This article from The New Yorker is one of the best things on marketing I’ve ever read. Yes, it’s a bit long, but if you’re interested in the business side of movies it’s a must read.
The article follows the release of W. and it’s marketer Tim Palen as a narrative for the piece. It makes tangents, explaining the marketing of other movies (such as the Saw franchise), why bad movies are intentionally made, and movie marketing in general – all the way to how many times they want you to see a trailer of their movie on TV (15).
Below are some interesting clips, but do yourself a favor when you have some down time and read the whole thing.
Modern campaigns have three acts: a year or more before the film débuts, you introduce it with ninety-second teaser trailers and viral Internet “leaks” of gossip or early footage, in preparation for the main trailer, which appears four months before the release; five weeks before the film opens, you start saturating with a “flight” of thirty-second TV spots; and, at the end, you remind with fifteen-second spots, newspaper ads, and billboards. Studios typically spend about ten million dollars on the “basics” (cutting trailers and designing posters, conducting market research, flying the film’s talent to the junket and the première, and the première itself) and thirty million on the media buy. Between seventy and eighty per cent of that is spent on television advertising (enough so that viewers should see the ads an average of fifteen times), eight or nine per cent on Internet ads, and the remainder on newspaper and outdoor advertising. The hope is that a potential viewer will be prodded just enough to make him decide to see what all the fuss is about. It’s the “belt and suspenders and corset and parachute harness” approach.
An unexpected corollary of the modern marketing-and-distribution model is that films no longer have time to find their audience; that audience has to be identified and solicited well in advance. Marketers segment the audience in a variety of ways, but the most common form of partition is the four quadrants: men under twenty-five; older men; women under twenty-five; older women. A studio rarely makes a film that it doesn’t expect will succeed with at least two quadrants, and a film’s budget is usually directly related to the number of quadrants it is anticipated to reach. The most expensive tent-pole movies, such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, are aimed at all four quadrants.
The collective wisdom is that young males like explosions, blood, cars flying through the air, pratfalls, poop jokes, “you’re so gay” banter, and sex—but not romance. Young women like friendship, pop music, fashion, sarcasm, sensitive boys who think with their hearts, and romance—but not sex (though they like to hear the naughty girl telling her friends about it). They go to horror films as much as young men, but they hate gore; you lure them by having the ingénue take her time walking down the dark hall.
Older women like feel-good films and Nicholas Sparks-style weepies: they are the core audience for stories of doomed love and triumphs of the human spirit. They enjoy seeing an older woman having her pick of men; they hate seeing a child in danger. Particularly once they reach thirty, these women are the most “review-sensitive”: a chorus of critical praise for a movie aimed at older women can increase the opening weekend’s gross by five million dollars. In other words, older women are discriminating, which is why so few films are made for them.
Older men like darker films, classic genres such as Westerns and war movies, men protecting their homes, and men behaving like idiots. Older men are easy to please, particularly if a film stars Clint Eastwood and is about guys just like them, but they’re hard to motivate. “Guys only get off their couches twice a year, to go to ‘Wild Hogs’ or ‘3:10 to Yuma,’ ” the marketing consultant Terry Press says. “If all you have is older males, it’s time to take a pill.”
Each maneuver and ad buy in Palen’s campaigns is detailed in a confidential playbook. For marketers, much of the science of marketing is determining which old movie your new movie is most like, so you can turn to that movie’s playbook as a rough guide. Much of the art of marketing is developing a campaign that reassures moviegoers that the new film is very similar to (or at least “from the director of”) another one they liked.