Way back in March, actor Will Ferrell took the stage on Conan O'Brien's talk show in full character as Ron Burgundy, the '70s-vintage, dopily misogynistic hero of the 2004 movie Anchorman. Lapels flaring, jazz flute in hand, he announced that the world would have to wait another nine months for the sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
The marketing blitz has only intensified since then. A Ben & Jerry's ice cream tie-in. An Anchorman exhibit at Washington, D.C.'s Newseum. Seventy car commercials starring Ron Burgundy. (Chrysler reported record sales after they went viral on YouTube.) An event at Emerson College in Boston naming their communications department after him, if only for a day. A Ron Burgundy "autobiography" — excerpted in The New Yorker. Appearances on ESPN, MTV, even a Canadian curling competition.
The scorched-earth media strategy is designed to work in a world of millions of screens, says Ben Carlson of the social-media tracking company Fizziology.
"You might miss the TV spot, but you'll catch him on SportsCenter," Carlson explains. "You might miss him on SportsCenter, but you'll catch the viral video of him hosting the news show."
That would be the real-life North Dakota evening news show that "Ron Burgundy" co-anchored over the weekend. In his wig and fake mustache, Farrell chatted genially about Christmas shopping, hockey and the weather with obviously star-struck local news personalities for 30 minutes.
"It's a fairly serious violation of news ethics," says Robin Abcarian, who observed in a recent Los Angeles Times column that a news program should perhaps refrain from getting turned into a giant promotion for a movie. Plus, she added, the program wasn't even that funny.
But Carlson says Abcarian's position puts her in a tiny minority.
"So far the conversation around this film this past week has been only 2 percent negative," he notes, allowing that "some of that negativity is related to people already being a little sick of the Ron Burgundy character."
"That would be my feeling," says NPR film critic Bob Mondello, who recently saw the movie. Frankly, he didn't feel it was worth a review. But for the sake of this story, he consented. Here it is:
"It's kind of lame."
But Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues has already racked up about 50 million mentions on social media — more than 50,000 this week alone. That's more than all of the other movies opening Dec. 18 combined. As Ron Burgundy might say, "Don't act like you're not impressed."
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. One of the most extensive movie marketing campaigns in history is now in its climactic days. "Anchorman 2" opens in about two weeks. Its star actor, Will Ferrell, started promoting it way back in March.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)
BLOCK: You hear it on Conan O'Brien's show in character and in wide lapels as 1970s throwback Ron Burgundy playing his trademark jazz flute.
WILL FERRELL: There will be a sequel to a "Anchorman." There will be a sequel.
BLOCK: Since then, Ferrell's fictional anchorman has popped up in real situations all over the world as we hear from NPR's Neda Ulaby.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: It's been a blitz. A Ben & Jerry's ice-cream tie-in. An "Anchorman" exhibit at Washington, D.C.'s Newseum. Seventy car commercials starring Ron Burgundy.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)
FERRELL: Caravan, Journey, Charger, Avenger, Challenger, Durango, Dart, Dodge, Dot.
ULABY: After the ads went viral on YouTube, Chrysler reported record sales. Then, a fake autobiography excerpted in the New Yorker. On ESPN, Ron Burgundy interviewed quarterback Peyton Manning about his lack of facial hair.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
FERRELL: And I'm going to be honest with you, you look like a succulent baby lamb, OK?
PEYTON MANNING: I guess, to tell you the truth, I never have much of a desire to grow any facial hair.
ULABY: A scorched-earth media strategy in a world of millions of screens. Ben Carlson runs a company that tracks conversation about entertainment and social media. He says it's perfect.
BEN CARLSON: You might miss the TV spot, but you'll catch him on SportsCenter. You might miss him on SportsCenter, but you'll catch the viral video of him hosting the news show.
ULABY: Or you'll catch real news reports like the local ABC affiliates in Boston that aired yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Fake anchorman, Ron Burgundy was honored today at Emerson College as the school made the tongue-in-cheek gesture of renaming Emerson as the Ron Burgundy School of Communications just for one day.
CARLSON: There's all of these jagged spikes of chatter that happen because there's so much activity.
ULABY: Ben Carlson has graphs that break down social media talk about the new "Anchorman" movie hour by hour. Since October, he says there's been nearly 50 million mentions. Chatter spiked again earlier this week when, as Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell co-anchored a news show in North Dakota.
FERRELL: (As Ron Burgundy) A Christmas tree lights up Main Street (unintelligible).
ROBIN ABCARIAN: It's a fairly serious violation of news ethics.
ULABY: Robin Abcarian wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times pointing out that a news show should maybe refrain from getting turned into a giant promotion for a movie.
FERRELL: (As Ron Burgundy) It was wonderful to be here. It really was. What? Oh, man.
ULABY: Abcarian points out that the news cast was not even that funny, but she's in the disapproving minority says social media analyst Ben Carlson.
CARLSON: So far the conversation around this film this past week has been only 2 percent negative, and some of that negativity is related to people already being a little sick of the Ron Burgundy character.
BOB MONDELLO: That would be my feeling.
ULABY: NPR film critic Bob Mondello saw the movie a few days ago. Frankly, he didn't even think it was worth a review. But for the sake of this story, I convinced him. Bob's review:
MONDELLO: It's kind of lame.
ULABY: But the marketing, in the words of Ron Burgundy.
FERRELL: (As Ron Burgundy) Don't act like you're not impressed.
ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.