Do misleading movie trailers work?

In Marketing, Movies on January 19, 2011 at 9:15 pm

It’s been interesting to see how Love & Other Drugs has evolved over the few weeks since it’s release in the UK.

When I was first aware of it, I’m sure I saw the poster and assumed, as you would if you’d seen the UK poster (below) that it was a fairly standard Rom Com, though perhaps a little elevated by having Aniston, Barrymore or Bullock in it.

Love & Other Drugs UK poster

Is this poster misleading?

Since then I’ve found out the plot of the film ( and have heard reviews (although not seen it) and it’s had a couple of Golden Globe nominations, and suddenly it looks like a different film – an emotionally tough film about whether love is worth chasing if it is bound for ultimate tragedy.

Incidentally, when looking for the above poster, I found the below, which I presume is the US version, and seems much more sombre and ‘indie’ in theme (although it still looks like Gyllenhaal is giggling, and Hathaway looks less bozz eyed, somehow).

US poster more loyal to film?

US poster more loyal to film?

Nearly a month from release (and it was released in the tricky post-Christmas period, where kids movies still rule) and it’s still hanging around at No. 6 – not bad for either an indie flick or a bog standard rom com.

So, the question is, how many went expecting a Rom Com, and of those that did, did they enjoy it, or feel conned? I’m not MORI, so I can’t tell you that, but it does raise interesting questions about whether it does any actual lasting damage if you do ‘con’ people  into the movie with misleading, or at least mis-targeted, advertising.

Standard Marketing theory would have it that you should never mislead your customers – your job is to make a product which fits their need, and find ways to let them know about it.  However, Hollywood seems to have a track record of putting that aside if it thinks the product doesn’t fit a given niche, and blitzing people with a version of the film they think they’ll like.

Take 2008 smash hit Slumdog Millionaire, for example:

Feel Good Hit of the Decade, with electrocution and eye gouging

This film was apparently almost straight to video, so someone obvously decided to rescue it it present it as a sort of Sound of Music for the Noughties.  Now, whilst the denoument of Slumdog may leave you feeling good, in the words of Dr Mark Kermode, there’s an aweful lot of Shawshank, and not much Redemption – the lead character is hung upside down and tortureed within the first 10 minutes, a small child has its eye gouged out for fiscal benefit, and the main character’s brother is a right bad ‘un and no mistake. Feel-good film of the decade?

However, the volumes that went to see it (£23m Box Office gross) clearly suggests that it’s that audience, and not the ‘gritty portrail of poverty-stricken India’ audience that turned up – but were they bothered? I find it unlikely that so many people went to see it because they loved Shallow Grave or Trainspotting, but it’s hard to find reaction to the film that is not gushing.  Rotten Tomotoes rates it at 94% collectively, with only 14 out of 221 rotten, and most of these come under ‘not my thing’ rather than ‘not the film I expected’.

So it seems the film was so colourful, engaging and entertaining, that by the time people came out they’d forgotten the marketing message that drew them there in the first place, which backs the idea that in movie world, you can lie to your audience as much as you want before hand, so long as the film has impact.

As Time Out critic Dave Calhoun said of SM:
“Slumdog Millionaire’, a film so upbeat and colourful that, by the time you’re relaying its infectious air of optimism to friends, you could forget that it features orphans, slaughter, organised crime, poverty, enslavement and police brutality.”

However, it’s easy to forget that drawing in the wrong audience can have conseqeunce.  My future  Mother-in-law went to see SM, I’m sure based more on the poster and trailer than any reviews, and didn’t like like it, not because it wasn’t a good film, but because she couldn’t get over her empathy with the poverty and brutality – eg/ it disturbed her.  Unlike many modern movie goers, who were have been desensitized by video nasties and TV violence, her preferred viewing is more Sound of Music (and I don’t mean it’s gritty portrayal of life under Nazi rule) or Miss Marple.  However, she knows this, and avoids the films that look likely to shatter her version of reality.  She was conned into the movie and I’m not sure that is fair.

So, Love & Other Drugs will probably get some Oscar nominations, which will boost it’s box office even further, but may at least get the message across that it’s a good film worth watching, but not to expect a fluffy piece of hankie fodder.

Maybe I’ll take the missus on Valentines Day and see what kind of mood it sets!


PS. Any other misleading film advertising – please add your comment, especially if it left you feeling conned.

  1. I frequently notice misleading trailers, mainly for films I’ve already seen but also for films I want to see based on reviews I’ve read. Notable examples include dialogue-free trailers for Sweeney Todd and Pan’s Labyrinth, presumably designed to disguise the fact they are, respectively, a musical and foreign. I see it as a deliberate ploy aimed at the more casual audience who will pay for a cinema ticket before they’ve found out there’s aspects of the films they don’t like. The current trailers for The Black Swan make it look like a highbrow-yet accessible drama about ballet, not the classic Aronofsky psycho-horror headf*ck which it undoubtably is.

    Do the audience feel conned? The studios and distributers probably don’t care – for them it’s a numbers game. It’s the cinemas who suffer the fallout from unhappy punters, which is why the staff at my local Cineworld will helpfully remind me that I’m buying a ticket for a subtitled film, in case I’ve got to this late stage without realising, and that I might prefer to watch something starring Adam Sandler instead.

    I think if you’re willing to pay a tenner for a cinema ticket without doing your research first, you’re taking a gamble and you have to accept it might not pay off. It can work the other way though – I’ve deliberately avoided films which the trailers made me think looked facile, irritating or cliched, but subsequently turned out to be witty, charming or surprising – The 40 Year Old Virgin, for example.

    • Interesting take on trailers without dialogue – hadn’t noticed this before. In the case Pan’s Labrynth this is a highly visual film, and I reckon you could watch and enjoy much of it without dialogue. The promotion to Sweeney Todd I seem to remeber being a bit of a mess all round – it was hard to tell if it was serious, comedy, musical, horror, farse or what. I’ll put this down to bad marketing – even if you are being misleading, you at least need to be consistent. Look at the different tones of the two posters below:

      Sweeney Todd poster
      Sweeney Todd 2

      The first seems like out and out horror, the second could easily be from Carry on Screaming.

      The thing regarding people’s own responsibility is, though, that the vast majority of movie goers don’t read reviews – it’s either personal recommendation, or the trailer/poster that lure them, and I think studios know this. It’s amazing, really, considering the price of tickets.

  2. Interesting! I love advertising, especially when it is crap and I can laugh at it. I agree with Mrs. W; we went to see Slumdog expecting confetti and dancing… I was really quite shocked and did have this conversation more than once about whether the posters were misleading.

    Another aspect is who is shown in the trailers. I remember Hitch being A WILL SMITH FILM but I was all ‘hang on, isn’t that the guy from King of Queens in the back there?’ turns out he was just cut out of the trailer. I can’t find the UK trailer on YouTube but trust me, Kevein James was turned away from the camera in every scene. Why? Maybe comedys could only have one comedian in them back on 2005. Of course now that’s not the case, audiences are more sophisticated and can move their eyes from left to right, from one comedic actor to another. So we have films like Grown-Ups. Ak.

    • To be fair to Hitch, that was perhaps the last film when Will Smith was still WILL SMITH, star of Bad Boys and Independence Days, rather than the De Niro version of Will Smith from Ali or In Pursuit of Happyness, when his name alone could sell a film. I don’t even think Cruise or Hanks etc… sold films on their name as much as Will Smith back then. But now he is older and wiser, and prefers to sit back and let his pre-teen daughter do the work with her sexually innappropriate songs and videos instead.

      Christ, I’m getting old.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: