PR Perspective: Gauging the success of the awards campaign for Shame

Posted on November 29, 2011


Sex sells.  Three-ways and graphic sex should too as Fox Searchlight begins the campaign for Shame opening in limited release this Friday. The powerhouse of an indie distributor and marketer, Searchlight will be juggling three prominent awards campaigns this season for three very different movies but will be focusing on one.

Shame, the controversial NC-17 feature directed by British auteur Steve McQueen follows Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a struggling sex addict dealing with his carnal tastes in the city that never sleeps. The film made “waves” at the Venice and Telluride film festivals this year. Viewers were shaken and not left knowing what to say after witnessing the film’s brutal depiction of sex addiction as illustrated by Fassbender.

Although Fassbender received the Volpi Cup award for best actor at Venice and continued to receive numerous accolades, many studios were hesitant to acquire this salacious film.

That’s when Fox Searchlight decided to step in.

The studio has been extremely well-known for selling innovative Indies to a mass audience as can be seen with last year’s campaigns for Black Swan and 127 Hours. Both films were treated as independents but were able to accrue multiple nominations and win awards all thanks to the fantastic creative minds at Fox Searchlight.

So searchlight has shown it can handle two campaigns but can history repeat itself this year? And can the studio reach its intended awards goals for each film? Analyzing this from a PR perspective can help.

First, many predicted the film would garner an NC-17 rating due to its visceral portrayal of sex. The rating, usually considered a kiss of death, did not perturb the studio and they let the MPAA impose it on the film. This will prove to be the first big hindrance in the awards campaign for Shame. NC-17 stands for no children under 17 allowed and is not usually given to many films. This rating will severely limit the amount of theaters this movie will play in.

When it comes to the awards season, audience consensus usually matters. It’ll be hard for Shame to gain a good word-of-mouth following if it is only playing in select theaters. Word would need to spread to help bolster the chances of this film especially in areas that are not located near any major cities like New York or Philadelphia.

Although, a good counterpoint for this would be that searchlight team should strategically place the film in theaters near big cities so that buzz can build for audiences on what they will be in for when viewing Fassbenders searing performance.

Also, the October 20th piece in The Hollywood reporter by Pamela McClintock (seen here) discusses President Nancy Utley’s strategy in promoting the film. The marketing team would buy ad time for R-Rated trailers of the movie to show up on TV later in the night and have the trailer premiere before certain films. This is a good tactic to get buzz going but again they need to be more strategic about where they place these ads and the type of ads they should put out.

Personally, a week before the release and I have not seen many TV spots or even trailers. Their poster depicting ruffled bed sheets should be premiering in more newspapers and even some billboards. Shame is a controversial picture but its poster is not. It could appear more frequently and would not generate any negative controversy.

They should really amp up any television ads and banner ads. Now is the time to be placing things to garner more interest. Searchlight has created an interactive blog on their website (seen here) but all it does is reiterate the best quotes Shame received at the festivals. There is no added value that makes it more worthwhile. Searchlight cannot get more people in the theater if they don’t push the marketing and they should not be afraid of pushing buttons. The most memorable campaigns are usually the most controversial.

My final recommendation is that if Fox Searchlight wants to achieve all their goals for the awards season and get people in the seats, they should be generating more suspense about the movie. The marketing team should develop an air of mystery around Shame and get more people interested in seeing what happens. I’m not saying create a “Clover-field” type of mystery but use any negative reviews to entice people to see what it is about. Create some controversy. My final conclusion (and I know some critics will hate me for this) but I don’t think Shame will achieve the same level of recognition Searchlight’s previous films have. Their campaign is too haggard and it will take some considerable man-power to spin these weaknesses into strengths. I do feel though the movie has guaranteed potential to alter the perception of NC-17. These are just assumptions but only time will tell if this movie succeeds. This is just another reason why I love this time of year.

Posted in: PR Perspective