I just had to comment on this breathtaking link, where producers Avi Lerner and Joe Drake state why they believed Conan failed at the box office:
The concensus among Avi Lerner and Joe Drake, who had successfully released The Expendables together, is that Conan The Barbarian didn’t have the “brand equity” they hoped it would. The pair had convinced themselves that the brand was ripe for a reboot and that the fans were ready for it, so they rescued the film from the major development purgatory it had been caught in for so long.
Oh, of course, this film proves Conan just doesn’t have the “brand equity” they want. Conan may be successful in just about every other field of media it’s branched out to, but when the film fails, it isn’t because of – say – atrocious marketing, or a mediocre product, or executives who don’t know what in blazes they’re doing. It’s “brand equity.”
Compare Conan to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. There is no way Planet of the Apes‘ “brand equity” was stronger than Conan’s at this point in time: the last time it made so much as a blip on the popular radar was 2001, with a poorly-received Tim Burton reimagining. It didn’t have a long-running popular comic series, nor multiple video games, nor a resurgence in publication of the source material in the lead up to the film. Yet Rise of the Planet of the Apes did gangbusters, even though the Planet of the Apes franchise hasn’t been on the cultural landscape for a decade. Why? It had a good story, strong characters and quality product created by some of the best people in the industry, and advertising highlighted those strong points.
In this ecomonic climate, people can’t afford to just go to multiple films at the cinema the way they could back in the ’80s. They couldn’t just go to see a film on the off-chance it might be a laugh: they have to know they’re going to get their money’s worth. People don’t care about loyalty to brands, they just want something that’ll promise them a good night at the cinema. Judging by the success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Help, it’s evident that people are more willing to go to a film for the story and characters than they are for scene upon scene of mindless action. So who’s fault is it, if not Conan? It can’t be because it’s R-rated, because 300 and Predators have done very well in the past five years. It can’t be the August release, because Rise of the Planet of the Apes is doing well too.
No, Lerner & Drake, it’s clear to see that whatever caused Conan to sink at the box office, it can’t be the “brand equity” being substandard. You just squandered the potential. Dark Horse took the Conan brand and made it one of the most celebrated indy comic titles in the last decade. Funcom took the Conan brand and made it one of the few MMORPGs that’s still standing tall against the juggernaut of World of Warcraft where others have succombed. Mongoose Publishing took the Conan brand and made an RPG series that spawned dozens of supplements. Del Rey and Gollancz took the Conan brand and made multiple volumes of 80-year-old stories that are still strong sellers. All in the second half of the last decade. Seems to me that Conan was, in fact, ripe for treatment on the big screen – but Lionsgate & Millennium dropped the ball.
That said, not all non-film Conan excursions have been as successful: the 2007 videogame was something of a disappointment. Why? Because it was a mindless, fun hack-and-slash with no higher aspirations than letting people go nuts as Conan – and more importantly, that’s how it sold itself. Dark Horse, Funcom and Del Rey took a different tact: they sold Conan as an icon from one of the founding fathers of the modern fantasy genre, highlighted the majesty and complexity of the Hyborian Age as a setting, and most importantly, made it look like a compelling world with strong characters and a story to tell. I’m no marketing expert, but when I see a correlation between products that take REH seriously and promote Conan as a worthwhile, exciting adventure story doing well, and products that barely mention REH and promote Conan as little more than hack-and-slash doing poorly… I start to think maybe you should do more of that first thing and less of that second thing. Promoting REH, selling Conan as an enthralling story with fascinating characters has obviously paid dividends. Promoting Conan as nothing more than mindless killing and sexist exploitation has not.
Those companies succeeded because they took the source material seriously and delivered quality products without insulting people’s intelligence. Lionsgate & Millennium failed because they didn’t: they were obsessed with aiming for the Spike TV crowd with advertisements that give no inkling of story and just throw a constant barrage of images. I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of marketing and the product itself. But Avi Lerner and Joe Drake are never going to admit that – it’s brand equity, it’s Jason Momoa, it’s the disloyal fans who dare to vote with their wallet.
In other words, it’s everyone’s fault but their own.
Nonetheless, perhaps we should let Lerner & Drake think that the reason it failed was because the brand didn’t have “equity.” Maybe that’ll mean they drop Conan, and the license can get into the hands of someone who knows what to do with the property. Just keep telling yourselves that, guys – then if someone comes along and delivers the Conan movie everyone’s been waiting for, you can just blame it on the “timing,” or “market analysis,” or whatever. As ever, blame it on everything except yourselves.