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Friday, March 30, 2012

MARKETING: Limitations - John Carter (2012)

BASICALLY:
A $260m budget Disney tentpole, with marketing and prints pushing this figure much higher, that didn't quite bring the house of mouse down, but just scraped its official budget back. The marketing is blamed. Despite the objections of Disney's marketing team, the director insisted on setting the tone for the marketing, with disastrous results:
  1. the book/film's central romance is underplayed, undermining crossover female appeal
  2. dropping the '...of Mars' from the title made it confusing, underplayed the sci-fi, and lost some of the built-in appeal of the existing IP, the hit book series
  3. using an early 1970s classic rock track, Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir', to underpin the trailer, was alienating for the core/primary youth target audience
  4. Um...sci-fi? Romance? #epicfail
  5. this case highlights the blurring of the dividing line between production and distribution 
  6. it is also argued that the production cost ran out of control (see below)
Although the tentpole strategy, or what Anita Elberse terms the blockbuster strategy, is now central to the approach of all of the big six vertically integrated Hollywood conglomerates, questions have been raised about the bloating of budgets; bear in mind that a film really needs to gross 2-3 times its budget to truly go into profit on box office, with prints and marketing often equalling the production budget:
Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com noted, "John Carter’s bloated budget would have required it to generate worldwide tickets sales of more than $600 million to break even...a height reached by only 63 films in the history of moviemaking"
IT JOINS OTHER TURKEYS...
While on paper there have been bigger box-office turkeys in recent years – Breck Eisner's Sahara took $68.7m from a reported $160m budget in 2005 and Oliver Stone's Alexander managed just $34.3m from a $155m budget the previous year – the film already looks likely to be one of 2012's biggest loss leaders. Disney's statement hints that the film's true budget may be far higher than $250m; industry analysts have repeatedly speculated that it cost at least another $50m thanks to a gargantuan marketing spend, making it one of the most expensive films of all time. [Ben Childs]
You can find details on many more, including links to quizzes testing your flop knowledge, here.

Bottom line? 
Marketing shied away from the sci-fi (the producers had already dropped the ...of Mars from the film title, despite its presence in the books it is derived from), which may have been seen as a female-friendly move ... but also ignored the strong romantic element in the marketing. Frankly, bizarre thinking there. Some reckon this was the most expensive movie of all time, so the marketing had to be at least competent. It wasn't. (Later posters did get closer to the mark ... but it was too late).

READ/VIEW MORE: 
Poster gallery (impawards);
Screenrant explains why UGC trailers were better than the official ones;
Forbes (business magazine):
how the posters went from awful to ... okay;
the official site, games and all;
Apple gallery;
IMDB entry.

BEN CHILD'S REPORT
Critics have suggested that John Carter's failure to connect with audiences may have been due to confusing marketing as well as lukewarm reviews. Disney chose not to run with the "of Mars" suffix in the wake of traditionally poor box-office results for films that focus on the planet, and trailers also largely ignored the movie's central romance, something Hollywood tends to see as a surefire method of attracting female filmgoers.
"The movie is called John Carter, but aside from the fact that he can jump far and looks good without a shirt on, what else did commercials really convey about the title character?" wrote Ray Subers of the Box Office Mojo website. "Also, what was John Carter doing in this desert landscape occupied by tall green men, aside from fighting giant furry white creatures?"  [Source]


Marketing, even of tentpole movies, even when applying hybridity (sci-fi/action/romance) is never guaranteed to work.

Ben Child, in a typically excellent Film Guardian article (he also generally writes the weekly box office analysis), shows how a confused trailer/poster campaign helped lead to this - not least ignoring the romance sub-plot which might have helped draw in the secondary female audience (primary target audience for these genres being male).


John Carter set to lose Disney $200m

Muddled marketing and lukewarm reviews blamed for bad performance of space epic, which opened with just $30m in US
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) watches audiences disappear over the horizon
Loss in space … Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) watch audiences disappear over the horizon. Photograph: Disney
Studio Disney has admitted that its $250m-budgeted science fiction adventure John Carter is set to lose more than $200m (£126m) following disappointing box-office results.
  1. John Carter
  2. Production year: 2012
  3. Country: USA
  4. Cert (UK): 12A
  5. Runtime: 132 mins
  6. Directors: Andrew Stanton
  7. Cast: Bryan Cranston, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Taylor Kitsch, Willem Dafoe
  8. More on this film
The film, directed by Andrew Stanton of the Pixar animation house, opened poorly in the US two weekends ago with just $30m, and has so far made $184m across the globe. It has been far more successful outside the US, with No 1 openings in Russia and the UK helping to save it from an even more humiliating total.
While on paper there have been bigger box-office turkeys in recent years – Breck Eisner's Sahara took $68.7m from a reported $160m budget in 2005 and Oliver Stone's Alexander managed just $34.3m from a $155m budget the previous year – the film already looks likely to be one of 2012's biggest loss leaders. Disney's statement hints that the film's true budget may be far higher than $250m; industry analysts have repeatedly speculated that it cost at least another $50m thanks to a gargantuan marketing spend, making it one of the most expensive films of all time.
"In light of the theatrical performance of John Carter, we expect the film to generate an operating loss of approximately $200m during our second fiscal quarter ending 31 March," said Disney. "As a result, our current expectation is that the studio segment will have an operating loss of between $80 and $120m for the second quarter. As we look forward to the second half of the year, we are excited about the upcoming releases of The Avengers and Brave, which we believe have tremendous potential to drive value for the studio and the rest of the company."
The statement does not mention the possibility of sequels, but it appears they are now extremely unlikely to materialise. Stanton had hoped to direct a number of films focusing on Carter, a retired US civil war soldier who miraculously finds himself transported to Mars. John Carter is based on the first book in Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom series, of which there are 11 novels in total. Barsoom is the name the inhabitants of Mars use for their planet in the books.
Stanton, whose Pixar films Finding Nemo and Wall-E both won the best animation Oscar, recently told the Guardian he was expecting to go straight into a second John Carter film following the release of the first movie, and had no other projects lined up. John Carter's box-office failure stands in sharp contrast to the huge success of another high-profile film from a Pixar veteran shooting his first live-action feature: Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol became the highest-grossing film in the long-running Tom Cruise-fronted spy series earlier this year, having so far taken $691m worldwide.
Watch Willem Dafoe and Andrew Stanton talk about John Carter's budget (starts 4:50) Link to this video "You're assuming that anybody cares about those numbers," Stanton said in an interview with the Guardian to promote John Carter earlier this month. "All I care about is I get to make the films I make, and I got it made, so the rest is gravy.
"It's not a zero-sum game. This is not sports," he added. "If one movie does well, every movie does well. Because all we want is more people going to the movie theatre like we did as kids. So it doesn't benefit us if somebody loses. It benefits us if everybody wins."
Star Willem Dafoe, who plays green alien Tars Tarkas, said: "I'm not thinking about the budget. And on some level, this has gotten a little crazy. Many years ago it was vulgar to talk about budgets because it wasn't addressing the film. Now, the talk about business sometimes even eclipses the film itself."
Critics have suggested that John Carter's failure to connect with audiences may have been due to confusing marketing as well as lukewarm reviews. Disney chose not to run with the "of Mars" suffix in the wake of traditionally poor box-office results for films that focus on the planet, and trailers also largely ignored the movie's central romance, something Hollywood tends to see as a surefire method of attracting female filmgoers.
"The movie is called John Carter, but aside from the fact that he can jump far and looks good without a shirt on, what else did commercials really convey about the title character?" wrote Ray Subers of the Box Office Mojo website. "Also, what was John Carter doing in this desert landscape occupied by tall green men, aside from fighting giant furry white creatures?"

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