The internet and digital media have been accused of contributing to the slow demise of the movie industry, however it’s also a fact that digital has enabled filmmakers on a budget to attract a wider audience than was possible in the analogue age.
Social media has been one of the obvious agents of change, as films can gain huge amount of buzz through word-of-mouth.
It means the movie-going public no longer has to rely on official reviews and adverts on the side of a London bus to find out about the latest releases.
Our own Christopher Ratcliff has already touched on this subject in an article about intriguing examples of online movie marketing, but I felt it was a topic that deserved further investigation.
And for an expert view on all things movie marketing, Universal Pictures’ head of digital strategy Albert Hogan will speaking at our Festival of Marketing in November, a two-day celebration of the modern marketing industry,
The Festival also features speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more.
The PR benefits of crowdfunding are obvious. You get loads of movie fans involved in creating a film, meaning they all have a stake in its success, meaning they’ll all talk about it and create a certain amount of buzz online.
If you have a big star involved in the movie, then so much the better.
Veronica Mars is a good example of how the process can work to produce a successful film. Despite three relatively popular seasons on TV, the show’s creators failed to gain Hollywood backing for a film version.
Instead they turned to Kickstarter, offering fans various incentives such as the chance to appear as an extra in the film if they donated $8,000, or a private screening if they stumped up $5,000.
The campaign received a massive $5.7m in funding, making it the most-backed campaign in the site’s history.
There are numerous other examples of directors and screenwriters hoping to gain backing on sites like Kickstarter – people who would otherwise have little chance of realising their creative dream.
But there are also those who unfortunately sully the good intentions of crowdfunders.
Zach Braff ran into controversy last year when it turned out that the $2.6m he raised through Kickstarter was going to be supplemented by $10m from a traditional movie financier.
Braff argued that he needed money from fans to ensure that he retained full artistic control of the project, however some felt they had been duped into lending money to an already-successful actor.
Batman vs. Superman
Superhero movies have been dominating the box office for several years, so it’s stupid to try and hold up Batman vs. Superman as a film that will have to rely on innovative social marketing in order to attract an audience.
However the activity around the film thus far is indicative of a wider trend that sees movie producers generate buzz and excitement years before a film’s release date through ‘leaked’ images.
Sometimes the images come from official sources, such as Batman vs. Superman director Zack Snyder, but often they are surreptitious photos allegedly taken by lucky fans.
— ZackSnyder (@ZackSnyder) September 11, 2014
As the images never really reveal that much it allows fan and bloggers to speculate endlessly about the film’s plot and characters, thereby generating a huge amount of free publicity and online chatter.
Another high profile example is the new Star Wars film. It’s another film that would rake in hundreds of millions of dollars even if the studio spent nothing on marketing, but even so the ‘leaks’ have been coming thick and fast.
Most recently we saw this photo of the Millennium Falcon, which was apparently taken accidentally by someone who just happened to be flying over the set.
— THE FILM INFORMER MX (@filminformerMX) September 10, 2014
If I Stay
Apparently If I Stay is a very popular young-adult novel, but unfortunately I’m an old man so I’ve never heard of it.
Even so, the fact that the movie version raked in $16.3m in its opening week is very noteworthy, particularly as it came on the back of an excellent social media campaign.
Warner Brothers focused its marketing efforts on visual micro-content that was suitable for sharing on Instagram and Tumblr.
For example, the film’s Instagram feed has more than 200,000 followers and includes content such as inspirational quotes, pictures and videos of the actors, and photos taken from the film.
If I Stay’s stars were also very active on Twitter and Instagram, talking to fans and sharing posters and behind-the-scenes images.
However one of the smartest moves was getting the public deeply involved in the film’s marketing activities.
Fans were asked to vote on their favourite moments from the trailer, create GIFs and share their own photos using a special hashtag.
Warner Brothers then created an alternate poster using fan-voted suggestions and also released a new trailer featuring fan photos.
Obviously the book’s existing popularity was a factor in the film’s success, but the creativity that went into promoting If I Stay is impressive.
Econsultancy writer Christopher Ratcliff has already said all that needs to be said about the digital marketing campaign behind The LEGO Movie, but I’ll give it a brief summary.
It relied heavily on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, to engage with fans and build excitement around the film’s release.
This involved developing a web app that allowed fans to create their own LEGO figure, picking a ‘fan of the week’, and sharing photos that people had taken of the movie poster.
Making social a central part of the marketing campaign signalled a big shift for LEGO, as it had previously neglected social media despite having a huge cult following.
The Fault In Our Stars
Another example of a movie based on a popular teen novel that achieved success thanks to a clever social campaign.
Based on a bestseller by John Green, The Fault In Our Stars has made more than $270m worldwide since opening in June.
The marketing campaign involved a flood of set pictures and videos from the book’s author and other cast members, which were shared via Instagram and Tumblr, the latter of which acted as the film’s official website.
Fans were also given the chance to influence the film’s publicity tour schedule, and could enter a competition on Tumblr in which they had to share GIFs to win a visit from Green and the cast.
As if that wasn’t enough, they got teen idol Ed Sheeran on the soundtrack and livestreamed a concert with him and other artists.
All of this activity aims to make fans feel involved in the film’s production so they’re sold on the idea of paying to see it before they’ve even seen the trailer.
The Fault In Our Stars is perhaps unique in that the book’s author was already a popular star on social before the publicity around the movie began.
That kind of popularity obviously comes as a welcome bonus when trying to promote a film to a teen audience.
The much-awaited sequel to Anchorman became one of the most over-publicized movies of all time.
The activity was based on an intensive content marketing campaign that made it impossible to avoid Ron Burgundy and his fellow characters.
Ron appeared on various local news stations, discussed Australian elections, sold cars for Dodge, released an autobiography and encouraged fans to film their own auditions for his news team via a mobile app.
All this sat alongside official accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.
It meant that despite scoring negative reviews, the film beat the original’s box office takings and pulled in more than $100m in the US alone.