Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” is opening well, “according to CNN”:http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Movies/02/25/passion.wrap/index.html. This is a movie that, a year ago, was dismissed as a bizarre self-indulgence by a man who had possibly gone over the deep end. Gibson was said to be pouring his own money into a film that nobody would ever see. Yet today we hear about “The Passion” on every TV news show. This little film became big because of one thing: publicity. Negative publicity, sure, but this is Hollywood, where they’ve long held no publicity is bad publicity. Protesters forgot this axiom, and have hyped Gibson’s pet project more than he ever could have.
When you come out against something, you’re engaging in marketing — selling what you have to say. As in every marketing campaign, you need a clear message and clear goals.
But protest is a unique kind of marketing, because it’s not only your position you must sell — it’s your position over theirs. So in every mention of your position you must talk about that to which it is in opposition. You give your enemies free publicity. So it’s important to make sure that you push your message more, and more effectively, than your opponent’s. And there’s the part that people forget: if your opponent is not getting their message out there, by protesting you’re giving them free publicity.
By protesting “The Passion” so long before it opened, Jewish activist groups raised the project’s profile and helped many to know about a film they may never have been exposed to. As an ethnic Jew, I feel it’s very important to stand up against anti-Semitism. But, as with all causes, it’s important to pick battles.
When picking a battle to fight, one must consider what can be won. What could be won here? What, simply, were the marketing goals?
* To prevent “The Passion” from being made or released? Gibson was financing the whole thing himself and had the money to make both happen. _Burying “The Passion” was an unrealistic and unachievable goal._
* To damage Gibson’s career? A better method then would have been a quiet buzz campaign in Hollywood itself, concentrating on changing the opinions of key actors. _Making producers, directors, actors, etc. make a public choice for or against Gibson was less likely to succeed in this town’s collegial atmosphere than a more quiet informal blacklisting._
* To prevent the movie from succeeding commercially? This was never about money for Gibson, so he never planned a big movie. Gibson pitched the film at a (mostly Evangelical) Christian audience, so, to succeed, a boycott had to keep Christians away while not attracting those outside Gibson’s target market. The key influencer for Evangelicals is not the media but their pastors. _To sink the film in the box office, quiet discussion with pastors and groups of pastors about the issues of anti-Semitism and about Gibson’s fringe Catholicism would have been the only way to go._
* To create a dialogue about anti-Semitism? Well, frankly, judging a film based upon what can easily be spun as “just the Gospels” as anti-Semitic before seeing it isn’t much of a dialogue-starter. _To start a dialogue, start a dialogue, don’t protest, yell, etc. Dialogues are two-way and respectful._
No possible objective was achievable through protest. None. So why protest? Why create a big loud noise about a movie with no buzz, months before the movie was released? Somebody get these folks a marketing consultant.