Distribs o'seas tweak campaigns

SYDNEY — While the U.S. majors frequently tweak domestic marketing campaigns when they release films overseas, rarely has that tactic paid off so handsomely as this year.

Rejigged campaigns for “Minority Report,” “40 Days & 40 Nights,” “The Sweetest Thing” and “About a Boy” have helped to catapult all four to greater heights abroad than at home.

Three of those titles neatly encapsulate the factors that trigger the decision to revamp campaigns: Changing the domestic “sell” to reach a broader audience (“Minority Report”); films being handled by a different distrib offshore (“40 Days”); and repositioning a pic after it under-performs in the U.S. (“Sweetest Thing”).

While most Hollywood pix are expected to post bigger grosses overseas these days, given the continued exhibition growth of many key markets, retooling campaigns can be critical in enabling some films to maximize their international potential.

Take Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi thriller, which is tracking strongly enough abroad to hit $250 million, which would more than double its U.S. result.

Fox Intl. theatrical president Scott Neeson credits “Minority’s” stellar perf to the globetrotting promo efforts of Spielberg and topliner Tom Cruise and to the new TV campaign crafted for Europe — as well as the pic’s inherent strengths, obviously.

“We were always going to change the U.S. campaign for Europe, which is more of a director-driven market,” he says. We got a lot of help and ideas from Spielberg. We cut new TV spots which tested through the roof. We wanted to make the film look more entertaining, not too dark or bleak, and not like school homework.”

Capitalizing on the director’s cachet, the TV spots began with the line, “From the imagination of Steven Spielberg….” and they accented Cruise as well as futuristic elements like the freeways. For the pic’s Dec. 7 release in Japan, Fox is prepping a new print and TV campaign, built around the Cruise/Spielberg combo, the pic’s gadgets and the futuristic theme. Neeson is confident it’ll gross $70 million in Japan, which was the strongest market for the helmer’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.”

Romantic comedy “40 Days & 40 Nights,” which did modest biz Stateside for Miramax, benefited from an entirely new campaign overseas. “We used a different poster, trailer and TV spots,” says David Livingstone, president of international marketing at Universal Pictures, who masterminds the marketing for Working Title’s films, including “40 Days.”

“This was developed simultaneously to the U.S. campaign. Our theory was that we needed to choose between teen comedy and teen romance. We went for teen comedy. To bridge between the two areas that the film covers so well, there was a danger of sending a confused message to the public that could put off the young males interested in the broader comedy, and the young females interested in the romance.

“We also did not adhere to the traditional wisdom of being as close to the U.S. date as possible, but went instead for least competitive dates. This rolled out over a six-month period.”

Likewise, Livingstone and his team devised a new campaign for the Hugh Grant starrer “About a Boy,” which U had domestically.

For “Boy,” Livingstone created new TV spots, print ads and trailer to make it more comedic and less touching or emotional than the U.S. campaign. “We did not want to make it appear a ‘worthy’ film,” he says.

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For “The Sweetest Thing,” Columbia TriStar Film Distributors Intl. not only reworked the campaign, but a song-and-dance sequence known colloquially as the “penis song” (which didn’t make the U.S. cut) was added in about 50% of overseas markets.

The ribald ditty features the three femme leads poking fun at the size of the male member, joined by other patrons at an eatery, and climaxes with the line, “You’re too big to fit in here.”

“The decision as to which version to use overseas was made collectively between our local offices and management here in L.A., and of course local censorship was a major consideration,” says Nigel Clark, senior exec VP for international marketing. Cast members were not available to travel and the domestic release generated “modest heat,” as Clark diplomatically put it, so the ad campaign was critical.

“We took the opportunity to work with the less stringent advertising regulations that apply in many territories, which enabled us to highlight the gross-out comedy and outrageously sexy antics as key elements in the film,” he says.

“We reworked all of our audio-visual material to include footage that was more sexy, more irreverent, and more outrageously funny. We had always intended to push the envelope a little more in terms of the sexual content in our A/V materials. It was more challenging to ramp-up the sexual comedy in the international one-sheet, so we decided to look for an image that portrayed the fact that these girls are fun, they’re sexy, and they’re empowered. We were confident that females would form our core audience and they would attend with their girl friends — but with the look we selected, we were pretty certain that guys wouldn’t mind being dragged along as well!”

The Cameron Diaz/Christina Applegate/Selma Blair starrer is yet to open in Italy and Japan, and Sony expects it will finish up earning well north of $40 million abroad.

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