ADVENTURES IN ADLAND #5: Titanic Rant

My wife Nancy and I went to see “Titanic” again yesterday, this time in 3-D.

It’s a wow.  Though I’m still scratching my head as to whether or not the 3-D conversion (and the $3 ticket premium) really added much to movie.  In my opinion, what makes “Titanic” astounding is the really good, genuinely touching love story that’s at the core of the epic film.  And the 3-D didn’t add much to that.

In other words, my “review” of the 3-D release of director James Cameron’s movie is a qualified rave.  Which makes me wonder if I’m about to get screamed at by Cameron. Again.

Yes, I can proudly say that I was screamed at by the director of the two highest grossing films of all time!

“Titanic’s” original release in December 1997 was as gigantic the ship itself.  The movie held the number one spot at the box office for 15 straight weeks in the U.S. and Canada, still a record.  Its biggest single day was Valentine’s Day, 1998, six weeks after it opened, and by March, 1998 it had grossed more than a billion dollars.

That’s when Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, a book that presaged what we now call viral marketing, published his take on “Titanic” in The New Yorker:


If you were, say, the president of Philip Morris and you were fantasizing about how to sell more cigarettes, you'd probably start with the movies.  A love story, perhaps, because adolescent girls – who are your target audience –love love stories.  The male lead would be a teen idol. He would smoke while lying on a bench, gazing up at the night sky.  The young heroine would rebelliously blow smoke in her mother's face. In a spirited moment at a party, she might snatch a cigarette from the mouth of a stranger and draw deeply, staring into her lover's eyes.

You'd put them on a boat.  A big, romantic boat.  The boat would sink.  The film would be a blockbuster, a movie that teen-age girls would see three and four and five times, until they could mime every line and gesture.

Obviously, this is only a dream, since no self-respecting teen idol would work for a cigarette company, and no cigarette company could ever get away with so blatantly targeting an adolescent audience.  But this is the wonderful thing about being in the cigarette business right now: Whatever you cannot do for yourself, Hollywood, apparently, will do for you.

"If I were the head of a tobacco company, I'd say, God bless ‘Titanic,’" Bruce Silverman, a California ad executive, who directed that state's antismoking media campaign, says.


A day or two after Gladwell’s New Yorker article hit the stands, my assistant buzzed me and said “James Cameron is on the phone for you… and he doesn’t sound happy.”  

I picked up.  “Hi, Mr. Cameron,” I said, with what I hoped was a smile in my voice.

“Who the hell do you think you are, you Madison Avenue ----face?!?,” was the response.  “My movie is not a commercial, ---hole,” the voice on the other end screamed.

“Hey, I just responded to Gladwell’s question,” I answered.  “###@@@!!!!” poured out of the phone… which was then hung up with a thud.

I sat there, stunned.  But then I started to laugh.  “That was pretty cool… James Cameron, the ‘King of the World,’ himself, screamed at me.”  I then reflected on all the times I had been screamed at over the years by parents, teachers, coaches, copy supervisors, account guys and clients.  “Hey, this tops all of them.  One little quote set him off!  I must be hot stuff.”

14 years have passed since the day James Cameron screamed at me.  But now I’m ready.  If Cameron somehow comes across this “qualified rave” about his 3-D version of Titanic,” I’ve got the perfect retort ready: “I’m a deeply shallow guy, so 3-D doesn’t do much for me.  But I loved your movie.”

Author Bruce Silverman is one of America’s best known and well respected marketing-communication and branding experts. He is writing a series of posts titled, “Adventures in AdLand” for THE FIVE. During his Madison Avenue days, Bruce was the creative mind behind “Don’t Leave Home Without It” for American Express, “Bullish on America” (Merrill Lynch), “Something Special in the Air” (American Airlines), “Not made in Nooo Yawk Ciddy” (Pace Picante), “The Shell Answer Man” and a dozen other award winning campaigns for such clients as IBM, Hershey, Baskin-Robbins, Coldwell Banker, Sizzler, Suzuki, Pabst, Sanyo, Mattel, Greyhound and Post. He currently spreads his words of wisdom, offering strategic and tactical counsel to marketers of consumer and business-to-business products and services and to advertising and public relations agencies, as well as serving as an expert witness for legal firms. 

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