Caveat studios: Taking viral marketing to pandemic proportions won't work with just anyone
It’s raining Ron.
Everywhere you look in the run-up to the Dec. 18 release of Paramount Pictures’ “Anchorman 2,” Ron Burgundy is there. It’s a promotional blizzard so thick that the screen time Will Ferrell has been logging in character online rivals his time in the movie itself. Viral marketing has reached pandemic proportions.
Here’s Ron in 70 different spots touting the Dodge Durango. There’s Ron touting curling at the Canadian Olympic trials. Then there’s his brand of scotch, ice cream flavor and Newseum exhibit. You can’t swing Ron’s beloved pooch Baxter without hitting “Anchorman 2” across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.
In the onslaught of Burgundy, it’s the true gems of marketing that keep potential ticket-buyers anchored to the character.
Top 5 Burgundy Promos
As the beloved protagonist of a sequel that took far too many years to follow the original film, Burgundy is making a welcome return. But Paramount is either flirting with serious overexposure or reinventing how digital entertainment marketing is done.
I’ll side with reinvention, but with a big caveat: There probably aren’t too many cinematic characters that lend themselves to this kind of carpet-bombing without wearing out their welcome in ways that could hurt box office.
Digital marketing is typically a pretty modest affair, a sprinkling of trailers, GIFs, key art and social messaging that is more the cherry on top of a nine-figure marketing assault than the sundae itself. But in “Anchorman 2,” digital appears to be the foundation of an all-out blitz that still does the traditional billboards and 30-second spots, but with firepower aplenty across screens of all kinds, including YouTube vids, social media campaigns and even a Funny or Die short featuring real-life CNN anchors Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo and Wolf Blitzer.
And it’s not just breadth that distinguished the “Anchorman 2” campaign from the pack; it’s the duration. From the moment Burgundy announced his long-awaited return on “Conan” to his unveiling of the movie’s release date, there’s been a carefully orchestrated crescendo of marketing that has kept Ferrell weighing anchor everywhere.
There has never been an actor who has worked this long and hard to promote a movie — which probably means he’s got a lot of points in his contract with Paramount.
Ferrell has even worked his magic overseas with comedic bits customized for specific territories. It’s a credit to just how funny he is that even an American can enjoy his riffs on alien subjects like British Halloween and Canadian Olympic curling trials. Comedy isn’t so easily translatable across borders, but he makes it work.
It’s tempting to wonder whether Paramount made a last-minute decision to move up the “Anchorman 2” release date by two days from its original Dec. 20 perch because of concerns that too much material was getting out there in advance of release. Worst case scenario is the sum of all the advance content adds up to one of those trailers that explains so much about the movie that it leaves little need to see it.
But fear the results if “Anchorman 2” opens big, and rival studios inevitably rip off its marketing strategy. There’s something uniquely inexhaustible about Ron Burgundy; chalk it up to the improvisational nature of Ferrell’s comedy that keeps the character impossibly fresh. It’s also hilariously anachronistic to have a 1970s-era news anchor popping up everywhere in a 21st-century media milieu, from local newscasts to ESPN.
But imagine if other franchise sequels try this zany Zelig routine. If, say, Bilbo Baggins embarked on his own ubiquity tour in support of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” it wouldn’t take very long to tire of the Shire. Remember what they say about doses.
There will be those who believe Paramount went to the well one too many times on Ron Burgundy, and was better off leaving an air of mystery around the character. If free digital exposure has given too many people so much Ron time that they’re left with little desire to pay to see him in theaters, the studios will retreat to a less-is-more approach. But don’t bet on it.
Stay classy, Hollywood.