If anything, the big ad push probably did have something to do with the $160 million overseas take. I'm not sure how well-remembered Indy is in other markets. And I'm sure stunts like this really helped drive awareness.
According to the Times' story today, the "domestic box office total fell short of records and failed to meet the sky-high expectations of some analysts, expectations set in large part by an aggressive advertising push from Paramount Pictures that brought a half-dozen 'Indiana Jones' billboards to some intersections."
(As an aside, last summer I asked who these analysts are. I suspect they are the same analysts who seemingly thought the "Bourne Ultimatum" wasn't going to make as much as it did under some bizarre third-installment-of-a-trilogy-makes-less-money-even-if-everyone-on-the-planet-wants-to-see-the-movie rule. Again, I'd like these analysts to read the web, hang out at a bar or just call a cousin who doesn't live on the coast to gauge what people want to watch.)
But getting back to the Times article, whatever the answer to the question ultimately is, I think you had to market "Crystal Skull" as aggresively as Paramount did, just maybe not how it went about doing it. We jokingly asked ourselves here at the office if the studio really needed to heavily hype "Indiana Jones." But "Indiana Jones" is a mature brand, if we want to make that analogy, that's been out of the public eye, oh, for a while. You need to spend the bucks behind it if you're looking to draw eyeballs.
And no marketing stone was left unturned looking for those eyeballs, from Happy Meals and Dr Pepper to Major League Baseball and a stunt that might not be as fan generated as it appears. (Can someone tell the NBA to stop integrating movie trailers with promo ads for the playoffs? Please?) So my gripe isn't that Paramount pushed the film hard, but that it didn't do a good-enough job making the movie feel like an event. There's no point in bemoaning George Lucas' licensing mania and the bizarre parterships behind the film. But was there anyone who though the trailer was better than simply serviceable? And, billboards aside, I never felt anything special from the varied campaigns. Maybe that's the downside to trying to cut through the clutter -- maybe the point isn't less is more, just less crap and more of what makes "Indiana Jones" relevant. (Then again, what do I know what's relevant to a 16-year-old? I think Paramount wasn't too sure, either.)
We'll most likely get our answer next week if any ad effort would've mattered: Word of mouth in my little circle of Indy-loving knuckleheads has been brutal. (I haven't seen the movie yet, but if I were Paramount, I'd start pushing a Father's Day angle quick. We all know what the surprise is.) I suspect Paramount was looking for a great opening weekend, because Lucas should've left his McGuffin in the drawer.