Shorter movie campaigns the new normal

LOS ANGELES • Conventional wisdom in Hollywood has long held that big "tentpole" movies require protracted promotional campaigns.

Walt Disney spent more than three years promoting Tron: Legacy, which came out in 2010. Warner began beating the drums for Godzilla nearly two years before its 2014 release. Universal first publicised The Secret Life Of Pets 2 in 2016; it arrived last month.

But moviedom's top three marketers say drawn-out campaigns no longer make sense for most movies.

With studio slates now dominated by franchises, these executives are moving in the opposite direction, tightening efforts to as little as four or five months for major releases such as Aquaman, Avengers: Endgame and the coming Cats.

"We're living in an on-demand society where people don't like to wait," said Mr Michael Moses, Universal's president of worldwide marketing. Shorter campaigns are "the new normal", he added.

His push for Cats started last week with a provocative trailer that tore across the Internet. Cats will arrive in theatres on Dec 20.

"There's an entire generation that is very skilled at skipping marketing," Mr Moses said. "They don't see television advertising. They can easily navigate around it in the digital space. But what does grab their attention is new content, especially that first trailer. So you are better off waiting until you can pack a punch."

Ms Blair Rich, Warner's worldwide marketing chief, started to recalibrate campaign length after analysing how materials were reverberating online.

"We found we could do much, much better - creating a lot less material and more strategically timing the material to connect with our target audience," she said.

She gave Aquaman a five-month campaign last year, a gutsy move for a movie about a character without the profile of a Batman or Superman. The result was striking: US$1.1 billion (S$1.5 billion) in global ticket sales.

She said: "We're more interested in starting late, having a very high peak right at the start and then having a very consistent pulse rate, crescendoing at the end."

Disney's Mr Asad Ayaz, who runs worldwide marketing, said: "The thinking used to be that you had to keep the fan base constantly excited - show a special-effects test two years out. We now think it makes sense to create those moments not that far in advance."

He cited Avengers: Endgame as an example of a late-breaking campaign. The promotional onslaught started in December, the Marvel movie arrived in late April and it took in US$2.8 billion worldwide.

Disney has truncated campaigns for Marvel movies for three reasons. Certain characters - Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk - already command significant audience awareness. Because Marvel movies have been arriving at a steady clip, one organically promotes the next. Long promotional pushes would also overlap, resulting in fan confusion, Mr Ayaz said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2019, with the headline 'Shorter movie campaigns the new normal'. Print Edition | Subscribe