FX Gets Nostalgic to Promote the Bette Davis-Joan Crawford Series ‘Feud’

Technicolor-inspired campaign educates young viewers about the icons

Feud's campaign was inspired by the use of Technicolor in films like Vertigo and How to Marry a Millionaire.
Kurt Iswarienko/FX

As FX prepares for the Sunday debut of Feud: Bette and Joan, its new anthology series from Ryan Murphy, the network is taking a cue from its source material with a Technicolor-influenced marketing campaign that plays up the show’s old-school Hollywood glamour.

The series chronicles the toxic relationship between Joan Crawford (played by Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) during, and after, the making of their 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? And FX is selling Feud with a nostalgic campaign that spotlights Hollywood iconography, while also educating younger audiences about the two movie titans at the center of the story.

Feud’s film-within-a-series structure left FX’s marketing team with lots of early questions about how to craft a campaign. “Because you have two huge stars, and then you have two huge stars playing two huge stars, and how do you explain which star is playing who? And, do we want to see Jessica playing civilian Joan, or do we want to see Jessica playing her part in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” said Stephanie Gibbons, president, marketing, digital media marketing and on-air promotions for FX Networks.

In talking with Murphy about his series, which will focus on a different feud each season (Season 2 will feature Prince Charles and Princess Diana), “he said to me that he was very attracted to the Technicolor aspect. So in ideating the campaign, Technicolor was very important to us,” said Gibbons, who was inspired by the use of color in films like Vertigo and How to Marry a Millionaire, and the movies directed by Douglas Sirk. “It’s so oversaturated, there’s so much color, that it’s almost too much of a good thing.”

That color scheme was highlighted in Feud’s earliest spots, which began to air two months ago.

“Part of why Stephanie and Ryan love each other so much is Ryan is obsessed with detail and research. He has a library of every fashion style, architectural style, photographic style, and you can see when he goes into a time and place and a period, he goes into it really deeply. She’s exactly the same way,” said FX Networks CEO John Landgraf. “So actually trying to recover the Technicolor pallet and techniques from this era was a part of it. We do that because I think we feel like the specific becomes universal if it’s specific enough and if it’s couched in the right way.”

Early on, Gibbons considered balancing the campaign’s nostalgia with more modern elements, before realizing, “If I’m Sophia Loren, a gorgeous brunette, I wouldn’t try to spend all my time being Grace Kelly, an icy blond. We’ve been given this gift of this period of time, let’s make it so much about that, because it looks different from other things that are out there. Let’s really put people in that world,” said Gibbons.

Another key marketing objective for FX was educating younger audiences about just how iconic Davis and Crawford were in their time. “Somebody like Bettie Davis would be the equivalent of Angelina Jolie times 10,” said Gibbons.

One spot, an homage to the films of Busby Berkeley and the Academy Awards ceremonies from the ’60s and early ’70s, features the two women walking down a staircase on a stage, and aging as they descend. “They start out, the ingénue is at the top, and then they walk down and you’re seeing [Crawford] as she would be in Mildred Pierce and [Davis] as she would be in All About Eve. And then we come down and they transform into who they are now,” said Gibbons.

FX is also highlighting what Gibbons refers to as “that unbelievable renaissance of snark,” showcasing the catty things that each actress said about one another. “One of my favorite things is when Joan died, [Davis said], ‘They say you’re supposed to say good things about the dead. She’s dead; good.’ Things like that, where you’re like, that would work today!” said Gibbons.

While many TV campaigns start more than a half-year ahead of their premieres (Fox’s first-season marketing campaign for Murphy’s Scream Queens kicked off seven months before its debut), FX held back any footage until it aired a Feud spot during the Jan. 10 season premiere of its drama Taboo. The network didn’t want its messaging to get lost during the holiday season.

“We wanted to wait to put out the message until people were ready to hear it,” said Gibbons. After people are back in the swing of things after the holiday, “You say, OK, I’m back in my real life again, I’m in the swing, and now, it’s dark outside early, it’s cold in many places, and I’m looking for new things to fuel my passion.”

In weeks leading up to the premiere, FX is also rolling out several marketing events targeted at the gay community. Last month, it held Feud screenings in LGBTQ neighborhoods in 10 U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. “Obviously, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is an iconic film. You have a lot of artists who have imitated Joan and Bette, they’re mainstays, and so we wanted to reach out to that community,” said Gibbons.

L.A.-specific activations include a drag queen bingo Thursday night in West Hollywood, a jazz performance tonight in West Holywood and a free Saturday night screening of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

The network also partnered with several entertainment outlets, running branded segments on TMZ, Page Six, Bustle, Thrillist, Entertainment Weekly and Queerty.

FX bought its first national Oscar ad during Sunday’s Academy Awards, where spots sold for as much as $2.5 million, to promote Feud. Given the show’s Hollywood setting, and the significance that the 1963 Oscar ceremony plays in the series, “it seemed like the perfect terrarium for Feud,” said Gibbons.