No comedy in movie history has ever been promoted as hard as Anchorman 2. We’re still a week away from the film’s release, but we’re two months into a massive publicity blast featuring Will Ferrell and his costars making a slew of appearances all over the TV and internet as their characters from the original, plus a ton of promotional tie-ins. There’s an Anchorman Ben & Jerry’s flavor, a Ron Burgundy “memoir,” an exhibit at Washington D.C.’s “newseum,” Emerson College renamed its communications school after Burgundy for a day, Ferrell filmed 70 spots for Dodge in character as Burgundy, he released an anti-piracy PSA, anchored a local newscast, he’s reviewing video games all week at IGN, Steve Carell interrupted a weather forecast, the whole gang did Saturday Night Live, and there’s a forthcoming music video with Burgundy and Robin Thicke. But why are the movie’s stars and its publicity team promoting it so much?
The main reason everyone is pushing so hard for the movie may be that the studio was so reluctant to take it on in the first place and Ferrell and company have worked for so long to get it made. An Anchorman sequel seems like a slam dunk on paper, especially considering how well Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and Steve Carell’s movie careers did right afterwards, but director Adam McKay said Paramount, who owns the rights, “basically passed” on the movie back in 2010 because the original didn’t make quite enough money. While Anchorman became a huge hit on DVD and a giant part of the cultural lexicon following its theatrical release, the movie performed slightly more modestly than most movies that get sequels, scoring $85 million in its initial release and not doing well overseas. $100 million is usually the benchmark by which execs deem movies sequel-worthy, and Anchorman was just a bit shy of that. Two years later, Ferrell and McKay were able to get Paramount to greenlight the movie, but they might be going ahead with the massive publicity campaign just to make good on Paramount having faith in the sequel and to ensure they’ll be able to make a third one if they want to.
It’s also been three years since Will Ferrell has had a big hit, and Anchorman 2 doing well will help him get other projects made. 2010’s The Other Guys, also directed by McKay, was his last live-action movie to break $100 million, while Casa de mi Padre, The Campaign, and Everything Must Go underperformed. Ferrell has buddy movies in development with Jack Black, Vince Vaughn, and John C. Reilly , and Anchorman 2’s success could inspire studio execs to push some of those into production.
Anchorman 2’s publicity campaign is a bit of an experiment, and it’s something that only Will Ferrell - and the character of Ron Burgundy - could pull off. Ferrell is quick on his feet and a good writer - something that’s not true of every comedic movie star - which makes him capable of making these public appearances, and dozens of Dodge ads, memorable. Since Ron Burgundy is a news anchor and a well-known character, it’s easy to slide him into any number of TV appearances. Ferrell and McKay’s website Funny Or Die is also a tool they have in their arsenal; few other comedians have their own popular video website where they can pop in to promote their stuff and make interesting videos.
Although there’s been a bit of a backlash - at least online - against Anchorman 2’s publicity blast, awareness for the movie is at an all-time high. Whether the movie earns big numbers at the box office next week will likely determine whether this becomes the norm for future movies - although a publicity campaign like this would likely only happen for a high-profile movie like this and one with a broad character like Ron Burgundy at its core.