(This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times’ Big Picture column.)
Last Friday, I heard some kids in my neighbourhood talking about a new movie called “Dragonball: Evolution” that was opening in theatres that day. Curious, I went to my local newspaper to see who had made it. But even though the film was playing in nearly 2,200 theatres last weekend, there was no ad in the Los Angeles Times or, for that matter, in any other paper in the country.
20th Century Fox, the studio that released the film, had decided that newspapers — whose readers have a median age of 50 or more — weren’t really the best place to market a film geared to an under-25 audience. (You couldn’t find a review of the film in any Friday newspaper either, since the studio, figuring the movie — which scored a lowly 15 at Rotten Tomatoes — was too juvenile for critics, didn’t screen it for them either.)
Since the film only earned $4.7 million last weekend, a cynic might say that Fox, not wanting to waste money on promoting a stinker, was dumping the picture. But it turns out that the “Dragonball” marketing strategy is just another part of a shift away from print advertising. While studios, many of which have remained fairly loyal to print advertising, have been running smaller movie ads in recent years, Fox has made a bolder break with tradition, releasing four movies this year alone where the studio has run minimal newspaper ads or, in the case of “Dragonball” and “Street Fighter,” released in late February, no ads at all. Even “Taken,” the genre thriller that opened on Super Bowl weekend and became one of the year’s biggest box-office hits, only received full-sized newspaper ads in New York and Los Angeles. In a host of other cities around the country, there were no print ads at all.
This is, of course, part of a much bigger trend, with newspaper industry analysts saying that print advertising, already in its worst slump since the Depression, has continued to decline as much as 25% to 30% in the first quarter of 2009. And while Fox has been perhaps the most aggressive in cutting its newspaper advertising for youth-oriented films, it is not alone. A survey of marketers at other studios finds that with youth-oriented movies — especially in the horror, slasher, teen-comedy and comic book adaptation genres — studios are cutting back significantly on their newspaper ad buys. While most studios still buy newspaper ads on the Friday of release, the ads are smaller in size and in frequency. For many youth-oriented films, studios have stopped buying print ads the Sunday before release, as well as for the Saturday paper after opening day…
So why are studios slowly but surely cutting back on their print ad budgets? The obvious reason is that younger moviegoers simply aren’t reading newspapers, certainly not the print edition of the paper. In fact, several of the studio marketers I spoke with said they’ve made the switch as well, now only reading the online editions of the L.A. Times and the New York Times. Newspapers ads are still an important marketing tool for general audience films, but if studios are promoting what’s known as a one-quadrant picture (one that only appeals to either under-25 men or women) they prefer online ads or TV buys that could air on shows aimed at that precise sector.
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