Book review: 'Creating Blockbusters!'

By Robert Marich
   June 11, 2012—A new book provides insightful analysis of the building blocks for successful Hollywood films, from script to promotion to licensed merchandise—all from point of view of marketing to the audience. Creating Blockbusters! by consumer researcher Gene Del Vecchio covers movies, TV programs, video games and books. Most film books lean toward arty but Creating Blockbusters! is attuned to commerce.
   Del Vecchio advocates crafting movies with aspirational characters as protaganists with whom consumers can identify, and characters’ struggles should be inspirational and relatable to audiences. Creating Blockbusters! counsels to fashion “the hero that audiences aspire to be. He or she might be the ultimate powerful hero, a hero-in-training, a real everyday hero, a blumbling hero with dubious aspiring qualities or an average guy/gal hero.” Author Ian Fleming said that his super-cool James Bond character in his Agent 007 spy thriller “is a highly romanticized version of anybody.”
  Del Vecchio advocates starkly defined stories and characters for strong appeal to an audience segement, and not using such broad stokes to cater to a broad audience that the emotional center is watered down. “There’s something to be said for selecting a key audience segment and then crafting entertainment that gains its interest without having to include superficial elements in a misguided attempt to attract a broader audience. If you try to appease every audience segment, you risk watering down the emotional fulfillment for them all. It’s hard to be all things to all segments.”
   Occasionally, an entertainment property does reach a broad audience like Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast. Women are drawn to the romance of the “beauty” and men to the battling “beast.”
   While presenting industry practices and research findings, Del Vecchio occasionally disagrees with conventional wisdom. For example, he’s no fan of “teaser” campaigns—long lead advertising six months or more before a movie premieres that are designed to simply raise awareness about a film, without making a hard sell and without revealing a lot of specifics about a film. “I suspect they don’t communicate enough about a film’s plot,” Del Vecchio writes. “In most cases, I think they waste resources that would be best spent on the full marketing campaign.”
   Though Creating Blockbusters! is mostly affirmative about the benefits of consumer research, Del Vecchio presents some cautions. “Research is just one factor among many that exeuctives use to make decisions,” the book says. “There are times when research should be ignored.” For instance, school-age girls routinely suggest making villians “nicer” in movies, which is probably mimicking what their parents taught them about evil. But characters should ring true so villians should be not be watered down. Del Vecchio also warns readers to beware of dogmatic researchers who claim to know-it-all and also researchers who gorge on data but “cannot bridge the divided that turns data into insights that aid creativity.”
   The book is amazingly prescient predicting one recent Hollywood blockbuster and one flop in pages that were written long before the films opened. Creating Blockbusters! praises by name the then yet-to-be released The Avengers from Walt Disney for “merging narratives” to create “a massive franchise.” In another passage, the author notes some well-known entertainment properties “have no character persona, possessions or look that audiences relate to.” Del Vecchio cites Etch A Sketch and Hula Hoop toys, but he could also have added board game Battleship, which as a movie just flopped for Universal Pictures.

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