The lead up to Ridley Scott’s upcoming film The Martian has gone far beyond the traditional trailer, creating teasers that treat the film’s story as a real life news and pop cultural event. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson, StarTalk, and Nat Geo got in on the action. Now, the blending of the movie’s fictional world and ours is complete with the latest teaser, and a very realistic brand partnership.
Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) prepares for the physical rigor of space exploration as the voiceover describes the sacrifice and hard work required to achieve greatness. If it looks and sounds a little bit like an Under Armour commercial, that’s because it is.
Product placement in film always walks a fine line between seamless integration and distracting audience insult. Long ago, Wayne’s World accurately summed up the bulk of branded movie roles.
More recently though, some brands and movie producers have teamed up to create brand opportunities in film that don’t (SHOCK!) make everyone roll their eyes in revulsion. Will Ferrell being a prime example in movies like Semi Pro and Anchorman 2, where he enthusiastically shilled for Old Spice, Bud Light, and Dodge, respectively, gloriously in character. And James Bond has long been a brand magnet.
Last year, Scott’s RSA Films and theatrical advertising agency Wild Card launched a new marketing shop called 3AM, with a goal to collaborate with filmmakers, studios and brands in the early stages of the movie production cycle to create integrated content and marketing extensions. 3AM creative director Chris Eyerman says that programming original content around films is an area with huge untapped potential.
For The Martian, Eyerman says the creative strategy from the outset was to depict the Ares III astronauts as celebrities and follow the events of the mission in a way that reflected how they would be covered. “We asked ourselves what it would look like if we took the pop culture appeal of Apollo and Mercury-era astronauts and infused that world with today’s hyper-connected social media culture,” says Eyerman. “In this setting, we might see the crew bid Earth farewell via live video and a Persicope-like social media feed. And we would probably see these astronauts being sponsored by brands. This idea ended up being a ripe territory for content that allowed us to develop an emotional bond with these characters and also capture the humor, drama, and science that people loved in the book.”
The agency actually approached Under Armour with the idea for the latest teaser. “Our partners at RSA reached out to (Under Armour agency) Droga5 on our behalf to see if UA had any interest in being a content partner on this film,” says 3AM managing partner Alison Temple. “From there, everyone worked together to create something that felt authentic to both the film and the brand.”
Nick Phelps, Global Alliance Director for Droga5, says that the partnership is mutually beneficial–the movie needed a way to introduce the astronauts while establishing their credibility as incredible athletes, and Under Armour is always looking for opportunities in athletic performance and innovation with the most interesting athletes. “Featuring the astronauts in an Under Armour campaign was a great way for both sides to achieve their goals,” says Phelps. “Under Armour isn’t an interruption into the movie’s fictional world, it’s realistic and actually adds credibility. The brand helps make their future world seem real, and of course that’s what the movie makers want. For the movie and the brand it is a win-win.”
Temple says that this approach represents a new way forward for film partnerships. “Everyone is trying to publish quality content these days,” says Temple. “This gives brands the ability to create meaningful, culturally relevant content, tied to a property that people care about. And in return, the studio gets to reach an audience that they might not have reached otherwise. And it all works together to form an excellent way to capture interest and get audiences excited without spoiling the entire story or the moviegoing experience.”