Some time back in the early 1990s I recall seeing posters all over the GTA (folks, that’s Greater Toronto Area, not Grand Theft Auto) of the image to the left. They stayed up around town for quite some time with no title or explanation whatsoever. It was probably then that I became aware of the ‘teaser campaign’ style promotions for movies (recent interesting examples being Cloverfield and Aqua Teen Hunger Force). It seems a strange idea to spend a lot of marketing dollars on something that doesn’t really have your brand on it. (Viral marketing on the internet is a different matter…it is dirt cheap, so why not). I admire the creativity involved in these projects, and I supposed it is an act of extreme confidence to obscure the nature of your product during the process of advertising it. But is it bottom line effective? As advertising, is that the goal?
I recall reading a theory on the failure of Wolfgang Peterson’s pseudo-star-studded blockbuster Poseidon being mainly due to the fact that the title was upside down on the poster. While I think there were loads of issues that sunk that film (har-har-har), the poster may not have helped; even as it was nominated for several awards (IMP, KeyArt, etc.) for its own creativity.
Magazine covers have been having their own namesake for many years, usually in the form of the top of a models head. I particularly like the design of the Sundance winning comedy The Promotion for doing it in such a clever way. You can certainly read the title, but at the same time it slyly points out that these two gentlemens unhealthy competition is more interesting than the MacGuffin of the actual job at the end of the day. Hmmm, while the point of the movie intrinsically woven into the one sheet is very sharp, will the obscuring of the title cause folks to forget about the relatively low-profile film and let it fall through the cracks?
And then, amusingly, there is the blockbuster remake of Get Smart which has a number of popular performers in it. Many (lesser) posters feature one-sheets with the lead actors floating heads dominating the space with the idea that movie stars sell motion pictures and plant butts in seats. I love how (in the spirit of the original TV show) the image of the lead (Steve Carrell) is mostly obscured by a mundane object (which was the case in the first one sheet (below right)). In this amusing image (below left) taken from a Brazil poster it is the entire cast! Goofy. Yes. Overkill. Guilty as charged. It works though. I am not particularly itching to see the movie, but the clever poster design almost beckons me. On the other hand, beyond the joke, is blocking your main assets (unless you happen to be over 35 and understood the concept of the show) a good idea in the theatre lobby? I guess the kids can still recognize The Rock, and your nostalgia audience hook, Oscar winner Alan Arkin, is not necessary to be recognized.
And, while you have already paid for the movie, and know what you are getting and it was a sequel to one of the most successful films at the time, I still have to hand it to Steven Spielberg and Co. for having Kate Capshaw (object of many Indy fans ire for her shrieking, but nevertheless more fully conforms to the 1940s serial woman in peril than any of the other Jones Women, but I digress…) blot out the big title of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
So, in the end, I really do not have a point, other than I like the brazen aesthetics of obscuring the selling point of your movie in the actual promotional materials. Like breaking the fourth wall, if few others are using the technique, it makes your product stand out, whilst simultaneously lurking in the shadows like Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola‘s Dracula.