The 7 Biggest Movie Marketing Moments of 2018

From Crazy Rich Asians to a Cannes scandal, there was plenty to talk about

Tom Cruise, who famously does his own stunts, hangs from a helicopter while filming Mission: Impossible - Fallout. Paramount Pictures
Headshot of Chris Thilk

With so many media options available to modern audiences across all kind of platforms and devices, Hollywood marketers face greater pressure to get people’s attention. They have to reach those audiences in a way that makes a distinct and lasting impression and, more importantly, drives them to see their movies in theaters on opening weekend.

While that’s always been the goal, losing out on those critical few days means missing the one shot at dominating the cultural conversation. It also means that people are not paying attention to the film and are likely engaged with the other pieces of entertainment put in front of them.

To make a significant impact, some of this year’s biggest and most notable releases worked hard to generate buzz. Here are seven movie marketing executions that stood out among a sea of choice.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Gets Delivered by Amazon

The campaign for the latest installment in the dino franchise didn’t offer much in the way of hints as to the actual story. Instead, it was focused on the epic spectacle.

To help sell that, Universal Pictures partnered with Amazon on a promotional campaign that included videos of an Amazon worker dealing with a very large and dangerous package. That package featured a “SmileCode” that took those who scanned it to a landing page of Jurassic Park movies and other products. It culminated when Jeep joined in and transported that package to a Los Angeles event featuring the movie’s stars.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout Is Stunt-Tastic

It wasn’t so much a single stunt Paramount used to help sell the latest outing by Ethan Hunt and his Impossible Mission Force but rather a range of derring-do. More accurately, the focus throughout the campaign was on the stunts performed during production by the film’s star, Tom Cruise.

From the earliest moments of the marketing right up to the moment the movie was in theaters, the studio released a series of featurettes and clips showing how Cruise executed a HALO jump, the intense bathroom fist fight and the other stunt work. Throughout all that the theme was always on how Cruise did his own stunts and was up for anything the story required of him. That was even the subject of an Uber cross-promotional commercial showing how bored his stunt double was.

Crazy Rich Asians Sells Box-Office Diversity

In a year where diversity and inclusion were regular topics of conversation when discussing movies, this was one of the highest profile releases showing there were massive audiences for stories featuring mostly, if not solely, non-white actors and characters.

Indeed the whole campaign for this movie was a stunt in many ways. It unapologetically was a celebration of a culture that’s not often represented on screen. That paid off for Warner Bros. to the tune of $174 million at the box office and showed there’s an appetite for the kinds of movies frequently spiked because they’re seen as lacking commercial potential.

Venom Goes Rom Com on Home Video

2018 saw film studios embracing the official production of videos usually created by fans and shared on their YouTube channels. Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. both released “fan reaction” videos for movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, seeking to mimic a familiar bit of content people would post when new trailers were released.

Along those same lines, Sony Pictures promoted the home video release of Venom with a promotional spot that recut footage from the film to make it look like a romantic comedy. These sorts of recuts are popular online, but now, along with similar videos from Netflix that turned To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Kissing Booth into horror films, they’ve come to the attention of Hollywood’s marketing teams looking to revitalize conversations about their movies.

Halloween Sells a Long-Awaited Sequel

It’s not unusual at all for reboots, remakes and sequels to tap into nostalgia for the original to help sell whatever new is about to come out. It’s a common shorthand that tells the audience it can expect something that’s both new and familiar, and a safe bet to make when determining how to spend a couple of hours.

Halloween ignored much of that and just sold a straightforward sequel. There was undoubtedly implicit nostalgia behind the campaign. It didn’t overly rely on hearkening back to the original, only doing so to promise fans the return of familiar characters and a continuation of the story. Universal/Blumhouse didn’t try to recreate the original trailers or anything else that’s commonly used by other studios, it just used the involvement of Jamie Lee Curtis to anchor a campaign that was equal parts classic and modern horror.

The Other Side of the Wind Spars With Cannes

A new Orson Welles movie in 2018, The Other Side of the Wind, was going to be a big deal, no matter what Netflix did or didn’t do to promote it. That it was completed by Welles scholars and friends from footage and notes that never came together in his lifetime added an air of controversy, but Netflix always assured audiences and critics they were operating with the utmost respect for the legendary filmmaker and his vision.

The biggest stunt pulled by Netflix was one that wasn’t a huge spectacle but instead involved a series of quotes and comments from the streaming giant and the directors of the Cannes Film Festival. That festival would seem like a natural for such a high profile prestige release, but because Netflix refused to drop its streaming-first plans for the movie it was shut out of screening there. All that added up to a lot of press coverage around the film that did as much to raise awareness as anything executed in the service of a massive blockbuster.

A Star Is Born Listens to the Music

Even while A Star Is Born was still in production the publicity campaign for the directorial debut of actor Bradley Cooper was all about the music. That’s to be expected since music is central to the story and the movie stars Lady Gaga in her first feature acting role. So there was coverage of how Cooper and Gaga performed in character at music festivals throughout the early months of 2018 to film concert footage for the film.

As the marketing ramped up in the months leading up to release, the buzz only intensified as every clip and featurette reinforced Gaga’s performance as a budding superstar as well as Cooper’s process of crafting the music for the movie. Warner Bros. knew that new music from Gaga was going to be a big reason many people came to see the film and wisely held back the release of the soundtrack until after it was in theaters.

Honorable Mention: Once Upon A Deadpool

You have to hand it to Fox for having the nerve to take a movie series known for its over-the-top raunchiness and violence and telling audiences a watered-down PG-13 version was worth their time and money this holiday season.

The mini-campaign the studio ran only occasionally mentioned that the re-release was to benefit a cancer charity and instead just marketed it with footage of Deadpool talking with Fred Savage, whom he’s kidnapped. Savage was outstanding, making fun of the anti-hero within the updated yet familiar milieu of The Princess Bride.


@ChrisThilk chris.thilk@gmail.com Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategy consultant in the Chicago suburbs. You can find him at ChrisThilk.com, where he shares his thoughts on content marketing, media and movie marketing.
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