Weinstein's Film Marketing Plan 101: Get Commercial Chucked By Networks?

Can you sell political controversy in a movie during a TV commercial? If your media plan jives with TV networks' qualifications, you can--or if you are a movie distributor looking for controversy in your marketing in the first place.

The new Dixie Chicks theatrical documentary, "Shut Up and Sing," is reportedly not going to get that chance, because a TV commercial for the film is too one-sided--according to The Weinstein Company, the firm founded by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who are distributing the movie.

As we all know, lead singer Natalie Maines criticized President Bush in October 2003 by uttering between songs at a London concert: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." And that, of course, turned the sweet-singing country group into turncoats, according to many fans. Record sales and other Dixie Chicks' related business took a bit of a hit.

Now with a new documentary--which chronicles the group's activities over the past three years--the whole issue comes back, all with a controversial TV commercial touting the movie. NBC and The CW are declining to air the spot, according to The Weinstein Co. However, in one report CW denies that it was rejecting the commercial.



If NBC did decline, we have a pretty good idea why--the commercial seems to be in the category of "advocacy" advertising--that is, taking a point of view, a political one, in which there is no opposing statement in that commercial.

The commercial shows President Bush giving a speech on Iraq, as well as making some off-the-cuff remarks about the Dixie Chicks and their right to freedom of speech. But the commercial doesn't necessarily take a position--other than Natalie Maines repeating her famous line.

Here's the initial voiceover of the spot: "If you think you are living in a free society, wait until you disagree with it. The true story of the conspiracy behind the controversy." Those ex-Miramax Films guys need to sell a few tickets.

Networks have declined ads like this before, including those with stronger opinions-like one from Cindy Sheehan, who offered up her anti-Iraq-war and anti-President-Bush commentary.

One can understand TV stations' and networks' point of view: They need to be balanced and fair, especially in advertising, as they are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Here's what a CBS press release says about its policy on advocacy advertising: "It is designed to prevent those with means to produce and purchase network advertising from having undue influence on 'controversial issues of public importance.' From the Network's perspective, we believe our viewers are better served by the balance and perspective such issues can be afforded within our news programming." CBS has said this only pertains to network advertising--not anything aired by its local stations, which can do what they please.

But all this may be a different case with "Shut Up & Sing." The Weinsteins may be running this up the flagpole to gain some controversy for the controversial movie. Sounds like a good marketing strategy. Indeed, it's been reported that CBS, MTV, local TV stations on NBC, CW, ABC and Fox affiliates, and local cable systems, have all cleared the commercial to air.

Why did these network/stations take it? The "Shut Up and Sing" commercial doesn't seem to have any strong influence--or opinions on any specific issue. So let the Dixie Chicks speak, sing, shut up, and/or wail.

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