Monday, February 27, 2012

Rant: The Marketing for "John Carter"

Walt Disney Pictures’ science fiction epic John Carter hits theaters in a couple weeks. For those of you who don’t know, John Carter is based on the first book in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series Barsoom. Edgar Rice Burroughs also wrote Tarzan of the Apes and several other series of novels. This is the first major, big budget adaptation of Burroughs’ epic series. It is being directed by Andrew Stanton, who directed two wonderful films at Pixar: Finding Nemo and WALL-E. WALL-E producer Jim Morris is one of the film’s producers. The film is a Disney production (no studios are listed, it’s listed as a Walt Disney Pictures production) and the score was composed by Michael Giacchino. He also composed the scores for four Pixar films: The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up and Cars 2.
This is essentially a live action Pixar film, even though it technically isn’t. Does the general public know this? Let’s say a majority of people didn’t look up any information on this film and saw the film’s trailer, they would probably think it was some big budget Star Wars clone. In other words, the marketing campaign for this film is one of the worst marketing campaigns for a Disney film as of late. It’s a great example of what is wrong with Disney’s marketing department these days.
None of the trailers implied that this was directed by Andrew Stanton. The trailers wouldn’t say, “From the acclaimed director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E”. First of all, animation is viewed as inferior kids’ stuff. Second of all, John Carter is a PG-13 film, so maybe mentioning two G-rated family films might drive audiences away, considering that a lot of people still regard Disney, Pixar and animation as kids’ stuff. A quick look at the YouTube comments for the trailer certainly proves this.

The title... John Carter is not a good title, it just isn’t. I am well aware that the main protagonist is named John Carter, but that’s such a boring title. The title of the first book was A Princess of Mars, but Disney apparently nixed that title because of how The Princess and the Frog performed, as they felt the word “princess” drove young boys away from the film. Again, why is Disney pandering to a certain audience? Shouldn't they be trying to make this film appeal to adults? Adults won't care if "princess" is in the title, unless they're idiots who think anything about a "princess" automatically equals "for girls only". I mean, Mars is also in the title, and the look of the film alone would convince them otherwise.
The title was then changed to John Carter of Mars. Not bad, it reveals who the main character is and the fact that the film takes place on Mars. Sounds interesting, but then Disney removed Mars from the title. Apparently they did this because Disney released the Image Movers Digital production Mars Needs Moms last March, and it failed at the box office. (In fact, it’s one of Disney’s biggest financial failures to date) Now that’s just wrong. They think having Mars in the title will remind audiences of that already forgotten motion capture film? Not only are both films different from each other, Mars Needs Moms bombed because there was barely any buzz for it, it looked terrible and it just came and went. It also received poor reviews.
The trailers... Well, they were alright for what they were, but they didn’t mention that the film was directed by Andrew Stanton nor did they mention that the film was based on the series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Why couldn’t they do that? The footage in both trailers have drawn mixed reception, same with what was shown in the commercials. The Super Bowl TV spot wasn’t anything special, either. The marketing is just... Lazy. It’s just the usual eye candy and action scenes routine. What about the story? The characters? It’s very telling when a fan trailer ( got this right, not the official trailer.
Now why am I ranting about the marketing for this film? Well, this is one of the few Disney live action films as of late that has a lot of passion and care going into it. I can’t say the same about failed summer blockbusters like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (which the film has been compared to quite frequently) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, or Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. This one is being directed by a director who takes storytelling very seriously, and some talented people are working on it. Early reviews say it’s a good film. The film is also ambitious, just look at it. Look at the visuals. The story is supposed to be good. I didn’t see any of that ambition in any of those other big budget Disney films I mentioned.
Yet this film probably won’t even make half of what On Stranger Tides made on its opening weekend ($90 million), because the marketing isn’t really generating any buzz. Expect the film to open with less than $50 million. If it does, it’ll be a shame. This has blockbuster written all over it, and it’s coming out in March, which has been a great month for blockbusters in the recent years. (Alice in Wonderland and 300, anyone?) John Carter is probably going to rely on legs to get it past $100 million if the film has such a low opening weekend.
Is that what Disney wants? A big budget blockbuster with a lot of ambition doing poorly on its opening weekend and relying on word of mouth to carry it past $100 million domestically? Wouldn’t they want this to succeed? They should’ve poured a lot of effort into the marketing campaign! Remember Tron: Legacy’s marketing campaign? Now that film was a huge risk. Its budget was big and it was a sequel to a film that was more of a cult classic than anything else. Disney didn’t want this to fail, so they kicked off the marketing campaign long before the film hit theaters when they surprised people at the 2008 San Diego Comic Con with a test trailer. (Back when the film was called TR2N)
That same trailer was slightly modified and released as the film’s first trailer in the summer of 2009, which was a year and a half before the film hit theaters. The next trailer hit in early 2010, and two more followed in the summer. The marketing for this was all over the place, and guess what? They had a big success on their hands! A sequel to Tron making over $170 million at the domestic box office?! $400 million worldwide? Who was expecting that? What kind of marketing does John Carter have? Being burdened by a boring title, we only got 2 trailers and couple TV spots.

If John Carter opens with around $35 million, it’ll need a 2.8x multiplier to reach $100 million. Who knows how audiences will react to this film, but $100 million domestically won’t be enough to impress Disney. In order to reach $150 million, it’ll need a 4.2x multiplier. That’s not easy for a blockbuster released in the spring or the summer to reach, unless it’s really good. Who knows, the film might really score with audiences and pull a 4x multiplier. $150 million still won’t impress Disney. Don't forget competition. Lionsgate's The Hunger Games is probably going to take away a good amount of the IMAX screens the film will be playing on, in addition to being a very highly anticipated film. Warner Bros.' Wrath of the Titans will take away the film's 3D screens, since Hunger is not in 3D. John Carter will lose a good chunk of theaters by the end of March. Then again, audiences might ignore the 3D versions just might see it in 2D instead. Losing 3D screens might not affect it, but losing IMAX screens? Maybe. Who knows. Then you might be saying, what about worldwide grosses? This will probably do very well overseas, but wouldn’t it be nice if it had a big domestic box office total? In return, the worldwide total would be even bigger. Let's say it grossed $200 million stateside and $400 million overseas, it'll be at $600 million. Not bad, and that would be a more impressive total than Prince of Persia and Tron: Legacy's worldwide totals.
If John Carter turns out to be a financial disappointment, then Disney’s marketing department is responsible. Instead of making Andrew Stanton’s visually exciting epic based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ sci-fi novels look like something interesting to mass audiences, they made it look like another big budget blockbuster that’s just action scenes and pretty visuals. Where’s the effort? This will be another woe in the history of Disney's marketing department, alongside Bolt, The Princess and the Frog and several other films that could’ve done so well but ended up underperforming because of poor marketing.
A sequel is already being planned, but if the film doesn’t go over well, then those plans might be in limbo for the next few years. Now the film might turn out to be a disappointment (even though early reviews are mostly positive), but why would they want it to fail? The film is rumored to have cost $250 million to produce, so why would they want to lose money. Several bad films go on to become big blockbusters, with the right marketing behind it.

Who knows, maybe I'll be proven wrong by the time May rolls around and John Carter passes $200 million domestically. Maybe it won't be anywhere near $100 million, who knows? I want the film to succeed, because it's supposed to be a good film and it's a project that a lot of thought and care went into. I mean, why would Andrew Stanton just direct a mindless popcorn flick? If it tanks, then it's possible that Disney will just cancel any ambitious projects that are in the works, or maybe not.

What are your thoughts on the marketing campaign for John Carter? Do you think the film will be a financial failure? A disappointment? Or will word of mouth make this an unexpected smash hit?


  1. I think it won't do well. Disney's marketing just sucks. For example, my siblings like watching the Disney channel. I walked passed the tv and saw an advertisement of John Carter. Disney channel is a kids channel and John Carter doesn't seem like it's targetted towards children at all. Also, strangely enough, that's the only channel where I saw an advertisement for John Carter.

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