When Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. licensed A Princess of Mars to Disney, you can be sure they thought that when the movie John Carter (of Mars, Dammit) came out, they would be getting a full dose of Disney marketing. But of course, as we all found out, that didn’t happen. The marketing that John Carter got from Disney was, well, somewhere between lame and pathetic.
Now, on the heels of Jungle Book’s $103M opening weekend, Brook Barnes at The New York Times has issued a lengthy analysis of Disney’s Savvy Marketing of The Jungle Book in which all of the carefully designed interlocking elements of the Jungle Book marketing campaign are identified and examined. It’s a fascinating read, because it shows what Disney is capable of when there is a mandate from the top to properly and thoroughly market a film. Interestingly and not surprisingly, Disney declined to comment for the article — but that didn’t stop the analysis, since the elements are all there for anyone who’s paying attention to take note of. All of these items are things that go on top of the basic package of theatrical trailer, TV spots, print ads, billboards, etc. —
- Major push to have bloggers write on the theme that Favreau had used sophisticated, hi-tech filmmaking techniques to create the animal characters and make them compelling — this to overcome any resistance to the “talking animals” concept.
- Recognizing that there was a need to keep the film from looking too childish in order to appeal to the finicky high school crowd— older siblings tend to influence younger brothers and sisters — Disney consciously filled the first trailer with scary moments (pouncing panther, snarling tiger, stampeding buffalo) while hiding the musical numbers and keeping Baloo’s goofier moments to a minimum.
- To elevate “The Jungle Book” in the minds of grown-ups, Disney in March circulated dramatic photographs that paired voice actors with their onscreen characters — Idris Elba with the tiger Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley with the panther Bagheera, Lupita Nyong’o with the wolf Raksha.
Recognizing that the Disney Magic Castle logo is not an automatic plus for the male demo, Disney aggressively and repeatedly pitched “The Jungle Book” to male audiences on ESPN and elsewhere as coming not from the studio that made “Cinderella” but “from the studio that brought you ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’An extended 3-D trailer for “The Jungle Book” was attached to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which had an audience that was 58 percent male. And Disney rolled out an action-oriented trailer during the Super Bowl.
- Aiming at the Hispanic market, Disney teamed with Univision for a five-week stunt that brought “Jungle Book” characters and clips to telenovelas, talk shows and sports coverage. Disney even built a tool to allow Univision personalities to appear in scenes.
- To emphasize the “immersive world” (think Avatar) Disney introduced a mazelike Law of the Jungle website in partnership with the female-leaning Tumblr; ran special promos at IMAX theaters focusing on the snake Kaa; and created a touring virtual-reality experience and 360-degree Facebook video emphasizing the “Avatar”-like world of its jungle.
- Various corners of the Disney empire pitched in to promote “The Jungle Book.” A New Year’s Day stunt on the Disney Channel, for instance, was used to portray the film as one of the year’s first blockbuster offerings for families and children.
- But the synergistic heavy lifting was done by Disney theme parks. During the jam-packed spring break weeks, park theaters in Florida and California offered sneak-peek footage of the movie, with Mr. Favreau providing introductions.The many (many) theme park stores that sell Disney merchandise had “Jungle Book” sections. And Disney built photogenic “Jungle Book” sand sculptures at its Animal Kingdom and Epcot parks in Florida.
The foregoing is what anyone licensing intellectual property to Disney has a reasonable right to expect, and yet in the case of John Carter . . . . .well, I won’t beat a dead thoat about it, I’ll just sigh a little and think about what might have been if Disney had genuinely gotten behind the franchise.
Now . . . I know that there will be those here who will argue good riddance to Stanton’s John Carter but I will counter in advance by simply saying that from the perspective of acquiring new fans and perpetuating the legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs, having a thriving Disney John Carter franchise with all the elements described above for Jungle Book (instead of the ruin and wreckage we were left with) would have been a good thing — it would have burnished ERB’s legacy and brought in new fans, some of whom (not a high percentage, but still . . .) would have discovered the books, and the possibility of other studios taking on other ERB properties woudl have been enhanced, etc, etc. etc.