Both MediaPost and the New York Daily News have articles up today about the marketing costs of movies that have been nominated for Academy Awards this year. Here’s a quick list:

  • The Departed: $40.3 million from January thru November
  • Little Miss Sunshine: $11.9 million
  • The Queen: $14.5 million
  • Babel: $16.4 million
  • Blood Diamond: $19.9 million
  • Pursuit of Happyness: $10.6 million
  • Devil Wears Prada: $22.4 million

Now keep in mind those numbers are full the full year and just go through November, so the campaign for Letters From Iwo Jima aren’t included there. The NYDN then states that Oscar nomination-specific campaigns can routinely run $25 million and you’re talking some serious money.

Let’s look deeper at The Departed. According to IMDb, the production budget for the flick was $90 million. Add to that $40 million for marketing and let’s also add the $25 million average Oscar spend (since it competed for a number of categories) and we get a grand total of $155 million in productions and miscellaneous marketing expenses. MediaPost reports that the movie has grossed $130 million to date at the box office, but that doesn’t include (I suspect) the recent DVD release. So the movie is likely just about to or just recently has broken even for Warner Bros.

Of course Oscar nominations/wins can boost box-office revenue and now DVD sales as people check out the movie to see what all the hubbub is about. The NYDN cites American Beauty as a movie that received a second wind thanks to the Awards. I’d like to see an example, though, that wasn’t eight years old.

And I agree with the one person who says that the Awards ceremony is the equivalent of a 3-4 hour infomercial for the movie industry, but is it a needed one? After all, this is now an industry that thrives on the celebrity culture that’s been built up of gossip rags and entertainment websites. The stars are never out of public view for long, effectively extending indefinitely the marketing campaign for any given movie since, if someone links to Jack Nicholson’s IMDb profile, the visitor then has the potential to be reminded of any of a number of Nicholson’s films.

There’s one quote from Jeff Wells that I disagree with:

“It’s a conversation with viewers,” says Hollywood blogger Jeffrey Wells, “and keeping certain films in their mind as they mull over possible winners.

These marketing campaigns are almost never conversations, at least not as the online marketing world now defines the term.  Conversations are two-way communications tools and these campaigns are very much one-way lectures about how the audience needs to see this movie. It lacks the give-and-take process that allows the audience to participate. This is a necessary component of a conversation.

Awards are great but the end goals of any movie should be to entertain the audience and make money for the producers. If you fall short of that you have not succeeded. You can either spend a lot of money in the hopes that a movie will get an award so that it can finally recoup all the money you’ve spent or you can make quality movies that will appeal to interested parties and market them in a smart – and cost efficient – manner by appealing to that audience. The latter gives you an opportunity to actually engage in the conversation with the audience by making them stakeholders in the film’s success.

Spend and market smart in support of smart films that, because they’re not being held back by a distribution model that originated during the studio-controlled system of the early 20th century, can be seen by anyone at a time of their choosing and I think you’d find that movie revenue will go up and the niche markets will support the films that appeal to them.

3 thoughts on “What does it cost to market an Oscar contender?

  1. Re: The Departed grossing north of $130 mil versus production/prints/advertising costs of $150 mil, so it’s about “broken even”: people always forget that the studios never see the 40-50% of the gross that is kept by theater owners.

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