"Where's Ant-Man?" Is the Question Selling Marvel's 20th Cinematic Universe Film
With 19 films already released in Marvel's Cinematic Universe, the studio banked on audience familiarity to market its latest sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, which is set to dominate the July 4 holiday frame.
The original Ant-Man hit theaters in summer 2015, grossing $519 million worldwide, and Paul Rudd's thief turned superhero went on to play a small (actually large when you think about it) role in 2016's Captain America: Civil War. Evangeline Lilly, a supporting character in the first movie, has an expanded role this time around, as indicated in the title, taking on a heroic mantle all her own.
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The story involves the search by Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and her father Hank (Michael Douglas) for her mother and his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), lost decades ago in the microscopic "Quantum Realm." At the same time, they're trying to end the threat posed by Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a villain who has her own relationship with the realm.
Tracking in advance of release anticipates the movie opening around $75 million-$85 million this weekend. The campaign mounted by Marvel Studios has sought to sell the movie as a fun caper, a stark contrast to the heavy and very serious push for Avengers: Infinity War a few months ago. Throughout the campaign, the studio has sought to balance this movie's connections to and also separations from that earlier movie.
The teaser poster was released in January, just as hype for both Infinity War and Black Panther was in full swing, an attempt to capitalize on that interest. It's exactly what you'd expect it to be, a big field of white with two small figures barely visible in the middle.
The second poster came in April and expands everyone to full size in a design that's typical of Marvel's films, with everyone looking off in various directions as the heroes stand in the middle of the ensemble. It even uses the same conceit as the Iron Man posters, putting the unmasked main characters in one spot while they also appear with helmets on in the background at the top of the poster. John-Kamen shows up here as The Ghost and Pfeiffer makes her first appearance in the campaign.
For the distributor/ticketing exclusive posters, the general visual themes were adhered to with variations in how that design was executed. The Dolby Cinema poster centers everyone around the looming image of Lang, all the characters set against a honeycomb-style background. The Real 3D poster used the same diagonal slash with the characters in the same basic pose seen on the theatrical one-sheet.
The biggest deviation from that visual theme came on the Fandango-exclusive, which featured Scott and Hope walking heroically toward the camera, surrounded by popcorn on a carpet. Finally, two Imax posters came out, one showing Ant-Man that encouraged to "Experience it a little bigger" with an image of the shrunk-down Hope and the enlarged Scott chasing a van down a San Francisco street. The other showed Wasp floating in front of a burst of light that wants the audience to experience the movie "to the fullest."
A series of character posters were released in June, after Infinity War had died down a little. Each offers better looks at the main cast, including our first good glimpse of Pfeiffer as Janet Van Dyne. The same slash of color across the white backdrop is used and each has one or both of the shrunken Scott and Hope flitting around the title treatment.
In January, in conjunction with the teaser poster, the first trailer (14.4 million views on YouTube) was released. As it starts we immediately get the sense that Hope is going to play an important role here, with Scott asking her whether or not she would have helped with the events of Civil War if he'd asked her to. From there we learn Scott's actions forced Henry and Hope to go on the run, which involved him shrinking down his office building as part of the getaway. There's lots of action as The Wasp in particular takes on various unnamed bad guys. At the end Scott asks Henry about all the cool tech in her suit and is shocked by the response he gets as to why it wasn't included in his own.
There's a lot more of the story in May's second trailer (21.7 million views on YouTube), which starts out with Scott's daughter asking him about being Ant-Man. It turns out Hank Pym has opened up the Quantum Realm and inadvertently unleashed a villain known as The Ghost, with significant powers and a yearning for domination. Scott and Hope have to work together in their superhero guises to take her out and foil her plans, which provides an opportunity for us to see lots of size-changing action sequences. With some comedic relief from Pena along the way, the trailer ends by introducing us to Bill Foster, Hank's former partner and a size-changer himself back in the day.
TV spots like this started running back in late May, while Avengers buzz was still hot, that played up the role of Ghost in driving the story while also showing Lang maybe isn't the master planner he sometimes claims to be, much to the dismay of the Pyms. Others like this one just sold the movie as a fun good time at the theaters and one that reminded people that Scott is an Avenger, after all.
Eventually the TV campaign came to include spots like this and this that made it clear the movie was part of the same cinematic universe as Avengers: Infinity War, though with a much less serious tone. That sort of overt connection seems like exactly what Marvel Studios had been trying to avoid in the wake of so many questions being asked about the timeline and where Ant-Man and Wasp are during that huge battle.
In March, Marvel announced a "Prelude" book that essentially retold the story of the first movie to help make sure everyone is up to speed before the second film.
There were a few promotional partner companies that got in on the fun as well.
► Hyundai, which ran co-branded TV spots featuring movie footage to promote its Veloster model after taking the car, featured in the movie, to auto shows around the country early this year. It also ran a stunt in Los Angeles where it placed small toy cars in local comic shops, their locations teased on social media, that doubled as screening passes. The car later showed up at the movie's premiere.
► Synchrony, which ran online ads using the lead characters and the tagline "Save with a bank that’s got your back," playing up the idea of partnership and teamwork that's been pervasive throughout the campaign. There was also an exclusive online comic offered on the bank's website.
► Dell, which took costumes from the movie to CES in January and promoted how its technology is not only seen onscreen but used in the making of the film as well. It even sponsored its own behind-the-scenes featurette showing some of that technology off and ran a co-branded commercial hitting those same points.
San Diego Comic-Con 2017 was a big coming-out party. There had been casting news before that, but Comic-Con was where Marvel announced Michelle Pfeiffer would play Janet Van Dyne and Laurence Fishburne would play Bill Foster, showed some very rough early footage and offered some promotional art.
Almost immediately after Infinity War came out in late April, Marvel released a short video with the stars of that movie asking the same question — and providing tongue-in-cheek answers to — many in the audience were asking, namely "Where were Ant-Man and the Wasp?" during the events of that story.
In addition to some of the TV spots mentioned above, the connection between the two movies, as well as how this one plays into the upcoming and still untitled Avengers 4, were covered by Marvel Studios executive producer Kevin Feige in a featurette released just a couple weeks before the movie came out. In that video Feige also acknowledges that with Wasp finally suiting up, all the characters from 1963's first issue of "The Avengers" are finally onscreen.
Further clips and featurettes offered additional behind-the-scenes looks at the movie and introductions to the story and characters. Scale and how it was achieved with and without special effects was a big part of the promotional push. That included a demonstration of the forced perspective possible in an Ames Room, making Rudd and Douglas appear bigger or smaller depending on where they were standing, and a featurette on how they managed all the size changes in the car chase that's been part of the trailers and advertising.
An exclusive Imax video featured Rudd talking about how the massive size of those screens will make anyone feel ant-sized.
In addition to 2017's San Diego Comic-Con, Disney and Marvel Studios made sure to feature Ant-Man and The Wasp during April's CinemaCon, giving distribution and exhibition executives and decision-makers an advance look at the trailer that was released publicly a couple of weeks later.
The studio also promoted the movie overseas by holding its first-ever fan event in Taiwan, which both Rudd and Lilly attended to drum up attention and interest among moviegoers there.
The tone of the marketing has evolved from January, starting out pretty lighthearted and fun and getting steadily more serious as the release got closer. There are still plenty of laughs — many of them coming from clips and footage of co-star Michael Pena as Luis — but the more it tried to draw lines connecting this movie and Infinity War, the more sober-minded it became.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer with 15 years of experience in the social media and content marketing industry.
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