The Importance of Good Marketing

Everywhere I go these days, everyone is talking about marketing. How to do it, how not. What works, what doesn’t. When you need it.

Which is always. Really. If you self publish, expect to market your heart out. If you are lucky enough to get a publishing contract, still expect to market because the publishing companies won’t spend the money unless you’re Stephen King or the equivalent there to.

But, you say, what if I go for word of mouth. I’ll tell my friends, they’ll tell some friends, and some more friends, and tweet a bit, and I’ll sell a bunch of books.

Well, in a way, that’s marketing. But, you also have to sell the right kind of book to the right kind of friends. If you write romance and all your friends love romance, great. If you write hard science fiction and all your friends love hard science fiction, great. If you write romance and all your friends love hard science fiction… yeah, problem.

I’m getting to a point here. Or rather, a case study. You have to market the right story to the right people in terms they understand. Or it all goes wrong. And my example for today is my favorite movie of the year, the movie touted as a flop from day one, Disney’s John Carter.

“John what?”

Yeah, I can see a lot of people saying that.

“Oh, is that the poster with the funky JC imposed over a wasteland shot, or that thing with the big white hairy monster?”

Yeah, I can see a lot of people saying that too. Because that’s how John Carter was advertised. The images were simple, told you nothing except it was an action flick with lots of CGI, and 10 to 1 you didn’t remember the preview by the time you left the theater after the movie you came to see.

There’s no merchandise for John Carter, no tie in with Disney. So it can’t have been a big deal right? We know how Disney advertises big movies. Look at the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

The thing is, it was huge. John Carter had a budget of 250 million. That’s a high level, over the top, summer blockbuster budget. And John Carter should have been a summer blockbuster. Except, it came out in the spring lull. And the critics panned it, not because the CGI was bad, or the dialogue (OK, that gets a bit campy at points, but so did Star Wars), but because they saw it all as having been done before. Everyone describes John Carter as being too derivative, there’s nothing new.

Um, that’s what Disney forgot to clarify in their advertising. John Carter isn’t derivative. It is the source material everything else is derived from. Really. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs is one of the first science fiction novels, perhaps the origin of the whole pulp scifi genre. It was published a century ago, and all the major science fiction movie makers and writers will reference it as an inspiration.

But no one told the critics that. No one told the people watching the previews. With the title changed, only the diehard fans of all ages even realized that John Carter was based on the classic book with a main character of that name. I almost didn’t catch it, save I overheard someone make the connection.

The original title of the  movie was John Carter of Mars, but someone, who probably never read the book, thought that was too campy, or maybe too derivative of the recent Disney flop Mars Needs Moms (which I’ve been told was also a good book at some point), and cut the ‘of Mars.’ Woops.

So what went wrong? Disney didn’t advertise to the fans, didn’t advertise in a manner that would let the critics understand the source, or encourage everyday movie goers to give the classic a try. They advertised it like another Conan movie, and no one got it.

Until they got to the theater. Oh, some people hate it. There’s always someone who hates a given movie. But most people, once they get past the bland advertising, are flabbergasted to find its really just “a good movie”.

Rumor has it Disney basically sunk John Carter for a number of reasons. I’m not going to get into that, except to point out that love of the project shows in the marketing and results.

Now, where was I. Oh yes, a good movie. Who can resist Woola? (See below)

This is where word of mouth comes in. It is word of mouth that has resulted in John Carter making 250 million plus worldwide. But that does no good if Disney insists it’s a flop (which they do) and encourage movie theaters to pull it before enough people get curious. A movie that did well on word of mouth was My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But that had a small budget and lingered in theaters until people heard of it. I know that’s how I ended up seeing it, and falling in love, and buying a copy on DVD. I heard about it from a friend. John Carter hasn’t been given that kind of time, because a big corporation expects an outlay of 250 million dollars to be made back now.

So, there are a few lessons to take from this:

  • Advertise to the right people
  • Advertise in the right terms
  • Don’t be afraid to mention your inspirations
  • Never forget merchandise
  • And don’t get impatient. Word of mouth takes time. Don’t give up while interest is still building.

Even if you do everythign right, you may never make the millions you’re dreaming of. But if you do it right and your product is good, have faith that someone else will realize it in time. Market because you love what you do, not because you want money. People will see the difference and it just might result in more sales.

All images are from the free gallery at Apple trailers.


The Importance of Good Marketing — 24 Comments

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  3. Hi. Excellent review! I share your opinions. John Carter was a great movie and I went to see it despite the previous bad reviews I had read. Good thing I did! Hope someone new will arrivet to Disney to make things change so we can get a sequel. I can´t accept 3 Transformers and possible reboot….and no Gods of Mars!

  4. Thanks for this article. There is a large group of super-fans to this movie. Our biggest peeve is that so many people did not get to share in the splendor of this movie because of (pardon the expression) bonehead decision making at Disney. Its nice to now that even outside the Burroughs fandom people see and love this movie.

    • Can’t say I’m outside the fandom. Latecomer perhaps, but not outside. I adored the movie both times I saw it, and follow Back to Barsoom on facebook. It’s just an amazing example of doing everything wrong with marketing, which made a perfect excuse for this article.

  5. Fantastic article and couldn’t have said it better, though I have tried to say it well myself. The hardest part about this is waking up the average person who has judged John Carter without ever having seen it! It’s appalling to me how lazy people have gotten! They think they can judge something they know nothing at all about just because a bunch of people they don’t even know said it wasn’t good. And even go so far as to refuse to listen to people the DO know when we tell them it IS good! Man, feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone. But back to marketing. I do hope Disney will redeem themselves and replace Ross with someone who realizes the opinions of John Carter can turn around prior to DVD release! Films make most of their profits post-box office these days so let’s see them do right by John Carter in this next phase of marketing!

    • Agreed, ten fold, I assure you. People have gotten lazy. Technology does so much. Anything written down must, by its nature, be the truth. Opinion? What’s that. Ah well. All we can do is push and prod and hope. And learn. Always learn.

  6. As far as advertizing goes, it would have been totally wasted on me, since I’ve been waiting to see this movie for the last 50 years. Unfortunately, I am not the average movie goer, and I KNOW who John Carter is, where he came from, how he got there, and what he did after he arrived. I, and all of the other Burroughs fans like me, were easy sells. I don’t know whether Disney Studios for some reason just assumed that everybody was a fan, or plain didn’t care, but they have no one but themselves to blame for “John Carter’s” lack of success. Unfortunately, barring a miracle, they have paid a quarter of a billion dollars to murder a franchise that, properly handled, could have run a close second to “The Avengers” as 2012′s biggest blockbuster.

    Old Walt must be spinning in his grave like a top.

    • It is a fascinating study. People could work for years trying to figure out exactly what went wrong. But really, Disney is usually very solid with their advertising, so it’s an intriguing hiccup.

      I agree, Walt would be appalled.

  7. Great review and lesson for Disney. You had a good thing here and rather blew it with the marketing. But it is not too late to save the franchise. Make the sequel and start again.

  8. Good points in the article. Burrough’s Mars series was one of my favorites, and I would love to see more movies made.

    On a housekeeping side, always check your spelling (outside of spell check) to avoid the mistakes above such as “companies won’t spent” and “except it was and action flick”.

  9. Hello Heather. Interesting topic.

    I would say that the critics that did not understand where it came from ought to be embarrassed. They should have done at least some cursory research to know of which they spoke. Of course, the burden for making sure dullard critics are made aware of such things is on the marketing arm of the company releasing such a film.

    • It’s sloppy of them not to do their research, but it should have been included in the press releases and the like that those critics probably get their information from. One hopes the people reviewing and commenting on your stuff use their brains, but it never hurts to assume they’re just too lazy.

  10. Excellent article. Still can’t believe Disney itself declared it a “flop” barely 10 days after the official release; but then, can’t believe there were no marketing tie-ins with food chains, no “plush” Woola toys, etc., etc.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article on marketing, using JOHN CARTER as an example of how not to. Wonder what the problem was at Disney?

    • Thank you. It flabbergasted me when I read it was a flop, formally. I’d just seen it in the theaters and loved it. And to realize there were no toys? I’ve got random Pirates stuff all over the place at home. Why not offer some action figures and stuffed animals? It didn’t make sense. Someone goofed. I’d love somone a few years down the road actually figure out who did what and why, but no one is going to admit anything just yet.

  11. I had a conversation today with someone telling me how JC was a flop & was so bad. I asked if he’d seen it but of course no! I told him I gave it 10/10 & I don’t give that out lightly. He looked at me as if I was weird but I just couldn’t believe he could make that decision without seeing it. So why marketed so poorly? And why no 2D version? Might have got more bums on seats too. Disney has made some stupid decisions lately with poor bonus features on new release DVDs & Blu-Rays. Something has to change. So we won’t get a sequel because of some idiot in Disney. Plus poor Andrew Stanton put so much work in to it. Just wrong!

    • Saw it in 2D around here. That must have been a local theater decision. As for the rest… who knows what they were thinking. I don’t. But it is a long list of mistakes to learn from. As for the sequel, all we can do is write letters and pray the next person in charge has some sense.

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  13. I am totally dense about the moviebiz – don’t go to them anymore. So, I thought the JC reference was to The JC, as in The Christ. I have read some on marketing, and, Heather, I found it a wonderful example to prove your points. Good writing, and good movies do stand on their own. But they won’t stand if the fan base is not built. On a personal note, you actually know THE Disney trailer go to guy in the 80s. If not for him, Good Morning,Viet Nam and Pretty Woman would not have made it out of the gate. Yeah, for real. Too bad he is retired. And his writing partner worked on the original Star Wars, which at the time, nearly everyone thought was going to be the biggest bust EVER! Crept for those who saw the absolute beauty of the classic princess in trouble upgraded with dazzling state of the art movie effects.

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