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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Funny People' ads: Did Universal forget how to spell Adam Sandler?

When I was driving to the Santa Monica farmers market the other morning, I found myself stuck in traffic next to a big bus with an ad for the upcoming Judd Apatow picture, "Funny People." The ad has a photo of Adam Sandler with the film's costars, Seth Rogen and Leslie Mann. Even though Sandler plays a character in the film who thinks he's dying, the ad makes him look quite cheerful, with the three actors cozily resting their heads on one another's shoulders as if they were chummy old friends. 

Funny_people-(3)-(2) It's a warm, vaguely seductive image, but I have to admit what really grabbed me was the fact that even though Universal is paying Sandler a boatload of moola to star in a movie whose budget is somewhere north of $70 million, the studio didn't bother to put the world's biggest comedy star's name on the ad. Instead of seeing Sandler's name under the photo, we get one of those "if you liked these movies, you'll really like this one" reminders that reads: "The third film from the director of "40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," which raises at least two questions: Why do we need to know it's Apatow's third movie? And why plug old Apatow movies when you could plug Adam Sandler? After all, "Funny People" isn't some tiny art movie. It's Universal's last hope for a summer blockbuster hit. Isn't it Marketing 101 to put the star's name on every bus in the country?

Broadcast Rival marketers were mystified by the omission. "Adam Sandler is the No. 1, 2 and 3 reason for people to see this movie," said one marketing chief. "If he's your best drawing card, why not shout it from the rooftops?" Said another marketer: "It must be a conscious choice, but it makes no sense. If you're selling a comedy, even a Judd Apatow comedy, why wouldn't you use Sandler and Seth Rogen's name everywhere you could?" Noting that the ad looks somewhat similar to the poster for Jim Brooks' "Broadcast News," with features its trio of stars in a similarly lovey-dovey pose, one marketing expert suspected that Universal was trying to position the film as a Brooks film, since with "Funny People," Apatow seems to be emulating the relationship-based drama that is at the heart of most Brooks films.

When I got Universal's marketing and distribution chief Adam Fogelson on the phone, I jokingly asked if the studio had forgotten how to spell Adam Sandler's name. I got a courtesy laugh. Fogelson admitted: "Is the ad unusual? Yes." But as he explained: "I know it's not commonplace, but Judd, Adam and I all saw the material, and none of us were at all concerned that we weren't doing everything that should be done to properly promote the movie."

So why not use Sandler's name? As it turns out, since there are three actors in the photo, if Universal wanted to use their names, guild restrictions involving outdoor advertising would have required the studio to run a billing block for the movie (that ugly block of type listing all the major contributors to the film, which is often bloated with the name of 14 different producers). Even worse, according to Fogelson, the size of the billing block is tied to the size of the movie title and the size of the name of the actors.

"So if we'd used Adam, Seth and Leslie's names, we would've had to run a very large billing block, which would've resulted in a messy and I think far less effective piece of advertising," says Fogelson. "We thought that all three actors are very recognizable on their own, and since the public is getting to see plenty of other ads on TV and in theaters that have effectively communicated who's in the film, we could just use a clean and simple ad for our outdoor campaign."  

Fair enough. On the other hand, last year 20th Century Fox ran big billboards for "Australia" that featured likenesses of Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman without ever identifying who they were. The movie hardly took the U.S. by storm. Maybe if you go to all the trouble to hire a costly movie star, you should get your money's worth. 

RELATED:

Memo to Judd Apatow: Your movie is too long!

 
Comments () | Archives (18)

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I'm not sure how seeing his name reinforces him being in the film any more than a giant picture of his face. This is not your typical Adam Sandler comedy and I think Universal doesn't want to scare off moviegoers who aren't neccessarily fans of his films. Indications are that this is something a little more dramatic for Apatow and selling this as Click or Chuck & Larry isn't going to work either.

The poster is specifying it's Apatow's third film because his name is attached to so many as producer the general public doesn't know he didn't write and direct Pineapple Express, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall or even I Love You, Man. The actors are recognizable for being in his films but like Kill Bill "The 4th Film From Quentin Tarantino" they want to trumpet this being the real deal.

Did 'Spanglish" do that well that they wanted to re-capture the magic of a Jim Brooks film (no disrespect meant)?

I think the campaign is a mis-fire. Sandler is at a percipitous time in his career, where the suggestion of drama (or 'real acting') is still a slippery slope (re: 'reign o've me', 'punch drunk love' & the aformentioned 'spanglish'). Even the film's title is a dangling carrot of misdirection to audiences to both over-the-top comedy & manufactured yet earnest sappiness. Even the name & images from 'Broadcast News' gave more of a context.

I do not think the absence of his name is the real danger (but does point out the handcuffs that billing blocks bring to a campaign) but with the money invested there should have been 2 separate campaigns....but with Hollywood seeming to run scared away from real adult drama the risk is audiences running scared after unfulfilled expectations.

I have a better question: Why does the poster/ads have Seth Rogen leaning back so we see his giant fat neck? One of the worst ways to photograph someone is from underneath and this is just sooooo not flattering to Rogen. All I see when I drive by the ads is a giant fat neck.

They said "third movie" because they don't want people thinking that Apatow did "Year One," "Walk Hard," or any of the other movies that have been panned recently that are coming from the Apatow crew. They want to make sure you know the good movies are the ones that he did, not the bad stuff that followed.

Then again, the poster for 40-Year-Old Virgin was just the title, tag line and that hilarious picture of Steve Carell. And some of the marketing for Knocked Up was just a picture of Rogen or Heigl with 'KNOCKED UP' in giant letters overhead. Maybe it's just an Apatow trait to have minimalist posters.

Good grief, why does Hollowood insist on shoving Adam Sandler down our collective throats at every opportunity? He's a no talent hack. I don't know anyone who likes him. Believe me, I have been running a survey for a good five years now at least. Everyone finds him annoying.

I was casually browsing the internet and decided to read up on some movies that were coming out, and i stumbled onto this article, and all that came to mind was... I cant believe people get paid to write stuff like this. Why are people so inept to post their opinions in articles. I didn't even read through the whole thing. I cant help but think "what if" people were this worried about ACTUAL events within their society.

Actually not a huge Sandler fan, am going to see the movie because it's Sandler in an Apatow movie with Seth Rogen. So there. And I recognize the faces. The movies has been advertised enough now that that shot of the three of them has become representative of the movie - with or without their names.

I have to say, I know a lot of people that absolutely despise Adam Sandler and his childish brand of humor. As an advertiser, especially one marketing an Apatow movie (whose humor is anything but childish) I would also emphasize the Judd-ness rather than the Sandler-ness. This is not a stupid, brainless, Waterboy- or Little Nicky-esque Happy Madison movie. It's more of a Knocked Up--mature, socially telling, and equally as dramatic and sad as comedic. Market to the intended audience--in this case, adults, not teens.

EVERYONE knows who Adam Sandler is. Putting his name on it does nothing. Rogen and Mann are recognizable enough at this point where seeing the 3 together, we know what we're getting into.

Furthermore, this is a more HUMAN story than what Sandler's films often represent. In "You Don't Mess With The Zohan", he plays a hairdresser who can also fight crime and do impossible things. In "Bedtime Stories", his kids' far-fetched stories and ideas end up happening to him in real life the day after they're told. Sandler films have become a broad genre in itself. So, for all we know, putting Adam's name on the poster could do more harm than good, insinuating a movie-going experience that doesn't match the movie.

Now Apatow, when we see and think him, we expect a raunchy comedy that revolves around dating and relationships, that will, in the end, tug at our heart strings, if even for a moment. "Funny People" is trying to do just that, but even more so. It looks like Apatow is doing his take on a Woody Allen film, and while I think it will get mixed reviews and reactions, it WILL make money. It just will. Name or no name on a one sheet or billboard.

 
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