Was There a Marketing 'Switch' Again at the Box Office?

New Jennifer Aniston Film Might Have Fared Better if It Appealed More Directly to Men

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'The Switch'
'The Switch'

My colleague Natalie Zmuda has an excellent cover story today on a burgeoning new cola war, being played out between upstart Pepsi Max and Coke Zero. The rival cola giants are battling over the attention of men who want full flavor in their soft drinks, but don't want to be caught dead admitting they drink diet soda.

I'm not going to get Al Ries and debate the merits of either line extension, but it did make me think about Hollywood's slicing and dicing of demographics, and how it often backfires in the marketing -- or, as with "The Expendables," proves to have a surprising result.

The Sylvester Stallone-directed '80s action-movie throwback was again tops at the box office this weekend; and according to Lionsgate, some 38% of the audience for "The Expendables" was female. The film was squarely marketed at all XY chromosomes but keeps drawing in women, who were expected to be bonding with Julia Roberts in "Eat Pray Love" or with Jennifer Aniston in "The Switch," which opened this weekend; "The Switch" came in at No. 8, behind other new releases "Lottery Ticket," "Nanny McPhee Returns" and "Piranha 3D."

After the dismal outing for CBS Films' "The Back-up Plan," I'm not sure what the market was for another movie dealing with artificial insemination. Hollywood, like cola makers, repeatedly trots out competing products (witness "Tombstone" and "Wyatt Earp," or the upcoming alien-invasion movies "Skyline" and "Battle: Los Angeles" ), but in the case of "The Switch," there might have been some confusion as to who the movie is aimed at.

The very tame trailer does clearly spell out that the movie is about fatherhood and taking responsibility.

One problem is that we already saw that movie when it was called "Knocked Up" -- a rom-com that Seth Rogen's dude attitude made safe for men but probably left a few thinking they'd basically seen "The Switch" before.

For the remaining potential male audience, however, the fatherhood-and-responsibility theme was also overshadowed by the media-friendly dust-up between Ms. Aniston and Bill O' Reilly prior to the movie's release, which probably suggested to many that "The Switch" was going to be all about ticking biological clocks. (For more on the confusion, see this Los Angeles Times report: "'The Switch' directors: We're not sure what Bill O' Reilly is talking about.")

Maybe if Miramax was still in the Disney fold, "The Switch" could've been more aimed at men -- a few big buys across former corporate sibling ESPN's SportsCenter, for example, might have reinforced that the movie was guy approved. Then again, Jason Bateman is no Stallone, and maybe the kind of guy movie/date-night flick men and women wanted to see this weekend was all about basting bad guys with buckets of blood and bullets.

Much is going to be made, by the way, of whether Ms. Roberts' or Ms. Aniston's star wattage is dimming (read: though beautiful, they're "too old"), while leathery old geezers Stallone, Rourke, Lundgren et. al. can open a movie big. But Patrick Goldstein this morning in the Los Angeles Times fears Hollywood is facing a bigger problem. The movie industry is mired "in the grip of a serious recession of its own," and studios will continue to turn out tried-and-true productions that guarantee big openings overseas, while reducing the output of edgier, original fare.

Even worse, the kind of movie a studio will finance right now has narrowed considerably. Studios will spend fortunes on their big tentpole or franchise movies, because those are the movies that move the needle, both in terms of making the best use of studio marketing dollars and attracting audiences around the globe, which is where the biggest profits are these days. When it comes to the kind of films that talent want to make -- ones with slightly loftier aspirations -- the studios will only play ball on their terms and on their schedule, forcing everyone involved to work for what in Hollywood passes for peanuts.

So while media companies will still see an influx of marketing dollars to hype summer blockbusters, the consumer will continue to be beaten over the head with bloated campaigns hyping the same old tired franchises. It might be awhile until we see something as original as "Inception" during the dog days of summer.

Aris Georgiadis is assistant managing editor for Ad Age and editor of Madison & Vine. You can also find him on Twitter.
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