Will Ferrell’s Anchorman 2 Is Changing the Way Movies Are Marketed

The wide-reaching social push is unlike anything done before

In a video that will soon be making the rounds in Ireland and beyond, Ron Burgundy—as if he had been cryogenically frozen since the late ’70s—offers his congrats to Irish actor Jamie Dornan for landing the lead role in the forthcoming erotic thriller Fifty Shades of Grey.

Photo: Mark Seliger/Paramount Pictures

In the run-up to Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, the fictional blowhard TV newsman opines: “I can only imagine it’s a charming documentary on the low-barometric pressure that often occurs in Ireland, resulting in various shades of overcast skies, as the Irish are known for having a strange obsession with their weather. I imagine this is a big win for them. So good job, boyo!” (To pick at just one of his points, in classically absurd Burgundian “expertise,” men from the Emerald Isle do not typically refer to each other as “boyo”—unless they want to accuse an Irish friend of being Welsh, that is.)

In addition to being just plain funny, the 27-second video perfectly captures the snackable, custom-made social content that is the tent pole of the film’s global campaign, led by the studio, Paramount Pictures, and digital-focused shop Zemoga but creatively masterminded by Anchorman 2’s talent. From Will Ferrell (Ron Burgundy) to Steve Carell (Brick Tamland) to Paul Rudd (Brian Fantana) to David Koechner (Champ Kind) to the folks behind the camera, it’s an all-hands-on-deck affair. “This has been the most comprehensive amount of material I’ve ever participated in,” Ferrell tells Adweek. “I’m taken aback.”

Actually, Ferrell and his merry troupe are moving social media as marketing tool forward, as they get themselves up to speed with the discipline’s ever-changing argot. “I barely knew what a meme or GIF was when we started the campaign,” confesses Adam McKay, the 45-year-old director of Anchorman 2, who also co-writes the franchise with Ferrell. “But those terms starting coming out and I would be like, ‘You mean a good joke?’ To me, those are just new words for premises, tropes or riffs. The only big difference to me is the riff is now often going on a loop.”

Paramount has struck the deepest movie partnership to date with Tumblr, which represents the linchpin for a digital appeal that bristles with more social lingo than a Facebook developer’s powwow. The studio has been seeding the social media ecosystem with Burgundy’s essence at just the right pace in recent weeks, placing several of 50-plus videos and social nuggets cooked up by the Ferrell-McKay duo and content shop Jetset Studios. (Anchorman 2 hits theaters nationwide on Dec. 20.) “The concept of social media barely existed at the time of the first Anchorman,” notes Andrew Runyon, Paramount’s vp of interactive marketing. “Facebook had just been conceived a few months prior, and YouTube and Twitter hadn’t been created. But social has allowed Anchorman to live on as a film. And it makes us believe that we have something really zeitgeisty here that we can capitalize on.”

The campaign is not only very 2013 but is also a model for the future of movie marketing. It encompasses native ads on The Huffington Post, including taking over the news site’s homepage logo on Dec. 16. And in an Onion-like gag, Burgundy will take to Huff Post to pontificate for several hundred words on something, well, newsy.

Paramount has also teamed with CNN for comedic opportunities employing storylines from Anchorman 2 that fit like an Isotoner glove from the Carter administration. (The movie centers on Burgundy’s involvement in the creation of the first 24-hour news channel—Global News Network, or GNN.) The New York-based narrative is set as America transitions into the garish decade that brought us Miami Vice, Ghostbusters and massive cocaine abuse. So what if Burgundy and his network buddies end up testing Bolivian marching powder’s stimulative effects? After all, they’re going to need as much help as they can get producing news segments around the clock.

Working with Zemoga, Paramount is employing a social media-styled casting call. The talent show-like initiative, “Join Ron’s News Crew,” asks people from around the world to audition for the positions of anchor (#TeamRon), meteorologist (#TeamBrick), sportscaster (#TeamChamp) and live reporter (#TeamBrian). International bloggers have been enlisted to weigh in, posting video of the screen tests and outtakes, tweeting the bits with the appropriate hashtags. There’s no actual prize for winning—other than the 15 minutes of fame participants will reap from big-time YouTube views and social buzz. 

 

DJ Edgerton, Zemoga’s CEO, says contestants will be able to concoct Anchorman-minded personalities from scratch. “There will be characters out there that can work themselves into the DNA of the Anchorman phenomenon,” Edgerton explains. “One of the beautiful and disruptive components of social is that the cream rises to the top. The creative director doesn’t decide what’s best at the end of the day—the audience does.”

Taking a cue from shows like American Idol and The Voice, the competition will include Web voting and a panel of celebrity judges. (Paramount execs remain tight-lipped about the details.) Videos of the tryouts will be promoted via Anchorman and Ron Burgundy’s enormous Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest followings. And Paramount’s sibling pay TV channel Epix has invited Instagram users to submit videos of their best Burgundy imitations. (The winner will be invited to walk the red carpet at the New York premiere Dec. 15.)

Although so much of Paramount’s strategy revolves around user-generated content and earned social media, Facebook and Twitter ads and homepage takeovers on sites like Yahoo and MSN will bolster those elements. “Our fans have been creating content and essentially marketing for us,” says Megan Wahtera, Paramount’s svp of interactive marketing. “But it’s our job to feed the frenzy.”  

Photo: Mark Seliger/© Paramount Pictures

Indeed, the paid elements are designed to piggyback on the momentum generated by thousands upon thousands of GIFs on Tumblr—where “Ron Burgundy” and “Anchorman” have been some of the most popular search terms this year among people hunting for memes. (In one GIF, Burgundy is seen pouting in a phone booth, the text reading: “I AM IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION.”)

When it comes to why user-generated GIFs are a boon to Anchorman 2, the film’s marketers compare the format’s entertainment value to clips from the silent film era. Looked at another way, Ferrell essentially is the Buster Keaton of the social media age.

But it hasn’t been all fun harnessing the Burgundian social effect for Paramount’s interactive leads. “The fans, due to the nature of the Internet, are quite disparate,” Runyon explains. “So we had to collect and organize these fans from channels and discussions that are already going on about the film.”

What’s more, global-marketing issues often arise—especially given that comedy doesn’t always travel easily from continent to continent compared to other genres. “Comedy is very subject to local and cultural sensibilities,” Runyon points out. “It requires a little bit more customization.”

So Ferrell and McKay got to customizing, hatching dedicated videos for far-reaching markets like the U.K. and Australia. Besides his Irish-targeted video, Burgundy recently delivered his postelection musings on the presidential race Down Under in a 30-second video. In the vid (which drew 585,000 views), he intones: “We laughed. We cried. We became distracted by [Prime Minister] Tony Abbott’s banana hammock. [Burgundy chuckles.] I know I certainly did. And forgot a Labor Party ever existed. Good times, Australia.”

In an era in which every brand has a social-data dashboard, Paramount, Zemoga and the principals are closely watching how their videos and memes perform in real time. “We can see how the trailer and one-liners are doing, helping reveal which ones are watercooler moments,” says Wahtera. “The data allows us to see what fans are interested in, and then we can push those materials accordingly.”

Such data helped inform the Scotch Toss, a mobile game via Paramount and comedy site Funny or Die (founded by Ferrell and McKay). The game—enabled for social sharing, naturally—features 300 voiceovers by Ferrell, who, in the character of Burgundy, eggs on players to flick ice cubes into his scotch. If the player is successful, he might hear a line like: “Bull’s-eye! From that Latin ‘bullseyellius,’ which means ‘eye of a whale.’” Or miss and you might get: “Do that again, and I’ll batter your kidneys!”

“It’s really silly, addictive and stupid, which a lot of these mobile games are,” says Mike Farah, president of production at Funny or Die, a strategic partner that helped Wieden + Kennedy develop the Dodge Durango spots that have people talking—and sharing. The spot “Staring Contest” alone has garnered more than 2 million YouTube views.
 

For the Anchorman 2 push, the team is especially bullish about the movie’s Tumblr hub featuring all those GIFs—including one in which a bandana-wearing Fantana lifts weights along with the text “PUMPIN’ FOR A THUMPIN’.” As inherently social brands, Anchorman and Tumblr seem made for each other. (If Burgundy and Facebook are the same age, then Tumblr might as well be the mustachioed one’s little bro.)

“Paramount has taken a lot of our recommendations to heart, and they are blowing it out of the water,” says David Hayes, lead in Tumblr’s brands-focused department called Canvas. “It’s a studio that we are pointing to when we talk to entertainment brands.”

Hayes says Hollywood is slowly but steadily coming to employ user-generated GIFs and memes as branding vehicles. The memes may start out at Tumblr, but more importantly—and this is key—they’re often exported to Facebook and Twitter’s broader platforms. Hayes points to an effort last spring for Paramount’s Star Trek: Into Darkness as an “aha” moment. Nine animated GIFs were pieced together to create a socially embeddable poster for the latest installment in the iconic franchise.

Might GIF mashups even be the future of movie posters in a digital era? It’s possible, says Cliff Marks, president of National CineMedia, which is trying to reshape in-cinema advertising with interactive bells and whistles. “These small, chewable formats are a cool way to present your content,” he says. “And the studios are starting to make that content a focus.”

While some say Anchorman 2’s elaborate social media plan is a sign of things to come in movie promotions, still others believe the strategy could have a much broader impact. “We think product marketing is going to look more like movie campaigns in the near future, with longer narratives and more stage craft,” offers Pete Stein, global CEO of Razorfish. 

Photo: Andrew Macpherson/© Paramount Pictures.  

Guy Longworth, svp of marketing for Sony’s PlayStation Network, also thinks Anchorman 2’s long-tail social approach will inspire copycats in categories outside entertainment. “In this day and age, you really have to seed ideas,” he says. “Take how Google didn’t just come out with Google Glass. They have people who spent $1,500 to be among the first with Glass learning the product and creating content. We are increasingly thinking about taking products to market with longer-term [marketing] models.”

Anchorman 2’s social nature inspired some unusual—and highly creative—partnerships. The Washington, D.C.-based Newseum, a museum of media and journalism, partnered with Paramount on an exhibit that runs through next August. It enables visitors to interact with “#AskRon” displays with Burgundy’s answers to questions posed on Twitter. As with other elements of the campaign, Ferrell recorded the responses. “We are using the hashtag #StayClassyNewseum in our print and online ads,” notes Scott Williams, marketing vp for the Newseum. He adds that around Halloween, people were asked to share stories about themselves dressed as Burgundy, “and we got a ton of content.”

Dressing up as Burgundy on Halloween also changed the life of an enterprising Idaho sportscaster. Paul Gerke of KIVI-TV in Boise impersonated Burgundy during his Oct. 31 broadcast, nailing the character despite only three hours of preparation. Before leaving work that night, the 28-year-old saw a video of his shtick on the hugely popular sports blog Deadspin. From there, the video went viral, collecting millions of views.

“When I witnessed that, I knew it was game on,” Gerke says. “By the time I woke up the next morning, it was in USA Today, the U.K. Daily Mail, Japanese websites and the front page of Yahoo and MSN.”

Meanwhile, Gerke’s Twitter followers went from 300 to 11,000 overnight. He appeared on CNN, and NBCUniversal requested a meeting to chat about a potential gig. The quick-thinking team at Zemoga also reached out to see whether Gerke would participate in the “Join Ron’s News Crew” events, to which he agreed.

Now, thanks to Ron Burgundy, maybe Gerke will become kind of a big deal, too. Gerke is cautious. “A social media-driven world has a fickle personality,” he acknowledges. “This could all be over tomorrow.”

Ephemeral as fame can be, it’s a sure bet Anchorman 2 won’t be the last movie to employ social in a big way.

There’s definitely more social business to be had out of Hollywood, says Tumblr’s Hayes, who worked in marketing at distributor Lions Gate Entertainment before joining the social site earlier this year. Studios’ attitudes toward social media continue to evolve, says Hayes. Case in point: director McKay tweets from Ron Burgundy’s Twitter account whenever he wants to share something he thinks is funny.

Apparently, that’s pretty unusual as the movie business goes.

“With some studios, single tweets actually have to wait for approval,” Hayes notes. “But Paramount has really turned the table on that idea. Part of the splendor of a socially progressive movie campaign is that you turn some of the control over to the fans.”

And who knows? Maybe Baxter, Burgundy’s faithful pooch, can be president of the fan club. But only if he has time. Yes, the dog has a social presence, too—and a couple thousand Facebook fans to manage already.