Joe’s Blog

Movie Marketing Overkill

April 20, 2012 2:57 am

This is how I feel

I’ve just finished reading a fantastic book entitled “Hit and Run“. It tells the story of how two extremely good salesman (one of whom was also a hairdresser dating a top Hollywood star and singer) managed to wrangle themselves top producer jobs in Hollywood, ultimately ending up running a studio themselves and spending lots of other people’s money. Best thing about it is that it’s all true. The two men in question, Jon Peters (the hairdresser, and Babara Streisand bedmate) and Peter Guber may not be household names outside of the Hollywood family, but for a decade and more they ‘produced’ (or rather had their names attached to) a string of hit movies including Rainman, Witches of Eastwick, Flashdance and The Color Purple.

It’s all fascinating reading, discovering how two men with very little knowledge of the film industry ended up such big players. One reason was they were great packagers of movies. they would schmooze the talent hard to get the perfect combination of story, stars and director. After the film was made they would work their magic once again to sell the hell out of it (if they thought it was worth it).

(Kevin Smith provides a wonderful anecdote about Jon Peters from his time working on the aborted Tim Burton/Nicolas cage version of Superman.)

It’s this selling angle which was fresh in my mind this week when reading about two of their most famous films, one successful, one famously less so: Batman and Last Action Hero. The way these films were handled contrasts starkly to the big sell of today’s blockbusters and despite their reputations, the industry could still learn a thing or two from their methods.

Fast forward to 2012. The huge Hollywood summer is upon us, with the imminent arrival of Marvel Avengers Assemble next week. It’s a one-way trip to CGI, explodo-vision until August. Even the most casual of moviegoer cannot be unaware of the big hitters this year due to the studios relentless marketing blitz.

Barely a day goes by without a new teaser trailer, new photos, new clever virals…

Two films in particular, the aforementioned Avengers and the Alien prequel, Prometheus, have been taking pre-release marketing to entirely new levels. But they are not alone.

The Total Recall remake released a teaser trailer for its teaser trailer. That’s right a trailer, for a trailer. Of course, it worked. In our new networked age, the trailer trailer had a million hits in about 4 nanoseconds. And this probably demonstrates better than anything the way modern movie marketing works. Steven Spielberg once said of Jaws “the public can smell it faster than we can sell it”. That was certainly the case in 1975, when even the concept of adverts on TV was considered unthinkable for a big budget movie.

Now, ‘they’ sell it so relentlessly, the public can’t smell anything else. But when does it reach critical mass, and the audience says “actually, I’m a bit sick of this now, and the film isn’t even out for another month”?

That’s what happened 19 years ago (holy crap!) when Last Action Hero came out. For a year before its release, Columbia spent vast amounts of money convincing the world that it was “The Big Ticket for ’93”. They even went as far as paying a cool $500,000 to advertise it on a later aborted space shuttle launch. Utterly ridiculous, but the story made all the papers around the world. The problem was, it was months before the film’s release. By the time the film saw the light of day, the public was more taken by a little film about dinosuars that had a marketing budget tiny in comparison.

Not learning the error of their ways, Columbia tried the same trick a few years later, with another supposed flop, Godzilla. The first teaser trailer arrived a full year before release, and they paid for a year long hoarding on a prominent site on an LA freeway. Again, the public got bored before the film even came out.

But in 1989, Guber and Peters got it spot on, with Batman. It’s strange that Tim Burton’s film is often credited (or blamed) like Jaws and Star Wars before it, of creating the mega-marketing we see today. But looking back, it was a clear case of the public hyping it. Batman’s marketing consisted of a hastily prepared (and pretty dreadful) Superbowl teaser trailer, and that wonderful, iconic poster. That was it. Two pieces of marketing material. Everything else (the toys, t-shirts, board games etc) came later. As with Jaws and (initially) Star Wars, it was the hucksters and grey market brigade that were making all the money.

in 2012, the same ideas are being used again. So far there are two Dark Knight Rises trailers, and two fantastic posters. That’s it.

The Marvel Avengers Assemble campaign has perhaps been the most heavily marketed film of all time, when you consider the campaign started back in 2008, with the release of Iron Man. That’s four years of continual marketing for a single film, a campaign which itself has included 5 seperate films. The marketing cost for one movie runs into the billions.

So we see how, probably, the two biggest films of the year, have taken wildly different marketing angles. Both will be massive hits, so does it matter?

It’s difficult to judge on these two examples. Prometheus is another matter.

Even as a prequel to a pre-sold concept, it’s going to be hard selling an R-rated (probably, hopefully) sci-fi art thriller in a summer jammed to the cape with superhero extravaganzas. So they are selling the shit out of it. Every drip feed of info is portrayed as life-changing news. This week saw the release of a spoof advert for the Weyland Corp android. And very good it is too. But the marketing seems to want to play it both ways. It wants to batter you senseless with teases and glimpses, without actually telling you much about the film. It’s a nice idea, but only time will tell how successful it will prove to be.

And lost in this sea is another big budget superhero movie, that’s practially been forgotten about. The Amazing Spiderman, is the latest saga to get the requisite Hollywood reboot treatment. It too has launched a huge marketing effort, but isn’t getting anywhere near the coverage of its rivals. Is the summer curse of Columbia coming back to haunt them?

Or is the public now more savvy at smelling a soulless studio product faster than the studio can sell it?

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