Movie Marketing Madness: The Big Sick
If you’re a comedy nerd you’ll absolutely recognize Kumail Nanjiani. He’s on “Silicon Valley,” has cameoed on “Portlandia” and is well-known from other shows as well as standup and more. Now he’s poised to breakout on the big-screen in The Big Sick, which he not only stars in but wrote with his wife Emily V. Gordon.
The story is based on the real events of how Nanjiani and Gordon met and fell in love through unusual circumstances. While Nanjiani plays himself, Zoe Kazan plays Gordon and the movie begins with them meeting, hooking up and beginning to date. One day she goes silent, but it’s not ghosting, it’s that she’s fallen suddenly and seriously ill. He’s not ready to give up, though, and is a constant presence in the hospital, eventually ingratiating himself with her parents and family.
“An awkward love story” is how the movie is being sold on the poster, which puts the two leads up from and arrays the cast behind them, with the Chicago skyline in the background to provide setting. The story is hinted at only by the inclusion of a nurse in the lineup along with items like a stuffed animal, a big balloon and a bouquet of flowers, the kinds of things you’d bring to someone in the hospital. It’s not a great poster — it looks like a promotional image for an upcoming sitcom that’s destined to not get a full-season pickup — but is notable for how it prominently it displays that it was written by Nanjiani and Wilson. That’s kind of unusual since writers aren’t usually given such overt placement and shows that the personal nature of the story is a key part of the overall marketing plan.
The first trailer starts out with an introduction featuring Nanjiani and Romano who talk about the essential elements of good marketing. After that we get into the movie itself, showing how Emily and Kumail meet and begin dating. That’s not so easy given their different cultures and despite being happy a rift opens between them and they break up. When she gets sick, though, he goes to visit and meets her family, who isn’t too thrilled to see him. Eventually that ice thaws, though, and everyone begins bonding.
While there’s plenty of footage of the dating between Kumail and Emily, most of what we see is the interaction between him and her father, played by Romano. it’s more about them navigating the tricky waters of relationships, culture and more, than it is about the romantic arc between the two lovers. It’s sad and funny and heartfelt and works.
Online and Social
There’s plenty going on over on the front page of the movie’s official website. Not only is there full-screen video but one corner has information on its limited release in NY and LA. Nothing corner has some of the credits as well as a Get Tickets prompt. Another has a carousel of positive pull-quotes from reviews and another has links to the movie’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles.
Moving on to the actual content, the first section in the menu on the left is “About,” which has a brief story synopsis along with a short video from Nanjiani explaining what the movie is about. There are credits for the major players including producer Judd Apatow (but not director Michael Showalter for some reason) in the “Cast” section.
You’ll find the trailer, TV spots and more in the “Videos” section and the “Trailer” gets its own section as well. The “Gallery” has a handful of stills. There’s also a section here for “Comedy Tour” where you can find out more about the tour Nanjiani, Romano and other members of the cast engaged in, also of which not only promoted the movie but benefitted a few charities.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Various TV spots focus on either the romance between Nanjiani and Gordon or the awkwardness that comes after she winds up in the hospital. Most all include something about the clash of cultures that the relationship has to fight against and all feature Nanjiani’s trademark deadpan humor.
Paid ads on Twitter were run in the wake of the debut of the first trailer that used that trailer to spread the word and raise awareness. Other online ads used variations on the key art of the cast to highlight Nanjiani and Kazan while also showing the rest of the cast.
Media and Publicity
The first bit of publicity came when it was announced the movie would have its official premiere at Sundance 2017. That screening was met with widespread and almost universal acclamation, with many declaring it the first big breakout of the festival, praise that led to it being quickly snatched up by a group including Amazon and other distributors who planned to give it a theatrical release ahead of it appearing on the streaming service.
While that was going on there were interviews with Showalter about his career to date and how he’s transformed into such a powerful director as well as with Nanjiani about creating the story and how he decided to turn such a personal story into a movie.
Right around the time of the first trailer there was a bit of a press push that allowed Nanjiani to talk about his past and his cultural/comedic influences as well as his career to date along with the origins of the movie. That feature also included comments from the actual Wilson about her history and the real story of her medical diagnosis.
There was also the (predictable) angle of how Nanjiani doesn’t exactly look like a leading man and so is an unusual choice for a romantic comedy. In it he talks about how he loves sappy movies and addresses how unusual it is for Muslims to be portrayed as “everyday” people, much less romantic interests.
Nanjiani, Gordon, Showalter and others all talked about the movie’s story and why they wanted to tell it at the premiere.
Most of the cast, including Holly Hunter, made the rounds of the talk shows to talk about the movie, how they got involved, how original and funny the story is and so on.
The key selling point here is the charm of Nanjiani. That’s what’s conveyed throughout the campaign more than anything else. It’s what’s on display throughout the push, from the trailers to the poster to the press and everywhere else. Kazan is a big part of it as well but she understandably disappears through vast swaths of the the trailer and TV advertising. It’s being sold as an unconventional romantic comedy, something that may or may not resonate with audiences depending on how much they want to be challenged by material that might be outside their comfort zone.
All the elements work pretty well together, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The trailers are light and breezy, even in their most serious medical moments, never losing the snappy dialogue and overall feel. But the poster is just kind of a dud, the blandest possible image that could have been chosen. There’s no feel or vibe to it at all. It looks like the key art to a TBS sitcom that will last two seasons. That’s not the best foot forward for the movie. Unfortunately because that poster image is reused in so many other places the damage is spread a bit farther than it should be.