Poor Marketing Only Hurts the Little Guys

Bad marketing is often singled out as a key factor when a movie fails at the box office. Booksmart’s recent disappointing debut was chalked up by many as being the result of missteps by Annapurna in marketing the picture. While you can take issue with one or two specifics in the execution of the campaign, it’s hard to call anything about it objectively “bad” as it all remained true to the brand identity of the film being presented and offered something unique to the audience.

By the logic that a bad campaign can sink a film, Sony’s marketing of Spider-Man: Far From Home should guarantee it flops when it hits theaters next week. Unlike Booksmart – or Long Shot or Late Night or any of the other movies that have underperformed in what’s been a very feast or famine year at the box office – there are at least a couple elements that unquestionably show lack of care or effort and which have earned outright audience derision. That’s something that can’t really be said of any of those other, smaller films, and it shows how sheer size and muscle are what truly count in the modern movie marketing world, not the quality of the campaign itself.

Example 1: Terrible Posters

That the poster campaign for the movie has been so awful isn’t surprising, given those for the first movie were among the most clumsily designed one-sheets in some time.

Coming under special scrutiny is the promotional poster for the movie’s IMAX release, which features work from the sketchbook of an art student backpacking through Europe in the background and photos from the one publicity shoot they could get Jake Gyllenhaal and Samuel L. Jackson to agree to in the forefront, Spider-Man positioned at the top. It looks exactly like what you get when a designer is given little creative freedom while being required to use specific images in a specific way because that’s what everyone’s agents have signed off on.

It’s so bad it spurred people to design their own, either something better or intentionally worse as a way to satire just how bad the official effort was. While you can say “all press is good press,” that’s never really been true and mockery is not a legitimate marketing goal.

Example 2: Clueless Design

In my experience it always helps when the designers working on a project know a little something about the subject matter in their hands. It helps them from making poor choices that may be graphically correct but out of line when it comes to the brand or product.

The people working on the outdoor ads for Far From Home either didn’t know much about Nick Fury or were overruled when it came to working on the outdoor ads featuring that character. How else to explain that he’s been flipped so his iconic eye patch appears over the wrong eye, something Samuel L. Jackson himself took issue with.

Now both of these things seem like the kinds of campaign missteps that would *actually* sink a movie given they work to actively taint the film’s brand in the minds of the audience. They present a poor representation of the film and create confusion and frustration. The studio did, at best, poor work.

So why will these missteps likely count for little or nothing while the marketing of Booksmart was blamed for what happened when it hit theaters?

It may simply be a matter of scale. The Far From Home campaign has been so big and all-encompassing that the posters make up a fairly small percentage of the overall marketing effort. By contrast, each individual element of the Booksmart campaign was a bigger chunk of the whole, taking up outsized attention. That means the weight on each element is greater, with fewer supporting structures to spread the load around.

If some were turned off by the Far From Home poster problems it likely amounts to a rounding error for this weekend’s box-office. The mockery those designs have been subjected to has not been insurmountable, nor has it lead to any backlash against the movie.

Bad marketing choices for big movies have less of an impact than good marketing choices for small movies. That’s just the reality and it’s part of why this year has been so disappointing for so many smaller films.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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