HEAT VISION

'It: Chapter Two' Marketing Bets on Creepy Town and Grown-Up Stars

To sell its sequel, Warner Bros. relies on the same sort of immersive experiences used two years ago to bring audiences to Derry.
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
To sell its sequel, Warner Bros. relies on the same sort of immersive experiences used two years ago to bring audiences to Derry.

It proved to be a surprisingly big hit in 2017, grossing $700.3 million worldwide, making it the biggest horror movie of all time. The movie only adapted the first part of Stephen King’s 1986 novel, so this week’s It: Chapter Two is back to finish it off.

The story picks up 27 years after the events of the first film. No longer kids, the members of the Losers Club — including Bill (James McAvoy), Beverly (Jessica Chastain), Richie (Bill Hader), Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), Jay (Ben Hanscom) and Eddie (James Ransone) — are returning to their home town of Derry because kids there are once more disappearing. After so many years, they are determined to stop Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård), facing their own trauma and fears to do so.

With a 71 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, early reviews have labeled the much-anticipated sequel fun and ambitious, even if the nearly three-hour running time is seen as overly long. To sell audiences on what may be the official kickoff to the fall movie season, Warner Bros.’ campaign has relied on the same sort of immersive experiences used two years ago for the first film.

The Posters

Pennywise’s hand is seen reaching out of the black background, the strings of two red balloons between two fingers on the first poster (by marketing agency Cold Open) from early May. It’s simple and takes the same approach many sequel posters do, taking an iconic design element from the first movie and simply adding another one to communicate this is the second installment.

Mid-July brought the second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts). This one shows Pennywise’s eyes glaring out from the bottom of the design, the stark white continued through the very top. “It ends” is the copy shown, letting the audience know that this is a sequel and at the same time conveying a sense of urgency for them to come see the conclusion to the story.

For Dolby Cinemas, only one of Pennywise’s eyes are shown looking out toward the camera, a streak of red — blood? greasepaint? — running down his face and ending in the foreground as seven figures walk along the path created by the streak. The Imax poster uses a design more similar to what was common in the campaign for the first movie, with the murder clown’s face obscured from the camera as it looks out from a mass of red balloons.

The Trailers

The first trailer (42.6 million views on YouTube) was released in early May, after a coordinated campaign of social media teasers posted by many of the main stars from the movie. We meet a grown Beverly as she revisits her childhood home, where things quickly get creepy. Her host, it seems, may have a strange connection to the evil that’s been haunting Beverly and her friends. Eventually we see the adult versions of the rest of The Losers Club. It’s slightly remarkable in how little it shows from the movie itself. Instead it tells the audience they can expect to get more background into the history of Derry and its supernatural happenings as the adult versions of the characters ask questions and engage in activities they didn’t or couldn’t as kids.

The second trailer, (22.2 million views on YouTube) released during Comic-Con in July as part of Warner Bros.' off-site “ScareDiego” event, starts out by discussing how the passage of time blurs memories, even of traumatic events like those seen in the first movie. The Losers Club, now adults, reunite because Pennywise has returned and they swore an oath to stop it before anyone else was killed. All the characters have their own scary encounters with the revitalized clown until they stand united to end him once and for all. This one is a much more traditional trailer, offering scenes from throughout the movie and attempting to show a more complete picture of the story, right up to the point where story points may be spoiled.

Advertising and Publicity

Outside of news about casting and production starting the first real pop in the press came when Warners made it part of its CinemaCon presentation in 2018, assuring exhibitors that it was coming. A year later, the studio brought footage from the film to both CinemaCon in May and CineEurope in June.

TV advertising began in early August with a spot showing that Pennywise had returned. Another released a bit later was all about how much Pennywise has missed the kids in the decades they were away. Online ads used artwork focusing on Pennywise while billboard ads featured photos of either the young or adult Losers Club as they gathered to face the threat posed by the supernatural clown.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Carl’s Jr., which offered four movie-branded soft drink cups to customers. Promotions for the cups included changing the chain’s smiling star logo into Pennywise’s murderous grin.
  • National CineMedia, which recently featured movie-themed games in its Noovie Arcade app.
  • Pop Secret, which put movie branding on boxes of its microwave popcorn and promoted the partnership on social media.
  • Shell, which partnered with Atom Tickets on a deal to give members of its Fuel Rewards program $5 tickets to see the movie, positioning it as a price more in line with what audiences would have paid 27 years ago.
  • AT&T, which ran advance screenings for members of its AT&T THANKS loyalty program in select cities and offered buy-one-get-one movie tickets. The company also reskinned the THANKS app with movie branding, labeling it “TickIT Tuesdays.”

A sponsored Snapchat lens put a mysterious manhole with a dangerous clown inside it in the middle of the user’s surroundings.

The first movie was rereleased in select theaters the first weekend of August as a way to remind fans of what happened the first time around as well as show off exclusive footage from the sequel.

A “360 Experience” video was released in mid-August that took the viewer inside the funhouse featured in the movie, with the camera moving slowly down the hallway until Pennywise is revealed at the end. 

Just as it did for the first movie, the studio engaged in some experiential marketing with The It Experience in Los Angeles. Announced in late July and running from mid-August to early September, the experience recreated Derry Canal Days, a town celebration that includes a funhouse.

Created with the input of some of the filmmakers and featuring the same funhouse facade used in the movie’s production, visitors navigated a series of 10 escape rooms, many of them themed to connect with part of the movie. Actors interacted with visitors, moving them along the story, and branded merchandise was available for purchase.

With tickets going quickly — they sold out 31 minutes after going on sale — a video was released that showed those who couldn’t be there in person what the experience was like and how attendees were excited to be part of it.

The It Experience received “in-world” promotions from Warner Bros. partner iHeartMedia via both radio and outdoor ads. Those ads and promos — seen on bus stops and read by the network’s DJs — told the audience about Derry Canal Days as if it were a real event happening in Los Angeles. Those not able to secure tickets could wait in a stand-by line that averaged a five-and-a-half hour wait time.

Also in Los Angeles, Gallery 1988 hosted an exhibit of artwork inspired by the movie. That exhibit featured work from a variety of artists and ran from straightforward promotional type posters to character one-sheets to flyers for Derry Canal Days and more.

IMAX, which was one of the sponsors of The It Experience and offered those purchasing movie tickets a chance to “jump the line”, put out an exclusive teaser video in August that focused on how the members of the Losers Club were determined to not let Pennywise hurt anyone else again. You could also get preferred access to the experience by taking the movie-sponsored Hollywood tour run by celebrity news site TMZ.

AMC Theaters received its own exclusive look at the Derry Canal Days happening at The It Experience in L.A. It also ran a sweepstakes awarding the winner a trip to the movie’s premiere. Those who bought advance tickets at Regal Cinemas were entered to win a recreation of a postcard sent by Beverly.

Fandango’s MovieClips channel was given an exclusive featurette that reminded fans of where the first story left off and what audiences can expect when they come back for the sequel. Another exclusive video had the cast playing some movie-themed trivia about the production and a third explained that this is the end of the story audiences shouldn’t miss out on.

Just as it did for the first movie, Alamo Drafthouse generated some publicity by announcing “clowns only” screenings for opening weekend.

At the Aug. 26 red carpet premiere in Los Angeles, the cast was all in attendance amidst plenty of movie branding and a location decorated up to look like the sewers haunted by Pennywise.

Overall

At every turn, Warner Bros. wants to bring the audience into Derry as much as possible. Sometimes that’s virtually, as with the 360-degree experience video, and sometimes that’s physically with the interactive experience house in Los Angeles. Even the teaser trailer is meant to immerse the audience in the vibe and history of the town by showing an extended conversation between Beverly and a very long-time resident.

The biggest difference between this campaign and the 2017 push for the first movie is simply is that this time everyone knows what Pennywise looks like. The supernatural harlequin was kept hidden for most of the original’s marketing, but now it’s more about the grownup versions of The Losers Club, who are old enough to be played by major stars.

What’s most fun is that so much of the campaign seems directly aimed at fans and even inspired by them. Even the casting — especially that of Chastain as Beverly —  seems like an officially-sanctioned version of the kind of fan speculation that’s rampant online. That has given the audience a stake in the success of the film, stoking excitement early on and then using the popular personas of those stars to keep that going.

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