Movie Advertising: ‘Now More Than Ever’

Movie Advertising: 'Now More Than Ever'Enough hot and humid weekends in a row, and you take refuge at the movies. Global warming could actually help save the struggling movie theater business. They could run contextual ads on weather.com: “It’s <X> degrees! For $12, get 2 hours with Julia Roberts and free air conditioning.”  Bryan and I went both Saturday and Sunday for the Joan Rivers documentary A Piece of Work and The Kids Are All Right, smuggling in organic low-calorie popcorn, our own soda (observation: the new European slim cans don’t fit in the over-sized cup holders which is a sad statement on America and portion size) — and one day, a full lunch spread with wine.

Even in dingy  cinemas like ours in Chelsea in Manhattan, there is a palpable excitement about going to the movies. From the minute you walk in, you can taste possibility (even if you sneak in your own food). The galleries of posters side-by-side make the theater a candy store of dramatic choices for now and next time. You may have already seen half the trailers on iTunes, but sitting down inside, you don’t mind seeing them again or a new one for an indy film you missed. Of course, we all were caught off guard when movie trailer voiceover guy suddenly passed away in September 2008.

My college summer job in 1991 was with the Dentsu agency in its theater promotion unit. We did advertising for jazz and blues ‘sensation’ Black and Blue, popular among international tourist audiences who didn’t speak English until the first Gulf War began and it quickly closed. I learned tons about the importance of reviews, fast-moving production schedules and living week-by-week based on actual ticket sales. (I also learned you can only expense drinks and dinner out with people if you can remember their names.)

Much like Broadway show advertising, movie promotion has a craft and science to get butts in seats. Key ingredients seem to be the carefully-edited movie trailer; the iconic poster; the critical and mass reviews; the star power or new face; the premise;  the overly-produced Flash microsite; and of course, the tagline. I recently wrote about theme lines for regular products but there’s a whole subculture that follows movie ones. Remember in the satire The Player, the line within the script to be used for an industry self-promotion campaign: “Movies. Now more than ever”? It was presented with such deadpan drama.

Along one wall in the cinema, I compared three different movie posters:

Charlie St. Cloud — “Life is for living.” Starring pretty-boy Zac Efron, the ad is an image of the dreamy-eyed protagonist gazing at the sky and paired with this vapid tagline which I’m sure I’ve seen before and probably penned myself before it was ignored by a creative director. To be fair to the ad campaign, however: in Chelsea no one is going to see the plot.

Eat. Pray. Love. — “Let Yourself Go.”  This is a Julia Roberts vehicle about which Bryan and I are  excited. Julia quits her job and travels the word for a year to regain a sense of self. The double play on this theme line is clever, tying into the premise if you’ve seen the trailer and, if you care about advertising that actually motivates action like I do, it even has a call to action — quite rare.

Gulliver’s Travels — “Black is the New Big.”  This doesn’t push me to go to the movie, but it puts focus on two elements: The star (Jack Black) and the news of a remake. The image of Gulliver tied down also brings back the whole plot from childhood. (This also might have appeal to some in Chelsea.)

Modern movie advertising is far more than traditional video and poster. A few years ago, The Dark Knight teased with an internet-driven graffiti campaign for the district attorney. We all also know about promotional tie-ins with fast food restaurants and video games. What bugs me personally are the robust micro sites developed for films since they seem to be an enormous amount of disposable energy. And now there also are applications: The 2012 iPhone app game was fun at first — testing my ability to race across the world as it destructs — but after about 2 weeks, i coldly deleted it and I was only halfway across Mongolia. All of these cool tools have debatable effectiveness, especially considering the price tag and effort involved. I think my problem is more that, whether it’s a game tie-in or a fast food meal, we’re trying to turn every movies into a brand when the movie is a two-hour experience that shouldn’t be so forced extended. Everything can’t be Star Wars or Shrek.

Which brings me back to tag lines and trailers, the delivery of the news that the movie exists. Like I did for traditional product tag lines, here are favorites for film. Please add yours too.

Deadpan:
“This is Benjamin. He’s a little worried about his future.” (The Graduate, 1967) What we remember about this film however is: Plastics.
“In space no one can hear you scream.” (Alien, 1979) This still haunts me.
“All she wanted was a little attention.” (To Die For, 1995) This is wittier once you’ve seen Nicole Kidman in it.
“Family isn’t a word. It’s a sentence.” (The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001)

Observational:
“The first casualty of war is innocence.” (Platoon, 1986)
“The list is life.” (Schindler’s List, 1993)
“It’s the story of a man, a woman, and a rabbit in a triangle of trouble.” (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988)
“Fifty million people watching but no one saw a thing.” (Quiz Show, 1994) I love taglines like this with big numbers and paradoxes. It’s also a classic headline construct.
“The most frightening thing about Jacob Singer’s nightmare is that he isn’t dreaming.” (Jacob’s Ladder, 1990)
“In love, there are no boundaries.” (The English Patient, 1996) What a wonderful film and what an awful line promoting it. Obviously, it didn’t matter. Sometimes, advertising simply doesn’t matter a whit.

Tempting:
“They’re back.” (Poltergeist II, 1986) Great for a sequel since it doesn’t have to say who ‘they’ are.
“Houston, we have a problem” (Apollo 13, 1995) This sums up brilliantly what’s at stake in the film.
“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” (Jaws 2, 1978) Normally I hate themelines that begin with “Because” or “Just”.
“It’s 4 A.M. – do you know where your car is?” (Repo Man)
“You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll hurl.” (Wayne’s World, 1992) This is the easy formula for headlines too. Straight phrase. Straight phrase. Witty third.
“The mission is a man.” (Saving Private Ryan, 1998)
“The greatest fairy tale never told.” (Shrek, 2001)
“The true story of a real fake.” (Catch Me if You Can,  2002)
“Whoever wins…we lose.” (Alien vs Predator, 2004)

I love film and how promoting it works. If you like time machines, @copyboy1 tweeted just yesterday about this collection of classic movie advertising over at The Dog & Pony show blog. Very charming. As formulaic as it may seem much of the time, advertising  still helps me with the news of the new product and articulation of a premise to see if it is for me. Not bad for advertising, its clear purpose so lost in other categories. Maybe it will be hot again next weekend. Maybe I’ll go check out a few more trailers on iTunes. Maybe I’ll sneak in a family size of Coke Zero.

*Poster photo taken with my iPhone.

Mat Zucker is Chief Creative Officer of OgilvyOne Worldwide, New York. He is a recognized leader in digital and direct marketing and creative management, working across industries including auto, cons ...read more

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