Party ads popping up on mobile devices had subtitles since many people keep their phones on silent.

  • The Secret Life of Pets (Universal)

    Josh Goldstine and Michael Moses, co-presidents of worldwide marketing; Gail Harrison, president of marketing and branding, Illumination Entertainment

    Courtesy of Universal Pictures

    Universal and Illumination Entertainment crafted a marketing campaign that targeted pet lovers of all ages, versus just focusing on families. They also blanketed theaters with trailers (shown on more screens than any title in the studio's history) in order to get noticed in a field crowded with animated tentpoles about animals (i.e., Zootopia and Finding Dory). "We knew we had to hustle and really break through," says Goldstine. A massive promotional partnership with PetSmart — shepherded by Harrison — and ads during the NBA playoffs also helped this animated tale about a little lost dog gross more than $858 million.

  • Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.)

    Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and distribution; Blair Rich, president of worldwide marketing; Massey Rafani, executive vice president/creative director

    Photofest

    Given the drama during production — and the withering reviews before release — marketing this movie could have been a suicide mission all its own. But moviegoers were so intrigued by Warners' bombastic campaign that they ignored the critics and made Suicide Squad a hit (it grossed $744 million worldwide). The first trailer, featuring a cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," was a sensation (tie-ins to the soundtrack would remain a big part of the campaign). "At the end of the day, it really comes down to how something makes you feel. And that trailer told you in 2.5 minutes exactly what the attitude of the movie was," says Kroll, the recent recipient of the American Cinematheque's Sid Grauman Award for her contributions to the the film industry.  Character materials for Suicide Squad also went viral, including a poster revealing Jared Leto’s Joker and another of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn clad in hot pants. Rich guided a massive digital component, including Harley Quinn tattoo parlor stunts at SXSW, Coachella and Comic-Con.

  • Mr. Robot (USA)

    Team led by Alexandra Shapiro, executive vp marketing & digital

    Michael Parmelee/USA Network

    USA launched its new brand — "We the Bold" — with this computer-hacking drama, taking a cue from the show's edgy atmospherics. "Once we had Robot, it helped us to crystallize what our new development filter was," says Shapiro. The network also worked closely with series creator Sam Esmail on marketing, collaborating on an Easter egg campaign in which clues planted in the episode trailers paid off in the show. "You have to give back to your fans if you expect them to engage with you," says Shapiro.

  • The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)

    Stephanie Gibbons, president of marketing; Sally Daws, executive vp marketing; John Varvi, executive vp on-air promotions

    Courtesy of Prashant Gupta/FX

    The big challenge with selling The People v. O.J. Simpson? Promising viewers something they hadn't seen in any of the hundreds of hours of news footage and live courtroom coverage. "This was a narrative that defined the term 'overexposed,' " says Gibbons. The tagline she came up with leaned right into the problem: "You don't know the half of it." One teaser trailer started with the familiar helicopter view of the Ford Bronco chase, then zoomed in and took viewers into the car.

  • Stranger Things (Netflix)

    Kelly Bennett, chief marketing officer

    Netflix

    Netflix figured out who the audience would be — elusive millennials — and aimed its campaign at them with targeted mobile pushes. An early look at the first eight minutes of the creepy sci-fi drama was posted on YouTube and Twitch, a gamer haven. Later, Netflix released a VR experience that let viewers jump into a 360-degree view of a house in the series. But perhaps the most powerful tool the streamer employed to make the show a summer phenomenon was old-fashioned word-of-mouth, which works especially well when the mouths belong to Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro, who each tweeted a glowing review. Says Bennett, "It really helped us into that Nerdist zeitgeist."

  • This Is Us (NBC)

    Len Fogge, president of marketing & digital, NBC Entertainment

    Ron Batzdorff/NBC

    NBC stirred up a social media frenzy with its first trailer for This Is Us — largely because it featured a glance at Milo Ventimiglia's naked butt. The clip had more than 15 million views in its first two days and helped make the family drama — which also features Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown and Justin Hartley — the No. 1 new show among adults 18-to-49. "It caught fire with young women on social media in a way that we didn't really expect," says Fogge.

  • The X-Files (Fox)

    Tom Morrissey, senior vp design;, Fox Broadcasting Co.; Scott Edwards, senior vp, on-air promotions and operations, Fox Broadcasting Co.; Angela Courtin, chief marketing officer, Fox Broadcasting Co.; Shannon Ryan, evp, marketing and communications, Fox TV Group

    Ed Araquel/FOX

    Dropping a bus-sized UFO in the middle of the Grove definitely got people's attention, but the 201-day campaign leading to the debut of Fox's The X-Files reboot mostly was made up of smaller, more subtle elements — like the posting of scrambled tweets and Snapchat secret messages. "We wanted to create something that raised more questions than it answered," says Courtin. "It was a steady stream of content that was purposeful and built over time rather than crescendo too early."

  • The Next Big Campaign

    Two Oscar contenders already are making noise with their marketing strategies.

    Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

    La La Land
    A teaser trailer released in July had Ryan Gosling singing "City of Stars." A follow-up featured Emma Stone crooning at an audition. It seems to be working: 98 percent of tweets about the film have been positive, according to comScore.

    Fences
    The first trailer for the August Wilson adaptation starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, released in September, sparked as much social media conversation as Marvel's Doctor Strange, according to comScore.

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