Changing A Movie's Advertising Focus

Arachnophobia came up in this thread, and it got me thinking – does anyone remember the advertising when the film came out? At first it was being billed as a horror flick, but a week or two later we started seeing commercials billing it as a “wacky comedy, starring John Goodman”. They took the focus off of people being eaten by spiders and putting it on Goodman strutting around saying “That’s right…I’m bad…”.

Did the movie tank at first, and so the studio tried to drum up business by changing the appeal?

Does anyone remember this sort of thing being done to other films?

That’s funny – I seem to remember Arachnaphobia being billed as a “dark comedy” when it first came out, and then a week or two later the ad focus shifted to straight horror. The initial ad campaign seemed to focus on stuff like Goodman and the shot of that crow flying along and then suddenly dropping like a stone when the spider bit it. It was only later that the ad focus shifted to all these shots of spiders. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong.

I know I have seen other examples of this type of marketing shift, but none spring to mind right now.

My guess on why this happened (and maybe still happens): Studios based the ad campaign on the film they thought they made. However, sometimes those ad campaigns are done several months in advance of the movie’s release date, and in the meantime the post-production editing process can alter a “dark comedy” into a “horror film.”

I’m speculating wildly, though, and could easily be wrong.

I saw three different ads for the movie Holes – one billed it as a creepy horror flick, another as a romping teenage comedy, and yet another as some kind of feel-good drama. (I forget which one merely had a title card that said, “The Book Is Now The Movie”…which left me thinking, “Eh? There was a book?”)

Normally I don’t trust any movie when they don’t know how to advertize it, but it actually turned out to be pretty good. Maybe that’s the exception that proves the rule?

I remember The Truman Show being advertised as another Jim Carrey comedy.

I guess they felt they could trick audiences to see it. Same thing with Cable Guy.

Striptease, with Demi Moore. The first ads I saw for it treated it as a serious movie, the later ones as if it was supposed to be funny on purpose.

Never did bother to see it.

Anybody else remember the early teasers for E.T., which made it look like it was going to be a horror sci-fi, with a scary and sinister alien?

Boy, did I feel cheated.

The most recent example I can think of is probably “Hollywood Homicide,” with Harrison Ford. I remember the tone of the ads shifted dramatically after early buzz (accurately, it turns out) predicted a huge bomb. It went from a serious crime drama to a lighthearted buddy comedy (or was it vice versa?) seemingly overnight. To absolutely no avail. The crowds stayed away in droves. People obviously wanted to wait until it came out on DVD…so they could STILL not watch it!

Does Jersey Girl count? The focus originally looked like it was going to be about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, with the twist of her dying early on going to be a surprise. After Gigli tanked Lopez’s early demise is being trumpeted to anyone and everyone.

I seem to recall that Die Hard’s movie posters were originally just the building and the explosions and the searchlights and helicopters, since Bruce Willis, recently from Moonlighting wasn’t thought to be a credible action star. Once the hype got started, though, they put together the poster that everyone remembers.

Excellent thriller called Mute Witness that has always been promoted as a horror movie - even down to a woman with barbed wire through her mouth as the DVD case. I don’t know if they ever changed or whether they always misadvertised it.

I’ve seen different marketing campaigns for a movie even before it was released. The idea is that you try to attract one audience with the ads emphasizing the horror and another by emphasizing the lighthearted comedy scenes.

Surely this is an example of trying to drum up appeal.

Six Degrees of Separation is a film about a young black man conning some rich Manhattanites into believing he is Sidney Poitier’s son. He does this by adopting the mannerisms of a wealthy privately educated young man:

He does not accomplish this by adopting a gangsta pose on the hood of their Rolls while they look on aghast:

I pity the people who rented this thinking it was an extended “Fresh Prince” episode.

In the case of Arachnophobia I was amazed at how the later ads emphasized John Goodman, going to the extreme of excerpting almost every scene he was in and putting it in the ad, giving the impression that it was a “John Goodman” film.
It now seems to be commonplace to run several ad campaigns simultaneously, appealing to different audiences. I’ve sen the same film advertised on Nickelodeon as a kid’s film (or at least kid-friendly) that’s advertised as a film for grownups elsewhere. It strikes me as pretty dishonest, but what to movie execs care? You won’t find out until you sit in the seat (and have paid), unless someone tells you. The execs have too much invested in the flick not to try and lure more people in.

I remember *The War of the Roses * being billed as a zany comedy. To me, it was the saddest movie. I found it not one bit funny. Takes all kinds, I guess.

Have you guys never been to one of those screenings where you have to fill out a survey afterwards?

It’s great fun and a lot like going in for one of those taste test things at the mall.

Anyway whatever the audience reacts to the best gets put in the ads.

This is why you go to a movie and then realize that all the best stuff was in the preview.

The thing is that the ads must be responsive to how the audience likes the film. With a tricky film like The Truman Show it can be very difficult to advertise.

Just imagine that nobody had ever seen or read The Wizard of OZ. What would you put in the trailer? Would you make the trailer in B&W and not spoil the surprise of color? Would you emphasize the scary witch or the dancing scarecrow?

Me, I’d be all about the flying monkeys.

Yes! I even remember being scared in the beginning of the movie, during the forest scene.

I thought I must have remembered it wrong.

Sometimes movies are marketed different ways to different audiences, and sometimes the marketing is changed when a movie is tanking.

An example of the latter is Trainspotting. When it became clear nobody in the U.S. wanted to see a movie about heroin addicts/soccer hooligans, the marketing lightened up significantly.

I remember one poster carried the tagline “Four best friends take on the meanest mob in town!”

Which of course was a very minor part of the story and badly mischaracterizes the movie.

Then there was Alice in Wonderland which was marketed in the early 70’s as an “expand your mind” film.

2001: A Space Odyssey of all things. The first advertising emphasized the sf aspects, including t McCall’s painting of the space station. After MGM discovered that people were getting stoned and occupying the very first row of the theater, they added “The Ultimate Trip” and showd the Star Child in the posters.

I’ve seen lots of cases where an actor or actress who got good reviews starts getting more prominence in the advertising also.

I would pity them more if they got an extended “Fresh Prince” episode–and wanted it!