Alfred Hitchcock – Master Marketer
I originally wrote this post as part of ClassicForever’s month-long birthday celebration for Alfred Hitchcock in August. It now makes its Anatomy Of A Classic debut. Personal branding may be a current craze, but one of its best practitioners is undoubtedly classic.
We often hear about Alfred Hitchcock’s filmmaking genius – the lush visuals of Vertigo, the building tension in Notorious, the directive camerawork in Psycho, but little about Hitch’s other area of genius – marketing. Here are a few of the ways the Master of Suspense was also the Master of Marketing:
1) Cultivating a persona
Quick – what does Michael Curtiz look like? How does Frank Capra talk? I don’t know either, but I bet it won’t take you a second to conjure up an image of large-jowled, black-suited Hitch with his slow, deliberate speech and his witty black humor. The simple outline of his profile serves as an easily recognizable logo. He was the high-profile figurehead of his own product line. It’s personal branding at its best. Hitch carefully crafted a complete character in order to have another way to sell his films – as an off-screen star. He soon became as large of a draw as his A-list actors. The public wanted to see the newest Hitchcock film partly because they knew who he was and what he stood for.
This isn’t a criticism. And if you asked Hitch, I bet he’d agree with the label. While his films could speak for themselves, the gimmicks gained extra public attention and added an element of fun. When Hitch announced that no late patrons would be admitted to theaters playing Psycho and pleaded with audiences not to give away the ending to their friends, the film became an instant “water cooler” topic. The cameos Hitch made in almost all of his films made for a fun game where audiences would see if they could spot the filmmaker. These things didn’t add significant artistic merit to his movies, but they helped bring them to a larger audience.
3) Producing Provocative Content
Pushing the envelope was one of Hitch’s specialties. He never shied away from things that at the time were deemed “morally unsound”. And while I’m not calling him a sensationalist, I think he kept in mind that scandal equals attention. Hitch was always trying to sneak things past the censors, and often fought with them to keep certain shots or dialogue in his films. In a time where studios could produce a film a week, Hitch had to stand out from the numerous competitors to win the audience’s attention. Exciting, provocative content will do that every time.
4) Finding a Niche
“I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach.”
Unlike a Billy Wilder or Victor Fleming, almost all of Hitch’s films fall into the same genre category – suspense. By sticking to a certain type of filmmaking, Hitch became closely associated with the genre, and soon was widely recognized as the top director in that field. By specializing Hitch was able to link his name with his craft so that when a patron was in the mood for a suspense film, they’d be most likely to seek out the latest Hitchcock movie, knowing that Hitchcock equaled suspense.
Alfred Hitchcock is a fantastic filmmaker. And while his movies have remained so popular primarily because of their quality, let’s appreciate the secondary reason as well – Hitch could market a movie as well as he could make one.