The Marketing Genius

In Indie, Inc: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s, Alisa Perren maps out the rise and fall of Miramax from its establishment in a small apartment in Buffalo, New York by the Weinstein brothers in 1979 until its acquisition by The Walt Disney Company in 1983. The case of Miramax is essentially particular as it embodies an array of changes in industry practice, in the relationships between independent and major studios, in political, economical and financial structure, in market concentration within Hollywood, and most importantly, the rise of Miramax symbolises the redefinition of independent studios and indie films. Miramax, according to Perren, should be considered as “part of a much larger process: the restructuring of global Hollywood” (Perren, 12.) 

One of the different tactics that brought success to Miramax’s low-budget productions such as sex, lies and videotape (1989) or Pulp Fiction (1994) and transformed them to blockbusters was their progressive and innovative marketing strategy. Harvey Weinstein once said: “Don’t think small. There’s no such thing as a small film, only small audience.” Thanks to its lucrative marketing campaign, sex, lies and videotape grossed 24 million dollars, which is 24 times its humble production cost of a million dollar. The success of sex, lies, and videotape plays an important role in redefining low-budget filmmaking and marketing, in initiating the start of the indie boom during the 90s not only for Miramax but also for other independent studios, in reinforcing the importance of content and quality in film production regardless of the cost.

As someone who is very interested in marketing, I am particularly drawn to the analysis on Miramax’s marketing practice, especially in the case of sex, lies, and videotape. Before sex, lies, and videotape, Miramax was still down in the abyss of the stereotypical art-house studios, often looked down upon by the major players in Hollywood. sex, lies, and videotape‘s brilliant marketing campaign is the critical turning point for Miramax, eventually making Miramax a contender among the prestigious league of big Hollywood studios. The genius in Miramax’s sex, lies, and videotape lies in the studio’s bold approach to different demographic groups, in the decision of turning sex, violence (most often thought of as controversial subjects) to sales points, and most importantly, in the appreciation for the movie as a quality product itself.

sex, lies, and videotape’s theatrical release in 1989

The marketing of sex, lies, and videotape started a few months before the film. The studio created to prerelease buzz for the film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989 after the slight scandal of the film being rejected for the main competition and then being placed back in the main competition again after another film was cancelled. This practice is very relevant to film marketing nowadays, where studios often release the trailers months or a year in advance and create viral buzz in various social media platforms.

Then again, the most important factor that contributed to the success of the marketing campaign for this film, and for other Miramax films was that

“The Weinstein brothers built their company with an aggressive marketing and distribution strategy, individually tailoring each film’s release to suit its particular strength.” This implies that Miramax gave each film special care and designed its advertisements and trailers accordingly; indeed, the very notion of “tailoring” a film based on its strengths reveals the company’s focus on niche marketing” (Renner, 33)

By acknowledging the strength of sex, lies, and videotape, Miramax aimed to appeal to several niches through just one advertisement. As Perren explains in page 34, first of all, by declaring the film’s festival prizes on the poster, the film was targeting traditional art house audience who are familiar and follow film festivals. Then the poster quoted rave reviews from established film critics from the New York Times or Chicago Sun Times to gain trust from general public that the film was worth seeing. The most important component – visual – focused on portraits of the main characters kissing and embracing that implied the film’s sexual theme and hence targeted young adult and adult audience.

This discussion makes me think about a new movie that was released not a while ago and surprisingly proved to be a major box office hit, The LEGO Movie.

When I first saw the poster in train stations, I laughed. Even though I grew up with LEGO and was madly in love with those little brick guys, imagining this film to be a box office hit was quite far from reality. They have made several LEGO films such as Lego Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Brick (2008), the Star Wars series from 2005 to 2013, none of these films has reached the status of The LEGO movie. In its first opening week, The LEGO movie made $69m in the US alone, exceeding its production cost of $60m and is expected to become the “four-quadrant” smash.

Christopher Ratcliff explains in this article that the success of the film is majorly because “the point when LEGO got its marketing strategy dead-on is when it started treating adult and child one and the same.” and that it appeals to all four major demographic groups: male, female, people over and under 25 years old alike. Warner Bros. started the marketing campaign 7 months before the release date and tried to appeal to a wide variety of target audience with a solid social digital marketing strategy. These are the steps employed by Miramax and have proven to be a success. Thus, Miramax and its genius marketing campaign for sex, lies and videotape is the stepping stone that has redefined film marketing and served as an effective template for this equally important process for the film’s success. The digital landscape, on the other hand, has enabled marketing specialists and studios alike to create a platform to initiate conversations between the filmmakers and the audience and to engage different groups of audience to find a common ground. Just like in the case of The LEGO movie, LEGO invites all its audience with the same message:”hey come on in, we’re all the same here, we’re just a bunch of people who love LEGO”Instead of targeting several distinct niche markets, digital technology offers the opportunity to merge these different markets into one by establishing an active, engaging community.

Work cited

Perren, Alisa. Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s (Texas Film and Media Studies Series) . University of Texas Press, 2013.

Ratcliff, Christopher. “The LEGO Movie: content marketing triumph or 100 minute advert?.”EConsultancy. (accessed February 11, 2014).



  1. Per Perren, Holt and your post, check out this piece by Geekosystem, which contends that the trailer for The Lego Movie is a parody of the trailer for Man of Steel.

    SPOILER ALERT: Article ends with a great tongue-in-cheek point:

    Heck, they even got to keep the theme song intact, since Warner Brothers owns them both. And who said horizontal integration never did anything good for anybody?

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