Woody’s (Marketing) Roundup: Earlier is better

Earlier is better.

In Hollywood today, it often doesn’t matter if your movie is good or bad. If you want money, sign an A-lister and post-convert to 3D. Oh, and a solid viral marketing campaign always helps. Always. Take two recent campaigns as an example.

That was a viral YouTube spot for Disney’s game themed adventure Wreck-It Ralph, and it plays out like a glossy mashup of Candyland and Mario Kart. ‘Sugar Rush Speedway’ while not a real videogame is the home of Sarah Silverman’s character, Vanellope von Schweetz, and this is a nice whiff of the film’s awesome world-building hinted at in its trailer.

So what’s the problem?

To momentarily strap on my geek suspenders, that graphical quality is waaay off. Look at the details and shadows in those CGI models. In 1997? The best videogames looked like this:

That isn’t bad for fifteen years ago, but there’s no way Goldeneye 007 looked anything like ‘Sugar Rush Speedway.’ In fact, we’re lucky to get PS3 games with graphics that good. I digress. The real issue is the time that went into rendering that video wasn’t worth promoting a film mere weeks from its release. And I don’t learn anything about Wreck-It Ralph that I couldn’t already get from its two theatrical trailers.

What about this retro throwback to 1980s games from the fictional Litwacks arcade?

‘Fix-It Felix’ is the game from which from John C. Reilly and the eponymous handyman voiced by Jack MacBrayer ‘s “I’m gonna wreck it!” beats are a nice touch, and unlike ‘Sugar Rush Speedway,’ actually have something to do with the film more directly. Not to mention the graphics are rightly more Atari than Xbox 360 this time. But other than a few glimpses of another central character and name-dropping the movie’s setting? Not much really. These are little more than confusing TV spots. Disney should be promoting cooler stuff like this instead of dumping pretty forgettable videos onto the internet. With Wreck-It Ralph hitting theaters November 2, it’s too little too late.

Looking ahead to enrollment next year…

Now this is impressive.

More often than not, I’m against any sequel or prequel 95% of the time, and “on the fence at best” is where I was feeling regarding Disney/Pixar’s Monsters University due out next summer. “Was” is the key word here. From a faculty list to suggested reading to a freakin’ academic calendar, this must have been a creative writing major’s wet dream.

“There is a difference between being a Monster and behaving monstrously. That diference is MU.”

The difference between monstersuniversity.com and those Wreck-It Ralph viral spots? In short, effort. The quality of a viral marketing campaign doesn’t equate to the quality of the film promoted; Tron: Legacy — with its fake newspaper articles, mock up light cycle, even a “Flynn’s Arcade” sign — saw to that. But for all its terrible-ness, Tron: Legacy also opened #1 at the box office in December 2010. Bear in mind this is a sequel to a 1980s film that flopped so bad it caused Disney stock to drop. It’s fair to suggest Tron: Legacy got a boost from the extra advertising and comic convention pimping.

The same effort and forethought that went into MU’s Prof. Rufus Oozeman and his biography — he “received a patent on his scream canister filter design” — went into Tron: Legacy’s marketing campaign, which started well over a year before its release. In July 2009, multiple movie sites reported receiving Flynn’s Arcade tokens and a flash drive containing computer code. When the drive data were combined they led the user to Flynnlives.com, which led to a countdown clock, which led to San Diego Comic-Con info, which… you get the gist. But it was a very extensive, very lengthy effort, and like any successful marketing campaign, it involved planning and effort. Long-term planning works, judging by Tron: Legacy’s eventual $400 million worldwide gross.

Of course, time might be a bit of a factor here. Videos have greater immediacy than a detailed, extensive website for a college that doesn’t even exist, and immediacy is key when your movie comes out in three weeks. Plus, Wreck-It Ralph has been getting good early buzz, so I’m probably just pissing into the wind.

On the bright side, if half the amount of detail put into a faux .edu address is put into Monsters University itself, Pixar’s short streak of okay-to-good films might end sooner than anticipated.

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