The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Warner Bros.' 150-second 'Hereafter' TV spot: Clutter-buster or desperation move?

October 21, 2010 |  6:43 am

Clint_eastwood I was happily watching the Texas Rangers thrash the New York Yankees on TBS on Tuesday night when suddenly, in the middle of the third inning, on a commercial pod where you'd normally see a slew of ads for Droid smart phones, BMWs, Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and a really, really dumb spot for Fosters beer, I found myself glued to the set, watching a 150-second spot for Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter." It really wasn't a spot in the usual TV sense of it. It was basically the film's theatrical trailer, played in its entirety.

Was this a good thing, a savvy way to expose people to an especially complex, often ethereal movie that really can't be effectively captured in a 30-second spot? Or was it a costly desperation move by Warners, which knows the movie plays old (hence the decision to air the ad on baseball, which attracts older viewers) and has realized that the film -- which goes into wide release this weekend -- hasn't received the kind of overwhelming critical support it would need to rely on critics' testimonials alone?

I couldn't get Warners marketing chief Sue Kroll on the phone, so I went to some of her studio rivals for answers. No one knocked the idea of running a 150-second spot at all. In fact, it turns out that a number of studios have been buying two-minute blocks of ad time to air movie trailers on a variety of TV shows.

The practice dates at least as far as back as 2007, when Screen Gems realized it could reach a very targeted audience by running two-minute trailers on cable TV for low-budget films like "Stomp the Yard" and "Prom Night." Now everyone is doing it. Sony ran a two-minute trailer for "The Social Network" on MTV's "Jersey Shore." Paramount ran its theatrical trailer for "The Fighter" on the finale of "Mad Men." Dreamworks Animation ran a 90-second trailer-style spot for "MegaMind" on "Modern Family." Marketers also recalled seeing two-minute trailer-cutdowns for "Inception" on cable outlets this summer.

"In most cases, your trailer is your best weapon, the piece of marketing you've spent the most time crafting, so why not try to get everyone to see it?" said one marketing executive. "It's expensive, but if you have a film with a complex message, like 'Hereafter,' you need the time to flesh out the characters and the story."

Movie marketers have learned that while couch potatoes happily click through commercials on TiVo, the one commercial that gets people to stop fast-forwarding is a movie ad. And by using a sporting event like baseball that people watch live, Warners was assured of people seeing the "Hereafter" ad in real time, not sometime next week. The other benefit is that by running your trailer on TV, you get it seen by people who don't necessarily go to the movies, who I suspect could make up a healthy portion of "Hereafter's" potential audience. (I can almost imagine Warners selling the film with the tagline: The Movie for People Who Don't Go to the Movies!)

The marketers I spoke to said that it probably cost Warners a cool $1 million to run the ad on a national network baseball playoffs broadcast, though it's possible that the ad buy was part of a bigger overall package. Was it worth it? Or is this Movie Marketing Gone Wild? "It's a way to make a big statement," one marketer said. "Everything is so unbelievably cluttered and crowded these days that you just can't worry about being subtle anymore."

Photo: Clint Eastwood, left, with Cecile de France on the set of "Hereafter."

Credit: Ken Regan/Warner Bros./MCT