Anchorman 2: when marketing works against a movie

Ali Gray

25th November 2013

I'm assuming that you, like me, are looking forward to Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Can I also assume that you, like me, have cringed your way through every single piece of Ron Burgundy-related marketing for the movie so far? It's great that Will Ferrell has been making himself available to shoot reactive 'viral' videos on various topical subjects, the latest being a laugh-free Doctor Who skit, but they're having the inverse affect to the one intended: these mini-marketing exercises are making me less excited about the actual movie.

Here's the latest offender: a Burgundy-fronted news piece featuring some hilarious Doctor Who wordplay over on IGN. Suffer the pre-roll then watch it and tell me how many times you laugh. And be honest.

The answer was zero, wasn't it? Maybe once if you're being generous. It's an archaic riff on the old Abbott and Costello 'Who's on first' routine, which is around 75 years old; hardly the kind of prime comedic material that's worthy of Ron and friends. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Anchorman creator Adam McKay had nothing to do with this, and that Will Ferrell took part with a heavy heart. Commercialism and comedy do not make for easy bedfellows.

The thing is, Ron Burgundy is a friend of advertisers. Thanks to the slow but sure success of Anchorman, he's a recognisable face across a number of demographics, and the fact that the character is a total fool means he can be made to shill any product without it damaging Will Ferrell's own reputation. He is literally a marketing tool, and McKay and Ferrell have effectively licensed him to the highest bidder.

Earlier this year, again as part of the Anchorman 2 marketing campaign, Ron Burgundy was used to sell Dodge automobiles, with less than hilarious results. Here's just one of the six adverts, the general theme being 'Ron Burgundy is a bit of an idiot, but hey - buy our cars please!'

Let me remind you in case you've forgotten: Ron Burgundy is actually quite funny on film. I have no doubt that The Legend Continues will indeed continue the legend. But I do have a problem with the character of Ron Burgundy freelancing for a bit of extra dough, because - like a Burger King employee smoking outside the front of his restaurant while on his break - his actions outside of his workplace still reflect badly on his employers.

There's nothing wrong with utilising a comedy character - and a game cast - for marketing purposes if it's done in a controlled manner. I had a blast reading the various publications that were guest-edited by 'Alan Partridge' in the run-up to Alpha Papa's release, but that's because they were carefully selected and ghost-written by Partridge writers Neil and Rob Gibbons to ensure the character of Alan wasn't being abused by people who were just out for a quick buck. Like Alan Partridge, Ron Burgundy has an autobiography on release; unlike Alan Partridge, Ron's book is a direct tie-in companion to the film. Another arm of marketing, another medium bearing Ron's face ahead of Anchorman 2's theatrical release.

Here's just one more example if you think I'm being overly picky: Ron Burgundy will be providing curling commentary on a Canadian sports channel in early December. McKay and Ferrell must have signed their life away to the promo circuit to agree terms with Paramount.

Ostensibly, this is me once again taking pot-shots at a 'fun' activity that's not meant to be taken too seriously. But there are deeper ramifications at play; there's a very real risk that after seeing him in countless ads and TV appearances and bookshops and viral videos, Ron Burgundy is going to be all used up by the time Anchorman 2 is released. If the marketing maelstrom continues in this vein, they might just manage to convince audiences that the character has forgotten how to be funny.

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