Before an organization releases a product, it needs to know its audience, how to reach them and potential concerns they may have. But what happens when a tragedy makes an organization, through no fault of its own, appear insensitive, out of touch or worse – as if they are exploiting the situation?
As noted in various articles, including one from The New York Times, Fox has been in scramble mode with the marketing of their film “Neighborhood Watch,” scheduled to be released July 27th. While the film is a comedy about a group of neighborhood watchmen who save the world from space aliens, the name of the film and its trailer are, unfortunately, a bit too identifiable with the Trayvon Martin tragedy.
This isn’t the first time a studio has had a film impacted by a tragedy. In the wake of 9/11 Sony Pictures had to change marketing materials for “Spider-Man 2” and Warner Bros. had to push the opening date of “Collateral Damage.”
Fox is in a unique position to get a better feel of how this film is tracking with the public through its social media, including the film’s Facebook page, the various postings of the trailer on YouTube and IMDB.com. Studio executives can judge the current environment to predict possible issues that may arise around the release of the film and make adjustments, if needed.
Simply reading a few of the over 700 comments on the most-viewed YouTube trailer one can see a variety of responses that hit on the polarizing topic of Trayvon’s tragic death.
The uncertainty of the timeline of George Zimmerman’s trial adds to Fox’s dilemma.
Fox clearly has recognized the sensitivity surrounding the issue. To their credit, the people at Fox have pulled the trailer and posters from theaters. The film also is not mentioned in the “coming soon” section of www.foxmovies.com. What happens next is still to be decided, and any option could cost Fox millions at the box office.
Opening the film as scheduled, in the face of controversy – particularly if the Zimmerman trial stretches into July – could cause a publicity nightmare.
Changing the opening date seems to be the most prudent option, even if it costs the studio millions in potential ticket sales. Fox cannot simply ignore the environment surrounding the film. Ultimately, the long-term rewards of showing sensitivity to the issue could be more beneficial for Fox and its stakeholders – cast and crew of the film included – than any short-term financial gains.