June 9, 2016

Viral Mutant Videos from the '80s: The Unusual Marketing Campaign of 'X-Men: Apocalypse'

How do you market a franchise that has been around for almost two decades so that it feels new, exciting, and engaging?

Reinvigoration was the issue at the center of X-Men: Apocalypse's marketing campaign. You've seen the trailers, TV spots, and posters: Fox decided to take their franchise and go viral with the help of content creation studio LOGAN, which filmed short viral videos made to resemble '80s-style syndicated programs like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach and In Search of... with George Takei.

No Film School caught up with LOGAN owner's and managing director Alexei Tylevich to discuss the company's unique approach to marketing a well-established franchise like X-Men, as well as how they'd advise indie filmmakers on using viral videos to brand and advertise their own work.

"With a franchise like X-Men, it can be a challenge to make something different that pushes the boundaries, because the brand is so well established."

No Film School: Typically when people think about film marketing, they think trailers, posters, social networking, and TV spots. What role are viral videos playing now?

Tylevich: Viral videos are becoming more and more common. I don’t think they’ll ever replace the traditional means of promoting a film, like trailers and TV spots, but they play a much bigger role now. It’s something that’s almost expected by the fans, and the response is, for the most part, very enthusiastic. Viral videos are an opportunity to do something different and hopefully more engaging than a poster, for example. They may not be as “hard-hitting” as a good trailer, but they do open up the world of the film to audiences a bit more and hopefully enrich their experience.

"With virals, there’s the emphasis and expectation on finding something different, a new angle removed from tried-and-true tropes of film marketing."

NFS: How does a viral video help with branding a film?

TylevichUsually there’s a lot more leeway with viral videos when it comes to branding. Often the goal is to obscure the direct relationship to the film, aiming for a misdirect of sorts, which creates a sense of unexpected discovery once the source is revealed. With virals, there’s the emphasis and expectation on finding something different, a new angle removed from tried-and-true tropes of film marketing. There’s a degree of creative freedom, a possibility of engagement with pop culture at large, which other more traditional marketing formats, like trailers, don’t allow. As a result, a good viral campaign combined with a traditional marketing campaign can provide quite a powerful overall approach to promoting a film.

NFS: You guys at LOGAN are behind the promo videos for the X-Men: Apocalypse marketing campaign. Can you tell us about the overall approach to the project?

Tylevich: We worked closely with the marketing team over at Fox—namely, Jeff Kelly, Matt Motschenbacher and Betsy Burkett—who spearheaded the project and provided overall guidance. Our teams worked tirelessly over a very short time frame to deliver something all of us are quite proud of. 

NFS: I just watched the marketing videos you made for Apocalypsethey're awesome! What was the idea behind the vintage aesthetic?

Tylevich: The idea was to lead, or rather mislead, the viewers to believe that these videos were somehow “authentic” and simply “found” in the depths of YouTube. The '80s VHS look and feel was deliberately sought after and achieved through a variety of techniques, trying to simulate that vintage aura.

"The [viral] video can cost nothing to make and still stand out from the clutter, so lack of resources should not be an excuse not to try it."

NFS: Videos like these X-Men promos serve to promote the film, sure, but they're also incredibly creative. How do you handle that balance between art and commerce?

Tylevich: We’ve been fortunate to work with clients and brands that understand the importance of great creativity, and we find ourselves occupying that precise space between art and commerce. LOGAN was built on the constant striving for creative integrity and excellence regardless of the circumstances surrounding a project. With a franchise like X-Men, it can be a challenge to make something different that pushes the boundaries, because the brand is so well established. But at the same time, you are working with an eager audience that’s very receptive.

In contrast, shaping new brands is also very exciting since there are no set expectations. There’s always an opportunity to do something good; you just have to find it.

NFS: How can indie filmmakers, who have significantly less money than major studios, use viral videos in their own marketing campaigns?

Tylevich: It seems to be the most effective way to reach audiences these days. The cost of production is not relevant; what matters is the idea. The video can cost nothing to make and still stand out from the clutter, so the lack of resources should not be an excuse not to try it.

NFS: Do you have any tips for filmmakers who may want to tackle a viral marketing video campaign on their own? 

Tylevich: Make sure it’s original and not a rehash of something that’s already out there and considered successful. It needs to have a strong concept and work well as a shareable piece that stands on its own. Regardless of the details specific to the film, the viral still has to be relevant somehow to whatever you’re trying to promote and not be completely out of left field. It’s a fine line that you need to define in order to get it right.     

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