Memorial Day is the unofficial kick-off of the summer movie season, marked more and more by social media-infused promotions. The goal is to drive interest among the typically young, male movie fans with a fusion of traditional and digital PR and marketing, increasing the hype and the ticket sales.
Beginning in 1999 with the “found-footage” film ‘The Blair Witch Project’, the practice is now a must-have movie promotion strategy.
Hunting for (box office) treasure. Think of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) as online scavenger hunts to build hype and provide background for new projects. They act as modern-day grassroots PR campaigns. “Cloverfield” hopped on the bandwagon in mid-2007 with MySpace character pages and “in-world product” sites. The mysterious trailer and secrecy-saturated campaign spurred curiosity, and coverage.
“The Dark Knight” raised the bar with worldwide scavenger hunts led by the Joker, including cakes embedded with cell phones and a mock District Attorney campaign. The results were no joke; the campaign generated TV coverage as it connected more than ten million players in 75 countries.
More recently, “Tron: Legacy” rallied moviegoers with a “crashed” press conference and tokens to the film’s arcade. Even the upcoming “Man of Steel” joined the party, creating an in-world online project that mirrored the hunt for extraterrestrial life through satellite signals. All the campaigns were covered by popular film blogs.
(Smile for the) cameras. Another form of social media promotion is interactive or 3D theater standees, the attention-grabbing larger-than-life posters like this one for “Transformers”. Standees encourage theater-goers to take photos and share them on their favorite social networks while tagging the film’s accounts to build buzz. Despite the visual appeal of a photo with Gandalf or a “Despicable Me 2” Whack-a-Minion display, they rarely result in traditional media coverage, but the social sharing can be a blockbuster in itself.
The “Social Network” path to profits. More and more movies generate buzz with exclusive hashtags, Instagram reveals, and Facebook “likes”. The horror fad film “Paranormal Activity” built a fan base through screening demands on Eventful, an event-sharing and requesting site, with resulting buzz in non-film outlets like Advertising Age.
The savviest film marketing uses in-world social media reveals, custom apps, and hashtags that unlock special poster content. Part of the success behind the megahit “The Hunger Games” was clever use of social sharing and exclusive content, generating recognition on such “mainstream” sites as CNET. For the “Hunger Games” sequel, “Catching Fire,” the studio has already created an updated “Capitol” fashion site, Instagram page, exclusive stylized images linked to the movie, and its first trailer, all some six months before its premiere.
Pay attention this weekend and in coming the months to spot some new trends.