Two adverts for new films appeared within a couple of pages of each other in my local newspaper recently, and together, they almost formed a trend. The first was for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, John Madden's entertaining and bracingly gerontocentric comedy about seven oldies abroad in India, already a hit, and being advertised off the back of positive reviews, to ensure continued box office. These were some of the quotes on the ad:
"British film at its best ... whoever you are, go and see this film!"
"The must-see film of the year!"
"A truly wonderful experience."
Such notices are the sort that money cannot buy. The ad, which ran over half a page, was a colourful collage of such positive, gushing quotes. It was a very effective plug. However, if you looked more closely, you discovered that the reviews were not from critics, but members of the public:
Sheena, 55, Pudsey, West Yorkshire
Richard, 52, London
Anne, 51, Glasgow
At which point, I thought: "Genius." Not only was the ad saying, "Forget the critics - this is what paying customers thought of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", it gave the ages of those customers, suggesting the film's demographic target. (Actually, the marketing department was shrewd enough to include people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s - I'm in my 40s and I enjoyed it, although I would urge anyone over 50 to go, as it is squarely aimed at you.)
A few pages later, I saw an advert for Project X, a much less marketable comedy, in that it has no famous people in it (a deliberate policy, as it's presented as a home video), but comes from "the producers of The Hangover". It, too, had some rave reviews:
"Absolutely brilliant! I didn't stop laughing. A game-changing film."
"One of the best movies ever, everyone should watch it."
It also had some high star ratings from magazines like Nuts, Heat and Loaded, but the above quotes were from...Twitter.
The first was posted by @larawadey, who I looked up. She seems to exist - although her avatar is of a sunbathing woman whose head is cropped off - she's in London and to date she has 119 followers, but no other biographical information is forthcoming. Who is she? One assumes she saw Project X and was moved to rave about it.
The other quote was Tweeted by @TheBigQas - a London band "using music to spread the message of Islam" - who have 37 followers. Their quote is nonetheless being used to spread the message of Project X. Why should I care what they think? Equally, why shouldn't I care?
Two questions arise.
One: are ads in which the reviews and quotes come from members of the public poised to oust the once-regal film critics from their ivory towers? The internet is an egalitarian democracy - sometimes deafeningly so - where everybody's opinion is as important as everybody else's, and none carries more weight than another.
Two: why should we trust these quotes?
I'm not suggesting for a moment that the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel reactions aren't from real people; I'm certain they are. If I'd stood outside my local cinema after seeing it and harvested quotes from my fellow patrons, I'm sure I could have filled two adverts with raves. (Some critics were a bit sniffy, some not, but it is, at the end of the day, a people's film.) However, I find the Twitter comments more worrying. Anybody could start an account on the social networking site, give themselves a stupid name, and write a great review of Project X, which could then be passed off as genuine. Who's to know? It's impossible to check.
Again, I'm sure the two quotes used by Project X are 100% independent and genuine. But it's a technique that's wide open to abuse.
Perhaps - fingers crossed! - this new, democratic form of advertising will, in fact, return film critics to their ivory towers, where they can continue dispensing their opinions from positions of privilege but with verifiable credentials. You may not agree with me, but at least I'm real, and you can check my CV.