Friday, September 17, 2010

Greatest hits 5! Of Marketing and Men

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Of Marketing and Men...

Last week I ended up talking a lot about marketing, specifically how male-minded marketing, and more prevalently, stereotype-minded marketing tends to alienate many who would be interested in products or properties and how people might change that.

It seems clear that there's a perception that if you market something to a man or a boy, women and girls who might seek it out would go see it anyway. Just as a boy who is interested would go and seek out a toy or property marketed to girls, theoretically. But, if you aren't describing that product or property accurately, how are they to know they would want it?

In the past month there have been two examples of properties where their creators have articulated that their properties are stories about women, or dealing with strong women, that you might not have seen that way if you just went by the marketing.

The really poignant example on this list is Jennifer's Body. Written, Directed and Starring women, is a story about the friendship between two high school girls, one of whom is actually literally, a demonic, homicidal monster. I seriously did not get that from the promotional material I first saw, the first poster I saw (the one at the top of the article) made me say "wow, that's something I will never, ever see."

But the problem is that Jennifer's Body is not an ejaculatory explosion movie like Transformers 2. It is a horror movie, which means its built-in audience is already predominantly female (stats show that horror movie-goers are often over 60 percent women). Megan Fox is also not the main character; and she's not the boy hero's plucky sidekick (there are no boy heroes in this movie). Instead, she's the toothy, gory, puke-soaked object of repulsion and disgust. In short, she is the monster.
And she's a very specific kind of monster, too. She embodies one of the scariest demons who haunts girls' dreams: The popular, pretty girl who pretends to be your friend while secretly trying to steal your boyfriend, your pride, and your life. Written and directed by women, Jennifer's Body is a film made in a women's genre about women's problems. It's a movie about why women want to stab Megan Fox in the tit with scissors.
What many reviews from friends and in the press have told me is that my initial impression of the movie was just not accurate, and not only would it be for me, it would be for a guy who went in for a romp in lascivious voyeurism and got a story of female friendship mixed up in his gore.
There were many more reviews by men (77) than women (26). The majority of these were culled from the Rotten Tomatoes site . . . Here's the breakdown: Male movie reviewers: 39% liked it, 61% disliked it; Female movie reviewers: 54% liked it, 46% disliked it.
The director also explicitly stated that the marketing aimed at men looking for a standard horror movie "isn't doing us any favors."

The campaign wasn't aimed at me, but well, both the creators and the numbers seem to think it should have been. As a 25 year old female moviegoer, my demo is the one that led the charge to the box office that made The Final Destination's multi-week number one numbers starting last Labor Day such a shocker. (Though again, if you look at the numbers, this should NOT be such a shock.)
Secondly, the case of Dollhouse.

Dollhouse's Second Season started up a few weeks ago, and in its first season, Dollhouse performed abysmally, leading to its budget being cut and a "new creative direction" that has yet to really make itself known, that said, if things continue as they are, it may never get that far.

The ratings are low, the second week had a 20% drop off from the first, and the numbers say that re-runs of House would have higher ratings and be more cost-effective.

Now, that's some bottom line thinking, but to be honest, as much as I love the cast, which I do, and many of the characters (Especially what's going on with Amy Acker so far this season) Dollhouse is a show that has always run very hot or cold for me, as scattered as the personalities of the brainwashed characters, and I mean that in a very bad way.

The problem with this, and in my opinion many, of Whedon's creations is the balance between episodic shows, where anyone can understand the story who hasn't seen a previous episode, and the compelling concept and super-arc of the characters. My personal opinion is that the concepts are great, but the super-arcs have suffered massively from the episodic format, and that this isn't the first time this has happened in Whedon's work.

But putting that aside, Whedon described the show as the story of a strong woman trying to get her identity back from brainwashers. Is that the story you see when you look at the marketing?

Maybe Yes, Maybe No.'s review of the "Virtual Echo" makes a lot of good points.
The "Virtual Echo" app, which runs on the somewhat insecure Adobe Air platform, is reminiscent of those "virtual girlfriend" programs that proliferated in the 1990s. You can customize how often Echo struts out onto your screen (wearing a different outfit each time) and does a trick. (When she's hostage negotiator Ellie Penn, she throws a card, which "hits" your screen and reads, "Your Boss Is Coming!" or "Why Be All Business?" or "Call Me." Which is sorta cute, I guess.) If you're missing her fashion catwalk strut, then you can always click "see me now," and she'll come when you call her.
The best point, I think, is made in the article's title: "Virtual Echo" Turns Dollhouse's Squick Factor up to 11. Let's talk about "Squick", to the urban dictionary...
1. Noun. The physical sense of repulsion upon encountering a concept or situation one finds disgusting.
2. Noun. A situation or concept which engenders this reaction.
3. Verb, transitive. To cause someone to have this reaction.
4. Verb, intransitive. To experience this reaction.
This word is great, visceral and frankly, I felt the Squick factor for the first poster I saw for Jennifer's Body as I often feel for Eliza Dushku's character, Echo, in Dollhouse. For Echo, each week is a different adventure during which she is often doing highly exploitative things that create that squicky feeling. This is an important part of the series, would her core personality do the same degrading sexual things she often does? would she breastfeed a child not her own if she had the choice? would she consciously make the choice to involve herself in these situations?

That's the core of the story, her choice to volunteer for this, how could it have possibly included all of the situations where the choice is made for her? and was that initial decision entirely voluntary?

There's sex in the series, there's skimpy outfits, but might part of the point to be that squicky feeling? Does the marketing you're seeing make you feel a little gross for wanting to play with Echo without her consent? The same way the author of io9 suggests that the marketing says "this show is for creepy teenage masturbators" I think that a lot of Dollhouse's marketing does ignore the squick factor, regardless of the show's internal storytelling question marks. If you watch the show, there's a very real chance you might feel icky about looking at the naked Eliza Dushku commercial entr'acte and feel that way when you see her sexing it up as Echo on the promos on the street.

The argument I'm trying to make here is that marketing without considering your story, or marketing to a specific group over the idea of marketing the property as it exists in reality is not helping either of these properties. It creates an uphill battle for the property to live up to perception created in the eye of the potential audience member. When it doesn't live up to the expectation created audience members have to get over their initial confusion or even revulsion before they commit themselves further.

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