Marketing Pacific Rim to Moviegoers

Chapter 2 of Marich’s Marketing to Moviegoers explores the research aspect to film marketing in great depth. Marich highlights several practices within the industry, such as focus groups, as well as problems such as the increased leaking of information.
While reading the chapter, I found myself reminded of my experience with the marketing campaign for Pacific Rim, a high-budget action movie released last summer. As an avid fan of “kaiju” movies such as the Godzilla series, as well as the mecha genre of Japanese animation, I very quickly took interest in Pacific Rim and began actively following the movie’s development. I tracked the movie’s progress over many months, beginning with the first brief teaser in late 2012.

While I enjoy film, I typically do not become overly engaged in the marketing and hype machine for films prior to release. Pacific Rim was the first film which I followed from its entry into wider public awareness to release. I thus enjoyed the Internet equivalent of a front-row seat to Pacific Rim’ s entire advertising cycle. Reading Marich’s work greatly deepened my understanding of the Pacific Rim advertising cycle. As I found my experience with Marketing to Moviegoers and the Pacific Rim advertising campaign to be mutually informative, I will share some recent examples of some of the ideas Marich discusses.

According to Marich, modern marketing research faces three severe problems: “(1) it’s increasingly difficult to recruit test audiences that are representative of the moviegoing population, (2) consumer behavior is more difficult to predict as their entertainment options multiply, and (3) movie research increasingly leaks out” (Marich 51) The third issue proved particularly acute for Pacific Rim, as in the weeks prior to the film’s release persistent reports of poor tracking dogged the film in the press. Variety posted many articles on Pacific Rim’s tracking problems in the run-up to the US launch. The narrative of Pacific Rim’s seemingly imminent failure spread quickly across the web, with many sites picking up Variety’s reports.

These leaks of industry tracking created a strong negative impression of Pacific Rim among many frequenters of these sites, with many posters certain that the film was doomed to be a low-quality flop weeks before release. Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. thus found themselves facing an even more acute marketing problem, as the negative outlook contained within their research seeped out and dampened expectations of and excitement for the film in broader audiences.

Pacific Rim also encountered advertising difficulties with its trailers. Marich discusses the importance of trailers at considerable length in Chapter 1 of his work. Of particular relevance to the Pacific Rim advertising campaign is Marich’s claim that “moviegoers might linger on an over-the-top film advertisement, but the usual result is that after they express momentary amazement, they quickly move on. What audiences seek are intriguing tales that are well told.” (Marich 22)

Pacific Rim’s trailers seem to bear out Marich’s claim rather convincingly. The film’s first full-length trailer, embedded at right, amounted to roughly 2 minutes of giant robots punching giant monsters. The next lengthy trailer, featuring footage from Comic-Con, similarly devoted nearly almost all of its time to showcasing the robots and monsters over the characters. Pacific Rim’s official main trailer likewise focused almost exclusively on the film’s eye-catching set-piece battles, with little to no exploration of characters or sub-plots. As a devotee of the genre, I was instantly sold by the promise of wonderfully-rendered mecha versus kaiju battles on the big screen, but the character-light trailers did not take particularly well in the mainstream.

More mainstream audiences demonstrated little understanding of Pacific Rim¸with the phrases “Transformers versus Godzilla” or “Transformers rip-off” commonly banded about online.

As a response to this lack of understanding, as well as the increasingly dire narrative of the film’s poor tracking, the film’s trailers shifted tone. Pacific Rim’s final trailer, seen at left, greatly emphasized the role of the film’s human characters, particularly those played by actors Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba. Legendary had seen the popular criticisms of the film’s marketing and attempted a response. As per Marich’s claims, online discussions of the new trailer displayed acute awareness of why the trailers had suddenly shifted tone.
Ultimately, Pacific Rim failed to achieve great domestic success here in the United States, despite a lengthy marketing campaign aimed squarely at sci-fi fans. Marketing to Moviegoers has deepened my understanding of the tactics chosen by the film’s marketing team and why, perhaps, the film’s marketing failed to secure a successful box office showing.

Citations

Marich, Robert. Marketing to moviegoers: A handbook of strategies used by major studios and independents. Taylor & Francis, 2005.
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