When Is Too Much Advertising Too Much?

How much advertising is too much? That might be the question Hollywood executives find themselves asking with the news that Prince of Persia has so far failed to earn back its own advertising budget in the US.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Prince of Persia has only earned $63 million dollars domestically, for a movie that cost $75 million to release and market. The stranger thing is that, according to the same piece, that kind of marketing investment in a $200 million movie is cheap:

Looked at another way, for every dollar spent on producing a major film, the studios have been spending 51 cents-58 cents to release and market it in the U.S. and Canada. Assuming distributors get an average of 55% of domestic ticket sales, the average 2009 release had to generate $186 million in domestic boxoffice gross to recoup production and domestic-releasing costs -- an unrealistic goal for all but a handful of titles.

The thing is, how much does this marketing actually work? Sure, trailers can generate a lot of talk, and whenever an anticipated movie flops, you can be sure that people like me will point to the marketing (Hello, Kick-Ass!), but... does marketing really work?

Think about it: There are plenty of movies that seem to be marketed endlessly, with trailers and posters everywhere you look, with television ads and Slurpee tie-ins at 7-11s and whatever, but that doesn't necessarily translate into anything tangible (People buying tickets) or even intangible (People talking about the movie excitedly), anymore. It's not enough to be omnipresent and in people's faces these days; you have to have to have that mysterious, impossible thing called "buzz." But buzz doesn't behave the way marketing should; sometimes, in fact, it's just the opposite - Right now, for example, I think the summer movie with the most buzz is Scott Pilgrim... A movie that has barely started to be advertised, officially. Or, last year; District 9 didn't have anywhere near the advertising budget of GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, but which one were people talking about most excitedly, ahead of release? (Clue: It's not the one based on a successful toyline from the 1980s.)

Perhaps we've all become too media-conscious, too self-aware to be taken in by glossy posters on volume alone, but I'm not even sure there was a time when that wasn't the case. Did audiences ever really think, well, if they can afford that much advertising, I should go and see their movie? Were people really that gullible? I doubt it. But if that's not the case, then why do movie studios spend so much advertising their releases? It feels counterproductive to the point of being stupid; am I really the only person, for example, who felt that I'd heard enough about Avatar, say, before it had even hit theaters?

It's easy for me to say that Hollywood, en masse, should learn the difference between spending a lot and spending well (Look; I just did it there), but it's clearly not a lesson that's easy for them to understand - They've clearly been losing money in terms of marketing for a lot of movies until, I assume, the DVD stage for years now, so it's not as if Prince of Persia is going to be some kind of wake-up call. Maybe it's just that, until someone can come up with a way to commodify buzz and decode it to make it easier to achieve, trying to blanket everyone's minds remains the best way to do things. But... surely they'll have to realize at some point that overkill is too much.

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