Argylle | A hat-tip to its indescribably vast marketing campaign

argylle marketing campaign. Lots of cats and diamond shapes.
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With Matthew Vaughn’s comedy spy thriller finally out, we pay our respects to one of the most enthusiastic, ubiquitous marketing campaigns we’ve ever seen.

Reviews are in for Argylle, the latest action-comedy-thriller caper from director Matthew Vaughn, and we’ll politely describe them as mixed.

Whatever your reaction is to the confectionery that Vaughn and his collaborators have served up in cinemas this week, though – we didn’t mind it, to be fair – the wrapper it came in is pretty remarkable.

In the weeks leading up to Argylle’s release, the film has been almost inescapable. I keep bumping (figuratively speaking) into the trailer as it flashes up ahead of YouTube videos; I’ve seen London buses with a massive cat peering out of the back; posters featuring that distinctive diamond-shaped pattern have been dotted about all over the place.

In terms of eye-catching design, Argylle’s advertising campaign is difficult to fault – it’s immediately recognisable, unmistakeable for anything else and, let’s face it, most people on the internet love cats.

Unusually, though, Argylle’s marketing hasn’t stopped at an aerial bombardment of trailers and posters. There’s also been a tie-in novel – a marketing tactic that is decades old, and usually passes average punters by without much comment. This time, though, there were entire articles devoted to the meaning of the novel and how its events related to the film, since it wasn’t a straight adaptation of the script to prose – our own Brendon Connelly did an excellent dive into what it all meant.

Then there was the way that book was marketed: it was credited to Elly Conway, the fictional author played by Bryce Dallas Howard in the film. Entertainment journalists then began trying to figure out who the real author was – seemingly, without success; to date, the book’s publisher, Penguin, has managed to keep the true writer out of the public eye.

Instead, something remarkable happened: Taylor Swift fans, through a series of tenuous links we won’t rake over here, began to spread the theory that the world-famous pop star might be the true author. Exactly how the incredibly busy Swift would find the time to write a novel, or why a publisher would choose someone so expensive, only to keep her identity secret, was never satisfyingly explained.

The rumours became so persistent, though, that Vaughn himself eventually popped up and addressed the whole theory.

“I’m not a big internet guy, and it was actually my daughter who came up to me – this is the power of celebrity and the internet – and said, ‘You never told me Taylor wrote the book!’ ” Vaughn told Rolling Stone. “And I’m looking at her going, ‘What are you talking about, ‘Taylor Swift wrote the book?’ She didn’t write the book!’”

(There’s a tiny part of us that wonders whether the Swift theory might itself have been part of the Argylle marketing campaign, quietly seeded on forums by cunning PR people with laptops. That might just be us being unusually paranoid and/or cynical, though.)

Elsewhere, we’ve seen cars parked outside hotels, their bodywork clad in that familiar argyle pattern. Also, one day in January, we were bemused to see an email land in our inboxes: ‘Henry Cavill invites you to The Argylle Experience in London” read the subject line.

Opening it up, we learned that a kind of pop-up happening had been organised for a couple of days in Soho, in which visitors could “walk through scenes inspired by the film, discover secret rooms and embrace [their] inner spy.” They’d also be able to sit at a desk purportedly owned by Elly Conway, and, somewhat ominously, “get to know Alfie the cat.”

You can get a glimpse of what the experience looked like in the YouTube Short below. We’d say that quite a bit of money was spent on this:

One of the other remarkable things about Argylle’s recent marketing campaign is that it somehow managed to cover up what could be regarded as a tactical error made a couple of years ago, back when Argylle was little more than a title and a logline for much of the general public.

As long ago as 2021, outlets like The Observer shared an early synopsis for the film, which contains what amounts to a massive spoiler, and arguably one of its biggest twists. We’ll link to it, but obviously won’t reveal what that is here.

Perhaps because modern pop culture moves at a thousand miles an hour, those earlier plot descriptions were swiftly forgotten about, and Argylle’s marketing campaign, which kicked off about four months ago, focused on the glitzy presence of Henry Cavill and Dua Lipa, and hinted more teasingly at its twists: “From the twisted mind of Matthew Vaugn,” the blurb went, “comes Argylle, a razor-witted, reality-bending, globe-encircling spy thriller.”

Apple Original Films spent a reported $200m on Argylle, which is a huge amount of money for a movie that isn’t a sequel or obviously tied to an existing franchise. That figure alone likely prompted Apple – and distributor Universal Pictures – to throw everything but the kitchen sink at its marketing campaign. In terms of sheer coverage and variety, it’s unlike anything this writer’s seen in a while.

Whether the marketers’ commitment to making fetch happen will work still remains to be seen; reviews have teetered towards the negative so far, but it could be that the film’s range of big-name actors and, yes, ubiquitous advertising will still coax people into seeing it at their local fleapit.

Whether Argylle succeeds or fails, it won’t have been without a massive amount of effort on the part of the people charged with selling it. Nice work, marketers.

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