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Mixed reviews

By Rodger Pille · March 16th, 2000 · Ad Nauseam
Forget college basketball. The real purpose of March is to celebrate the film industry. The greatest awards ceremony on the planet -- the Oscars -- will be held in less than two weeks. I don't mean to dis the Nobel Prize, but until Angelina Jolie is up for one, count me out.

This month, therefore, it's fitting to place film advertising under the critical microscope to see just how good or bad it is. My knee-jerk reaction is decidedly mixed.

On the one hand, some marketing geniuses work on film campaigns. Who else would be wise enough to show long, close-up shots of Brad Pitt in the dreamy ads for Seven Years in Tibet, all underscored by soaring, epic-style music? Did anyone notice that Brad didn't utter one line of dialogue? No. They were swept up in the visuals. The millions of adoring fans who showed up on opening night were treated to three-plus hours of the worst German accent since Hogan's Heroes. Smart ad!

On the other hand, some campaigns take us for absolute fools. Does anyone really believe that Snow Day is "a triumph for the ages?"

So which is it? To borrow an old catch phrase, I have to give film ads one thumbs up, and one thumbs down.

Let's start with the good: Film has had a great impact on commercials. Look at the talent from the film industry who've dabbled in advertising.

Some big name directors made their start or continue to dabble in commercials, including Adrian Lyne, Spike Lee, David Fincher and Spike Jonze. And you can't watch television for an hour without hearing some big celebrity voice-over. Sure, they're doing it for the quick buck. But playing "guess the celebrity spokesperson" is a damn fine way to pass the time until The Simpsons comes back from commercial break.

Then there are the multitude of film nods in commercials. Have you seen the shampoo that sends a young woman into orgasmic fits, à la When Harry Met Sally? How about the cool commercial a few years back with GI Joe driving a sporty roadster, picking up Barbie? Funny how that came out right around the same time as Toy Story. Others are less subtle: Darth Vader starring in an Energizer ad; Batman in the new OnStar.com spots. You get the idea.

Now, the bad: As good as your average Joe in the Hollywood marketing department is, why in God's name can't he wise up and stop revealing the film's story arc during a 60-second ad? Hey, thanks, Joe. Now I don't have to shell out $8 and two hours to find out that the dorky, albeit well-intentioned underclassman will indeed get the prom queen.

Then there is the Spies Like Us approach: Show every single one of your good jokes. This method was used most recently in that relentless Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo campaign.

I just read a great insight into this: We've become such a lazy audience that we really only like what is already familiar to us. Take note the next time you sit in a movie that has been highly advertised. Do people avoid laughing at the jokes they've already seen on the television commercial? No. On the contrary, they laugh the loudest at these.

Turning to the print medium, I'm sure putting critics' accolades in the ads for films was a good idea at first. But then it all went sour. I frankly don't care what Ken Carper of the all-important Decatur Daily News thought of the movie. Can't they reserve that honor for the critics we've at least heard of?

While I'm coming up with suggestions, can we also stop pushing summer blockbusters in January? Who makes plans that far in advance? It's getting a bit out of hand. Thankfully, the dreadful box office receipts for Godzilla and Wild, Wild West may have put this trend on the decline.

Then again, as long as these movies keep getting studio green lights, do we really have cause for celebration.



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