What Cannes can learn from Cannes

Inspired by the “other” Cannes festival, for the film industry, we look at some innovative movie marketing.

by Mark Tungate , Adforum

On a recent visit to the Cannes Film Festival, I witnessed the Hollywood marketing machine firing on all cylinders. The façade of the Majestic hotel, for instance, had been turned into a digital screen showing a trailer for a film called The Spy Who Dumped Me, on repeat. It didn’t convince me to see the film, but it was certainly eye-catching.

Movie marketing can be much more innovative than digital outdoor, however. Back in 1999, when I did a short stint at PR Week magazine in New York, the US marketing world was agog at the success of a campaign for a tiny independent film called The Blair Witch Project. It was the first time a film had been promoted almost entirely via its website, and it’s now regarded as the dawn of viral marketing.

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More recently, the Star Wars spin-off Solo – which was screened out of competition at Cannes – came pre-loaded with a host of fun marketing ideas beyond the traditional trailer. One of our favourites was a 360° video tour of the Millennium Falcon, all scrubbed and shiny before it belonged to Han.

On Star Wars Day (as in “May the Fourth be with you”), Lucasfilm launched #roarforchange, which challenged fans to roar like Chewbacca in aid of UNICEF. This was promoted with an online film in which Chewie was revealed to be “a bit of a diva”.

But whipping the rug from under Chewie, so to speak, was Deadpool 2, featuring Marvel’s most irreverent superhero. Star Ryan Reynolds is known for his humorous tweets, and the marketing for the movie was equally quirky. Instagram went wild when the team hacked Walmart by slipping Deadpool imagery into classic DVD covers.

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Even better, in our view, was the moment when Deadpool became the guest editor of Good Housekeeping magazine: exactly the kind of bizarre stunt that gets the target audience posting.

Talking of superheroes, brand partnerships are a familiar rite of movie promotion, but Chevrolet took a particularly smart approach to reminding us that it’s the automaker behind the Batmobile – even the Lego Batmobile. Want to see a bunch of Lego mini-figures probing Batman’s psychology by analysing his choice of ride? It’s right here.

Niche movies are harder to promote, of course, so Netflix may have had a problem on its hands with last year’s Okja, a contemporary fairy tale about a girl and a giant pig, directed by Bong Joon Ho. The studio responded by giving villain Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) a Twitter feed and a disturbingly realistic corporate video.

It reminded me of the TED talk given by Peter Weyland (alias actor Guy Pearce) to promote Ridley Scott’s Prometheus way back in 2012. Take a look and find out that we’re now only five years from creating “cybernetic individuals”.

Bringing characters to life across familiar digital platforms is a familiar movie marketing strategy. But what about something spectacularly analogue? The stunt that comes to mind was not for a movie, but a TV series: Game Of Thrones. A streaming service in the UK promoted the new season by leaving a giant dragon skull on a British beach, generating plenty of press.

Sometimes, to get noticed, you have to go larger than life.