Marketing Nostalgia

by Geoff Hall on March 11, 2011

Marketing Nostalgia, or a cursory comment on my latest film-watching experience.

A few days ago I went with a friend to see the latest Matt Damon movie, ‘The Adjustment Bureau’, co-starring the lovely Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Young Victoria). We had tasted a little of the marketing of this film, mostly focused on ‘Bourne Identity meets Inception’. So, I’m sitting there wondering when the big action scene will be and whether reality will come folding in on itself in some big special effects scene. You get the picture.

After the film had ended, we both said, ‘Well that was different, not what I expected.’ Why? Because the hype had led us to believe one thing and we experienced another. You may say, well the marketing worked, it got you to see the film. True, however, if this sense of disappointment gets around, then the film will have a short shelf-life. Marketing can’t just be about the first hit, but about gathering momentum to make the film a real box-office blockbuster. Ever heard of seeing a film more than once?

Of course this is a film based on the Philip K Dick story (Adjustment Bureau) and I got to thinking that maybe the marketing ought to have spoken of ‘Blade Runner meets Minority Report’, or if they’d included Emily Blunt’s career, then maybe ‘Total Recall meets Young Victoria’! They could’ve you know, because what they all have in common is the unnerving inaccuracy of the film’s marketing strap-line!

Marketing is about audience appeal. If you’ve seen the Bourne Identity,then maybe you’ll like this! However, art is about the future. If art focuses on the past it falls into the area of nostalgia. Marketers seems unable to point to the future, a future we’d experienced with The Adjustment Bureau, where the action isn’t about some amazing piece of technology that can help you gain access to people’s dreams, or about talking the I out of CIA with the Bourne Movies. The Adjustment Bureau ‘technology’ relies on wearing a certain kind of hat and turning the doorknob in a clockwise direction.  In my thinking this is incredibly low-tech, right? Perhaps the marketers responsible for this film had missed this facet of the movie? 

Philip K Dick is renowned for his takes on reality and consciousness; how we experience life. His books are not about nostalgia. I know why marketing works this way, but I think in this case and there must be more, it misses the point. It looks to the past instead of thinking about the new audiences it could open up.

What if you are into Indie films which question the nature of reality? What if you are looking for something new, or a different way of storytelling, something that points to the future without being tortured by doom-laden nihilism, or sugared by schmaltzy triumphalism?

To the marketers I say, “Ahem”, there are enough of us out there who are searching for something different from film and this could have been it, but you were pointing in the wrong direction!

To Matt Damon and Emily Blunt I say well done, for a beautifully quirky, poignant and engaging film. To Matt Damon I say, please have a word with your retro-marketing department, they will hurt your future endeavours.

As for the aesthetics and the cinematography of the film, well that is another subject.

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