When the movie Anchorman was released in 2004, it quickly became a cult classic. Ron Burgundy gave Will Ferrell his strongest character role since his departure from Saturday Night Live.
However, one wonders whether the movie would have earned significantly more revenue than its box office gross of $US90 million ($A98.3 million) if it was released in today’s media world.
In 2004, social media was limited primarily to the evolving but still niche audience on myspace. The internet was more utility than entertainment, limited by internet speeds and the availability of content online.
It was a pre-YouTube, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter world. The only way to share the humour of Anchorman was either in person at the pub, or via email. The concept of social sharing was a primitive one, mainly driven by email sharing.
The campaign currently being rolled out to promote the release of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues channels the attitude and humour of the original, but has been redefined in a more modern way. In doing so, it has brought the character of Ron Burgundy to life.
We saw Ferrell bring the character of Burgundy to Network Ten’s The Project with an 11-minute segment. It was an appearance that was heavily promoted by Ten and warmly received on social media.
In the US, the film has partnered with ESPN in a deal that will see Ron Burgundy host flagship sports program SportsCenter. In Canada, Burgundy will commentate at the Winter Olympic trials for Canadian network TSN.
The Australian media has been covering the title with vigour. Even respected ABC journalists have gotten behind the title, with 7.30 host Leigh Sales posting the trailer to her 93,000-plus followers on Twitter.
Ferrell has been busy. He appeared as Burgundy on Conan O’Brien’s late night US talk show, delivering a social media hit by singing a re-election theme song (Working for the Weekend by Loverboy) for disgraced crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford. The video has had over one million views in the five days since it appeared online. When Ferrell appeared as Burgundy on Conan a year earlier to announce the news of a sequel, the video of Burgundy playing flute in the house band generated over five million views.
Ferrell is also answering selected fan questions in real time as Ron Burgundy on the Newseum website. The Newseum has even curated an Anchorman specific exhibition, placing the movie next to exhibits such as the office of the late Meet the Press host Tim Russert, and archived newspaper front pages from the Civil War in the 1860s.
The numbers around the film are promising so far. Anchorman has over three million Facebook fans, and Burgundy has close to 100,000 Twitter followers. The online initiative Make Rushmore Classy has had over two million people pledge their support to replace the faces on Mount Rushmore with the Channel 4 News team. The two official trailers on YouTube have a combined view count of over 11 million views.
A character-led real life marketing assault is a rarity in Hollywood. Stars will usually complete press junkets around these releases, but it often seems like they’re going through the motions rather than engaging the public.
Often, the power of the celebrity is stronger than the power of the film. This means an expensive press tour can promote the star power of the headline actor, but not generally translate into box office success. Through the appearances of Ferrell as Burgundy, Paramount has created serious momentum for the movie and its characters predominantly through content, social media and word of mouth. Sure, there is above-the-line media spend (TV, outdoor, digital), but the real excitement is being created as people share this content in real time.
Ferrell told Adweek that the campaign for Anchorman 2 “has been the most comprehensive amount of material I’ve ever participated in”. This material should ensure that Anchorman 2 launches with a huge box office gross when it arrives in Australia on December 19.