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Analysis : Warner Bros gives Weinstein Company $1 million of publicity

Warner-bros-vs-weinstein-company-the-butler

Warner Bros hands PR victory to TWC

By now you’ve heard about ‘The Butler’ and how The Weinstein Company have been told that they can’t use that title, but what you may not have realised is, in that process, Warner Bros has indirectly given more than $1 million in free advertising toward the film.

Here’s the battle situation:

Warner Bros on Tuesday won an arbitration through the MPAA’s Title Registration bureau preventing The Weinstein Company from being allowed to use ‘The Butler’ as a title. This was due to the fact it owns the rights to a short comedy film dating back to 1916 called ‘The Butler’.

Weinstein have been actively promoting ‘The Butler’, starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and John Cusack ahead of its August 16th release, but now have to change the title. That’s a pretty big deal.

This is what followed the Warner Bros ruling:

The Weinstein Company hired attorney David Boies to challenge the ruling, issuing this statement on the matter:

“The suggestion that there is a danger of confusion between The Weinstein Co.’s 2013 feature movie and a 1917 [sic] short that has not been shown in theaters, television, DVDs, or in any other way for almost a century makes no sense. The award has no purpose except to restrict competition and is contrary to public policy.”

And now, the marketing impact of Warner Bros’ decision

Since this title fight went public, the battle between Warner Bros and The Weinstein Company has generated enormous press coverage and social discussion. This in turn has not only highlighted the movie, but emboldened those who worked on it for so long, to defend it, publicly. In addition, people that could be interested in this movie are now hearing it so loud, that it has gone overseas to the UK and in other countries. So let’s look at this in more detail:

Key press coverage, at Warner Bros’ expense

The film’s director, Lee Daniels pleaded with the CEO of Warner Bros Studios to allow the film title to remain, which gained coverage from major news outlets:

‘The Butler’ Battle : Lee Daniels Pleads his case to Warner Bros

The Butler Director Lee Daniels Pleads with Warner Bros via Deadline

Lee Daniels ‘Butler’ Letter to Warner Bros via Huffington Post

Then to add to this, Weinstein’s push to contest the decision and face the studio head on with the hiring of David Boies added even more debate on where this was going, gaining international media coverage along the way:

Weinstein Company will fight The Butler title ruling via The Guardian

The Weinstein Company fights back via Variety

You got Served: Weinstein fighting for ‘The Butler’ via the LA Times

The legal battle for ‘The Butler via The Irish Independent

Then we move on to the social impact of TWC vs Warner Bros

Social-media-reaction-warner-bros-twc-the-butler

This was the social discussion around the movie in the last few minutes as I wrote this. People have been drawn into what the film is about. The discussion about the title fight has led to more people discovering the movie’s official trailer (below), again, at Warner Bros’ expense. This has in turn created even more viral marketing off the backend of the coverage as more outlets pick up and spin the story. Key influencers have also highlighted the movie along with the Twitter accounts of publications such as the New York Times, and The NY Daily News, to name but a few.

‘The Butler Trailer’

The value of the coverage:

Getting a product out in the national press in the UK, Canada, Ireland, the US and other territories in the front pages of entertainment sections has a value of more than $1 million in my view, after reviewing the scale of the debate and combined coverage. Coupled with the fact that the news content is positive for TWC, and helps them build a case to defend their movie now and in the future, is well, just priceless.

Why Warner Bros is losing this debate

Now whether you agree or disagree with the ruling about ‘The Butler’, a lot of people have been pretty upset by the idea that a movie made nearly 100 years ago should affect one today, and particularly after some of the film industry’s most prolific players are involved in it. From a PR point of view, the only company benefitting from this public battle is TWC because they appear to be the underdogs, fighting for a just cause to save their movie and what it stands for.

Warner Bros on the other hand, unfortunately don’t have a good story to support the ruling, because the original film in their library has no recent market presence nor an audience/ fan base to defend it (If anyone knows about the original short film, please feel free to correct me).

It is also unclear to me what Warner Bros would have gained from barring this movie title, seeing as their short film was not being marketed to my knowledge, which could have caused confusion regarding the 2013 movie release. I am sure there are probably legitimate reasons for the ruling, but again, I am finding it hard to support Warner Bros on this one, after looking at this in detail.

However, in my view, if the argument from Warner Bros had been about defending another commercial title with a track record in the marketplace, that was recognized by audiences, TWC would not have been able to contest this one at all. In this instance, I would have favoured Warner Bros. As it stands, TWC now have a chance to make the moral argument for keeping their film title, which is far more powerful in the media than a legal one.

In conclusion:

Regardless of what happens to the film’s title, there is now significant media coverage for ‘The Butler’ and people will be hooked on what the outcome is while The Weinstein Company will gain significant attention for fighting to keep the title of their film. Down the road as we head into August, bloggers and journalists will want to recap, and even stay on top of this story, because it is interesting, and I’m sure you guys can relate to this. After spending years making a movie with a set title, and then being forced to change it, would you be happy?

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