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.
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.
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.