AA Gill passed away recently. He will forever be remembered for his often scathing reviews of numerous aspects of culture; television, restaurants, society etc. Such a man can bring ideas crushing to the ground. But the relationship between marketing and reviews in the modern age is an interesting one.
In the age of the internet, criticism, client testimonials and reviews are much easier to find than they once were. Websites like Rotten Tomatoes (film), allow for percentages to be made based on critical approval. It even includes an equally extensive user review section. Effectively, it allows anybody to become a published film critic. TripAdvisor allows everybody to be their own hotel and restaurant critic.
For every good review, there’s a bad review. Good reviews are always used in the effort to sell, even if it’s obvious each has a counterpart. Consider the following two posters.
Bugsy – full of reviews and acclamation
Alien – clever and well-regarded poster, famous tagline. They take two different approaches and are both successful.
Both of these are, however, from the time before the internet. Nowadays, bad reviews are a lot easier to find. One would expect more film companies to take the Alien approach and focus more on marketing than the opinion of a select number of critics. Films like the dark knight exhibit this. Other films use reviews, such as this poster for legend. What’s interesting about this poster, however, is the guardian article. Look closely, it’s a two star review disguised as a four or five star review. Brilliant marketing. But is it OK to do this?
Bill Clinton famously stated he never had sex with Monica Lewinsky, and he didn’t (we’re led to believe…), but he did have sexual relations with her. This, to be technical about a technicality, is the same principle as the Legend poster. True lies, if you will. But one is manipulative, the other creative. Even the Guardian reviewer admitted it (link).
To me, it’s clever marketing. Creative marketing. Bad reviews are inescapable nowadays, but everybody is entitled to an opinion. I don’t see anything wrong with an approach as interesting as that to advertise with.
There are even extreme levels. Comedian Stewart Lee often advertises his shows with both positive and negative reviews, sometimes only negative reviews, which fits his style of comedy perfectly. Unlike the Legend poster, these critics are usually less pleased with his approach. I disagree. Especially in the art world, nothing can be that bad that nobody should watch/read/stare at/listen to it. Obviously in other fields there are exceptions. Many people understand the banning of tobacco adverts. I do love those old Hamlet cigar ads, and believe in liberty, but nobody can pretend smoking isn’t harmful to health.
So, in conclusion, I have nothing against bad criticism. Opinions should be aired. They’re important. But nothing’s perfect. This goes for the film world (do you really think Gone with the Wind is a brilliant watch?), as well as the marketing of any other product. Marketing is extremely important, and bad reviews should be appreciative of the creativity in their use.