Did The Marketing Save Monsters University?

MU website

Currently doing quite well at the box office is Pixar’s latest effort, Monsters University. It’s currently certified fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes (77%) and has been popular with audiences. However, thanks to an article by Steven Zeitchik over at the LA Times, I received a bit of a revelation: just how much of the film’s success was down to the marketing?

How So?

If you read Zeitchik’s article, you’ll see that he attempts to find out if there is a link between a Pixar film’s rating with the critics and its financial success. (He concludes that yes, there is a correlation based on the quality of the film.) However, what really interested me was how Monsters University has bucked the trend.

It is only the twelfth best-reviewed Pixar film but has had the second biggest opening weekend. Of course that means nada in terms of overall financial performance, but here’s what grabbed my attention and forms that basis for this post:

On one level, that spread is a testament to what Pixar has been able to do with this movie on the marketing end. Even though “Monsters University” isn’t as strong, the company was able to use clever promotional devices to bring us in. And why not?  There’s nothing wrong with a studio ginning up a broad crowd-pleaser the critics don’t especially like.

Yes, The Marketing Was The Key

Pixar (and by extension, Disney) really pulled out the stops when it came to the marketing for Monsters University. Oh sure, there were the usual teaser clips, the onesheet posters and the usual smug game of wink wink with news outlets, but it was what they did differently that seemed to seal the deal.

From the Movie Marketing Blog:

The site for Monsters University is, what else, but a website for Monsters University, a college exclusively for monsters. Fictional (or real, your choice) Arthur Clawson founded the University, located in Monstropolis, in 1313. Today, Monsters University continues a tradition of academic excellence and the relentless pursuit of monster potential.

On the site you can apply for admission to MU, which boasts the top-scaring program in the country. Once admitted, you will have access to the Monsters University scream energy, door technology and business programs.

But don’t worry; MU isn’t entirely about academics. At Monsters University, you will enjoy a well-rounded collegiate experience full of clubs like Monsters UN and activities like, “Making Beautiful MUsic together.” Here are some of the other MU events you can look forward to if accepted.

Yes, they set up a real, fully-fledged website and had a lot of fun with it. You could create your own MU college ID, you could buy merchandise and on April Fool’s Day, the website got ‘hacked’ by ‘students’ from rival Fear Tech.

In a way, Pixar added a lot of value to the MU experience that did a lot to engage fans and consumers alike. Suddenly, the actual film itself was taking a backseat to all the fun and games of the whole concept of Monsters University itself.

That said….consider the alternative:

Would Monsters University have been such a success without the clever marketing?

If Pixar had done the usual effort with the marketing; posters, giveaways, Happy Meals, website with interactive games, etc. Would Monsters Inc. be near as successful as it has been? Would critics have given it a closer inspection with the microscope?

If one is to consider Monsters Inc sans marketing campaign, what appears to be left is an average Pixar movie and a very average story to tell. In essence, the disconnect between this film and the original could not be greater.

Don’t believe me? Monsters Inc. is pretty much the exact opposite of Monster University. The former relied on a superior story and concept with a normal marketing campaign and did solid business. The latter on the other hand, has a tired story married to an innovative marketing campaign.

Which is better to have? Ideally of course, you want a clever film and a clever marketing campaign. Such gems are hard to come by though , but when all is said and done, the marketing campaign is quickly forgotten only to gradually turn in up car boot sales in the years to come. The film, on the other hand, lives forever, and can deliver a lot of value to a studio in the long term (just ask Disney).

It’s hard to deny that the innovative marketing campaign behind Monsters University was the engine of its success at the box office. Without it, it’s highly unlikely that the film would have pulled in quite as much as it did. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the film holds up as the years wear on.

My concern? That a clever marketing gimmick obfuscates the requirement to produce a superb film.