The Marketing Eye: Wrap-Up of the Films Advertising During the Super Bowl

The game was one of the most memorable in recent memory, but the advertising managed to come in a few notches below, according to many accounts. While the New England Patriots pulled ahead of the Carolina Panthers to win Super Bowl XXXVIII, the ads shown – unless it was from Anheuser-Busch – were an uninspiring crop. And, of course, this includes the ads highlighting upcoming films releases as well, with only 3 of the 9 spots featuring films placing in the top half of USA Today’s Ad Meter poll. And I’m still surprised at the rankings there— it was almost opposite to the reaction I saw in the New York City bar that I checked out, Brother Jimmy’s on the Upper East Side.

Of course, the answer might lay the newspaper’s methodology. Those planning to attend a survey in Virginia and other cities on Super Bowl Night – in a room apart from their loved ones or friends – don’t not often agree with the Upper East Side fraternity types that watched the game at this particular dive bar. “Ladykillers” was top among the films with AdMeter, yet the film barely made a dent in the Brother Jimmy’s audience.

Altogether, the film studios purchased more than $20 million of advertising for the game—not a little sum by any means. Of course, some of the spots we were looking to appear did not make it, including “Spider-Man II,” “Catwoman” and “The Chronicles of Riddick.” There was little footage seen here that has not been seen elsewhere.

Despite the grades from instant polls, there is rarely an event that reaches so many consumers at one time for films, or any consumer product: About 88 million watch the Super Bowl each year and it is considered to be the premiere event for the advertising world. As Adam Fogelson, marketing president at Universal, was quoted in Friday’s Variety, put it, “The whole event, including the advertising, has a very special place in the consumer’s mind.

But more than anything, the biggest trend this year was the shift to films opening sooner rather than later. Of the films advertising, two open within the next two weeks and the latest film to open is only scheduled for May. Might studios collectively have come to the conclusion that promoting films opening closer to the Super Bowl was a better move than growing awareness for a film opening 5 to 6 months down the road? Is it spring, rather than summer?

This wrap-up article that looks at how the films did both where I attended the game and on the Ad Meter. I only focused in only looking at films that aired after the opening kick-off, although a number of films strategically placed appeared in regional markets, as well as during the pre-game and the premiere of “Survivor: All-Stars,” which followed the game. That list includes films like “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Taking Lives,” “Eurotrip,” and “Barbershop 2: Back in Business.”

On to the 9 films…

Van Helsing (Universal Pictures)
Air Time: 6:48 p.m. EST, 7:29 left the first quarter
60 Seconds, Opens on May 7

The Premise: Set in the late 19th century, monster hunter Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (played by Hugh Jackman; this character first appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”) is summoned to a mysterious land in East Europe to vanquish evil forces…including famous horror icons like Count Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s Monster. Assisting him once he gets there is Anna (Kate Beckinsale), the heir of a long-running family committed to hunting down and destroying Dracula.

The Spot Itself and Reaction: Basically a pared-down version of the trailer – along with perhaps one or two new shots I did not recognize – this was the first of the film spots to appear in-game. Although there has been some bad advance buzz on the project (mostly relating to the script, this is a Stephen Sommers film after all), the advertisement was a good one by the measure of Brother Jimmy’s audience who talked about the ad as soon as it appeared, buoyed by the foes the title character goes after. Nice money shots as well. There was a whisper at the bar about the film looking very cool and patrons there wanting to catch it. Puzzlingly, this film scored lowest on the AdMeter charts of the films. Audience reaction: 8 out of 10, Ad Meter grade: 50th out of 60.

Troy (Warner Bros.)
Airtime: 6:53 p.m., 6:02 left in the first quarter
30 Seconds; Opens on May 14

The Premise: In 1193 B.C., Prince Paris of Troy stole a beautiful Greek woman, Helen, away from her husband, the king of Sparta, setting the two nations at war with each other, as the Greeks began a bloody siege of Troy using their entire armada, led by Achilles, which lasted over a decade. Starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom.

The Spot Itself and Reaction: No buzz whatsoever, unfortunately, from the crowd here. It might be that the spot focused on dialogue and opaque shots of the battlefield, without giving anything inspiring that the studio could hold on to—but, whatever the case, it failed to connect here. There was also the lack of a money shot. The film has a great script, and – by the looks of it – amazing cinematography that looked very crisp. This might not have been the audience for it, although it scored as the 25th most-liked ad in Ad Meter. Audience reaction: 3.

50 First Dates (Columbia Pictures)
Air Time: 6:59, 3:04 left in the first quarter
30 Second; Opens on February 13

Premise: Henry Roth (Adam Sandler), a veterinarian at a Hawaii aquarium, falls in love with a girl, Lucy (Drew Barrymore), with short-term memory loss. The challenge: He has to keep getting her to fall in love with him every time they meet in order for them to have a relationship (since she never remembers the last time she met him). Read our screenplay review of the film here.

The Spot Itself and Reaction: There was some laughter at the bar, because of Barrymore doing some wonders with the bat on Rob Schneider’s character. Given that this is the film that has the second nearest-term opening of the Super Bowl film ads, this is a good investment by Columbia Pictures. I had not seen this opening before this, and it did slow it down, but led to a great laugh. Probably the best way to go with a romantic comedy that most likely didn’t need a $2.25 million investment at the Super Bowl—this will do amazingly well opening weekend. Audience reaction: 6, Ad Meter rating: 30 out of 60.

Miracle (Walt Disney Pictures)
Airtime: 7:09 p.m., 15:00 left in the second quarter
30 Seconds, Opens of February 6

The Premise: This is the true story of coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) leading the U.S. hockey team to victory over the Soviets at the 1980 Winter Olympics, despite overwhelming odds. For a country still entangled in a decades-long “Cold War” with the U.S.S.R., the sports victory was seen as patriotic and symbolic of “our side” beating “their side”

The Spot Itself and Reaction: There was nothing different from the commercial here than those that have been airing incessantly. Although it is listed as 30 seconds, this one was too quick to register with the crowd; it felt like half that. I’m guessing this buy was more to reinforce the film coming out in 5 days than anything else.
Audience rating: 5, Ad Meter ranking: 35th highest.

The Alamo (Touchstone Pictures)
Air Time: 7:13 p.m., 14:12 left in the second quarter
30 Seconds; Opens on April 9

The Premise: This film is the true story of the “Last Stand of the Alamo” in 1836, which featured famous historical figures as Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, and lasted for an amazing 13 days against stupendous odds (though they still lost). Dennis Quaid, Jason Patric and Billy Bob Thornton are among the cast.

The Spot Itself and Reaction: Despite the ad saying that this was one of the most important events in history, the film delivered. This actually did better than the “Troy” advertisement with the crowd here, which I would not have expected— but it might have been the shots the bartenders were passing out gratis to every customer after a slow start. While the film gave lingering close-ups of the stars, it also showed some neat battle shots. Audience reaction: 6, Ad Meter ranking: 45th.

Starsky & Hutch (Warner Bros.)
Airtime: 7:38 p.m., 6:00 left in the second quarter
30 Seconds, Opens on March 5

The Premise: Set in the 1970s, this is the tale of two police detective partners, Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson), and Dave Starsky (Ben Stiller), who always seem to get the toughest cases from their boss. Known for relying on omniscient street informer Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg) and racing to the scene of the crimes in their souped-up 1974 Ford Torino hot rod, this films telling the story of their first big case (as a prequel to the TV show), which involved a former college campus drug dealer who went on to become a white collar criminal.

The Spot Itself and Reaction: This is actually a big improvement over the previously running commercials— the Snoop Dogg line brought some great laughs to the crowd. There wasn’t much eye candy here, but it shows that a good joke or two will do well with audiences. While I once looked at the film as a potential flop because of the number of reshoots that were done, this repositions the film as one that might open strong. Of course, the Ad Meter put it in the bottom half of the ads. Audience reaction: 7, Ad Meter ranking: 32nd.

Secret Window (Columbia Pictures)
Airtime: 7:52 p.m., 1:54 left in the second quarter
30 Seconds, Opens on April 23

The Premise: Based on a Stephen King book, the film focuses on Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), a writer just coming off of a troublesome divorce with his ex-wife, who finds himself stalked at his remote lake house by a psychotic stranger who claims Mort stole his best story idea. Read our script review of the project here.

The Spot Itself and Reaction: Looking more ominous than anything else, it was Depp’s nomination this past Tuesday for an Oscar that convinced the distributor to put this ad in place of “Spider-Man II,” according to our sources. The gamble looks to have paid off. This spot gripped audience members, although several were asking why the ad chose to spotlight it as written by David Koepp rather than King. They were also asking why the walls were tearing apart as they were. If an audience is left wondering, then that is sometimes a good thing. Expect anticipation to build for this one until its release date. Audience reaction: 6, Ad Meter ranking: 40th.

Hidalgo (Walt Disney Pictures)
9:09, 3:57 left in the third quarter
30 Seconds, Opening March 5

The Premise: Set in 1890, this is the story of a Pony Express courier (Mortensen) who travels to Saudi Arabia to compete with his horse, Hidalgo, in a dangerous race for a massive contest prize, in an adventure that sends the pair around the world.

The Spot Itself and Reaction: Not bad, looked pretty good. Nothing outstanding, but nothing detrimental here and it was good that they made sure to identify star Viggo Mortensen as being from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Despite a good game finally taking shape, the audience reaction to this one as bland. But it might have the content of the film not appealing to the game’s main demographic or the alcohol setting in for the crowd. This is one case where Ad Meter and this crowd doesn’t disagrees. Audience reaction: 4, Ad Meter ranking: 42nd.

The Ladykillers (Touchstone Pictures)
10:11, 13:56 left in the fourth quarter
30 Seconds, Opening March 26

The Premise: a remake of the 1955 British Ealing comedy that starred Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, the film focuses on an eccentric professor-turned-criminal-mastermind (Tom Hanks) to commit the massive heist of a New Orleans riverboat casino. Unfortunately, their objective might be thwarted by the actions of the seemingly-innocent little old landlady of the house that he and his three accomplices are staying in, and which is integral to their scheme. Check out our script reviews for the film here and here.

The Spot Itself and Reaction: The trailer for the next Coen Brothers film worked much better than this short spot, as it better explained the concept. Here, it was just a mish-mash of a one-note joke that seemed to enthrall the Ad Meter crowd. Disney could have done much better, according to this crowd. There were some laughs at the smacking of Marlon Wayans, but they were gone by the next commercial. Audience reaction: 5, AdMeter ranking: 23rd

In the end, it was not a superb effort by film studios. Perhaps Disney marketing prexy Oren Aviv put it best: “You have to constantly raise your own bar strategically and creatively. There are a million ways to do it other than running a Super Bowl spot.” Or, at least, that’s what the studios who didn’t do so well this year may be hoping.

My thanks to Greg Dean Schmitz of Greg’s Previews of Upcoming Movies for providing the premises of the film, however unwittingly.