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BLOCK-BUST: Too Much ‘Hero’ Worship in Ads? By Kathy Tyre

An ad campaign built solely on ‘Schwarzenegger hype’ and offering few details of the film’s story contributed to Columbia Pictures’ Last Action Hero’s disa

Where its chief rival for the action blockbuster of the summer, Universal Pictures’ Jurassic Park, took its biggest attraction – vivid depictions of dinosaurs that have long captured the imagination of youngsters – and made that feature the focal point of its ads, Columbia relied on its superstar. Despite an ad expenditure that far exceeded its rival, Columbia’s Schwarzenegger alone wasn’t enough to attract a blockbuster audience.
‘Arnold was overexposed,’ said one theater marketing executive. ‘He was a constant flackmeister.’
While executives at theater chains and movie creative boutiques declined to speak on the record for fear of jeopardizing their relationships with the studios, they privately agreed about what went wrong with Columbia’s estimated $80-million movie.
Universal, then under the direction of marketing chief Si Kornblit, who has since left the studio, and creative boutique Kaleidoscope, which assisted on the trailers and TV ads, let the picture do the work. ‘It wasn’t the hype, it was the movie,’ said one movie marketing exec.
In contrast, Columbia did little to promote what some observers said was the most engaging aspect of its film about a young boy who is magically transported inside a movie.
Columbia’s ad theme was ‘The big ticket of the summer,’ which didn’t reveal much.
‘After I’d seen the movie, I thought they missed the boat on not selling some of the magic it had,’ said one creative vendor. ‘You had a little Willie Wonka there. You could have sold some of the sweetness, and the magic ticket element.’
Columbia outspent Universal with an estimated $25 million ad budget, compared to Jurassic’s estimated $18 million, but it nevertheless trailed its rival at the box office. Jurassic, produced for $60 million, grossed a whopping $50 million in its first three days and $171 million after two weeks. Columbia’s Hero grossed $15.3 million its first weekend out and only $30 million after a week.
While exact spending figures are not yet available, L.A. TV station execs said that Columbia outspent Universal by double and in some cases triple on TV ad buys. Columbia also heavied up its TV spending after the first weekend, stations reported.
It’s unclear whether the decision to hype Schwarzenegger at the expense of all else came from Schwarzenegger himself or from Columbia. Sources have said that creative boutique Cimarron/Bacon/O’Brien, with whom Schwarzenegger has worked on other films, was more involved in the development of marketing for Hero than is customary. They also said that Schwarzenegger in some cases worked around Columbia’s Marc Shmuger, who oversaw advertising creative, and made decisions contrary to the direction the studio had set, to develop the ad campaign with C/B/O.
It’s also unclear how large a role marketing played in Hero’s box office problems. Sources said what’s become apparent is that even great marketing can’t overcome bad publicity.
‘I don’t know if marketing could have overcome all the bad press surrounding Last Action Hero,’ said New Line marketing chief Chris Pula. ‘The consumer in Kalamazoo, Mich., now knows when a movie is $50 million over budget. That’s a problem for marketers.’
Jurassic, meanwhile, maintained a level of positive press that spread beyond entertainment media into general interest and science realms.
Executives at Columbia and Universal declined comment for this story. Calls to Schwarzenegger’s publicist were unreturned.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)