EDITORIALS

Why New Line 'Air-Balled' on Semi-Pro's Marketing

by
March 5, 2008

Semi-Pro

Industry expert Dusty Thomas is a contributor providing editorials and other articles related to the ins and outs of the business side of the movie industry and Hollywood.

As if we ever needed a reason why New Line needed to be swallowed by Warner Brothers (read about that here), the miserable performance of Will Ferrell's Semi-Pro would be it. With a marketing campaign that was spread across all media and a weekend with no strong competition, Semi-Pro should have been a sure-fire comedy success, one that closed near the successes of Blades of Glory and Talladega Nights. Instead it suffered through the weekend pulling in just over $15 million (via Box Office Mojo) as a direct result of marketing directed at the wrong demographics, an R-rating that further restricted those that would be interested, and poor release scheduling.

Old SpiceThe "Love Me Sexy" single released around the country (and subsequent music video release), the Superbowl Bud Light commercial (wait, commercials no less), Old Spice commercials (oh, only 8 different versions), half-time teaser during the Superbowl, numerous in-person, in-character special events and speaking engagements (Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue comes to mind, with Heidi Klum, see below)…

Simply said, Will Ferrell's face has been plastered everywhere for about the last four months in timeslots that focused specifically on the 20 to 30 year old male. This moviegoer is, characteristically, not one that would regularly attend a movie by himself.

Another extreme challenge to the success of Semi-Pro was the poor choice to leave it as an R-rated film. Ferrell pulled in $47 million on opening weekend with Talladega Nights (released by Sony in 2006) and $33 million on opening weekend with Blades of Glory (released by Paramount in 2007), both of which were PG-13. These much more successful movies benefited from the PG-13 rating by allowing for multiple generations to be marketed to, especially considering they are much more regularly subjected to the slapstick, random humor that Ferrell is best at.

The final issue that also greatly hurt the performance of Semi-Pro was the premature release date (of February 29th). Both of the above mentioned comedic successes timed their release dates to correspond with related events that were going on at the time. NASCAR, well, that runs nearly 10 months a year, but August is the heat of the summer and racing season. And, something I just learned while writing this piece, the Ice Skating World Championships are held around March each year.

March Madness is only weeks away, and we get a 'cookie-cutter' Ferrell film about basketball - did someone in the New Line marketing department forget that a majority of their marketing was hitting college age males? Why not piggy-back this film with the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament? Games start on March 20th and only play Thursdays and Saturdays. I have to believe that this could have been better marketed; coinciding with the NCAA tournament would have been better than trying to get football fans (during the Superbowl) to try to relate to a basketball comedy a month out from the release date.

Hopefully the Warner Brothers team can come in and save New Line's future projects and truly present the appropriate movie ratings, the right marketing at the right time, and schedule the movies in times throughout the year when we may actually want to go see them. Then, maybe, we won't see Will Ferrell comedies flop in February anymore.

Jackie Moon and Heidi Klum

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  • Although I agree that Semi-Pro's earning potential was probably somewhat muted by sticking with the "R" rating, I hate to see films edit themselves to reach into the pocketbooks of teens with disposable income. It's a form of self-censorship. I wish more comedies would reach for the brass ring and make a balls-out (no pun) "R" rated comedy that's funny. This might be moot point regarding Semi-Pro. The content in the film that tagged it with the "R" rating was mostly language-based. Easily curbed. It's not like There's Something About Mary and the "hair gel" joke. You really notice how infrequently Will Ferrell swears in films until he stars in a movie where he does almost nothing but swear. And it added nothing.
  • Yeah, give me a break with this R-Rated crap. That's typical business person BS - trying to classify and compartmentalize every aspect of everything. How much swearing did Superbad have? And how much money did it make? You're telling me that movie wasn't aimed at high school kids? And I'm sure the youngins who wanted to see it totally had a hard time getting in. Need evidence? Exhibit A: http://filmdrunk.com/post.phtml?pk=1261
  • Dusty
    Awesome point Tom#1, and most the reason I mentioned the R rating(almost didn't) was so that people would look at it over Ferrell film history. Thank you Lance#2 - hmm.. thanks I think. honestly, do I believe the film should have been PG13? OF COURSE NOT, but who were they expecting to going to go see it????? Great example, Superbad... hmmm.. played by high school kids(or near that age), a high school story, and marketing specifically directed at the high school kids. OF COURSE it was going to make $33M. But a story about a washed up amateur basketball team marketed directly at 20-30 yr olds... big difference. I appreciate the point though. As a movie-goer, I HATE TO SEE FILMS CUT BACK DUE TO TRYING TO FIT INTO A RATING, but as an analyst, looking at what they could have fixed to make it more financially beneficial, I had to mention it. SIDE NOTE, I thought the marketing mechanisms were brilliant --- music videos, commercials, in-character interviews and special appearances. I wrote this piece to try to figure out what could have gone wrong when they did so much right.
  • "I wrote this piece to try to figure out what could have gone wrong when they did so much right." That's why I'm saying I think you're trying to artificially compartmentalize things (don't take it as an insult, I don't intend it that way). What I'm saying is, all their marketing would've been brilliant if the movie was better. The main reason it failed, in my opinion, was overexposure. They took an already tired concept (the Will Ferrell sports movie) and made us even more tired of it by rubbing our faces in it constantly. I think your logic is slightly flawed and typical of industry marketing. By compartmentalizing and formulizing everything, you start to think, "Hey, that worked before, let's do it again - it's a sure thing." Movies aren't math. But in any business, new ideas lead and old ideas die (eventually).
  • Spider
    It seems that they are now using the R-rating as an excuse for its 15mil weekend take (still #1-not bad...all things considered). If the flick generates enough buzz to begin with then that's a big plus. Then if the movie is actually good then we're looking at repeat business and solid word of mouth! It could be several factors: Another Will Ferrell sports comedy?? Another Will Ferrell movie.. period?? Perhaps if this was a Seth Rogen flick, maybe the box office would have rivaled "Superbad" and "Knocked Up"...just maybe. It could have probably surpassed the 15mil opening. It's a theory, though. It's all about the buzz that is generated before the flick opens. (Note: I am not comparing neither of these movies in any way, shape, or form)
  • Dusty
    WOW, I sounded like a jerk in my comment above.... sorry Lance... rock on with the awesome comments... I want to know more of everyone's thoughts...
  • Avelanch
    Superbad was a horribly overhyped piece of crap. I never saw it in theaters, but I bought the DVD because of the amount of praise it got. thats the worst DVD purchase I have ever bought. it will never be watched ever again. I have yet to see Semi-Pro, but it doesn't look like one of ferrills best works, so I'll rent it in a month when it comes out (i'm predicting quick to DVD based on the earnings in theaters.)
  • "WOW, I sounded like a jerk in my comment above…. sorry Lance… rock on with the awesome comments… I want to know more of everyone's thoughts…" I didn't think you sounded like a jerk. I think people understand that we generally dispense with pleasantries in internet correspondence. And I don't really disagree strongly with any of the factors you cite as reasons for Semi Pro's "failure", I just don't think they're necessarily worthwhile as guidelines to avoid future failures. I think the only lesson you take from this is, be careful hyping the crap out of something that's not fresh to begin with. I think one or two somewhat mysterious trailers for this flick and it would've destroyed "A Will Ferrell movie? Sweet!" instead of "Another Will Ferrell sports movie? Oh my God I'm sick of hearing about this." Good marketing happens on a case by case basis - some tactics work for some things but not others. That's why I'm wary of this type of analysis were we attempt to break down every factor as if it's a 1 + 1 = 2 equation. Human behavior is more complicated than that. (sorry if I'm monopolizing the comments section...)
  • Dusty, I agree with you completely. I think you hit the nail on the head why it failed.
  • jeff
    excellent post, dusty. yet even with all the marketing hits and misses, i have to say the film is not very good (in my opinion). i know the reviews going in were split, but after seeing it for myself i have to say i was disappointed. i am a fan of ferrell's but this was just lazy; a few funny moments, yes, but mostly a waste of time.
  • Lance, your Sexman example is actually not a very good one: do you think that annoying, unfunny little fucker bought a ticket FOR Semi-Pro? No, he bought one for Spiderwick and snuck in.
  • Lance, your Sexman example is actually not a very good one: do you think that annoying, unfunny little fucker bought a ticket FOR Semi-Pro? No, he bought one for Spiderwick and snuck in. I think your criticism would be stronger if you said his Mom bought it for him - that I can definitely see. But I think Sexman hates Spiderwick so much that he'd never be seen buying a ticket for it in public. Also "unfunny"? Sexman? Sexman is hilarious, clearly.
  • Curtis
    this is interesting new knew about that, guess you learn something new everyday, maybe Semi-Pro could have been big, guess will never know.

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