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Toon Tuesday : Nobody wins in the Hollywood blame game

Toon Tuesday : Nobody wins in the Hollywood blame game

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Executives need reasons for success or failure. It's called survival. It's how you cover your butt. If you can provide a plausible reason for success or failure, then you've taken yourself off the firing line.

I've often joked about marketing, and the people who market motion pictures. Granted, it's a tough job, and not for the faint of heart. I guess that's why we leave the marketing to the experts. Sometimes I'm not sure that's a good idea because what makes us think the "experts" are so smart?

I remember reading about the late Stanley Kubrick, and how controlling he could be when it came to his films. Kubrick wanted control over every aspect of his films, including the marketing. Not a bad idea, if you ask me. Who better to sell a film than the person who conceived it in the first place?

Still, I'm sure I'd catch a lot of flack from marketing people because they would insist that they -- and only they -- know best. Of course, these are the same people who are wrong half the time. I can't tell you how many times I've heard marketing people take credit for a film's huge box office. Naturally, it was because of the brilliant marketing campaign. Should the film open to less than spectacular expectations, you can be sure the film makers will be the ones to blame for their unimpressive efforts.


I don't get it. Marketing promised us a mega blockbuster.

Clearly, I'm no expert in film marketing, and my opinions are just that. Opinions. However, I do know that if people are unaware of a film's existence, don't expect them to turn up at the box office. After all, how many times have you talked to someone about a great film you saw only to have the person say they'd never even heard of it? Marketing has to first make people aware of a film. Getting them to actually go see the film is an even tougher challenge.

Some films, and this includes some pretty good ones, have no marketing budget at all. It's not surprising such a movie would fair poorly at the box office. However, some studios pour millions into their marketing campaigns and sometimes come up with little to show for it. Film marketing is not an exact science, and though studio executives would love it to be so, there really is no way to guarantee results.

Producing an animated feature film is pretty labor intensive, and it's an arduous process that often takes years. Do some people actually think this all comes down to a marketing campaign? Forgive me if I answer, I don't think so.

Some truly good motion pictures are allowed to die in release because for one reason or another the studio decided to give up on the film. Others are given a disingenuous marketing blitz that unfortunately totally misrepresents the motion picture. Sometimes, I'm not sure which is worse.


Time to order up that killer marketing campaign.

A solid marketing campaign can help a good film reach unexpected heights. However, a real stinker is not going to be saved by tons of marketing dollars. You can hoodwink the public on opening weekend, but the truth will ultimately catch up with you. However, everyone it seems still wants easy answers.

As an old Disney guy I can remind you of our deep disappointment when "Sleeping Beauty" failed to find an audience back in 1959. However, its failure was not due to a flawed marketing campaign. Nor was "101 Dalmatians" success due to a brilliant marketing strategy. The public will ultimately choose the film they want to see, and if we're lucky that film will be ours.

For us film makers, our obligation is to produce the best motion picture we can. If we've done that -- then we've done our job. There's not a lot we can do once our film opens on Friday afternoon -- except pray.

Still, producers will continue to speak about better marketing as if that was the answer to all their problems. It isn't -- hasn't been -- and never will be.

Did you enjoy reading Floyd Norman's thoughts on the perils of movie marketing? Well, this is just one of the hundreds of Hollywood-related tales that this Disney Legend has to share. Many of which you'll find collected in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at all the years that Mr. Norman has spent working in the entertainment industry.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • I love Norman's stuff! Keep it coming.

    Now how about telling us why "Bolt" hasn't lived up to it's 150mill expectations? My 2 cents is that it's all about TAA DAA! Marketing. I saw the trailer on the net and frankly it didn't appeal to me. A little girl on a scooter fighting bad guys, the "Toy Story" plot. Blaa.

    Then, on the week before Thanksgiving I was bored, had nothing to do and gave it a whirl. I enjoyed it so much that I went back for a second shot the next week and enjoyed it even more and even recommended it to people.

  • Disney used to synergize (look ma!  I made up a word!) movies into events that demanded we go see in theaters.  Now it feels like the company is begging and chasing after others (Pixar, Dreamworks) instead of doing it's own thing.  Plus the whole "wait for the DVD" vibe around Disney movies is unavoidable.  If you don't believe me then go look at the sales numbers for Wall-E.

  • While I do agree with the basic idea that better marketing cannot save a weak film, I do believe that a food film can be helped to succeed by a well thought out marketing campaign.  I thought the marketing of "Lilo and Stitch," for example, was brilliant.  Audiences were simultaneously reminded of the Disney films they remembered and loved from the days when the studio was the undisputed animation king and correctly informed that this new film wasn't going to be your average fairy tale.  The "storyline" of the trailers was even carried over into the print ads, where Jasmine is the lone smiling face among a crowd of disgusted and horrified Disney superstars staring down and the newest member of the family.  So while I would still credit the success of "Lilo and Stitch" largely to the filmmakers, there is little doubt in my mind that the marketing campaign helped to sell the idea.

    Of course, marketing has equal power to help or hurt a film, and the hurt doesn't just come from its absence.  The total lack of any clue about how to market "The Iron Giant" extended as far as the video release, which features incomprehensible ads cutting between clips from the film and kids skateboarding, desperately trying to tie the whole thing together with a song.  Disney has made a couple of missteps in recent years.  The original teaser trailer for "Chicken Little" was fine, but the advertising blitz became so heavy so early on that I ended up very confused about when the film was actually coming out.  While the ads for "Bolt" aren't necessarily bad (and I can't really judge, since i haven't seen the film yet), I am disappointed that Disney felt in necessary to give away the emotional turning point of the film in later TV spots by including the kitty's line about how Bolt's little girl will always love him, even if he doesn't have superpowers.  It's not that I couldn't see that coming a mile away, but I could have done without having it spelled out for me before i even have a chance to see the movie.

    Good marketing will get the word out about a film by pointing out its strengths in a way that entices audiences to head to the theater and get more of what they've seen already.  I do believe that this does happen and that there are good films which owe some part of their success to a smart marketing campaign.  And like you said in the title of this article, no one wins in the Hollywood blame game.  Of course everyone wants to claim a share of the credit when a movie is successful.  And when a movie flops, the finger pointing doesn't come exclusively from marketing.  For every one of their cries of "The film just wasn't good" there is an opposing cry from the filmmakers' camp of "It would have been fine if you'd just given it more and better marketing!"  As to why studio execs seem to think that better marketing is the solution to any film's failure to perform, it's the same reason that athletes claim the other team "just wanted it more" or the company that manufactured a failed product concludes that "the timing wasn't right."  It's a lot easier to offer these excuses than to simply say "we just did a bad job and there was no saving it."

  • Greetings Floyd; I was hopeing you'd do a piece on film marketing. I don't have any answers but I do wish that people wouldn't do the "blame game" when a film loses money. It will eventually make money over time. However, nobody like that answer. I mean it took Fantasia how many years before it was finally in the black?

    My suggestion to Hollywood people when a film doesn't make money is to stop blaming each other and move on to the next thing. Sometimes that's all you can do.

  • An insightful article, as always, from the redoubtable Mr. Norman.

    In regards to "Bolt", I think the marketing campaign did let the film down a bit. It looked too generic - talking animals, including a spastic offbeat sidekick type (the hamster). In some ways it looked like a movie everybody's seen a dozen times before. Little of its real charm really came through in the trailers - with the exception of the one where the father says "You'll be fine, honey. You have Bolt." I think if the trailers had focused on Bolt's superheroics - which differentiated him in character from, say, the pansy lion in "Madagascar" - the film would have had a better chance against film phenom "Twilight" in its opening weekend.

    Just the same, "Bolt" is no dog, speaking in terms of boxoffice. The film caught up spectacularly during Thanksgiving weekend, and there's more film-hungry holiday audiences to come. Still, I do think Disney needs to rethink its release and publicity strategy. After all, with CGI the predominant medium for animation, with animators using the same technology, everybody's films are starting to look alike. Disney needs to do something to get people excited to see a DISNEY film, as opposed to Dreamworks, Blue Sky, etc. etc. etc...

  • I have my own deffinition of a sucsessful film. "Am I going to want to see this film over and over?" "Am I still going to like this film ten years from now?" That's probably not going to help any marketing people who may read today's article but that's my deffinition. I also agree with what gigglesock said about many CGI movies looking alike. Somebody needs to change something.

  • I'm thinking of the early trailer for "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," with the hundreds of CGI Chihuhuas doing the musical number O, Chihuahua! -- an exciting concept, but the later trailers were all pretty ordinary, possibly after someone in marketing realized that the movie couldn't deliver what the musical number promised -- borne out by the film. On the other hand, someone in charge of selling "Lion King" paid attention, realized they had a gem in the opening scene at Pride Rock with the "Circle of Life" number and created the trailer from it virtually untouched. It made me and millions of others want to see the movie months before its release, and LK ended up outgrossing "Forrest Gump" that year.

  • Great marketing won't sell an awful film, and poor marketing can cause an otherwise great film to tank, particularly in these days when all the hype is about the opening weekend and few films get a chance to build on word of mouth.

    Treasure Planet underperformed in part I think due to a weak marketing campaign. The trailer didn't give you any idea of the plot, or even a few good quips, just a lot of pretty graphics and a couple of action scenes. I thought the movie was much better than the trailer made it out to be.

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