Film, List, Opinion

THE MISLEADING MARKETING OF MOVIES

Movie-Marketing

Since the dawn of the internet we have been living in a world where information is more widely and easily available than ever before. This has made pretty much everything more competitive, especially in the entertainment industry. It is harder than ever before to get a film made, and even if a great film is backed by a studio it will still bomb if it isn’t marketed in a way that gets people interested.

Advertising is in itself a huge business, and there are people out there who have dedicated their entire lives to working out what it is that sells things to people. It turns out that we as the human race are not an overly imaginative bunch, and mainstream cinema audiences are more likely to react to marketing that they recognise – be that a notable actor/actress or a typical narrative, marketing experts will generally gear advertising material about a film to fit certain quotas.

PicMonkey CollageThis can often lead to misleading marketing material that more often than not doesn’t actually represent the product that is being sold to us. This can work both ways, either selling an indie film as more mainstream fare (Me, Earl and the Dying Girl earlier this year was very much marketed as a YA adaption in the vein of The Fault in Our Stars in spite of being a vastly different film, for example) or tricking audiences into seeing a generic flick.

The ways in which marketing material can be misleading varies in a number of ways, but most tactics generally centralise around the ‘bait and switch’ idea where material will lure audiences in before turning out to be something totally different – this is done with actor/actresses, notable directors and trailers, as well as posters and even titles of films.

The thing is, advertising works. As much as many of us would like to believe that we are not susceptible, but with advertising being a multi-billion dollar industry the odds are stacked against us, and a lot of what makes marketing material work is the fact that it can sometimes operate on a subconscious level.

This post will look at these tactics in more detail using various examples of real life marketing material that was essentially misleading in the representation it provided of the film in question.

POSTERS:

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Posters are one of the main forms of marketing when it comes to movies – they generally set the tone and establish the stars of the film, as well as generally alluding to what the film is about. However, there are plenty of examples of times where distributors have provided movie posters which quite drastically misrepresent the film in some way.

A notable example from earlier this year was Legend, which made the headlines when it was revealed that it had strategically placed a two star review from The Guardian to look like it was a five star review. The review, from critic Benjamin Lee, was decidedly less than complementary about the Tom Hardy starring gangster biopic, yet the way the stars had been placed in the poster made it look like it was yet another excellent review of the film, leading to Lee himself writing an article about the dangers of misleading advertising. He pointed out that this was far from a one off, and the practice of taking critics quotes or ratings out of context and placing them in marketing material is a surprisingly common.

Other examples of posters which were essentially misleading include one of the US posters for The Aviator (2004) which tries to entice fans of Saving Private Ryan type films by taking an action still completely out of context, or the Spanish poster for The Godfather (1972), which was based on an early draft of the script which involved a spaghetti restaurant and just ends up coming across as promoting stereotypes.

Here are some of more examples of misleading movie posters…

  • PicMonkey CollageKramer . Vs. Kramer (1979) – shows a happy family even though the film is the depiction of the breaking up of said family
  • Drugstore Cowboy (1989) – selling a movie about drug addicts is always going to be hard, but the main characters on the poster are much chirpier than they appear in the film.
  • My Sister’s Keeper (2009) – Much like Drugstore Cowboy, marketing a movie about cancer is difficult, but this poster contains a lot more smiling than we ever see in this tearjerker

TITLES:

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It goes without saying that a movie title is one of the most important elements, as it tends to be a consumers first point of contact with the product. A poor or bland title is unlikely to entice audiences, and sometimes quirky or unusual trailers can be used for generic films, or vice versa. Titles differ from other marketing materials in that they are often taken from other mediums – for example, if a film is based on a book the title will often be retained.

However, there are examples of films based on books where the title was changed, presumably as part of the marketing strategy. This would include the likes of Slumdog Millionaire (2009), which was based on Q&A by Vikas Swarup. From a marketing perspective the name change is quite obvious – the idea of a slumgod millionaire is much more evocative than a Q&A session, and it immediately gives the consumer a bigger insight into what the film is about.

Love, Rosie (2014) is based on Irish author Cecilia Aherne’s second novel, entitled Where Rainbows End (2004) and is another example of a title change, with the movie title nodding more towards rom-com material.

trainspottingFilms such as Trainspotting (1994) retained their book titles, but no longer make sense in the context of the film. The book contains a line which alludes to the act of trainspotting and also acts as character development for the pyschotic Begbie, who was immortalised on screen by Robert Carlyle. However slight this alluding to the title was, it was still present, and no such instance occurs in the film, essentially making the title obsolete. This did nothing to impact the overall quality of the movie however, and it was going to be a hard task for the marketing strategists to come up with a title for a film about Edinburgh based heroin addicts and sociopaths.

Film titles can also change from country to country, the most famous recent example being the Avengers/Avengers Assemble instance in 2012. The culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was markered in the US as The Avengers, whilst in the UK it was distributed as The Avengers Assemble. This was done due to the existence of a TV show titled in The Avengers in the UK, making it crystal clear to audiences that they were not the same thing.

Other examples of differences between the US/UK movie titles include…

  • Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_postersHarold and Kumar go to White Castle (US) became Harold and Kumar get the Munchies (UK) due to the lack of White Castle fast food chain in the UK.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (UK) became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (US) – there is much debate as to why this was the case, but it is generally deemed to be because the idea of a sorcerer was one that implied ‘magical’ more than philosophers in to the US market.
  • Dracula 2000 (US) was changed to Dracula 2001 internationally due to the fact that it was released the year after. Apparently audiences wouldn’t buy that a film about Dracula was set a year in the past.

Whilst these title changes are not misleading in themselves, it shows how important titles are as part of the overall marketing strategy, with distributors being willing to actually change a title if they feel it will sell a movie better.

More examples of titles that are misleading…

  • The Squid and the Whale (2005) – It’s not about a squid, or a whale, though dioramas of both are seen in the film at the American Museum of Natural History. Does this count?
  • Antichrist (2009) – Whilst it may sound like your run of the mill horror/possession/exorcism movie, its actually part of Lars Von Trier’s overly depressing depression trilogy.
  • 12 Monkeys (1995) – It’s not about 12 monkeys, ok?

STARS:

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The old bait and switch is one of the oldest tricks in the book – marketing a film with a well known star at the forefront of all the material, only for them to hardly appear in the film itself, which people will only find out once they have already paid to see it. It’s a concept thats still around because it works, and despite social media making it easier and easier for audiences to deduce what is going on before a film comes out, we are still being collectively duped more than you would think.

Just this year the marketing material for Suffragette (2015) had us all thinking that Meryl Streep was in the main cast as the notable real life campaigner Emmeline Pankhurst. She featured heavily in all the material including trailers and posters, but turned out to only be in the film for a grand total of about five minutes. There was no reason to believe that Streep had anything less than a leading role, but it turned out that Cary Mulligan was the lead, with Helena Bohem Carter appearing in a supporting capacity. Streep was really no more than a cameo, making her appearance in the marketing material extremely misleading. It’s clear why this was the strategy however – Streep is one of the most famous and successful actresses of all time, and whilst Bohem Carter and Mulligan are both respected they in no way carry the level of traction that Streep does. Featuring her heavily in the marketing was also a clever move in enaging with US audiences, who will recognise her much more than the British Mulligan and Bohem Carter.

One of the first notable uses of the bait and switch of a star was in Alfred Hitchcock’s Pyscho (1960), which was marketed with Janet Leigh as the lead. She is then killed off in the first half an hour of the film, a feat that was famously repeated by Wes Craven with Drew Barrymore in Scream (1996). Both films were hugely successful – arguably partly due to the marketing of famous actresses Leigh and Barrymore as respective leads.

Other examples of this in practice include…

  • 273894_oriLeprechaun (1993) – The DVD release of this horror film capitalised on the fact that Jennifer Aniston, who has a relatively minor role in the movie, had struck gold as Rachel Green on Friends (1994-2004), and she is featured on the cover design.
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – Sean Penn is implied as the lead but it actually just part of a larger ensemble cast.
  • Halloween: Resurrection (2002) – Marketed almost wholly on the grand return of Jamie Lee Curtis, who is then killed off in the first half.
  • The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) – Marketed on Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper’s names, completely leaving out the other half which focuses on their sons, played by the then lesser known Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen respectively.

DIRECTORS:

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This is a trend that is slightly less obvious, but is still prevalent across Hollywood marketing material. Once a director has made a name for themselves, sticking their name on a poster or in a trailer is a surefire way of convincing people that a movie is worth seeing. The thing is, advertising will tend to stick a directors name on it even if their involvement with the film was not in a very large capacity, as it is easier to sell a picture on their name than that of a newbie or a less established film-maker.

Guillermo del Toro is a director that has had his name attached to several films, to the point that he actually spoke about it in an interview, saying:

“I only do it when – (a) I am introducing a filmmaker to the world, but (b) I endorse and say I believe in this movie very, very strongly. For whatever reason, it’s a more risky proposition in one way, but it’s one that I believe needs to continue to support first-time filmmakers. . . . I only do it when I fully believe I was involved in the product in a way that is meaningful.” 

del Toro was attached to Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2013), which was directed by Troy Nixey and The Orphanage (2007), directed by J . A Bayona. Regardless of the reasons why a director may choose to allow their name to be attached to a film, there is no doubt that it is both an effective and misleading marketing tactic. Audiences are going to see something based on the fact that they know and like the work of the director appearing on the poster, which can sometimes lead to them seeing a rubbish movie bolstered by the name, or give an up and coming film-maker a chance by viewing it, albeit under false pretences.

Other examples include…

  • The_nightmare_before_christmas_posterNightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Generally marketed as Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. Whilst the king of kook is responsible for the concept and is credited as a producer, the film was actually directed by Henry Selik.
  • Hostel (2005) – Splat pack director Eli Roth’s super violent torture horror film had Quentin Tarantino serve as an executive producer, and it was his name that the film was marketed on in spite of the fact Roth both wrote and directed the film.
  • Sanctum (2011) – Advertised as coming from executive producer James Cameron ‘the creator of Avatar and Titanic’, the way it is written on the poster makes the words James Cameron, Titanic and Avatar the ones that stand out. Considering they are two of the most financially successful films of all time, it is little wonder that is the slant the marketing took, in spite of the film being directed by Alister Grierson, who has no such accolades on his CV.

TRAILERS:

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Trailers are increasingly becoming the most important part of the marketing of a movie, providing without a doubt the biggest insight into what the film is going to be about. However, like everything else that has been explored in this post, they can be edited in a way that totally misrepresents the narrative and overall tone of a film.

The films of Nicolas Winding Refn are notable for being marketed in ways that do not fully represent the final product. Three examples are Valhalla Rising (2009), Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013). Valhalla Rising’s entire marketing campaign piggy-backed on the success of Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006), right down to the DVD cover and posters. However, the film is actually a deep study of a norse warrior. Drive is a neo-noir crime thriller that was marketed as a Fast and Furious style caper, whereas the final product is something much darker and broodier. Only God Forgives was advertised as a marital arts flick, but again was a thriller where marital arts was only a component factor. The marketing of these films, along with the fact that the very bankable Ryan Gosling (who is also featured heavily in the advertising) starred in the latter two allows them to be accessible to mainstream audiences in a way that they may not have without these elements.

Some other examples of misleading trailers include…

  • 126166377_iron-man_406735cIron Man 3 (2013) – the one that left comic book villains the world over bitter, the trailer advertised famous Iron Man foe The Mandarin as the big bad, only to pull a bait and switch and reveal Ben Kingsley’s character to be an drunken actor.
  • Magic Mike (2012) – Steven Soderbergh’s film was a deep character study marketed as a flashy chick-flick based around male strippers.
  • The Grey (2011) – capitalised on the Liam Neeson as an action lead phenomenon that began with 2009’s Taken, but The Grey was actually a study of the human relationship with death that is surprisingly light on the action.
  • Cabin in the Woods (2011) – marketed as a run of the mill teen slasher flick, but Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods takes the idea of meta-horror to a level that makes Scream (1996) look as though it lacks self-awareness.

Which films do you think had misleading marketing campaigns? Let me know in the comments section!

 

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Film, List, Music

5 BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS:

The Lord of the Rings score was recently crowned the greatest movie soundtrack of all time for the sixth year in a row. The Classic FM poll listed a whole host of classic in it’s list, including Schindler’s list, Gladiator, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Soundtrack is one of the make or break elements of a film – would Halloween be anywhere near as terrifying without John Carpenter’s endlessly creepy two note score? Would Titanic pull on your heart strings half as much without Celine Dion giving it all she’s got in My Heart Will Go On? The soundtrack is the often unsung hero of so many beloved films, and whilst I would probably have to agree with the ruling of Lord of the Rings as the greatest ever (probably on Concerning Hobbits alone), I have compiled a list of my personal favourites, a few of which depart from the traditional scoring and focus on pop culture instead.

5- ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)

me-earl-dying-girlDirector: Alfronso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler

Soundtrack Highlight: The Big Ship – Brian Eno

Based on the 2012 novel of the same name, Me Earl and Dying Girl has proved to be one of the surprise hits of the year. Pretty much the anti-Fault in Our Stars, the film is a fantastic breath of fresh air for the YA genre. It is especially bolstered by its soundtrack, which largely comes from the fantastic Brian Eno. As well as Eno, there is a real eclectic mix to enjoy, from Roy Orbison to Cat Stevens. It perfectly walks the line of between hipster and accessible and plays a huge role in the films quirky genius, building up to an incredible finale with Eno’s The Big Ship, which was composed especially for the film. I really can’t stress how great The Big Ship is (listen below for yourself) as both a piece of music in its own right an as a perfect accompaniment to the film. It catches the offbeat, touching atmosphere of the film to a tee – without a doubt the best soundtrack of the year, from one of the best films for that matter.

4 – WALK THE LINE (2005)

Walk-the-Line-movie-stills-walk-the-line-13722960-874-904Director: James Mangold

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon

Soundtrack Highlight: It Aint Me Babe – Joaquin Phoenix & Reese Witherspoon

This soundtrack is so good that it won a Grammy, and there is no question why. The 2005 biopic of the late, great Johnny Cash and the love of his life, June Carter is one of my favourite films of all time. This one deserves a place on the list based on the performances of Phoenix and Witherspoon alone – they performed all of the songs themselves, lending the film a sense of authenticity it could never have achieved otherwise. Replicating Cash’s legendary bass-baritone voice is no mean feat, but Phoenix totally inhabits the role and the songs, almost making it look easy. He pays the perfect homage to the man in black with classics such as I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues and Get Rhythm, capturing whatever it is that makes a Cash track so special in the first place. Witherspoon also shines, capturing the charm of June Carter, particularly in her rendition of Wildwood Flower, which is so good it threatens to overtake Carter’s version. There are also some other gems from other artists which perfectly encapsulate the genre and period. The real magic happens when Phoenix and Witherspoon duet on Jackson and It Aint Me Babe, perfectly capturing the chemistry and genuine love that existed between the real life Cash and Carter. Walk the Line is everything you want in a music biopic, and the tunes are everything you want from a soundtrack.

3 – BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

imagesDirector: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael J Fox, Christopher Llyod

Soundtrack Highlight: Power of Love – Huey Lewis and the News

Anyone who knows me will know my undying love (obsession?) with this film, and the soundtrack is a huge part of what makes it so great. This one is a great mix of songs and score, mixing a suitably cinematic sound with some classic and nostalgic tunes and coming up with something pretty close to perfection (I did warn you of my undying affection for this film). The Outatime Orchestra (named after the number plate of the iconic DeLorean) perform the score, which was composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri – a frequent collaborator of Zmeckis – has a very Speilbergian feel to it (he produced the film), which is always a surefire ticket for success. The film also manages to provide a fantastic time-bending blend of the 1950’s and 80’s, with the Power of Love proving to be the signature song an obvious highlight (fun fact – Huey Lewis plays the judge who tells Marty his band is just “too darn loud” when they play a hard rock version of the song near the films beginning).  And who can forget Michael J Fox rocking out to Johnny B Goode? There is just so much to love.

2 – TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

trainspotting_2505786bDirector: Danny Boyle

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewan Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly Macdonald

Soundtrack Highlight: Born Slippy .NUXX

Another hugely popular soundtrack, this one sold so well that it spawned another album the following year, consisting of songs that inspired the film. Whilst it is also excellent, it will never reach the dizzy heights of the songs featured in Danny Boyle’s cult classic. From Iggy Pop to Lou Reed, the mix screams 90’s and has been most teenagers claim to cool ever since the film came out. Danny  Boyle has always been fantastic at selecting soundtracks – 2013’s Trance is another highlight – and this is quite possibly the pinnacle of his success. Riding the wave of britpop, the soundtrack is an effective blend of the bands of the decade and their predecessors, the soundtrack (and the film) is a product of its time and a gift that keeps on giving. One of the most effective closing songs of all time is Born Slippy .NUXX, the perfect blend of uplifting and trippy, and the beginning of a lasting collaboration between Boyle and Underworld.

1 – PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012)

perks-042_df-07440c (1)Director: Stephen Chbosky

Starring: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson

Soundtrack Highlight: Heroes – David Bowie

Stephen Chbosky, the author of the 1999 novel of the same name, brought his work to life in 2012 with the film adaption of Perks of Being a Wallflower. Much like Trainspotting, the film is a perfect example of one that captures the era it is depicting. Again it is the early 90’s, but the focus is American high schoolers as opposed to Edinburgh junkies. This is one of my favourite soundtracks ever because it so brilliantly captures the essence of the film – even though there is only one composed piece in the film (Charlie’s Last Letter – Michael Brook) you would easily believe more of the tracks had been specifically written for the film. It is the sort of music the characters listen to, and it allows us to achieve a better understanding of these characters with its mix of soft alt. rock, new wave and dream pop from the late 80’s/early 90’s. Bowie’s Heroes is the perfect song to summarise the main themes of the film, and the tunnel scene where it is played remains electrifying and triumphant on multiple viewings.

Here is a playlist of the 5 best songs from this list, enjoy!

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