Hype outperforms ads for box-office megahit

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Star wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace" captured the imagination of moviegoers looking for a new force in their starved sci-fi lives. Only the force of the movie's advertising was missing from the big event.

Compared with other top 10 box-office draws, considerably fewer dollars landed in media because the Lucasfilms' epic was an anomaly: Media hype circumvented the need for ad volume.


As it was, the biggest box-office hit spent only $14.7 million to support a film that raked in $430.4 million at the box office. That media spending monitored by Competitive Media Reporting ranked 44th among movies.

Much of the TV spending for "Phantom Menace" went to Lifetime and to daytime broadcast programming, targeted to older women. Distributor 20th Century Fox was credited with the ad spending by CMR, although the budget came from Lucasfilms, the producer.

Walt Disney Co. was the biggest mega-studio spender, backing Buena Vista Pictures, Miramax Films and Dimension Films with $546.7 million, down 7.2%, from 1998. Buena Vista spent the most of any studio on a single theatrical release, the animated "Tarzan" -- more than $29 million. Eight Disney releases each were backed by $15 million or more.

Fast-food marketer advertising also plays a big role in hyping blockbusters. McDonald's Corp. often ponies up another $20 million to $30 million in licensing and merchandising for youth-oriented movies like "Tarzan."


Viacom's Paramount Pictures also supported eight films each with $15 million or more, three of which landed among the top 10 spenders -- "The General's Daughter" at $26.9 million, "Sleepy Hollow" at $25.4 million, and "Runaway Bride" at $25.1 million.

MGM/UA's James Bond thriller, "The World Is Not Enough," was the second-most advertised movie in the year at $27.4 million, but its $117.8 million from theaters didn't make the top 10 box-office cut.

Disney's Miramax put its usual marketing tricks to practice earlier in the year. For its critically acclaimed "Shakespeare In Love," $26.8 million in ads could only deliver $94 million at the box office. The box-office take straddles 1999 and 1998, the release year, as does the spending. Miramax's spending for the movie ran almost seven months; movie campaigns, once a release is out, typically run five weeks.

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