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'Bruno' Goes Low-key to Build Mystique

June 1, 2009 – Universal Pictures is restraining marketing on Bruno – its R-rated comedy scheduled for July 10 release from the maker of Borat – figuring less is more, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

   Borat – which grossed a blockbuster $128.5 million domestically for 20th Century Fox in 2006 – features Sacha Baron Cohen, who is the British entertainer known for outrageous impersonations that also figure into Bruno.

   Bruno centers around “a flamboyant, Austrian fashion correspondent, who shocks and horrifies the unsuspecting real people he encounters and interviews along the way, including celebrities like Paula Abdul and Ron Paul,” notes the Wall Street Journal article by Lauren A. E. Schuker. “Some industry analysts and studio executives believe the movie has the potential to be the summer’s top-grossing comedy. But the studio releasing it -- General Electric Co.’s Universal Pictures -- is taking a low-key approach… For months, Universal has been forgoing big-ticket marketing moves -- such as trailers in theaters and television spots -- that are normally de rigueur for launching a big comedy.”

   The article puts the advertising media spend at $30-40 million for opening an R rated comedy from a major studio in a prime release slot. Universal may also have an economic motive for being reticent. The studio won an auction for Bruno with a bid of $42.5 million. Borat, meanwhile, cost just $18 million for Fox.

   The little Bruno creative materials that Universal has seeded the marketplace are not particularly explanatory, which leaves the audience to investigate elsewhere if curious. Perhaps the most significant marketing effort was presenting a 22-minute clip shown to just a few hundred people at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in March, with a pre-recorded message from Cohen. That presumably aimed to spark a low-key viral buzz to grow over time.

   The article quotes the author of Marketing to Moviegoers: Second Edition Robert Marich saying: “One of the things about Borat was that it surprised everyone. It had a much bigger opening than tracking surveys indicated because it had such a viral buzz. The challenge here for Universal is to sustain that with Bruno, which isn’t always easy with high-concept movies because they’re not so fresh the second time around.”

   As if on cue, Bruno mounted a single impactful publicity stunt as the Wall Street Journal article was published today. At last night’s MTV Music Awards, Cohen -- as the Bruno character -- appeared in a brief but outrageous stunt flying over the awards audience on wires while wearing a bird feather costume that left his fanny exposed. He landed on rapper Eminem, in what apparently was unscripted detour garnering laughs at the expense of the white rapper.

   According to a Reuters story, “Sweeping high above the studio on a harness, Cohen hit an obstacle, spun down toward the audience and landed face down in the lap of Eminem, exposing his naked bottom to both the white rapper and to millions of viewers watching the awards show live on television. MTV said Eminem stormed out ‘in a heated rage’ after the incident at the Gibson Amphitheatre near Los Angeles where the live awards show was taking place.”

   After this publicity coup, expect the Bruno marketing machine to fall silent again for a while to let curiousity build and a mystique to take hold.

    P.S. Subsequent stories indicate the Bruno stunt with Eminem was planned, which is a coup that the rapper would act as the foil. 

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online.wsj.com/article/SB124380592587570159.html