Believe it or not, fictional newsman Ron Burgundy is slated to guest host ESPN's signature newscast Sportscenter. If you don't like sports and haven't seen the 2004 classic comedy Anchorman, then you may not know what I'm talking about. I can guarantee this will change over the next two weeks as the publicity machine for Will Ferrell's Anchorman 2 hits full stride in ways that movie marketing has never seen before. In advance of the movie's December 18 release, Ferrell and Anchorman 2 are changing the way movies are publicized by going far beyond action-packed trailers and media tours.
It all started with a tweet from the movie's protagonist a year and a half ago. @RonBurgundy said "Hey America & Hawaii. Looks like Paramount & my lawyer Gene Tigerworthy have agreed to terms on a sequel to Anchorman. Whiskey sours on me!"
Ferrell, in character as Burgundy, officially announced the new movie on Conan O'Brien's show shortly thereafter, and a series of teaser videos have trickled out ever since. At the same time, movie studio Paramount and Ferrell's creative team have been encouraging thirsty fans to produce their own social media concepts, and the groundswell just built from there. Videos, gifs, memes and even an iPhone app have followed. "Scotchy Scotch Toss" costs 99 cents on iTunes. Yes, I bought it and have gotten quite proficient at virtually tossing ice cubes into a rocks glass while being mocked by Burgundy and his dog Baxter.
Two months ago, Dodge began airing commercials for its Durango SUV featuring Burgundy as the pitch man. Turns out that Ferrell filmed 70 spots for Dodge -- for free. The commercials are hilarious and have hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube aside from Chrysler's substantial ad buy. One commercial, called Staring Contest, has more than two million views. If you have seen it, you are probably giggling right now, and if you haven't, click here. I won't spoil it.
An added benefit of the commercials is that they are even funny for folks who have never seen the original movie. While watching a football game over the weekend, one of the Durango commercials came on, and my father leaned over and said of Ron Burgundy: "This guy's funny." Had a marketing executive from Dodge been in the room at that moment, he would have jumped for joy like an Auburn fan. My Dad, though pretty hip for 73, never saw Anchorman but he was still entertained. To get the joke, it turns out, you need not be in on it.
The prestigious Newseum in Washington, D.C. opened an Anchorman exhibit last month, hoping to attract visitors who may not otherwise see its more serious offerings. According to the Newseum website, "Anchorman: The Exhibit" explores the reality behind the humor of the film by telling the story of the challenges women faced when they arrived in newsrooms in the 1970s. Talk about an odd tie-in: a silly movie promoting serious news history.
And now we are seeing the publicity stunts. Last week, Burgundy read the news on a North Dakota television station (never breaking character) and was a guest commentator at the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials (I'm not making this up). And soon, we will have ESPN -- a recent scheduled appearance was postponed. Ferrell interviewed Peyton Manning (yep, the Peyton Manning) as a promotional move for Sportscenter -- calling-out the future Hall of Famer for somehow being able to play quarterback without a mustache. Also really funny.
Take note that we haven't once mentioned traditional movie marketing tactics which typically include a compelling trailer, print and tv ads, reviews a few days before release and movie stars doing the late night talk show circuit.
Ferrell and company have built frequency over the past 18 months using social media and a drip-drip-drip approach. They released viral videos, didn't pay a penny for a national advertising campaign and Burgundy has practically become a regular guest on Conan.
We will see much more of Burgundy, and in unconventional places, in the coming weeks. If you are interested in learning more, check out Adweek's detailed story on the efforts by Ferrell and Paramount to promote the movie.
Even though we all know that marketing is constantly evolving, sometimes it takes a sexist fictional gasbag to show us how it's done. Stay classy Huffington Post!
Do you plan to see the movie?
Cross-posted from DavidPRblog.
Follow John P. David on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnpdavid