Give me the freedom of a tight budget

In 2017, a re-booted version of The Mummy made a healthy $409 million at the global box office. However, the release was considered such a failure that it caused Universal Pictures to scrap their long-standing plans for a “Dark Universe” of interconnected monster movie reboots. They spent so much money producing and promoting The Mummy that $409m in revenue was considered a big disappointment.

As a result, Universal has decided they need to lower the budgets on related productions. The studio is currently working on a version of The Invisible Man believed to have a budget of "no more than $10 million". That’s a tiny budget for a Hollywood movie – particularly when you’re hoping to reignite chances of a franchise to rival the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). It will take a bucket loads of creativity on a shoestring budget, by Hollywood standards, to achieve that.

There are many examples of creative horror films made despite tiny budgets, including The Blair Witch Project, Halloween and Friday 13th. They were all unlike anything that had come before and creative in their own way but, despite the scale of production, they’ve spawned franchises, been copied and even remade.

Away from horror, Spaghetti Westerns were also made with relatively tiny budgets but their influence also lives on. They were made with a small budget for locations, set build and, in contrast to their John Wayne-era counterparts with big orchestral scores, a small budget for the soundtrack.

Instead of a dramatic string or big brass section peppering the soundtrack, you’ll find a (much cheaper) gunshot, whip or whistle. The twangy electric guitars also reflect the themes you see on screen - in minor keys, setting an ominous tone, when the bad guys are on screen and then we flip to a major key when the hero comes into shot. Not to mention the galloping rhythms adding a different colour when we move to wide shots of horses racing crossing the open plains.

Clearly, as long as you have a clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve, it is possible to operate creatively within the confines of a small budget. Just like in marketing, the way to make your spend work as hard as possible is to set yourself apart from your peer group and try to achieve standout. The Spaghetti Western soundtracks, for example, were made in small recording studios with the same gear that the Surf bands of the time were using but were written to a slower tempo and different rhythm.

To bring things back to a campaign example, the ALS ice-bucket challenge from 2014 was enormously successful in raising money for a worthwhile cause. With little or no budget, it raised approximately $15m but was actually all about generating awareness. The campaign lacked an integral call for donations unlike every other competitor charity campaign of the time was focused on.  

So, while a meaty budget is undoubtedly a very helpful launch pad for a successful campaign, there is still plenty that can be achieved with a combination of ambition and creative thinking. For the record, I’m not for a second advocating that clients start cutting their marketing budgets. I just happen to be a fan of both Spaghetti Westerns and campaigns that out-think the competition, rather than simply out-spend them.

Colin Gray | Planning and Behavioural Economics

 

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