You would need to hide under an especially big rock, preferably on Neptune, to escape the fact that Will Ferrell has revived his fictional TV newsman, Ron Burgundy, in a sequel to the film Anchorman.
The actor has immersed himself in character – replete with 1970s hair, moustache and suits – for a months-long, ubiquitous marketing blitz which has blurred reality and satire. Burgundy, a vainglorious, buffoonish chauvinist, has fronted dozens of commercials, co-hosted actual TV programmes, bantered on talk shows and addressed media gatherings. He also released a book, an ice cream flavour and his own brand of scotch.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues does not open until next week but some are crying enough already, saying Paramount's publicity campaign has overexposed all things Burgundy, and asking "Would he please evaporate?"
“We predict the nation will be officially burned out on Burgundy,” The Wire grumbled last week, echoing a small, vocal backlash. Twitter debated whether the character had peaked and now inspired only fatigue. “Is there a such thing as too much Ron Burgundy?” asked The Wrap.
To which the moustachioed one would likely reply: “You are a smelly pirate hooker. Why don’t you go back to your home on Whore Island?”
Film industry figures did not put it in those terms but largely agreed that when it comes to marketing Anchorman, more is more. “It's a breakthrough campaign. A really smart strategy by Paramount,” said Matti Leshem, a TV producer and founder of the LA-based brand strategy agency Protagonist.
Box office tracking suggested the comedy will perform well against rival films – Saving Mr Banks, Walking with Dinosaurs and American Hustle – which open at the same time, he said. Confusing reality with the antics of the San Diego newsman was a “titillating and naughty” tactic. “It will probably help them win the weekend.”
Burgundy's zelig-like appearances in multiple contexts fuelled “total awareness” in a crowded marketplace, said Jesse Berger, a producer and co-founder of Radical studios whose credits include Oblivion and the upcoming Hercules.
The average cinema-goer would have seen only a small fraction of Burgundy's appearances and so was not sick of the character, he said. “You have to realise how distracted the general consumer is and how much noise is out there.”
The first Anchorman, directed by Adam McKay, produced by Judd Apatow and co-starring Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd, performed respectably in 2004 and later became a cult hit with fans, who adopted catchphrases such as “Stay classy, San Diego," paving the way to a sequel.
Only pop culture obsessives would know that since March Burgundy has, among other things, appeared in 70 Dodge Durango commercials (helping to boost sales by 59%), presented an MTV award in Amsterdam, interviewed Peyton Manning for ESPN, played the flute on Conan O'Brien, published a book (Let Me Off at the Top: My Classy Life and Other Musings, which was excerpted in The New Yorker), performed YouTube skits for Australian and British audiences, toured with Daft Punk, anchored a real newscast in North Dakota, unveiled a Burgundy exhibit at Washington's Newseum and addressed Boston's Emerson college, which renamed its communication school after him for a day.
Sasha Baron Cohen appeared in character in elaborate stunts to publicise Borat, Bruno and the Dictator but Ferrell's ubiquity and endurance has raised – or lowered, depending on your view – the bar to a new level.
Appearing as Burgundy made sense because these days a film's selling point was its character – be it Iron Man, Batman, Superman, Wolverine – not the star, said Charles Gant, film editor of Heat magazine and the Guardian's UK box-office columnist.
“I’m not sure in any case that the world is really crying out to see Will Ferrell in person. The anticipation for Anchorman 2 is certainly bigger than there has been for a Ferrell movie in a long time. As long as Ferrell is confident that he can act spontaneously as Burgundy – and he has enough scripted material to selectively deploy as needed – then he should go right ahead and stay in character.” Even so, vocal fan-boy enthusiasm was no guarantee of mainstream success, Gant warned.
Steve Coogan considered promoting Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa in character as the hapless DJ but decided against it. The Avengers' marketing team put actor Tom Hiddleston in character as Norse god Loki but only in the controlled, supportive environment of Comic-Con.
Berger, an executive producer on Hercules, said there was no way actor Dwayne Johnson could stay in sandals and leather to promote the film. “When you know how much energy went into creating the fantasy on screen, it just wouldn't be appropriate to take [the character] out of the film experience. Anchorman however is different.”
The comedy also benefited, he said, from a lengthy marketing campaign which built momentum with innumerable video clips shared via Facebook, Twitter and other networks. “That's what these campaigns are designed to do. They've created a huge social media platform.”
Not all have been charmed. Two Emerson college journalism professors complained that hosting a Hollywood publicity stunt and briefly renaming the journalism school would not enhance its reputation. Carole McFall, a college spokesperson, defended the event as a way to highlight the college's various disciplines and its sense of humour: “We had fun.”
Ferrell's immersion as Burgundy, it turned out, had limits. When talking to students off-stage he dropped the character.
• This story was amended on 13 December to correct that Jesse Berger's upcoming Hercules movie stars Dwayne JohnsonThis article was written by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, for The Guardian on Friday 13th December 2013 19.11 Europe/London
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