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June 19, 2007
A Barrage of Convenience: Hollywood’s Non-Punk Sensibility

Titles are among the biggest problems in marketing today.

People don’t think before they name something. Monikers are all too cute. Why is Chase calling its new youth credit card “Plus One,” for instance? Why does Gloria Steinem call the women-geared radio conglomerate Greenstone Media? Why is there such a need to be techno-cute? Check the paper this week for the latest uh cool name for a service, be it Twitter or Thoof!! (yes) or Topix or Tampax…err, not that.

Why make people think so much? Am I asking too many questions?

The modern movie is perfect as a marketing allegory.

And I think service types can learn from it—as we spend so much time “naming” things.

For the last few years, everyone’s been complaining that numbers are down on screens, and LA marketers are all panicked. It’s true. Not because we would rather stay home and make our own popcorn and watch Kate Hudson on pay-per-view. We still wish to be around folks during Great Escape From Reality. So stop telling us it’s that slim window between movie release and home video, or we are desperately seeking something to make us rise up and run to the cinema.

The butts-in-seats rarity is because titles suck.

They’re all the same boring, easily forgettable screen toppers that under no circumstances leave an impression. And originality makes the buyer want… The funniest part is that movies from Hollywood are our greatest export, so you’d think being unique instead of rehashing something “that sounds like X” would be the way to make it in film.

How many movies are going to have "Dance" in the name? How many will use the titles of a movie from yesterday but not be a remake? How many are going to be called Don’t Go in the House or He Knows You’re Not Alone? How many are Last Summer? How many will be called The Guardian, for heaven’s sake?

They’re all the boring, easy-to-forget screen toppers or sounds-cute names like Date Movie (TV titles are worse: Damages? Vanished? Kidnapped? Conviction?) that under no circumstances leave an impression. Movies from Hollywood are the American export, so you’d think going for unique instead of a rehash of “kind of like X” would be the way to success.

This is a cliché to say; a movie is not about quality but about a large corporation masquerading as an artist who needs to be raking it in before the crowds realize they are seeing poop. That weekend a CNBC analyst spent airtime explaining that Pixar-Disney’s Cars had to make $70 million in its first weekend, or it’s a bust. Then find out it made $62.8. Disney was freaked?

Yet Cars is a marketer’s dry dream, since it’s about toy cars at a NASCAR rally fighting for a win. It has Americana pouring from pores even if stale and badly-written. According to IMBD.org, there are 47 other movies of late with "cars" in the titles. Even with State Farm and Chrysler in on the maximum sponsorship act, you were hard-pressed to hear folks run around shouting “Oh Cars is the movie I got to see—the new one, right?” Makes you long for the days of Forrest Gump, which though sappy and manipulative, had a title you would not forget, one where you said to anyone within hear-shot: "What’s that one about? "

Consumers want to be goosed a little, to walk up to the multiplex window and think “Wow, What the Bleep Do We Know is a fascinating one. It's just got to be.”

The laziness of La-La-Land is an example we should take to heart. Remember, the film industry is a place that recycles best. For those trying to gain attention: go with the most original and even nuttiest title! Don’t choose something because you think it may make the buyer feel, "Yeah that’s what I was thinking."

Our clients are pleased with themselves already. They don’t need your reassurance.

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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