SELLING SHORT (Part II): Brief TV spots for Diary of a Wimpy Kid & The Expendables 2.

In last week’s post, I described formal qualities of a short (:10 to :20) tv spot, as well as typical content and positioning strategies of this trailer subgenre.

In this post, I wanted to consider the short spots for a star-laden action film sequel (The Expendables 2) and that of a family-friendly adolescent comedy franchise (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), not that their advertising is necessarily exemplary, but it is, I think, representative of common tendencies and approaches.

The Expendables spot is :15 and features the following series of shots, copy, dialogue and editing:

We open on the logos for distributor Lionsgate and producer Millennium Films.
Motorcycles pass by under a bridge. A card with the words “On August 17th” flashes on screen, flame gold letters against smokey green backdrop. Next, from the P.O.V. of an urban spectator and framed by the concrete support pillars of the bridge, images of bombing, destruction, and probable civil unrest follow.

Flash cut to card, with same font and background: “We need our heroes.”
Cut to a “hero” shot of some of The Expendables” walking in slow motion from a truck. Another rhythmic flash cut on the cymbal edged drumbeat to the copy: “To keep us safe.” (Using the same font/background.”

Next, we see a shot of Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) driving a truck and announcing, side-mouthed, “here we go.” Cut to a posed shot of Stallone, decorated with a star-burst effect in the center of the frame, followed by similarly posed and relaxed glamour shots of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Chuck Norris.

The spot returns to action as Jason Statham, co-piloting with Stallone, says, “you’re not doing what I think you’re doing,” to which Stallone replies, “Yeah, I am,” as he steers a prop cargo plance beneath a bridge, whereupon its wings are sheered and it crash lands, fuselage intact and without apparent loss of life.

In the dust and chaos of the crash, a recognizable smokey voice-over intones the following information: THE EXPENDABLES 2/ RATED R. A graphic metallic skull appears on screen, assault rifles fanning out behind it. Statham and Stallone bump fists, as a card with “August 17th” appears (same font, same background), underlining the voice over: “STARTS AUGUST 17TH.” A last quick shot of additional and nearly indistinguishable expendables (Dolph Lundgren, methinks?) celebrating in the cargo hold of the plane, toasting with bottles of champagne, closes out the trailer. Credit block info is provided below the release date card.

In this spot, we get recognizable, bankable stars in familiar (type-cast) roles, delivering lines of bravado and derring-do with characteristic and admirable bravado. The major sequence–the crash landing–is an earnest of similar stunts and special effects laden set-pieces on offer. Whatever the stakes and regardless of the casualties, the audience can see from the smiles on Statham and Stallone’s face, as they fist bump, that this is a light-hearted and “fun” movie. Whatever difficulties endured will be overcome; whatever savagery and suffering experienced will be repaid in full.

What seems most salient in the trailer is the release date, a crowded weekend in the late summer schedule. It is presented graphically twice and by voice over once.

In this spot, the plot and conflict are purely conjectural, but we understand the genre, the tone, the style and the sensibility of the film being promoted, just as we can anticipate by the roster of superannuated action heroes, the characterization and the quality of acting. You cannot say you weren’t warned even if all you saw was this 15 seconds of animated herald!


In this character-introduction spot from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010), protagonist and wimpy kid Greg’s close friend Rowley is featured. To the V.O accompaniment “Meet Rowley,” an overweight, red-headed (with bad bowl cut) and inexplicably self-confident tween boy is shown in quick succession waving, dirty dancing (in silk shirt at a school dance), and getting motivated on the soccer field, before an extended (by comparison) exchange with Greg about their respective Halloween costumes. The spot ends with the V.O. title (also shown by graphic card) and the release date, August 25th.

From these four shots/scenes, we surmise that Rowley is a hapless but buoyant wimpy kid in contrast to Greg’s, who seems fully cognizant of his social status and limitations. Rowley is the sidekick who even Greg can patronize, while also an engine of adventures/mishaps that advance the plot and provoke comic outcomes.

Significantly, this spot is from the first of the Wimpy Kid movies, when audiences couldn’t be expected to know Greg and his friends, unless, like so many ticket buyers, they were fans of the books that inspired the films. In that case, the spot offers a flesh and blood realization of a character who they’d hitherto only met on paper and conceived in imagination.

In this :20 spot for the second film of the series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, an animated V.O. announces that “NOW/ WIMPS WILL RULE,” as we see the exterior of an American Middle School. In quick succession. Greg, Rowley and Fregley are introduced to an audience, presumably stocked with fans of the books and the first film.

Greg, revealed from behind a pencil drawn graphic bearing his names, passes through a crowded hallway, remarking on the “tiny sixth graders” swarming past, an indication that he and his friends are now in the 7th grade. Rowley is presented next, as a pencil drawn graphic bearing his name reveals the exuberant young man lip syncing to Kesha’s song about P.Diddy, and rocking out to the tune. Next, it’s Fregley, the nerdiest member of the posse, who inadvertently reads a note sent by Greg to Holly, his persistently unrequited love object.

As Fregley thanks Greg for a compliment intended for Holly, much to Greg’s disgust, the Kesha song ends and the V.O. specifies the title: “DIARY OF A WIMPY KID 2: RODRICK RULES,” which appears on screen alongside the May 27th release date.

In these spots, we see representative scenes of Greg’s experience as a wimpy 7th grader. He’s older, but no more likely to succeed with Holly or escape the torments of his older brother Rodrick or the well-intentioned interference of his parents, conflicts that I gleaned from the website, rather than the tv spot, which says next to nothing about plot.

Again, this kind of spot is awareness oriented, not story focused. It’s a reminder of those who may already have short-listed the film to buy their tickets and arrange for transportion from mom and dad, using already familiar situations and characters from the prior film and the books to spur resolve to enjoy them yet again.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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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