Marketing a movie is always work—especially when it’s about a wholly dishonorable Wall Street operator in the go-go ’80s. Josh Greenstein was up to the challenge. Since 2011, he has served as CMO of Paramount Pictures, which distributed Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, in North America and Japan. Adweek caught up with Greenstein to learn how the studio turned a hard-charging portrayal of excess, full of graphic sex, drugs and general immorality, into a blockbuster, and nominee for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Adweek: First, the nuts and bolts. What was the target audience for Wolf?
Greenstein: Adults 18-49, entertainment consumers, moviegoers. Marty has a huge fan base. Leo DiCaprio has a huge fan base. We opened wide, so it was a national campaign.
What about the popular sentiment about Wall Street? Did you pay particular attention to that as you approached marketing the film?
Well, we did pay attention to what was going on, but we really tried to broaden out the messaging for the film. To us, it was a movie about our times—Marty wasn’t just making a movie about the overreaching greed of the ’80s. Everything in this film is still applicable to what’s going on today, where people are in life and how they’re feeling about the world.
How deeply involved in the marketing of the film was Scorsese?
On a campaign, it’s always lockstep with him. He’s a true partner in the marketing, in every aspect of the campaign, because he’s such a visionary. We want to be able to take advantage of that mind in our campaign. For instance, we worked on [the teaser trailer] together. He instantly loved the Kanye [West] song [“Black Skinhead”] that we used in it. That was a pretty bold song to put in the first piece for a movie that was set in a different period, and Marty embraced that.
How did you use social and digital?
One thing that got passed around a lot was the GIFs of Leo break dancing from the trailer. We started with an uncompromising take in terms of our advertising, and I think that got people excited that Martin Scorsese was bringing his vision to life on the big screen because I think people expect that from Marty. They expect him not to pull punches. …
We didn’t try to paint the movie in a different light. We embraced [the lead] Jordan’s character, we embraced the controversy. We didn’t try to paint him as a super-likable guy. We tried to stay as true to the film as we could [laughs] … under advertising limits.
According to Nielsen, trailers tend to play better with moviegoing audiences than shorter TV spots, yet TV is still a huge part of any big campaign. Where’s your focus lie?
To me, it’s a matter of sequencing. I think trailers, whether they’re in-theater or online, are a great opportunity to give people a more long-form version of what a movie is about, getting them excited to see the film. And television is incredibly important, and it really helps us close very hard and very targeted to our audiences. So they’re both important.
Which social stats do you look at most?
In the first week, we want to be, you know, over 5 million or 6 million views. We want to feel like it’s consumed, that it feels very hot out in the world. And then we monitor the conversation and see what the reactions [are] … one, are people even talking about it? We want people to be passing it around.
How did your marketing strategy shift when you clinched five Oscar nominations?
Well, at that point, the movie had been out for a lot longer, and we didn’t have to be as linear in the storytelling. We had a lot of great publicity, with Leo and Marty doing Q&As, going on Saturday Night Live.
During the Academy push of the campaign, we show a little different side of the film, a little more serious, talk about all of the accolades, a very review-heavy, very review-centric campaign. The campaign kind of evolves, and you get to highlight the great performances from the cast. You get to highlight Marty’s direction, you get to highlight Thelma [Schoonmaker]’s editing; there’s just more freedom to kind of explore the different angles and areas of the filmmaking. We have a piece of outdoor right now with the slogan “Because it’s awesome.” That’s all it says. You couldn’t do that before the movie—people wouldn’t know what you were talking about.
How is marketing The Wolf of Wall Street different from marketing something like [Best Picture nominee] Nebraska?
Nebraska was a filmmaker-driven, critically lauded, black-and-white film by Alexander Payne. Alexander’s had tremendous success with his other films—he himself has become a brand. The film is a big part of marketing Nebraska. We did an early screening program; we got it to as many people’s hands as we could because we knew when people saw that film, they would fall in love with it.
What about World War Z?
With a movie like World War Z, it was holding back—we wanted to tease and hold back the film for as long as possible. Not only the film but the materials, to get people excited, to give people hints, to create a mystery in the campaign and in the sell. So there was, when you went to the theater, it was a real sense of discovery, you were finding things out. And we sold it very aggressively. You know, it was a giant summer tent pole with a giant international star, obviously, in Brad Pitt.
What’s on the agenda for 2014?
Well, we’ve got a tremendous slate of films. We’ve got Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, Brett Ratner’s Hercules, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. We have tremendous, tremendous films coming up. I couldn’t be more excited to work on them, and we have very high hopes for all of them.