During a recent discussion at Emerson College in Boston, a widely known TV broadcaster imparted valuable advice to the students who had gathered to hear him speak. Journalism, he told them, has mostly to do with grooming: "It really is about hygiene; make sure you condition your hair at least three times a week ... [and] use a leave-in conditioner," he said. He went on to lament the lack of facial hair in today's news landscape.
And where does such a respected journalist get his own news? "I get a lot of news from carrier pigeons."
If you've turned on a TV or computer in the past six months, you've probably seen Will Ferrell promoting "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," the long-awaited sequel to his hit 2004 comedy chronicling the misadventures of 1970s-era San Diego newsman Ron Burgundy, opening Wednesday. One day, he's doing "Late Show With David Letterman," the next he's shilling Dodge trucks in a cross-promotional ad and making a surprise appearance on "Saturday Night Live," all in character. The usual.
But maybe you've also seen Ron Burgundy anchoring your small town's local news broadcast, or conducting a hilarious yet thoroughly inept interview with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning on ESPN's "SportsCenter." If not, surely you caught his color commentary for Canada's Olympic curling trials.
A multilevel marketing attack for high-profile movie releases is nothing new, but the ad campaign for "Anchorman 2" is as impressive for its variety as for its relentlessness. Since the "Anchorman" sequel was first announced last year, Mr. Ferrell, as Ron Burgundy, has turned the promo tour for the film into a one-man comedy show and, marketing experts say, expanded traditional thinking about how to lure an audience to the box office.
The first "Anchorman" film was a massive success, both critically and financially, grossing nearly four times its original budget for Paramount and launching Ferrell to another level of superstardom.
An immediate "Anchorman" sequel would have seemed an obvious next step, but the difficulty of paying and coordinating the schedules of the movie's soon highly sought-after cast (including Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate, and others) delayed the project until now – when the original movie is nearly a decade old.
Because of that time lapse, the promotional campaign for the sequel "really has to reintroduce this character," says Ben Carlson, president and chief executive officer of Fizziology, a movie-industry market research firm based in Indianapolis and Los Angeles.
Mr. Carlson points to another high-profile sequel coming out this month as a counterexample. "This isn't like 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,' where the first one came out last year."
Another challenge: The usual movie marketing fare, such as TV ad spots and product placement, doesn't turn the head of the target demographic of "Anchorman 2." "The core audience for this film is going to be younger males, who are more difficult to reach through traditional advertising. They're not tuning in to prime-time appointment television. But these stunts work with them because they can be shared [on the Web]. Fans can invest their own social currency in the campaigns," says Carlson.
Even Ferrell-as-Burgundy's most blatant corporate moves are viral video successes: His Dodge Ram spots, in which Ron Burgundy engages in a staring contest with a horse and gushes at length about the truck's glove compartment, netted millions of YouTube hits in their first few days.
As with any marketing push, the danger is that the public will get sick of Ron Burgundy before the movie even premières. But Carlson notes that using Ferrell's vast comedic ability as its unifying feature has helped "Anchorman 2" avoid a particular pitfall of movie comedies. "People get tired of seeing the same joke over and over again in trailers. But he's not spoiling anything with these appearances. You can consume the marketing campaign itself as entertainment."
There is some precedent for this. Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen made promotional appearances in character for many of his films, including "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" (2006) and "Brüno" (2009).
Ted, the foul-mouthed teddy bear at the heart of Seth MacFarlane's 2012 movie of the same name, had his own Twitter account months before the movie's release. But "Anchorman 2" is the first movie to marry viral marketing tactics (usually the domain of narrative-driven films) with traditional major-market cross promotions that are usually the domain of bigger-budget film franchises like "The Hunger Games."
If "Anchorman 2" translates all of this into box office success, we could see more of this sort of thing, Carlson says. But certain parts of the "Anchorman 2" marketing will be hard to replicate. Ferrell's Ron Burgundy character is a newsman, for one thing, so he can appear on news programs over and over. "If he were a marine biologist instead of a newscaster, he wouldn't be showing up on 'SportsCenter,' " he says. "And [Ferrell] being the funniest person on the planet certainly helps."