Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Perils of Mismarketing

The marketing of films is very important to their eventual success... or failure. Everyone loves seeing movie trailers to find out what's going to land in the multiplex in the near future, and film trailer editors have gotten very good at creating slick mini-previews to build anticipation. But what happens when they get it wrong?

Conventional wisdom states that there are 5 major genres (Drama, Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Action/Adventure) and various combinations and sub-genres within those (ex. Thriller and Romantic Comedy). Most films fit neatly into one of these common genres and crafting the trailer and marketing campaign then becomes a simple matter of playing on the standard conventions of that particular category. When we're at the theater and see the trailer for Horsemen (2009) we can instantly tell it's going to be a Horror/Mystery film because of the creepy text that drips on the screen and the ominously creepy music that gradually increases in intensity.

The film studios want this to happen. They want the audience to see the trailer and instantly associate it with a specific genre that they already identify with and, if possible, with a similar film from the past that they already like. Films are marketed this way all the time. "From the director of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up comes the new film Funny People by Judd Apatow." It happens so often that we don't even realize that it's happening, but the idea is, "If you liked that you'll like this too."

But there are certain films that don't fit so neatly into any specific genre. What then? Unfortunately, the answer the studios come up with most of the time in this situation is to try to market these films as if they do fit into a common genre anyway, which almost always leads to audience disappointment.

One of the most recent victims of mismarketing is Adventureland (2009) starring Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg. It was marketed as if it were the next Superbad (2007), an outright comedy about teens going to parties and getting drunk. The first weekend it came out a sizable audience came out to see the next side-splitting laugh-fest, and a lot of people left disappointed, or at least confused. Adventureland, in truth, is a slow paced drama with comedic elements about a teen who has had the rug pulled out from under him, trying to find his place in the world and make sense of life while falling in love with a co-worker. It's perhaps the best film of 2009 so far and because of mismarketing grossed only $16 Million in the US.

What this phenomenon demonstrates is the complete lack of trust the studios have in the viewer. They are afraid that if they advertise a film like Adverntureland for what it really is then people won't be interested. They think, "We have this film here that's kind of a comedy but mostly a drama. It has teens in it, but it's not exactly a Teen Film. What do we do?" But what inevitably ends up happening as a result of mismarketing is confusion and disappointment, so why does it keep happening?

Perhaps the studios should learn their lesson and stop marketing films based on genre conventions, instead focusing on each film's individual merits. Doing so would allow the audience to more accurately choose the films they want to see, and ultimately learn to appreciate different kinds of films that don't necessarily fit into a neat little box.


  1. I commented on thiiiiiiiiis!! Where did it goooooo?!??!

  2. I usually find that the trailers show the only good parts of many movies. It's so disappointing.

  3. Thanks to Joe for calling an omission to my attention.

  4. Hey... I really want to see Adventureland since I read some of the reviews when it first came out.. didn't pay attention to the marketing! I agree many films are completely missed because of they draw the wrong audience. Not sure when Adventureland comes out on video but I'll be looking for it!