Netflix's 'Gray Man' marketing blitz: emojis, TV ads and a tram

THE Gray Man has his own emoji, he has sprinted across 3D billboards from Krakow to Seoul, and he has battled bad guys in more than 100 TV ads.

Netflix launched one of its largest marketing campaigns ever to make sure audiences around the world knew that Ryan Gosling was starring in The Gray Man, the company's big-budget summer action movie.

The streaming service has begun mounting larger awareness campaigns for its biggest titles as part of the roughly US$2.5 billion it spends annually on marketing, Marian Lee, Netflix's chief marketing officer, said in an interview.

"We want the conversation out there to be about Netflix shows and movies," Lee said.

Netflix has lost more than 1 million subscribers this year and its shares have fallen 62 per cent. Co-chief executive Reed Hastings said the company is working to improve on all fronts, including marketing. Netflix remains the world's largest streaming service with nearly 221 million subscribers.

The Gray Man was directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the brothers behind Avengers: Endgame and other blockbusters from Walt Disney Co's Marvel Studios, which typically spends US$150 million or more to market action movies. The Russos told Netflix they wanted the company to make a big splash with The Gray Man.

"We tend to make movies of a certain scale that require a larger platform for release, a larger media push. And they were game for it," Joe Russo said.

More than 100 Gray Man TV ads ran globally during live sporting events from the Monaco Grand Prix to the NBA Finals and shows such as Big Brother and The Bachelorette.

Three-dimensional billboards, which made explosions seemingly blast off the screen, lit up New York's Time Square and cities around the world including Seoul, Krakow, Tokyo and Las Vegas.

"We are trying to ensure that we're creating bespoke campaigns that connect with the audiences for that particular movie or show," Lee said.

On social media, custom emojis of Sierra Six (Gosling) and nemesis Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) were created for Twitter. The Russos chatted with influencers on TikTok, attracting more than 1.1 million views.

At San Diego Comic-Con, the annual celebration of pop culture, Netflix set up a crashed tram car for an interactive Gray Man experience. Visitors worked to escape the car and sprint across the tram's roof. They left with a video of their heroics for easy sharing on social media.

The Gray Man logged 88.6 million viewing hours over the past weekend, ranking as the fifth-highest film debut ever on the streaming service. It was the weekend's most-watched Netflix movie in 84 countries. The company ordered a sequel and a spinoff.

Before it hit Netflix, The Gray Man played exclusively for 1 week in 1,500 theaters worldwide. While promotions mentioned the theatrical run, "we were not trying to drive people to theaters," Lee said. "We were definitely trying to focus on the Netflix premiere."

The scale of future Netflix campaigns will be relative to the size of the movie or series, Lee said. Other Netflix films that will see a big push include a Knives Out sequel, young adult title The School for Good and Evil and Slumberland starring Jason Momoa.

Lee did not disclose how much Netflix spent to promote The Gray Man, but said it was less than what traditional studios spend to tout a blockbuster film.

Netflix has many more titles to promote than other studios, Lee noted, and she said its awareness efforts are boosted by the company's algorithm that makes tailored suggestions to viewers.

"Those 2 things really work hand in hand," Lee said. REUTERS


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