June 1 2011 12:00 AM

The art of maintaining a little mystery in marketing


We live in an era when too many movie
trailers and commercials give away far too much — including all the best
jokes, all the biggest shocks and sometimes even the ending of the
film. If you talk to marketing people, they’ll tell you this is what
audiences demand: Everyone supposedly wants to know exactly what is
coming before buying a ticket.

Many of the moviegoers I’ve heard from
have not agreed. In fact, I have even encountered people who are so
tired of tell-all trailers that they will patiently wait outside the
theater until it’s time for the feature to start.

"The coming attractions used to be one of the best parts
of going to the movies," a friend recently told me. "Nowadays, most of
them do a great job of killing any possible interest you might have in
seeing the stupid movie. They show absolutely everything."  

There are a few exceptions to the rule.

Take, for instance, the trailers for director J.J. Abrams’
"Super 8," which opens June 10. Abrams produced the successful 2008
disaster movie "Cloverfield," which was sold on the strength of clips
and commercials that only gave the vaguest hints of what the movie was
like. You could tell something terrifying was going on in New York, but
the actual menace itself remained shrouded in mystery. 

The same is true of the "Super 8" teasers. We learn that a
train wreck plays a crucial role and that the notorious Area 51 (the
supposed site of extraterrestrial contact) and a few teenagers are
somehow involved. But that’s about it.

The strategy seems to be working: "Super 8" is building up some of the strongest buzz of any of the summer releases.

But what happens when an intriguing ad campaign turns out
to be a cover up for something completely ridiculous? You might get
something like the promotional push for "Night of the Lepus," the
infamous science-fiction schlock-shocker that’s being shown at 3:45 a.m.
Saturday on Turner Classic Movies. It’s been a staple of bad movie  marathons
practically since the day it opened in 1972 — and clips from it even
found their way into the cult classics "The Matrix" and "Natural Born

"Lepus" was a late addition to the
oversize-creatures-on-the-rampage genre that had started in the 1950s
with films such as "Them!" (featuring giant ants on the march) and "It
Came From Beneath the Sea" (in which an overgrown octopus puts the
squeeze on San Francisco). For those who haven’t kept up on their Latin,
the villains in "Lepus" are great big bunnies that are hopping all over

But naturally the marketing people at MGM
didn’t roll out pictures of terrified people trying to avoid rampaging
rabbits: They used silhouettes of gaping jaws and images of eerie eyes
in the night to suggest this was going to a total terror trip from
beginning to end. Instead, as you might suspect, it’s an unintentional
howl, as stony-faced doctors Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh fight off  the hippity-hopping horrors.

If you read deep into the credits on the
posters, you’ll learn the movie is based on a novel by Russell Braddon
called "The Year of the Angry Rabbit." So MGM can’t exactly be accused
of false advertising — it’s just a textbook case of misleading marketing
that fooled the unwary into seeing one of the silliest chillers ever
cranked out.