Fox's 'Spies in Disguise' Marketing Bets on Will Smith, Mark Ronson

Blue Sky Studios
20th Century Fox's 'Spies in Disguise.'

The promotional campaign touted the Ronson-produced soundtrack, an Audi car design tie-in and the voice acting star power of the leads.

Will Smith returns in animated form in Fox's holiday bet Spies In Disguise, which bowed on Christmas Day to $4.7 million for a projected five-day debut of $21 million. 

Smith provides the voice of Lance Sterling, a James Bond-like superspy with a reputation for always getting the job done, and looking good while doing so.

Hoping to help him go even deeper undercover, agency tech genius Walter Beckett (voiced by Tom Holland) develops a way to turn Sterling into a pigeon. Only he hasn’t figured out how to undo the process, so has to join Sterling on a high-stakes mission he’s not trained for, the two forming an unlikely pair to go out and save the world.

The movie is loosely based on a 2009 short film from Lucas Martell of animation studios Mighty Coconut titled Pigeon: Impossible that can be watched in its entirety on YouTube. Fox/Disney’s campaign has emphasized the humor of an animated pigeon featuring Smith’s voice to attract audiences. The movie currently sports a 72 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

The Posters

Sterling alone is featured on the first poster (by marketing agency Proof), released last November. He’s looking dapper and handsome, but his shadow on the wall is that of a bird to make it clear to the audience that’s what’s in store for him. The second poster from July has the same shadow conceit, but this time Sterling is joined by Beckett, who’s positioned as the tech guy by virtue of him hovering above the ground thanks to his jetpack backpack.

The theatrical one-sheet came out in September, combining all the story’s elements into a single poster. So you see Sterling, Beckett and everyone else that will play a role in the plot arranged around the poster much like any standard superhero movie.

All the main characters got their turn in the spotlight in a series of one-sheets. The RealD 3D poster has a retro spy vibe, with big art deco blocks of color serving as the background for the images of the spy team. 

The Trailers

Viewers get the basic idea from the first trailer (4.8 million views on YouTube), that Agent Sterling is part of some super secret spy organization and among their best operatives. One of the tech guys gets the bright idea to turn him into a bird so he can go anywhere undetected, a decision Sterling is not thrilled with.

As the second trailer (5.6 million views on YouTube) from early July opens, we get a good look at just how amazing Sterling is as a spy, capable of getting the job done no matter what that means and looking good doing it. When Beckett meets him and pitches the idea of actually being able to change how he looks to go undercover, Sterling is intrigued. He’s accidentally turned into a bird, which freaks him out a bit. That’s as far into the story as the trailer goes, stopping before it shows any of the missions Sterling’s new form will allow him to go on.

There’s a bit more of the story, including Sterling’s actual mission, in the third trailer (2.7 million views on YouTube) released in late September, but the overall vibe is the same as previously shown. In late November the “Super Secret Trailer” (3 million views on YouTube) was released. This one is all about the action and comedy that comes from a superspy being turned into a bird. Its primary purpose, though, was to highlight the new Mark Ronson/Anderon.Paak song “Then There Were Two.”

Advertising and Publicity

The movie was part of the studio’s presentation to exhibition executives at CineEurope in mid-July 2018. 

The basic premise and major characters were shared in the first TV spot that came out in mid-October, selling the film as a rocking good time. Further commercials hit similar notes.

Details on the soundtrack, produced by Mark Ronson and featuring new songs from Anderson.Paak, L’il Jon and others along with Smith, were released in late November. Ronson’s branding was important to the overall marketing of the album, and by extension the movie the album was titled Mark Ronson Presents the Music of Spies in Disguise.

That was so important that Fox released a short featurette on the making of “Then There Were Two” with Ronson and Paak talking about collaborating on the song. A lyric video for the track was released shortly thereafter. A lyric video for “Fly” by Lucky Daye followed that, with one for “Freak of Nature” by Ronson, featuring Ilsley and Dodgr coming out just a couple weeks ago. Another featurette on the writing and recording of that song was released a few days later.

There were introductions to Lance, Killian and Walter, while the first clips had Lance and Walter outrunning the bad guys with physics and Walter being shocked his device to transform Lance into a bird worked. Another showed the key scene where Walter pitches Lance on his new technology.

Holland introduced a video showing Walter’s inventions and how excited he is for his gadgets to make their way into the field.

Last week the “12 Days of Spiesmas” debuted with clips from the movie set to music to mark the countdown to release. The movie’s social media accounts counted down the days following that with story-themed items for each of the days.

One final promotional video came out titled “Embrace Your Weird.” The video featured most of the cast encouraging audiences to be weird and accept the unusual ideas around them, offering looks at some of Walter’s off-the-wall inventions as proof of the good things that happen when you do so.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

Audi, which lent its name and branding to the tricked-out RSQ e-tron driven by Lance in the movie, creating a commercial showing off some of its features. The car company sponsored the Twitter live stream of the premiere earlier this month. Some of the film’s promotional stills also prominently feature the car, showing Lance reclining confidently against it.

Menchie’s, which offered its frozen yogurt in movie-branded cups and promoted that tie-in on social media and elsewhere.

A Spotify playlist was created called “The Duo” and including songs about working together, being friends and more, including Smith’s own “Just the Two Of Us.” Ronson’s curated soundtrack album was also available to stream. 

Overall

With the rest of this week’s new releases primarily awards contenders geared toward more adult audiences, Spies in Disguise is competing against the second frame of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Fox is hoping there’s a segment of the audience that has either already had their fill of Star Wars or is otherwise anxious to enjoy some counterprogramming.