So whether you love or are terrified to even think about American Horror Story, there is no denying that their advertising is some of the best for a TV show done in years. Recently I've been seeing the new advertisements for this year's season, Apocalypse, and thinking back on all of the certainly noteworthy campaigns of past seasons. Since we are coming up on the eighth season this year, which will apparently begin to show how all of the seasons are connected, I thought I would go through and look at the past seasons' marketing campaigns, and through them see what I can figure out from this year's campaign.
Just a couple of things before we go on:
1. This article will contain spoilers to the plots of all the seasons, so if you don't want them to be spoiled, skip over seasons you haven't seen yet.
2. Some of the images in season seven's campaign have been known to affect people who may have trypophobia (a fear of irregularly shaped holes). If you think you may be affected by these images, please skip over this section.
3. All of the interpretations of the artwork are purely my own opinion and reading of the art, none of my analysis is fact from the producers or creators. Any facts that are stated will be linked to the source I received it from.
Season 1: Murder House
Season one's campaign was probably the most straightforward. Let's start with the cast poster. On the surface, this concept may seem very simple, all of the main characters from the season inside the murder house. However, upon further inspection, you can see some very specific references to things that will come to pass throughout the season. Both Tate and Violet are sitting on the floor, which could be foreshadowing how they will soon be in the same position of being dead stuck in limbo in the house. It is also interesting to note that Tate is eating some of the fruit from the table above him, which could represent him taking a bite of forbidden fruit, speaking to his relationships with both Vivian and Violet. He is dead, and his pursued relationships with both of them both as the Rubber Man and as himself should not be allowed due to the fact he is dead and they are living. The toy blocks and bikes on the floor could allude to the babies that will be born out of one of these forbidden relationships and/or the sinister doctor who was the original owner of the house. Then, of course, there are both versions of the maid, the one who appears to Ben and the one who appears to Vivian, both doing what each of them wants from a maid, being sensual, and actually cleaning. Then there is Addy hiding behind Constance, as she does for most of the season. Constance, on the other hand, is the only character shown to be in the light but is also the only one looking outside of the house, since she does not belong there like the rest of the ghosts, and is one of the few who knows the house’s secrets.
Now let's discuss those red room images. If you have seen the show, you know that the Rubber Man was the season's biggest mystery. Seen here with a woman who is obviously supposed to be representing Connie Britton's character. She, as we will come to find out, is impregnated with the Rubber Man's baby with him watching over her. It kind of wraps up all into one what the show would come to be, a sensual, terrifying, but visually stunning experience.
Season 2: Asylum
Okay, I'm going to be upfront here, I didn't finish season two, so I may miss some things in this one. Asylums are just not my thing, and this season disturbed me too much to finish. However, I think I saw enough to get the gist of this campaign. It was clear that this season's focus was about the Catholic Church and how it tried to implement its ideals on these people in the asylum, most of whom were only there for things they could not actually fix about themselves. Such as LGBT characters, interracial couples, and sensual women. So let's start with the cast poster.
Jessica Lang's character is shown standing in the middle, lording over the rest of the characters, with an almost angelic glow behind her, showing how she believed herself to be holier than the asylum's residents. Another interesting thing to note is that both Adam Levine's character and Kit are shown in the asylum without their loved ones, while Lana is shown with hers. Not sure what it means, but it is always noteworthy to see how couples are represented. There is also Sister Mary who is literally pulling the strings on the doctor, as she is shown to be his weakness. As I didn't finish the season I'm not sure how the alien storyline finished playing out, but I want to say that the elusive figure on the outside may have something to do with representing that piece of the puzzle.
Now on to the white nun. I have read on multiple sources that the scientist conducting experiments was based on Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor who put tried to change patient's eye colors by injecting ink into their eyes, which I'm going to say is where the ink came from. The nun also does not seem to have any sort of identity and instead is just shown as a white figure, which is usually depicted as the color of innocence and pureness. The fact that the nun has no identity could mean it represents the number of people in the asylum who's identities are being stripped away by the church running it. Again, a pretty straightforward concept, but a little less so than season one.
Season 3: Coven
Season three is one of my personal favorites. This was also the first season where the marketing got some real attention, and began to become what we expect from the show's marketing today. So as before let's start with the character poster.
It is a pretty clear concept. Fiona, also known as the Supreme, sits in the middle of the room with all of the other main characters flung to the walls surrounding her. Now literally this could represent the fact that she has the power to throw them all against the wall with the flick of her wrist. Or it could represent the fact that she is the one who always seems to know what is going on while all the other characters are literally in the dark and can't see the full picture. Another interpretation entirely could be that they are literally hanging on the wall like the portraits of the previous supremes. But unlike those portraits which can see everything that Fiona does, they are facing away from her because she is always one step ahead of them. I also like the detail of Zoe and Kyle on the furthest back wall away from everyone else with their hands reaching out to each other. And of course the minotaur lays on the floor in front of Fiona, which could represent how past events are now affecting the present.
Now on to the poster that got some real notice when it was released. The three women with a snake in their mouths. It is clear in the season that race and the difference between witchcraft and voodoo are main themes. So it makes sense to have white women and women of color represented in the poster, and a snake, which is often used in both voodoo and magic connecting them. The other poster with the horn is probably representative of the minotaur, but I am not entirely sure of the meaning behind this poster. The other two posters seem to go together. It looks like the faceless woman on the right is using her voodoo powers on the woman on the left, as she has pins in her but seems fine, while the woman on the left with pins in her is screaming in pain. It is also interesting to note that the woman in pain is white, while the woman inflicting the voodoo is a woman of color, which probably alludes to the war between the witches and voodoo artists in the story. This could also be a representation of Queenie, who can harm others by harming herself. It is also interesting to note that the pins on both posters are vastly different in appearance, although again not entirely sure what that is alluding to.
Season 4: Freak Show
I admit, I didn't watch Freak Show, and may not ever watch it, as it does not entirely interest me. However, I still have a lot to say about these posters. Now obviously I won't be able to be as in depth with my analysis of the character poster, but there is still so much I can say just about the design in general. I love how this series of posters look like advertisements for a circus instead of the show its self. I think it was an interesting direction for the marketing team to take.
The cast poster is made to look like an illustration instead of a photograph like the previous seasons. This would add to the fact that it is supposed to look like an advertisement from the time period for a circus. I also think it is interesting that the characters look like they are actually part of the framework of the circus. Some of them are holding up other performers on a platform, and some of them almost blend in as decoration in the background or on the sides. This could allude to the fact that they hold the circus together, and it would collapse without them. But again I have not seen the season so I don't know if this is the case or not. If you have seen the season and have any ideas about the placement of characters in the poster please let me know below!
The other posters are also interesting in that they depict characters that we don't normally see in a circus. They almost seem to be either scary characters made up for the advertising or almost look like part of the circus such as the woman wearing the circus tent as a dress. The one I find most fascinating is the poster of the foot that looks like a heel. To me it could be representation of how people, women especially will mold themselves to what is considered beautiful, no matter the cost, especially when they can't see that they are beautiful as they are.
Season 5: Hotel
Season 5 was a little bit of a reset for the show, as it was loosing Jessica Lange, but gaining Lady Gaga. This is shown in the advertising as Lady Gaga is often the center focus of the campaign. While there was a lot I liked about this season, the people who would come out of the features of the hotel and do terrible things to guests was a little much for me. However, I can definitely see how it would become part of the idea for the advertising, with people emerging from mattresses, making the hotel its self a monster. I also love the concept of the keyhole poster. It is hard to see exactly what lies on the other side of the door, just has it is hard to see the full picture of the season until the end, especially with the 10 Commandments killer. And again, it makes sense that Lady Gaga would be the focus of both the character poster and multiple other posters, as she was a major draw of the new season for fans.
Season 6: Roanoke
Season six, in my opinion, had one of the best campaigns I have seen yet. If you are unfamiliar with the idea behind the campaign, this season was decided by creator Ryan Murphy to be kept under wraps as to its theme until it premiered. Well, that does not offer much in the way of advertising as you can't use the theme of the season to draw people in. So the campaign they came up with was to make posters showcasing a slew of different themes, and one of them would be the correct one, so fans had to guess which one it would be. Some of them were completely made up themes, others were based on popular horror movies such as the above Creature from the Black Lagoon. But to tie them all together, each poster incorporated a ?6 in the design. Along with the posters 26 teasers were released inspired by over 500 movies and shot in four days. It is amazing that such a comprehensive campaign was created in so little time.
Season 7: Cult
The campaign for season seven probably caused the most controversy of all of the AHS campaigns. This was because the concept for the advertisements was based on a phobia that could be triggered by people looking at them. Trypophobia is a fear of clustered holes, bumps, and similar patterns, and it affects about 15% of the general population. Some people believe this could be caused by our desire to stay away from things of this nature such as beehives, which became a fixture in the main piece of advertising for the season. The idea for the campaign came from the character Ally Mayfair-Richards's own struggles with this phobia. So while it was a natural inspiration for the campaign, it probably should have been considered a little more before being implemented, as it caused many people to become triggered by the ads when they saw them out in public. And while I personally am not affected by this phobia, the posters still make me slightly uncomfortable to look at. I do however like the use of the bold bright colors, especially the blue, which could be linked back to Kai’s blue hair. I also could not seem to find a cast poster for this season, so I'm wondering if maybe the marketing team did not feel it was necessary after not having one for season six?
Season 8: Apocalypse
So that brings us to what we have seen so far for season eight. Ryan Murphy has stated that all of the seasons are in fact connected and that this upcoming season will bring together characters from Murder House and Coven. And the season's theme, Apocalypse, is what will be tying all of the season's themes together. So far I have only really seen various versions of the above, with a red baby and a black hand. The images used in the campaign are clearly a call back to Michael, the son of Tate and Vivien from season one who was predicted to usher in the end of times. The red background and black hand are clearly a call back to the advertising for season one and the Rubber Man. The black demon hand can also be linked back to this season six teaser, which I find interesting. Maybe they were hinting at future seasons in that campaign as well? For more information on what we know about the newest season, click here to read this great roundup article by THR. You can also watch the newly released trailer below!
And now I'd like to hear your thoughts. Is there anything you have been able to get out of seeing all of the advertising put together? I would love to hear any thoughts you may have in the comments! And if you like this kind of post, make sure to give it a like below as well.
I do not claim to own the rights or credit to any of these images and am using them purely for analysis purposes. All credit goes to FX and the marketing team behind American Horror Story.