Marketing — A Huge Fail and an Interesting Idea

I’m hardly an expert on the subject of marketing, but sometimes you don’t have to be one to notice when someone does a terrible job. In addition, I came across an interesting marketing idea that I may well end up using.

Let’s start with the bad. When I first saw the trailers for Cabin in the Woods, it looked like a fairly standard horror/slasher type of flick, and not a terribly interesting one at that. Perhaps there were hints that there was something deeper going on, but nothing that came anywhere close to telling what the movie was about. Nothing to hint that there is a lot of humor inside that scary package.

Had the preview shown the guy in the white shirt and tie shouting “We have a winner! Redneck zombie torture family!” I would have given the flick more than a second glance. Bare-bones slasher movies don’t do much for me — even the ones friends and family helped make — but Cabin is much more.

Note: There are redneck zombies, and there is blood. A lot of blood. You can’t dissect the genre without dissecting a few people. If you’re OK with that, and, like me, weren’t excited by the trailers to Cabin in the Woods, go back and give it a second look. One of the worst-marketed films I’ve ever been aware of deserves a bump.

While we’re talking about marketing, I read the first two chapters of a novel today that I had no intention of reading. How did the writer accomplish this trick? With cleverness! You see, I have one of those electronic reading devices you’ve heard so much about. I’ve been catching up on my classics, because I should and because they’re free. Recently I downloaded H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and cracked it open the other day on the bus to work.

Before the beginning of the public-domain text was a brief foreword by one Félix J. Palma, saying (roughly) “This is one of my favorite stories ever, and I hope you enjoy it. I have included the first chapters of my novel at the end; if you feel so inclined I would be delighted if you would give them a read.”

At the end of Wells’ classic Mr. Palma returns, saying how much he loved The Time Machine when he was a kid, but how it failed to delight as thoroughly when he read it as an adult (an experience that echoes my own). Without denigrating the master, he talked about his time-travel story for a couple of paragraphs. With a turn of the next ePage, we come to the title page of Palma’s work, which proclaims beneath the title The Map of Time, and after some Victorian-era histrionics:


To which I said, “Hell, yeah, Félix.” Chances are, I’m buying the book. The first two chapters haven’t blown me away, but they’re solid and have a distinctive style. I have one more free chapter to go, and there’s a collision coming. He gets that right and I’m in. And heck, it’s guaranteed.

So now I’m wondering: What public-domain work would most attract readers who would enjoy Munchies?

6 thoughts on “Marketing — A Huge Fail and an Interesting Idea

  1. As a test of the marketing prowess of Mr. Palma, I slapped the all-cap phrase YOUR EMOTION AND ASTONISHMENT ARE GUARANTEED into my favorite non-intrusive search engine, and I’m not the first one to chuckle at that sentence. Well done, Félix!

    • Well, three chapters in and I will not be buying the book. Note to folks who would use cleverness to get people to read your first three chapters: make those chapters count! A little foreshadowing and a bit of sex are not enough. Something’s got to pop. When I read the one-paragraph description of the novel to try to get me to buy the rest, it was like a totally different story.

      Evil + Time Travel = crazy stuff happening. Fifty pages in there’s a hint of one and no sign of the other at all. Why wait until after the teaser to get things started?

      So, sorry Félix. I won’t be buying your book after all.

    • Hm… “Now that you’ve enjoyed Brave New World I think you’ll love this story of a pot-smoking slacker who gains superpowers by eating supernatural beings.”

      I can almost see it…

  2. I would agree with you about Cabin in the Woods … if you were right : ) This movie was guaranteed an audience from all the Buffy, Firefly, etc. fans, and the reveal was for me the best part of the film. I heard word-of-mouth (the intended marketing method, probably) that “you should see this film but I won’t tell you why”. Do you think the trailer for “Crying Game” should have been a tranny flashing his junk? That movie sold pretty well on word-of-mouth, if I recall. And while I could have easily missed Lake Placid based on the trailers, my expectations of that film were so mis-set that I enjoyed the film twice as much as I would have if I’d gone in expecting camp.

    So far, CitW has grossed $65M, which certainly exceeds its budget, and it still hasn’t gone to DVD, cable, etc. Can’t call that a total marketing fail.

    • From the original promotions, I didn’t even know Wheedon was behind this. I probably tuned out the ad so fast that by the time they were dropping names I was long gone.

      I saw the thing on cable, so obviously that transition is underway. In the film, it opens with the reveal, at least step one of it, where in Crying Game it’s a single shocking event that doesn’t give any hints that it’s coming. CitW marketers could have shown a little more of the movie’s first scene in the promo and not ruined reveals.

      Still, I’m sure that’s what they were worried about, and you’re quite right that they had an automatic audience so could afford to be coy. But that marketing campaign completely missed me and I was definitely a potential sale. I’d like to think I am completely unique in all the universe, but I expect there are others who are like me in this regard.

      The trailer on cable included much more of the interesting part of the story, and I would not have watched otherwise. Yet Another Slasher Movie held no interest for me at all. Knowing going in that there was another layer didn’t undermine my enjoying that layer as it developed into the real story.

      And, yes, it’s hard to call something that has grossed $65M so far a failure. I’m just saying it could have been more.

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