‘John Carter’ is a Flop and Marketing Takes a Chunk of the Blame

So John Carter is a bust. It cost $350 million to make this movie and market it. It brought in $30.6 million in the U.S. over the weekend (though it was a hit in Russia). The Lorax, which had mediocre reviews and was harshly criticized for some egregious product tie-ins, earned $40 million in its second weekend.

Because of the movie’s pedigree — it’s a Disney flick from Andrew Stanton, the creator of blockbusters like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E — John Carter should have ruled the box office. But there were indications that things were not going to go well.

The New York Times points out some of the issues during the movie-making process including Stanton’s inexperience with live-action film-making and the studio’s decision to give him as much freedom as he wanted. And one of the big missteps was the marketing approach for the film.

The article finds fault with the billboard imagery (the one at right is pretty bad), the use of a Led Zeppelin tune in the trailer, and some pre-opening footage that wasn’t well-received.

Stories are coming out now that Stanton bumped heads with Disney’s marketing execs, including MT Carney, who left her post as president of movie marketing in January after only 20 months. New York‘s Vulture blog has a lengthy story about their disagreements, saying that Stanton didn’t meet deadlines for her teasers and went into the project believing that audiences would already know about the Edgar Rice Burroughs books and characters the movie is based on. Many weren’t familiar with the source material, but the look and feel of the movie is only too familiar.

“‘This is one of the worst marketing campaigns in the history of movies,’ a former studio marketing chief told Vulture before the film opened,” the article says. How many people want to bet that that was Carney?

The story goes on to break down Carney’s late-2011 strategy: a profile in The New Yorker for “high-brow audiences” and a campaign that would appeal to different segments of the movie-going audience. It was eventually picked apart by Stanton, Vulture says.

This may sound familiar to any PR pro who has worked with a difficult client or in-house colleague that is determined to undermine everything they say. It also reiterates the importance of marketing to the film industry. While it’s true that big names and good content are most important, reaching audiences with something appealing or at least eye-catching gets the ball rolling in the film’s favor.

“To summarize: this flop is the result of a studio trying to indulge Pixar…,” writes Nikke Finke in her usual style. “… Of really rotten marketing that failed to explain the significant [sic] or scope of the film’s Civil War-to-Mars story and character arcs and instead made the 3D movie look way as [sic] generic as its eventual title… Disagree all you want, but Hollywood is telling me that competent marketing could have drawn in women with the love story, or attracted younger males who weren’t fanboys of the source material.”

We’ve got two of the trailers that show the inconsistency of the film’s marketing.