Matrix marketers keep on reloading
The best way to ensure that I'll never do something is to nag me incessantly about it.
The "volume" school of advertising holds that if you put a product in front of people enough, they'll eventually develop a desire for it without really knowing why. I go the opposite way: After a few weeks or months of 'round-the-clock multimedia hectoring, I develop a strong distaste for even those things that might once have been of genuine interest to me.
So it goes with The Matrix Reloaded. The aggressive all-points marketing campaign for the movie had already put me off going to see it by the time the long faces and desultory reviews emerging from theatres last May confirmed my worst suspicions. But now, after being subjected to the equally exhaustive follow-up push for the sequel's release on DVD this past Tuesday, I've sworn off the damn thing entirely. It's like a phone that won't stop ringing because the caller assumes he'll wear you down into picking up. Instead it drives you to yank the cord from the wall and vow never to speak to him again.
I just want to be left alone, to enjoy just a few weeks' peace without Keanu Reeves' vacant cyber-surfer face intruding on my every move, before Pontiac and Heineken and Samsung or whoever the hell Warner Bros. has found this time around to augment its own boisterous campaign for The Matrix Revolutions kick things into high gear for the new picture's November release. It's not likely to happen, mind you, unless I gouge my eyes out and seal myself in a box at the bottom of the Atlantic until Christmas, but I can dream.
(The irony of giving away several more column inches of publicity while simultaneously decrying saturation marketing is not lost on me. I just can't think of anything else to write about because those bloody Matrix ads are on TV 2,000 times a day. It's brainwashing.)
At least there used to be a break of a few months between the hypestorm heralding an anticipated blockbuster's theatrical release and its arrival on home video. Now, though, with production and marketing budgets for the big Hollywood films rocketing ever higher into the hundreds of millions, a "quick window" philosophy has set in to make the most of the promotional cash spent the first time around. For the hits, the lag time between opening day and those shrill, televised instructions to "Buy it today on DVD!" has now accordioned — much like that 18-wheeler from the Matrix Reloaded commercial that now haunts my dreams — down to three or four months.
"The sooner you can move into the next window, the better," an executive from Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment division recently explained to Billboard. "There's less of a chance for new properties to open up and divert consumer attention."
Ah, the noble art of the cinema. This tactic, coupled with Hollywood's current fondness for releasing sequels such as The Matrix, Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings films on top of one another, has ensured that one or all three of these "phenomena" have been thrust in the public's face all year long. Nothing else gets a word in edgewise. Nothing else has a chance.
It makes sense for the studios to push DVD sales as hard as they do, since most of the majors are controlled by larger corporations that also count record companies as part of their business. CD sales are slumping, so something's gotta fill the revenue gap and keep those pressing plants buzzing. DVDs are doing the job nicely; 10 million new DVD players were purchased in the U.S. in the first six months of this year alone, 44 per cent more than in 2002.
To say it's a growth industry is an understatement — Disney's re-release of The Lion King sold three million copies in two days last week — which is why increasingly nervous record labels are churning out music DVDs as fast as they can and have begun to re-release classics like the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon in DVD-audio format in hopes of snaring the Boomers who've already replaced their vinyl collections with CDs.
The double-stacked consumer assault represented by the Matrix, Potter and Lord Of The Rings series is obviously good for business, but there's something sinister about it. It's no longer enough for blockbusters to dominate movie screens; now they seek to conquer our homes, too, before we have time to think about — or purchase — anything else. It's a shrewd tactic for making money, sure, but it also means more diverse cultural voices have an even harder time than usual getting heard above the constant big-budget din.