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April 03, 2007

Genre and Multiple Marketing Strategies

Genre and Multiple Marketing Strategies

Introduction

          It has been seen elsewhere that it is possible to create a generic category by ‘reading against the grain’ that is interpreting the content of the output of the mainstream film industry differently. It is argued here that genre is best viewed as an important marketing tool of the full range of media industries. All these specific generic forms are appropriate for the media format being used. Genre can thus be seen as part of the institutional framework of any media system. The different generic approaches from the different media formats ensure as far as possible that the specific media product sells well. It achieves this by fitting in with established and emergent conventions of the specific media industry [1] being considered.

Horses for Courses

          It is always important to bear in mind the wider institutional context of particular media formats. In the case of film the A films with a big budget and high production values which were produced at the time of classical Hollywood cinema in the 1930s and 1940s have a strong similarity to the ‘Blockbuster’ movies currently being produced.

The Hollywood A movie and the ‘Blockbuster’ movie were dependent upon a combination of utilising well known stars, directors, a broadly-based genre format, as well as a successful script or topic in the popular imagination. It is rare that the genre format is a straightforward simple genre in these high-budget movies. The point of a high-budget movie is to attract the widest possible range of people to go and see the film. The danger of being overly specific about genre is that people think that the film has low production values and is aimed at a market of enthusiasts and cultists. This would mean that it is of no interest to anybody else and would limit its market[2]. From this it can be seen that an over-reliance upon branding a film as genre specific is potentially culturally exclusive and thus self-defeating. Within industry defined boundaries the more a film costs the wider its potential audience should be. The straight action-thriller film is very unlikely to ever have such a high budget as a multi-generic or genre hybrid film as its appeal is largely to boys, young adult males and a few men who have never grown-up. By comparison the continued success of Bond movies is now dependent upon special FX, spy/gangster thriller, comedy thriller, sex-romance genre hybridity is able to appeal to wider audiences.

          The sort of films produced in the heyday of Hollywood classed as B or C films involving low production values based mainly upon formulaic genre conventions as a key marketing device were aimed at less sophisticated audiences, and more working-class audiences habitually went to the cinema as their major weekly night out. These sort of films could also provide screen content at low points in the season and functioned as training spaces for newcomers to the industry. Middle-class audiences were usually more discriminating and tended to go and view specific films which might have been genre based such as literary adaptions. The ‘made for TV’ movie has taken over the role of B and C movies.

Minority Report (2002) is a good example of a multiple marketing strategy which involves genre hybridity as one of its key components. The multiple marketing strategy involves six main elements designed to reduce financial risk to the minimum and to increase the chances of maximising profitability by making the film genuinely ‘popular’ across a whole range of identity divisions such as class, gender and ethnicity.

Minority Report: A Case Study of Multiple Marketing Strategy

The recently released Minority Report provides some evidence of how a multiple marketing strategy is conducted using the following tactics:

  • The use and promotion of a well known semi-independent director in this case Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is associated with a long string of well made films which have a wide popular appeal and contain a generally liberal ethos, and in most circumstances are a ‘safe’ film to see and utilises the spectacular to generate excitement.
  • The use of a very well-known leading Hollywood star Tom Cruise who also runs a production company, and also in the use of Max von Sydow who would have appeal to older audiences and European audiences as well as showing that there is in depth commitment to quality actors.
  • The use of genre hybridity in the construction of the narrative. The film is a detective-thriller/ science-fiction/political-thriller/melodrama family tragedy. Sight and Sound has even described it as a ‘future-noir’.
  • The use of special FX - Hollywood film history has always been concerned with being at the cutting edge of cinematic technology. This links both the circus and the spectacle, powerful contributors to cinema.
  • The film has been constructed as a ‘12’ in terms of the censorship and regulatory structures, to maximise family viewing. The spectacular has always been an important element of film marketing and appeal.
  • These structural features of the film link into the reviews system which is an integral part of the marketing of films. Reviewers are in league with the film industry and enter into agreements not to reveal crucial elements of any twists in the plot especially the ending. This encourages the common cultural practice of ‘non-revealment’ embedded within the audience itself. People frequently say ‘don’t tell me the ending’, or somebody reporting on their experience of a film says I won’t spoilt the ending for you’. Mystique is an important aspect of marketing and plays cleverly upon audience desire.

          The content has a very wide appeal and it is important to a big multi-generic/hybrid genre film that a general idea of the content quickly becomes widely known. Minority Report has a particular contextual appeal [3] because of the post September 11 World Trade Centre attack, the subsequent build-up of anand execution of ‘regime-change’ in Iraq. The content is all about arresting and incarcerating people before they commit a crime. The film can currently be read by audiences as an allegory for major political crisis in the world 2002/ 2003 - the excuse for building up massive military presence on the borders of Iraq despite any clear evidence of even ownership, let alone intention to use weapons of mass destruction. This will appeal to more politically astute and sophisticated audiences.

          The ‘human interest’ aspect of the film comes through the family and personal break-up of the Tom Cruise character through the loss of their son perhaps through a paedophile kidnapping. This strong subplot linking into current fears of paedophilia and child pornography especially on the internet. The possibility of revenge, redemption and the re-establishment of family runs through the film linking it to revenge tragedies long established in literature. Here unlike the traditional tragedy redemption and a certain feel-good factor ‘Hollywoodise’ the ending.

          The representation of women is more troubled and ambiguous. Women are represented as being intelligent: it was a woman who invented the ‘precognitive system’. The wife of the leading character John Anderson - played by Tom Cruise - is also presented as being smart and determined, not only picking up on who the real criminal is but also having the ‘nouse’ to break into the high security police system and release her husband -the unlikely failure to remove John’s eyeball-identity seems a crucial flaw in the plot but that is not the point here.

          There is an unfortunate linkage of a gendered construction of femininity and instability of both woman and technology as being likely to go out of control [4]. This is a common feature of SF genre films. Maria, in Metropolis (1925), the T1000 robot in Terminator 2 (1991) are just two other examples of the linkage of the ambiguity and danger to the masculine status quo of feminised technology seen as ‘other’. In Minority Report the key ‘pre-cog’ is a woman without whom the other two males are unable to function. The ‘pre-cog’ only ever acts ethically and the emphasis she makes upon human choice reinforces a key ideological prop of humanist liberalism against the strong cultural fears of technological take-over. This is a key element of cross-media science fiction genre. Nevertheless, the ‘pre-cogs’ are placed on the margins of society apparently for ‘their own good’.

          The police-thriller aspect is obvious by being set in a police station, with tension maintained by an ever present time-factor. The ending supports the liberal ethos that the system in combination with ethical individuals will be capable of identifying and removing those who try to manipulate it unethically along the lines of films such as The Pelican Brief (1993).

          The political-thriller aspects of Minority Report are highlighted in the title itself. The title is a crucial part of marketing strategy. This title has a particular resonance in the United States because there is in general greater freedom of access to information than in the UK. In th UK censorship through the Official Secrets Act ensures that formal state control has a much stronger profile. The possible mechanisms for the suppression of information which can be reviewed through the judicial system immediately gives the film a wider impact. This occurs particularly amongst the American middle classes and the more politically aware minorities who are always concerned with issues of civil liberties and freedom of information. This links to the constitutional construction which has developed a system of ‘checks and balances’ to ensure that an over-mighty subject abusing power, or corporate abuse of power is apparently always controllable.

          The ‘romantic melodrama’ subplot ensures that there is a happy feel-good ending appropriate for the pluralistic target audience. This ending also gives some depth to a future which can come to terms with tragedy and deliver a future through reconciliation and human choice. Human choice to do what is ethically right is an important component of this type of film. It adds a greater intellectual and critical dimension to a format designed to have wide appeal. Audiences are effectively engaged with some of the ethical and moral dilemmas of the imaginary situation. In this sense the best cinematic output is capable of stimulating audiences to engage in situations which encourage an engagement with issues of citizenship. Frequently the best cinematic output follows a variegated production and marketing strategy and to reduce this purely to genre specificity can fail to reveal the more complex organisational approaches at work.

Cross-Media, Cross-Genre Marketing

          Outside the notion of a closed world of film genres media industries have engaged with other media genres to gain marketing leverage. This has been done by identifying the key market for a product and targeting it.

          A highly successful example of this was the marketing of Trainspotting (1995) by its distributors Polygram who spent approximately 50% of the production costs on marketing[5]. Polygram employed a design agency with a client-base in pop and rock music. Polygram also entered a business partnership with EMI to launch the soundtrack.

          The film was adapted to appeal to trends identified within youth culture such as ‘laddism’ which was a reaction to feminism in the early 1990s still current in puerile and sexist ‘lads mags’. ‘Laddism’ itself is often read as response to the loss of traditional male jobs in smokestack industries. This links Trainspotting with films such as Brassed Off (1996), Billy Elliot (2000), and The Full Monty (1997). However, the take on work as a form of lost dignity is not a position taken in Trainspotting.

          Another cross-media linkage into youth culture was through associations with the growth of ‘Brit-Art’ and ‘Brit-Pop’. Knowing links with 60s culture a youth culture ‘golden-age’ were self-consciously echoed by groups such as Oasis and Blur. As well as linkages with punk in the anti-heroes style.

‘“Trainspotting” shares with Brit-art the combination of a flashy, self-promotional style; a dark and sometimes grotesque humour ...an effort to join cult cachet and mainstream success, intelligence and accessibility, complexity and directness. The most concrete connection between the film and Brit-art is the soundtrack presence of Blur and Pulp’ (Smith, 2002: 15 ).

          Despite the relatively low budget the successful multi-marketing approach of Trainspotting played on generic plays across media formats to ensure an appealing commercial package that went far beyond simple genre formulations, by recognising the increasing sophistication and multiple audiences now found even in what was previously erroneously and simply dubbed as ‘the youth market.’

Conclusion

          The production and marketing tendencies coming from Hollywood blockbuster globalised marketing is tending to downplay specific generic aspects of the films. Stardom, the spectacular and a multi-generic framework is the current marketing formula. Specific aspects of a film can be niche marketed to fragmented media audiences as a way of trying to unify audiences in sufficient numbers to visit the cinemas and ensure healthy after-sales from TV licensing, rental and DVD markets. It has been noted by a number of writers [6] that theatre release through the multiplex system is not just simultaneous but often takes several screens at once, with audience choice paradoxically becoming more limited despite the growing number of screens in the UK. Just as the shape of the film market has changed so has the role of genre from an industry perspective.



1 [1]Please note well the linkage here with analysis of the News as a generic form of both TV and Radio.

2 [2]See under ‘The Western’ section on role of the market for typical audiences of the B movie western.

3 [3]See under ‘ Methods and Methodology in Film Research / Contextual Criticism’

4 [4]For in depth analysis of this argument see Bukatman 1994.

5 [5]Smith , Murray 2000.

6 [6] Brown, Geoff, 2000; Hanson, Stuart 2000; Todd, Peter 2000.


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