Did DreamWorks really make a movie that “didn’t work”, or is ineffective marketing to blame? I paid to see Rise of the Guardians (despite its bland and misguided ad campaign) and it was worth the investment. I loved the film.
While this Animation Magazine article passes little judgement on the actual film, DreamWorks’ top animation exec seems to almost apologize for the under-earner, and has restructured the entire creative slate of DWA based apparently on this one failure. Not exactly a confident move.
If you’re like me, you get sick of hearing “industry wisdom” bad-mouth decent movies simply because they didn’t perform well at the box office. Even imperfect films with much to offer (lookin’ at you Osmosis Jones) should get a little credit for their contribution to the medium, but insiders won’t look past the weak ticket sales long enough to make the case.
Still, it’s even more frustrating when the film’s own producers tuck tail and give their excellent work a failing grade. I expect that sort of thing from shallow rags like Entertainment Weekly – who dedicate half of every issue to cheap fluff & catty gossip – but from the likes of Katzenberg? Come on man, stand up for your work! If you have to restructure, take a look at your marketing approach.
So, I have advice for DWA’s Marketing Team. Now, I am barely a marketing novice, but I caught two key mistakes in your ad campaign for this film:
1. Make it about the central character(s). While I loved all of the characters in this film, it was essentially Jack Frost’s journey. The campaign washes over the most compelling aspects of his story – his mysterious origin, the heartbreak caused by his invisibility to children, and how Pitch uses all of that against him. This is spelled out in the first act, so there’s no spoiler to speak of. Hell, even the first 30 seconds of the film would have done more to draw an audience than the barrage of minion – er, I mean elf-abuse shots we saw in the spots.
2. Kids don’t care what Alec Baldwin looks like with a microphone in his face. This old fallback of cutting live-action shots of the film’s voice actors standing in a recording booth into the TV spots – it didn’t work for Sinbad, and it doesn’t work today. Adults may find it mildly compelling, which addresses only one facet of your job, but you could have made much better use of that screen time. Kids want to believe in the fantasy, and pulling the curtain aside does more harm than good in the kids market – and it’s the kids who ultimately decide which movie they’re going to see.
DreamWorks has consistently created a better crop of films than what is typically produced by Hollywood – which is why they are one of the strongest entertainment brands in the world. I just wish they could manage the market diversity of Disney – the whole industry would benefit. It bothers me to see them fumble with a well-crafted film like this, while seemingly having no understanding of why.
I do not pretend to have a fraction of the expertise required to manage massive campaigns, comprehend diverse demographics, and navigate branding mine fields for a company the size of DreamWorks. It’s a saturated market, and it takes an incredible effort to generate awareness about a new film. But even kids value compelling characters over startling visual effects… if you can give me both, all the better.
Always start with the character – and his or her story – and work your way out from there. That’s the way scripts are written, it’s the films are made, and it’s the best way to market them.