Never Say Never: The Medium Is the Message (Post 2 of 2)

(See my first post on “Never Say Never,” for introductory remarks and further consideration.]

This trailer affirms that “Never Say Never” is more than the cliché’d title of a teen anthem and a concert tour. It is the message, the exhortation, and the mantra of our preternaturally poised and ambitious and self-disciplined young heartthrob.  The supreme accomplishment of this trailer is that it has made film title, storyline, personal motto, call to action, trailer copy and concert event all mutually referencing.  “Never Say Never” is a powerful nexus of message, meaning and brand identification.

This is a skillful, layered marketing piece. The name of the song is the name of the tour, is the name of the documentary, is the motto of our hero, is the story of his life, is the call to action of the trailer.   I’d wager the trailer brief insisted on two key ingredients: Justin AND Justin’s fans.  That decision was a no-brainer.  What reveals intelligence and craft is the trailermakers response to that direction.

With it’s mix of “reality,” music video and documentary, this trailer is itself a hybrid, multi-media object, an a/v analogue of its subject, whose multiple aspects –Justin, shall I say, in 3D–, our first social media superstar, and a real kid, just like you, is also a fit subject for a serious film, just as he is the barely sublimated object of adolescent erotic fantasy.

Mr. Bieber is shown playing drums or guitar, dancing or singing in most of the trailer. The exceptions are when he is offering rote, passionless encouragement to fans, hanging with his childhood friends (to show he hasn’t lost touch with his roots) or officially “relaxing” and “goofing” off.  Insofar as Mr. Bieber is widely (albeit erroneously, apparently) derided as a product of Usher & Co, the footage and the interviews tell a story of sui-generis talent that could not be held back and would not be gainsaid. As an entertainment package then, Mr. Bieber is “the real thing,” a lifelong musician, singer and performer. The only change is that his venues have gotten larger and his fans more numerous.

His story is also one of facing and triumphing over adversity: a Canadian from a small town, Justin overcame a lack of access by resorting to the internet and riding the wave of user-produced content to international attention. His life is a tale of hard work, persistence and destiny.  An immigrant, he believed in the American dream and never said never even to the most far-fetched ambition.  How true it is, is a matter or irrelevance.  We like this story; we know what to do with the story, a story that also, happily, neutralizes whatever resentment a less “star struck” audience member might feel toward the vocal song stylings of Mr. B.

It’s beautifully packaged to appear real, raw and unpackaged.  Ironically, “packaging” is the accusation against which Never Say Never is an eloquent defiance. This trailer sells the story of the documentary: to wit, Bieber was a musician, singer, performer, go-getter from his childhood.  His homemade youtube videos brought him to the attention of the industry. He is not a product of the Disney talent pipeline. He worked in relative obscurity to build his career. He is an ambassador of self-empowerment to his friends and fans alike.

But today, Justin in more than an individual talent: he is a brand, a package, that must be tended and positioned and promoted with all the care and expertise that a billion dollar product demands.  The trailer navigates this distinction with agility and finesse.  Justin INC requires that Justin the g-rated, approachable, just-like-you-only-famous young man be the subject of the film and the story that it tells.

Justin’s brand is defined, burnished and extended in the trailer under discussion, and presumably in the film as well, which debuted to only fractionally less in Box Office receipts than Miley Cyrus’ recent, record setting concert tour documentary and star-vehicle.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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