How to Market a Teen (Gay) Romance Now

Love Simon Billboard - Publicity - H 2018
Tristan Cassel

Fox 2000 and Greg Berlanti pitch 'Love, Simon' to the masses without trying to "hide or obfuscate" its subject matter.

As Love, Simon — the first teen-targeted, major studio project centering on a gay romance — gears up to hit theaters in wide release March 16, the film has already made a marketing splash.

20th Century Fox has been promoting the $17 million Fox 2000 title more like a rom-com than a release about a closeted high schooler coming out. That is, in part, super-producer Greg Berlanti's doing.

Berlanti directed the film that stars Nick Robinson as the title character in the adaptation of the hit book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which follows a high schooler that finds comfort in his anonymous email conversation with an anonymous closeted classmate as grapples with coming out to his family and friends.

LGBTQ-themed features are more common at the specialty box office— like Oscar winners Moonlight and Call Me by Your Name, which launched in four theaters apiece. Love, Simon will be premiering in over 2000. Berlanti asked the studio to "sell it as they would any other teen rom-com, the same size and scope" and "not hide or obfuscate in any way what the movie is about." 

Fox has experience in the YA market, having released The Fault in Our Stars ($307 million at the box office) and Paper Towns ($85 million), both of which were also Fox 2000 titles. The Love, Simon trailer premiered in theaters in December ahead of 20th Century Fox's The Greatest Showman, which had an audience skewed younger and female, the target demographic for YA films. 

Love, Simon marketing materials have leant in to the film's LGBTQ themes. TV spots ran during NBC's revival of Will & Grace, while billboards hit N.Y. and L.A. with geographically tailored copy that reads “Dear NY, Any Yankees interested in switching teams?” and “Dear LA, Which way to WEHO? Asking for a friend." The movie's Twitter account, which boasts over thirty thousand followers, has been tweeting notes from "Simon" to Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness and Olympian Adam Rippon.

"There was a time when we saw LGBTQ content and storylines sidelined in marketing," says GLAAD vp programs Zeke Stokes. "I think marketers thought they were going to pull a fast one and get audiences into theaters for something they weren’t sold. This presents itself as exactly what it is."

A version of this story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.