At Cannes this year, an enterprising producer came up with the wheeze of advertising his film on the underside of toilet seats in leading hotels. It's a ploy that carries with it an in-built joke about the quality of the product but it expresses a truth that's become increasingly evident this year.

If there is one fact of life with which we all wrestle, it's what marketing people call 'noise'. When the most basic of bodily functions becomes an opportunity to sell, you know it's tough to be heard out there.

The paradox of today's media is that the means of communication are greater than at any time in human history, but grabbing anyone's attention is increasingly difficult.

We have created the means to make far more films and now have new channels to reach customers, but the result is a cacophony where it's difficult to know what's good and bad - or more to the point what does or does not appeal to specific sets of customers.

When it comes to noise, Hollywood studios have the luxury of being able to shout loudest. This summer's extraordinary march of the blockbusters deserves to be remembered for the marketing almost as much as the product.

Critics may have hated some of the films and the whole summer may have been dismissed sniffily as a collection of unimaginative sequels, but they sure as hell got into our consciousness.

Let's not forget, that consciousness is now on a global scale. Marketing for the big films has had to become bigger, with a serious impact on profits.

A name star is rarely enough in itself. Reese Witherspoon may be deemed the most bankable star but - other than Legally Blonde - one rarely hears anyone talking about a Witherspoon film in the way they might have done about a Tom Cruise movie.

Filling that global gap has meant pulling every trick in the book and inventing a few more. These have stretched from gaming tie-ins to Fox's very funny - if environmentally questionable - etching of a 180ft Homer Simpson into a chalk hillside alongside one of the UK's best-known landmarks, the Cerne Abbas Giant (see People, p14).

Studios can scale up to the challenge of global marketing but it's a different box of doughnuts for smaller films.

Those end-of-year reviews that are cropping up on film channels, newspapers and so on seem to suggest the public had lost its appetite for intelligent movies. In reality, this was something of a vintage year for the thinking film, with wonderful examples at festivals, together with box-office success for the likes of The Lives Of Others. But these were exceptions that prove the rule.

The challenge these days is to make an impact quickly enough to catch customers during those tiny release windows. Word of mouth may be taking a more prominent role but that's not much use if it can't be synchronised with screening dates and times.

The fear of many arthouse film-makers is that marketing means films compromised by easy messages. But the truth is that there are large numbers of relatively affluent people who look for complex, intelligent films - but they aren't being reached. Successful marketing to that extent is the antidote, not the cause, of compromise.

Time is not on the industry's side because every business in the world is thinking the same way. The fight for time and attention in a world of media saturation will only get harder.

At Cannes 2008, it would be no surprise to see that someone has made a commercial enterprise out of selling toilet-lid space as lavatorial real estate.

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