Other studios proved that targeted, low-key buzz-building can cultivate summertime blockbuster status for films lacking easy-to-market high concepts.
Cases in point: DreamWorks SKG's "Saving Private Ryan," Paramount Pictures' "The Truman Show," and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.'s "There's Something About Mary."
Although "Armageddon" may have been crass and manufactured, it delivered on what it promised: over-the-top spectacle.
"We never misled people and we were very true to the film," says John Cywinski, the former Burger King Corp. executive who was tapped to become president of Disney's Buena Vista Pictures Marketing. "When you meet expectations, your marketing is creative. When you don't, it's `hype.' "
CART BEFORE THE HORSE
The first trailers for "Godzilla" and "Armageddon" hit before the films were shot-always a risky strategy. Still, the campaign drove a massive opening weekend-the primary responsibility of movie marketing.
Sony's Bob Levin, president-worldwide marketing, who last year skillfully charted courses for Oscar-winner "As Good As It Gets" and teen film "I Know What You Did Last Summer," stands by the campaign. Mr. Levin is credited with pioneering a team-oriented, account management structure at Sony.
"The only thing `Godzilla' has cautioned me against is how early you put pressure in the marketplace, not how much," says Mr. Levin. "Also we were naive not to see how a tagline-in this case "Size does matter"-can be turned on its ear and used against us."
Paramount's "Deep Impact" earned praise for a highly efficient campaign that began with provocative outdoor teasers and hit a crescendo with a flurry of TV spots days before opening.
TOO MUCH TOO SOON
"The success and failure of a movie functions on how much you make the last week come together and make it feel fresh," says Arthur Cohen, a former Revlon VP who runs a close-knit team that operates outside the limelight.
Mr. Cohen, who is closing in on 10 years as the well-respected leader of Paramount's marketing, notes: "You can waste money promoting too early."
"When you're hullabaloo is bigger than your movie, you can have a problem," says Terry Press, head of marketing at DreamWorks. "You have to protect the film's integrity, and maybe even sacrifice some box office for the long-term viability of the franchise," she says.
Stark, subtle ads created awareness for "Ryan" in a hyped summer; star power and adulation drove ticket sales. A targeted approach didn't yield a blockbuster-opening for the "Small Soldiers," but didn't embarrass the studio when bad mediocre reviews kept audiences away.
Fox scored unexpected hits with "Mary" and the Cinderella-remake "Ever After" by zeroing in on the films' respective
target audiences via ads and sneak previews and letting the word of mouth bubble out.
ONE SIZE DOESN'T FIT ALL
Bob Harper, a longtime Fox marketing vet who once tried his hand at filmmaking and scored with "Rookie of the Year,"
echoes others when he says that one size doesn't fit all.
The targeted approach "works most effectively for extremely good movies," says Mr. Harper. "For defining movies like
`Mary,' marketing of course needs to create awareness and set expectation but ultimately stay out of the way."
Title: Head of Marketing
Ad Budget: $85 million
Agencies: Focus Media; GSD&M
Power play: After aggressive, clever efforts for so-so films, DreamWorks cut through hype with subdued, somber ads for "Saving Private Ryan." Strategic buzz-building efforts didn't work for "Small Soldiers" but may pay off for "Antz" and "Prince of Egypt." Years on list: One.
U.S. budget:$273 million
Agency: McCann-Erickson Worldwide
Power play: Created Hollywood's most-criticized campaign of the year for "Godzilla." A remarkable effort for an unremarkable movie, the "Godzilla" campaign nonetheless is the catalyst for an anti-hype trend. Years on list: Two.
Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Pictures Marketing
U.S. budget: $406 million
Agency: Western International Media
Power play: Hollywood has doubts about the staying power of outsiders recruited to marketing posts. After nearly two years, the former Burger King marketing exec is still in the picture. The push for "Armageddon" poured more fuel on the fiery "hype/no hype" debate. Years on list: Two.
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
U.S. budget: $212 million
Agency: J. Walter Thompson USA
Power play: Mr. Harper's team has impressed the industry by opening niche ethnic films such as "Soul Food" and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." His team marketed "Dr. Dolittle" and "There's Something About Mary" in the past year. Years on list: Three.
Ad budget: $23
Power play: "Deep Impact" made a bigger impact on consumers than expected, with a traditional campaign that hit consumers without over-reaching. Ads and publicity push for "The Truman Show" made a mainstream hit out of heady art film material. And, then there's "Titanic." Years on list: One.