Saturday, February 6, 2010

Building a brand

Another Nicholas Sparks movie hits theaters today.

If you don't know who Nicholas Sparks is, you're obviously not a big fan of romance novels, God, and movie posters with two people holding each other lovingly.

Nicholas Sparks writes the kind of books you might attribute to someone like Danielle Steel. Well, that is, if you don't know much about Danielle Steel, which I didn't until I just looked her up. I guess her characters are more like soap opera characters, rich and frivolous. Sparks instead concentrates on a more wholesome brand of threatened love among mostly young people, and often in gorgeous settings. Beaches and other bodies of water seem to be a recurring theme. Oh, and did I mention God? Christianity creeps its way into most of his work, but, having seen only two of his films, I don't remember it hitting me over the head.

One big advantage Sparks has over someone like Steel -- his books actually get made into theatrical releases, rather than TV movies.

Dear John is the fifth movie -- from the fifth different director and fifth different screenwriter/screenwriting team -- made from a book written by Sparks. And those movies have had such a similar advertising campaign, one can only refer to it as brand building. Let's consider the other ones, in the order of their release:

Notice any similarities? It's almost a full circle thing with Message in a Bottle and Dear John, but the positions of the genders are reversed, it's a slightly different time of day, and it's a slightly different camera depth.

I've only seen A Walk to Remember and The Notebook, and I reviewed The Notebook. A Walk to Remember is terrible, and The Notebook is actually good. (That may be the difference between starring featherweight Shane West and Mandy Moore vs. starring heavy hitters Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams). My wife and I also like to joke about Nights in Rodanthe, specifically, the way the word "Rodanthe" sounds super harlequin to us.

The interesting thing about the Sparks brand is that it crosses several studios in addition to the different directors and writing teams. While Warner Brothers did release three of the movies (Message, Walk and Rodanthe), The Notebook is from New Line and Dear John is from Screen Gems.

What's interesting also to me is the modesty of these films' aspirations. They are almost intentionally niche, either intended as an alternative for teenage girls who consider Twilight too pagan for them, or in the case of Rodanthe and Message, for middle-aged women who love a good weepie. Yet somehow, they make remarkably consistent money, meaning almost 100% of the niche must patronize these films. Speaking in domestic totals only, Message in a Bottle made $52 million, A Walk to Remember made $41 million, Nights in Rodanthe also made $41 million, and The Notebook was (deservedly) the king with $81 million. Given the relatively small budgets for these films, that makes them all hits.

Don't be surprised if Dear John follows suit. In Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, they've got two young stars who are familiar enough to put asses in the seats, but still fresh enough faces that they don't demand huge salaries. Having Tatum's character back and forth from Iraq also gives the film a sense of immediacy that will please a second target audience -- the audience that thinks it's too intelligent for romance movies.

Stay tuned, because the sixth movie based on a Sparks novel -- The Last Song -- is due out in just two months. Care for a sneak peek at the poster?


Dawn Everett Grobe said...

I only saw "Message in a Bottle" and I refer to it as the saddest movie I have ever seen. I can't imagine wanting to see another one of his films. I have also never read any of his books.

On the other hand, I love Amanda Seyfried and every time I see the ads I think I want to see it. Now that I know it is a Nicholas Sparks, I may have to sit this one out. I am too sure I know the ending already.

Vancetastic said...

Well, Dawn, I do endorse The Notebook, even though it's got its sad parts for sure. And A Walk to Remember involves one of the two lovers dying of a disease, I believe. (Don't worry about the spoiler -- I'm telling you, it's not worth watching). I too like Amanda Seyfried -- she's got charisma, and is pretty in a non-fake way -- so I think this one may be decent. But yeah, get ready for him to possibly die in Iraq.