Are You Happy Now, Michael Bay?

With 'Transformers' Sequel's Huge One-Day Opening, Did Marketing Matter?

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Michael ("The Rock") Bay -- a director known more for his way around pyrotechnics than as, say, America's greatest auteur since Orson Welles -- made some headlines earlier this week after an e-mail he fired off in May to Paramount wound up in the hands of TMZ. And what was this film great moaning about? Marketing.

'Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen'
'Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen'
Specifically, he bitched how Paramount wasn't aggressively marketing the soon-to-be blockbuster "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (whatever that means), the sequel to the cash cow known simply as "Transformers."

Steve Mallas over at BloggingStocks takes the creative genius to task for whining about the lack of marketing support, saying if Paramount is going to risk $200 million in capital, then it'll market the film any way it wants or parent Viacom's shareholders will scream.

We've debated this point here at Ad Age quite a bit: Does it make more sense for a marketer to market its way out of a recession? Does our grand cineaste have a point?

According to this morning, "Revenge of the Fallen" raked in a record $16 million last night, the most ever for a Wednesday midnight run. (EW says Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight" took in $18 million for a Friday midnight run last year.) The website goes on to say the movie could take in between $125 million to $160 million for the five-day frame. So at least based on one-day totals, whatever Paramount did (or didn't do) worked.

Bay apparently sent a follow-up e-mail earlier this month in which he thanked the folks at the studio for their work ("busting their butts"). The studio may not have blanketed the airwaves with TV spots, but it's made some interesting deals considering it didn't have GM's marketing money behind it for the sequel.

Bay's first letter to Paramount singled out "Spider-Man 2" and how Sony treated that movie as an event. He does have a point, but for all the wrong reasons.

I saw an ad last night for "Transformers 2" that had the tagline "The wait is over." For whom? That lazy tagline speaks to the silliness of trying to make an event out of a movie that -- with all due respect to the mythmakers at Hasbro -- doesn't have a compelling back story but does have plenty of fans looking for a loud summertime spectacle. That's what summertime movies are all about.

Which is why I thought it was a mistake for the latest Harry Potter movie to come out this summer. After having had its release date moved from last fall to July, that franchise's loyal fan base has been eagerly awaiting the movie. But Warner Bros., to its credit, has some fairly intense trailers hinting at all sorts of darkness and struggle. I've been seeing, at least here in Manhattan, far more work for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the series' sixth installment -- with some clever movie posters highlighting the characters people know from the books and the previous films -- than I did for "Transformers 2."

That's what "Transformers" lacked, and no amount of braying by Bay was going to change that. Optimus Prime is one badass character, sure, but the novelty of seeing characters develop and being able to essentially market that is far more enticing than trying to just market how awesome shape-shifting cars (and Megan Fox) look in the sand. That's also why the "Spider-Man 2" marketing Bay seems to be enamored of worked. Sony was able to flog a summertime blockbuster and compelling characters not played by the annoyingly twitchy, one-note ham Shia LaBeouf. (There's a brand study for you: Daniel Radcliffe vs. LaBeouf.)

In marketing terms, this is why Gillette has more market share than Schick. Yes, you can have tons of blades and innovation and pulsing bells and whistles, but Gillette tells a better story (granted, "It's the best a man can be" makes me smirk, but it's still a narrative), and it shows up in Gillette's marketing. "Harry Potter" tells a better story, and Warner is making that work in its advertising. Will Harry Potter magically walk away with as much box-office loot as Sam Witwicky will? Probably not. But you're also not going to see seven installments of "Transformers," either.

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