Mar 23, 2012

How Not to Market a Film

Disney recently announced that they are going to take a $200 million hit on John Carter. They really don't have to look any further than the marketing department for this one. It's sad really as it is one of the best movies I have seen.

Just about everyone I know who has seen it has loved it and can't stop talking about how good it was. It has a 7.1 rating on IMDB which is nearly equal to what the Harry Potter films got. It's audience rating on RottenTomatoes is also sitting at 71%. That's pretty awesome. Especially for a genre of story that is so old. So with so many positive feelings among audience members, why on Earth is the movie not doing well?

If you go out and ask the average Joe on the street about it, you're going to get a lot of blank stares. Either that or people will say they've heard of it but have no clue what it is. What those are the reactions from people on the street your marketing department has a problem.

Looking at the trailers the problem is pretty clear. If you had read the books you knew the story and the trailers made sense. Otherwise, they were just a series of beauty shots that didn't really say anything about the movie. The fact that it took place on Mars wasn't even readily apparent. Many people complained that John Carter looked like a rip off of Star Wars or Avatar when in reality those two movies borrowed heavily from John Carter's source material.

Several things could have been done differently here.

  1. Play up the director. Pixar trailers always make mention of their other hits so you associate this new film with something you already like. "From the creators of The Incredibles, etc." John Carter should have stated clearly that it was from the director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E to associate that quality of story telling with John Carter.
  2. Play up the author. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote Tarzan, one of the most enduring and widely known stories and a huge favorite thanks to Disney's re-telling of it. "From the author of Tarzan" should have been included in the trailer.
  3. Play up the story. It should have been made abundantly clear that John Carter is the original sci-fi/fantasy story and not some rip off of the very films that borrowed from it.

Epic Voice-over Man should have said something along these lines:
"From the director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E and the author of Tarzan comes first and greatest story of interplanetary love ever told."
Inter-cut that with shot orbiting Mars and then a high speed flight down to Earth. Give us the disaffected soldier who just wants out of all fighting. Brief shots of getting transported to Mars. Tell us that's where he is. Then lay out the broad brush strokes of conspiracy and fighting for love and what is right.

While the teasers and trailers that were shown were pretty cool, they didn't give you any information about what this movie was beyond an action movie that looked like it could be vaguely ancient Greek in origin. I don't know about where you live, but here the marketing was non-existent up until about 5 days before release and then the same jumbled trailer was played every hour on TV.

I think this is a result of the ridiculously over-sized, though unabashedly awesome, campaign for TRON Legacy. That was so huge and didn't get the results they wanted so now they've gone to the minimalist extreme. Hopefully they now realize that reality lies somewhere in between. It just saddens me that the movie that had to suffer for it was John Carter. It is a phenomenal piece of cinema. If you haven't yet seen it, please go. You'll feel like a kid again, just enjoying a movie for the pure fun and adventure of it. Beautifully told and imagined by master of his trade Andrew Stanton.

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