I wouldn’t like to estimate the Uma Thurman brand equity prior to the release of her latest film Motherhood, but the fact that it grossed only £88 on its UK debut is a bit of a give-away.

There’s an inherent promise in every brand and being consistent with that is the secret to success.  Personally I think that regardless of the content of the film it was probably doomed at birth by its name.  ‘Motherhood’ is hardly consistent with the promise established by Thurman’s previous work.  Maybe she would have had more success with ‘Kill Mother’ or  something, but I have to admit, I’m a little surprised that the existing brand equity didn’t put more bums on seats.

Brand builders tread a very narrow path.  Deliver your promise and your equity multiplies, fail to deliver it and it will diminish.  What is more, while it may cost ten times as much to entice a new customer as to sell a second time to an existing one, if you fail to deliver your promise and disappoint, the bill for getting that customer back again will be more like a hundred-times the original cost.  If more than eleven people had forked out to see this movie the disappointment and consequently the cost and the damage to the brand could have been even greater.

Given that cinema like this relies on a younger demographic, who by definition are more likely to research a movie on the Internet prior to buying tickets, its tempting to conclude that the Thurman brand wasn’t strong enough in the first place to withstand the bad reviews that the movie received in the US – hence the low turn-out.  Alice In Wonderland received bad reviews too, but the equity of the Burton and Depp brand proved more resilient.

The critical difference may be that the Depp promise is visual, boundary-breaking, creativity that can and does apply to any role or genre.  Thurman is rather more about mindless action, which lends nothing to Motherhood.  Then again, Depp also has acting ability on his side, which has never really been a factor in Thurman’s brand.

There’s a lot of over-confidence and bad decision-making evident in this disaster.  The belief that the brand could sustain the new idea of the actress in a radically different kind of role and failure to appreciate what the Thurman ‘promise’ actually is.  Its just a pity that the producer, despite the film’s dismal performance in the US, blames the UK distributors for bad marketing.  Although if this were the case and the reviewers are correct, the distributors may even have done Thurman a favor by not revealing it to too many people!

Michael Weaver
April 2, 2010

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