The Problem with Suicide Squad’s Marketing

Warner Bros. Pictures and DC comics have had to drastically alter their marketing strategies after the film Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (referred to as BVS from here on) was heavily criticised for being miserable, boring and not fun to watch. They needed to show the world that the next film in the Warner/DC Extended Universe was definitely not that. That film is Suicide Squad.

Let’s start with the trailers for Suicide Squad. So far, they have garnered a positive reaction. The first official trailer on the Warner Bros. Pictures channel has 534k thumbs up, compared to only 13k down votes. They’ve achieved this by using, what I like to call, the Puff Daddy principle. Take a very familiar bit of music, use the existing emotional attachments to hook people in and you can put any old rubbish on top as people are still bopping along to what they remember. Bohemian Rhapsody is one of those songs that always puts a smile on your face. But take a look at the actual content of the first official trailer. Whilst the music acts as the key to telling you how to feel about it, tonally the trailer is all over the place. Fast paced action, mixed with a moody, serious looking story and humorous moments that don’t quite gel. There is also very little in there to give you any idea of the plot. This is probably a reaction to the BVS trailers that basically told you exactly what was going to happen in the film. They seem to have gone in the opposite direction by showing you a lot, but telling you very little. I suppose they deserve some praise as it makes a change from the BWAAARM, Inception music style of trailers that are all the rage at the moment, but I’m still not sold.

The marketing team also released one-sheet posters for each character. If you are into comics, and are invested in the films, you’ll probably know who these characters are. If you are not, however, it causes a disconnect as that recognition isn’t in place. When I look at the posters, this is what I see:

 Ok, maybe I’m being a little facetious here, but the point is valid. They mean little, or nothing, to those not in the loop. Not a great move if you want to attract the largest audience possible. There are a lot of characters being introduced here, most of which will not be familiar to the vast majority of cinemagoers. By the time Marvel/Disney made The Avengers, all of the main characters were fairly well established and you could get away with the ensemble. Suicide Squad doesn’t have that luxury. Will the 2 hour running time give each squad member enough time to be more than a generic stereotype?

The other problem with having so many separate characters means that you don’t have that one person to follow on this journey. The trailers suggest that Will Smith’s Deadshot will be the narrative focus because, well it’s Will Smith. He’s awesome and he’s front and centre in the trailer. People remember Big Willie Styles being in great movies (think of it as an off-shoot of the Puff Daddy principle). Everything else seems to be about Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn because, well sex sells and bending over in hot pants seems to appeal to the target audience. It certainly seems like these two will have the lion’s share of screen time and character development at the expense of the rest of the team.

News of reshoots for Suicide Squad started trickling out. Now, most films do this following an initial rough cut being produced. Pick up shots, fill ins, and different dialogue to make the edited version of the scenes work properly. This is all pretty normal stuff that most films go through. Unfortunately, they came at a time when the critical hammering had put a permanent dent in Zak Snyder’s plans for a dark, gritty and realistic DC/Warner movie universe. The complaints that BVS wasn’t fun sent film journos into a frenzy with several articles stating that they were going back to add jokes, because it needs to be more fun. The fact that the hilarious Deadpool was massively successful earlier in the year didn’t help matters. Also alluded to, was an increase to Margot Robbie’s role as Harley Quinn due the positive fan reaction she was receiving. All of this was denied by the filmmakers, of course, but it’s one of those stories. The facts don’t matter when the headline is so juicy.

Then there are all the stories that were released about on-set shenanigans. Allegedly, they tattooed each other very badly. I wouldn’t let anyone who is untrained anywhere near me with ink and needles. In getting into character Jared Leto, portraying the Joker, gave ‘crazy gifts’ like dead rats, used condoms and anal beads to fellow casts members. That’s just unsanitary and probably breaches several health and safety, not to mention employment regulations. Apparently Jai Courtney took magic mushrooms and stubbed cigarettes out on himself in preparation for his crazy character Captain Boomerang*. Now I’m not saying these events didn’t happen, but if they did, all those concerned should be getting some professional help, not applauded for such behaviour. For some, this method acting approach lends an ‘authenticity’ to their performances, and is perceived as being cool. To most people, however, it most definitely is not.

Add it all up and the marketing is kind of a mess. However, none of this is actually the fault of David Ayer, or the cast and crew of Suicide Squad. The blame for all of this lies with Warner Bros. and the fallout from allowing Zak Snyder carte blanche with the tone and styling for BVS.

Figures from US ticket sales agency Fandango point to a blockbuster opening weekend based on advance ticket sales. But don’t forget BVS started incredibly strong, then saw one of the biggest drops in box office history in the following week, getting increasingly worse as the weeks went on. The film is rated PG-13 in the USA and PG in Canada, but 15 in the UK, 15A in Ireland and M in Australia which could reduce its box office in those territories by closing off a fairly significant proportion of it’s potential audience.

In some respects, targeting the fanboy faithful and getting them back onside, is exactly what DC and Warner Bros. needed to do in order to generate positive press. Unfortunately, this appears to have been done at the expense of almost everyone else. This is not a film that has me, even cautiously optimistic, and looks like it’s going to be a bit of a shambles. We will have to see what effect this all has when Suicide Squad opens on 5 August. It certainly can’t be any worse than Batman v Superman, and the Bad Films in Good Company podcast will be on hand to deliver their verdict.

 

*DC Comics have the worst character names ever.

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