Movie Marketing Madness: Kick-Ass
October 10th, 2010
There are, as we likely all know, two levels of comic adaptations. There are super-heroes that are
brought to life on the big screen with lots of special effects, costumes and a little dash of
questionable casting. Then there are “the others” that are adaptations of less splashy visuals and
have, in most cases, a hint of the independent vibe that their creators infused them with and which
has then translated to the screen.
But lately there’s a middle ground that has grown increasingly prevalent. 2008′s Wanted was based
on a comic that wasn’t a super-hero story exactly, though the film certainly featured visuals that
would have been comfortably at home in any of those movies. Likewise the upcoming Scott
Pilgrim vs. The World is an adaptation of a comic that features exaggerated characters and
situations that are born of the super-hero world but which are not about any such hero.
In that sort of middle ground also is Kick-Ass, one of this year’s most anticipated films among the
geekarati. The story is about a world without real super heroes and so, some people start
thinking, why can’t they become costumed avengers? You don’t actually need powers, just a mask
and a mission. And so a handful of kids put together a costume and start fighting “evil” in some
form or another. The source book (which I’ll admit to not having read) is reportedly crass and
violent and, based on the marketing we’re about to take a look at, the movie doesn’t seem to
deviate from that too wildly.
With such a colorful cast of characters there were bound to be a plethora of posters created and
the marketing team has certainly delivered on that front.
The first batch of teasers placed each of the main characters – Red Mist, Kick-Ass himself, Hit Girl
and Big Daddy – in that most cliched of super-hero poses, that of standing atop a building and
looking over the city they’ve sworn to protect triumphantly and with a sense of entitlement and
ownership. When you put the four posters together in the order outlined above the title of the
movie is spelled out in the sky, which is a nice touch and certainly an incentive for collectors
excited about the movie to seek out the one-sheets and webmasters to reprint this group
A second batch of teaser one-sheets again featured each individual character, but in different poses
and with more color-coded backgrounds. Each one also got it’s own little saying that deflated the
idea they were actually had any powers but did emphasize what they could do, which is kick your
ass. So Kick Ass’ poster says “I can’t fly. But I can kick your ass.” and so on. Each also contained a
URL to what appeared to be a character-specific website but those addresses, when entered, just
redirected to the movie’s official site.
Not content with two bites at the apple there was a third set created and released that toned
down the clever and just presented the four characters bursting through the title treatment with a
burst of color in their wake. While three series of character-centric posters for a movie with only
four main characters it’s showing off might seem…excessive…it did serve the purpose of creating
a steady stream of publicity on movie blogs and elsewhere. That kept the movie in the audience’s
mind and kept them talking about it in the interim between filming and release.
A theatrical poster took the same visual style as the last of the teaser series, with the bold, block
letter title treatment in the background and the four characters standing in the front and above
the little bit of non-credit block copy on the poster that states definitively “Shut up. Kick ass.” It
certainly looks like the kind of image that might be created for a comic trade paperback and is
pretty cool, finishing off the poster component of the campaign nicely, even if I think it was
developed and released before series three of the teasers.
The first all ages trailer starts off with a shot of a winged hero standing atop a building ready to
take flight. As he prepares we get voiceover asking why no one has thought of being a super-hero
before since their lives can’t be so interesting as to not need a little adventure mixed in. When the
winged figure takes off he plummets straight down, eventually landing with a deadly thud on top of
a taxi as the voiceover informs us that’s not him, that’s some dude with mental problems.
After a brief shot of the main character and his friends discussing whether or not becoming a hero
is possible we get a “putting on the costume” scene we’re then shown quickly the other everyday
heroes before we finally get the “I’m Kick Ass” scene.
The second trailer starts off with the friends discussing how probable it is that anyone who tried
to be a super hero would wind up seriously injured very shortly but then provides a little more
background into the guy who would be Kick Ass before showing him suiting up. That initial
appearance, we’re told via news footage, inspires others to take up similar mantles and so we’re
introduced more fully to Big Daddy, Hit Girl and Red Mist as they seek to fight crime on their own
terms. We also get a better idea of what they’re going up against as we see a crime leader of some
sort (played by Mark Strong) and what his reaction to the rise of costumed vigilantes is and what
sort of havoc they’re playing with his operations.
A third and much shorter trailer really served as a greatest hits compilation of the ones that had
come before. I don’t think there’s any new footage in there but it does introduce all four
characters once again and get to the idea that these are just ordinary people who have decided to
take the law into their own hands. Or at least that they’ve decided to stop allowing innocent
people to take a beating without doing anything.
Because the movie was rated R and it was doing so well in establishing its hard core cred, a redband trailer was also introduced that included more language and mentions of the primary hero’s
masturbatory tendencies. It also contained a few more graphic shots of the backs of people’s
heads being blown off. Some of that language would come out of the mouth of the young girl who
plays Hit Girl, which would result in some hand-wringing by media and other critics that we’ll talk
more about later on.
When you load the official website the primary menu shows briefly before giving way to the
trailer, which you can also share on a variety of social networks or embed on your own blog.
Closing that you’ll see the main page has prompts to Buy Tickets Now as well as a list of theaters
showing sneak peeks which seems to be generated based on the location of your computer’s IP
address. So when I visited I got a list of theaters in the western suburbs of Chicago. There are also
links to read reviews on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, which is somewhat unusual and shows what
faith the marketers are putting in word of mouth peer reviews. When you enter the site the first
thing you’re prompted to do is play some light games, which if you register will get you points you
can redeem later on. Each character icon brings you to a different game that’s associated with that
character’s skills in the story.
Moving to the site’s content menu, “About” has a decent paragraph write-up of the film’s story
and characters. The “Cast and Crew” section is one of the best-designed such executions I think
I’ve seen with its big icons for each actor that leads you to information on their background and
biography. There are 12 stills from the movie in “Photos” and “Videos” contains the Teaser and
Theatrical Trailers as well as a handful of clips from the movie that extend scenes that are teased
in the trailers. “Downloads” has four character-centric Wallpapers and Icons that use the same
images from one of the teaser poster series.
The “Restricted” section contains direct links to things like Watch Hardcore Videos (the
restricted trailer) and an Adults Only Soundboard as well as more that prompts you to take
various actions with foul-mouthed language, including a call to grab an embeddable widget,
something I haven’t seen in a while. “Partners” has links to the content hubs at sites like IGN and
UGO as well as information on buying movie-branded goods by French Connection and Vans.
There are also links to the Lionsgate YouTube channel and information on the film’s soundtrack.
The “News” section has photos from the movie’s screening at SXSW, a music video from Mika
and photos from the UK premiere. There are also embedded updates from the studio’s Twitter
feed and when you click “See All Updates” you’re taken to that profile. Finally the “Store” lets you
buy movie t-shirts and other goodies from Gold Label.
Each character also got their own Facebook page, something that must have cost the studio a
healthy sum considering Facebook’s policies on making sure you are who you say you are on the
network. When you visited the pages for Kick Ass, Red Mist, Big Daddy or Hit Girl you were
prompted to both enter a sweepstakes to win a trip to the premiere or enter a contest by
uploading video of you in your super-hero costume and showing off your moves. Each character’s
page also had plenty of information about that particular character as well as links ot the other’s
profiles, the official site, links to the Demand It campaign and a Wall’s worth of links to coverage
of new marketing materials and more about the movie.
The movie’s MySpace page had the trailers, some clips and links to the same contests and
sweepstakes mentioned before. There was a sited called Real Life Superheroes that was kind of…
weird. It’s obviously part of the campaign for the movie – banner ads for the flick are all over the
place – but it also seems to exist in a world of such characters, encouraging people to create
profiles for their own heroes.
The Lionsgate YouTube channel was retro-fitted to be a hub for people to submit their own video
review after seeing the movie. The main channel page also contained a stream of commentary
about the movie from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, a stream powered by a service called
@ThisMoment, integration it and the movie got a bit of press out of. Likewise the studio’s Twitter
channel contained steady updates on the movie’s publicity and links to what it felt was important
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A ton of advertising has been done, including the creation of quite a few TV spots, many of which
took the form of trimmed trailers and featured little new material. Still, they’re effective at
conveying the overall attitude of the movie to an audience, though there’s the concern that
without the additional time that can be used for more explanation there’s going to be the belief
that this is a straight super-hero movie. The expanded trailers make it more clear that it’s taking a
drastically different approach to the genre but that doesn’t come through as loudly in 30-second
There has been a good amount of outdoor advertising as well as well as some online and, one
would assume, in print. Most of that as would be expected has repurposed any of the poster
Media and Publicity
After an early appearance at Butt-Numb-a-Thon, the movie had it’s official coming out party with a
screening on opening night of SXSW 2010. In fact the movie’s presence there included a number
of vans to shuttle people around that were decorated with key art elements, which is kind of cool
since transportation at festivals is always an issue.
In terms of media coverage a good amount came after the release of some restricted clips that
featured foul language, some of which came out of the mouth of young Chloe Grace Moretz, the
girl who plays Hit Girl. That led to a lot of commentary about not only whether red-band trailers
are appropriate given their propensity to appear on non-age restricted sites (New York Times,
2/24/10) but also on the the fact that an 11 year old girl was saying such things, including lots of
references to sexual themes. That focus on Moretz and her role in such a graphic, both verbally
and physically, movie continued to be covered in the press (New York Times, 4/11/10) and actually
became a central component of a lot of stories (Los Angeles Times, 4/14/10) even those stories that
were just about how offensive and incendiary the movie is in general, as well as leading to
discussions of gender politics and related issues.
Regardless of what traditional mainstream or trade press coverage the movie has gotten, the real
thing going for Kick-Ass is the word of mouth that has been building up for well on a year now.
Fans have been absolutely salivating for this movie and have eaten up every new clip, every new
trailer, every new preview at a festival or convention. And that campaign has fed that hunger with
a steady release of material that has kept the movie never far from top-of-mind and so fueled the
conversations about it and therefore the anticipation for it. Indeed it seemed to be pegged by
some as the pinnacle (Los Angeles Times, 4/15/10) of the comic/movie geek’s world. As with
previous movies in this category, though, how festival and convention buzz translates to box-office
success remains to be seen.
For as sprawling as it can sometimes seem, Lionsgate has actually put together a tight and
amazingly consistent campaign here. All the components come back to the same four or five
themes and hit the same notes, even if they take different paths to get there, leading to an overall
campaign that feels familiar wherever you encounter it while also seeming fresh and new in each
What it does is play to its strengths – and presumably the strengths of the movie – time and time
again. So there’s violence, language and a “Hey you know what, let’s just go for broke and let the
chips fall where they may” attitude that pervades the entire campaign. It knows fans are expecting
the outrageous and so, whenever possible, delivers on that expectation.