From Steve Peace: How to Sell an Unpopular President

Another great post from consumer and entertainment expert Steve Peace:


On Friday, Oliver Stone’s biopic of George W. Bush will open in theatres, nationwide. The question that might be fairly posed is, “does anyone, at this point, want to spend two more hours of their life witnessing the tragedy that is George W. Bush?” It’s extraordinary that the movie has been made, given that Bush is still a sitting president. That is unprecedented. And, it’s possible only because Bush’s approval ratings are so dismally low. It could be strongly argued that Bush has done more to harm the office of the Presidency than any feature length satire could, which takes the gloves off for filmmakers like Mr. Stone.

But, given that Bush’s approval rating is so low, who is the audience for this film?

This creates a quandary for the marketers of this film. Liberals would be an obvious target to go after, but there very well might be a high degree of fatigue among Liberals for anything having to do with Bush. They’ve been reading about his global missteps for the past eight years and there is the risk that this film cuts a bit too closely to the bone. It might feel like salting what is still a very open wound to watch W. while he’s still in office.

On the other hand, although conservatives have fallen out of love with W, they don’t necessarily want to pillory the guy, especially by watching a film by a notoriously liberal filmmaker.

The response by the film’s marketing team has been interesting. In all of the trailers and posters the movie is pitched as, “Josh Brolin is….”. His performance, his ability to play this extremely public figure, his impression of Bush is the pitch. It’s a well known SNL tactic. The Tina Fey impression of Sarah Palin is a prime example of how a succinct satirizing caricature can sell. But, will an impression of Bush be enough to sustain interest in a film that lasts two hours? On Friday we’ll find out.

There might be a recently emerged behavioral dynamic that could aid the film. To me, it seems that the period of time between the occurrence of an event and the retelling of that event has become shorter and shorter in America . Technology is at least partly to blame. With a digital camera you can take a picture of your friends playing twister and immediately share with them the legitimizing shot of them ‘having fun.’ An event has greater meaning if it becomes a part of the media landscape, even if that landscape is one’s online photo album. Technology allows folks that aren’t typically targets of media coverage to experience this sensation. Is it too early to hash over the Bush years? Perhaps the attenuated cycle of event and retelling of event could be the saving grace for a film that tells a story we all know only too well as we count the days until the time it will thankfully end.