Billbored: How Creative Indecisions Are Made

I have high hopes for this movie.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? A show that traveled purely on the charm of its actors. The silliness of the plots made it almost evanescently lightweight. It only occasionally hit the mark as the spoof it was intended to be, and never got close to the heights The Avengers scaled in winking at the whole spy genre. But a fond memory. Good theme music.

Guy Ritchie? Man knows his way around knockabout action comedy: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla, the RD Jr. Sherlock Holmes flicks. Around an island with Madonna? Not so much. But still.

UNCLETrailers look Guy Ritchie-ish. The big surprise? Henry Cavill doing a dry, droll impersonation of Robert Vaughn. Perfect. Armie Hammer, doing...Armie Hammer with a Russian accent. Fine.  Hugh Grant playing the role he was, by all accounts, born to play: a supercilious scold. Superb.

Selling a movie that trades on a gentler species of spoofery than Spy Hard and a certain visual elan isn't easy. But some of the print and web pieces were pretty good. They shouted swingin' Sixties, put the eye candy right where it belonged, and drove home the stylishness of the whole enterprise.

I rather liked the tagline, too. A higher class of hero. Okay, I dig.

Then I saw the billboards, and asked the logical question:

What the f**k?

This is awful. Frightful. Stupid.

Can you tell me what this billboard is trying to tell you? Because I can't.

THRUSH, the bad guys, apparently have a plan to turn the Coliseum neon red. Devastating the Italian tourist industry.

But it's hard to say, because it's a jumbled mess without visual priorities, seemingly designed by a grade school art student.  It's elements randomly spackled together because somebody thought you needed to cram X, Y and Z into the same frame.

I take it back. That kid would have done a better job.

This was designed by a roomful of studio marketing executives.

the-man-from-u-n-c-l-e-_banner2There are some hot women, apparently serving their typical role as eye candy. The same goes for our glum, immobile male leads. Though they at least each get to hold their gun in their hand. Impotently, from the looks of it.

The only grace of this mishmash is its tagline. Not the same tagline as on the banners, mind you. Consistency and continuity? Who needs them?

Good luck reading the tag, though. Or any of the other 25 or more words on view here. Did somebody forget every basic of doing effective outdoor?

This bears all the hallmarks of a design-by-committee melange that's dictated by tracking reports, not a unifying design sensibility that results in the kind of marketing that can really create a sense of newness, anticipation, tease, urgency.

It's what happens when you don't trust either your creative instincts or your pragmatic judgment as a marketer, or the instincts of the (supposedly) talented folks who are employed to contribute their skills to the game.

This looks less like the result of a poor decision than the bastard offspring of indecision. When nobody can agree, or is willing to stand up and call bullshit.

I've been on the wrong end of these kinds of dialogues, specifically with media and entertainment clients, too many times to not know exactly how it went down.

So at the eleventh hour, some of the key marketing around what could a pretty good popcorn movie has gone muddled.

And it's an eyesore. Every one of these ought to be ripped down for that reason alone.

A boring eyesore.

You want a killer billboard?

I can't wait to see this movie.

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