BUZZ-BUILDING AWAKENS SLEEPERS AT BOX OFFICE: MOVIES: HUGE CAMPAIGNS NOT THE ONLY WAY TO MAKE A MEGAHIT

By Published on .

So does size really matter? It's the movie marketing question of 1998. Sony Corp. laid it on early and thick for "Godzilla" and was roundly rebuked when the flick didn't live up to its tag, "Size does matter." Walt Disney Co. fared better with its made-for-the-summer megahit "Armageddon," but suffered similar criticisms of overhype.

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.

SUBTLE MARKETING

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."

TERRY PRESS

DreamWorks

Pictures

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.

ROBERT LEVIN

Sony Pictures

Entertainment

Title: President-worldwide

marketing

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.

John Cywinski

Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Pictures Marketing

Title: President

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.

BOB HARPER

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

Title: President-marketing

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.

Arthur Cohen

Paramount

Pictures

Title: President-theatrical

marketing

Ad budget: $23

million

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.

In this article:
Most Popular