Movie promo blur

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In the siege of ad polls following the Super Bowl, one category of commercials has merited comparatively little discussion and few creative high marks--movie ads. That's despite a number of high-powered, tough-talking stars featured in them, including John Travolta, Steven Seagal and Anthony Hopkins.

"Movie marketing today has become a homogenized blur," said Steve Frankfurt, senior VP-catalyst-in-chief for Red Sky Interactive, New York. While at Frankfurt Communications, the former Young & Rubicam executive played a key role in marketing some of the biggest box office grossing films, such as "Rosemary's Baby," "Superman" and "Aliens."

"MasterCard advertising is more emotional than most of the movie ads we see," he added. "Great ad campaigns touch emotional nerves, and most movie advertising seems to ignore that. Yet films are the most emotional products that we have."

Most movie spots-particularly those for action films-end up with a cookie-cutter format, featuring quick-cut action scenes full of explosions, car chases and dramatic voice-over. The spots rarely have continuity of a single story line.

One reason is time. Studios produce anywhere from 15 to 20 movies a year, giving them three to four weeks to plan each campaign. Complications arise from the fact that sometimes studios don't get clips until the last minute, after filming is completed. And when studios do try to break the advertising mold, they risk leaving consumers clueless as to what the film is about. "People are going to look at it and say, `Where's the movie? The movie must suck,"' said Peter Graves, a movie marketing consultant who has worked on films including "The Perfect Storm."

If there's time, studios sometimes do special shoots for big ad venues such as the Super Bowl. For Warner Bros.' "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" in 1991, new creative not originally in the movie was created. It featured a traveling shot taken from an arrow's point of view.

But new shoots aren't always necessary. In 1996, Fox Filmed Entertainment promoted "Inde-pendence Day" on the Super Bowl with a spot showing the White House blowing up. This one shot made the movie a big seller.

"It doesn't matter if it's a special shoot, as long as its impactful," said Chris Pula, former theatrical marketing executive for a number of studios including Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Motion Picture Group and AOL Time Warner's Warner Bros. Pictures. "After they blew up the White House, they didn't need to do another commercial."

Movies' lackluster creative, however, particularly stands out during high-profile events such as the Super Bowl, when non-movie marketers serve up glitzy new creative. This year featured teary-eyed chimps (E-Trade), chairs with extra spring (FedEx), and a sexy woman getting doused with Budweiser beer. By contrast, movie spots with similar format and pitch are dull. "It's probably a fair assessment," said Marc Shmuger, vice chairman of Universal Pictures.

But the fact is those dull ads sell. "Movie advertising is very formulaic. It's all by the numbers and not about being creative," said Senn Moses, former theatrical marketing executive at Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures Group.

"Movie advertisers benefit from participating in events like the Super Bowl," Mr. Shmuger said. "The original `Mummy' movie was launched during the Super Bowl. It put `The Mummy' on the map." In fact, the U.S. box office take for "The Mummy" was $155 million, a big payoff for an estimated $20 to $25 million ad campaign.

Universal found the buy efficient enough that it bought time on this year's Super Bowl for the sequel, "The Mummy Returns." Other films on this year's game included MGM Distribution Co.'s "Silence of the Lambs" sequel "Hannibal;" Warner Bros.' "Swordfish," starring John Travolta as a computer hacker released from prison; and Warner's "Exit Wounds," in which Steven Seagal plays a cop who discovers corruption at his inner city precinct.

"Except for `Hannibal,' everything else was a waste of money," said Mr. Pula. "It's a huge movie, and MGM needed it. The first movie [The Silence of the Lambs] did well in every single [demographic] quadrant and was heavily male. Any time there is sequel that transcends all demos, it's worth it."

The irony, of course, is that movie makers are seemingly revered as the most creative people in using film and/or video, according to ad executives. But this creativity doesn't resonate in their TV commercials.

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