Never mind the quality, feel the pitch
The new Bond film is four weeks away, but already the publicity machine has hit top gear. For, as the people in P&A know, you want good word-of-mouth before the movie opens and ruins it all. By Beth Porter
Monday 30 October 1995
Even though these movies haven't yet been released, there's already a buzz about them. All that hype is carefully calculated. Chances are you'll have seen a poster, read an article, or heard them trailed on air. Maybe they'll be good films, maybe not. Odds on they'll be American. But the reason you'll know about them and not scores of others is what the trade calls the P&A. Promotion and advertising.
Potential international blockbuster Goldeneye had a bevy of promotion managers fixing advertising tie-ins to ensure that when Pierce Brosnan pulls out his pistol, the shot will be heard around the world. We're not just talking about a poster or two. This is massive business.
Randy Greenberg at MGM's US Bond office quotes over 30 nationwide product associations, headed up by the unveiling of a BMW open-top sports roadster, driven by Brosnan in the film. To test the water, the upmarket department store Nieman Marcus featured 100 of these cars in its home catalogue, retailing at $30,000 (pounds 20,000) per car. They sold out in 10 days.
Nieman Marcus also has window displays in its 270 stores around America and in its Saks Fifth Avenue New York store, all featuring mannequins dressed as characters from Goldeneye. Bollinger has been declared the "official Bond champagne" for all the film's premieres, including its New York gala on 13 November and a UK launch on 24 November. Citgo, one of America's largest petrol chains, is not only featuring blow-ups of Brosnan at its 11,000 stations, but has offered a contest prize of a trip to Jamaica to visit the home of Bond creator Ian Fleming. And the list goes on. Many of the tie-ins reach into the UK, with Bironi suits, Dixons / Currys, and an eyecatching on-bottle promotion on Smirnoff Vodka.
Mark de Quervain, in charge of European marketing at United International Pictures, feels his work's paying off, though he's shy about revealing exactly how much money each of these companies has splashed out. "Everybody's benefiting from these partnerships," he declares cannily.
So Bond's set to be a biggie. But the question is, will you feel inclined to see it because of the publicity, or is it being promoted because the distributors have second-guessed your cinema taste?
Marketing plays a key role in determining why certain films explode international box-offices while others merely break even or go into modest profit in selected territories. And it's not just that there's no level playing field of advertising budgets. The ticket-buying public will not only go to see the films that are hyped the most, but those that have been booked into cinemas nearby. Because, quality aside, if you can be enticed in during that vital first week of a film's release, the chances are the distributors will make back their costs. With interest. Free market? It's a myth.
It's helpful to understand the anatomy of the movie business. On a global level, the US majors are in charge, even though several of the larger studios have been taken over by Japanese interests.They operate a tripartite international network: production, which includes raising script-development finance and making the film, or "product" as it's referred to; distribution and sales, including financing enough prints to keep cinemas supplied and masterminding advertising campaigns from posters to supermarket openings; and exhibition, ensuring movie theatres are places people actually want to visit.
So P&A is down to the distributor. They'll spend up to a whopping 50 per cent of a film's gross income telling you all about it. And most of that money goes into promoting American studio-made pictures. Films by independents generally don't get a look-in, unless they battle, salmon- like, upstream against all the odds and grab your attention, like Reservoir Dogs or the forthcoming Babe.
Paradoxically, big blockbusters require a smaller percentage of the box- office gross for the P&A. The new Bond, for example, which clocked up a production budget of approximately pounds 50m, won't need anything like half its estimated ticket receipts to herald itself. Bond's become an icon, and word-of-mouth has plenty to jaw about with a new actor and a post- glasnost story. But, on average, distributors will risk between 25 and 30 per cent of the projected box-office.
In the UK, independent distributors scrap over what's left after the big boys have dined at the top US table. The largest British player is Rank, which counts among recent successes The Shawshank Redemption. When Rank took on Shawshank, their campaign was budgeted at about $500,000. Their 25 per cent share of the pounds 2.7m UK box-office made it worth the risk.
Last week Rank released To Die For, which it co-funded with Columbia, getting involved at script stage about 18 months ago. Then began negotiations as complex as the Bosnian peace process. The deal struck gave Columbia all US and North American territories, with Rank getting the rest of the world. In this case, Columbia bought back from Rank the Latin American and South American markets as well. But Rank didn't quite have the free hand you might imagine in planning their marketing campaign.
The blackly comic critique of American values by director Gus Van Sant has a central performance by Nicole Kidman. She's already being tipped for a best-actress Oscar. Kidman creamed pounds 4m of the film's pounds 21m budget. She also had consultation rights on the design of the advertising.
The film is opening throughout the UK and Ireland with 100 prints. What dictated that kind of splash rather than a more discreet release? The film's temperature is tested at various stages. Before editing was finished, a six-minute promo was put together from the footage and shown to one of world's best film markets at Mifed in the south of France. Then, at the beginning of 1995, the film was shown at a try-out screening to a few hundred randomly chosen people. The audience had to fill out a detailed questionnaire about To Die For. Not one person indicated anything should be changed.
That was when the decision was taken to open the film at the Cannes Film Festival in May. The film was accepted into the main festival at the Gala Screening, but out of competition. Kidman had already agreed to support the film at Cannes, a big plus for the distributors, who were counting on her publicity value. It was only after the extremely positive critical response both for Kidman and the film, plus the business interest of UK exhibitors, that Rank fleshed out its marketing commitment.
Their decision to wait until the autumn to open the film assured enough time for UK magazine coverage, since monthly journals require about three months' lead time. It also left room for marketing tie-in releases of a book and CD soundtrack. And it coincided with the reopening of colleges, since the film was expected to appeal to students.
Anticipating that this target audience would respond to the film's comedy, Rank decided to modify the UK poster from the original US campaign. The American poster featured an image of Kidman disrobing, tinted blue, with the film's title underneath, subliminally suggesting a mug shot. Rank judged the blues too cold and printed the image in golds, moving it over to the left, leaving room to quote some of the rave reviews the film had garnered at Cannes. The quotes stressed the comic nature of the film, counterpointing Kidman's sexy image. They gave the title more prominence, but she was the key element.
Will all this planning and investment and attention to detail pay off? Well, that will be up to you.
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