Media Circus: Two Timing

Everybody Loved Him: How Jerry Maguire became all things to all people.

By Julene Snyder
Published December 19, 1996 8:00PM (EST)

casual television viewers might be forgiven for thinking that Tom Cruise has two movies out now. In fact, he's only got one. But, like those old Certs commercials promising "two mints in one," the ubiquitous ads for the movie "Jerry Maguire" try to have it both ways: It's a chick flick! It's a sports extravaganza! It's a love story -- with touchdowns!

The movie's plot involves a top sports agent (bearing a strong resemblance to the smug kid from "Risky Business" all grown up) who suffers an attack of conscience, writes a manifesto about honorable sports agentry and gets himself fired. But it strikes me that the advertising campaign behind this faintly charming film is at least as cynical as the high-powered agent amorality that Tom Cruise's Jerry Maguire rails so vehemently against.

You see, before the theatrical release of the film, two distinctly different sets of Jerry Maguire ads were all over television. During viewings of girly-fare like "Beverly Hills 90210," we cut from Brandon Walsh and his girlfriend of the week (Tracy), to clips representing the film as a gauzy love story. Radiant romantic interest Renee Zellweger sighs, "I thought that I was in love enough for both of us." Cruise, looking sweatily intense, coos back, "You complete me."

But for primarily male viewers of the Holy Three -- Seinfeld, Simpsons and Sports -- "Jerry Maguire" looked like a completely different movie. These ads showed lots of football footage, high-fives in locker rooms, as well as shots of a deranged-looking Cruise screaming about money into the phone and grooving along in his car to rock and roll.

The movie's Web site, for its part, features flowery cursive writing, spelling out the slogan: "Everybody loved him. Everybody disappeared. The journey is everything." What this has to do with the actual movie I can not tell you, but I suppose it reads well.

What matters is that everybody loved him -- or, at least, an awful lot of somebodies did. The film's careful marketing paid off -- in this case, to the tune of $17.1 million over the first three days. And, as the L.A. Times was to report, this "romantic comedy set in the sports world ... appealed primarily to women -- the actor's core audience -- but attracted more men than usual for a Cruise project, according to a source close to the film."

It's easy to imagine the conversations that went on in planning this orchestrated cut and paste: "When couples will browse through the paper looking for a movie that they can both agree on, they'll wind up settling for this one. It's fool-proof." While this approach isn't entirely unprecedented -- as evidenced by the marketing of the Kevin Costner love-meets-sports movie "Tin Cup," released in August of this year -- it is more than a bit misleading for Joe and Jane Schmoe, who just want to see a movie they'll both enjoy. I suspect, given the film's high gauzy content, any Joe expecting a sports flick will feel more than a bit disgruntled when the lights go up.

In a chat with Mr. Showbiz, 35-year-old writer/director Cameron Crowe, (an early-bloomer who went undercover as a high-school student to research "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" more than a decade ago), complained: "My stuff is never that easily marketable. ... And even now, with Tom Cruise playing Jerry Maguire, I still sit in that room and hear guys say, 'We don't really know how to market your film.' ... Now I've accomplished something -- I've made a Tom Cruise movie that they don't know how to market!"

But clearly, marketers McCann-Erickson worked something out: a blitzkrieg, divide and conquer approach. The box office numbers show that it's succeeding. And now that the movie has reached number one, the TV ads have morphed into something new, naturally enough filled with accolades snipped from thither and yon.

Still, the previews at the theater where I saw the movie suggested that the marketers hadn't quite figured out who the audience sitting in the dark would be. Just to be on the safe side, they veered schizophrenically from the boy-pleasing giant bugs, action and guns of "The Fifth Element" to "The Evening Star," the sequel to the ultimate tear-jerking chick flick, "Terms of Endearment." Just like grade school: Boy, girl, boy, girl.

Hey, whatever works. But next time, I get to pick the movie, OK?

EXTRA! Soccer Moms Destroy Civilization!

This week's most stunning journalistic revelation comes from the pages of the conservative Weekly Standard. Apparently the Second Sex has taken over America, or so Christopher Caldwell's cover story whines. "Women now constitute a class -- a dominant class," Caldwell pules in a massive screed titled "The Feminization of America." And they're making sure that everything -- from the outcome of elections to the coverage of the Olympics -- is designed to fit their overemotional and irrational whims. Caldwell is ticked off plenty about the "soft focus" coverage of the summer games, which transformed a nice manly contest into a "big sob story about cancer and dying fathers." (Actually, we thought that was John Tesh's fault.) Even worse: even though the ladies "are less interested in politics and don't know what they think about political issues ... they are likelier to turn out at the polls than men." It seems that Caldwell hasn't learned the manly art of losing gracefully.

Julene Snyder

Julene Snyder is a writer living in San Diego.

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