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Marketing Movies for Change
Micki Krimmel, 6 Aug 05

Art, even popular art, is at its core about ideas. Hollywood, over its century of development, has come close to perfecting the mechanism of turning ideas into fodder for cultural conversation. Of course, many of the ideas Hollywood offers up perpetuate stereotypes and glorify violence; these are often easy ways to gain the audience's attention . But films and television also have the power to enlighten and inform, to change minds and change the world.

This is a power that is not often used. The entertainment industry on the whole claims no responsibility for the common good of popular culture. For the film industry in particular, the costs of making and selling product are too high, and the risks too great, for it to embrace such an obligation. Because entertainment is an unpredictable business, the tendency is to play it safe, pushing out formulaic content that appeals to the lowest common denominator.

But the art of making movies still requires artists. And the brave ones will always push the envelope to create works of passion that aim to educate and question the status quo. 2004 was a year full of controversial and provocative films, from Fahrenheit 9/11 to Passion of the Christ. If Hollywood is so set in its ways, why did it embrace these movies? Because savvy marketing executives saw an opportunity to cash in on the controversy. And by doing that, they did these films and their socially-minded creators a great disservice.

By hyping up the divisive nature of these stories, the marketing campaigns relegated these provocative films to tabloid fodder, and limited their potential to create social change. Sure, millions of people went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 but how many of them took a deeper look at the underlying questions, or even voted in the Presidential election? Instead of going to the film to learn something, many viewers simply went to see a boxing match, thoughtlessly choosing sides and reveling in the bloodbath.

To a surprisingly great degree, the real power of films to affect social change is determined by the marketing. We're so used to being advertised to that I don't think we realize how impressionable we are. Would I like to see a movie that promises to reveal political secrets and forces me to think about issues more deeply than I had before? Yes. Would I want to see a movie that bashes those in power and reinforces my feelings of superiority vs. those that disagree with me? Sure I would. What if these are different marketing messages for the same movie? We all carry preconceptions of every movie into the theater and , in turn, they have an impact on what we take away.

Of course, Hollywood executives tend to steer well away from "issues," "controversy," or storylines that might make their audiences uncomfortable. I can describe the problem on the marketing side of things from personal experience. Even the most forward-thinking marketers typically equate "issue movies" with boring documentaries on public television : issues just aren't sexy. Even more than that, if they aren't "boring," it's because they are politically-charged and threatening. Marketers will go to any lengths they can to remove all hints of activism from the advertising of a movie, no matter how issue-laden the content might be. Remember the marketing campaign for Erin Brockovitch? That film was based on a true story about a woman who stood up against a powerful oil company to stop them from polluting a city's water supply. The story addresses environmental and public health issues, as well as corporate social responsibility. But you'd never know that from the ad campaign which focused onÂ… well, Julia Roberts' boobs.

Fortunately, the official marketing isn't the only way word gets out about a movie. Social action groups saw potential in Erin Brockovitch's story and quickly latched onto the popularity of the film, transforming her into an icon for personal activism. Her story spawned countless legal briefs and educational programs, drawing the public's attention to Environmental Law. Whether Tinseltown likes it or not, the activist community has learned how to use mainstream media as a tool to further their agendas by attaching their own marketing to popular movies.

As previously reported on WorldChanging, environmental groups took the liberty of using the action movie The Day After Tomorrow to draw attention to the issue of climate change. Fox execs were careful not to position the film as a political movie and the marketing campaign said nothing about global warming. Even though the film was far from a realistic portrayal of climate change, MoveOn.org, NRDC, and other groups saw the blockbuster as an opportunity to spread their environmental message to a mass audience. Eventually, Fox embraced the attention the film received from all the press surrounding the grassroots political efforts. At some point, they must have realized that coming to terms with the issues presented in the film allowed them to reach an audience segment typically untapped by standard Hollywood action flicks.

Hollywood marketers should take a cue from social action groups, and not just by copying their grassroots marketing model. There are clearly large groups of people out there who care about social causes and are just waiting for a movie they can get behind. If people believe in something, they'll market it for you. Perhaps if Hollywood could be brave enough to be truthful to the artists and their films, and not shy away from the issues presented, the greatest of these "issue movies" could live up to their worldchanging potential and have a truly lasting impression.

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Comments

"And the brave ones will always push the envelope to create works of passion that aim to educate and question the status quo. 2004 was a year full of controversial and provocative films, from Fahrenheit 9/11 to Passion of the Christ. If Hollywood is so set in its ways, why did it embrace these movies?"

Answer: It didn't.


Posted by: Paul on 6 Aug 05

I would like to see a film of peace breaking out in the world How? Issue musical instruments to the soldiers. . offer them a choice. . fix. . or keep on fighting till there's nothing left of what you were fighting for. Peace is lost the moment . . . retreats, like the dark when a light
a really ironic analogy, yet Peace retreats, from where ever so much as a harsh word is spoke
hey, I am a mum, and basic training for me began with putting a rattle in my baby's hand and see how delighted it is. . . I look at life at 65, within a matter of weeks. the scars of war, run deep and still my mother's words ring in my ear. "they had nothing personally against us, they were just a do as told, or else". On recently tearing through memoryes I didn't even know I had. . . at opening the car door to go for a walk and greeted by rifle fire from a nearby army base. Calming down, driving off, had this thought come to mind "one does not honour the dead, by learning how to fight".
best we make music (wish John Lennon had said that)break the tension, quit asking for what we can only let spread from the examples we set


Posted by: Renessa Bak on 6 Aug 05



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