From 1983: 'Gandhi' Needs Oscar's Help


Written by the author of "Marketing to Moviegoers"



Reprinted With Permission From The Feb. 21, 1983 Issue of “Advertising Age.” © Crain Communications.

By Bob Marich

BEVERLY HILLS—More than any other Best Picture Academy Award nominee, Gandhi is counting on Oscar’s help.
            For the Columbia Pictures release, the cornerstone if its marketing plan is the 11 nominations it received, the best of any 1982 picture. Moviegoers were barraged with Gandhi advertising ballyhooing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Awards’ nomination within hour of the Feb. 17 announcement of all nominees.
            In anticipation of this Oscar windfall, Columbia doubled the number of theaters carrying the film to 600 on Feb. 18, supported by stepped-up advertising via Ogilvy & Mather.
            “So all we’ve got to do come Thursday morning [Feb. 17] is record a voice that puts in the number of nominations [in Gandhi tv spots] and that goes on the network Thursday night,” said Columbia Pictures marketing and research division president Marvin Antonowsky days before the nominations were

Gandhi ads trumpet  11 Oscar nominations, after first positioning as a self-proclaimed "event" film.

announced. Such preplanning is par for the course in a market where Academy Awards are the biggest name in town.
            “Columbia has held back Gandhi’s distribution so that it would peak at Oscar time, rather than before, as sll the others which have already made their money,” noted movie marketing consultant Charles Powell.
            Gandhi, with $14.5 million in box office sales, is well behind other Best Picture nominees such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which is already the all-time box office champ returning $200 million to Universal in film rentals already (AA, Jan. 24). The other three Best Picture nominees are Universal’s Missing, Columbia’s Tootsie and 20th Century-Fox Pictures The Verdict.
            Gandhi premiered in December, using what is known as a platform release, opening in a few theaters but broadening distribution in pre-planned increments. Last year’s Best Picture winner, Warner Bros. Pictures’ Chariots of Fire, following a similar plan, was in position to collect an additional $6 million to $7 million in film rentals (the portion returned to the studio, usually half the gross), noted Alan Ladd Jr., whose company held U.S. distribution rights.
            Tootsie received 10 nominations, and E.T. collected nine nominations. Other leaders were MGM/UA’s Victor/Victoria (7), Columbia’s Das Boot (6), Paramount Pictures An Officer and a Gentleman (6), Universal’s Sophie’s Choice (5) and 20th Century Fox’s The Verdict (5).
            While a Best Picture Oscar will nearly always translate into sharply increased box office receipts, other Oscars usually do not. Universal Pictures’ platform release of Francis, though passed over for Best Picture, is designed to capitalize at the box office on the Best Actress nomination and “acclaim that Jessica Lange is getting,” said Gordon Armstrong, VP-advertising, publicity & promotion.
            Both Francis and Gandhi relied on platform releases, opening in just a few theaters in December to qualify for Oscar consideration, hoping to build form anticipated critical kudos and word-of-mouth from audiences.
            Ad campaigns in Hollywood trade newspapers, a screenings and other promotions are mounted by studios for their Oscar contenders, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars a film. As a counterpoint, studios also mount ad campaigns for surefire noncontenders to stroke egos of stars and other creative talent in front of the entire industry. Unlikely candidates getting the Oscar consideration ads included Honkytonk Man, The Tempest, Night Shift and That Championship Season.
            POSTSCRIPT –  Gandhi made an impressive Oscar sweep winning eight Oscars (out of 11 nominations) including Best Picture. However, Meryl Streep won Best Actress for Sophie’s Choice, beating Jessica Lange in Francis.