MOVIE MARKETING MADNESS: “SIDEWAYS”

This column has primarily been devoted to reviewing the campaigns of large scale movies. Be it The Day After Tomorrow or Catwoman, these movies have, I felt, put up targets too big and too obvious for me not to chime in with snarky and mean-spirited commentary. I like to think of it as a public service.

This week, though, I decided to skip the most obvious target of derision, Ben Affleck’s new film “Surviving Christmas” and choose a movie I was actually looking forward to seeing: “Sideways” by Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, “Election”). Sideways stars Paul Giamatti (who was excellent in…well…just about everything but most recently in American Splendor) as a wine connoisseur taking his pal Thomas Haden Church (still trying to live down the years on “Wings”) on a weekend road trip just before Church’s wedding.

The Poster

All green with a sketch of two guys stuck inside a wine bottle, this poster is clearly being marketed at people who enjoy movies and are not just looking for a one-sheet with some familiar A-list movie star. By not including Giamatti’s floating head they are actually challenging the audience to take a chance on a movie that may be out of their range of awareness. I’m sure this concept will be ruined by the DVD cover but I love this as it doesn’t play to the lowest common denominator.

The Trailer

Again playing against the template setout by the big-budget major studio tent poles, The trailer for “Sideways” actually shows characters interacting with more than just catchphrases and clichés. There are actually some hints that these are real people going through real things.

Basically, we see the setup for the journey (both emotional and physical) that Giamatti and Church will go through as they depart for some pre-wedding male bonding, including playing golf and wine tasting. The gags are ones we’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of times before (wine snob vs. clueless beginner, secrets potentially tearing two people apart) but considering Alexander Payne never lets his characters go down the easy road these plot points have a chance at being far more interesting then they could otherwise be.

The Website

The website for “Sideways” continues to defy expectations set out by the blockbusters which populate the summer months by being in-depth and interesting in a quiet, almost gentle sort of way.

“Story” starts out the site with a pretty good plot description which “spoils” a good portion of the film. That’s alright, though, since this isn’t a movie which is going to rely on big shocking plot twists in place of, you know, an actual story. Read only if you want to go into the movie fresh.

Brief biographies of the main cast and crew are included in the “Story” section but are expanded in “Cast” and “Filmmakers”. Reading the credits for producer Michael London I saw he was responsible for two of my favorite recent movies; Thirteen and House of Sand and Fog. Of course it also credits him with The Guru and the Josh Hartnett disaster 40 Days and 40 Nights. Talk about two steps forward and two steps back.

About ten pictures are available in “Imagery” to view and then, if you so desire, download or send to a friend. The “Soundtrack” gives simply a track listing and a link to purchase the CD at Amazon. This kind of feature is becoming more and more common as studios look to the ancillary products associated with movies to increase profit margins. This isn’t a pop-heavy record so it’s more likely to appeal to the same adults that the movie is going to play to.

“Life Uncorked” provides five short video segments from the movie that, surprisingly, are not just repeats of footage already seen in the trailer. Instead, these are actually designed to increase the viewers’ anticipation of the movie by providing actual short scenes that give a taste of the movie. Worked for me.

The movie’s emphasis on the wine-tasting pasttime of the characters in the film contributes to the final two portions of the site. “Wine Tasting 101” gives a very brief guide to wine-tasting etiquette and protocol (great – now I’ve got C-3PO’s voice in my head) and “Snob-Free Guide to Wine” provides a quick chart matching wine tastes to certain foods and flavors. You can print this guide out and, following the lines, fold it into a neat little book to carry along. Nice touch.

Overall

Like I mentioned, the campaign as a whole is geared toward adults who actually enjoy film and aren’t just looking for the most generic form of entertainment available on a Saturday night. Everything from the poster to the website sucks any interested party in by being just a little elusive, by showing that there is more story than can really be conveyed in a trailer or video clip.

As readers of my previous columns will know, I love consistency in campaigns and the green wine bottle sketch shows up quite a bit from the poster to the website. This is a movie that will need good word of mouth to make an impression and I hope it gets it.

As moviemaking costs increase, the pressure to successfully market those movies becomes greater. In an attempt to show how marketers are trying to put the most hinders in the theater seats, Chris Thilk breaks down why some movie campaigns work and some don’t. The posters for “The Rocketeer” and “Unforgiven” remain two of his all-time favorites. For Chris’ ongoing movie journal and other various musings, visit his Random Thoughts blog.




Posted on October 20, 2004 in Features by
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