Ghostbusters: A Lesson in Marketing

The phrase “any press is good press” has never been more appropriate than with the saga of 2016’s Ghostbusters. Anyone who has access to the internet has encountered the incredible hatred that surrounded Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot. From sexist remarks, cries of racial-stereotyping and the now all too common adage “you’ve ruined my childhood” amounted to a disparaging outcry of disdain of near Olympic proportions. It was a textbook case of mob mentality. The fact that pretty much everyone was expressing anger towards this film appeared to draw in anyone with a keyboard. It brings to mind the witch hunts of old, when some people lynched the women because they genuinely thought they practiced black magic, and others participated simply because they had a pitchfork just lying around. I myself, was instrumental in the hate campaign, as I consistently remarked to my friends that the Ghostbusters trailers were the advertising equivalent to someone inviting you to a party only to include on the invitation that the festivities would include a polka-band and a constantly screaming rabbit in pain. However, I generally act under the rule that I cannot ridicule a film that I have never seen. So this past weekend, myself and a suprisingly large group of individuals took to the cinema to see what I assumed was going to be a trainwreck. What I witnessed, to be honest, truly surprised me.

Ghostbusters is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a horrible film. It was a consistently funny movie that made efforts to distance itself from the original in ways that exceeded the obvious choice to gender-bend the roles. The four leads have pretty good chemistry with one another and caused me to laugh out loud pretty consistently. It is a good, not great comedy. What it isn’t exactly is a good Ghostbusters film. The least interesting part of this movie is the sequences in which they actually go out and bust the ghosts. The ghosts are cool-looking, but they really serve as a vessel for more jokes rather than being an actual story point or a genuine threat. The villain is incredibly flat, and the overall story feels a little inconsequential. So yes, it doesn’t hit the same beats as the original. However, is that really a bad thing? Had they chosen to make an exact remake of the original a la Jurassic World, it would have been an astounding failure. By being considerably different from the original film, what Ghostbusters created for itself was an entertaining, surprising, and fun movie that felt detached from its predecessor in a “kid going off to college” kind of way. And this gets us into our discussion of marketing.

The most important thing in creating a marketing campaign is getting people to buy a ticket. I understand that. However, in my opinion, the best way to create a trailer is to make a trailer that accurately depicts the film that you are advertising. Ghostbusters failed completely at this. First of all, they depicted this movie rather confusingly as a direct relative of the first Ghostbusters movie. The trailers pulled on the Nostalgia strings in us all by showing us various parts of the movie that harked back to the original and cut it together in such a way that we all assumed that it was basically the exact same movie. This was a mistake as it led to thousands of Internet commenters adding in their two cents to say that this movie was “ruining Ghostbusters,” as if you could accomplish such a feat. What they should have done, is throw in a few images that feel familiar to reassure the viewers that this is in fact a Ghostbusters movie but then proceed to showcase the things that make this movie unique: the dynamic between the leads, the comedic force that is Chris Hemsworth, and in general, the tone. And that was the biggest thing that the trailers missed in my opinion; the tone. The trailers were very quiet and in a bizarre way, kind of serious. Ghostbusters is a nonstop comedy. There isn’t a single scene in this movie where they aren’t going for the joke. It doesn’t always work mind you, but it’s certainly never somber. The first Ghostbusters trailer missed the mark so obscenely it was almost a disgrace. The trailer had lots of empty shots with really sullen music that probably wasn’t even in the actual movie. The few jokes that they put in fell flat very quickly because they just didn’t make sense in the context of the movie they were selling. In fact, none of the trailers were funny in the slightest. I didn’t laugh once in any of the trailers, yet once I saw the actual film a lot of the jokes landed. This debauchery of comedy was entirely the product of poor editing. Most of the jokes in Ghostbusters land and land well because of the set-up. However the quick cuts in the trailers cut out all of the context of the jokes making them feel obnoxious and stale. In the end, if I was in charge of the marketing campaign for Ghostbusters I would make sure to sell this movie as its own comedy rather than a half-baked rehash of the original. I would have attempted to capture the tone more successfully and focused more on landing some really funny jokes over showing the entire movie. Because the ad campaign that we did get was absolute dribble.

In the long run, Sony’s terrible marketing worked out for them, as all the negative attention the trailers caused, still kept the public eye on the film for multiple months. However this easily could have been far from the case. This easily could have been Sony’s The Amazing Spider-man 2, an ad campaign that effectively killed an entire franchise. So I suppose, in this case, Sony got lucky. The only way they could have been luckier, is if they got hacked again. It’s almost as though the only way Sony can get you to see their films is if there’s some sort of controversy behind it. Who’s to say which of these debacles are genuine, and which ones are simply created? I suppose only time will tell…

Ghostbusters (2016): B-

-Ethan Brundeen

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