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Movies and TV shows are expensive. To be viable investments, they need to turn a pretty sizable profit. To make that money, they need to make people aware of TV and movies. This is where Advertising comes in: billboards, television and radio commercials, interviews on talk shows, etc. Without these things, many people simply don't know a movie exists. This is how tickets get sold, and why people tune in at prime time.
Sometimes, however, the studio or network just doesn't think it's worth the bother. Figuring that the money is going down the drain anyway, they simply slip the work into theaters, into its timeslot, hoping that it will just quietly go away, and they will have fulfilled their legal obligations. So the movie does get released, and people who know about it can find it and see it. But the studio doesn't make it easy. These are cinemae non gratae.
On TV, this is one part of being Screwed by the Network. These are frequently Not Screened for Critics. Those who actually liked them will be the ones who Keep Circulating the Tapes. Compare to Trailers Always Lie, when a work is intentionally miss-marketed.
Anime & Manga
- When Code Geass was shown on Adult Swim, it got very little advertising.
- Seirei no Moribito just appeared late one night on Adult Swim with no advertising whatsoever.
- This is generally a trend with Adult Swim and anime. They'll advertise Bleach (probably their biggest show) for a couple weeks when a new season is coming up, usually while it's on reruns, and they'll usually advertise a new show to the lineup for a few weeks before it debuts, then goes on to advertise anything that isn't anime.
- After lukewarm ratings for the first season of IGPX, Cartoon Network decided to move the show to Friday at Midnight, with little to no ads detailing the change of the schedule.
- Big Trouble was delayed due to the events of 9/11, and then given an untrumpeted release when it became clear that if they waited for 9/11 to blow over, they'd all be dead before they could release it.
- Harvey Weinstein is pretty infamous for this.
- The Boondock Saints. Granted, it was kinda justified (released around the same time as the Columbine massacre).
- An early effort by Sam Raimi and The Coen Brothers, Crimewave, a sort of slapstick gangster spoof was met with disastrous results when screened for audiences, and was released only in five theaters across the states. It remains lost to the winds to this very day, due to some complicated rights issues, despite some of the now-famous people in its crew.
- The 2008 feature film The Midnight Meat Train. Based on the short story by Clive Barker and directed by Japanese cult favourite Ryuhei Kitamura (Godzilla: Final Wars), the movie is a complete and utter bloodbath with the built-in typical horror movie demographic, and it didn't have a terribly high budget. What happened? The company that was releasing it, Lionsgate, switched management while the film was nearing completion. Rather than continuing his predecessor's work and fulfilling the obligations, the new exec shunted the film into a handful of cheapo dollar theaters, without a whit of advertising.
- You think that's bad? It was Kitamura's first American film, and in interviews he had indicated that he wanted to switch to making films in America permanently, despite being quite bankable in Japan.
- Averted and played straight with Zyzzyx Road: It played briefly in a theater to get around a pay scale loophole, inadvertently getting attention as the lowest grossing film in history.
- The film was released to DVD internationally later in 2006 as intended, earning over 10,000 times its box office receipts. However, it still hasn't been released domestically.
- The Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie. The studio behind it, Gramercy Pictures, put everything into advertising the Pamela Anderson film Barb Wire - which, to add insult to injury, didn't sell very many tickets.
- Mirror Mask barely turned a head on its cinema run. Consider the visual style of that film and you'll get some idea how heavily you have to bury it for no-one to notice it.
- George Lucas was afraid 20th Century Fox would do this to the original Star Wars film, a.k.a. A New Hope, so he secured the merchandising rights in the hopes that he could promote the movie if they didn't. 20th Century Fox happily handed them over, wondering why on earth he wanted the worthless merchandising rights instead of more money up front.
- Tom Laughlin, the director/star of Billy Jack, was able to win distribution rights back from the original company when he realized they were doing this. He then started one of the first examples of saturation advertising and made it a hit.
- Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen had only 117 prints made for the entire US distribution. Gilliam sourly noted at the time that minor arthouse films got 400 prints; the culprit was a regime change at Columbia Pictures.
- Thirteen is the theatrical example of this. It didn't have any television commercials, instead relying on a few print ads and internet videos.
- Slither. Universal hardly promoted the film despite its critical acclaim and later tried to blame the film's failure on the director for not making it more accessible.
- It happened again on the director's follow-up Super. After IFC spent over a million to buy the rights, they sat on it and only released a trailer four weeks before opening. Other than a few posters, there was almost no marketing on the film and it died in limited release (also some theatres won't play it due to it being unrated, as the director and studio expected an NC-17 rating). Basically, James Gunn seems to be a lightning rod for this trope.
- Let Me In got this due to a distributor change less than three months before release (Relativity Media bought original distributor Overture for their distribution outlet). Rather than give an ad campaign given to most wide releases, Relativity spent most of its money promoting the movie it was facing that weekend, The Social Network (which was co-financed but not distributed by them) while the studio was completely quiet about the film (it wasn't even mentioned on Relativity's website while The Social Network was). The film grossed only $12 million.
- Dimension Films was notorious for doing this, films like Venom, Texas Rangers(which was inexplicably shelved for over a year) and DOA: Dead or Alive were given very limited releases with virtually no advertising whatsoever.
- Twice Upon a Time was given an incredibly limited release, aired once on HBO and twice on Cartoon Network, then disappeared from the public entirely, despite support from George Lucas and Henry Selick.
- Fox barely marketed The Big Year (only putting out a trailer a month before opening and having very little television exposure) despite having three big names in the cast (Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson), an established supporting cast and a director whose last two films grossed over $100 million. Also, the marketing hid the film's entire plot (three men on a year-long birdwatching journey, which was based on a non-fiction book).
- Fox is rather infamous for this. Some examples include:
- Transformers: The Movie, My Little Pony: The Movie, and the GI Joe A Real American Hero movie all fell victim to this.
Live Action TV
- The kiss of death of any series might as well be network promos for a night's block promoting a series with the line "Then after an all-new (show)..." with only a quick actor sweep or random scene without any context. Sadly prominent for American Dad these days.
- Adult Swim ran a show called Paid Programming at 4:30 am on without any on-air acknowledgment. It's like it was specifically designed to confuse viewers. If that's the case, it worked.
- Kristin Chenowith's sitcom "Kristin" was only advertised once. It ended up Screwed by the Network after 6 episodes.
- Let's not forget Police Camera Action and Police Stop - which were barely advertised at the time. Ironically, the likes of World In Action, The Cook Report and Coronation Street got a mention. But they were still popular...
- Once Dollhouse started airing the second season, the only way to see any promos for the show were minutes before the episode aired.
- The WB was particularly bad about this for some shows, Jack and Bobby was hardly advertised at all until near the end of the season, by which point it was too late for the ratings to recover enough to avoid cancellation. For Your Love on the other hand somehow managed to last for 4 years despite rarely getting much in the way of advertisement.
- The US version of The Mole fell victim to cancellation at the end of Season 5 after ABC's marketing department did so little to promote the show that even many die-hard fans were completely unaware that the show had returned for the first third of the season.
- ABC did the same with Million Dollar Mind Game in 2011, which was thrown into their Sunday afternoon Pit of Doom to be killed by the NFL games on the other networks.
- German TV channel Pro7 had only a single trailer for the Doctor Who revival series and showed it a whole week before the premiere just once or twice a day in the afternoon. After that there was no advertising to speak of, they didn´t even care to update their information page for the show when they changed the timeslot after a temporary cancellation. Many fans think that this killed the show.
- The 2002-04 Ford SVT Focus was developed by a special sub-division of Ford (that also made the Mustang Cobra and Lightning truck); exclusive marketing was part of the SVT image. It was available only through select dealerships, not included in the regular Focus full-line brochures or on the main Ford website, and SVT's relatively small ad budget mostly went to the more profitable truck and Mustang. People who owned it loved it, but many others who would have didn't know it existed until it was too late.
- This is thought to be one of the reasons Free Space 2 did not sell very well, despite overwhelming critical acclaim and praise. Particularly bad since its predecessor, Descent: Freespace gained respectable enough sales to warrant an ad campaign.
- This was one of the major death blows for the otherwise-stellar Gamecube game Gotcha Force.
- The Metroid series can't whether to avert this or play it straight.
- Live action commercials were made for Super Metroid (in both the US and Japan - with the Japanese commercial boasting then-impressive CGI, and strangely populated near-entirely by caucasians), Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion (with surprisingly high-quality CGI, the former game's commercial even playing in some movie theaters at the time). Zero Mission had some ads as well. But the Prime sequels had limited advertising, which considering how the original was an extreme critical and financial success, it's odd that Nintendo would choose to lower the development time and advertising budget of it's sequel, practically gave up on it's highly-anticipated (and for the Wii's then-current library, much needed killer app) sequel's advertising, and then fumbled so much for the main series' attempted revival. What is wrong with Nintendo's marketing department?
- The highly-anticipated Compilation Rerelease Metroid Prime Trilogy received no TV and highly-limited internet advertising. Clearly, this high-quality release, packaged as a collector's edition at a great price and very anticipated by fans, was not worth promoting. It was lucky to have a website.
- Metroid: Other M got another great live-action-CGI commercial and a cool website, but the ads only started running a few days before release. And then Reggie-Fils-Aime asks the fans why they didn't buy it (although the game's mixed reception didn't help, the marketing was clearly a problem as well).
- Sony has hardly marketed the Playstation Move despite the acclaim of the peripheral and wireless gameplay being the latest trend at the moment.
- One of the biggest problems that Armored Core has is that it is almost never advertised past E3. This has caused the game to be thrown between publishing companies like a spiked ball. To elaborate, the series has been taken up by three different companies after the original dropped it (after Last Raven). Sega picked the series up for 4, only to drop it and for Ubisoft to pick it up. Ubisoft dumped it, and now Bandai has the ball for Armored Core 5.
- Namco Bandai seems to give absolutely no importance to advertising games of the Tales (series) in the West. Usually it follows a pattern of localization announcement followed by months of silence, and then a short trailer a week before releasing; and that's it. And they wonder why the series isn't that popular around here. The only titles that were decently advertised were the two Tales of Symphonia games, but Nintendo was probably the one responsible for that.
- Project .hack was well-advertised to begin with in the US, but every release after the first game, including the sequel series .hack//G.U., experienced this, in addition to getting the Friday Night Death Slot if it was an anime other than .hack//Sign.
- A certain MMORPG called Fly FF is slowly dying out, partially because of this and partially because of ...interesting decisions being made by its developers and host.
- Numerous shows on Adult Swim are put on the schedule without actually being advertised, especially anime; They're getting a bit better about it, though. On the other hand, on April 18, 2008, a show (Rising Son, a spoof of Soap Operas focusing on the life of Jesus), premiered at 5 o'clock in the morning. Without any announcement of any kind except for the title appearing on the schedule. It was bad enough when they moved their new anime to 5 a.m. without advertising it...
- Terry Jones' version of The Wind in the Willows. In America it played on seven screens without advertising - because while Columbia got the theatrical release rights, Disney owned the video rights. (Disney even renamed the film Mr Toad's Wild Ride, after the Disneyland ride.)
- The Iron Giant was sparsely advertised initially (and was a miserable flop in theaters), but gained a higher profile on home video.
- This is what led to the failure of Ka Blam!.
- ECW was famously Screwed by the Network in this way with TNN refusing to run a single ad for them, giving Paul Heyman ammo for his anti-network rants.