Film studios are getting a lot more comfortable with digital and social media as means of marketing their upcoming films. It’s not really by choice. Evidence is showing films that generate digital buzz pre-launch have much better luck at the box office. 

Sony Pictures, for one, is looking to mobile to make headway with viewers in the lead up to the premiere of this summer’s Karate Kid. Together with Universal McCann and youth marketing specialists Trigger, Sony created a game to target potential audience goers and encourage them to share info about the film, out in June.

Sony thinks the free Karate Kid iPhone game will directly appeal to their moviegoing demographic, with
built-in social networking features to raise awareness of the
movie’s upcoming release.

Five mini-games test your “Kung Fu virtues”: Courage, Endurance,
Patience, Perseverance and Will.
Gamers start as a white belt and rise through levels of the game to achieve
“Martial Arts Mastery”! By completing specific tasks, users unlock special awards and can share their progress with friends on Facebook.

Nikao Yang, executive vice president of AdColony, the company that placed the ads on mobile devices, says:

“We’ve developed these comprehensive campaigns that will speak to the consumer at multiple touchpoints. Video ad executions are the number one way to drive mobile engagement. You kind of get the target consumer in a place where the consumer is.”

Yang says that entertainment clients are really embracing technology in the mobile environment, for the same reason that advertisers and publishers are excited about Apple’s new mobile products — engagement.

“When you interact with the user with a robust video ad, you can create that emotional connection. Everything is converging on video on the mobile handset.”

Why is that? Because the majority of audiences attending a film’s theatrical release are younger users — the ones more likely to be engaged and reached through emerging technology.

“If a studio doesn’t recognize that and thinks they’re going to be able to speak to the 18 to34 year old segment exclusively on TV, well, not a lot of people are watching television.”

The Karate Kid app is only one week old, and it is already one of the top 30 free downloads this week. Yang says the strategy is to run ads 20 to 30 days ahead of the film release and go with a “full-court press” with ads the week of release. Getting an application that people use on their phones helps achieve permanent product awareness.

In a time when studios are seeing the effects of Twitter and Facebook on their bottom line, studios are taking things like mobile games very seriously. As I wrote last week, Disney blamed a failed social media strategy for the flagging opening weekend results for How To Train Your Dragon. Today, traditional print and TV ads just aren’t cutting it for film studios trying to break into the public’s conscience. Says Yang:

“If a studio only ran static ad banners, that’s no way to connect with the user.”

UPDATE: This post has been updated with attribution info for Sony’s app.