Transforming Critical Failure to Box Office Success

July 10th, 2009   •   2 comments   


Courtesy of wintan29

Like almost everyone else who doesn’t don a skirt, I have watched Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen recently. The action was fast, furious and catered specifically for hot-blooded males of any age. After all, gigantic alien robots and Megan Fox is sure to draw the attention of the Y chromosome.

What’s interesting though is that a movie which is panned and “demolished” by numerous critics both overseas and at home, has taken the box office by storm. It became the first movie in 2009 to breach the US$300 million mark globally, achieving a massive US$109 million taking in the first weekend alone.
How does a movie which is given an average of one to two out of five stars continue to trump record after record? Is there such a sea change in consumer behaviour such that what the critics have declared no longer matter?

I believe that there are three factors which lead to this phenomenon.

The first is related to the decreasing influence of media professionals in parlaying opinions that matter. Through chats (online and offline), emails, SMSes, blogs, facebook accounts, tweets, plurks and numerous other channels of influence, the man-in-the-street (yes, that’s you) can exert more impact over his or her circle of friends and family members than ever before. Word Of Mouth is so prevalent and ubiquitous that its impact can no longer be discounted by any professional marketer.

This doesn’t mean that the words of journalists no longer matter. They are still credible sources of information in most cases, and they have access to facts, figures and interviewees that is denied to the average citizen publisher. However, their views in less “life and death” matters like leisure, recreation and entertainment appear to wane compared to the voice of one’s own circle of contacts.

The second factor is related to the whole business of creating hype and pre-publicity. Transformers 2 has cleverly leveraged on targeted marketing and advertising campaigns, release of “preview” snippets, insider scoops, and photographs of cast and sets to generate an extraordinary amount of hype and hoopla prior to its opening. It has also built a huge tribe and community of robot fans around the world, who have invested so much time, effort and energy into following the enterprise that they want it to succeed – despite what the experts say.

Its just like planting a flower. After investing so much time and effort in watering the seed, fertilising it, potting and repotting it, I want to believe that the flower which blooms after several months down the road is beautiful despite what a horticulturist may say.

The final factor for Transformers 2’s overriding ticket success is probably linked to the business of holistic marketing. Through licensing, publishing, merchandising and a whole gamut of commercialisation tools, the Transformers franchise has managed to gain a tremendous foothold in the world of toy robots. Go to any Toys R Us store and the first thing which strikes you is a huge model of Optimus Prime staring at you in the face. With such a prevalent presence in numerous retail platforms, the movie appears impossible to fail.

Of course, one shouldn’t be too hasty in concluding that the same applies for all products and services. In certain industries like the arts, a critics’ view may sometimes become a life or death matter for a performance or exhibition. New products and services also depend heavily on the views of experts in determining its initial roll-out success.

However, it does appear that sometimes quantity may matter more than quality. By investing in building a huge legion of fans, one can become fairly impervious to the vagaries of media opinion no matter how devastating they are.

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2 comments

  1. posted on Jul 10, 2009 at 12:20 AM

    While review ratings have an impact on box office earnings, we must bear in mind that the correlation isn’t as direct and strong as one would infer. While reviewers were looking for strong storyline and compelling characters, the audience, now sufferers of ADD thanks to the speed of tweet, were probably looking to “blow shit up”. Michael Bay scratches that itch better than most, so tadah, box office hit.

  2. posted on Jul 10, 2009 at 4:52 PM

    Yeah, I agree with Lucian. Regarding your first point: from what I can tell, there were 2 types of “man in the street” reviews. #1: those who liked to see $#!+ blown up, #2: those who are looking for something more substantial. I fall under category #2, but a lot of people I know fall under #1, and they enjoyed the movie.

    While your 2nd and 3rd points are valid, I have a feeling that this marketing towards the niche market (and whom I think fall under category #1 because they genuinely care about the (robot) characters) will be more wary about Transformers 3.

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