Brüno and the Twitter effect
Bad word-of-mouth spread by the micro-blogging site would explain the fall-off in enthusiasm for Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film
Is Brüno, the new Sacha Baron Cohen comedy, a victim of Twitter? It looks like it. The film went straight to the top of the US and UK box office charts on its first weekend, so there's no doubting the success of the hype surrounding the film. But industry watchers have been puzzling over a bizarre phenomenon in the States – and may now have the answer.
On Friday night, its first night in cinemas, the film did brilliantly, taking $14.4m at the US box office. Traditionally Saturdays are even bigger so there were high hopes for the second night. But Brüno lost momentum and took only $8.8m on the Saturday. As a result, financial forecasts had to be radically re-estimated downwards.
What happened? Could negative word-of-mouth about Baron Cohen's gay Austrian fashion reporter really be that effective that quickly? The answer is yes – in the age of Twitter.
Just before Brüno opened last week, the entertainment business website The Wrap reported that the major studios were noticing a word-of-mouth phenomenon occurring that they have labeled the 'Twitter effect'. Filmgoers are passing on their reactions about the films they have just watched the minute they leave cinemas, giving an instantaneous, real-time 'review'.
The effect can be positive as well as negative. Disney first noticed it in early June when the animation adventure Up suddenly spiked among adults without children. Disney had not expected the film to attract that demographic, yet by the Saturday of the opening weekend it became apparent that those exact people were driving the film to an above-par $68m domestic take for the three-day period.
These viewers were being driven by what has been termed "marketing velocity", the exponential effect in either direction that immediate reactions are having on the film. Peter Adee, president of worldwide marketing at Overture, said: "Someone may have 1,000 friends, and say, 'I saw the movie - don't bother,' or 'I saw the movie - it's great'. The potential is there."
While Disney enjoyed an unexpected upturn with Up, the negative effect can be equally devastating. "If you’re tweeting and people are catching that live and they’re out at drinks and were planning on seeing the movie tomorrow - that hurts," marketing consultant Gordon Paddison told The Wrap.
Paddison made that comment before Brüno opened on Friday and before the Saturday drop-off phenomenon was spotted. The box office fall-off is so serious that Brüno is now expected not to perform nearly as well as Baron Cohen's first comic spoof documentary, Borat.
That film took more in its second week than its first – but then Borat was released in 2006 BT (Before Twitter). And maybe the word of mouth has it right – that Borat was a better film.
The threat to the studios is huge: carefully constructed multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns, which used to take a new release through the opening weekend, can now be rendered invalid by a bunch of tweeters spreading bad word-of-mouth on a Friday night on the east coast.
Twitter may not be a huge hit among teenagers – as we reported on The First Post yesterday – but in the hands of young adults it’s becoming a potentially devastating power. ·
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