'Long Shot' Marketing Bets Rom-Com Chemistry Can Still Bring Audiences to Theaters

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The marketing campaign for 'Long Shot' has emphasized stars Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron.

The campaign for the Lionsgate title alternates between heartfelt emotions and laughs.

Seth Rogen takes another stab at playing a romantic leading man, albeit one still very Rogen-esque, in Lionsgate's Long Shot, in theaters on May 3. Previously titled “Flarsky” after Rogen’s character, the story follows Jeff Flarsky, a successful journalist who one day finds himself coming into contact with his old babysitter Charlotte (Charlize Theron), now the Secretary of State and an aspiring presidential candidate at the outset of election season.

Needing to shake up her campaign and introduce some personality to connect with voters, Charlotte hires Flarsky as her speechwriter. The reunion is more than professional, though, as Charlotte is charmed by Flarsky and he taken by her intelligence and beauty. There are complications, of course, because she’s vying for the most powerful job in the world and he’s a stoner.

With Avengers: Endgame expected to continue dominating the box-office, tracking projections estimate a debut of about $9 million to $14 million for an opening weekend. Still, the movie boasts an 86 percent fresh rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and a generally favorable 72 score on Metacritic. Lionsgate has rolled out a campaign that plays up the chemistry of Rogen and Theron to try and bring audiences to theaters in a counterprogramming move. 

The Posters

The disconnect in looks and attitude between the two characters is evident on the first poster, released in February when the movie received its current title. Flarsky is shown wearing a shirt with Charlotte’s campaign photo on it. “Unlikely but not impossible” the copy reads while closer to the title we’re reminded of the previous movies the creators have worked on. That same message is shared on two subsequent posters (produced by BOND marketing agency) that show the pair dancing, either in street clothes or at a fancy dinner party.

The mismatched pair are still together on two more posters but this time the message has shifted to “Feel something different.” Those posters, like the second trailer, were part of a seeming change in focus that put more emphasis on the relationship between the two characters while still presenting plenty of laughs.

There’s no copy on the final poster other than pull quotes from critics praising the movie as something unique, funny and crowd-pleasing. Still, the strongest image used is just the two stars alongside each other. 

The Trailers

The first trailer (8 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-February, shortly after the movie’s name was changed from “Flarsky” to the current title. It starts out with Charlotte receiving an endorsement for her campaign, though the current President may not be clear on what her role really is. When she runs into Fred at a party, reuniting after many years, she hires him as a speechwriter and the two renew their friendship. After an incident where they almost die things get complicated, with him bringing out her long-dormant wild side. 

The second trailer (607,000 views on YouTube) debuted at the same time the movie was screening at SXSW and shows even more of the comedic and romantic chemistry between Rogen and Theron. Their reunion is interrupted by an attack which brings them closer together, though their relationship is discouraged by friends and advisors around them. That doesn’t stop the couple, though.

Two more short trailers in April took slightly different approaches. The first (33,000 views on YouTube), emphasized the love story and downplayed the comedy, focusing on the reactions of Charlotte and Fred’s friends and presenting them as impediments to a relationship, not just the basis for laughs. The second (22,000 views on YouTube) presents Fred as a serious liability to Charlotte’s campaign because he’s just so embarrassing and immature. 

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A Promoted Tweet campaign increased the reach of the first trailer after it was released in February. The first TV spot aired during the March finale of The Bachelor on ABC, featuring Theron making her pitch to be the next contestant on The Bachelorette before encouraging the audience to check out the movie when it opens. (That same video was also used as a Promoted Tweet.)

A whole slew of TV spots came out beginning in mid-April that focused on the movie’s humor, the chemistry between the two leads and lots more, each focusing on a slightly different aspect of the story and therefore sending a slightly different message to the audience. 

Media and Publicity

On March 9, Long Shot premiered at SXSW at an event at the Paramount Theater that included Boyz II Men, who also appear in the film. The comedy was described as a "crowd-pleaser" and the film received mostly positive early critics' notices. Rogen and Theron then both went to CinemaCon as part of Lionsgate's slate and presented the film to exhibitors on April 4.

The first clip offered an expanded look at the scene where Flarsky and Charlotte talk about their dating issues. Another featured the “micronapping” scene. A short featurette had Rogen and Theron talking about how much fun they had making the movie and working with each other. 

Overall

As the posters show, the main message being sent to the audience is that the combination of Rogen alongside Theron is inherently funny and worth their attention. That’s why the poster campaign uses various images of them in different situations, with the copy calling that juxtaposition out even more clearly. 

The split in the campaign between heartfelt emotions and comedy indicates Lionsgate may not have found a single message to send to audiences about the movie. That challenge is evidenced in the sharp dropoff in YouTube views between the 8 million racked up by the first trailer and 607,000 of the second, released just a month later.

While the chemistry of Theron and Rogen is palpable — something the campaign has reinforced repeatedly — the movie still occupies a cinematic middle ground of a mid-budget film competing with tentpoles. Arguably the buzziest romantic comedies of late have been found on Netflix and feature young, multi-ethnic casts of charming, breezy actors while theaters are filled with sky beams and super villains bent on world domination. If a rom-com like this with adult leads seems like a throwback, that’s because it is.