Over-the-top marketing campaigns can as easily ruin a film’s reception as they can improve it.
“What were they thinking?” I fumed, sympathetic to the rants about casting the 5’7” Tom Cruise as the towering 6’5” hero of the Lee Child novels.
I went for the film with sub-zero expectations, more as an exercise in ticking off that particular box. To my complete surprise, I came away enjoying Jack Reacher.
Today’s action-thriller is so full of unreal CGI effects, extreme wire-fu combat and choreographed stunts that it was refreshing to see some good old-fashioned fighting. A kind of realism, in other words, satisfyingly combined with the fantasy that one man, who believes in justice rather than the law, can make a difference.
But what Jack Reacher really got me thinking about was this: How much do you need to know, about a film before you walk into a theatre? Does reading too much about a film precondition our response and colour our enjoyment?
In reality, you can’t avoid it altogether of course. I would have to be living on the moon if I didn’t know about, say, 2013’s highly anticipated 12th Star Trek film directed by JJ Abrams, who wrote the book on crafty marketing.
Apparently marketing campaigns for big-ticket films can cost as much as half of what it took to make the film. But over-marketing can ruin a film’s reception; as we saw with Prometheus.
I would argue that Prometheus’s problem was that it wasn’t really the movie being plugged; the subliminal promise was that Ridley Scott was going to deliver a masterpiece like Blade Runner or Alien, a hard contract to fulfil.
An over-the-top marketing campaign that nailed it was that of The Avengers: it became the top grosser of 2012 (earning about $641.8 million). The campaign focussed on what the movie was going to offer: more bang for your buck, with all your superheroes in one film.
Interestingly, the two top box office earners last year – The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises – were also positively reviewed. In the past, critics such as Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert could make or break a film. It’s different now with blogs and tweets but critics do count, especially with awards.
Awards nominations - and wins – increase our desire to watch certain films. I suspect that while Lincoln, for instance, would obviously have an interested U.S. audience base, we in Asia will be more drawn to it given its Golden Globes win for Daniel Day-Lewis and the Oscar buzz.
But here too, over-hype can kill our pleasure. A few of us were discussing the critics’ current darling, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and the consensus was that we’d have enjoyed it a lot more had we stumbled across the film. As it was, we kept expecting more, to justify its inclusion in every top movies list of 2012, not to mention the awards.
As for Word of Mouth buzz for movies, it has a new name: viral marketing, which uses the Net and social networks to whip up interest and get us more involved. We are persuaded to feel a sense of ownership over the film, which predisposes us to like it.
So The Dark Knight Rises had a viral marketing campaign where fans had to post photographs of hundreds of pieces of graffiti spread around the world to unlock the trailer. Too bothersome to succeed? As it turns out, obsessive fans did it in hours.
Sure, it can be fun to be part of the movie’s world as long as you aren’t told too much about it. As opposed to trailers that practically give the entire plot away, the cleverer marketing strategies use misdirection; in Cloverfield, for example, the decapitated Statue of Liberty in the trailers piqued interest without revealing that it was a monster movie.
US company Thinkmodo takes this a step further: it creates fake videos and releases them on the Net. Once they capture your interest, they are revealed to be cleverly orchestrated hoaxes to create interest in new movies – such as a guy hacking into the video screens on Times Square to promote Limitless; or a chap hacking off a parking meter to promote In Time.
On one end of the spectrum, you can do the total immersion thing – visit the movie’s website, play the associated videogames, watch the trailers, read the scuttlebutt. On the other end, you can walk in cold and see a movie on the strength of, say, the people involved.
Being mad about the movies, I do want to read the stuff that’s been written and said about the ones that interest me. But that’s for later. When it comes to viewing a film for the first time, the tabula rasa approach is more fun, because it lets the movie speak for itself.