Since beginning digital creative agency Ralph in London in 2006, my colleagues and I have immersed ourselves in the world of entertainment marketing, based upon our business objectives and our interests in the promotion of movies, television shows, and video games.
At Ralph, we feel that digital is the obvious channel for marketing movies: It's where the audiences are, and it's where they spend most of their time -- either online or on mobile. Movies are also a social experience. They are something we want to share with friends and family, something to get excited about and look forward to.
To us, a digital campaign should become an extension to a movie. It should give the audience something they can engage with and be entertained by. It should provide bespoke content and features, as well as exclusives to make the user feel special and want to share that cool piece of content they have just found. It's all about entertainment -- that's what we are promoting. And the digital campaign should always do justice to the movie it supports.
Most audiences are very web savvy and engaged by cool, bespoke, cutting-edge creative combined with the latest technology. Sadly for Kevin Costner, we have also learned that it's not necessarily true that if you build it, they will come. Rather, it's about taking it to where they are already hanging out and spending their time, and giving them a damn good reason to interact with it.
With that introduction, here are four recent movie campaigns we feel are especially noteworthy, for different reasons.
In terms of effectiveness, I hope you'll agree that this is the killer movie campaign of the recent past. This was a low-budget movie, costing just $15,000 to make, so I would imagine the problem for Amy Powell and her team at Paramount was determining what exactly they should throw at it. "The Blair Witch Project" was a low-budget film that took in $140 million due mainly to mass buzz online that went "viral." "Paranormal Activity" presented a big opportunity for Paramount to replicate that success. However, since the Blair Witch days, it has gotten pretty crowded out there.
The movie centers on a young couple, Katie and Micah, who are haunted by a supernatural presence in their home. The movie is presented in the style of "found footage," from the camera set up by the couple to capture what was haunting them.
Paramount's campaign revolved around a low-cost social media strategy through which fans were asked to "demand" that the movie come to their town. It started with director Oren Peli opening the movie in 13 college towns across America. Peli then invited users to demand where the movie should be played next using Eventful.com. This was a great viral marketing initiative in its own right. As venues sold out, Paramount decided to open it up for a nationwide release if the movie got 1 million Eventful.com demands. This, combined with midnight screenings set up at key venues to get people buzzing about the movie, worked great, and the goal was reached on Eventful.com.
So far as I know, this was a first in movie marketing. For this film, Eventful.com gave Paramount and the filmmakers a great social media channel to facilitate their campaign objectives online.
Paramount also recorded people's reactions to watching the movie and then used that footage for TV spots and the trailer. Centering on the reactions of the audience and allowing them to pass them on, Paramount obviously had every confidence that the film would create the right kind of reactions, and that leveraging those would be a unique and powerful way to sell it.
All marketing materials had a user-generated feel to them, making everything feel consistent and independent, and beautifully connecting with the "demand it" strategy.
Twitter and Facebook were also used very effectively. Users were encouraged to "Tweet Your Scream," and this sparked masses of retweets. "Tweet Your Scream" received a lot of publicity and, again, focused on the audiences' reactions and giving them the tools and content to sell the movie themselves.
Not only did Paramount deliver a unique and user-driven marketing campaign, but it also covered its bases by asking people to demand the movie before going to the expense of putting it out there. That's why, in my view, this was a very clever, effective, and killer movie marketing campaign.
The success of the movie and its marketing has resulted in Amy Powell going on to set up a specialist division of Paramount to look at films that cost under $100,000 to make. In the age of low cost, disposable content where the consumer is marketing for you, this has got to be a good move.
"Kick-Ass" is about a kid who decides to become a superhero even though he has no superpowers, which prompts other everyday people to join in. Since the movie is simultaneously funny, vengeful, and romantic, it has broad appeal.
"Kick-Ass" wasn't very well known outside of core comic book circles and Mark Miller fans, and because it came on-board without much lead time before the theatrical release, the Lionsgate marketing team had to build awareness for the property quickly. As such, its first promotional efforts focused on introducing the character of Kick-Ass, after which it presented the other characters to communicate that the story wasn't about only one guy.
Driven by the graphic treatments in the trailers, the look and feel of the marketing evolved to become more confident, bolder, and more iconic as activity ramped up. Consisting of three general-audience trailers and a restricted red band version, the trailers were all great. Among them, the first one featured a superhero in full costume launching himself off a sky-scraper and landing on a cab, which helped communicate the basic premise, as well as the look, feel, and tone of the movie.
There were also some spectacular outdoor advertisements, like this one that had prime position on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood:
In addition, Facebook was innovatively employed to push out messages from the main characters, including Red Mist and Hit Girl, who all had their own Facebook pages. This not only introduced the characters, but it was also a great way of publishing new content and engaging fans over time. Users became fans of the characters well in advance of the movie release.
Between the debut of the official website and the movie's release several months later, the site had a few different incarnations. In each of them, the site consistently focused on the main characters and offered games based on each one. The restricted areas of the site contained video clips, the red band trailer, and a soundboard -- all giving the target market some very cool content to share.
Ralph got involved with the project early on and pitched Lionsgate the idea for a superhero creator. In the finished IWillKickAss.com site, we encouraged users to use Facebook Connect to pull in a photo to customize. They could add 3-D stickers to their photo of masks, body armor, gloves, boots, and weapons ranging from guns to feather dusters or pints of beer. Then, they could watch their character star in a customized trailer and get friends and family to vote for their superhero on a 3-D wall. The top 10 highest rated superheroes were judged by Mark Miller, and the winner's character will star in "Kick-Ass 2" the comic. The site had 29,000 people using it every day at its peak, and the average time on the site was 6.5 minutes.
Lionsgate is very good at retrofitting YouTube channels, and the "Kick Ass" one was no exception. When this launched, we witnessed a huge increase in traffic to our site.
Furthermore, opening night was a screening at SXSW, where branded vans were used to transport people to the screening, helping generate a lot of buzz and publicity.
Overall, the campaign built a lot of awareness and anticipation for the movie. In time for the April 16 theatrical debut, the characters were well introduced, people already had their favorites, and they couldn't wait to see them in the movie.
The movie reached No. 1 in the U.S. box office in its opening week. It's one of the best movies I've seen, and hats off to Matthew Vaughn and team. But Lionsgate also deserves a lot of credit for putting a ballsy campaign out there -- which is exactly what this movie needed.
Clearly, the marketing campaign for "Alice in Wonderland" generated a great deal of buzz and got a lot of people very excited about this movie, in which Tim Burton and Johnny Depp once again teamed up to deliver a rich, entertaining theatrical experience.
When the initial trailer was launched well in advance of the release date, I remember many people unexpectedly getting very excited about it, including a 27-year-old male soccer fan I know. Interestingly, the trailer focused on Depp as the Mad Hatter, rather than Alice. That trailer, and the buzz it generated when it was launched at Comic-Con as part of a detailed "Alice in Wonderland" exhibit, made it clear that this was an amazing movie -- a rich visual feast with Depp in a role he was born to play. Add in the fact that the film was going to be in 3-D, and fans groups worldwide began forming up in excited anticipation.
In overview, the film's marketing campaign was brilliantly, consistently executed. It displayed the visual feast of rich colors and scenes viewers would experience and dramatically showcased each of the main characters. The one-sheets looked great and worked well individually and as a set, and the characters all looked so awesome that fans of all ages were converted into collectors.
The official website meets every expectation -- it looks great, loads quickly, and draws us in with a high-quality shot of Alice falling down the rabbit hole before transitioning to the rich colorful world below. It also wonderfully features Danny Elfman's amazing score. In the site's character section, visitors can explore the characters to their hearts' content.
This campaign also makes extremely effective use of Facebook by prompting visitors to decide which character they want to become a fan of, thereby having them choose a side. Fans of the character that earned the most subjects were rewarded with an exclusive trailer. The film's Facebook page has more than 1.4 million "likes."
In the end, "Alice in Wonderland" was highly successful at the box office. It broke all records for the month of March and has outperformed "Avatar" on the IMAX screens.
The marketing team from Warner Bros. put out a big, mainly offline campaign for this movie. Its recipe for success begins with what I consider to be a great example of a movie title that sells itself. Virtually every adult has suffered from a really bad hangover, and watching other people go through the pain is the basis for a must-see theatrical experience.
When you combine that basic appeal with the campaign's tagline of "Feel it June 5," promote the fact that this is from veteran director Todd Phillips, and feature imagery of a bearded guy wearing a baby in a sling, you've hooked guys like me into desperately wanting to see this film.
Other campaign posters included one in which Heather Graham states, "Well, technically I'm an escort," and another featuring Justin Bartha under the headline, "Have you seen this man?"
The first trailer began with a call to the bride saying that Doug, her fiancé, has been lost. The action across the first and second trailers then draws from the two-day search for Doug, involving countless hilarious, inexplicable ordeals, including a fist fight with Mike Tyson himself. A red band trailer released later in the campaign pushed the edges -- and the movie's bad-taste humor -- even more.
The official website pushed visitors straight into the trailers' storylines, and splashed a great shot of the guys in the desert with their bashed-up Merc (which I personally love), a tiger, and a chicken, all looking very worn out. Rolling over the navigation at the bottom produced movie sound bites, and the site very creatively pulled visitors in to experience the characters and interact with the movie's plot.
Through each of these facets, I feel that the marketing team did a fantastic job of introducing viewers to all the main characters from the movie and intriguing them with enough hints about the plot's "WTF" storyline to completely draw us in.
This movie's box office results say it all. Clearly, the campaign was effective, as this was the 2009 runaway success for Warner Bros. From my perspective, this is a great example of how a film's title, positioning, and offline and online marketing can go a very long way in selling a movie.
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