Is Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters Designed to Flop? On The Avant Garde Marketing Style of Sony’s Reboot

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It’s been roughly four months or so since I’ve sat down in front of my laptop and written one of these; I had a movie of my own (being released as a web series, dropping early fall) to actually make and needed the mental energy to work on that. So it was either not be ready for production, which we crowd-funded and have high expectations from friends and family, or take some time away from the longest running column on Inside Pulse Movies. It wasn’t an easy decision but it was the right one.

Confessions of a Superhero was a terrific and a definite life-changing experience for me; I’ll have more to write on it in the future. Mike Noyes and I did something amazing, I hope. Our running gag has been that if someone were to read our text messages before (and after) production were that we were some combination of a couple in need of counseling or good friends collaborating on something great. Sometimes both. I’ll have a column to drop when we’re ready to drop the trailer on the whole experience.

“10 Things I Learned About Film (By Making My Own)” will be something deeply personal and hilarious (I hope).

For now you can like us on Facebook and subscribe to us on YouTube in anticipation. We’re aiming for an end of August release, after we screen it to the cast and crew (as well as our three Kickstarter mandated screenings), and you’ll see a lot more of it here. We’ll also be having contests and the like in the future BUT you’ll have to be both a subscriber to the channel and a fan of it on Facebook to be eligible. We have some props left over from the production that we’d love to give away to fans of this column and the series. Let me know below that you liked/subscribed and you’ll be entered into a contest to be run shortly.

Ghostbusters Glow Slimer

One of the films I’ve been most excited about this year, still, has been that of the Ghostbusters remake. I’ve been on record as having been excited for this film since it was announced as it’s potential, of a massive blockbuster starring women that’s universally appealing, could be something special. It has all the hallmarks of being a game changer in the blockbuster film season as a good, female-centric project could open the way for things such as a Black Widow film. Hell it has the potential to put the onus on Marvel to really up the ante and make Captain Marvel a proper $200 million blockbuster.

What it represents, and what it will likely wind up being, are two different things though. Right now it’s projected to have a soft opening of under $60 million this weekend. With a production budget north of $150 million, on top of a substantial marketing/P&A budget, the potential is there for it to all add up to a substantial bomb at the end of the day.

It could be a bomb big enough to detonate Sony’s planned Ghostbusters Cinematic Universe …. or it could find an audience ala Bridesmaids by being counter programming for the summer season against Jason Bourne and the like.

Ghostbusters is coming into theatres with perhaps the most avant garde marketing campaign in some time. Why do I call it avant garde marketing? Because so far it looks like Ghostbusters is doing almost nothing but the the minimum to coax people into theaters. It’s in the national conversation, and has been so for some time, but in the final run up to release the marketing has been somewhat lackluster so far. And it all starts out with a series of chain reactions that began with the announcement of the new direction of the franchise. It centralized when a lackluster trailer dropped … and now has finalized as we approach the wide release of the film.

female Ghostbusters

What started out as “this is a bad trailer” was jumped upon as “anyone who hates this trailer hates women” by a vocal minority of people … and then that’s when the fireworks really began. This same thing happened with Mad Max: Fury Road a year ago and is repeating itself again, like recycling footage for a bad YouTube channel. I dubbed it the “Miss Ellen Effect” back then and it remains the same. One side yells, the other side yells back louder and it turns a commercial project into something people want to use to define their own positions with. It’s a two part drink recipe for hilarity.

Call it the Mad Max Cocktail with a hint of Ghostbusters for you mixologists out there.

You start by tossing in one part bad trailer that got bad buzz. It wasn’t a good trailer by any stretch of the imagination and comedy trailers are usually hit or miss that way. It’s hard to make a good comedy trailer without spoiling the best moments of a film, it seems. You can’t spoil the best parts … but you have to let out some of the funnier stuff because you want people to see the rest. As soon as the tidal wave started of people saying it was awful the more people jumped in on it. It’s like how a movie starts out with good buzz and every critic winds up praising it more and more to the point of absurdity. It goes it reverse, too, and a bad trailer can morph into “worst thing anyone will ever spend money on, ever” by the end. Once something is determined to be bad the troll brigade that loves stirring it up even further, like tossing gasoline onto a dumpster fire.

Ghostbusters had a bad first trailer but the ones released since have actually been significantly better. It’s still not amazing … but it’s not as bad as that first trailer.

The other part requires is that of people proclaiming it to be the greatest thing ever. In this case the sheer fact of having a female Ghostbusters was enough for some folks to hitch their wagon to it. These same people will be telling you how good it is in print and social media Friday, too, as they have stakes in the game now. All the “you’re a sexist for disliking this film’s trailer” people are now almost bound to give it glittery, amazing reviews. Replace “trailer” with “film” and the cycle will continue. Why? Because the same folks who’ve been in the trenches fighting against the evil hordes of neck beards who had the audacity to dislike a film trailer they liked now have to defend the film, too.

It’s like being that guy who spent $50 to watch Red State back in the day.

The problem is that you spent $50 to see a film and now at a minimum you’re almost obligated to say it’s a good film (whether you liked it or not). You may have paid to see the Q&A, and a new film, but the point stands. Riding for Ghostbusters as hard as some people have essentially almost obligates them to say that it’s good whether they actually liked it or not.

Eating Popcorn

The interesting thing about all of this is to see Sony’s marketing campaign after all of the initial backlash come into play. They’ve done almost everything but promote this film as a female populated Ghostbusters film, paying Kobe Bryant and other professional athletes in commercials donning the newest version of the uniforms. They released an updated version of the film’s theme song to near universal chagrin, too.

It’s been a whole lot of marketing the concept of Ghostbusters but not appealing to either of the established fan bases that Feig has developed or that Ghostbusters as a property has going in.

They’re not directly appealing to women nor are they trying to directly appealing to the hardcore Ghostbusters fan base. That’s the interesting thing as Sony seems to have this middle ground of not trying to embrace its identity as a female powered film nor embracing its roots as a hit from the 1980s. It’s trying to find a weird middle ground while simultaneously cutting itself off at the knees from part of an audience wanting to reconnect.

I’m shocked there wasn’t a trailer that did the “from the minds behind Bridesmaids” and emphasized that aspect of it. You could almost ape that trailer and showcase parts of the film, staking your claim as a sort of gynocentric blockbuster of 2016. Bridesmaids made almost $300 million five years ago and capturing that audience again should be something one would suspect part of the marketing campaign going in. It seems simple and yet in the lead up to the film we’ve seen Kobe Bryant as often as we’ve seen members of the cast in a good chunk of the advertisements for the film.

Women are a criminally under served portion of the cinematic marketplace and giving them something targeted towards them, explicitly, doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Sex and the City took a TV show about women in New York and turned it into a film that grossed over $400 million worldwide for an R-rated romantic comedy the first time out. It also did so by essentially saying “have a girl’s night out” by watching the film in good chunks of its publicity, marketing and advertising. SATC was a hit HBO show, of course, but when you aim for that audience and do it right the results usually are large bags of cash.

The other thing that shocked was that trying to appeal to fans of the original would be something you’d think would be a no-brainer. Ghostbusters is a beloved film for all the right reasons and bringing in that audience would seem to be something you’d want to do. Yet there hasn’t been a single advertisement appealing to young fathers in their 20s and 30s with daughters to “share the experience” … and it would seem to be a no-brainer. I have plenty of friends who have a daughter or two under the age of 10, who grew up watching the film, and appealing to them to enjoy having that new, shared experience seems like something someone should’ve thought of.

Simple concept: Young boy laughing at the original in the theatre, followed by the now adult-aged man bringing his same aged daughter to see the new version. Or on DVD, as well, for the younger crowd who didn’t see it at the show. Either way getting guys to take their daughter to the newest Ghostbusters instead of a comic book film, et al, would allow you to trade on nostalgia while finding the sort of young female audience that Twilight is too old for.

“Share the experience with your daughter” and conjuring up that old school notion of familiarity, of nostalgia for the original, would seem to have been something someone should’ve thought of. Ghostbusters made nearly $300 million in 1984, when ticket prices were a lot lower, and has continued to find an audience because of DVD. Throw in a piece showcasing all the cameos from the original cast, too, and you’ve got something that tries to bring out an audience willing to see it because they liked the original.

Instead we’re given a seemingly tone-deaf marketing campaign from all involved that is essentially trying to find a male ticket buyer with very little mention that this is a female driven Ghostbusters film. It’s … it’s something. The end result is going to be something, too, that’ll be worth monitoring. So far it screams that this’ll flop and with it torch the Ghosbusters Cinematic Universe as quickly as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 torched the planned Spider-Man Cinematic Universe that Sony had in mind.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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