EDITORIAL: “Ted: How a Foul-Mouthed Teddy Bear Broke Box Office Records”

The man who made his name in raunchy comedy is once again laughing his way to the bank. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s first motion picture, the R-rated Ted, opened to a stellar $54.1 million this weekend, exceeding studio expectations by $10-15 million. The result places the comedy, which finds tough guy Mark Wahlberg struggling to balance the challenges of adult life with the demands of his crude, talking teddy bear, in 8th place on the list of highest opening weekends for an R-rated flick. When sequels (Matrix Reloaded, Hangover II, Paranormal Activity 3, Hannibal) and other property-based titles with established fan bases (Watchmen, Sex and The City) are eliminated, Ted’s success is even more impressive. An original comedy that pulls in $50 million with an R-rating is a rarity in Hollywood, and this summer has already seen two other risque pictures – Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy and Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator – flop miserably. How did a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, prostitute-socializing teddy bear capture the hearts of Americans? Here’s why Ted was a hit at the box office:

1. Market Family Guy first, expand to secondary demographics closer to release

As expected, young males comprised a huge chunk of Ted’s audience but other demographics also turned out in healthy numbers this weekend — 52% of the audience was over the age of 30 and 44% were women. This result demonstrates the success of the film’s marketing strategy: cater to the die-hards first to build buzz, then appeal to secondary demographics.

The film’s original theatrical trailer and first poster were eager to make MacFarlane’s long-running comedy show a focal point in the marketing strategy. If you take a look at the poster, you’ll see that Family Guy is displayed almost as prominently as the film’s cast. The identical green colors are no coincidence – Ted promised fans exactly what they loved in Family Guy. The show’s popularity allowed Ted to build an organic fan base on the Internet months before release.

After the core base was seduced, Paramount Pictures focused on secondary targets with diverse marketing messages that ignored the teddy bear’s adult antics. The raunchiness was severely reduced, and TV clips closer to the film’s release relied on a variety of selling points.

Take a look at two examples – the first 30 second spot targets the older men by labeling Ted “one of the funniest movies of all time” while the second one focuses entirely on the relationship between Wahlberg and Mila Kunis’s character to appeal to older women. Neither MacFarlane nor Family Guy are mentioned.

It’s this strategy that explains why Ted exceeded industry expectations by 35%. All movies try to appeal to multiple groups, of course, but Ted was smart enough to put faith in its base from the beginning, catering to them almost exclusively online, and spend most of its marketing dollars on the harder-to-reach segments.

2. Luck

If you take a second look at Ted’s theatrical poster above, you’ll notice something interesting: the movie was originally not set to be released for another two weeks. Universal had hoped to sandwich Ted in between the releases of The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3rd) and The Dark Knight Rises (July 20th) to avoid competing for the core demographic of young males. The weekend of July 13th was from perfect. Although the only other major release that weekend, the animated family flick Ice Age: Continental Drift,  targets a different audience, a saturation of big budget releases on the same weekend is usually a guarantee of a lower gross. Universal had likely planned for Ted to pop in, steal the male audience and gross a large amount on its first weekend, and die quickly under Batman’s assault in the following weeks.

But the stars aligned for Ted just a month before it was set for release. Paramount Pictures announced that it was delaying the release of GI Joe: Retaliation from June 29th to March 2013 to add 3D to the film, strengthen its wobbly plot, and avoid the release of two Channing Tatum flicks on the same weekend. A golden opportunity to capture an adult comedy audience dropped into Universal’s hands. Ted  was pushed up quickly after Joe’s announcement, and television ads began to roll out immediately. With no major competition this weekend, the teddy bear was free to reign over the box office. It just goes to show you — sometimes it all boils down to luck.

Written by Boris Paskhaver

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