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Poster Lab: Fifty Shades of Grey and the Year-Long Movie-Marketing Tease

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Poster Lab: <em>Fifty Shades of Grey</em> and the Year-Long Movie-Marketing Tease

Just as E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey books began as Twilight fan fiction, the posters for the film adaptation have long been confined to the world of fan-made art, where eager, horny designers could get their Anastasia Steele on and realize their fantasies. Many such posters featured rumored leading man Matt Bomer as Christian Grey, while others, like this entertaining gem, cast Amanda Seyfried and Arrow’s Stephen Amell as James’s BDSM-loving couple. But on Jan. 25, roughly three months after Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan were announced as the film’s leads, the first official one-sheet was released, depicting Dornan with his back to the viewer, gazing out across the Seattle skyline. The poster has reportedly been accompanied by five exclusive billboards, which can be seen at five specific locations in New York, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, and, of course, Seattle. It’s also joined by the launch of the film’s website, where visitors can “apply for an internship program” with Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. (or, in other words, sign up to be on the mailing list for the Universal Pictures release). It’s all part of the kick-off of the ultimate movie-marketing tease, which is touting a film that isn’t due in theaters for a full calendar year.

What does the poster tell us about the movie itself? Nothing, really—except how well those dark pants hug Dornan’s shapely thighs, a point that’s been the focus of virtually every article about this ad. The Fifty Shades campaign is following the model employed by the likes of The Hunger Games, wherein nary a frame of film is needed to start spending fortunes on sparking excitement. Just flash a Mockingjay wreathed in flames, or, in this case, a near-silhouetted man in a suit, and you’ll get your target moviegoers shaking in their mom jeans.

The hasty Fifty Shades hype may, in fact, be a bit of minor damage control on the part of Universal, who in November announced they’d be delaying the film’s release from this August to Valentine’s Day weekend 2015. The news came in the wake of Dornan, an Irish model, inheriting his role from Charlie Hunnam, who departed the project almost immediately after being cast. Naturally, the delay gave Dornan more time to get acquainted with the production and director Sam Taylor-Johnson, but word is it also rescued the film from a crowded, competitive August slate, which will see the release of such prospective moneymakers as Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The result of the bump? Fifty Shades is now positioned as next year’s kinky date-night event, in which couples can opt for dinner and a movie and maybe some handcuff action too.

And appetites are sure to remain whetted in the meantime. If this movie is truly following the lead of The Hunger Games’ marketing, then you can expect a minimum of a dozen more posters trickling out in the next 12 months, with at least a few of them incorporating a certain silver tie. For now, the uninitiated are forgiven for thinking the debut one-sheet is merely an ambiguous Tom Ford ad. The notion of power is certainly well represented (Grey stands parallel with the city skyscrapers as if he’s a tower himself), but there’s not much inspiration here, and the sense that Universal was aching to get something out the door registers immediately. “Mr. Grey will see you now,” reads the poster’s tagline, which is plucked from a bit of dialogue in James’s nightstand-hogging novel. But, despite the admitted chicness, the trouble is Mr. Grey looks a lot like other misters we’ve seen on recent posters, like Mr. Bourne and Mr. Khan. The back-of-the-head approach has become an all-too-common occurrence in film promotion, and, all things considered, I’d say it’s a bit of a cop-out here. Then again, it could be a lot worse.