TALKING POINTS: Does Marketing Affect the Quality of a Film?

Hey, guys–

So, I wanted to do something a bit different today… which is basically just: pick your brains and chat about stuff. 

A couple weeks ago, I posted my “review” on Vantage Point… or at least, some thoughts on the writing of the movie.  One of my biggest gripes is that the movie, like all mysteries, inherently asks the audience to go along for the ride and have the fun of trying to solve the riddle.  This is the point of mysteries.  And Vantage Point‘s marketing campaign supports this with the straightforward (although no less ridiculous) tagline: “Can you solve the puzzle?”  The problem is: no, you can’t solve the mystery, because the movie intentionally cheats you out of the clues necessary to do so.  Which, I think, breaks the unspoken covenant between mystery storyteller and mystery audience.

Anyway, several of you wrote in, both in the blog’s comments section and via email, with some interesting thoughts of your own, and one in particular caught my eye.  Loyal reader Jake writes:

“Isn’t it possible that the bigger problem is the marketing machine at
whatever studio put this out? Isn’t it at all possible that they made
the film they wanted to make, and then the marketing machine said: hey,
let’s make it a puzzle in need of solving?”

Well, before I get to the larger, more interesting question in Jake’s post… lemme throw in my two cents worth for Jake.

In answer to: “Isn’t it possible that they made
the film they wanted to make, then the marketing machine said: let’s make it a puzzle in need of solving?”…

No.  It’s not possible.  Or rather, if it is possible, then I’m even more dismayed by the filmmakers.  Because regardless of its marketing, Vantage Point does not work.  It is fatally flawed as both a mystery and a story, so if it is the movie the producers set out to make, then… well… the producers have even more egg on their face, because they set out to make a crappy movie.

In fact, I think Vantage Point‘s marketing was the best thing about the film.  It had great marketing!  The trailers were cool… they clearly articulated the gimmick and the story of the movie… they made me want to see it!  I actually think the marketing campaign was marketing the movie the producers had hoped to make… they just didn’t pull it off.

Now, Jake also writes– “At least the film was different. Give it some credit for that.”  And I agree.  I appreciate what the film was trying to do… but that doesn’t mean it didn’t fail miserably.  Which is also why I don’t think the filmmakers “made the film they wanted to make.”  They had a vision, sure, but their final product fell far short.  And that’s not the fault of bad marketing.

However… the more interesting question buried in Jake’s comments are: “How does movie marketing affect our enjoyment of a movie?” 

In other words, if a movie’s marketing campaign leads us to believe one thing, and it leads our expectations in a certain direction, but then the movie turns out to be something different… even if it’s a good movie… how do we react?  Do we hate the movie?  Are we surprised but pleased?

I’m just thinking out loud… and I’m trying to think of examples where the trailers and marketing campaign made the movie look like one thing, and it was actually entirely different.  And when a movie is mis-marketed, does it affect how much you like the movie?  Can good storytelling and acting still shine through and trump an audience’s misled expectations?

I dunno…  I’m wondering…

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3 thoughts on “TALKING POINTS: Does Marketing Affect the Quality of a Film?

  1. Tom Brady

    The marketing can in fact have everything to do with how the audience receives the piece. While the goal of marketing and publicizing a movie is to appeal to the widest amoount of people possible via a specific genre or a broad scope of genres, marketing can misappropriate the intended genre that is EXPECTED by the audience.

    A film’s reception, critically or otherwise, has everything to do with the expectation of the viewer — in terms of genre specifically — therefore if a viewer’s generic hypothesis isn’t confirmed it is received poorly. Go in expecting VANTAGE POINT to be a generically certifiable mystery and get a political thriller instead — sure you’ll be dissapointed. Does this mean that VANTAGE POINT can’t also be just a bad movie? Of course not, in fact, in this case blaming marketing seems to be more of scapegoating bad filmmaking as Chad wisely points out.

    However, think of a film like Donnie Darko — go back and watch the trailers. It was released at Halloween and the trailers certifiably suggest a blatant HORROR film. Is it possible that viewers went in expecting a horror/slasher film because of marketing and were dissapointed in not getting that specific generic pleasure. You better believe it. Outside of that marketing campaign, Donnie Darko has since been received well as a "cult classic" of sorts when it is no longer associated with a marketing campaign’s thrusting of inappropriate genre identity.

    So yeah, VANTAGE POINT might suck, but don’t count out marketing altogether.

  2. emily blake

    This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a friend. This friend absolutely loves action movies but didn’t go to see In Bruges because the trailers made it look like a Colin Ferell comedy and that didn’t interest him at all. When I told him what the movie actually was he was pissed that he didn’t see it.

    I felt the same way about Bridge to Terabithia. That book was sad and meaningful and wonderful but the trailers made it look like a Narnia clone.

    I can only guess this is the marketing firm trying to skew the movie to look like what the audience wants to see, when they’d be better off just being honest about what the film is.

  3. Where's Izzy?

    Marketing is already a dark art, rife with numbers and data that are open to wild interpretation, and movie marketing might be the darkest of the bunch. Like black. But black itself is way cooler than marketing. Most of the time that someone over-hypes or improperly markets a product to the point of exceeding the consumers’ experience with the product, the product will die. Eventually. That generally leads them into an under-promise/over-deliver marketing pitch to keep consumers happy over the life of you product, being careful not to under-promise so much that nobody buys what they’re selling in the first place. Fun stuff.

    Movies, however, have a super-short theatrical lifespan, and the success of a movie over its entire life (DVD, downloads, cable, etc.) can be pretty closely tied just to its theatrical window success, even if the marketing seemed wrong for whatever reason. So studios come up with marketing to get our butts into theater seats whether or not we end up getting misled or our expectations blown up beyond what the movie delivers. Movie marketers don’t want to do it, but the nature of this beast dictates that they do, in fact, do it. Don’t get fooled into thinking that Hollywood is about making great movies over making great money. There are a lot of things that go into marketing these creations, including whether or not or how much to "chase" a movie with marketing before its release, but you get the gist. – End of brief, boring marketing talk.

    Fight Club had a marketing campaign that, from what I remember, was pretty far off from the movie I saw. I’d toss that into the ring of movies with misled expectations that eventually pulled through in spite of them. At least for me. Or when you enjoy a waffle and it somehow always beats your already lofty expectations, but every time you have a pancake you can’t help but wish it was a waffle. A black waffle. Hell yeah.


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