The film and television industry is a highly competitive market driven by demanding consumers who aren't afraid to tell you how they feel. Although it feels like such a lucrative business, the reality is that the margin for error between producing a hit and a dud is relatively small. Production companies and marketing outfits have gone bankrupt with just one or two missteps. In an industry that fights tooth and nail for any advantage in gaining the attention and the money of audiences, any advantage is vital.
The marketing strategies used by films and television shows are essential to their success. Marketing also often gets none of the praise and all of the blame for box office and rating performance. So, as a key proponent of financial success, marketing must be used effectively and efficiently. What is today's most outstanding advertising tool? Digital marketing of course.
Although a study in 2015 indicated that only 10% of US advertising spending is used on digital marketing, it can't be denied that online advertising and other digital marketing strategies can either help a film soar or derail its chances completely. Here are some examples of when Hollywood got its digital marketing right:
A tagline that kills
Marketing, especially on digital platforms, is all about amping up the hype for any movie. If you're showcasing a drama, you want the audience to be tearing up even before they go see it. If you're selling a horror flick, people should feel slightly unsettled after seeing your ads. Watching a movie is mainly meant to simulate a roller coaster ride of emotions, and as people wait in line for their turn, you want them to hear others' screams and cheers from their seats, feel the soft rumble of the ground as their turn gets closer, let their hearts race even faster.
Anticipation is the key to selling your show. One that executed this emotional come-hither is The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Already, it was facing the challenge of not eliciting enough of an emotional response from audiences, aside from anger or disgust at the main character. This murder case was covered by media so extensively that the general populace must feel as though there could be nothing new worth watching. That's where the marketing magic happened.
They used the tagline “You don't know the half of it.” This tells the audience that there is a whole iceberg of information that you don't even know yet. This “peek behind the legal curtains” angle definitely increased the mystery behind the show and contributed to how many people watched. Besides, who can resist watching a car wreck of a story unfold? Posting these teasers all over the Internet exponentially increases the buzz for any story.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story - Official Trailer
The right venue for the right kind of party
Digital marketing, as a platform, is also less restrictive than most other marketing media. Television, newspapers, and radio heavily control what you can or cannot say. The same applies to billboards, theaters, and other public spaces. The digital world is a little less monitored and controlled than traditional media. For instance, networks can be concerned about which segments of the general audience will see what kind of tv ad content. Will adults see sexually-charged content meant for teens? Will children accidentally watch an explicit trailer for a violent movie? Thus, censorship is stronger in typical public communication areas.
In this regard, the Internet is like the wild west. There is more unpredictability than the traditional channel, and unexpected content can reach you just like that. This makes digital marketing both more dangerous and freer. It is a selling spree with little to no rules. If you are selling an atypical product, say an art film, a low budget production, or even an R-rated film (which is difficult to package for a general audience), digital marketing is your kung fu.
Particularly, if you are an animated hot dog who can talk and wants to promote your movie entitled Sausage Party about the adult-themed adventures of food, the Internet should be your venue of choice. Half of Sausage Party's budget was spent on online advertising, and it worked like a charm. The combination of green humor and cartoon appeal connected with a largely millennial audience on the net and made the film a hit.
Go after exactly who you want
The Internet provides not only a freer marketing medium but also a smarter one. Every click, every hover, every view is a piece of data that marketers can track and use. Privacy issues aside, the net is like a living database that is evolving and adapts almost to the point of self-awareness. Yikes. Every person's social media habits, online purchases, and consumer preferences are compiled, ready for evaluation.
What you have then is a digital book on every person – a marketer's dream. With proper access to this information, digital marketing can now specify target markets almost surgically. In traditional media, targeting segments takes quite a few assumptions on consumer behavior: what time they watch television, what radio shows they like to listen to, etc. Now, there is only factual data. If you want your ad to reach 23-year old single women in Texas, you can do it.
Precisely targeted marketing content can be the difference between a flop and a hit. The Secret Life of Pets is an animated film that follows the unknown nature of the lives of household pets when their owners leave. One could safely assume that the segment for this film is families and children. The movie's marketing heads went more specific than that: they pushed their marketing content to pet lovers of all ages. They also teamed up with PetSmart to achieve even more market penetration. Instead of competing against different animated films which were trying to capture the attention of moviegoers at the time, they went with their competitive advantage and went directly to the people who would appreciate their story.
The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
Intimate marketing that deserves an R-rating
What makes digital marketing even more useful is its ability to reach new levels of intimacy. Most people are in communal settings when watching television or movies, listening to music or the radio, etc. Going through content on your mobile device or your laptop is often a very individual experience. Everything is informal and personalized: the color scheme of your inbox, the font of your text, the beeps, and bops of your device alerts.
Digital marketing feels the same way for most consumers. Watching a trailer in a theater is a public transaction. Seeing a new trailer on Youtube feels more like you are discovering it on your own, and then sharing the trailer online almost makes the film feel like a part of your social experience. This personal connection allows for more resonance with audiences. That's why a shorter, more conversational brand or voice is best used for online ads.
The perfect example of this is the two Deadpool films. Who doesn't love Ryan Reynolds' swashbuckling, sarcastic antihero? Package that character into 1-minute diatribes on pop culture or comic book movies? That's marketing gold. The method of actually having him introduce teasers and trailers by talking one on one with the audience? Brilliant and witty. Deadpool playing with action figures to mock an actual trailer? Modern art and oh so meta. This style of advertising is the closest thing to perfection there is.
Just for you, then for everyone
When speaking of intimacy, the word exclusivity also often comes along with it. In marketing, being highly exclusive in a market as broad as filming isn't advisable. They call it mass communications for a reason obviously: to reach as many of the general population as possible.
However, digital marketing makes temporary exclusivity a great possibility for movies. Creating frustration between those with access and those without can increase the same anticipation that is the spirit of marketing. Some marketers announce dates for the online release of trailers. Others provide access to information to those who participate in online marketing activities, such as quizzes, games, or social media engagement.
Today, the best way to create a temporary area of exclusivity is to cater to a film's (or even the industry's) most loyal fans. Exclusive events like comic book conventions give people a closer look at developments in the entertainment industry, particularly upcoming movies and television shows. Trailers are shown there privately for large groups, who have first access to such content. How many times have you gone on Google to search for footage taken at these conventions? This proves how much temporary exclusivity can drive up demand and curiosity for any film or show.
Marvel and DC have done this very well. Another example is Jungle Book, the live action version. Most fans of the original Disney film were skeptical about it, but after catering to the same fans directly and showing them an exclusive into the film, the producers were able to win them over. This allowed for quick word-of-mouth and the demand to see the trailer (and the film) nudged up. Then, quickly after being exclusive, the marketing content becomes communal, as online sharing of the videos revs up.
Immersing the audience in the fantasy
Perhaps the most exciting advantage of digital marketing for movies is how dynamic a medium it is. Digital content can use a variation of strategies to become a more immersive experience than any traditional content can be.
Gamification of film/tv
One typical way a film or television show evolves is by becoming a video game after its box office run. Terminator, Aliens, SpongeBob, Fast and the Furious... the list goes on. Some films, however, use games to drum up interest before it is released. Games can give fans a more in-depth look at the intricate world of their beloved stories. They can become one of the characters. They can interact with these fictional people as if they are part of the story too. They can even discover clues about what occurs in the upcoming movie.
This has been done many times before but not nearly often enough. One of the best at it was the marketing for Hunger Games. They created a Virtual Hunger Games, where you could join a specific district (depending on your personality), explore the lives of District 1 to 12, and participate in tasks to determine your character's future in the overall scheme of the movie. You could view your profile and track your progress as a character. Not only did this allow fans to experience the dangers of living in that dystopia, but it also gave people the chance to simulate how they would do in such a scenario.
Interactive, in-your-face digital marketing
Movies have made leaps and bounds in terms of helping audiences feel like they are in the picture itself. Advances in 3-D, IMAX, and digital sound have been so impressive that you do almost feel the action. At the same time, digital marketing has been making developments of its own. Digital content has also reached the point of enhancing visual and auditory senses.
The show Stranger Things had an already amazing marketing strategy in place. They posted the first few minutes of the show on Youtube and also on an online service called Twitch, which is often used by gamers. Audiences were already being treated to a free viewing of how the mystery starts for four young boys. People were hooked.
But they didn't stop there. Netflixed produced a virtual reality experience that lets audiences step into the house where all the creepy things happen. It offers a 360-degree look at the home audiences have grown to care for. Such an intimate and strong visual made the content viral in a matter of hours. This is the pinnacle of interactive marketing.
Stranger Things the VR Experience Poster
These Hollywood marketing successes and happily-ever-after's highlight the importance of a brilliant digital marketing campaign. Although there are many more examples of films and television shows getting it wrong, the experiences above are the standards that should be used as future guideposts. So, to all the marketing people out there: remember to be a Deadpool in a world so full of Green Lanterns. ;)