'G.I. Joe' Shoots At Military, Heartland

By Robert Marich
  Aug. 4, 2009 – Paramount Pictures is extensively courting two shoo-in audience segments for its Friday premiere of G. I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra by saturating the military personnel and America's heartland, while avoiding some other obvious groups.
  “Critics are likely to roast the film, and fanboys of the original toy line and comic book may be indifferent,” says an article in the Los Angeles Times. “But if you’re a flag-waving, Nascar-loving American, (it’ll be) practically your patriotic duty to see this movie.”
   Nearly 1,000 service members and their families got an advance preview screening at Andrew Air Force Base in Maryland that was attended by three of the film’s stars.  Paramount bought a Super Bowl commercial -- the list price is $3 million -- to present G.I. Joe to a gigantic male, mainstream audience months ago.
   But wait a minute. Aren’t military and heartland audiences pre-disposed already, so why not target secondary audiences? After all, this major summer film – with an estimated $175 million production budget -- needs to play broadly to be profitable.
   As text in Marketing to Moviegoers: Second Edition states, “The risk in not making a strong pitch to the prime audience is that this audience won’t show up in force on opening day. Making advertising overly broad can result in no audience segment being influenced.”
    With that principle in mind, Paramount has done the following, says the article by Claudia Eller and Ben Fritz: “G.I. Joe is embedded in the Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd concert tour, advertised at the Country Music Television Awards and excerpted on giant video screens at Minnesota’s Mall of America. It is bombarding Kansas City, Charlotte, Columbus and Grand Rapids on new digital billboards.”
   The LA Times article continues: “Paramount bought ads in newspapers distributed on more than 60 military bases, for instance, and ran a ‘hometown hero’ contest in which entrants wrote essays about a local hero they wanted to celebrate with a screening of the movie. The winner was a 7-year-old from San Diego whose father served with the Navy in Iraq….One week before its release, virtually no journalists had seen G.I. Joe except for Harry Knowles, owner of influential fanboy website Aint-It-Cool-News, who gave the movie an early thumbs up.”
   Though not referenced in the article, a film favorable the U.S. military can be a tough sell because our armed forces are loathed by a large segment of the domestic and international audiences (for example, U.S. Senators John Kerry and Dick Durbin, and Congressman John Murtha have publicly accused U.S. forces of various crimes against humanity). Probably to downplay the U.S. military angle in overseas release, Paramount is highlighting action scenes of global landmarks like the Eiffel Tower being smashed in special effects scenes.
   The Paramount marketing plan may be working, as the LA Times article suggest that pre-release tracking surveys predict at minimum a $50 million domestic opening weekend—which is very good for a late-summer August premiere that is past the late May/June peak.
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