Despite relatively good reviews and a consequent marketing budget, Pacific Rim didn’t perform as well as expected on its opening week, with box office earnings reaching barely over $38 million. With rumors concerning the release of Pacific Rim 2, I crafted a concept of marketing campaign for this second film.
Pacific Rim 1 – a complex mythology.
While many saw it as a flashy exhibition of technical prowess, Pacific Rim is far from being an empty shell. Its extensive mythology is complex, well thought and compelling. Of course, the film isn’t exempt from a few clichés, from male alpha Jaeger pilots to frantic nerdy scientists, or even the apocalypse scenario. But the film only tells a small part of a very long story, which starts 10 years before the beginning of the movie. Pacific Rim opens with a scene that recaps 10 years of war between mankind and Kaijus. In a few minutes, the narrator explains how deeply the war has affected society, penetrating pop culture as much as shaping geopolitics.
Jaeger pilots turned into rockstars, (…) the world coming together, pulling aside old rivalries for the sake of the greater good, [the mourning of the] dead, (…) Jaegers turned into toys, danger turned into propaganda…
Later in the film, Newton Geiszler’s Kaiju tattoos suggest the existence of a form of Kaiju fandom, while Hannibal Chau’s character briefly takes us into the Kaiju black market culture, showing us other facets of the war.
In an interview to ING, Pacific Rim screenwriter Travis Beacham evokes the vast backstory and “secondary matter” he developed around Pacific Rim 1.
Just in creating the world around the movie, the universe around the movie, we’ve come up with so much secondary story matter and so much drama and backstory and details that we don’t necessarily have an outlet to explore in the movie, but we’re always constantly talking about what should be flourished, or what should be points or explanations and which is best understood in which storytelling medium.
In other words, much of the Pacific Rim universe remains to be explored.
Pacifc Rim 1 Marketing campaign – critical analysis.
Despite the existence of a rich mythology and a dormant backstory, the film was marketed a yet another superficial robots vs. monsters movie.
Focusing on the apocalypse scenario, the campaign consisted in teasing nerdy teenage boys and Kaiu/Mecha aficionados by alternatively releasing clips of Kaijus attacks and Jaeger blueprints. Most critics and bloggers initially praised the technical prowess and sharp photography featured in the trailer or viral stills. But barely a few months into the campaign, Pacific Rim’s early advocates simply got bored, and progressively started to criticize the campaign itself, which they thought “too easy” and unoriginal.
The campaign failed to differentiate Pacific Rim from other apocalypse movies. It reduced the story to Kaijus and Jaegers, when the audience would have probably wanted to hear more about the origins of the war, the pop culture it generated, or how it affected the daily lives of people “like them.” Instead of creating short-term suspense by releasing unrelated viral material, marketers should have more subtly rooted the film in today’s zeitgeist, in order to durably establish the Pacific Rim universe as a mythology. As a result, the campaign not only disappointed its main target audience (Kaiju and Mecha fanboys) but also basically failed to seduce other potential targets – the general public.
Now that Pacific Rim 2 might become a reality, what could marketers do to make it a big hit? Below are a few ideas.
Opportunities for Pacific Rim 2 Marketing – “Science, Bitch!”
If even Kaiju and Mecha enthusiasts found the apocalypse scenario a bit tedious, what aspect of Pacific Rim would drive more engagement?
Debate over Pacific Rim’s scientific premise.
One topic clearly emerged online after Pacific Rim 1: science. From the two frantic PPDC scientists – Hermann Gottlieb and Newton Geiszler – to the very concept of the Drift, Pacific Rim has generated a fair amount of conversation and fan art relating to its scientific universe.
The movie is based on the premise that fifteen years from now, we will be able to connect 2 human brains to pilot gigantic robots. While the scenario makes no claim of being scientifically correct, it does have some grounding in existing Brain Computer Interface research and neurology.
Real world BCI research is booming.
Pacific Rim’s scientific universe is strong, and if not completely plausible, at least relatable. BCI technology is a major research field, and its latest developments have attracted a lot of attention. President Obama recently announced the launch of his BRAIN Initiative, a collaborative initiative to map the human brain’s activity; in September, DARPA announced its collaboration with the open source community to crowdsource DIY BCIs. The University of Essex also worked studied collective BCIs – allowing 2 human brains to collaboratively control a virtual spacecraft. In March 2013, they published a study proving that 2 human brains allow for more precise piloting of the spacecraft than one human brain alone.
The success of Pacific Rim’s scientific mythology and characters.
Many newspapers, blogs and science shows dissected the movie’s scientific premise. The Guardian blog Headquarters, tried to assess the probability of such technological development happening in the next 10 or 15 years. IEEE Spectrum magazine investigated real world scientific experiments demonstrating that two brains are stronger than one. Science YouTube channel Stuff to blow your mind explored the current state of BCIs, as did IGN for instance. Wired and the Scientific American blog But Not Simpler looked at the physics of film – and especially how giant robots could be carried by only a few helicopters and jump around to kill Kaijus.
Pacific Rim’s Gottlieb and Geiszler have also become popular online, as much as the main two characters Mako and Raleigh. Since the release of Pacific Rim 1, they have inspired Halloween costumes, beautiful fan art, Tumblr blogs and proficient fan fiction.
Science and entertainment: today’s zeitgeist.
This enthusiasm for Pacific Rim’s scientific mythology and background is actually not an isolated case. In the past few years, science has invaded entertainment, and is now part of today’s Zeitgeist. Shows like Breaking Bad and The Big Bang Theory have turned science nerds into cool kids, chemistry formulas and lab robes into pop culture items. LEGO versions of Walter White’s meth lab have populated the web and Jessie Pinkman’s “Science, Bitch!” is now a universal meme.
Fans and the media are also increasingly looking for scientific accuracy in films and shows. Recently, Gravity triggered heated conversations because it deliberately twisted the laws of physics to make the story more interesting. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson fact checked the film in a live Twitter feed, Forbes, Wired and many others asked “real” astronauts to evaluate the likelihood of the film’s scenario happening in real life.
The search for scientific accuracy – or the appetite for challenge.
Why do fans spend so much time dissecting the media’s representations of chemical reactions and astronaut equipment? Part of the answer might be passion for science. But not all of those fans are experts; so why spend so much time dissecting movies and digging into scientific problematics? For pure love of problem-solving. Fans debating a movie’s scientific accuracy behave exactly like those who spend dozens of hours designing the maps of Lost’s Island, or solving Laura Palmer’s crime. In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins examines the Spoiler community that emerged around the show Survivor. Self-proclaimed “spoilers” were Survivor fans and haters who all tried to discover the next season’s location, participants and challenges. Henry Jenkins argues that the motivation behind these spoiling activities had in fact more to do with a thirst for problem-solving than with an actual desire to discover the show’s next location. Fans were engaging in a game with the producers of the show, challenging them to develop strategies to keep the show’s location and cast secret.
The driving force behind fans’ search for scientific accuracy might have the same root; the need for challenge.
The opportunity: bridging sci-fi and science.
The film’s scientific premise isn’t entirely plausible, but the big picture of humans piloting war robots through BCIs is likely enough to root the film in reality, and ask: what would it take to get there? If fans ask for challenge, Warner should simply respond to it.
This marketing campaign is based on a tentpole science competition that fosters innovation based on brain computer interfaces. The event will take place in 2015, before the release of Pacific Rim 2, the year when he Jaeger program was developed. The idea is to leverage the power of entertainment to educate about BCI research and foster innovation in the real world; and leverage a real-world event to bring to life Pacific Rim’s scientific premises, develop its characters and backstory.
Pacific Rim 1 marketing campaign – TIMELINE
- Website launch with interactive map showing Kaijus attacks
- 2 viral videos on YouTube, one of the very first Kaijus attack in San Francisco, the other of a Kaiju emergency system for television.
- Blueprints of Jaegers
- Still pictures of the film
- Official Trailer
[Jan 2013] Additional pictures, this time focusing on Kaijus (Kaiju footprint, and army of people cleaning up toxic blue Kaiju blood).
- Graphic novel Pacific Rim:Tales from year zero.
- Featurette explaining the concept of drifting.
- Insights Edition book released with original sketches, character descriptions etc.
- NECA Pacific Rim action figures, series 1 released.
- Kaiju Remedies viral video showing Ron Perlman’s character and his Kaiju organs traffic.
- Viral video in collaboration with YouTube network Polaris, showing Jaeger pilots.
[12 July 2013]
RELEASE OF THE FILM IN USA
- Release of the Pacific Rim video game, by Yuke’s and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
[July 16 2013]
- Novelization of the film (Which tells the same story as in the movie.)