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Analyzing the Zoolander 2 Hype Machine

2oolander has been courting the fashion community. But what about regular moviegoers?

Did you know Zoolander 2 is coming out today? Oh, you did? What gave it away? Was it the Derek Zoolander Center for People Who Don’t Age Good, on display in New York City? Was it the Derek Zoolander Gas Station Memorial For Models Who Died In A Freak Gasoline Fight, set up in Los Angeles? Was it Ben Stiller in character as Zoolander on the cover of Vogue?


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Was it the Guinness World Record that Stiller was awarded for wielding the world’s longest selfie stick? Was it the Snapchat Live coverage of the Zoolander fashion show that Skrillex deejayed, Gigi Hadid walked in, and MC Hammer attended? Or maybe it was the event that put this marketing blitz in motion — when Stiller and Owen Wilson performed a walkoff at the end of Valentino’s FW16 show 11 months ago.

Derek Zoolander Center for People Who Don’t Age Good Image: Craig Barritt/Getty

Plans for Zoolander 2 have been in the works for years (though it hit plenty of bumps before actually going into production). When it finally came time to promote the movie, Paramount, the studio backing the film, found a goldmine of marketing opportunities within the fashion industry, and the industry seems totally willing to get in on the joke.

Vogue’s fearless leader Anna Wintour helped Stiller perform the Valentino runway stunt last March. At the time, Wintour told The Cut’s critic-at-large Cathy Horyn that "Ben is a friend" and it was his idea to go on Valentino’s runway; she just helped make it happen.

Since then, she’s been actively involved in the movie’s promotion, and even has her own cameo in the film. "I just kept trying to get the nerve up to ask her to be in the movie and she said yes," Stiller told Andre Leon Talley on a recent episode of the Vogue podcast.

After the runway walkoff, bits and blurbs about the movie would surface on Instagram — a post announcing Kristin Wiig’s character, another introducing Zoolander’s son — but the first full trailer didn’t hit until mid-November, followed swiftly by backlash over Benedict Cumberbatch’s androgynous character (nearly 25,000 people have signed a petition boycotting the movie).

The next huge fashion grab came in mid-January, when Vogue released its Zoolander cover with Annie Leibovitz photos referencing Helmut Newton and Blow-Up. "I kind of felt I was photobombing the cover. There's no reason I should be on that cover," Stiller told Talley on Vogue’s podcast.

Zoolander isn’t, however, a stranger to a Vogue feature. When the first movie debuted in 2001, Leibovitz photographed Stiller, as Zoolander, alongside model Stella Tennant for coverage inside the magazine.

On the same day the Vogue cover was announced, Paramount released the second trailer for the movie.

The week of the premiere, the biggest stunts were unveiled. Kiehl’s partnered up with Zoolander to reveal the Derek Zoolander Center for People Who Don’t Age Good (DZCFPWDAG), a real live center open to the public in New York City. Visitors get treated to a 6.5-step youthification program using an array of Kiehl’s products, and can pick up a special Zoolander-themed skin kit on their way out.

"At Kiehl’s, we’re very serious about skincare but we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and this was a strong opportunity to educate our customers about skincare and our quality preparations in a fun and exciting way," Kiehl’s president Chris Salgardo explained in an email. "Kiehl’s does no traditional advertising, so developing a global partnership with Paramount and Zoolander No. 2 offered a wonderful opportunity to creatively express our brand identity and reach new customers, while having some fun in the process."

On Tuesday night, Vogue co-hosted the New York premiere of the movie along with Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, Alexander Wang, and Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli. Not only was there a movie screening, but there was also a pre-movie fashion show, where models-of-the-minute Gigi Hadid, Lineisy Montero, Imaan Hammam, and more showed off select spring looks from the hosting designers. Neil deGrasse Tyson was there, as was MC Hammer.

By and large, the marketing stunts have served their purposes well. "It’s really to get people talking and to get the buzz around it going, which provides all that free publicity," says Priya Raghubir, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. "I mean, going through it, I was intrigued. I said, ‘I need to check out this movie. It sounds completely stupid and a lot of fun.’"

Fashion’s willingness to play along with the movie marketing makes sense to Raghubir. "Vogue and places like Vogue, they’re the ones who are slightly the butt of humor of a movie like Zoolander, right? To embrace it would be to allow them to show that they have a sense of humor. So, I think for them, rather than be in a defensive position, it puts them in a, ‘We’re laughing right alongside you’ position."

And some of the fashion industry’s most notable characters are definitely ready to laugh. "We fashion people spend so much time sucking in our cheeks and being deadly serious about skirt-lengths and gussets," says Simon Doonan, creative ambassador for Barneys and author of The Asylum, in an email. "But secretly we are dying for a good thigh-slapping guffaw. Thank the lord for Zoolander."

"My best guess in deconstructing the fashion industry’s feelings about "Zoolander" is that the film taps into a particular strain of absurdity that runs through fashion," notes Robin Givhan, fashion critic for The Washington Post, in an email. "And it’s a kind of ridiculousness that people in the industry recognize and can laugh about. The movie – at least the first one – doesn’t make fun of the business of fashion, that is, the serious money-making, Wall Street, venture capital, garmento part of it."

Image: Frazer Harrison/Getty

"It’s having fun with the kooky characters, the clichés, the over-the-top drama of it all," Givhan says. "It’s making fun of people who think they are fashion when it is all too clear that they are not. In essence, the movie makes fun of people who don’t understand fashion, not the ones who do. And with the sequel, the movie has made the industry a co-conspirator in roasting the misguided fashion obsessive."

Critics recently released their reviews of the film and, for the most part, there wasn’t a whole lot of praise getting dished out. The Hollywood Reporter rounded up a sampling of the reactions in a post titled "‘Zoolander 2’ Gets Critically Savaged," and the publication’s own reviewer summed his opinion up by saying, "like a cute little outfit burdened with too many accessories, Zoolander 2 is a victim of overkill."

Alisha Grauso, editor-at-large for Moviepilot.com, isn’t surprised. She notes that February is typically a slow month for movie releases, although this particular February has been breaking that rule. And, while the fashion industry has been inundated with Zoolander 2 marketing, this weekend’s box office will most likely be ruled by Deadpool, a super-hyped Marvel movie starring Ryan Reynolds.

"We know Ben Stiller comedies aren’t going to be very highbrow," says Grauso. "We don’t want that, we don’t expect that. We want to see him being an idiot as Derek Zoolander with Will Ferrell and all the great comedic timing there. So I think audiences know what they’re going to expect. They’re not going in thinking it’s going to be a complete reinvention of Zoolander, that’s kind of the whole point."

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