January 31, 2007
From Book to Movie - Where Brand Names Fall Apart
The worst movie title of recent memory has to be Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.
Perhaps this partly explains its poor showing at the box office – of a budget of over $65 million, the film has barely cracked $2 million in domestic gross. It opened to a limited audience in December 2006, then to a wide audience two weeks ago.
Guess what? No one came. But the failure of this film does provide a valuable lesson in name development.
In all fairness, the movie is an adaptation of a best-selling German novel of the same name. Perhaps the way the title is translated from German makes for a less laughable combination of words (The original title was Das Parfum).
To pursue that point further: because the name of the movie is such an odd grouping of words whose inherent meanings seem oxymoronic when combined, the title of the movie would work well if it were affixed to a comedy.
Alas, that is not the case here.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer tracks the life of an 18th-century French perfume maker, whose obsession with discovering the right scent leads him to murder.
I’m sorry, but if a film with serious subject matter wishes to achieve some gravitas amongst its viewership – make the name less laughable!
Such a title may work on a book, since you’re dealing with an already niche market. But a film needs a less awkward title, or brand name, since its market and demographic are much larger. Screenhead.com suggested that "the film’s added subtitle must have been an attempt to attract a broader, more bloodthirsty audience."
The name of the movie would not be troublesome if the novel had been one of those literary classics that had penetrated the walls of high schools and colleges for half a century already, or the novel had been a huge hit in America, and rumors of its being made into a movie had been bandied about rapidly, like The Firm or The Da Vinci Code.
That way, transferring the success from book to film is easy, considering how one is piggy-backing on the name recognition of the book.
Perfume also suffered from poor branding, especially during its trailers when the film came off as an ǖber decadent period piece that seemed too obscure or pompous for the average American viewer.
The naming of a film is a delicate process. It depends on so many variables, including what kind of audience you want coming to see your film. And even if the title is set in the U.S., a different title of the same film might be given in the UK, appealing to a new set of rules tailored to its culture.
Sadly, the rules of American culture aren’t welcoming to Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. And that's exactly the type of cultural and language differences that should be considered in brand naming, or when developing a brand name that will be marketed globally.
Check out this related blog post for an interesting take on perfume and product development.
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