Marketing movies

Has this ever happened to you? 

You finally see a movie on TV that you shunned at the cinema.  And it’s not bad.  In fact, it’s pretty good.  And you ask yourself, "why didn’t I see this in first run?"  And the answer that returns to you is, "the ads on TV made it look kind of dubious."

This happened to me last night.  I was sitting in my hotel room, ransacking the limited selection there for something interesting.  And I came upon the Tom Hanks stuck in an airport movie.  Sure, it was a little stupid in places.  But it also had lots of good points–none of which were promised by the TV ad I saw on TV.

There is a necessary problem here.  Ads for TV always use footage from the movie itself.  (They get this for free.  Why would they go and shoot something more?)  The trouble is they cannot show the "punch lines" without giving away the ending.  And they cannot show the subtler moments, because out of context, these tend to be a little cryptic. 

What they are left with is not very interesting.  In the Tom Hanks in an airport movie, I was left thinking, "stuck in an airport!  C’est moi.  Why would I want to see this in a film?"  More exactly, I couldn’t imagine how a story about a man in an airport could engage or hold me.  All the ad footage had done was to confirm my suspicion that life lived in an airport would be pointless and dreary. 

The solution here is obvious: make real ads.  Don’t use your own footage.  Act like a real marketer instead of marketer-in-law, marketer on the cheap, marketer by proxy.  The qualities that make footage good for a movie make it almost necessarily bad for an ad. 

7 thoughts on “Marketing movies

  1. Tom Guarriello

    Oh, now you’re talkin’ complete crazy talk, McCracken!

    Movie ads made up of something other than trailers and/or gushing fans who’ve just left the theatre in post-orgiastic bliss?

    My recommendation is to calm down before you come up with any more nutty ideas!

  2. tim in tampa

    “Napoleon Dynamite” strikes me as one film that didn’t rely on regular trailers/tv trailers for promotion. They had actual ads that were brief snapshots of the characters, IIRC.

  3. Decklin Foster

    “Save the Last Dance” did something similar (I didn’t actually see any of the spots for ND, so I can’t comment on those.) I thought it was remarkably effective.

    The few trailers (as opposed to TV ads) that I have seen for films from more than a couple decades ago all seem to have a stance that looks positively quaint now: Hey, look at this movie! Doesn’t it look interesting? It’s about this! Here are some other reasons you might want to watch it (for example, you like this actor)! Today, it seems that we go to incredible pains to be serious and dramatic (or zany and irreverent) so we can encode it all in this very strict form and pretend there’s no sell happening. Instead of the trailer trying to engage the audience, the trailer is really wondering what’s going to happen! Just like we’re supposed to! But never mind who’s behind that curtain. And the TV spots are just condensed versions of the same.

    After enough of it, you just stop paying attention. I, personally, don’t watch movies to find out what happens. All the industry seems to be banking on is that and providing something to talk about around the water cooler. And, well, just at where the box office numbers are trending.

    Several stand up comics, of course, seem to make a pretty good living making fun of the half-dozen or so voiceover guys this formula always calls for.

  4. Peter

    Spending a lot of time on the road over the years, I have now developed what I think is a very good ability to go into a hotel room after a full day’s work, turn on the TV in the middle of whatever late-night movie is on, and make sense of the story despite having missed the first hour or so. I think my personal best was catching just the last 10 minutes of a film, and still seeing enough to figure out the plot and the characters, and to make a considered judgement of the film.

    This has led me to think that there’s a great, untapped market out there, aimed at money-rich, time-poor people like myself, for Executive Summaries of the Movies. Like a film version of those old Readers’ Digest Condensed Books volumes — each movie packaged into about 10 minutes, with the whole story told, the main characters introduced, and the mood, the visual style, and genre (comic, tragic, sci-fi, etc) all summarized.

    These Exec Summaries would not be trailers, since they would intend to tell you the story (ie, to give away the ending), and would not be seeking to entice you to watch the entire film. Why would you need to anyway, after seeing the film summary?

    I guess the main obstacle to such a line of business would be film directors, many of whom seem to think that even 2 hours is too short to tell their stories.

  5. steve

    My sister makes these ads for a living, and I can tell you that not showing pieces of the movie is often taken as a negative signal by potential viewers. If you don’t play any dialogue, for instance, people tend to assume that the script is really crappy (or in a foreign language). Even car ads tend to show the car–if they don’t, like the new ads for the Chevy Impala, you (correctly) infer that it’s not much to look at.

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