The marketing campaign was extraordinary, even by Hollywood standards. It included:
- Ron Burgundy, the lead “Anchorman” character played by Will Ferrell, doing humorous ads for Dodge Durango which were viewed on TV and YouTube
- Burgundy appearing, in character, on “Conan”
- A Ron Burgundy memoir
- Social media marketing including Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc.
- Emerson College in Boston renaming its School of Communications for a day
- The Ron Burgundy character sitting in to anchor the local news in North Dakota and interviewing Peyton Manning for ESPN
- A Ben & Jerry’s flavor ice cream and a Ron Burgundy scotch
And much, much more.
And much of this was original content, not just quotes or clips from the movie. Some people commented that they felt they had already seen the movie before it opened.
Maybe too many felt that way. The campaign didn’t work.
The biggest measure of a movie’s marketing is its opening weekend. “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”, which opened in July, 2004, had an opening U.S. weekend of $28.4 million. But the “Anchorman 2” U.S. opening weekend in December dropped to just $26.8 million (and this decline despite ticket prices being more than 25% higher now than in 2004).
Typically the first week of a movie is its biggest and revenue declines from there. The rate of decline usually reflects the word of mouth for the film more than the reviews or its marketing. The word of mouth on this film was so-so; on Rotten Tomatoes the first “Anchorman” has 87% audience approval, but “Anchorman 2” is only 64%. The second weekend “Anchorman 2” box office was down to $20.2 million, about a 25% decline. That’s average, although some films do far better: “Frozen”, which has an audience approval rate of 90%, actually recently increased its box office by 46% in its sixth weekend (over Christmas) despite playing in fewer theaters. “Anchorman 2″ is not headed to comedy heaven like “Home Alone” or “Tootsie”.
Certainly the marketing created awareness for the movie, but that’s not the ultimate goal of marketing. The purpose of the marketing is to increase preference – in a December movie field crowded with an unusually high number of seemingly high quality releases or holdovers including “The Hobbit”, “American Hustle”, “Wolf of Wall Street”, “Saving Mr. Banks”, etc. – to the point where people will put down their money to go to this movie. That didn’t happen.
It’s very likely that this failure is the result of a problem that few marketers have to worry about: too much marketing. Even before the movie opened people were talking about “Ron Burgundy fatigue”, and marketers were debating if the campaign was brilliant or excessive. The movie, and character, were over-saturated.
This may also simply prove that Will Ferrell and/or Ron Burgundy have a defined audience. People know about them and have made up their minds, and once people know that a new movie is about to be released no amount of marketing is going to increase the size of that audience.
“Anchorman 2” has performed much better overseas than its predecessor. While the domestic box office total increase is less than you’d expect just from ticket price inflation, overseas sales have increased from $5 million to over $25 million. The studio may, but I don’t, have the data to know how much of that is due to interest in the character having grown via home DVD and streaming viewings over the past 9 years and how much is from the marketing they did over the past couple months overseas. Some of their marketing, such as social media, is inherently global.
So the movie itself isn’t a commercial failure. It’s getting decent box office receipts and will turn a nice profit for all concerned. The first “Anchorman” wasn’t a huge hit, either, as Will Ferrell recently acknowledged, “What’s so funny about the original movie was that it literally, it had a modest opening, it was a modest hit, but it just kept growing in popularity through DVDs and cable to the point where we just couldn’t ignore the fans. And we thought, ‘Why should we? This would be fun.’”
But there’s no evidence that the huge marketing campaign really moved the needle for the recent movie. And maybe we should be glad for that failure, because do you really want this type of carpet bombing campaign for future movies?
And the campaign wasn’t a total failure. Dodge reported a significant bump in sales, website visits, and other behaviors that it attributed to the Ron Burgundy ads. And Will Ferrell and team were paid to do the ads, so that’s all gravy for them. Maybe we’ll see Bilbo Baggins ads for Smart cars before the next “Hobbit” movie is released.