Bring the Kids

Movie marketers saved their best for last this season, but now they’re worried that the strategy may backfire. Some 13 films are due to be released this month, backed by at least $80 million in ad spending, but with a Thanksgiving weekend box office off 20-25% from last year, the upcoming releases will have to do double duty to bring in holiday box office goals. A lot may rest on some ad strategies designed to bring families to movies otherwise meant for mature audiences.
‘The guard is up because of the Thanksgiving box office,’ said one exhibitor. The pressure is on because the Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s stretch is traditionally the biggest moviegoing period of the year, accounting for 15% of an entire year’s grosses.
Studios often break their potential holiday blockbusters around Thanksgiving to make the most of the season. But this year, many, save 20th Century Fox and its hit Mrs. Doubtfire, held their potential blockbusters for December.
Adding to the problem is the lack of kids’ fare this season. Ads for more mature movie offerings may have to be fine-tuned to attract families. Couple that with the competition for audiences and reaching a record-breaking ’93 gets tricky.
With that hole in the kids’ market, studios are marketing more adult material as family fare, to cash in on a growing family moviegoing audience that made the summer box office so successful.
Columbia Pictures is positioning its adult-themed adventure Geronimo, for example, not as an historical drama, but based on ‘epic adventure and entertainment value,’ said Mark Gill, head of publicity for Columbia. It helped when the film scored a PG-13 rating. ‘The first priority is adult males, but now we’re not limited to that,’ said Gill. ‘This isn’t a movie that will work for six-year-old girls. But it does have the ability to appeal to a broad range of 12- to 49-year-olds.’
Warner Bros. will play up Grumpy Old Men as a family comedy, despite the fact that it features three stars who appeal to older adults: Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (the old Odd Couple), and AnnMargret. ‘This is a sleeper that’s going to cross age barriers,’ said Howard Lichtman, evp/marketing for Toronto-based Cineplex Odeon. ‘It’s your heartwarming story that will go from the very young to an older age demo.’
December’s list of could-be hits also includes Warner Bros.’ The Pelican Brief, starring Julia Roberts, Wayne’s World II from Paramount, Sister Act II from Disney and the only real kids’ movie on the roster – Universal’s Beethoven’s 2nd.
Exhibitors say studios are pressuring them for more ad exposure through trailer time. And ad efforts, launched well before the Thanksgiving season, are heating up this month. Warner Bros., which over past seasons has perfected the idea of the sneak preview to spread word of mouth, is moving unusually early with a three-week-advance sneak for Grumpy Old Men.
Universal’s leading the way in involving corporate partners in movie-ties, for Beethoven’s 2nd. McDonald’s, Nabisco and Eastman Kodak are getting involved. Nabisco will tempt kids with a plush St. Bernard puppy offer on the front of boxes of Milk Bone. McDonald’s will serve its meals on Beethoven tray-liners and feature the movie on the cover of its kids magazine.
In L.A. and N.Y., ad spending levels are up even higher than other markets, typical this time of year as studios spend extra to hype their potential Academy Award winners like Schindler’s List to Academy members.
Most exhibitors think the studio spending will pay off for a big season. ‘You have great films that haven’t opened yet,’ said Cineplex Odeon’s Lichtman. ‘The sequels, for example, are built-in franchises with built-in audience.’
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)