Super Bowl Delivers for Summer Blockbusters

Study: Smaller Movies Airing in Spring Don't Do as Well

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LOS ANGELES ( -- Isn't it A-list stars, nonstop action and appealing stories that drive people to the movies they see advertised during the Super Bowl? Not so, says a study from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. It's the release date.
Studios use the football extravaganza to build buzz for big-budget summer blockbusters like 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.'
Studios use the football extravaganza to build buzz for big-budget summer blockbusters like 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.' Credit: Disney

The study, from marketing professors Chuck Tomkovick and Rama Yelkur, found that the most significant predictor of success for a movie advertised during the big game is its release date. Films hitting multiplexes in the weeks immediately after the game don't fare as well.

'Independence Day' example
There are a number of examples to support the findings, including one of the most famous Super Bowl movie ads ever, Fox's "Independence Day," a mega-hit that opened July 4 weekend. On the failing end of the spectrum is Sony's "Secret Window," which was DOA at its March launch.

Even so, the findings are counterintuitive to many Hollywood marketers, who think it's more effective to tout a movie close to its release to make it top-of-mind with audiences. Shelling out $2.6 million for a 30-second spot is much riskier when you're hyping a movie that's still months away from opening.

Studios have been known to do both, though, using the football extravaganza to build buzz for big-budget summer blockbusters like "War of the Worlds" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" while also campaigning for smaller comedies, dramas and family fare that open shortly after the game airs.

Huge push also helps
Though it's not detailed in the study, there's another likely reason that tentpole summer films advertised during the Super Bowl do well: Studios regularly spend upward of $30 million to promote those franchises. With marketer-partner spending included, which adds to the outlay for many family and action flicks, that figure can swell to $50 million.

This year, Lionsgate will use a Super Bowl ad to try to draw a broad swath of consumers to its feel-good tale of an inner-city teacher who turns troubled kids into champion swimmers. "Pride," starring Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac, opens March 23. Disney will take a similar approach for "Wild Hogs," a comedy starring Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and John Travolta that opens March 2.

"The benefit is it's the biggest TV event of the year, with a whole cottage industry that's popped up around the advertising," said Jim Gallagher, president of Buena Vista Pictures Marketing. "When you advertise there, you send a strong signal that you so believe in the property that you're willing to spend a lot of money on it."

Eight for eight
In the last four years, all eight movies advertised during the game that opened after Memorial Day opened at No. 1, among them "Cars" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

There are exceptions, such as Sony's "Hitch," Warner Bros.' "Swordfish" and MGM's "Hannibal." Those films opened at the top of the box office just weeks after their Super Bowl ads appeared.

The study tracked 87 movies that have been advertised during the game since 1991 and tallied each movie's first weekend, first week and total U.S. box-office revenue. The release date was a top predictor of success across the board, with those opening four to six months after the game having the best run.

The only other factor that proved significant in overall success was how well the movies scored on USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter. Factors that could be expected to pump a movie, such as its high-wattage talent in front of and behind the camera, didn't have as much influence, the study said.
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