Fragmented Marketing: Making Owls Appealing

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Let me start by saying I loved Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and highly recommend it for kids and adults. It might be a bit intense for younger kids, but my 7- and 9-year-old loved it, and Zack Snyder takes the story seriously, so there’s enough depth for adults understandably leery of the glut of simple-minded 3D animated movies.

While it was unexpectedly engaging and entertaining, I’ve been especially surprised that it’s still lingering in the back of my mind days later.

The first time we saw a preview for Legends, we were impressed by the 3D — an increasingly rare feat these days — but none of us had much interest in seeing the movie and we’d never heard of the series of books. A couple of weeks later, while browsing our local B&N, I noticed the books and pointed them out to my kids (7 and 9) but they weren’t the least bit intrigued. The covers look old-fashioned compared to the movie preview, as if they were classics from the 60s instead of the 21st Century, and they’re about owls and owls are, well, kind of creepy.

Owls aren’t like cats or dogs or penguins, all of which are cute and lend themselves to anthromorphologization. (Is that a word?) They’re creepier than rats, which are just plain nasty, but Pixar did a good job of making them appealing in Ratatouille, so Warner Brothers didn’t have an impossible task ahead of it, but a tough one nonetheless.

First, the WB is no Pixar when it comes to animation, as the ridiculously lame and discordant Coyote Falls short that preceded our showing of Legends proves, and promoting it in connection to Happy Feet, as at least one commercial did, sends the wrong message, too, because those two movies have very little in common.

Second, while Zack Snyder’s imprint is heavy on the film and it being his first animated movie is certainly noteworthy, “From the Director of 300 and Watchmen” isn’t an ideal tagline for a PG-rated movie aimed at kids.

So what to do?

“Good transmedia production contributes to the long-term health of the intellectual property.”

Jeff Gomez, CEO, Starlight Runner Entertainment

Legend of the Guardians is a perfect example of what transmedia IS NOT, and how the lack of an organic transmedia development process can hinder the evolution/extension of a story into other mediums.

Its disappointing opening weekend box office ($16.1m) suggests its marketing failed to connect with its target audience, partly because its target audience was so ill-defined.

The film’s based on Kathryn Lasky’s novels, and while she’s enthusiastic about it, she didn’t have an active role in its production as far as I can tell. Warner Brothers has all of the usual marketing initiatives — commercials, interactive website, Facebook page, iPad app — and there’s even the requisite cross-platform video game that’s gotten solid reviews, and Lasky’s publisher, Scholastic, has put together a smart micro-site connecting the books to the movie… and yet, there’s no cohesive feel to any of it.

It’s all primarily marketing collateral for the two core products — the books and the movies — without offering alternate points of engagement to delve deeper into the world of Ga’Hoole. Scholastic’s decision to not repackage the books for a better connection to the movie makes them feel disconnected, not unlike how most superhero comic book-based movies are often disconnected from their source material and don’t lead to any discernible bump in sales.

(Watchmen and Kick-Ass are notable exceptions because they were straight adaptations and the source material was self-contained.)

If positive word-of-mouth doesn’t lead to a strong second weekend (and judging by its 51% rating at RottenTomatoes, that seems unlikely), we probably won’t be hearing from Soren and company again. That would be a shame.

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3 thoughts on “Fragmented Marketing: Making Owls Appealing

  1. Thank you for writing this. I’ve not seen the film, but I’ve watched the trailer several times and seen a lot of print/billboard advertising. It’s intriguing to me. On one hand, it’s absolutely gorgeous as far as films go, and I love that it’s a serious, almost epic CGI film. We haven’t seen many entirely serious films in that vein.

    On the other hand, the impression that I got from the trailer was that it was a fairly typical monomyth story – an animated retread of any number of other stories. I also have some problems with the premise of owls as characters – are they sufficiently interesting and relatable for such a film? I can’t help but think that the universe is somewhat restricted by the inherent physical limitations on the characters. I actually asked Jeff Gomez about it, and he also expressed some concerns about the very generic title (which I understand stemmed from focus groups where people couldn’t pronounce the book’s title).

    Obviously I’m not the target demo for this film, but I’d much rather take my kid to see this than something like Happy Feet. I just wish the film’s marketing had shown something to suggest what the film’s story universe was like, in addition to the pretty visuals. This could well go down as a lost opportunity, and it’s unfortunate because it may discourage other studios to create serious, mythology-based CGI films – or anything challenging. As much as I adore Pixar, we haven’t seen something that comes close to what Miyazaki does in 2D in terms of complexity.

    1. The early trailers were as generic as the title, and didn’t move us much. Owls as leads was definitely a hurdle, too, but it’s a visually stunning film, and arguably the best use of 3D to add texture as I’ve seen from any movie. I’m surprised they didn’t use footage of some of the battle scenes or play up the anachronistic soundtrack more in the previews to give a better feel for it.

      Honestly, I’m still not sure who the target demo was. It was marketed like a typical kids film with a built-in audience, and with 16 books in the series, perhaps that audience exists, but $16m on opening weekend suggests they missed the mark.

  2. Stunningly beautiful film, in my lil ol opinion.
    Of course, I am a Zach Snyder fan.
    I agree that the P&A was underwhelming.

    It’s not too late to now do the books as enhanced eBooks with footage from the film…. idea WB/Scholastic?


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