Poor storytelling hinders successful film marketing

This post hints at spoilers in Star Trek Into Darkness, SPECTRE, Game Of Thrones and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Film studios have been heavily criticised in recent years for for frankly half-hearted attempts to hoodwink audiences — all as a result of inherently flawed storyline choices – creating a huge impact when it comes to marketing the film.

The two that spring to mind were the roles played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Christoph Waltz in Star Trek Into Darkness and SPECTRE respectively. Announced alongside their castmates, the names of their characters immediately aroused suspicion amongst savvy movie-goers.

Before the movie was released, audiences (correctly) assumed both character names were mere pseudonyms for franchise stalwarts. Vehemently denied by directors, actors and the studio alike, this immediately forced the film’s marketing departments onto the back foot. All this meant that when speculation was proved true, fans were left irritated at the attempts to fool them. Even more irritating when you consider the quality of both actors. (Frankly, I’d watch Cumberbatch read the instructions to a Stannah Stairlift).

Film marketing (and television too) is already challenging enough, especially when you try to avoid spoilers leaking in the first place – just look at the speculation surrounding Jon Snow’s fate in Game Of Thrones. Yet actively marketing a film when all your communications seem to be plot denials, is surely even worse.

What makes it harder for teams marketing the likes of Star Trek and SPECTRE was the balance between announcing the two major actors and somehow keeping their true roles secret. Not easy when no one believes you.

When marketing a film, you’re hoping for discussion, debate and speculation, but not on the level where audiences are already questioning a plot they’ve not seen; or a transparent ‘twist’. Audiences need a certain amount of mystery to seed their interest.

Kylo Ren Force Awakens film marketing

This process was well managed by J.J. Abrams and Disney during the marketing of The Force Awakens. The trailers showed just enough to spark nostalgia around the return of major characters and the franchise as a whole, as well as to start speculation on Kylo Ren’s identity, while giving nothing away regarding the film’s major plot details. This heightened anticipation as the marketing department were able to focus their efforts on positive messaging.

Marketing’s aim is to persuade by changing mindsets, sometimes by overcoming negative pre-conceptions. For films these might be audiences responses to previous instalments in a franchise, initial scepticism, or just a general lack of interest.

When mental roadblocks start cropping up, like they did for Star Trek Into Darkness and SPECTRE, you’re faced with even more problems to overcome — ones that marketing is unlikely to solve. No marketing department can run a successful campaign when the product is flawed from the outset; the same applies to films.

Hollywood – give us a chance!

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Dad, digital marketeer at Tank PR, Derby County fan, film buff, book worm and husband. In that order, but don't tell the wife.