National Treasure II: Great Movie, Miserable Marketing

I’m in the middle of David Mamet’s brilliant and sarcastic book about the movie industry, Bambi Vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business. I love his cutting, insightful wit and superb films (see House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner for two of his best) so I was predisposed to like the book anyway, but when I read his explanation of why it’s idiotic for studios to have “test screenings” and then hand out long, involved surveys to gauge audience reaction, I couldn’t help think of how Bruckheimer and Disney are testing the marketing of the new blockbuster National Treasure II: Book of Secrets
National Treasure : Book of SecretsFirst off, a comment on the movie. If you haven’t seen the first movie, National Treasure, I recommend it. It’s fun and very well produced, in a typical, almost cliché Hollywood manner. It’s also a good role for Nicholas Cage, even if he does seem to play that same slightly befuddled genius again and again in his motion pictures (cf. Next). I say that National Treasure II will be a blockbuster, but it hasn’t actually made it to the cinema as I write this, it’s actually opening next weekend, the 20th of December.
Nonetheless, even with a strong lineup of Christmas movies this year (notably including the entertaining The Golden Compass and powerful (and, yes, somewhat scary) I Am Legend) I am sure that National Treasure II will do quite well in the theater and then be a solid DVD sale for years to come. Frankly, Bruckheimer doesn’t get involved with much that doesn’t end up earning out, or quite a bit more. (even bombs like The Island were, I thought, quite good films)
Anyway, to launch National Treasure II: Book of Secrets, Disney partnered up with a bunch of companies, including Mercedes-Benz. You can see what I mean by going to the movie’s web site, interestingly called Worlds Biggest Treasure Hunt.movies.go.com. Watch the opening Flash animation too; it’s quite a demonstration of what you can do with this ever-more-sophisticated graphical tool.
On the bottom of every page is a big box labelled Take The National Treasure Survey, which, somehow, I thought might be a little quiz about how well you knew the first movie’s storyline or had picked up on hints dropped in the preview.
Oh no. It’s a thirty-three screen survey on how effectively the site creates buzz for the movie and whether it makes you want to see the movie when it’s in the theater.
UUuuuggggghhhhhhh!
Here’s the first screen (shrunk down: click on it for a fullsize image):

National Treasure II: Book of Secrets Survey

I mean, a sample of the first few questions includes This Website makes it easy for me to build a connection with this movie and I feel surfing this website is a good way for me to spend my time.
That’s just wrong. It’s wrong to pull people back into their heads when you’re trying to appeal to their hearts, emotions, sense of adventure and excitement, and there’s just fundamentally some boneheaded planning here for this sort of survey to be so overtly linked to an otherwise well executed movie promotion site.
Come on, Walt Disney Pictures! Doesn’t anyone think through what you’re doing in the movie production side any more? This is a bloody tedious survey, one that you might motivate people to complete if you offer something at the end, like a “custom National Treasure screensaver”, but as it stands, I posit that the only results you’ll get — if any — are going to be from movie marketing nerds and it’ll be so skewed and statistically irrelevant as to be meaningless.
As Mamet points out in his book, movie companies have sunk to the lowest depths in their marketing angst and that the main purpose of any feedback nowadays seems to be for the companies to exorcise any meaningful drama or storyline from the movie, not to produce interesting or exciting films. In an exactly analogous way, the survey from Disney isn’t going to help movie teams make more interesting or exciting Web sites, but simply to dumb them down to pure advertising mechanisms without any hint of personality, character or uniqueness.
A classic psychic collision, really, between the purpose of a product (in this case a Web site promoting a big-budget Hollywood film) and the desire on the part of some members of the company to garner feedback so that they can improve the product next time out. This certainly isn’t the only place this turns up, either, but given that I am actually looking forward to the movie, it’s just darn disappointing that there’s not more control over every aspect of a film’s online presence. Or more thought.

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