Battlefield Earth, The Postman, Pluto Nash, Toys, Heaven’s Gate, Howard The Duck… the Dishonor Roll of major studio motion pictures that have cratered at the box office goes on and on. A 2008 Anne Bancroft movie entitled Delgo premiered at 2,000 cinemas and averaged two viewers per screening. The Katherine Heigl vehicle Zyzzyx Road cost millions of dollars to produce and earned at the box office exactly 30 bucks. In an era where it can cost well over $100 million to produce a Hollywood blockbuster and considerably more than that to market it, the studios are looking at social media as their next promotional frontier, a channel that offers the ability to engage and motivate millions of potential ticket-buyers at a relative pittance.
Conventional Fifties Marketing
The conventional way for Hollywood studios to market their movies is straight out of the Fifties. It involves massive conventional media buys in newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations to broadcast the movie’s advertising message to the widest possible audience, then premiering it simultaneously on as many screens as they can muster. In an age of increasingly fragmented consumer interests, that business model is as outdated as barbers offering abdominal surgery on the side.
ROI: $10,000 to $1
The prototype for this new marketing strategy is Paramount’s Paranormal Activity, a Blair Witch-type of movie that was produced on a credit card limit budget and leveraged social media to roll out the movie as demand built in particular geographic areas. The studio asked social networking participants to request a screening in their neighborhood cinema, and went on to gross over $150,000,000 at the box office: a return on investment of a “mere” $10,000 for every dollar spent in production.
A Boon to Indie Filmmakers
This trend to market motion pictures on social networks could be the best thing to happen to independent filmmakers since the launch of the Sundance Film Festival. When a $15,000 “home movie” can go on to make over a hundred million dollars almost exclusively on its social media buzz, the doors to cost-effective and accessible movie promotion swing wide open to the countless impoverished non-studio filmmakers who have no choice but to produce full length motion pictures on shoestring budgets.
… but the Movie Has to Be Good!
Social media allows each movie to seek out its own audience. Blood-splattered horror movies have a distinctly different audience from action blockbusters, which also vary from “chick flicks.” By targeting those specific groups in their social media promotional strategies, movie marketers are able to build up anticipation and interest in a film whose budget would cost several orders of magnitude more if performed in the conventional buckshot broadcast advertising manner. There are other elements that also come into play through the innovative social media marketing methods for motion pictures: The movie has to be good! When a studio spends over a hundred million dollars on advertising, they get a flood of audiences on the opening weekend, and if the script stinks and the acting makes oak trees look animated they might stand a chance of recovering their investment before the word gets out that this is Ishtar 2. When a movie is built on word of mouth, there is a much greater onus on quality and appeal to its audience to get online influencers enthused about telling their social cliques all about how much fun the film is.
It has been said that social media is changing marketing before our very eyes and in no industry is that more true than in motion pictures. Given its traditionally stratospheric promotional budgets, the film industry is a prime candidate for the economies to be found in the viral diffusion of movies. It is an approach that is certain to become much more widespread in the future and it is one that all online marketers should keep a close eye on so that they may apply Hollywood’s successful promotional formulas to their own social media marketing.