The Boss Baby Is the Latest Movie to Sell Itself by Winking at the Competition

When it makes sense to mention the other guys

Next week, The Boss Baby hits theaters. The latest Dreamworks Animation release features Alec Baldwin voicing a briefcase-wielding, suit-and-tie-wearing baby who’s sent undercover to a family to try to foil the plans of Puppy Co., which is working to out-cute the baby industry.

To date, the marketing for the movie has focused on the inherent comedy of Baldwin’s voice coming out of a pint-sized body and the conflict between the baby and the older brother who discovers what’s really going on. The latest trailer, though, adds another element to the opening with a direct nod to the competition it will face at the box office.

As the trailer opens, the baby is playing with a toy candelabra and clock, and promises that, if you really want it, they can cram a talking candlestick into the movie somewhere—a clear reference to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

It’s not the first time movie marketers have nodded to or otherwise acknowledged the competition. In fact, referencing other current movies, whether they’re going up against them at the box office directly or not, is an increasingly common tactic.

Here are some other examples:

 

Sisters

“Opening the same weekend as Star Wars: The Force Awakens” may have been the worst position any movie has ever been in. But that’s where Sisters, a comedy starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, found itself in December 2015. Most of the trailers and other marketing efforts were pretty straightforward, but a couple weeks before opening weekend, Universal released a spot that took the audience behind the scenes, presenting the movie as some sort of prestige sci-fi release.

Fey and Poehler affected English accents, Maya Rudolph made weird Chewbacca-esque noises while wearing a gorilla suit, and more—all poking a bit of fun at Star Wars. The trailer ended with the hashtag #youcanseethemboth to make sure people knew it wasn’t an either/or choice.

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

The Wimpy Kid franchise is being given fresh life with a new cast, given that the kids who were in the first couple of movies have aged out of the roles. The marketing for the new version is remarkably similar to how the first movies were sold, focusing on reusing author/illustrator Jeff Kinney’s artwork and how those crude drawings have been brought to life.

The most recent trailer seems to acknowledge that it’s just the latest in a series of movies to have their heroes recast, with narration intoning how there’s “a new caped crusader” and “a new amazing web-slinger,” nods to how both Batman and Spider-Man regularly feature new actors under the masks. Now, the ad continues, there’s a new hero “who dares to be wimpy.” The graphics that play under the narration are also similar to Marvel Studios’ now-famous page-flipping motif.

(Side note: I don’t think we’re making a big enough deal of the fact that the dad in the first movies was played by Steve Zahn, and now he’s being played by Tom Everett Scott. If the series is recast again in the future, I demand either Johnathon Schaech or Ethan Embry be cast as the dad.)

 

Zootopia

When Disney was selling what would go on to be a critical and box-office success, it had a bit of fun by creating faux posters that put a Zootopia spin on other recent or upcoming releases.

Jurassic World became Giraffic World, Cinderella became Cinderelephant and so on. It was a fun way to keep people talking about the movie, which was still a month or two away from release at the time. It was so popular, in fact, that the studio did it again, creating new posters with animalistic takes on the 2017 Oscar nominees, including La La Lamb, Nocturnal Mammals and more.

 

It may seem counterintuitive to do anything that would draw attention to your competition, especially in an industry that’s as dependent on opening day to make or break success as movies. In the case of something like Sisters, that was a risk worth taking, as the movie was running the very real risk of getting steamrolled. It had to have a little fun and acknowledge that fact that it was, in all likelihood, screwed—and do anything to get people to turn out.

The other executions are more in the vein of just having a bit of fun and creating talkable moments, instances where the marketing can do something slightly unexpected and thus notable to make sure it’s still on people’s radar. Things like the Zootopia posters are examples of swimming with the tide, acknowledging that the movie exists in a larger world.

People aren’t dumb, and neither are the marketing pros. Just look at how many headlines for The Boss Baby’s latest trailer specifically called out the Beauty and the Beast connection.