The knock on Hollywood is that it's been slow to adapt in the digital age. Fair or not, it's worth noting just how revolutionary the last decade has been for Tinseltown.
Movies -- even the blockbusters -- are now labeled a success or flop based on their opening weekend box office. DVDs, once a huge profit center for studios, have fallen off the map. Still, while consumers clearly love digital distribution, no single platform or model has emerged. In fact, industry insiders still debate whether streaming or downloads are the wave of the future. At the same time, marketing a movie through traditional media has only gotten more expensive because everyday it gets harder to break through the clutter.
Television is also at a crossroads. The networks have seen a steady decline in ratings, while cable channels have matured into household names. Shows that once had a season or more to find an audience now operate in a world where cancelation notices often fly after a few episodes. Only sports and news continue to attract live audiences, but many networks have found that their shows have a long tail on services like Netflix.
Yet for all the chaos, audiences are still passionate about great entertaining content. Social media can move the needle. Good buzz on Facebook can push a movie's campaign over the top and drive box office. Television viewers use Twitter and the new wave of social TV apps to redefine the viewing experience. Entertainment brands are increasingly turning to these channels to engage directly with consumers, but simply having a dedicated Facebook or Twitter presence is now par for the course. Going above and beyond with social is a key ingredient to marketing entertainment -- something these brands do especially well.
In Hollywood, when you have a bestselling novel like "The Hunger Games," it's easy to spend like a drunken sailor and plunk down big bucks for a traditional media buy. But that's not what Lionsgate did. Instead, the small studio got smart with its marketing dollars, putting a big bet on a long-running campaign social media campaign. With an estimated $386 million in box office, the campaign clearly worked. But as PaidContent pointed out, the studio may have "created a new template" for movie marketing.
Rather than paying for social media buzz on Facebook and Twitter, and then using those platforms to push digital assets, Lionsgate went in the opposite direction. The studio's marketing team put its focus on creating a truly impressive interactive tour of The Capital, a key location in both the film and the book.
Detractors may point out that Lionsgate, as a so-called "mini-major," didn't have the $100 million-plus most studios spend to market a blockbuster, and therefore fell back on a less expensive digital strategy that leveraged an already successful book property. That criticism ignores the fact that the studio still had to execute. Had the initial social media pitch failed to hook fans -- or worse, if the virtual tour had been a dud -- Lionsgate would have effectively been throwing cold water on the film's core audience. Instead, the studio found a way to build and sustain buzz for a long-anticipated property.
20th Century Fox
It's not hard to generate social buzz with an online trailer for an established franchise. After all, there's a built-in audience that's ready to watch the trailer and tweet it out. But these days, it's just as important to build and sustain excitement between the trailer's online debut and the film's premiere. To do that, the marketing team at 20th Century Fox flexed its storytelling muscle with a series of YouTube videos for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."
Originating from the film's "Apes Will Rise" YouTube channel, "found footage" videos of apes engaging in terrifying human behavior quickly became viral hits. Footage of an ape with an AK-47 scored more than 8 million views within weeks. The campaign eventually took on a life of its own, even going so far as to leverage real-life events. When Los Angles braced for "Carmageddon," images of apes preparing to attack the freeway surfaced on the web. Of course, the hashtag "apes will rise" was spray-painted on one of the overpasses.
The film, which was expected to open at No. 1, took in $176 million in domestic box office. Ahead of the release, Mashable wondered if the digital campaign was bold enough. But a summary of the total social campaign from Mekanism, the agency that worked with the studio, highlights just how much buzz the movie had achieved by the time of its premiere.
More than any other studio, Sony Pictures has embraced online video to promote its films. According to Visible Measures, the studio leads the league in True Reach with nearly a billion total views from 2011 to March 2012. The next closest studio, by way of reference, has more than 760 million views for the same period. It's not just the sheer numbers that are noteworthy.
To promote "The Vow," a romantic drama with Channing Tatum, Sony cleverly combined star power with Facebook: Known as the "Sweet Nothings" campaign, Tatum recording web videos that carried personalized messages to fans of the movie's Facebook page. "Your friend wanted me to tell you that they think you're pretty awesome," Tatum says in one video, adding, "and they love hanging with you." The campaign also included a steady stream of tweets from inside the studio's marketing department, allowing Sony to keep the conversation going in the period between the trailer's debut and the film's premiere. Perhaps the most novel element of the social media campaign was the decision to post messages on the Facebook page for "Dear John," another romantic drama, with more than 5 million fans.
The campaign worked beyond expectations. "The Vow" opened at No. 1, which was something of a surprise, according to The Los Angeles Times. Ultimately, the movie grossed more than $180 million worldwide.
True Reach numbers provided by Visible Measures.
Franchise films are a big part of Hollywood's business model today. But with one of the biggest franchises in cinema history, Warner Bros. faced the challenge of keeping fans engaged and excited for a decade's worth of Harry Potter films. While the marketing of that franchise's earliest installments predates most of the tools, platforms, and strategies we associate with today's social media, the studio's marketing of the final film -- "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" -- proved that a thoughtful social media campaign is an essential ingredient to any marketing plan and a key driver or box office sales.
Building on the film's long-running Facebook presence, Warner Bros. made sure that the millions of Potter fans had a steady stream of content. The strategy helped create a surge close to the film's release with the Potter page gaining a reported 100,000 fans a day just before opening weekend. But the content wasn't limited to what might be described as marketing materials. In order to unify the franchise and leverage the cumulative growth of the series, Warner Bros. made a smart decision to make some of the earlier Potter films available for rental on Facebook and to promote that on the Deathly Hallows Part 2 page. The campaign also drew on an incredibly active Twitter and YouTube presence that offered fans nonstop Potter content, as well as outreach to the legions websites and blogs where movie buffs congregate.
The final installment in the Potter franchise shattered box office records, and while some of that is attributable to 3D ticket prices, it's hard to ignore the impact of social media when you consider the sheer passion the studio was able to leverage.
Walt Disney Pictures
When it comes to social media, the folks at Walt Disney Pictures are doing something right. Visible Measures ranks Disney's True Reach for all web videos and trailers as second only to Sony. But one Disney title, "Hannah Montana," managed to snag the top spot among all movie trailers, scoring a True Reach of 529,630,318 to beat out all three Twilight films.
If there's one Disney film that really stands out in terms of social media, it's "The Muppets." The campaign, which Disney began eight months before the film's release, wasn't heavy on gimmicks, but it did have a lot of smarts. Rather than using a bland or even branded voice for the film's Twitter campaign, Disney turned the tweeting over to "Statler & Waldorf," two crusty and often disagreeable Muppet characters known for their heckling ways. Over on YouTube, The Muppets once again showed off their unique voice by posting their own parodies of current films. And on Google+, "The Muppets" became one of the first brands to engage directly with fans at a Google+ Hangout.
While "The Muppets" campaign received high praise for its smart, well-executed approach, it also helped deliver a winner at the box office: The Disney film earned $158 million worldwide.
True Reach numbers provided by Visible Measures.
In January, Lionsgate acquired Summit Entertainment. But prior to the acquisition, Summit proved that it had a knack for using social media to promote its films, especially when it came to the Twilight franchise. Summit is expected to continue operations within Lionsgate.
All the way back in 2009, Mashable praised Twilight stars Peter Facinelli and Billy Burke for being quick to embrace Twitter as a branding tool and promotional platform for the films that made them famous. From a studio perspective, the word that defines Twilight's social media presence is buzz. In fact, the franchise has achieved so much online buzz that it remains a critical benchmark for assessing the word-of-mouth for other popular films like "The Hunger Games" and the various Harry Potters. In all fairness, a lot of that buzz was already in the ether due to the popularity of the books. But Summit clearly stoked the fire by making the film's stars available for live chats on social media channels and offering advance ticket sales through the same channels.
The social campaign for clearly paid off. Visible Measures reports that "Twilight," "Twilight Saga: New Moon," and "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1" hold the two, three, and five spots, respectively, for film trailers with the highest True Reach of all time. Of course, the buzz also helped deliver a big box office, with the latest installment scoring $283.5 million in its opening weekend and a total worldwide gross of $705 million.
True Reach numbers provided by Visible Measures.
As a subscription television channel, HBO's social media strategy isn't just about building buzz -- subscribers already know about the shows and have access to plenty of marketing material on the tube. Instead, the pay channel uses social media to leverage its subscribers' passions, which in turn helps imbue HBO's content with an aura that is somehow bigger and different than mere TV.
Take "Game of Thrones" for example. While HBO actively and effectively uses Twitter and Facebook, the brand isn't afraid to engage on platforms that aren't as well known for their marketing prowess. An HBO-created Tumblr page serves as a showcase for some of the best Thrones fan art on web. HBO also used Miso to enrich the content itself, giving Thrones fans a side-by-side second screen experience that allows them to delve as deep as they wish into the show's complex world.
In April, HBO premiered the second season of "Game of Thrones" to 3.9 million viewers -- a series high. But perhaps the best measure of HBO's social media success is that the second season premiere had so many check-ins on Get Glue that HBO fans actually crashed the site temporarily. "To put the 50,000 check-ins into context, the highly anticipated return of 'Mad Men'...brought in 22,000 check-ins," Mashable reported. "Meanwhile, the season two premiere of 'The Walking Dead' had 43,000, and the 2011 season premiere of 'True Blood' had 38,000 check-ins."
With two of the hottest properties on television, AMC has a lot to talk about on social media. Anyone with friends who are fans of "Mad Men," for example, knows when the show is back in season because their Facebook feeds are overrun with avatars based on the show's popular characters. But the "Mad Men" social presence doesn't stop there. In fact, it continues right up through broadcast, according to Mashable, which reported that the 2012 debut was the most buzzed about show of the year, with 106,000 comments. While AMC uses all the usual social media channels effectively, the cable network deserves a lot of credit for eventually embracing -- or at least not terminating -- the legions of "Mad Men" parody accounts on Twitter. After all, those accounts do plenty to promote the show.
To promote its other big hit, "The Walking Dead," AMC rolled out a Facebook game. Often times, social games can backfire because they cost a lot to make and promote but usually come up short with fans. However, AMC's Facebook game for "The Walking Dead" is an exception to the rule with more than 300,000 fans.
While it's easy to see how strong social media work has paid off in terms of ratings for AMC, what's most impressive is how well the cable network's marketing team balances such a diverse lineup of content. Speaking authentically to comic book geeks and hardcore drama fans is, in and of itself, a social media accomplishment to be proud of.
National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences
When the biggest names in music assemble for The GRAMMY Awards, it's pretty much a given that fans will be all over their favorite social media channels. Or, as one NPR commentator put it: "If you're not watching the GRAMMYs while tweeting from your phone, updating your Facebook status, reading a live blog, and participating in a poll to determine which song Bon Jovi will perform during the show, you might as well be staring slack-jawed at cave drawings of Perry Como."
That said, having an entertainment property with built-in social media buzz isn't the same as leveraging that buzz. At the center of that buzz is GRAMMY Live, a platform that seamlessly integrates multiple social channels alongside live streaming video of the event. GRAMMY Live isn't the only social media initiative. Two years ago, "We're All Fans" aggregated fan-generated YouTube videos into a giant collection of web tributes to nominees. And last year, the show took social to the local level with "Music Is Life Is Music," which invited fans to tag places with videos, photos, and messages telling a personal story about their connection to their favorite music. That content was then visualized on an interactive map.
So far, the strategy has paid off. According to The New York Times, The GRAMMYs have rebounded in the ratings department. More important for an industry decimated by the digital revolution, social media campaigns around The GRAMMYs have even driven sales.
When you have 34 million friends (and counting) on Facebook, you're clearly doing something right. But Nickelodeon's successful promotion of "SpongeBob SquarePants" isn't accidental. The network's philosophy is to be everywhere its fans are, but it's not just about having a presence. What drives Nickelodeon's success is its commitment to sharing good content with its audience, regardless of the platform.
Last year, Nickelodeon broke ground by premiering an episode of SpongeBob on Facebook, giving social media users a special reward for engaging with the property online. The network has also made good use of Twitter. Most notably, SpongeBob took fans along for a vacation by tweeting photo postcards and interacting from the road to promote its "Runaway Road Trip Week."
While it's clear that Nickelodeon does a good job of using social media to promote its programming and keep fans engaged, the network should also be praised for its ability to listen. After all, listening is a critical -- but often overlooked -- component of social media. And in Nickelodeon's case, the network not only heard its Facebook fans request to bring back nostalgic shows from the '90s, but it also took action by launching "The '90s Are All That," a programming block featuring some of its original hits.
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