Take Paramount Pictures' $8 million Wayne's World, released in February. A spin-off of a late-night TV skit, it will top the $100 million box-office mark this weekend and is expected to soar to $120 million in receipts, making it the most profitable film in two years.
Within a month of the film's release, 25 percent of American boys ages 12 to 17 had seen Wayne's World at least four times.
Barry London, president of Paramount's Motion Picture Group, is the man credited with the marketing campaign for Wayne's World. "I saw the film and I was convinced," London says. "I knew this movie had tremendous potential."
London's formula: "planning and more than anything, luck."
In Wayne's World's favor was that it's based on a tremendously popular Saturday Night Live skit that features Mike Myers as the wacky Wayne and Dana Carvey as nerdish sidekick Garth. "People already knew these characters - we didn't have to pre-sell them," says London.
But recognizable characters don't necessarily guarantee a big hit. Example: the film version of the TV chestnut Dragnet, which was one of the big disasters of 1987.
Few in Hollywood - except, perhaps, for London - saw a smash in Wayne's World. The secret behind its success: a savvy marketing strategy that might become a blueprint for making a hit. Here's a look at how Wayne's World was transformed into a superhero.
TRACTOR-TRAILER. In the beginning, Wayne's World hitched a ride on The Addams Family, a $100 million dollar juggernaut and another hit movie spawned by TV. Realizing the smash potential of the kooky, creepy Addams brood, London and associates came up with a killer preview idea: The first frames of The Addams Family were in fact a Wayne's World trailer featuring graveyard hucksters Wayne and Garth.
"The reaction was tremendous," London says. "We instantly created a cachet to enter the marketplace."
"That trailer got people talking about us," said Myers. "It came across as an introduction to friends who would later be popping by to party on. It was awesome."
FULL-COURT PRESS. According to an in-house Paramount memo titled ''Publicity Wrap-Up Report," the stars of Wayne's World - Myers, Carvey, Rob Lowe and Tia Carrere - collectively granted 220 interviews.
Everyone from Young Miss magazine to The Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette to Canadian TV's Hockey Night Live! (Myers talked to an announcer during an intermission) was in on the action. "It was definitely a blanket-the-world approach," says a Paramount source. "And it worked."
THE RELEASE DATE. Who says a movie has to come out in the summer or at Christmastime to be a blockbuster? The mid-February box-office bonanza trend, which started last year with the Feb. 14 release of The Silence of the Lambs, continued this year with the Feb. 14 release of Wayne's World.
"We picked this date," says London, "because we knew a lot of kids would have that President's Day weekend free and would probably end up seeing a movie. And we wanted ours to be the one."
And indeed it was, racking up $14 million that first weekend, a record for a President's Day weekend release. "We also liked this opening date because of positioning: The movie could play through Spring Break," London said.
And indeed it has.
BORED TEENAGE MALE FACTOR. London says he was only minutes into his first preview of Wayne's World when he realized who the marketing campaign would target:
"Young teenage males. This movie talks their language."
Initial TV ads were targeted at 12-to-18-year-old males. The zany one- minute commercials featured scenarios pubescent boys can relate to: Garth's lust for a stacked waitress (Donna Dixon), the duo's mania for heavy-metal music and titillating sex jokes.
London's initial marketing campaign paid off: The SRO opening night audience was a mass of teenage boys. The research firm Cinemascore reported that 63 percent of the opening night audience was male, 71 percent younger than 25.
And they kept going back.
YOU'VE SEEN THE MOVIE, NOW WEAR It! Before release, Paramount and producer Lorne Michaels made sure that stores were chock-full of official paraphernalia - walking mini-billboards. Among the most popular items: six Wayne's World T- shirts, a baseball cap and a home video featuring the best of Myers' and Carvey's Wayne skits from Saturday Night Live.
A Wayne's World: Extreme Close-Up book, penned by Myers, sold out two printings. And next month, Wayne and Garth action figure dolls will be available in better department stores everywhere.
MTV. The video network ran an hour-long Wayne's World special five times during the movie's opening weekend. "MTV did a lot for us, no doubt about it," says London.
And it's doing more. MTV continues to run in heavy rotation four videos based on songs in the Wayne's World soundtrack: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," Cinderella's "Hot and Bothered," Wayne and Garth's "Pain Cave" and Carrere's "Ballroom Blitz."
"Those videos, no doubt about it, helped make the soundtrack No. 1," says London. Which brings us to . . .
THE SOUNDTRACK. You've seen the movie . . . now listen to it! The film's soundtrack topped the charts and has spawned a slew of hits.
"Bohemian Rhapsody," an old Queen standard, returned to the charts 16 years after its initial release and is in Billboard's Top 10. Another oldie featured in the film, Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver," will be re-released as a single this week.
Radio-friendly singles give the film a plug every time disc jockeys spin them. In a way, soundtracks are advertisements you can hum along to. According to Myers, the song selection in Wayne's World was cued to viewers' love of nostalgia.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Dream Weaver" - everyone young and old digs those songs," Myers said. "We all grew up on them. I mean, the second any of my friends got a new car, the first thing we would do is pop "Bohemian Rhapsody" into the tape player."
THE VERNACULAR. Clint Eastwood's "Make my day" and Bart Simpson's "Don't have a cow, man" are out. Wayne and Garth's ". . . NOT " and "No way . . . WAY!" are in.
Catch phrases are both verbal mini-advertisements and instruments of intrigue, London said. "Everybody wants to come and see what the fuss is about," he says. "Catch phrases whip up excitement. One of our early goals was to make the Wayne's World jargon part of the vernacular."
The Wayne's World skits on Saturday Night Live had popularized "NOT." As in, "Wayne's World is a bomb . . . NOT!" "We wanted to take that further, perhaps popularize a whole new vocabulary," London said.
The catch phrase campaign began with the first poster, which featured Wayne and Garth under the headline "You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hurl." (Hurl is the Wayne's World synonym for projectile vomiting.) The TV commercials exploited the Wayne's World vernacular as did the current posters, which ask moviegoers to "Schwing into Spring!" (Schwing is a euphemism for a vulgar pelvic thrust).
"Right away, we could see that the catch phrases were catching on," London said. "The words started showing up in political cartoons, paid advertising and in public appearances."
The highlight of the Wayne's World catch phrase mania might have come on a recent broadcast of The McLaughlin Group when panelist Morton Kondracke pulled a Wayne and called New York City "a sphincter."
Exit poll research says the catch phrase campaign gave Wayne's World its box-office legs. Adults, intrigued by the new vulgarisms, started showing up in the theaters to figure out the new water-coolerspeak. "We started out young," says London. "Our opening week audience was almost exclusively under the age of 25. But by the fourth week, the median age got older. Over half of the audience, at that time, was 35 years old or a bit older."