9:00am PT by Chris Thilk
'Us' Marketing Reveals a Twist — But Promises Much More
Jordan Peele’s Us, his follow-up to 2017’s breakout hit Get Out, is projected to bring in $40 million-$48 million in its opening weekend, a number that would exceed what his freshman outing scored and further establish the director as bona fide at the box office.
The movie’s story follows parents Gabe and Adelaide Wilson (Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong'o) as they take their kids on vacation to Adelaide’s childhood home. It’s not too long after they arrive that mysterious figures appear at the edge of their property. When those strangers break into the house the Wilsons are staying at, the family is shocked to find the visitors are deformed dopplegangers of themselves, setting everyone on a path to find out what’s happening and why.
Universal has mounted a campaign that emphasizes the movie’s message of identity and body horror, while also making sure audiences understand it comes from the same filmmaker behind the much buzzed-about Get Out. Here's a look at the campaign:
The first poster, revealed by Peele this past December when he announced the movie was happening, features two indistinct black faces in the middle of a white background, both of them kind of fuzzy and looking like the ink has been smudged on a piece of paper. The copy at the top sells it as “A new nightmare of the mind” from Peele, making sure the audience draws the connection between this movie and his previous work.
The second poster came out in February at the same time the movie was being advertised during the Super Bowl. It ups the scare level, showing a pair of gloved hands holding scissors. There’s no additional copy other than what’s carried over from the first one-sheet, but it’s definitely creepy. Another pulls the camera back a bit to show Nyong’o pulling the mask away from her face.
Christmas Day of last year saw the release of the one and only trailer (16.4 million views on YouTube), preceded by a teaser announcing it was on its way. It opens with a scene of the Wilson family driving to vacation while the parents offer the kids a lesson in classic hip-hop. Once they’re at their destination things start to get strange, as Jason and then everyone else start seeing mysterious people on the beach. Those strangers soon invade the home the Wilsons are staying at, leading to the revelation they’re some sort of dangerous dopplegangers of the family. Again, there’s overt connections being made to Get Out, while also selling this as something wholly original and just as terrifying for the audience.
Advertising and Publicity
The first news about the movie came when Peele merely announced it was happening, revealing the title and cast along with the sparest of additional details. An extended spot was released first on Reddit by Peele and then aired during the Super Bowl, offering much the same look at the movie that was featured in the first trailer but with a few new shocks added in.
News came in January that the movie would have its premiere as the opening night film of the SXSW Film Festival, and was followed by the announcement Universal was moving its release date back a week to provide more time for word of mouth to filter out, as well as allow more space between it and other high profile films.
That SXSW appearance included interviews and Q&As with Peele as well as the cast, all of whom were in attendance. Also in Austin was a fan art gallery those attending the festival could visit. Fan art was a major element of the marketing for Get Out two years ago, so it showing up again here indicates Peele (and Universal) understand that tapping into people’s enthusiasm and creativity is a major factor in building interest and encouraging advocacy.
The studio worked with Giphy to solicit fan art for consideration as gallery fare ahead of time, and used some of the artwork submitted in a 30-second video released a week before the movie hit theaters.
Just as the movie was premiering at SXSW, Peele announced screenings at theaters in largely black areas, encouraging those in attendance to use the #UsFirst hashtag to share their feelings and start some positive word of mouth.
Using the movie’s official hashtags #WatchYourself or #USMovie on Twitter unlocked a sponsored hashtag, as did #UsMovieArt, used to share fan art inspired by the posters and trailer. The trailer and other videos were used as promoted posts on social networks.
Online and outdoor ads used variations on the key art or other images, including banners showing the Wilsons and their twisted counterparts or simply the two sides of Nyong’o on opposite sides of the image. Those photos of the two versions of the family were also used for a theatrical standee that showed one from one angle and the other from another.
Universal partnered with Spotify for the first-ever takeover of the streaming service’s “Movies & TV” music hub. That deal included Peele curating the “Film & TV Favorites” playlist with a selection of songs that were important to him or relevant to the movie, along with audio interviews of the director discussing some of his favorite horror films. Duke was also given control for the week leading up to release of the “Black Boy Joy” playlist. Finally, the “Us Official Playlist” featured songs from the movie, including a remastered version of Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It,” featured prominently in the trailer.
A short featurette released earlier this week had the movie’s stars talking about the themes of the story as well as working with a creative powerhouse like Peele.
When the first trailer came out it was a bit surprising to see that what might seem like a major twist — the Wilson family discovering the menacing strangers are in fact twisted versions of themselves — was shared right off the bat. Doing so, though, allowed the rest of the campaign to more fully explore the themes of duality and identity that can be seen in just about every aspect of the marketing.
There are two visuals that are used throughout the marketing that help convey to the audience what kind of themes they can expect: The Rorschach ink blots and the repeated appearance of scissors.
The former are known for being mirror images resulting from folding paper over on itself. But if you look at one you know the halves are never completely symmetrical but always off slightly. The latter are symmetrical, but when you bring the halves together they cut through an object, dividing that object even as the blades of the scissors themselves are unified.
That use of symbolism tells the audience as much about the movie’s story as anything that’s overtly explained or offered. It also indicates there are more twists and surprises beyond the revelation of who’s behind the masks for Peele to hit audiences with.